George Miliotes hasn’t been spending much time at his home in Orlando’s College Park neighborhood recently.
The Master Sommelier told me he’s been sleeping at the Lake Buena Vista Hilton since last Saturday, the day his eponymous wine bar opened for business across the street at Disney Springs.
Actually, he says he hasn’t done much sleeping, what with the 17 hour days he’s been working to get the long-awaited Wine Bar George up and running.
Tips for First Timers
My husband and I dodged the raindrops last Sunday afternoon to visit the establishment on its first full day of operation (Saturday’s opening started at 5pm). Bottom line, this place is deliciously dangerous for wine geeks. If you are one, here are a few quick tips to make the most out of your experience:
- Plan your attack
Wine Bar George offers more than 130 selections by the glass. If you’re like me, you could spend at least half an hour pouring over the wine list, before anyone actually pours you anything! I suggest spending a little time with the list before you leave home.
Two of Wine Bar George’s more tempting offerings
- Look around
Before you get lost in the wine, notice the beautiful space – two levels with a bar on each floor, an outdoor terrace upstairs, huge windows with lots of natural light, a comfy-looking couch area, and an open, airy feel throughout.
- Drink by the ounce
Everything on the wine list is available by the ounce, from the $8/glass Borsao rosé to the $500/glass Ch. Margaux 1988. This isn’t explicitly clear from looking at the list, but George assures me it’s the case. He eventually plans to offer flights, but for now, you can build your own! Take the opportunity to try lots of new things, as well as a few old ones (vintage-wise, that is).
- Drink strategically
High-end wines from the “outstanding by the ounce” sections of the list are poured using Coravins to prevent oxidation, so they may need some air before they’re ready to drink. Plan ahead by a pour or two to make sure your wines are ready for you when you’re ready for them.
- Get the Big Board
This tasty and extensive selection of cheese and charcuterie will sustain two people for a whole afternoon of wine sipping. This has been scientifically tested.
- Take Lyft or Uber
Any wine lover will feel like a kid in a candy store on their first trip to Wine Bar George. Trust me, you’ll want to spend the aforementioned whole afternoon sipping. Don’t risk driving.
- Take your wallet
Wine Bar George is Florida’s only wine bar led by a Master Somm. And it’s at Disney. It should come as no surprise that it ain’t cheap, so just be prepared.
Needless to say, we had a great time on Sunday. Standouts for me were the gorgeously oxidative 2013 Edi Simcic rebula from Slovenia, the surprisingly delicious (because I don’t usually love this region) 2014 Victorino tempranillo from Spain’s Toro, and the spectacularly dirty, funky, and geeky 2015 Angelini Paolo grignolino from Italy.
“I’m an equal opportunity drinker!”
I found myself back at Wine Bar George a couple days later, this time to have a quiet chat with the bar’s namesake over a lovely bottle of Selbach-Oster 2016 Bomer riesling.
George Miliotes wanted to offer some explanations of a few idiosyncracies I’d pointed out about his wine list last week. First, he assured me, he loves Chinon, even though it’s not on his list, and he has no preference for Bordeaux over Rhone, despite his current Bordeaux-heavy offerings.
That won’t be the case forever, he promised. While he doesn’t plan any major revamps of the list, he assured me that incremental changes will come “early and often,” as new wines become available in the market and others spark his interest.
“Maybe someday I’ll put eight Rhones on the list,” he said, “I’m an equal opportunity drinker!”
I’d also written of my surprise that his three Beaujolais selections included two from the cru village of Morgon and none from the other nine crus. His purpose, he explained, was to allow guests to compare the styles of two very different producers.
“I’ll have the same vintage, same piece of dirt, but two totally different philosophies on growing wine,” he said, with a wine geeky twinkle in his eye.
But how would a customer know that comparison was possible, I asked, if she wasn’t familiar with those particular producers? His answer illuminated a key tenet of his own philosophy of restaurant management: the servers should tell her.
“I’m here. This is my job.”
George expects a lot from his servers and bartenders. He sees it as their job – not the job of the printed list – to draw those kinds of connections and to suggest food and wine pairings based on their own experiences, palates, and training.
In return, he promises them – and his customers – the benefit of his in-person wine knowledge on a regular and ongoing basis.
Most restaurants bearing the names of celebrity chefs – and there are quite a few within stumbling distance of Wine Bar George – seldom offer guests the opportunity to see or even eat food cooked by their namesakes.
George promises his establishment will be different.
“I’m here. This is my job,” he told me. “I’m all in.”
His dedication to being onsite is as much for the sake of his 110 servers, cooks, and other staff as it is for his customers.
“It’s my obligation,” he said. “I brought all these people on and said we we’re gonna learn about wine. If I’m travelling, I can’t teach [them] about wine.”
New Faces in Orlando’s Wine Community
Several key staff members have moved from other parts of the state and country to take positions at Wine Bar George. Others have moved from Orlando-area chain restaurants that are, shall we say, slightly less wine-focused.
That’s already meant an infusion of new blood into Orlando’s wine community, even at venues far from Disney property.
Swirlery‘s Blind Tasting Tuesdays have become a favorite stop for many Wine Bar George staffers, offering a time and place to study wine in a relaxed atmosphere and meet other folks in and around the industry.
“I give Melissa credit,” George said, referring to Swirlery owner Melissa McAvoy, a newly-minted Advanced Sommelier. “She’s done a very good job of getting people who’re passionate about wine wanting to come to her place.”
When George was going for his Master Somm pin, he recalls, there were only four people in Orlando seriously studying wine.
“I love the camaraderie that goes on in the [wine] community and the expansion of the community. It’s a thing of beauty,” he said. “To be a part of that keeps you on your toes.”
“A reflection of my personality.”
Right now, though, his new restaurant is what’s keeping him on his toes.
George says people are already asking him whether he’s planning to expand to other cities. He says that’s something to worry about “down the road.”
He’s plenty busy with his new location, and he’s excited about its potential, with plans for wine flights, casual education events with visiting winemakers, and maybe the occasional “cool” wine dinner.
It’s clear that Wine Bar George is more to him than just a business that bears his name.
“It’s a reflection of my personality,” he says. “I hope people come out and enjoy it because it is my statement on wine.”
Even so, he’s ready to go home and sleep in his own College Park bed pretty soon. He’s thinking maybe, just maybe, that can happen on Sunday.
More Gems from George:
On Orlando’s Welcoming Wine Community
Our business is based on tourism, so we have to be welcoming people. … You go to downtown New York – it’s downtown New York! It may not be about being welcoming.
On Opening Week Surprises
I went through as much pinotage my first three days as I did K-J [Kendall-Jackson] reserve chardonnay.
On the 2015 Angelini Paolo Grignolino
We’re gonna be the largest grignolino seller in the state of Florida. I don’t know about the world, but I’m gonna try!
On His Disney Location
I don’t know if [the by-the-ounce program] would fly anywhere else because there is a certain amount of volume that comes through, with a certain demographic, that can make [it] work.
On Wine Dinners
They’re like superhero moves – it’s the same thing but just told better or maybe with better animation or a quirkier superhero. It’s all about somebody standing up and talking down … I’m not totally abandoning it, but isn’t it time to make it a little bit more interactive and fun and casual?
On Natural Wine
I’m not slagging off any natural winemaker. I just [think] “non-interventionist” is more appropriate. It explains what they’re doing, as opposed to saying it’s natural winemaking and everything else is unnatural. I’m not good with that.
On Orlando Advanced Somm & Darden Director of Wine Strategy Brian Phillips:
Dude has Master Sommelier written all over him.