Welcome to Eater Atlanta's newest feature, The OenoFiles, where we chat with the smartest sippers of wine in the ATL. First up is Nicolas Quinones, co-owner/operator of Woodfire Grill, where the menu includes local, sustainable ingredients and changes daily. Daily. Couple that wine-pairing challenge with the celeb-chef legacy of Kevin Gillespie and new arrival of chef Tyler Williams and you've got a, well, bigger challenge. Good thing Quinones has the rep and know-how to take on said challenge— more than 22 years of restaurant experience will do that.
He started young, 15 years young, at Nick's Steakhouse in Melbourne Beach, Florida, and eventually joined us in Atlanta first at Chops then Soleil Bistro, Murphy's, and Loca Luna before helping acquire Woodfire Grill in 2008. There, the sommelier certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers helms a "Wine Spectator Award of Excellence" wine program with a list of 450 wines from 14 countries. He's been to California, Oregon, Italy, Spain, Germany, Chile, and Argentina to develop his knowledge about those beauties, and now we'll let you get to his knowledge-imparting of faves, tips, and what he likes to drink when he's not drinking the vino (hint: it's brown).
How long have you been directing the wine program at Woodfire Grill?
Since we acquired the restaurant in August of 2008. Almost five years now.
Where do you begin when pairing wine with food?
I begin with weight. It is like boxing, different foods and wines have different weight classes, and the best wine and food pairings match up seamlessly because they possess similar corpulence. After that I move into flavor profiles that either compare or contrast. Comparing, or finding common flavors, is much easier than contrasting, or finding missing flavors that work well but are not already present in a composed dish.
Are there any ingredients that pose a particular challenge?
I find green salads difficult to pair due to the delicate weight of lettuces and the vinegars that dress them. I also have a hard time with peanuts, which is great 'cause I somm in Georgia.
Have you noticed a big difference in pairing wines with Woodfire's new chef Tyler Williams's dishes versus your previous work with Kevin Gillespie?
Absolutely! I am still getting to know Tyler's cooking and learning what levels of acidity and spice to expect in his dishes. I worked with Kevin and EJ for four years work-shopping wine and food pairings, so it was pretty easy to imagine tasting their food by just reading its description on paper. My sommelier Patrick Guilfoil and I have been tasting dishes with Tyler about three times per week to better understand his textures, seasoning, and richness levels. We want the food to shine when we pair a wine with it, so we must make sure to embrace the dish lightly and accent components in a manner that enhances the dish itself without detracting one's attention away from it. Because we have only worked with Tyler for five weeks now, we still have a lot to learn about his techniques and tendencies. Guess that means more dishes for me to taste in the near term.
What's your favorite bottle on the list right now?
Sorry, but this is a three part answer. Bubbles: Dosnon Lepage Brut Rosé Champagne n.v. White: 2010 Damien Laureau Les Genêts Savennières. Red: 2007 Demarie Barbaresco.
Can you name the most strange/funny wine question you've ever received from a diner?
Q: Why are you pouring that wine into a different glass? A: Because it is a different wine than the one you still have a glass of.
Do you have favorite oenophile customers?
We have dozens of regular guests who have serious wine collections and great palates to match. It is a joy to share wine service with them.
Have you noticed a recent trend in diners' wine selections, whether it's a certain varietal, price point, or producer?
Pinot Noir is still king, but I am trying my hardest to put Gamay in people's mouths. Most, if not all, Pinot Noir lovers are quite appreciative of it!
Have you had any VIP or celebrities come in and request pairings?
Both Bette Midler and Gene Wilder have asked me to select a wine to compliment their dishes (not on the same visit). Both timeless stars that could not have been more grateful.
Do you remember the most expensive bottle you've ever sold?
2007 Araujo Eisele Vineyard, Napa Valley. $426. We had a company dinner in the loft [private dining room] celebrating a billion dollar sale.
Where do you think wine trends are heading next?
The natural wine movement is strong and getting stronger. I think most serious wine farmers are realizing that encouraging life in the vineyard results in a greater taste of place. Stripping the land of its richness through the use of herbicides, pesticides, and conventional mechanized farming can result in sterile wines that taste like they come from nowhere in particular.
How do you recommend that a beginner start learning wine?
I suggest that wine beginners start geographically. Pick a country. Learn its geography and what grapes are grown in its different regions by tasting multiple wines from multiple regions. Repeat with a new country once you have a firm understanding.
How about collecting?
A collection must begin with proper storage conditions; cold, dark and out of sight. Next, purchase delicious wines that possess enough structure, body, alcohol, and acid that they can age gracefully. Purchase multiple bottles so that you can taste the same wine over the course of several years and really observe its development. In addition, establish a relationship with two or three retailers that you enjoy talking to. Let them get to know you and you will be rewarded multiple options of ready-to-drink wine, softened by age, at home.
Do you have a fave budget-friendly bottle?
2010 Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha [approx. $25.99/bottle].
What's your favorite beverage to drink when you're not sampling wines?
A shot of Bourbon and pint of Ale or Stout.