WINE DIRECTOR BRIAN DUNCANDuncan prefers the term wine director to sommelier. "Our approach to wine education and food and wine pairings is one of discovery."
With a philosophy that wine should be enjoyable and accessible, Duncan relies on tastings. Instead of asking lots of questions to guess what wines people enjoy, he'd rather bring a few bottles around and garner a guest's direct reaction to different varietals. "If guests aren't comfortable describing their likes and dislikes, they should be able to taste various wines to find their comfort zones so that I can find pairings they'll really enjoy."
Each of BIN 36's menu items is coupled with several choices that have whimsical descriptions. "I try to give an idea of what flavors and sensations each wine provides, without using austere or technical terminology. It makes wine understandable, and it allows guests to make discoveries."
Recently, Duncan has started to work with selected winemakers who share his exacting quality standards to create exceptional wines exclusively for BIN 36. "Its a unique experience for our guests," he says. "It helps them understand that there are people behind the process, people who are out there with their hands in the soil. These winemakers have stories, and I like to bring that to the table."
TRAVELOGUE FROM ITALYWine Director Brian Duncan's whirlwind wine tour of Italy inspired us to share with you part of his travelog and great Italian wine finds. Enjoy...
I felt like a vigorously shaken bottle of spirited Champagne ready to burst through a firmly lodged cork. My ultimate destination was Verona, Italy for the annual Vinitalia wine festival, but my trip began in the magical city of Venice.
After taking in the visual smorgasbord of architecture, art, glass, water bus rides, churches and, yes, of course, shoes, I was off to sample my way through the local culinary treasures such as cuttle fish bathed in swarthy black squid ink served over a bed of polenta cakes.
This dish is a local specialty, and rightfully so, given the way it walks the sumptuous line between the savory richness of the sauce and the natural sweetness of the fresh and tender squid. I was looking forward to diving into glass after glass of Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Brunello, Amarone...
What I was not prepared for was discovering the allure of the white wines from Friuli and Piemonte. There is an amazing purity of fruit and concentration of flavor in many of these wines. The Livio Felluga "Terre Alte" is a testament to the versatility of these wines with a variety of foods. This wine is a skillfully blended combination of Tocai Fruilano, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Bianco. It drinks beautifully alone, but when paired one evening with a first course of perfectly poached baby sole filets lightly drizzled with basil-infused olive oil, I proceeded to sob uncontrollably, and was politely asked to maintain my composure, for there were yet four more courses to follow. I feared by the end of my meal I would be emotionally bankrupt. You see, the beauty of the cooking here is the shameless devotion to fresh seasonal, local ingredients, and the simplicity of the preparations.
It is the last day of my journey. My destination is the Villa Monteleone in Valpolicella, in the Veneto region of Italy. The House and cellar that occupies the estate was built in the 1700's and retains its antique charm. More charming however are the Matriarch, Lucia Raimondi, her daughter, Claudia, and son-in-law, Francois.
They received my traveling companions and me with the kind of warmth usually reserved for next of kin. Our lunch there was as sumptuous and memorable as any meal I've ever eaten. The theme continued: simple, fresh, local ingredients prepared by skillful loving hands. I am still craving the arugula salad tossed with diced pears and toasted pinenuts in a simple vinaigrette, as well as the mixed-grill of chicken, pork and beef served family-style. All very straightforward, yet unforgettable. Hospitality is everything. I offered my availability for adoption and my bags are packed for instant departure. Their wines were perfect matches to this irresistible banquet. The Valpolicella and Amarones are testament to their dedication to optimum quality.
We were served not one, but two courses of local cured meats and sausages, followed by a fresh spring sweet pea soup that sang to me as I wept once again. It was also here that I became aware that even though I had eaten risotto on many occasions, this was truly the first time I understood what it really should be. The main course was a slowly braised pork shank that was so succulent and tender that I all but forgot my predicament, considering that it might be some time before I would consume such a banquet so lovingly prepared. See, that's exactly the point. It is nothing short of pure unadulterated passion. It was right there in front of me. It was in the food, the wine, the art, the architecture, the people and even the 120 cheeses they offered. It wasn't 120 cheeses for the sheer sake of quantity, but because someone there celebrated the bounty and the skill of the artisans who nurture and produce them.
The Last Supper- "Il Pompiere"It is amazing, or maybe shameful, that after consuming such a criminally sinful lunch, I would even admit to the dinner that followed that very evening. First of all, one of my hosts was a native of Verona. I point out this small detail only because she was more than happy to point out some of the customs peculiar to the local chefs. For instance, if you were unable to completely devour the offerings placed before you, the chef would begin to circle nervously around the table and ultimately inquire if something might be wrong. I got the message loud and clear. So as not to offend, I attempted to avoid any controversy by slowly consuming course after course to the point of slight discomfort about the waistline. I realize you are probably incapable of mustering an ounce of empathy for my demise, especially when I have to admit this was possibly the sweetest of pains I have yet to endure.
I encourage you to come and explore and discover the passion in the wine I brought back to BIN 36. Experience for yourself the care of the winemakers and their families who have devoted their time and care to offer the finest expressions their land has to offer. Cheers!