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Restaurants & Bars

Knife Sommelier Scott Hunter Says Don’t Overthink Your Wine Order

Welcome to What’s Dallas Drinking, a periodic pulse check with Dallas’ brightest beverage pros.
Scott Hunter ponders a glass of bourbon. courtesy Scott Hunter

The best way to learn what’s trending in the food and drink industry is to ask folks who are at the heart of it. When it comes to drinks, that means heading for the person behind the bar or tapping the person holding the wine menu. To get an idea of what Dallas is drinking now, we’re asking experts in the industry about the trends they’re noticing among diners.

Scott Hunter is the beverage director and sommelier at Knife Dallas. We sat down with a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino to talk about wine trends, favorite local bars, and how sommeliers should make customers feel free to order what they like.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did you get started working in the wine and beverage world and what got you hooked?

When I moved to Salt Lake and I wanted to snowboard every day, I had to find a job that accommodated that. I had worked in restaurants as a teenager and I just felt like bartenders had the coolest job, made the most money per hour, and it was more of a trade and a craft versus just doing something for money.

And it allowed for maximum mountain time.

Yeah. Back then in Salt Lake, you could show up at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday and make powder turns for four hours and be back at 4. So, it worked really good.

What’s your role now and how did you get to where you are?

I got hired to bartend at Knife by a guy who’s a friend and mentor now, Ben Reynolds [now at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse]. One night he sent me home with a bottle of 2004 Margerum Black Oak Vineyard Syrah and everything was different after that.

So that was your keystone wine?

One hundred percent. I started studying wine and Ben was the impetus behind me doing that. Now my title is Beverage Director and Sommelier, but I also help with a lot of the management as well.

Have you gone back and tasted that wine since then?

I’ve sold a couple and tasted one. And it’s still awesome.

What do you see people ordering most these days?

Listen, a lot of the time it’s still a cab and a slab. (laughs) And when you have [wines] that hit the list at the right price and check every box for the guest, that’s the right thing to give to them.

Wine snobs throw a lot of shade at Napa, almost to the point that it’s become a little hacky, but you and I are a little more sympathetic to that area and style than most. Do you have a Napa cab on your list that really excites you?

Yeah. 2017 Flint Knoll Big K Vineyard from Spring Mountain. It’s a Philippe Melka wine and it’s elegant – it’s California and it’s Bordeaux. It’s beautiful.

Yeah that reputation for over-extracted, unsubtle wines is there for a reason, but at the same time there’s so many careful, obsessive, interesting winemakers in Napa, you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

For sure. 

What if a guest wants to get a little more adventurous?

I love Priorat, man. We have that Martinet Bru [from Priorat] and every time I pour that for people they’re always pleasantly surprised, even if they start off skeptical.

What is it about Priorat that you love so much?

I don’t know. I think part of it is that it was kind of forgotten about for a long time. And then someone came along and said, ‘we could do this here,’ and what happened was magic. There’s a rarity to it; it’s a limited amount of space and the soil is really unique. And there’s some ripe but elegant wines that come out of there.

I take my job very seriously…but, at the end of the day, treat people how you would if you were inviting them over to your place.

Scott Hunter

I also sell a lot of Italian wines, specifically from Piemonte, because I think they pair really well with our food. High acid, structured but with a lighter body, with flavors that aren’t going to interfere with the subtle nuances of dry-aged beef.

But I also just tell guests to drink what they like. Like, if you want to start with a cocktail, I recommend you do something light like a spritz, but if you want an old-fashioned to start your experience, do it, dude. Let’s go.

Yeah I think that’s so important. Having fun and enjoying it should be the guiding light, right?

Yeah, some people take this shit too seriously. This is supposed to be the best couple of hours of somebody’s day. Right? Enjoy it with them.

Don’t get me wrong, I take my job very seriously because we’ve got to deliver the experience the guest is expecting and paying for. But, at the end of the day, treat people how you would if you were inviting them over to your place. That’s how I approach my job. And that’s also why at the end of the week my social battery is completely fucking low. (laughs) 

Dallas is such a transient city. So many people move here for work and move away again. A lot of restaurants here open and shine bright for a couple of years but don’t last. What do you think it is about [Chef John] Tesar and Knife that’s made it such a lasting success?

When I first moved to Dallas, I saw the D Magazine cover with him on it, “The Most Hated Chef in Dallas,” so I was aware of him early on. I know he gets some grief for being abrasive. But the dude gives a shit. And if you give a shit too, if you care about quality, he’ll have your back. He’s been great to me, I don’t think I would have got the opportunities I’ve had anywhere else.

What are some of your favorite local watering holes and what’s your order?

Write this shit down: I enjoy wine, but I drink whiskey. (laughs) I’m a shot and beer guy. Two shots of whiskey and a High Life pony.

I like Cosmo’s. Jackson Tran makes some of the best pho in town. Charlie’s. Double Wide is crawling distance away from my apartment. Oh, and anything Gabe Sanchez operates—Black Swan, Midnight Rambler, now Saint Valentine—he just knows how to do what we do, dude.

Definitely. That chicken skin and pâté sandwich…

Oh yeah. Like my single favorite thing in this world to eat is crispy chicken skin.

All right so lastly, what’s your go-to drink when you’re at home? I think I know the answer…

Benchmark bourbon poured from a crystal decanter.


Chase Beakley

Chase Beakley