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Sommelier Alex DeWinter of Grill 23 - Boston Rising Star on StarChefs.com

Photo Credit: Becca Bousquet

Alex DeWinter
Grill 23 & Bar
79 Park Plaza
Boston, MA 02116
(617) 542 2255

Wine Tips »

Interview:
Amy Tarr: How did you develop an interest in wine?
Alex DeWinter: I grew up watching my mom drink it. She was the “5-in-the-afternoon glass of merlot” kind of person. I grew up in a house where you could not drink until 21. When I got to college, I wasn’t a beer guzzling guy. I just used to buy Woodbridge mags. Out of college, I started to bartend. One day we had a wine tasting with a rep and I said, “How can I get your job, how does that work” So I started to dink more and more wine. And I started to remember it the way people remember lyrics of a song or lines from a movie.

AT: Describe your fondest wine memory.
ADW: There are many wine memories! Both in terms of the best wines I’ve had and the great times of just having wine. There’s always wine. When friends or family get together, wine is definitely the theme. Certainly enjoying wine with my wife – she was in the restaurant end, catering, and cooking. It’s hard to imagine wine not being in my life. It’s not one memory, it’s a constant.

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RISING STAR SOMMELIER AWARD SPONSORED BY 

Alex DeWinter
Grill 23 & Bar | Boston


Biography
Alex DeWinter, the Wine Director at acclaimed Grill 23 & Bar, feels more like a curator and an explorer in his position as director of the restaurant's acclaimed 850+ bottle wine list. The entire collection, which encompasses an impressive 12,000 bottles, was honored by Wine Spectator with "The Best of" Award of Excellence (a step above the highly coveted "Award of Excellence" distinction), and complements the cuisine of Executive Chef Jay Murray.

DeWinter worked in restaurants through college (where he was a film major), and that is where he first caught the wine bug. "I found wine to be fascinating, and I had an affinity for it. It captures history, biology, science, business, and farming, all in one. When I realized I was spending my most of my money on wine, I knew I was hooked!"

A native of Chicago and Washington, D.C., DeWinter held positions with wine importers and wine shops, and he ran his own wine seminars before heading to Boston. "It was fate to arrive in Boston and get the opportunity to wine steward at Grill 23 & Bar," DeWinter states. The Grill's Wine Director, Nathalie Vaché, was a fantastic mentor. Being a native of Bordeaux, she created an amazing collection of rare French wines at the Grill. “I've never seen anything like it. We have some 2000 Bordeaux that are extraordinary; it is a spectacular vintage." When Vaché became engaged and moved to the west coast, DeWinter was ready to step into the Wine Director's position.

Known for its depth in the "Big Reds" to match the premier steak cuts at Grill 23 & Bar, the restaurant offers a significant amount of top rated reds from California and Bordeaux. DeWinter's plan is to expand the collection of Spanish and Italian wine, a current hot spot of the wine industry. "The value, the flavors you can find in the vineyards of Spain and Italy is just tremendous, and it's important to stay current. I think the power of our wine collection is that guests come in knowing they can request their traditional favorite – or they can step into a cult variety, or a Spanish, Italian, or Australian wine, and be wowed."

Grill 23 & Bar offers seating in both the grand dining room and the upstairs dining room, in addition to 5 private dining rooms and the most-requested Wine Room, featuring four walls of hundreds of bottles of wine. Recently DeWinter, along with Executive Chef Jay Murray, rolled out "Second Saturdays at Grill 23", a program of wine tasting & cooking classes. Guests are able to have a hands-on experience in both the Grill's kitchen and in the wine collection.


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Interview Cont'd
AT: How did you get to where you are now at Grill 23?
ADW: It was a long rough road. I started working at Maggianno’s in college, where I experienced that wine tasting. Right after that I called up some wine distributors and got a job. I was super green. I sold a totally esoteric Italian portfolio for a year. Then the company went out of business. So I went to work in a wine shop called Calvert Woodley Wine in DC - they are in the top 10 wine shops every year. They do a huge Bordeaux business. So that rounded out my knowledge of French wines. I took a break after a while and worked construction, waited tables at this little pizzeria – a DOC pizzeria – and managed one of my old accounts again, doing his beer, wine, gourmet foods and grocery. My wife move up here to Boston. So I moved up and interviewed with a couple importers. My sister went to college with a guy who runs a big distributor. He said I know a woman who’s looking for help with her list at a restaurant. In DC most of the people buying wines were the restaurant managers, not wine directors. How could a wine program necessitate one person much less 2 or 3 people? I interviewed with Natalie, and she and I hit if off right away. So fortunately I was put in with her. And that was it. Then she left me and I was stuck in charge.

AT: What courses have you taken?
ADW: When I first started at the wine shop they sponsored me at some distributor-given classes. It was a five –week program. I got a certificate at the end. I did a little bit of stuff with the Society of Wine Educators in DC. In my opinion, if you’ve got the Oxford guide to wine and if you can read (and drink), you’re pretty much there. While formal training is very interesting and beneficial and helpful, I think the most important thing is drinking and learning, meeting with people who represent and make the wines. If you have a lot of time and do these classes, that’s great. When I see people who are driven to be the youngest MS in the country, that’s really impressive. Like Andrea Immer was like 28 when she got her MS. I know my palate well enough. I know what wine tastes good. I’ve tasted all the great first growths from all the great vineyards. If I can tell you what the wines taste like and match them to your taste, then that’s enough for me.

AT: What is your philosophy on wine and food?
ADW: Eat it and drink it! People want to put a muzzle on me when I say this but people want California wines. The breadth is very narrow on the whole. How hard is it to pair a cabernet with a rib eye? Insert red wine here. When Jay does a chef’s menu or a special dinner, we sit down and pair wines and food. What you think might work best might not go well at all. I did a tasting recently and the wine I thought was going to be the best pairing was just ok. The least expensive wine of the bunch turned out to be everyone’s favorite pairing. It also depends if you want to create a perfect marriage or highlight the wine over the food or vice versa. I’m into balance and drinking wines that come from the same place as the food – that’s why I’m into Italian wines. If you’re dining on wild boar, you should be drinking Nebbiolo.

AT: Do you favor Old World or New World wines? Why?
ADW: I always talk a big game about Old World wines, but I really like New World wines. As far as running this restaurant, New World wines are the bread and butter. It’s a lot less terroir, but it’s fun to see someone’s personal expression of a wine.

AT: Tell me about a perfect wine and food match that you discovered.
ADW: Jay does a short rib Wellington with tamale and I served a Grenache with it. The food is super, super rich and that wine is super rich, but it also has a lot of heat or alcohol. It’s served with a heavy reduction sauce, You could have used a Barolo to cut through that, but I was really into the richness of the Grenache.
AT: What wines do you favor for your cellar at home?
ADW: I have about 5 bottles at home. I don’t have time or money or space to wait around with wines for 20 years. Right now at home I’ve got a bottle of California syrah. Valpolicella, some cheap Tuscany wines. All under 20 dollars. I have drinking wine.

AT: What are your ultimate career goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
ADW: My career goals are to eventually work in sandals! I don’t want to get out of the wine game. 5 years from now I don’t see myself in a restaurant. Too many hours, the chaos factor is too high. I’d like to be a distributor or importer and have someone say to me, “Here’s a rental car, here’s a map of Spain – bring me home some winners!” My strength is being able to match someone’s taste, knowing what a universally good wine is. If someone likes merlot or cabernet, they are going to like that one wine. I’d like to be able to find those things. It’s also a people business. If I was locked in a closet somewhere not talking to guests or vintners, that wouldn’t be too much fun.

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  •    Published: March 2006

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