Several sommeliers have used social media to successfully get the word out to wine drinkers about what they were up to — who can forget Michael Madrigale’s big bottle pics, or the trend for sabering that Patrick Cappiello set off as shots of him with a sword proliferated — but Momofuku’s Jordan Salcito may be the first sommelier to format an actual wine list in the style of social media. She has arranged the Momofuku Ko wine list around stark photography of winemakers, of the type that sommeliers and wine collectors post to their own Instagram feeds, acknowledging that to the wine savvy these winemakers represent a certain kind of celebrity. Salcito has also grouped up wine producers on the page by friends and followers, offering one person’s wine listed nearby another wine that is said to have influenced it, in the same way that social media groups replies to original comments. You might not know, for instance, the connections in Burgundy between Roulot, Coche, and Boisson that the Ko wine list makes explicit. Or the set of producers inspired by Anselme Selosse in Champagne. In fact, it is highly likely that you wouldn’t know. This is the kind of information that the sommelier traditionally has in their mind and that the diner traditionally doesn’t. Not any longer. As on Twitter and Facebook, Ko makes social groups explicit. This is a wine list built on the fundamentals of social media.
"We believe that highlighting the people and narratives behind the wines we serve, as well as the relationship between producers, allows us to further engage and connect with each bottle" begins the introduction to the Momofuku Ko wine list. It is a helpful idea, because winemaker friend groups are such a sure indicator of actual wine styles. "Say what you want about my friends’ politics, but they make good wine" is perhaps not anything a winemaker has directly said, but surely several have thought it. The likeminded in wine tend to stick together, and the idea of copinage is particularly relevant to some key winemaking groups today. Think of the often referred to "Gang of Four," in Beaujolais, which are well represented at Ko. They share certain ideas amongst them, in addition to proximity, and that helps define them stylistically. It also helps give a sense to consumers of what they themselves might enjoy. We are long past the idea that there is one correct and good type of wine. We are in a diverse wine world of sometimes competing and contradictory ideas. One route to navigating this world is to follow the friends of friends.
This is more than just a simpler way to convey information, however. This is a sales technique. Perhaps you are aware that you like Coche-Dury, but not the $795 price tag that can come with the wines? Well, how about the similarly minded Boisson for $85? That is the implication and the proposal at Ko. The encouragement to try something new and different receives the same reaffirmation at Ko that is receives in the wider wine world today, and perhaps for the same reason: the wines of the affirmed great producers have gotten expensive and rare. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what was similar, but available for less money? This is the position that Ko tries to highlight. "This is different than what you had last time, but it shares the same philosophy" is a powerful sales pitch, whether it be for a wine or your next course.
It should be said that we are in a rare air here, as the pages of the Ko wine list are filled with what are, in the reality of the market, allocated wines. These are the big deal wines, the wines every other sommelier in town wants, the limited cuvées. Few wine programs achieve this sort of high powered lineup without also accumulating the dross that they had to purchase in order to get the chance, but it speaks to the position of Ko in the firmament that the sought after wines there sit unmolested by the mob. This kind of list is also a testament to the relationships that Salcito, the Momofuku Wine Director, has within the wine industry.
Allocated wines are, not incidentally, the same wines that sommeliers and wine collectors trade pictures of on Instagram. They are the wines about which the secret is out, where more people are following the wines than there are bottles, and where a certain amount of bragging rights and Likes are involved in the enjoyment. These are wines that exist more on social media than on most wine lists, and they have a bit of frenzy associated with them amongst the wine savvy. That frenzy, and thirsty eyes, can translate to easy sales if you have the bottles, and an opportunity for higher margins as well. If the consumer will pay any price for a wine, then why not make it just a bit more? And certainly it is evident that the Ko wine list is an expensive one. In the last few years of New York City dining, where having a wine destination restaurant meant offering wine at a discount, Ko is returning to the idea of the restaurant as a value added experience. It offers, above all, access and guidance. Which is actually what becomes more important in an era when allocations are becoming harder to come by, and when particular wines achieve celebrity. "If you can’t afford Coche, you should drink Boisson" is the same proposition that an earlier era presented when they said if you couldn’t afford Screaming Eagle you should try this new project from a winemaker who worked there. This is the workable solution for a situation where allocated wine prices are going up, bottles are becoming more scarce, and consumers are interested in making new discoveries. Like social media, Ko also offers you the chance to feel like an insider. Recently when I went there with a winemaker friend of mine, he said the magic words as if prompted: "Great to be here, I have seen this place on Instagram."
How would I caption the Ko wine list? It has an innovative format and trending content, with few opportunities to go wrong amongst the selections. This privileged perch will cost you, though, unless you take advantage of the rare moments where the choices are underpriced, as with the the truly excellent wines of Denis Bachelet which you should go and drink immediately at Ko and tell all of your friends about on Instagram.