Neal McCarthy is co-owner and general manager of Miller Union. Not only is the west Midtown restaurant recognized for its vegetable-forward, Southern-inspired cuisine (chef and co-owner Steven Satterfield was named the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southeast in 2017), the wine program also is a finalist for the Beard foundation’s 2019 Outstanding Wine Program award.
McCarthy, a certified sommelier, guides drinkers in choosing from the restaurant’s expansive and carefully considered wine list. It has plenty of bottles from small producers that focus on organic practices, aligning with the restaurant’s seasonably-driven green mission to show just how exciting and restorative simple ingredients can be.
Spring wine pairings with food involve lighter wines and lots of vegetables. “We try to create a wine culture within the restaurant, centered around a staff that loves wine,” said Dining Room Manager Julie Steele, also a certified sommelier. “Throughout spring and summer, we offer two still rosés by the glass, and change them out frequently, to keep the choices fresh and exciting.”
They currently are pouring Pax Trousseau Gris and Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris.
“The Pax is bright and fresh, with some earthy and savory notes on the nose. It pairs nicely with our quail dish, which is brushed with a tangy sorghum glaze, and complements the earthy flavor of the roasted beets and the herbal spring pea puree,” Satterfield said.
The Fontsainte, in comparison, is much lighter, and even brighter than the Pax. “It has nicely balanced acid and a distinct wild strawberry note on the palate,” Satterfield said. He pairs it with the kale salad, because it works perfectly with ripe strawberries and creamy chèvre under the lightly dressed greens.
McCarthy gave us a little insight into what he is digging right now: “As for regions, I am always falling in love with new wines, but I am loving Northern Rhône and the high acid Burgundian-style whites from the Jura.”
He loves how terroir (a wine’s specificity of place) is evident in the syrah of Northern Rhone, with variations of expression from the long-living reds of Hermitage, to the more fragrant and delicate Cote-Rotie wines, or the noble reds from the steep hills of St. Joseph.
“J.L.Chave is one of our favorite biodynamic producers from Northern Rhone, and we were lucky enough to go on a private four-hour tour with Jean-Louis himself!” Satterfield said.
McCarthy loves the crisp, clean whites of Jura, like chardonnay and savagnin. “These wines have these mineral notes from the clay and limestone soils, and fruit notes of citrus and ripe pear,” he said.
He thinks many of the best grapes are being farmed by people that trained in Burgundy. Instead of the oxidative wines (deliberately exposed to oxygen in the barrel process) that have been made for years, the wines now are being topped up to preserve freshness. “I think the value for money is still there, unlike the great whites of Burgundy,” McCarthy said. Producers he is fond of include Jean-Francois Ganevat, Jacques Puffeney and Domaine du Pelican, from the makers of Domaine Marquis d'Angerville.
The team also is big on Matthiasson wines, and currently has four of them on the list. Steve Matthiasson also has been a James Beard finalist, for Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional. The Miller Union team said they are thrilled to have access to his wines.
Miller Union previously was up for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Wine Program award in 2018, 2016 and 2015 as a semifinalist, and in 2017 as a finalist. This year’s award will be announced on May 6 at a gala at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Others nominated in the category include Bacchanal in New Orleans, Benu in San Francisco, Night + Market in Los Angeles and Spiaggia in Chicago.
“We feel honored to be recognized on the national level for doing something that we love, and especially in Georgia, where it is a hard market to get highly allocated wines into the state,” McCarthy said. “Being included in this group brings Georgia into the national spotlight, and can hopefully help the state receive better allocations in the future.”
Miller Union. 999 Brady Ave. NW, Atlanta. 678-733-8550, millerunion.com.