In Boca sommelier Kevin Hart’s Hyde Park kitchen, classical music and the vortex of a cappuccino machine sing in unlikely harmony as the wine aficionado shares his passion for food and wine during our interview. As a sommelier at one of Cincy’s finest and most famed restaurants, Hart has a front row seat into the world of wine and fine dining.
"This year alone, I’ll have tried over 5,000 labels," Hart says. "That’s not normal."
What is normal for the 27-year-old architecture student, turned wine aficionado, is enjoying the finer things in life. From grapes to caffeine, Hart’s selection doesn’t disappoint. In fact, he made the best cappuccino I’ve tasted this side of Italy, using a coffee from San Francisco called Blue Bottle Coffee, which he has shipped to his home every two weeks.
From a man with impeccable taste, here’s his take on the wine world, along with what’s turning up or soon to be in our city.
Secret No. 1: It’s Just Grape Juice.
With more than 550 wine labels, Boca’s wine list is a living, breathing thing, changing daily. It also can be extremely intimidating, causing many guests to go for what they know. Instead of ordering the usual (merlot, chardonnay, or Pinot Grigio, the gateway grape to Italy), Hart recommends asking the wait staff for suggestions. As front line representatives of the restaurant, they understand the menu and wine list better than anyone else.
"People should ask more questions, not out of intimidation, but out of curiosity. It will open up a whole different window of finding new wines to fall in love with," Hart says.
Boca’s food menu ranges from light to heavy, rich to savory, rustic to complex, and Hart promises that he and his staff can find wine for every food and food for every wine.
"Bocas wine program is about experience, education and change. There is always something new to try, and if you stop tasting, you lose the joy of what it’s all about. Life is meant to be experienced," he says.
Above all, though, wine isn’t meant to be pretentious. "It’s just grape juice! Yes, it might have a story, but you don’t need a 20-minute dissertation on every wine," Hart says. "Taste it. If you like it, drink it! It’s all about what you are looking for. Some people want the pairing experience while others, just a great glass of wine with a meal that completely clashes, and that’s OK. Wine is very personal. Dining is personal, drink what you like."
Secret No. 2: Taste Matters
Knowing how to articulate the flavors you enjoy in food and wine is extremely important, especially when it comes down to the selection process. Ask yourself a few questions before ordering: Do you prefer sugary sweets to salty snacks? Green tea or bitter, black coffee?
The answers will tell a lot about which wines you might like. For example, I love buttery, creamy foods. Werther’s Original candies are my weakness, so when I’m craving these flavors in a wine, I’ll go for a chardonnay because it too has a buttery, creamy texture. If you’re a steak eater, you might prefer a big fat cab.
Secret No. 3: Know How to Describe Flavors and Aromas
Let’s assume that you’re already an adventurous sipper, but the problem is that you can’t seem to remember the name of every grape you’ve tried — an understandable issue considering there are more than 5,000 varietals of wine grapes in the world. It would be like speaking a different language (literally), thus taking the joy out of what’s meant to be a wonderful experience. Hart suggests keeping it simple.
"If you can’t remember the name of a wine but you know it was from an area in Sicily, just ask for the ‘red from Sicily,’ describe some of the flavors, your wait staff can take it from there," Hart says.
It’s also important to know the unique words used to describe flavors and aromas in wine, which range from desirable to down-right disgusting. Here are a few frequently used wine words: grass, wheat, rocks, dirty socks, apple, honey, peach, pepper, barnyard, moss, wet dog, toasty, mineral, lavender, grapefruit, etc. Find more wine descriptions here.
Stay tuned for our second part of this story where we will explore the trends of underdog grapes making their way to the Queen City, and the surprisingly wonderful world of boxed wine.