Brent Kroll was devouring wine books before he was legal to drink. The Michigan native was working for the Matt Prentice Group when he met Madeline Triffon, MS, and began attending staff wine trainings. He took his first sommelier certificate exam the month after his 21st birthday, and took on the wine program at Casa Tua
in Miami the next year. He’s now the wine director for DC’s Neighborhood Restaurant Group, managing 17 beverage programs, including Partisan
and Iron Gate
, two restaurants that W&S
contributor Kayleigh Kulp called out as among the city’s best new places
to drink as well as dine.
Sommeliers like Lambrusco, but they don’t have the courage to put many on the list. I decided if we were going to do it, I was going to dedicate a whole page to it, highlighting the various styles and varieties, like the lighter ones from Sorbara to the bigger, richer ones from Grasparossa di Castelvetro. In the beginning, I stood in front of the butcher shop daily, pouring lambrusco for free. [The chef and I] had this image of people double-fisting mortadella and Lambrusco. The way the menu is set up also helps; it’s sort of like a sushi menu, where you check off what you want, so you see “Charcuterie and Lambrusco.” It sets the table for the choice.
We have this whole pig’s head on the menu, and I always tell my staff, if people are going to have a go at this thing—it’s really rich and porky and fatty—they are not doing their job unless they are telling them they should be drinking riesling. The Dönnhoff, I think, is just a staff favorite. But the pig’s head is what sells riesling.
On Michigan sparkling
Before we opened, DC was flooded with mediocre prosecco on tap. I wanted a sparkling on tap, but it had to be anything but mediocre prosecco. This came across my radar—I’m from Michigan and this wine does well in Chicago—so I managed to get some out here. People are really curious about it, and they normally end up ordering multiple glasses, which is how it became one of our best-selling by-the-glass pours.
On Greek wine
At Iron Gate, the Greek wine list is my pride and joy. It’s the soul of the program. I’ve visited Greece twice, and I always asked the winemakers, why are you making chardonnay? They’d say because we have to; we’re broke; we’ll go out of business if we don’t. So I decided I wanted to have a wine program that focused solely on indigenous grapes—on the stuff they really care about. I have four wines by the glass by producers who are the only people making those varietals, and no pinot grigio or malbec—they would just suck away the attention these wines deserve.
There are so many good wines coming out of Greece right now. Tetramythos Black of Kalavryta—if you’re looking for an elegant, unoaked, fruit-driven wine with some complexity, I can sell this to you instead of a pinot noir or gamay. There’s Fountis, an underrated producer in Naoussa. I’m able to get his wines with ten years of age on them, and they are terrific: really complex, traditionally styled xinomavro. In Santorini, Sigalas is probably the classic, and now we are offering the Hatzidakis, which is a little outside the box. I have a 2008 from him; these wines age so well. There’s also this stunning nebbiolo—the best I’ve ever tasted outside of Italy—from Wine Art Estates in Macedonia. It has elegance, complexity. Their malagousia is one of my favorites as well, dollar for dollar.
Right now the list is about 60 percent Italian and 40 percent Greek. People are more comfortable in Italy. I think it’s just mental; they think of Italy and they might think of a bottle in a wicker basket, but they know it. When it comes to Greece, they see all those “ts”s and “x”s and they think, ughh, that’s too much to deal with.
It’s really easy to sell nerello mascalese: We had it on by the glass for two or three months; now we truck through it. People want pinot noir, and this is Sicily’s answer to it—though it’s really not; it’s way more tannic, and, while it can be red-fruit driven, it’s always going to have that sort of rubbery volcanic note. But people go for it.
We do well with aglianico, gaglioppo, negroamaro, too. I try to focus the list just on Southern Italy; the chef has been with the company for five years and always wanted to a southern Italian/Greek restaurant, so I really want the wine list to support what he’s doing. The only thing I go outside of the south for is a wine for the chardonnay drinker; while there are chardonnays from the south, they generally aren’t what I want, so I go to Lazio, for Falesco’s Ferentano [a barrel-fermented 100% roscetto], and Champagne. We can do a sparkling moschofilero for a sparkling wine, but when it comes to a high-end bottling, I just can’t find the quality at the price even in places like Franciacorta that I can in Champagne. [He currently sells a Gimonnet-Gonet NV for $88.]