The SOMM Journal

June / July 2018

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Page 61 of 132

{ } 45 GRAND PRIZE WINNER Da Marco, Houston, Texas Nicolas Nikic, General Manager and Sommelier Da Marco consistently ranks at the very pinnacle of the Houston din- ing scene. One factor that assures this consistency is General Manager Nicolas Nikic, who also holds the Sommelier title. Nikic got the restaurant bug as a teenager in his native Vienna, Aus- tria, when his architect father took him along to a restaurant he was remodeling. "From that moment," Nikic recalls, "I developed a passion for the industry and for the dynamic of wine and food." He quickly signed up for hotel and restaurant management school in Vienna, where he received the intensive European training designed to turn out a world-class hospitality professional. Nikic moved to the U.S. in 1999 while working for the Holland America cruise ship line. That led to continuing education in food and beverage at the University of Houston, where Nikic also worked as an instructor—"a further step in my development," says the pro. "I was working in a private club in Houston when I got the call to move to Da Marco in 2006," recounts Nikic. "I started as a GM and then took on the task of sommelier as well. As the only wine person, I run the whole program from beginning to end," a hefty responsibility in an establishment as important as Da Marco. Still, Nikic says he keeps "an open line of communication" with the restaurant's owner, Chef Marco Wiles. "We've worked together for 12 years and know each other really well. He's always included in all decisions," Nikic adds. Growing the wine list was among Nikic's top priorities, and with Da Marco being an Italian restaurant, GAJA was essential. "Step by step, I developed the GAJA selection," explains the somm. "I expanded the paradigm and added their wines grape by grape. The wine industry is complex and expanding; the whole objective is to keep it up to date, to introduce new wines and varietals." Nikic credits GAJA's Texas distributor, Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC), for part of his success. "Republic is a wonderful organization, passionate and dependable—you can count on them to deliver," he explains, noting that he enjoys a "two-way relationship" with his RNDC sales rep, Christopher Ainsworth. "They're doing everything right." "Da Marco is one of the quintessentially classic fine-dining restaurants in Houston," says Blake Cooper of RNDC, the GAJA Brand Ambassador who nominated Da Marco for the Award of Excellence. "Their food and service are iconic in Houston, and their representation of GAJA on the wine list is a perfect fit with the restaurant." Cooper notes that Da Marco mirrors GAJA in that both the restaurant and the winery are fo - cused on tradition and innovation. "Nicolas is a pleasure to work with and is a constant professional," Cooper adds. According to Nikic, "there's a synergy between the food and the wine," and, to him, GAJA speaks perfectly to that relation - ship. Summing up the GAJA wines, Nikic says, "It takes a lot of discipline and focus to reach this level." The same can certainly be said of Nikic himself. A selection of GAJA wines at Da Marco in Houston, TX. CREDIT: PHOTO: FELIX SANCHEZ The GAJA Costa Russi, a single-vineyard Nebbiolo at Da Marco. The wine now carries a Barbaresco DOP designation starting with the 2013 vintage. Amore Ristorante, Naples, Florida Stefano Ljikovic, Owner and Wine Director Amore Ristorante's website states that Owner Stefano Ljikovic likes to lure customers by standing in front of the restaurant dressed in Albanian na - tional costume and waving a sword. It's pure fantasy, he admits, but it captures the tall, imposing Ljikovic's ready sense of humor. Born of Albanian extraction in Mon - tenegro (at the time part of Yugoslavia), Ljikovic came to the States at 19 to work for an uncle who owned restau- rants in New York City. ("You start from the bottom," the now-successful restau- rateur says with a laugh.) Having picked PHOTO: MICHELLE REED At Amore Ristorante, Owner Stefano Ljikovic enjoys a glass of Rennina Brunello di Montalcino from GAJA's Pieve Santa Restituta estate in Tuscany.

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