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Interview with Carlin Karr, Frasca

Best Design/Most Original Wine List-2016

By Alex Hunt MW |  November 29 2020

Frasca’s Carlin Karr tells us about her love of fine wine, new trends emerging in America, how her recent trip to Austria inspired her, and what is next for herself and the Boulder-based restaurant.

Congratulations! Frasca has been awarded three stars, the Best Design/Most Original Wine List in the World and the Best Design/Most Original Wine List in North America in the World of Fine Wine World’s Best Wine List 2016. How does it feel to be recognised in this way?

Thank you! Our whole wine team at Frasca Food and Wine – Bobby Stuckey, Matthew Mather and Myself are all incredibly humbled and honored to be recognized in this way. We share a great love for wine with our guests each night and hope to continue do so for many years to come. For us, it is less about building a great wine list, but rather just about having thoughtful wines in our restaurant that can appeal to a wide range of our guests while paying homage to our inspiration of Northern Italy and the old world.

Where does your love of wine originate from?

My personal love of wine originates from an overall lifelong love of all things gastronomic. I attended culinary school after college and knew wine was my path. The layers of geography, history, geology, viticulture, vinification, and cultural influence that impact what a wine becomes is utterly fascinating. I will never tire of a thirst for wine knowledge.

What do you think has influenced your taste in wine?

I am most influenced by my many incredible mentors and teachers. Bobby Stuckey and Matthew Mather have taught me more in the last 4 years that I have worked at Frasca than I could ever have imagined. They have taught me to be objective first (ask myself, is the wine sound? Who would like this? Could I sell this?) and then subjective. This has made me a much better sommelier than if I allow myself to simply be subjective. Many young sommeliers think they know it all, that their palate is the answer, but our role is solely not to judge, but also to serve. Trends come and go, but great, sound wines that represent the terroir of which they come from will always persist.

Where was the last place you visited? How did it inspire you?

As I write this response, I am visiting the Wachau in Austria. I am inspired in so many ways. The vineyards here are so incredible – dramatically terraced. I have visited many producers – Emmerich Knoll, Peter Veyder Malberg, & Brundlmayer (in the Kamptal) among others. It is fascinating to dig deep into the various details of the vineyards, vintages, winemaking, vineyard management, etc. – there truly is no better way to learn. I am also inspired by the other wine professionals that I am able to meet when I travel – importers, distributors, and other sommeliers. It is incredible to get to know and understand the inner workings of the wine industry. What does it really take to get that very special gruner veltliner that we love so much to us in Colorado? Sommeliers seem to get most of the press, but there are so many other talented people who make the whole industry work.

What makes the wine list at Frasca stand out?

We are a restaurant inspired by Friuli Venezia Giulia- so we focus first on the great regional wines of Friuli. Next is the rest of northern Italy, then the rest of Italy, surrounding areas like Austria, Burgundy, Germany, the Rhone Valley, then a smattering of Spain, California, and Oregon. What makes the list really stand out is how the story of each section is told and how the list is organized. The list text was originally written by Bobby Stuckey when we opened almost 12 years ago. It is written in a way that appeals to both novices and oenophiles alike. Edits and additions over the years have been made by Matthew, myself and a couple of others, but the clever terms like “low grip, high pleasure” is all Bobby. The wonderful thing about the way we buy wine at Frasca is that it is focused yet inclusive. We are a hospitality driven company, and this is especially true in our wine program. What I mean by that is that we think of Italy first, but we always must have something for the California Chardonnay lover, the Shiraz or Malbec drinker. Do we have Malbec? No, and we likely never will. Do we make a guest feel silly when they ask for a Malbec? Absolutely not. We suggest something like a plush style of Refosco from Friuli made by Vignai de Duline or Lagrein from Alto Adige from Cantina Terlan.

What food and wine trends are you seeing in America at the moment?

Zalto stemware. We transitioned to all Zalto stemware over a year ago at Frasca. It is superb glassware. We constantly focus on making the guest experience better. Now I have started to see Zaltos a lot throughout restaurants in the United States. A big food trend right now is the wheat renaissance. Many restaurants like ours are sourcing rare, heritage grains and milling them in house for making breads and pastas. We use grains from all over the country to mill for various breads and pastas and have been getting wonderful feedback.

Which restaurant do you think boasts the best wine list in the world today?

La Subida in cormons, Friuli and Eleven Madison Park in New York.

What is your fundamental philosophy on fine wine?

Fine wine is made in the vineyard first and then in the cellar. Care is taken every step of the way to ensure that they speak of where they come from. Great wines are delicious both in their youth and with bottle age.

What do you think is the most important element of a good wine list?

My answer here is going to sound a bit dry but I am a strong believer in all of these points. A good wine list should make sense for the restaurant. The wines should be appropriate for the clientele and the food. A wine list is a living thing. If wines are not in stock, they should not be on the list. If the vintage is not correct, it should be fixed. The list should also feature options in many price ranges and styles. Unless it is a strictly “natural wine bar”, it should have a diverse selection so that a diverse clientele can feel comfortable and drink great wine. The wine list, after all, is a tool for the business, not an opportunity for a sommelier to feature one style or trend.

What is next for you?

We are opening a new restaurant in Denver in early 2017, called Tavernetta by Frasca. It will have comfortable Italian fare with a large all Italian wine list (plus Champagne). That will be keeping me very busy.

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