RISING STAR SOMMELIER
AWARD SPONSORED BY
Grill 23 & Bar | Boston
Many sommeliers over-intellectualize
wine, but Alex DeWinter’s approach is much more visceral and
accessible. DeWinter worked in restaurants during college (where
he was a film major), and that is where he first caught the wine
bug. 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 as a Wine Steward at Grill 23 &
Bar. He stepped into the Wine Director position when his mentor,
Nathalie Vaché,` departed for the west coast. Alex is now
the master of an impressive 850+ bottle wine list. The entire collection,
which encompasses 12,000 bottles and was honored by Wine Spectator
with "The Best of" Award of Excellence (a step above
the highly coveted "Award of Excellence" distinction),
complements the cuisine of Executive Chef Jay Murray. In addition
to pouring the Bordeaux and big California Cabernets you’ve
come to associate with top steakhouses, Alex also enjoys pouring
wines from Spain, Italy and Australia that marry well with some
Murray’s less traditional steakhouse fare.
Alex DeWinter's Wine Tips
- The most important thing is to be approachable. No one wants
to be made to feel stupid. Everyone can think back to a time when
they were made to feel stupid and it pissed them off. Wine is
made to be drunk and enjoyed, not to make people feel uncomfortable.
- Being patient with the guests is very important – and
being able to admit when you’re wrong, for example, taking
a wine back if someone is not a fan of something. Even if someone
chooses a wine without any help or guidance and they don’t
like it, I’ll take it back. Who wants to drink something
they don’t like with their dinner? Why encourage that? You
catch more flies with sugar than vinegar. It’s a great way
to build relationships with customers. I had a guest recently
who ordered a bottle of chardonnay – over $100 – and
it wasn’t what he wanted, so I took it back. It works out
for everyone because I can do a tasting with my staff and they
get to try a $100 chardonnay.
- You have to pretend like you’re having a gigantic dinner
party for 800 people and every guest is the first person who walks
in the door. If you treat everyone like a guest in your house,
they are going to have a great time. No matter how much of a prick
someone is being, they have chosen your restaurant to enjoy a
meal or special occasion – a birthday or anniversary or
whatever. Besides, it’s just dinner we’re talking
about. It’s not the cure for a deadly disease or world hunger.
If you take it too seriously it will drive you up a wall.
- When I first came here I always tried to change people’s
minds from what they wanted. I’d say, “I’m going
to make everyone love this crazy bottle of Burgundy!” But
I’ve learned that if someone’s very definitive about
what they want, you have to go in the direction they want to go
it. You are a guide. If they want to be led, lead them. If they
don’t want to be led, go with them.
- It’s very important to constantly taste wine, whether
it’s from Japan, or California. There’s something
to be said for everything that’s in a bottle. You have to
keep tasting. You never know when you get this guy from Spain
who’s pumped out of his mind that you have this little ridiculous
wine. Keep working your list, keep putting on interesting things.
Don’t think,” Oh I have to carry Kendall Jackson.”
But also you can’t be so esoteric because people don’t
know what they are doing. I have 3 Austrian wines on the list.
I love them. When was the last time I sold them? I can’t
tell you. I haven’t had the person in here who wants to
drink them yet, but they’ll come.
- Wines by the glass is a great lesson in what people are drinking.
It’s a great way to test things out and see what people
are excited about. It allows you to shape your diner’s perceptions.
It’s like running a miniature list in itself. We sell a
lot of bottled wine, but in most restaurants the wines by the
glass are the majority of wines sold. So your servers need to
have the most experience with the wines by the glass. There’s
not one bottle of wines by the glass right now that I wouldn’t
take home and serve at a party. If I won’t drink it then
I won’t serve it. No matter how much it costs.