One Great List is Resy’s occasional tribute to particularly noteworthy or unique wine programs around the country.
That New Orleans is a cocktail town first will come as no surprise to anyone, but having recently returned to the city after a couple decades away, Skye La Torre can see that the once-stunted wine scene is growing out from under the cocktail one. Fine timing, considering she’s just opened her wine bar, Pluck.
At a moment when NOLA’s grand OG dining rooms and hundred-page wine lists seem to be in a push and pull with the city’s new natural wine haunts — a shop or bar seems to open in a different neighborhood every month — Pluck is really neither.
In a new-build space in the Warehouse District, La Torre serves as emcee, with a wine list that’s evidence of 20 years of tumbleweeding through the wine world. It’s clear that her interests lie in not-so-unexpected corners of France, but also that she’s done plenty of digging elsewhere to find the producers she can stand behind. “To me, the producers are everything,” she says. “The role of the sommelier is to have good choices for my guests, but also, I want them to drink wine and spend money so I can put it in the pockets of someone who deserves it.”
So while La Torre’s list ticks the boxes of today’s must-have grower Champagnes (Bêréche, Cédric Bouchard) and takes a very deep dive into Burgundian up-and-comers, it also winnows out under-appreciated Italian white wines from producers like Vignai da Duline and Luigi Maffini, and makes space for some of the more exciting bottles coming out of Spain, from Comando G to Luis Rodriguez.
With dozens of bottles under $50, and few glasses over $15, nothing on her list feels like it’s there because it has to be — rather it’s there because she has a real reason for putting it there. Yes, there are the cool-kid offerings of pét-nat and orange Slovenian wine, but in such a judicious way that it doesn’t feel put on. They’re knit in with classic bottles of Domaine Tempier rosé and Jean Foillard Côte du Py.
It’s also a list intended to help La Torre fine-tune a reconnection with NOLA’s wine drinkers: What do they want to drink, and when? She’s left herself plenty of room to expand — deeper into Spain, say, or the New World as a whole. But that will come gradually, as she susses out what her neighbors want to drink. “Do people know what orange wine is here?” she asks. “Do people want to drop 200 bucks on a unicorn wine?”
At the same time, she’s not starting from zero. La Torre got her start in wine in New Orleans, at Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico. But post-Katrina she evacuated to San Francisco, where she worked for Italian wine champion Shelley Lindgren at A16 and helped to open Café des Amis. Then she landed in New York, helping to run the many locations of The Meatball Shop, then working as a sommelier at Maialino and Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, and selling bottles retail at Flatiron Wines.
For upwards of a decade, La Torre strategized and self-educated, ideated and networked, aspiring to open a wine bar-slash-shop that would be a place for all sorts of wine drinkers to hang out — and learn, if they wanted to. But she was always hunting for storefronts in New York; the idea that New Orleans, a city she was constantly talking up and reminiscing about, might actually be the home for such a place hadn’t even entered her mind, until a friend there presented an opportunity.
Four Essential Wines from Pluck
Tiberio Trebbiano d’Abruzzo ($44): “People do not take advantage of Italian whites,” says La Torre. “Over half on my list are under $50 and they’re all crazy good.” This, from Cristiana Tiberio, is made from the fairly rare trebbiano Abruzzese, a type that outshines all others, and in Tiberio’s hands it is all juicy yellow peach with flecks of sea salt on top. From a mountainside vineyard not far from the many trabocchi (docked seafood restaurants) that dot Abruzzo’s Adriatic coast, there’s little that will better accompany chef Heathcliff Hailey’s shrimp with Pastis.
Fabien Duveau Origine Saumur Champigny Rouge ($56): Since she’s been back in NOLA, La Torre has been chasing good bottles from the Loire, a trickier task than she anticipated. Happily, this found its way to her. Fabien Duveau, who represents the eighth generation of his family to make wine, works in a 14th-century cave, producing wine from numerous plots around the region. This is lifted and easy — a give-me-an-ice-bucket summer night-type red.
Benoît Lahaye Coteaux Champenois Bouzy Rouge ($172): No one will dispute Benoît Lahaye’s title of “Overachiever” on La Torre’s list — and she has three splurge-worthy bottles on offer. But this is an outlier: a still red from the grand cru Champagne village of Bouzy, also known for its still red pinot noir. This isn’t an everyday wine by any stretch, but a real chance to taste something rare from a producer at the top of his game.
Vigneti Tardis Martedì ($52): Winemaker Bruno de Conciliis has made a name as a renegade in Italy’s Campania region, working off the grid and with indigenous varieties. The Vigneti Tardis wines are his project with Jack Lewens, a sommelier and co-owner of restaurant Leroy in London, who relocated to Italy in order to collaborate with De Conciliis on the Cilento coast. This, made from aglianicone, an ancestor of aglianico, is spiced and dark berried, without the usual aglianico tannic brawniness, and all the right elements of geek charm for people like La Torre, who want to nerd out.
Thus a year after the beginning of the pandemic, La Torre opened Pluck. A place that she hoped would somehow embody the vibe of Arles, a Provençal city she loves, and a city that inspired many of Van Gogh’s paintings. “It feels so good there, it’s a breathing place, and I feel that way about New Orleans,” she says.
In truth, the space probably feels more like Arles-meets Paris-meets New York, with a small patio out back and a big high-top communal table in the center.
Punctuating Pluck’s wine list are micro-collections of wines, all from the same producer, that La Torre has dubbed “Overachievers.”
“It was a word I stressed out about a lot,” she says. “It started out as “Producer Spotlight,” but it needed to be less serious.” Rather than be an exhaustive multi-vintage scroll, these offer a more active springboard into the perspective of winemakers that, La Torre believes, have a deeper perspective. Take Ulli Stein, the Mosel’s quixotic protector of old and ultra-steep vineyards. La Torre has two of Stein’s wines from the 2019 vintage from the St. Aldegunder Palmberg-Terrassen. This site is planted with many centenarian vines, and Stein presents it in both kabinett and spätlese forms, both trocken (dry), for those keen to take measure of the two side by side.
“I want to show you that there’s an entire category for this one producer,” La Torre says, “with too many great things for me to edit them out.”
When it comes to Burgundy, yes, today’s more established producers like David Croix fall into the “Overachievers” category, but there are lesser-knowns, too, which means value to be found and discoveries to be made. For example, Berthaut-Gerbet — the wines of the producer Amélie Berthaut, which highlights wines from a less-lauded village, namely Fixin, and those from the emerging Haute-Cotes area.
But to ignore the wines that don’t fall in “Overachievers” is to miss out on the wide span that La Torre has cherished and carried with her over the years, such as the painstakingly handmade Cornaline from Provence’s Domaine Hauvette, or the Collioure from Christine Campadieu, the winemaker at La Tour Vielle, whose family has been making this wine for generations. These are the sorts of bottles La Torre will steer you to, and which get right to the spirit of the place.
“Now I say I named the bar Pluck because you pluck grapes, and it takes a lot of pluck to open in a pandemic,” jokes La Torre. “But I came up with that name way before. I love that it means moxie, and that it’s also an opportunity that you once had, and you took it.”
Megan Krigbaum writes about wine and all sorts of other drinks and travel for numerous publications. She’s currently a contributing editor for PUNCH, and formerly a wine editor at Food & Wine. Follow her on Twitter. Follow Resy, too.