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Formento’s: A Triple Threat that Excels in Food, Wine and Service

By Alex Hunt MW |  November 29 2020

WFW speaks to Alex Augustine, wine director of Chicago-based restaurant Formento’s, and Phil Walters, co-founder of B. Hospitality restaurant group, which launched Formento’s in January 2015, following their win in the World’s Best Wine Lists 2017.

Priding themselves on offering an inspiring wine list, and an exemplary menu combining tradition, with contemporary presentation, all delivered with top notch service, Formento’s hits the restaurant trifecta in Chicago’s happening Fulton Market District scene.

Read on to hear from two figures responsible for the restaurant’s wine list, a selection which led Formento’s to achieve the highest (three-star) rating in the 2017 World’s Best Wine Lists, and win the category for Best Medium-Size Wine list in the World for the second consecutive year.

Congratulations on the success of Formento’s in the World’s Best Wine Lists 2017; not only claiming a three-star award for the third consecutive year, but being awarded the title of Best Medium-Size Wine List in the World 2017.

What does it mean to you to win this award?
AA: With so many great restaurants and amazing wine lists out there, it’s truly an honor to even be part of the conversation and considered alongside so many great establishments and sommeliers. We work extremely hard here as a group, and it makes me feel incredibly proud, because this award is not just for the wine staff. It’s for the entire team who work tirelessly to make Formento’s a great dining experience.

PW: To again be chosen as the Best Medium-Size Wine List in the World has been incredibly humbling and gratifying, and this recognition means the world to the Formento’s team. Alex Augustine, the wine director, has put significant time and effort into the program – and we couldn’t be more proud to see him get the acclaim he deserves.

How did you and the team celebrate?
AA: Who has time to celebrate when there is a 300+ wine label program to run? Ha! We haven’t fully celebrated yet, but there will certainly be honorary libations to give thanks to the whole team for supporting and helping to cultivate this great program.

How do you describe the Formento’s wine list?
AA: The comprehensive wine program at Formento’s is meant to go hand-in-hand with providing the best, personalized service. We want our team to be your guide, helping you navigate through over 300 selections, to a wine that is just right for your experience. Our list focuses on Italy primarily, but the list also touches many other regions of the world, including France, Spain, the United States, and even England and Canada.

My belief is that there is just too much delicious wine in the world to focus on any single country or particular region. As such, I’ve tried to create a more diversified program of quality wines, while not being too overwhelming for our customers. And that’s where we really hone in on the personalized service for each guest, with spectacular tableside presence to help guide you through the list.

What inspires your wine list?
AA: I always try to find a balance of classic and off-the-beaten-path wines. My palate definitely falls into the classics category – such as Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo – but there are so many winemakers out there doing really revolutionary things that I certainly appreciate. Chad Stock and Minimus Wines in Oregon is one of my favorites right now, and I think they deserve an international stage to show people how great their wine is.

Now that we’re halfway through the year, have you noticed any trends in wines or the restaurant scene in 2017?
PW: In Chicago, we have seen a greater attention to wines that overachieve in both performance and intrigue relative to value. Brands will always matter, but finding previously unknown varietals or lesser-known regions for greater value is competing with the great regions and producers of the world now. It makes for an interesting time in wine making!

What wine regions or producers have inspired you recently?
AA: Lately my favorite regions have been Alto Piemonte, Mount Etna, and the Canary Islands. I’ve recently been obsessed with these regions, the history behind them and the really unique wines they produce. Alto Piemonte wines are essentially the northern versions of Barolo and Barbaresco, that age just about as long and have a lower price point. Mount Etna in Sicily has only been commercially making wines since the 80’s, and the quality of the wines has continually increased year over year – I’m really excited to see where they head in the future. The Canary Islands area is one of the newer, trendier wine regions, with producers like Envínate restoring vineyards and forgotten varietals. I think popularity and quality of Canary Islands wines will only increase.

What bottle of wine would you normally reach for to drink?
AA: My normal go-to usually falls to Girolamo Russo, Etna Rosé or Gilles Robin Crozes-Hermitage.

PW: I always find the Nerello Mascalese from Sicily meets so many of our guests needs when dining, and is one of my favorites. The Guardiola from Terre Nere Etna is elegant and light like Pinot from Burgundy, and it pairs beautifully with chicken. Other producers of Etna Rosso from the alluvial soils of Mount Etna are also great – having the power and acidity to cut through fatty beef.

What advice would you give to others entering the World’s Best Wine Lists?
PW: Anyone entering the WFW’s World’s Best Wine Lists should start by understanding their market, and creating a list that will speak to that need first and foremost. The remaining opportunities on a list should have a voice, be specific, and try to avoid “filler” labels. The design of the menu itself is quite important as well. The entire design and organization should capture self-evident intent – both thematically and conceptually. If the list reads as a steakhouse list in an Italian restaurant, you will not see success. Make sure to match your concept to your list, and speak to your customers!

Since entering the awards, what has changed for you and the restaurant?
AA: Ordering wine in a restaurant with a large list can potentially be a trying experience for someone not well-versed in the language. I feel that the award gives guests reassurance that they are in a place where they will get taken care of; that the bottle they land on, or we find for them, will be the one that makes their meal that much better.

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