A 25 year drinks industry expert, Brian Mitchell has worked on just about every side of the beverage business, specializing in wine and spirits education, staff training, creative consulting, and of course service. A Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers, Brian also holds a level 4 Diploma from WSET and CSW credentials, and is the Corporate Beverage Director MAX Restaurant Group in Hartford, Connecticut.
With 13 concepts under the max restaurant group what is the underlying philosophy that guides your wine program?
I like to pay for production not marketing. The core group of our restaurants is based in Connecticut and Massachusetts within 30 minutes of each other. As such, it is really important to make sure each location’s list stands on its own and is unique with offerings. I prefer to buy wines from suppliers that farm their land and make their wine. At the very least I want producers who are not spending huge dollars on marketing the wine, but rather investing resources in their land, their employees and their winemaking. This gives me wines that are different, usually from smaller producers, and wines that I feel are better value for my guests and I. This of course has to be balanced against the recognized brands, which many guests are comfortable with, but we do a good job at offering alternatives to what I call “default wines”.
What was the last wine that really made an impression on you?
L’Ecole No 41 Chenin Blanc, 2014, from Walla Walla: A beautiful expression of this varietal, which no one expects from this region. And Pied à Terre Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013, from Sonoma County: small wine production, and owned by a fellow Somm from NYC. Edgy style of cab that is not overly polished – a great food wine.
A current personal favorite food-and-wine pairing from one of your menus?
We featured this recently at Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford. Roasted chicken may be a simple dish, but chef did this so well and the Beaujolais was a perfect pairing: comfort wine for comfort food. Domaine Diochon Moulin-a-Vent Vieille Vigne, 2015 Volaille Pyramide with roast chicken, truffles, carrots, puff pastry and creamed spinach.
And finally, what is the most rewarding thing about your profession?
I get to meet a lot of interesting people – both in the trade and guests in our dining rooms. I have been in the drinks industry for 25 years and have met people from every corner of the world, but also get to meet a ton of people from my local area when I am in the restaurants. I get to hear about their businesses and how they got into wine, and hopefully learn a little about the passion that drives many people in the wine business. Conversely, I get to meet a lot of guests who are discovering wine, and they usually love to tell you why. Either way I get to experience something new over a glass of wine.