George Miliotes, age 47, hasn't strayed far from his roots. Born and raised in Orlando, Fla., Miliotes began his restaurant career at Mr. Dunderbak's, his father's regional franchise, as a teen. After attending Depaul University he returned to Orlando and did stints at Chris’ House of Beef, a Best of Award of Excellence winner under his direction, and Disney’s California Grill, an Award of Excellence winner since 1997.
Today Miliotes is the master sommelier for the Capital Grille, a Darden restaurant concept based in his hometown, where he oversees the wine list for all 40 locations of the national steak house chain. With wine lists ranging from 300 to 1,000 selections, all 35 Capital Grilles that Miliotes entered in Wine Spectator's 2009 Restaurant Wine List Awards earned either a Best of Award of Excellence or Award of Excellence. Miliotes is also the food and beverage director for another Darden concept, Seasons 52, with locations in Florida and Georgia. They earn the Award of Excellence for their succinct yet exemplary bistro wine lists. Miliotes passed the demanding master sommelier examination in 2007.
Wine Spectator: What kind of work did you do at your family's restaurant, Mr. Dunderbak's?
George Miliotes: I got my start in wine there. When I was 13 or 14 my father would make me clean the wine bottles in the back of the restaurant. My father was smart enough to have bought 1974 Cabernets so there would be people who would come into the restaurant and they would be like 'Oh, you have '74 Sterling Reserve!' I wondered what these adults were getting all excited about, so I did my homework on those wines so I could help my father sell them.
WS: When did you decide to pursue wine as the focus of your career?
GM: While at Disney, the Court of Master Sommeliers came and taught an introductory course. I was like "wow, this is a pretty cool thing."
WS: What's the biggest challenge with managing all of the Capital Grille wine lists?
GM: The largest challenge is making sure each restaurant's list is fresh and unique. We have some wines we ask all the restaurants to carry, and then we also give the wine managers in each restaurant license to choose a certain percent of wine.
WS: How does the wine program at Seasons 52 differ from the Capital Grille's?
GM: The setting is a little bit more casual at Seasons, but I think the wine program is equally as serious, just not as large. It's focused more on wines by the glass as opposed to by the bottle. All eight locations have the same 92 wines. But with 60 to 65 wines by the glass, covering 23 different varietals, the fun of that list is that you can drink around the world, and taste and try different things at different price points.
WS: With so many wines by the glass, how do you keep all the open bottles fresh?
GM: Each restaurant has a nitrogen tap and at the end of the night all the wines have a nitrogen blanket put on them. But we move wine at the restaurant.
WS: Surf-n-turf is a classic steak house offering. What wine would you serve to pair well with both the lobster and the filet mignon?
GM: I know this one is going to sound crazy: I love Spanish reds when I do surf-n-turf. I think Rioja, having some of the power of Cabernet but also the silky smoothness of Pinot Noir, has attributes that can go with red meat and with seafood. The average sommelier takes a step back and says it has to be Pinot. It depends on how you like your steak prepared. For those who don’t like char or prefer a roast piece of meat, I certainly don't have a problem doing Pinot. But if it's a steak that I've done on the grill and there is a char on it, I want to have a little more tannic activity and also I want the body of the wine to go with the lobster. I’m all over Tempranillo with that. It's my stealth wine; I love to recommend it.
WS: What's your favorite cut of steak, and which wine would you drink with it?
GM: I'm a Delmonico man, medium-rare, and I like a little bit of char on the outside—not burnt—but I want them to put it on that grill. And right now, I'm going to go with Malbec. Delmonico is certainly not the leanest piece of steak out there, so I want that tannin to cleanse my palate, but I also want that silky midpalate that I get out of Malbec.
WS: Soup is also challenging to pair well with wine. What do you recommend with the French onion soup on the menu at the Capital Grille?
GM: French onion soup? You have onions in it! And you have beef stock! Those are pretty happy things to wine. Just about any wine could be happy with that, but I will repair to Chardonnay. I didn't say white Burgundy, I said Chardonnay, from the States, where we generally see some oak and we like getting our Chardonnay really, really ripe.
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George Miliotes — Orlando, FL 32804 — March 9, 2010 3:20pm ET
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