Top Pair: Wine Community and Brilliance in Charleston

top pairing
by Caroline Hatchett with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 38
November 2013   

Charleston, South Carolina, compared to most markets of its size, has invested in its sommelier community. In return, its wine sipping citizenry can go out to dinner at any of the city’s best restaurants and trust that they’ll experience amazing pairings. The tight-knit team of sommeliers—including five advanced somms—reinforces its own growth with tasting groups and study sessions, the fruits of which we experienced first-hand. Here are just a few of our favorite food and beverage pairings (and somms) from the market.

Restaurant
Who
Sommelier Matt Tunstall | @tunstallmatt Matt Tunstall uncapped his love for vino after graduating from The City College of San Francisco College with a culinary arts degree. Since then, he’s studied with the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers and immersed himself in the field, gaining hands-on experience. Tunstall worked as a consultant with chefs like Elizabeth Falkner and as a wine director before landing his dream job as sommelier at Husk, where he shares his wine knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm with guests nightly.
Wine
Premetta, Grosjean Freres, Valle d'Aoste, Italy, 2011
Dish
Charcuterie Platter: Bresaola, Four Spice Salami, Coppa, Culatello, Pork Heart Jerky, Capicola, and Felino Salami
Pairing Note
Charleston knows how to cure its pork, especially Chef Travis Grimes, who presented us with Bresaola, Four Spice Salami, Capicola, and Felino Salami, among other unctuous, pepper-spiked slices of meat. Somms across the country have poured us glorious charcuterie pairings (we’re suckers for saison or bubbly Lambrusco), and Tunstall joined their ranks by selecting a 2011 Premetta from Valle d'Aoste. This young wine—with its acidity and sour cherry and strawberry notes—cut through the fattiness and intensity of the meats, all the while standing up to the weight of the pork and making the board go down all to easily.
Restaurant
Who
Sommelier Vonda Freeman North Carolina native and sommelier, Vonda Freeman knows her way around the South—and wine. She worked at South African import company Vinnovative Imports and spent eight years navigating beverage distribution before landing at Charleston’s Indigo Road Restaurant Group, where she has the pleasure (and challenge) of sourcing and pairing wines with Executive Chef Jeremiah Bacon’s food.
Wine
Grenache/Syrah, Mon Coeur, J.L. Chave, Côtes du Rhône, France, 2011
Dish
Sweetbreads, Asparagus, Leeks, Chinese Radishes, Radish Tops, Peanuts, and Fine Herbes
Pairing Note
Starting strong, we dived forks forward into Chef Jeremiah Bacon’s creamy, perfectly breaded and fried sweetbreads, whose richness was tempered by a bright salad of radish tops, asparagus, and herbs. Such fresh, green vegetables often send wine into a tizzy, but Freeman’s fruit-forward ruby Rhône selection stood up to the wine-awkward vegetables. The spicy notes of the Grenache/Syrah blend played off the radishes and acidity tamed the rich sweetbreads.
Restaurant
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Who
Beverage Director David McCarus | @davidmccarus

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.

Wine
Melon de Bourgogne, Les Gras Moutons, Domaine de la Pépière, Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Loire Valley, France, 2011
Dish
Wahoo Crudo, Fava Beans, Celery, Mint, and Champagne Vinaigrette
Pairing Note
South Carolina’s fisherman harvests firm-fleshed wahoo year-round, giving FIG Chef de Cuisine Jason Stanhope a seafood staple to play with through the seasons. For his wahoo crudo with favas, celery, and creamy Champagne vinaigrette, McCarus paired a grassy Loire Muscadet that would play to the dishes high acid notes and offset the buttery fish flesh and favas. “This wine’s old vines strive to survive,” says McCarus. “You can really taste the [gneiss] soil.”
Restaurant
Who
Sommelier Brad Ball Brad Ball learned hospitality early, starting as a delivery boy at his family’s Charleston restaurant, Poogan’s Porch. Working in every position on his way up to general manager after college, including a semester in France, he then took the opportunity to expand the restaurant’s wine program (inspired by his time abroad). Ball furthered his career by enrolling in the French Culinary Institute in New York City, interning at Jean-Georges, Momofuku Noodle Bar, and Aquavit, where he assisted with the wine program. Moving back home, he started the groundwork for a wine bar, which eventually became Social Restaurant + Wine Bar. While developing the concept for his wine bar, Ball also earned the Diploma of Wine & Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and more recently has received Advanced Sommelier certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Wine
Grüner Veltliner, Sektkellerei Szigeti, Brut, Austria, NV
Dish
Swordfish Gravlax Bibb Lettuce Purée, Arugula, and Verjus
Pairing Note
A meal that starts with sparkling always feels special, as was the case when Ball presented us with a bubbly Grüner Veltliner from Austria. “There’s a minimal amount of sparkling wine produced in Austria, and these are the only guys that do it exclusively,” says Ball. He paired the wine with Chef Jesse Sutton’s clever swordfish gravlax. The wine accented the dish’s chives and black pepper, and its citrus qualities brought out the citrus in the gravlax cure. Honey notes and medium effervescence completed the pairing, melding beautifully with the fresh lettuce purée.
Restaurant
Who
Beverage Director Cappie Peete | @CappiePeete Cappie Peete graduated from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in hotel and tourism management. After graduation, Peete furthered her education and studied wine through a Certified Sommelier program at the Professional Culinary Institute, and she earned her Advanced Sommelier Certification in spring 2013. Just 26, Peete is currently the beverage director of Chef Sean Brock’s McCrady’s.
Wine
Carignan, Lioco Rosé, Indica, Mendocino County, California, 2012
Dish
Seared Trout, Southern Succotash, Shrimp, and Citrus Purée
Pairing Note
This umamiful trout dish couldn’t have been more balanced or well executed—with its fresh vegetables and citrus purée saving a crispy trout filet and rich sauce from the brink of overindulgence. The only thing that could improve the dish is Peete’s Lioco Rosé pairing. Made from old vine Carignan, the wine is aged in stainless steel and undergoes slow lactic formation that brings a freshness and bright acidity to the glass. The wine enhanced nearly every element on the plate, cutting through the butter and bringing garlic to the fore. Most impressively, it transformed the shrimp in the dish, coaxing out of the sautéed shellfish a deep, nutty shrimp shell flavor.
Restaurant
Who
Sommelier Andrew Marshall After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in biology, Andrew Marshall found his way into the hospitality business via pizza delivery. From there here worked his way up from server to sommelier at Charleston Grill, under the mentorship of Beverage Director Rick Rubel. He passed his Advanced Sommelier certification in 2012 and continues to study for the Master Sommelier exam.
Wine
Albariño, Do Ferreiro, Cepas Vellas, Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain, 2011
Dish
Crab Cake, Shem Creek Shrimp, Pear Tomatoes, and Lime-Dill Vinaigrette
Pairing Note
Chef Michelle Weaver can’t take her crab cake off the menu at Charleston Grill, and Marshall’s Albariño pairing is intent on showcasing classic Charleston at its best. With Galicia mirroring Charleston’s warmer climate, the Do Ferreiro Albariño brings a strong mineral and citrus backbone with a viscosity atypical of Albariños. “I don’t want a small wine for this food,” says Marshall. The bright wine brought out the sweetness of the dill and shrimp, and was all yellow sunshine—a brilliant, easy-going pairing.
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