Local oenophiles couldn't have been more excited when Ian Mendelsohn opened Vine & Tap in Buckhead this past February. Mendelsohn is a trusted wine expert in our city, and one of a select few in Georgia who have passed the Diploma exam of the Wine and Spirits Trust. His storied career includes working as a sommelier at Windows on the World under Master Sommelier Andrea Immer, running the Christie's Auction House wine department, and helping to open Vegas's Wynn Hotel, Pure, and Tao night clubs before becoming the wine director of the Mirage.
Mendelsohn was lured to the ATL by the St. Regis in Buckhead, then H&F Bottle Shop before he opened his own place this winter. He's won the hearts of High Museum Wine Auction goers since relocating to Atlanta, and now he's brought us a wine bar for everyone in the city. Clearly he's tasted a lot of top bottles, but he prefers ones "with soul" and a connection to place. Here, Mendelsohn digs a little deeper to share some of those favorites with us.
What led you to open Vine & Tap? How do you hope it stands out from other wine bars and from the establishments you've been a part of previously in your career?
[My wife] Susan and I were looking for a great wine bar to hang out, and there just weren't many in Atlanta. We saw many good lists around town in restaurants, but few wine bars. We hope Vine & Tap could be the start of a resurgence in wine bars in Atlanta. It has been different because I have opened many of them in New York and Las Vegas for other people, but this is the first one I opened that was mine.
Where do you begin when pairing wine with food?
The most simple idea is to pair light-bodied food with light-bodied wine and go from there.
Are there any ingredients that pose a particular challenge?
The classic hard ones are asparagus and Brussels sprouts, but there are some great aromatic whites from Italy, Austria, and Greece that help solve these problems.
What's your favorite bottle on the Vine & Tap list and why?
That answer depends on my mood and who I am with, but if I had to choose right now it would be either the Triennes rosé from Provence or the Occhipinti SP-68 from Sicily.
Can you name the most strange/funny wine question you've ever received from a diner?
While I learned early on that there really are no dumb or silly questions in wine, I get this one a lot: I gave this guest a dry Riesling and he came back and said "I really like this, but thought all Rieslings are sweet."
Have you noticed a recent trend in diners' wine selections, whether it's a certain varietal, price point, or producer?
Our guests come into Vine & Tap and know they might be trying a varietal or region they have never seen before and greatly appreciate that we look for wines that represent the best values for their money, but that might come from places that are foreign to them. The few classic varietals on the list, they don't sell as well.
Do you remember the most expensive bottle you've ever sold?
At Vine & Tap we have capped the list at around $150, but when I was running Christie's wine department we sold a 1934 Romanee-Conti, DRC for $34,000 per bottle. We opened several and it will probably be the best wine I will ever taste.
Where do you think wine trends are heading next?
I think wine in kegs are becoming more commonplace, and more aromatic whites from Fruili, Greece, and Spain. Also, people are becoming more accepting of dry rosé.
How do you recommend that a beginner start learning wine?
I was fortunate in my career to work at Windows on the World, and that textbook, the Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, is in my opinion the only place to start. Also, I would tell them to taste everything. Throw out preconceived notions of what you think you like and don't like.
How about collecting?
Having worked at Christie's for almost five years, I would say buy what you enjoy. If you were buying for investment, that is something very different— then you would call someone like me who worked in that world.
Do you have a favorite budget-friendly bottle?
I have two:
2012 Apremont, Pierre Boniface (Savoir, FR), $34
2012 Touraine Rouge, Domaine de Garreliere (Loire Valley, FR), $46
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?
My favorite is probably a room-temperature Epoisses and a red Burgundy. As for a cheese set up, I normally like to find three to four differently textured cheeses of cow, sheep, or goat, and then find one to two wines to pair with them. That, some great charcuterie, and my wife on a beautiful spring day in Georgia sounds like heaven.
What's your favorite beverage to drink when you're not sampling wines?
My favorite is beer, and with the great local beer scene, it's pretty easy to find some great ones.