Top Pair: Nashville Wine Pairings Peeking Out of the Neon Lights

top pairing
by Caroline Hatchett with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 38
January 2014   

Upstairs at Merchants is an anomaly in downtown Nashville. The Michel Bras-inspired salads, locally sourced proteins, and fine wine selection there rub elbows with the Bud Light and big hair of neighboring honky tonks. Don’t get us wrong. We’d sidle up to the bar at Robert’s just about every night of the week if we could. We just didn’t expect to find the power chef-somm duo of Barclay Stratton and Andy Wedge operating amidst neon lights of Broadway. Strategic Hospitality Group—the team that runs Catbird Seat, Patterson House, Pinewood Social, etc.—reclaimed the 132-year-old space in 2010, giving downtown Nashville a classic gastropub (downstairs) and fine-dining space (upstairs) all in one.

While Blue Hill alum Stratton served us the aforementioned and perfectly dressed salad, upscale grits and greens, mouthwatering lamb, and a delicious (but still trashy-in-a-good-way) Butterfinger rendition, Wedge introduced us to wines like a funky, just bubbly Grolleaux/Gamay from the Loire, a chocolaty dessert Tannat from Uraguay, and a big and beautiful Aussie Shiraz. Watch out Broadway. There’s a serious double act in the house.

Sommelier Andy Wedge

Andy Wedge has dedicated himself to a life in wine, cocktails and hospitality. He started out as a busboy in 2004 at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in The Flying V Bar & Grill in Tucson, Arizona. After becoming a certified Sommelier through The Court of Master Sommeliers, Wedge worked his way up to Captain and Floor Sommelier at The Ventana Room, a AAA Five Diamond rated restaurant.

He fine-tuned his wine knowledge in Chicago while working at The Purple Pig and Lush Wine and Spirits. The Purple Pig was named one of the “Top Ten Best New Restaurants in America” by Bon Appetit, and Lush was voted the best wine store in Chicago by Time Out Chicago in 2010, during Wedge’s tenure.

Wedge moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 2012 to become the manager of Etch, which was named “Best New Restaurant” and “Number Three in the City” by Nashville Lifestyles magazine in 2013. Currently, as Sommelier and Beverage Director of Merchants in the heart of Nashville, Wedge is responsible for every aspect of the guests’ beverage experience, from mixing classic cocktails to pouring from and maintaining an extensive global wine list.

Shiraz, Pyren Vineyard, Broken Quartz, Pyrenees, Australia, 2011
Braised Lamb Neck, Smoked Cauliflower Purée, Almonds, Apricot, Cauliflower, Green Onions, and Mizuna
Pairing Note

Syrah and lamb are dear old friends, and this pairing of Australian Shiraz and smoky, funky lamb is no exception. Stratton braises lamb neck, reassembles the meat into a terrine, and sears slices for crispy char. He then seasons and garnishes the dish with flavors of North Africa—tangy yogurt, preserved lemon, red pepper purée, almonds, apricots, and olives. There’s a lot going on, but it works, swimmingly. Adding to the convivial fray is Wedge’s bold New World Shiraz selection complete with big, fruit-forward flavors but a restrained 12.9 percent ABV. “I’m generally fairly skeptical of Australian Shiraz, but when I saw the low alcohol, I thought it had potential,” says Wedge. As the bottle opens up, you get jam and black pepper on the nose, with menthol as well. “It’s New World fruit with Old World alcohol and acidity, and because it’s still Syrah, it’s a wonderful pairing with lamb dish,” he says. The acidity cuts through the fattier elements of the lamb, and a touch of wood plays up the smoke in the charred meat. Just as important, it’s an easier sell than something like a Côte du Rhône Syrah. As a somm in the heart of Music City, one of Wedge’s biggest challenges is to steer diners away from big bottles of cabernet sauvignon. Australian Shiraz is familiar enough to diners that they bite, but this is no Kangaroo-labeled bottle. “This is such a unique wine. I thought it was worthy of the pairing,” says Wedge. “[Pyren Vineyard] is a non-interventionist wine grower, and I typically enjoy wines, for my palate at least, that have less intervention.”

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