Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas Expands Wine Program

The Clifton wine bar recently expanded its wine list from 150 to more than 350 selections. We talked with wine director Brian McAllister to find out why.

Close up of a wine bin, storage and decor. Photo courtesy of Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas

Earlier this fall, Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas in Clifton expanded its wine list from around 150 selections to more than 350. We caught up with general manager and wine director Brian McAllister, who’s busy catching staff up on the 200 new labels, to talk about the substantial increase.

Table Hopping: Why expand the list now?

Brian McAllister: Our goal when we opened was to be the restaurant [that] really captured the wine audience. We’re halfway into our seventh year. I think we just looked at each other and wanted to push it to the next level. We were really looking to become a Wine Spectator “Level 2” restaurant.

TH: You’re referring to the Wine Spectator‘s Restaurant Awards, which you’ve won (Award of Excellence, Level 1) for six years now. What does Level 2 mean to you?

BM: That’s starting to establish yourself as an elite wine list, not just in your area, but globally. We want to be the restaurant in our community that has a wine list where you can get a label from 20 different countries.

Brian McAllister, wine director and general manager of Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas. Photo courtesy of Spuntino

TH: Your focus is Italian tapas and wine. Is the new list mostly Italian?

BM: When we opened the restaurant, [the list was] 100 percent Italian. I came on board a year later and said I thought we should aim to showcase international bottles, expand our demographic. That was really the start of it. Now we have probably 20 countries represented. I would say the [expanded] wine list is 60 percent Italian, 40 percent international. The U.S. and France are predominant [on the international list]. But we have wines from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Chile. And we did bring in a few new countries like Austria, Hungary and Lebanon.

TH: What about your by-the-glass options?

BM: We rotate them quarterly. We still have around 60 choices. Most restaurants offer 10 at most. We offer high-end Barolos, Brunellos, high-end Napa cabernets. There’s only a handful [of restaurants] in New Jersey doing that. I’ll change eight of them to keep it fresh, throw in something interesting, like an Etna Bianco, a dry wine from Sicily. It’s fermented right where Mount Vesuvius was, so you get these wild, volcanic flavors in the wine.

For by-the-glass, I’ll taste 25 wines to pick one. I want to make sure I’m putting the right wine on the list to match our clientele… Nowadays, our guest is pushing a bit further away from super dry wines.

TH: What are some other trends?

BM: Anything pink.

TH: All year?

BM: Sparkling rosatos, rosé Champagne—it’s year-round. It’s one of our top five sellers. Anything pink in a glass is gonna fly out the door. Even in January.

TH: What about red vs. white on the new list?

BM: Most of the wines are red. I’d say 75 percent red, 25 percent white, based on our guest preference. What I really like to do is when we run out of a label by the bottle, I replace it with something completely new. A good example is [Italian white] vermentino. We’re down to two bottles. I was lucky enough to taste a wonderful vermentino today, so I’ll bring in a completely new label.

TH: Does that impact education? How are guests—and staff—adjusting to 200 new labels?

BM: The best way I can describe it: slowly. When you have a list like this, you don’t wanna bombard anyone. Even me. It took me months to organize it. Lots of research.

TH: You mean drinking wine?

BM: I know. Poor me.

Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas is located at 70 Kingsland Road in Clifton. They’re currently having a November Truffle Festival, with featured wines to pair from the Piedmont region of Italy. 973-661-2435

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