Wine Is Fun: Chardonnay and North Carolina Ramps
The name FIG really is the message, Food Is Good, but for Beverage Director David McCarus it’s equally important that Wine Is Fun. To accompany the seasonally inspired cuisine of Chef de Cuisine Jason Stanhope, McCarus looks to high-acid, low-alcohol wines that pair well the many fish and vegetable dishes on the menu. He also supports small production winemakers and farmers, focusing on wines made “in the vineyard” rather than in the crush facility. And to keep things interesting for the staff, you never know what he’ll open for kicks. If the chef is featuring a “killer South Caroling duck on a Saturday night,” he explains, “I might pop open a bottle of Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Vielles Vignes and let the staff have fun with it [as a by-the-glass pour].”
McCarus arranges his list by variety and classical regions. Within each section he’ll have a classic example, something from lesser-known region executing a great wine from that grape, and then a domestic version. And when pouring domestic, he’s not afraid to step outside California and Oregon (FIG currently serves two by-the-glass wines from Gotham Project, an innovative company serving wine on tap, from New York). McCarus specifically points out Dirty&Rowdy, Massican, Matthiasson, Windgap, and Sandhi, as “making big waves right now; I really want to get these wines on the table and tell their story.” Another favorite is Dan Petroski's Massican “Annia,” “a white wine that makes more sense for our menu here than many European whites and is a perfect example of the potential of Napa Valley’s winemaking potential.”
David McCarus fell in love with wine during the four years he worked at the critically acclaimed Charleston Grill. Looking for a more thorough immersion in the world of wine, McCarus moved to San Francisco in 2009 with aspirations to learn both the restaurant and wine industries inside and out. His first job in San Francisco was at A16, where he worked as a server for a year and was able to expand his knowledge of the wines of central and southern Italy. In spring 2010, McCarus left A16 to assist in opening the wine-focused Heirloom Café in San Francisco's Mission District. Soon after the opening, McCarus was promoted to assistant wine director. In spring 2012, a management position at Mike Lata's FIG drew McCarus back to Charleston, South Carolina, where he is currently the general manager and beverage director.
Although you won’t find ramps on the menu right now, when we visited and tasted in the spring, Chef Jason Stanhope prepared simple, fresh spaghetti with local ramps. McCarus explains, “The star of the dish is the pasta itself. We use Sea Island eggs from local farmer (and amazing human being!) Celeste Albers on Wadmalaw Island.” Believing her eggs to be the best, when Stanhope and crew put pasta on the menu, they are showcasing the eggs and the art of the pasta. And ramps just make everything better, right?
Chardonnay is a natural fit for pasta, but finding the right one can be tricky. McCarus explains his love of the 2011 Sandhi Chardonnay, which he feels to be the more crowd pleasing of Sashi and Raj's collaboration: “The wine has strong acidity while maintaining depth and [showcasing] rich Santa Barbara fruit. I am a huge fan of what these two are doing right now. The wines seem to be getting better every vintage and the 2001 is a FIG kinda Chardonnay.”
He likes strong acidity for a glass-pour Chardonnay. “It can't just be overly ripe and oaked out, and it must match the same restraint the chef shows when putting a pasta dish like this on the menu," he says. "Both the spaghetti and wine smell and look richer than they are.” Just as Stanhope doesn't overpower the pasta with an overabundance of ramps, garlic, or butter, McCarus chooses a wine that is more reserved, lest it overpower the pasta with flavors of oak and butter. McCarus’s excitement and passion are obvious when he sums up the pairing, “The wine is herbaceously aromatic with lots of citrus and salinity on the palate to brighten up the dish and propel the flavors of Celeste's eggs in the pasta, while the acidity and salinity on the palate marry elegantly with the garlic, ramps, and butter. Taste the pasta or the wine alone and they are standouts. Put the two together and they harmoniously dance without one trying to master the other.”