RISING STAR SOMMELIER
AWARD SPONSORED BY
Grill 23 & Bar | Boston
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.