Alan Uchrinscko, general manager and director of wine and spirits at Mount Washington's Altius restaurant, is thrilled that Pittsburgh's wine culture is deepening. "People's palates have really opened up," he says. "They're much more willing to experiment."
And Uchrinscko, whose résumé includes work at New York City's Burgundy Wine Company and as the sommelier of Lautrec at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, is an accomplished guide. (In fact, along with pairing wines for dinners at Altius, Uchrinscko teaches a series of Saturday seminars on wine selection.) "I'm so interested in sharing what I've learned over the past 18 years in the wine business," says Uchrinscko. "I know what I like and I do whatever I can to find it."
His exacting standards are reflected in Altius' tightly curated wine list. "I have a connection to every wine that's on the list," he says. He's also done a lot of legwork: The list has just over 30 wines (a number he says will grow a bit), but they are obtained from 18 different suppliers.
There are rules about which wines make the cut. First, grapes must begin at a vineyard that's farmed organically, sustainably or biodynamically.
Uchrinscko isn't trend-chasing; he's been fascinated with biodynamic wines — those grown according to principles that range from the sustainable to the nearly spiritual — for years. And a wine won't make the list just because it's made in a vineyard with a manure-filled cow's skull buried by the light of the moon.
Take the 2010 Mongrana from Tuscany's Agricola Querciabella. The vineyard uses more than 30 plants to feed the soil and protect grapes from pests. But the real selling point is the way the soft-tannin Super Tuscan resonates with dark cherry, subtle spice. It's also terrifically food-friendly.
"It has to be the best wine of its kind at the price point," he says. "The wine has to be to be all killer, no filler — like Def Leppard's Hysteria."