Jhonel Faelnar of Atomix NYC on What to Drink While Eating Korean

The sommelier behind the list at one of Manhattan's hottest restaurants explains how to pair with banchan.

We first met Jhonel Faelnar when he was working at the bar at Amali and he joined the tasting department at W&S to study wine more intensively. He then went on to work with Roger Dagorn at One Five Hospitality, Thomas Pastuszak at the NoMad—and to earn acclaim from his peers as a W&S Best New Sommelier of 2018 for the list he has assembled for Chef Park’s Korean tasting menu at Atomix, a 2019 James Beard nominee for best new restaurant.

photo by Mike Rush

How is it that Abbatucci has played such an important role in your program for Korean food?
We have it by the glass and, for one of the menus we had, I used the Abbatucci Faustine rouge, which worked really well, and the Faustine blanc, with a little age on it, which is a lean white with texture and salinity.

The Abbatucci Corsica Cuvee Faustine Sciaccarellu blend is not polarizing or sour—it has acidity but not overly—it has a texture that gives a fuller, medium-bodied palate feel. It’s the lack of new oak, the presence of acidity without being overpowering: We use so many fermented things in our dishes, if you miss the acidity component it will knock off the match. We have banchan paired with particular dishes, so another thing we look at is how the wine will pair not only with the dish but also with the banchan—it could be kimchi, soy sauce…

There is a lot of white Burgundy on your top ten list. What drives the popularity of white Burgundy at Atomix?
Aromatic varieties can be distracting for the food; you want something lean and a nice backdrop for the food. The list moves around in style and price point, but the bigger bottles we sell are going to be in the Burgundy category. I always drank white Burgundy with Chef Park’s food at Atoboy and it worked. A wine like the Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Bourgogne blanc is acid driven; has a lean, malic fruit profile; apple and pear notes, and judicious use of malo and used barrels. It’s not a decadent wine. If you have a fish dish—a halibut with a butternut sauce made with soybean paste—it will immediately call out for that wine, adding acidity, a citrus pop and nice earthiness with the dish. The cult of the PYCM wines has been growing year by year. He’s one of the more compelling Burgundy producers you can find in the New York market. His wines are hard to get a hold of but, the more standard offerings of the Bourgogne blanc or pinot noir rosé are by-the-glass friendly.

What is your favorite match between a dish and a wine at Atomix NYC right now?
It’s actually the first wine of the pairing, the second course. It’s a Clos de la Meslerie, 2009 from Vouvray, a chenin blanc, that’s technically a moelleux. Peter Hahn, from New York, bought the estate in 2002, and he makes an earthy wine with so much acid and roundness—that roundness from a little residual sugar. We’re pairing that with a raw fish dish, yellowtail from Japan; we wrap some kumquats in the middle and it’s served over fermented carrot sauce and chojang—essentially a vinegared, fermented red pepper paste. On top of that, there’s a little bit of horseradish oil and then micro perilla leaves. The dish itself is really fresh, the carrot sauce tastes like carrot soy sauce, the nose and flavor of carrots with salinity. It’s a mildly spicy, saline dish, and it combines with the chenin in one of the best pairings of the bunch. It’s partly the age of the chenin. The fish is delicious, too, but it’s almost just the conduit for everything else.

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