One of the joys of small plates dining is the opportunity to experiment; a spectrum of flavors and textures dance across the tongue in a series of successive bites. A bottle of wine, though, doesn’t necessarily contribute to this dining experience, as a single choice can’t always pair with the range of dishes. At Sachet, a six month old restaurant in Dallas, owners and spouses Allison Yoder and Stephen Rogers built an impressive wines by-the-glass (BTG) list of 30 selections to not only complement the food but to introduce guests to less-explored wine regions and varieties.
Yoder and her husband both started in classical music as an opera singer and a pianist, respectively, but starting working in restaurants while living in New York City, “because obviously you’re in your early 20s and you have to pay the rent,” she says. After traveling for their music careers, they decided to move into the hospitality industry in order to spend more time together, eventually landing at Press restaurant in Napa, she working front of house and he as executive chef. About seven years in, they decided to pursue their dream of opening their own restaurant so they moved to Dallas, Rogers’ hometown, and built Gemma in 2013.
Sachet, their follow-up restaurant, drew on their love of Mediterranean cuisine. “We chose to highlight the entire Mediterranean, not just Greece, Morocco, and Turkey, but also the south of Italy, south of France, and south of Spain. All of that food is very light with a ton of flavor, especially when you’re dancing around with Israel and Turkey and all those amazing spices,” says Yoder.
With 22 mezze, along with pastas, entrées, and family-style feasts, Yoder calls it “a fun menu: high energy, casual, and there’s something for everyone,” and wanted the wine list to reflect this ethos. In order to build a successful list of this magnitude, the couple paired traditional menu knowledge, such as striking a balance among the number and types of styles offered, with innovative methods.
HAVE A STRONG POINT OF VIEW
The most successful lists have a focus or tell a story. Yoder knew she wanted to do an all-Mediterranean wine list, which she called daunting, especially since she said both customers and sommeliers were not familiar with all the regions and varieties. “I was nervous because our neighborhood is known for Napa Cabs…but we were so passionate about it, it was almost like we had to do this wine list,” she says. She, Rogers, and their general manager engaged in a labor-intensive, year-long tasting process which Yoder admits was intimidating at first, but as the team uncovered quality options at great price points, their resolve strengthened.
WINES ON TAP
Much of the inspiration for the super-sized BTG list stemmed from the wines on tap program at Gemma. Restaurants across the country are embracing this format as it retains freshness in wines and reduces waste. Yoder wanted to make it a focus point at Sachet; about half the list—16 selections, double of what’s offered at Gemma—constitutes tap wines. Currently, most options available in the U.S. are from domestic wineries, so she highlights American producers working with Mediterranean varieties, such as a Greek Moschofilero/Roditis blend from Gotham Project. The rest of the list is comprised of bottled wines from international regions.
Portion flexibility makes for a playful experience and wines are offered in 150ml, 250ml, and 500ml sizes. Guests can experiment with different styles and learn about unfamiliar wines. The staff is also happy to offer tastes, even before they go by the glass, which is key to helping customers feel comfortable making a decision, notes Yoder.
Getting the staff on board with the concept is paramount to the success of the program. Yoder says they hold staff trainings about twice a week to educate the team on the wines, pronunciation, and anything else that helps make it easier for them to communicate with the customer and offer suggestions. They’re constantly tasting and Yoder jokes, “Sunday’s a very good night for training. We’re closed on Monday so we’ll pretty much drink the rest of the open wine [that won’t last until Tuesday].”
Now that the restaurant is six months old and established, Yoder plans on rotating selections more frequently, especially as she finds new wines that fit the program. In general she says the list “was a risk, but we said, let’s try it and see what happens. It’s been more than surprising for me, the response by it. It’s fun, it’s different, people want to do something new. People are ready.”
Drink Up Dallas
Header image courtesy of Sachet.