In honor of Pizza Week here at Eater, this month's OenoFiles features Varasano's own Jeff Varasano who, after ten years of hard pizza research and home tastings for friends and family, opened his Buckhead pizzeria in 2009 to local and critical acclaim. For the Bronx native, the aim was to bring the truest representation of New York-style pizza (like his fave Patsy's in East Harlem) to his new Atlanta home. What kind of research, you ask? Well, let's just say that thermodynamics was involved. And an 800 degree oven. Here, the pizza purist himself dishes on wine and pies both at his original location and the newest outpost, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (and word on the street is there's another intown spot coming soon).
Varasano's Pizzeria has been open in south Buckhead since 2009, and now we've heard rumors that you're scouting for a new intown spot—can you tell us about that?
In September of last year, you opened an airport outpost of Varasano's. How is the wine program different there than at your original location?
It's a more condensed list that's focused on quality and offering the perfect pairings, while keeping in mind that in an airport we have very limited space.
Where do you begin when pairing wine with pizzas, pastas, and other Italian favorites?
It's like designing a space—you take one element of inspiration and build around it. When pairing wines, we look for one element of the wine that would expand the profile of a dish. When you're pairing wines with food, you have to think about why people are in the restaurant—the food is still the star—the wine needs to complement the dish, but also elevate it.
Are there any ingredients that pose a particular challenge?
Tomato sauce will always pose a bit of a challenge because of the acids, and a profile doesn't flow as easily.
What's your favorite bottle on the Varasano's list and why?
That's so hard to answer. Every year we find juice that wows and captivates our customers. This year would be our Ken Forrester Petit Pinotage, which is rich and luscious with light bacon nuances. The other big find this year would be our Hera Branco Vinho Verde—we have a gorgeous, green patio, and when you take a lighter pie like our Chica Bella [ricotta, mozzarella, arugula, and a pinch of lemon], it makes for a perfect meal in the warm Georgia sun!
Can you name the most strange/funny wine question you've ever received from a diner?
When it comes to diners, every night is an adventure.
Have you noticed a recent trend in diners' wine selections, whether it's a certain varietal, price point, or producer?
We, like most restaurants, have seen the economy change people's eating and drinking habits. People have been opting for "safe" wines. They want a little sweeter, a little less adventurous; they want to know they're picking the option that they will like. We often will make suggestions and allow customers to taste wines that maybe they haven't had a chance to try before.
Have you ever had any celebrity guests who were surprise oenophiles?
We haven't experienced that, per se. Most celebs that come in are just super excited to be trying the pizza and have lots of pizza questions. The wine list is very well put together and there isn't a bad choice to complement our pies.
Do you remember the most expensive bottle you've ever sold?
We have an in-house wine specialist who has a rotating list of rare or hard to find wines that he gets through connections within the industry. We have many special bottles that have been sold over the last four years. I would say the top end of those prices is around $200.
Where do you think wine trends are heading next?
Draft wines. Bottles and cork are making the prices climb for no reason. Wines from kegs are the future.
How do you recommend that a beginner start learning wine?
Taste a few things, read the tasting notes, and don't be afraid to try something a little different. Many restaurants offer "tastes" of wine—don't be afraid to try something out of your comfort zone. You may be surprised.
How about collecting?
Collect once you know what you love and how to store them correctly. Don't collect wines just for the sake of collecting. Keeping them in a bright room is not the way to go. You need a cool, dark atmosphere. As close to 55 degrees and 70 percent humidity is best. If you have a cellar/basement, it tends to be the top environment.
Do you have a fave budget-friendly bottle?
Our Hera Branco Vinho Verde, $6 by the glass and $26 by the bottle.
For folks at home, do you have an all-time favorite wine and cheese pairing? How about a suggested wine and cheese party set-up?
American cheese and White Zin. Just kidding! I like fontina-stuffed dates with a nice Chilean Cabernet.
What's your favorite beverage to drink when you're not sampling wines?
Bourbon. Or, of course, "Sweet Dixie Champagne," Coca-Cola.
What's your number one wine-rule to live by?
If it's open, drink it. Tomorrow is not promised.
· All Pizza Week 2014 Coverage [-EATL-]
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· All Varasano's Coverage [-EATL-]