Dan Davis is known as the "wine guy" at Commander's Palace (1403 Washington Ave., 504-899-8221; www.commanderspalace.com), a title meant to take some of the stuffiness out of wine service at the landmark restaurant. But his job is serious business. He oversees a wine list with 2,500 different wines and an inventory that can reach 16,000 bottles. Earlier this year, the restaurant won the Wine Spectator Grand Award, making it one of just 75 restaurants worldwide to receive this highest ranking from the wine publication. As part of a new partnership between Commander's Palace and Reginelli's Pizzeria (citywide; www.reginellis.com), Davis revamped Reginelli's wine program, which now has a greater focus on Italian wines.
What goes into an outstanding wine program beyond the size and variety of your cellar?
Davis: What's been a key to our success is building a passion about wine here. As far as we know, we have more people on staff who have gone through the Court of Master Sommeliers training than anyone else. We have five certified sommeliers on staff, and 22 others here have been through the training.
Does New Orleans have a distinct preference for one style of wine over another?
D: If you look at New Orleans, New York, San Francisco and Chicago as the major food and wine centers in this country, here more customers are comfortable ordering French wines, and I think that's because of our French heritage. There's a particularly strong interest in Burgundy and Champagne. In New York, there are places that go through a lot more old-growth Bordeaux than us. But I'll put our Burgundy numbers up against anyone.
Given our propensity for power outages here, do you get nervous about protecting wine during hurricane season?
D: It's always a concern. You always make sure your insurance is paid up and the roof is in good shape. But when they placed the wine room here 50 years ago, they used some good horse sense. It's in the most shaded, most protected part of the property. So during (Hurricane) Isaac, of course we worried about it, but we had a plan and we did fine, even if that meant chef Tory (McPhail) had to go by a few times to refuel the generator. — IAN MCNULTY