“Motor City,” aka Detroit, Michigan, is known for its cars, so it should seem perfectly logical that one of the city’s top hotels is named Book Cadillac. Currently a Westin resort, the hotel has a storied history dating to 1924 when the Book brothers – a pair of real estate moguls – razed an existing hotel to make way for their own property, which, at 33 stories high, became the tallest hotel in the world at the time. Today, the hotel is home to celebrity chef Michael Symon’s Roast, which opened in 2008 and earned the title of “Detroit Restaurant of the Year” for the very next year.
While the James Beard Award-winning chef is actively involved in the restaurant, Roast’s day to day activities fall under the direction of Joseph Allerton, who originally came on board to assist with the opening and was promoted to General Manager (he’s also the sommelier) three years ago. Voted Best Somm by Hour Detroit magazine in 2012, Allerton began working in restaurants while attending school in an arts-related field, thanks to the flexible schedule that it offered. But, while a server at Matt Prentice’s Morels restaurant, he met Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon, which changed his career trajectory. He says, “She was a very inspiring person to work for and I learned a ton from her. I realized that I love wine and [being in the wine industry] sounded like fun.”
Allerton learned about the position at Roast from an importer and put his name out for consideration. During the first meeting, he had a very good connection with the team and recognized that it was a great opportunity to work with Michael Symon early in his career, noting that it was Symon’s first venture outside of his hometown of Cleveland.
So, like everyone should do at least once in their working life, he “took a leap of faith” and notes that “it’s been nothing but a good time [since then]. It’s great to see Michael so successful with his career in television as well as with the restaurants.”
As the name implies, meat is the thing at Roast, “an American steakhouse, but more than just ‘steak on a plate’ and a la carte sides,” Allerton says. “The term we like to use is that it is a ‘meat house’ with steak, but also pork chops; charcuterie with an in-house program that’s beautiful; fresh fish and seafood.”
And where there’s big meat, there’s big wine – including some well-picked bottles from Ribera del Duero and Rueda.
Initially, Allerton worked on the wine list with Symon’s wife, Liz, but then “was given her blessing to carry on and have fun with it. It was music to my ears.”
‘It is one of my favorite wines, with freshness, and cool, crisp flavors. It is serious, with rich, substantial body for a white.’ — Allerton on the Belondrade from Rueda
“We sure have our share of California wines, but we have a strong Old World collection, too,” Allerton says. “We have a little bit of something for everyone at all price points and that are good values. We also have some serious wines with good reputations.”
Did someone say Old World wine and good reputation? That’s why Allerton snagged the always-adored Belondrade from Rueda on his list, dubbing it “a very cool wine” thanks to its elegance and touch of oak – something not overly common with verdejo wines from Rueda.
“It is one of my favorite wines, with freshness, and cool, crisp flavors. It is serious, with rich, substantial body for a white. It is food friendly and versatile,” Allerton says. He particularly likes the Belondrade with the menu’s Grilled Octopus, which he describes as being “so tender, but with a grilled character, coupled with flavors of chorizo and chili, which give the dish a richer tone, further brightened with orange and cilantro.” This fresh character of the dish matches with the fresh character of the wine, both of which also impart smokier, earthier tones to each other.
Looking to the Ribera del Duero wines on his list, Allerton praises the Bodegas y Viñedos Alión as a “really special wine; one of the bolder wines out there in Spain. It is up there with Unico and Emilio Moro,” he says.
To inquiring guests, he’ll generally describes the wine as having “nice concentration, with cassis, black cherry and blackberry fruit, as well as smoky, leather and tobacco notes.” He acknowledges that it sees a generous oak treatment, but suggests that the level of oak “works well with how deep the fruit is… It is not over-the-top or too sweet. It is strong, but with finesse.” Moreover, he believes that, “It has a modern feel to it – it can capture the interest of New World palates.”
He recommends pairing this wine with the bolder flavors on the menu such as Dry Aged Ribeye, which is seared with garlic butter. Allerton feels that “the brighter notes of the garnish of arugula, preserved lemon and Grana Padano cheese play off the modern wine.” In addition to the Alión, Allerton also pours the Antidoto Ribera del Duero by the glass, which he says is “a great example of Tempranillo for a very reasonable price that made sense for glass pour programming, noting its “slight modern touch” that he says makes it “not too austere for people that typically enjoy new world wines. We had great success with this wine because of this.”
When asked about the Detroit restaurant scene, Allerton points to a significant change in the Detroit dining landscape that has come about over the past eight years. He has observed “a strong trend toward elevating the restaurant scene; it’s become more competitive. [Detroit is] taking influence from major cities and applying it to the atmosphere, menus and the beverage programs.”
By way of illustration, he mentions that several ex-Roast employees have opened their own restaurants and specifically highlighted a new Thai place he was going to that night. “It’s not your average Thai restaurant. It is fine fining … Things have been moving exponentially” in the upscale dining scene. “It is very exciting to think that [Roast] has been a part of that!”
Tracy Ellen Kamens is a wine educator, writer and consultant based in New York City. She holds the Certified Wine Educator credential from the Society of Wine Educators and the Wine & Spirits Education Trust’s Diploma of Wine & Spirits (with Merit) and earned a Doctorate of Education from the University of Pennsylvania.