Charlie Bird's Robert Bohr and Grant Reynolds: "Our List Is an Extension of What We Like to Drink"
Last week, we interviewed chef Ryan Hardy, who helms the kitchen at Charlie Bird. The wine program at this restaurant, though, is just as serious as the menu, so I sat down with the restaurant's not-so-silent partner Robert Bohr, who worked the floor at Cru for years, and sommelier Grant Reynolds, formerly of Frasca in Boulder, Colorado, to chat about their philosophies and program. Both, it turns out, like drinking Kölsch.
Courtesy Charlie Bird Robert Bohr, left, and Grant Reynolds
Do either of you remember your first taste of wine?
Bohr: I do, yes. It's not a fancy story, though. I remember tasting Paul Masson Chablis: My aunt and maternal grandparents used to buy it in big gallon jugs then pour it into liter carafes to chill in the fridge. Clearly there was no ceremony to it. I was around five or six years old and at Thanksgiving or Easter--a few times a year during holidays--I would have my tiny cordial glass and got to have my sip of wine. I called it "sha-bliss."
Reynolds: Yeah, my story is nothing fancy, either. My first taste of wine was with a shady family friend who would drive around in the car with a water bottle filled up with box wine. I remember I reached over and grabbed it, took a sip, and spit it out. That's how I knew I didn't like boxed wine.
When did you both first discover you wanted to get into the wine business?
Reynolds: For me, it was a pretty organic transition from working in restaurants. I just loved working in them during college and got lucky--I met people I really looked up to in the industry, people with good character who served as mentors. Wine ultimately grabbed my interest. For me, the restaurant business is a combination of a lot of things that I love, and wine is at the center.
What is the focus of the list you have created at Charlie Bird, and how does it complement the food?
Bohr: Grant and I both have passion for producers and wine styles that have a lot of integrity, and, to be honest, our wine list is an extension of what we really like to drink. Fortunately those wines fit into the style of restaurant that we are and they aren't that expensive. For instance, we have a lot of Chablis on the list, a lot of Italian reds, and a lot of coastal Italian whites. That's what we like to drink, and that's what really goes with the food, since the food has the same sensibility of the wines: a little more discreet, flavorful, and nuanced. We look at our wines as tools to help guests have a good experience with the food. And on their own, of course, they are wines we are happy to represent.
Do you guys carry wines you wish you didn't have but do because customers want them?
Reynolds: I was thinking about this the other day. With only 100 selections at any time, why would we want to put anything on the list that we don't stand behind?
Bohr: There is a lot of shitty wine out there, and a lot of people who prop up really bad wine under the guise of it being terroir-driven and unique and special. Our job is to edit that for our guests.
Your list leans heavily on classic regions, not always so inexpensive. What do you think are the best value wines on your list?
Bohr: I am going to say this, and I don't want to sound like an asshole saying it: Our job is to put the value wines on the list. It's your job to figure out what they are. Our job is to find wine and give really aggressive discounts in relation to price structure based upon wines we think are under-appreciated, and if you happen to know what the value of that wine is in the real world, and you know it is cheaper here, then that's your best value. Does that make sense?
So, I should just tell readers the key to your wine list is look-up the wines on Wine-Searcher, do their homework and ...
Bohr: Yes, and figure it out. Exactly! [laughs]
Are there any unusual wines on the list? And I don't mean esoteric for the sake of esoteric--but a pet grape or region of which either of you are particularly fond?
Reynolds: We definitely don't put wines on the list just to be unique. Right now we are pouring a wine by the glass from Mt. Etna, Sicily--a Carricante. We aren't intentionally trying to have an indigenous grape from Italy in order to provide something different, we just really like the wine.
Recently, we were doing a tasting and there was a wine that jumped out at us both, and neither of us had ever heard of it: Punta Crena Mataossu. The grape is Mataossu, and it's a rare variety from Liguria. We had it by the glass for a period, but we just changed it out--we loved it so much, we told everyone about it, and we sold out of our stock.
How often do you refresh the list?
Bohr: Maybe once or twice a week; by the glass, less so. Right now we have lots of vegetables on the menu, obviously, so our whites are geared toward crudo and vegetables; the reds are lighter, summer wines. But we usually only have a couple of bottles of any one wine so we refresh it often. As you can imagine, we don't have a lot of space, and this isn't a massively funded wine program, so by some measure of default, we have to change things up.
On the next page, the guys discuss how men and women order wine and what they drink off the job.