Danny Meyer's Wine Rules
New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer shares his sometimes counterintuitive tips for drinking wine with burgers, pizza and pretty much anything else. Rule #1: Keep a half-dozen open bottles in your fridge at all times.
How did you celebrate the recent Shake Shack IPO, which, when the market closed that day, put the company’s value at more than $1.6 billion?
We had a huge party at one of the Shake Shacks in Brooklyn! But it had been an incredibly long day. After a while I just wanted to sit down and have something to eat and a glass of wine. We went to a nearby pizza place, but they didn’t have a wine list! My wife left and came back carrying four Shake Shack milkshakes. “I got two strawberry and two vanilla,” she said. I thought, Ugh, the last thing I want right now is a milkshake. She said, “Shh! Just drink it.” And they were filled with wine—“vanilla” was our Shack White, and “strawberry,” our Shack Red. Each with a straw.
What wine goes best with a Shack burger?
So far, the two most successful are American Merlot (our Shack Red) and Syrah. People want that bit of sweetness; more often than not, they’re using ketchup. Without a little sweetness in the wine, the ketchup makes it taste sharp. Plus, those wines are sort of beefy in a way.
You’ve sold wine at Shake Shack since day one. But do people actually buy it to go with their burgers?
Absolutely! We even sold Opus One by the half-bottle for a while at our Madison Square Park and Upper West Side locations in New York City. I think a real revolution is happening right now, not just with burger places but with any kind of “fine casual” restaurant. People don’t want to park their good taste at the door just because they want to have a quick lunch.
Last year you also opened Marta, which specializes in Roman-style pizzas. Is there an ideal pizza wine?
Pizza tastes good with almost anything, but I love Sangiovese with it—especially if the pizza’s got pecorino cheese on it. Pecorino and Sangiovese are amazing together. But really, I’d open anything from a basic Chianti to a Super-Tuscan like Fontodi’s Flaccianello della Pieve, which is one of my favorite wines in the world. If someone said, “You can only drink 10 wines for the rest of your life,” that would be one of them.
What’s your advice to someone just beginning to get into wine?
Picture the inside door of your refrigerator, the 25 condiments that invariably live there. You have three different kinds of olives, four different kinds of mustard, capers, anchovies, pickles, four kinds of hot sauce. Wine’s a condiment, too; it’s meant to go with food. There’s no reason not to also have five or six open bottles of wine on the bottom shelf of your fridge.
How long will those bottles last, though?
One of the untold stories about wine, red or white, is how long you can keep it in a refrigerator once it’s open. If you cork an open bottle of red wine and stick it in the refrigerator, unless it’s a fragile older vintage, it will last at least a week. White wines last three to four weeks in the fridge with the cork in them. That way you can go back to a wine with different dishes on different nights.
What’s the most extraordinary wine you’ve ever tasted in your 30 years as a restaurateur?
I think it’s dangerous to expect wines to be extraordinary! The best bottle you’ve ever had in your life could be a simple Pigato, if you’re sitting in the right spot on the coast of Liguria, eating the right fried little fish, with the right person. That could be the perfect wine, because context is just as important as anything.
Is there a wine in your life like that?
In 1989 or 1990, I got a call from Good Morning America saying that Julia Child wanted to do a report on my home kitchen, and would I let that happen? I said, “Well, who the hell wouldn’t?” Afterward, we had lunch at Union Square Cafe. We walked there, and, I mean, taxi drivers were stopping to wave to her—I felt like a celebrity just being near her. We had short ribs and a Beaujolais, which you’d think would be too light, but it was just perfect. What made things even better was that she ordered a second bottle and pounded the whole thing back by herself. Seeing how happy it made her was one of the best wine experiences of my life. Either that or my wife and I going to Fèlsina in Tuscany to taste wine with our then year-and-a-half-old daughter, and watching her teethe on a Chianti cork.
7 Favorite Wines
2013 Talenti Rosso Di Montalcino ($30)
“This winery gives everything you could want from the Montalcino region. The Rosso they do is bright and brooding at the same time; there’s no other wine I’d rather drink for lunch in Tuscany.”
2013 The Ojai Vineyard Santa Barbara Syrah ($35)
“A while back I went to the Santa Barbara area because I’d heard great things about La Super-Rica, a Mexican place there; I adapted its service style later for a little place called Shake Shack. I had this Syrah for the first time on that trip. It’s got that California intensity and power, but not too much of it.”
2013 Sandhi Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay ($38)
“After Hurricane Sandy hit New York, Union Square Cafe was the first of our restaurants to reopen. We were pouring this white by the glass, and when we went there to eat that night we thought, What else could we drink but Sandhi?”
2011 Sky Zinfandel($38)
“I’ve always liked Zins, but as they became more alcoholic over time, I largely gave up on them. This Napa one hits all the right notes, though: It has fruit and ripeness yet also does this mysterious trick of coming off restrained and lovely.”
Nv Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé ($75)
“We’ve served this great rosé at USC since day one. I drank it at my wedding, I drank it when each of my four kids was born, and for my mom’s 70th birthday, when she took the entire family to Scottsdale, Arizona, for a week, we were practically brushing our teeth with it. I just drink it anytime I can.”
2005 Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore ($89)
"The Veneto’s late Giuseppe Quintarelli was a passionate artist and yet a humble man. He knew he was nothing in the face of Mother Nature but loved the challenge of that. I probably have more of his wines in my cellar than any others.”
2011 Fontodi Flaccianello Della Pieve ($120)
“I wish I knew what makes this Italian red so extraordinary—maybe it’s that it just tastes like the Conca d’Oro, the magical valley in Chianti where it’s from. It’s a beautiful, perfectly balanced, elegant Sangiovese.”