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3 Wines With Emotional Power

Pavle Milić, a poetic wine champion from Arizona, speaks about bottles that move him

Chris Malloy By September 21, 2021
photo illustration of Palve Millic
Photo illustration by Pix

Born in South America to a Colombian mother and a Yugoslavian father who fled the Balkans for political reasons, raised in Queens, New York, stern but warm and poetic, Pavle Milić might seem like an unlikely exponent of Arizona wine. But as beverage director and co-owner of FnB Restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona, he educates local and traveling diners with panache and deep knowledge of the state’s maturing wine scene. For the past few years, Milić has also been building his own winery in Sonoita, Arizona, Los Milics Vineyards.

Milić has worked in hospitality from New York to Napa. He pens a column for Phoenix Magazine called Pav on Juice. He has had his own wine label since 2014. His chops extend to beverages beyond wine and wine far beyond the region. Nevertheless, he might be the most important person in the wine scene of the U.S. Southwest, though, ever humble, he would certainly deny this claim. 

Here are 3 wines that shaped him:

The wines are listed with their current vintages.

bottle of Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir 2017

Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir 2017 ($23)

In many ways, though he has spent pretty much his whole professional life in hospitality, Milić’s wine career began one night while working for Chrysa Robertson and Tom Kaufman of Rancho Pinot Grill in Scottsdale, Arizona. At the end of shifts, Kaufman often opened a bottle for staff. Milić usually passed. He preferred beer or dirty martinis.

One day, that changed. He passed. Kaufman insisted. Milić caved and sipped this French-oak-aged Pinot Noir from California’s Central Valley beside mesquite-grilled chicken, Italian sausages, and polenta. The combination opened a new door in his mind, and his rabbit hole into the wine world began. It was, he says, “love at first sip.” 

Milić was “quickly seduced by the ethereal, fruity, hi-toned berry aromas jumping out of that glass.” Beside Robertson’s signature rustic-refined Arizonan food with Italian influences, the wine created a “cavalcade of simulating flavors.”

“I was hooked,” Milić says. 

bottle of Domaine Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2018

Domaine Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2018 ($40)

After working in high-end Northern California restaurants and returning to greater Phoenix, Milić was introduced to this Morgon. His first taste came at a pivotal time: 2009, when he and a chef from Rancho Pinot, Charleen Badman, would open FnB.

In the decade-plus to come, FnB would win a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest, earn a nomination for Outstanding Beverage Program, and become a core pillar of food and wine in the Southwest. 

The 2009 Foillard reoriented his thinking at a key time, at the beginning of this journey.

Milić had tasted some heady, expensive wines in places like Napa Valley and greater Phoenix. This wine, far more affordable, had gravity and nuance. It was humble and accessible, last supper wine material. The Beaujolais is made from old-vine grapes harvested late, treated with as little sulfur as possible, and fermented in whole clusters before spending the better part of a year in oak. 

The bottle reminded Milić that “you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for a great wine experience” — key when assembling an Arizona-tilted list at a restaurant focused on the hyperlocal ingredients of the region.

bottle of Chateau Musar Bekaa Valley Red Blend

Chateau Musar Bekaa Valley Red Blend ($58)

In the mid-2010s, as FnB began to gain national recognition, Milić was invited to Food & Wine Magazine’s SommCon. At the event, packed with recognizable luminaries, Milić had to pinch himself. Even so, he proudly recalls that he made a mark during a blind tasting — showing he belonged.

At this event that cemented his place in the wine world, Milić had an experience that reconnected him with the emotional power that wine can have. 

Just before, Serge Hochar, patriarch of Chateau Musar in Lebanon, had passed away. At the event, a friend toasted Serge before a tasting of the domain’s 1974 Chateau Musar Red from Lebanon’s celebrated Bekaa Valley, speaking about the impact of his death. Milić recalls being exceptionally moved — at first by the moment, and then by how the wine changed it. 

The wine is a blend of Cabernet, Carignan, and Cinsault fermented in cement vats and transferred to French oak for a year, before aging in stone cellars below Chateau Musar. Bottles aren’t released until seven years after harvest. Milić recalls that the 1974 vintage tasted “fresh and not 41 years old.” It brought “a subtle dance of fruit and herbs all held together with pleasing acidity.” It was like nothing Milić had ever tasted.