Uncorked: Matt Varona

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Matt Varona beverage manager at MJMK restaurants on his wine list at Kol

Related tags Santiago Lastra MJMK restaurants Sommelier Uncorked Kol Matt Varona

The beverage manager at MJMK on his wine list at progressive Mexican restaurant Kol, the New Old World and ‘Roman slave juice’.

Tell us about the moment you first became interested in wine...

A trip to Chablis with my father when I was 18. He used to own a restaurant in the City and Chablis was a particular favourite amongst the clientele, so he organised a trip for us to meet one of the producers he worked with - Olivier Tricon. It was my first proper experience in a winery and my first taste of a Grand Cru Chablis.

Tell us about your wine list at Kol

The list at Kol focuses on the central and eastern regions of Europe as opposed to the more southern parts (Spain, Italy and France). Santiago (Lastra, Kol’s chef patron) has cooked in many countries around the world, and he developed an affinity with producers and styles from Eastern Europe that seemed to resonate not only with his food and style of cooking but also on a deeper personal level.

Over the course of your career, have you had any wine-related disasters? 

Unfortunately, I have had plenty. From trying to carry too many cases of wine at once and dropping them all to almost dropping a bottle over a guests lap at a previous place of work in the early days.

Name your top three restaurant wine lists 

The new list at Carousel hits the right buttons and is incredibly well priced.

Fare on Old Street is guaranteed to have a great bottle and is again priced quite agreeably. Bar Crispin on Kingly Street too.

Who do you most respect in the wine world?

Peter Honneger from Newcomer wines. I’ve really enjoyed working with him and his team over the past few years and some of the producers he is championing in the UK are second to none. I truly think he understands the way the industry is going and I look forward to the future of Newcomer.

What’s the most interesting wine you’ve ever come across?

Not strictly a wine but what Fabio Bartolomei of Vinos Ambiz called ‘Roman slave juice’ when I went to visit him a couple of years back in the Sierra de Gredos just outside of Madrid. It can also be known as posca and is effectively a vinegar (or in this instance oxidised wine) diluted with water, herbs and some salt. It was remarkably refreshing especially in the midday heat in the Sierra.

What are the three most overused tasting notes?

Cherry, mineral, stone fruit. I’m also guilty of using these.

What’s the best value wine on your list at the moment?

A beautiful Pinot Noir from a producer called Springer & Stapleton. The wine is named ‘ČTVRTĚ’ after the small vineyard where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown on loamy soil with layers of windswept loess that is often found to the south in Kamptal, Austria. The earthy notes of the wine work magically with our purple carrot cecina, mole, and British black truffle. 

What is your ultimate food and drink match?

Champagne and fish and chips. 

Old World or New World?

The New Old World (that’s wanky, I know)

What is your pet hate when it comes to wine service in other restaurants?

Receiving a wine that you have ordered by the glass already poured at the bar.

Who is your favourite producer at the moment and why?

Attila Homonna. The best producer of Furmint full stop. Old vines, low yields, tension and texture and a real pleasure to drink. Often found on the pairing at Kol. 

What question do you most get asked by customers?

I get asked what my favourite wine is, but I will tend to suggest a region or a producer that I’m enjoying at the moment.

Which wine producing region or country is currently underrated at the moment and why?

The Czech Republic. Terrific value for money and a great talking point. There is a nice balance between local and international varieties. Basket Press Wines are the main Czech wine importer that I work with and are doing a fantastic job at introducing the wine to the UK.

It’s your last meal and you can have a bottle of any wine in the world. What is it and why?

The Grand Cru Vosgros by Domaine Moreau-Naudet my father and I had on that Chablis wine trip.

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