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Mina Group Wine Director Parr Thinks Nationally, Acts Locally

August 19, 2011

The Mina Group of 18 restaurants is not only known for the cutting edge cuisine of renowned chef Michael Mina, but for its many award winning wine lists. Its restaurants include: Michael Mina in San Francisco and Las Vegas; Bourbon Steak in Washington, D.C., Aventura, FL, Detroit, and Scottsdale; Nobhill Tavern, American Fish and Stripsteak in Las Vegas; Saltwater in Detroit; Stonehill Tavern in Dana Point, CA; Arcadia in San Jose; Seablue in Las Vegas and Atlantic City; XIV in Los Angeles, and RN74 in San Francisco and Seattle. (Andre) Agassi Enterprises is the primary investor in the Mina Group, whose restaurants are mostly located in deluxe hotels. The Group projects net sales of $110 million in 2011, up about 20% over last year. Shanken News Daily recently spoke with Rajat Parr, Mina Group Wine Director, about the challenges of creating wine programs for the group’s various restaurants.

SND: What is your philosophy of wine service at the Mina Group restaurants?

Parr: We have several different restaurant concepts with different cuisines, so my goal is to create programs that work with the unique demographics of each restaurant. Above all, though, we focus on the quality of the product. On everything from the wine list to spirits and beer, we really try to get the very best. That often means taking a look at the smaller products—the unique wines that people might not know about.

SND: Are decisions made on a corporate level or locally?

Parr: Every restaurant has their own team of sommeliers. I like them to have their own input on the wines. I do the opening wine list, and I review all the wines by the glass, but then I give the head sommelier full control.

SND: Do you have any general rules about the size a wine list should be?

Parr: Our smallest wine list—probably Arcadia in San Jose—is 300 selections and our largest wine list—RN74 in San Francisco—is 2500 selections. Our average is probably 600-700 selections.

SND: How would you describe the regional emphasis of the lists?

Parr: It varies. RN74 was named after the road that goes through Burgundy, so the cuisine and wine is very Burgundy focused, about 80%. But in Seattle, for instance, we offer more Washington and Oregon wines, so there it’s only 60% Burgundy. A lot of our restaurant wine lists have a good Burgundy selection, because I love Burgundy. But in Vegas we have a lot more California wines.

SND: What are the price points of those wines?

Parr: The cheapest Burgundy, for example in Seattle, is $30 to $40, but goes up to $10,000. So it’s all over the board.

SND: What kind of depth is in the list there?

Parr: We have a lot of vintages from the 1920s through the 1950s. We have even sold a number of Lafites and Latours from the 1800s, at $15,000 to $30,000. Currently, we have the 1832 Lafite listed for $27,000 and 1877 Lafite for $18,000.

SND: Have you experienced any impact resulting from the downturn of the economy in your overall business?

Parr: Yes, but people are still drinking. Price points are definitely quite different than they used to be. People still drink expensive wines, but they may not drink them as often. Back in the day, the average price point used to be $150—it moved down, maybe it’s now $90. There’s definitely been a switch, dollar-wise. We are maybe 2% lower in some restaurants. Others, like in San Francisco, are the same as last year. Some restaurants are better than last year.

SND: What wine regions or varietals are currently performing best for you?

Parr: Pinot Noir is definitely getting stronger and has been for the last five years. I think the younger generation is drinking more Pinot Noir than Cabernet because it pairs well with lighter dishes. Still, Cabernet remains very strong. Merlot is falling off a lot. Syrah is getting a little bit better, but slowly.

SND: Can you describe the process of selecting wines at your various restaurants?

Parr: At each restaurant we develop a format and then taste hundreds of wines to figure out what’s going to work best. Of course, we have to consider the relationships we have. We also have some private labels that we offer: our Chardonnay is made by Au Bon Climat; our Syrah is made by Qupè, and Iron Horse makes our sparkling wine.

SND: How extensive is your by-the-glass menu?

Parr: In every restaurant we offer between 15 to 50 wines by-the-glass and that’s the most creative part of the wine list. They range in price from $8 to $100 a glass, but the mean is generally $12-$18. It’s fun to have a cool Nebbiolo from Northern Piedmont, or a little Syrah from Southern Rhone, but it’s also important to have Cabernet and Malbec, things that are more recognizable. You have to blend the eclectic with the more user-friendly.

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