An expert palate

Three years after exiting from his first big splash into the deep end of the restaurant pool as the bar manager at dearly departed Till Dynamic Fare (where he produced house bitters and vermouths), Stokes was coaxed back into the restaurant business—and out of a cushy wine rep job—to help chef Josh Dalton launch envelope-pushing Veritas in Downtown Columbus.

Studying for the Bar: Stokes studies at least three hours a day—and up to eight hours on days off—for the grueling master sommelier exam he’ll take in July. Should he pass, he’ll join a worldwide coterie of about 250 wine experts with that rare distinction. But don’t think Stokes was born with a silver tastevin in his mouth. Citing blue-collar roots—“My dad drank Old Milwaukee,” he recalls—his first sip of wine came as a college senior. That life-changing taste was followed by the philosophy major’s realization that his longtime law-school aspiration was “a very bad idea.” He wanted to study wine. And early, post-collegiate jobs at Brio Tuscan Grille and The Wine Bistro uncorked his aptitude for comprehending, explaining and selling wine.

Catching a Wave: Noticing a spike in adventurous diners and wine consumption since Veritas became a tasting-menu-only operation last fall, Stokes says, “I think the rumors of the death of fine dining in Columbus were greatly exaggerated—it’s just taking a different form. A new wave of diners want ‘something different’ experiences and don’t want to be, and shouldn’t be, pandered to. And a new wave of independent restaurants is moving away from playing it safe.”

Bubbling Up: “I’m always looking for the next thing. I have ADD and probably change something every week,” is how Stokes describes his excellent wine list at Veritas. What’s his favorite drink? “Champagne. I’m always craving something bright and refreshing because of palate fatigue from tasting wines all day. And I absolutely love bubbles.” What’s on his horizon at Veritas? A new emphasis on wine-themed dinners—such as an upcoming all-Champagne meal—in which Stokes works with the kitchen crew to create dishes and drink pairings.