Interview with Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Sommelier Brent Kroll of Iron Gate

by Meha Desai
December 2014

Meha Desai: How did you get into wine?
Brent Kroll:
In college, I was a server and I wanted to work in a fine dining restaurant.  I noticed that the servers with the most beverage knowledge were the most successful. I started reading wine books for leisure, to be better at my job. I ended up dropping out, begging someone to hire me as a sommelier, and I never looked back.

MD: Who's your mentor?
I can't quite say mentor because of where I was in my career at the time but Madeline Triffon was the person I wanted to emulate.  She was just so versatile on the floor.  I would watch her at tables and she was all hospitality. She would sell a $30 bottle like it was a $3,000 bottle.  She was also very kind and never became rattled during service.  I not only asked her what to study but how to study the material when I was getting started. 

MD: What is your pairing philosophy?
I love doing riffs on classics.  Take a classic like Fino Sherry and crab bisque and put a spin on it.  Maybe do an oxidation white from Sicily with a panna cotta for similar reasons.  Another riff is soft shell crab with sparkling wine.  I wouldn't say this is rocket science. I think of this as a riff on a fried food and light beer pairing. Not only does the carbon dioxide refresh the palate, but it really enhances the fruit or flavor of the beverage. I also think that no matter how good you are with pairings, you need to taste the wine with the food.  I love to remove any seed of doubt that a pairing doesn't improve the wine and the food.  

MD: What wine certification do you have?
I'm a Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers.  I’m about to give the advanced another try in 2015. 

MD: What wines do you collect at home?
It's an Old World heavy mix.  Most of the wines I collect are for curiosity or love.  I have some old Assyrtiko, Torbato, where I just want to see what it will do.  I have some wines from Burgundy and Champagne because I love those areas. My birth year was also a pretty successful vintage, so anything I can find from 1985 goes in too.

MD: Favorite wine resource?
Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes is crazy in a good way.  I like to just open a random page as if it were a phone book and just start reading about grapes.

MD: A little known region to lookout for?
I've had some great reds from Calabria and love the value they represent.  It's very hard to see any wines from there represented in a non Italian restaurant.  

MD: Where do see yourself in 5 years?
Working with wine in some way that involves hospitality.  Right now I’m working on and off premise for the first time.  I don't want any type of wine job where I don't see the floor and interact with guests. 

MD: Food and wine pairing that excites you…
A local cheese called Grayson from Virginia with Dinavolo Catavela from Emilia-Romagna.  These items on their own are good but together they’re great.  This to me is a contrast pairing where the wine acts more like a Basque Cider or Sour Lambic than a traditional wine.  This wine is orange, with brine and noticeable tannin.  When the cheese coats the palate, the wine isn't able to be as sharp and aggressive.  The wine becomes softer and the fruit is enhanced.  It also adds a complementary orange bitter note to the cheese.  I generally always prefer to pair dry wine with cheese.