“They say there’s a perfect wine for every meal. We believe that works both ways.”
In a city filled with lauded chefs and noted restaurants, it’s easy to believe that the cuisine in Charleston reigns supreme. But any good restaurateur will tell you that exceptional food is only part of the equation. At Charleston Grill, the Forbes Four Star restaurant located inside Belmond Charleston Place hotel, the 1,200 label wine program stands on its own, continuously awarded Wine Spectator’s “Best of Award of Excellence”.
We recently sat down with our Advanced Sommeliers’ Rick Rubel, Andrew Marshall and Femi Oyediran, to learn more about the world of wine. Of seven Advanced Sommeliers in the state of South Carolina, six reside in Charleston, and three call Charleston Grill home. We are in good hands.
*2020 Update: Femi Oyediran has pursued his dream of opening his own wine bar. You can now visit him at Graft Wine Shop & Wine Bar.
What would be your bucket list wine to celebrate a special occasion?
Rubel: Well this is a dream “bucket list”, right? It would have to be the 1975 Bollinger Blanc de Noirs “Vieilles Vignes Francaises (Champagne). I tasted this wine at a seminar 20 years ago and it haunts me to this day. I recently saw a bottle sell for about $3,000 in the UK.
Marshall: You can’t go wrong with a classic, and the 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild is considered by many to be the wine of the vintage and a spectacular wine. The history alone is enough to make me search out this $10,000 bottle of wine that was used to celebrate the end of World War II.
What is your favorite off the beaten path wine region?
Rubel: This may come as a surprise but Michigan. It’s where I began studying wine, and the region features many stunners from sparkling to elegant reds to some of our country’s best Rieslings.
Oyediran: I’m beginning to bring Finger Lakes, NY into the domestic conversation. While there are some fantastic Rieslings in the area, I recently tasted Pinor Noir and Syrah from Element Winery, which has made me want to explore this region more.
What wine would you pair with your favorite dish at Charleston Grill?
Marshall: I’m a sucker for all things sweet and Chef Michelle’s Foie Gras with bourbon-maple peaches is one of those dishes that makes you believe in a higher being. I love the classic pairing with botrytized or naturally sweet wines like Hungary’s Tokaji Aszú.
Rubel: Currently, my favorite combination is the Crispy Sweetbreads paired with Sadie Family’s Palladius 2013. The sweetbreads are a play on veal piccata which pairs perfectly with this South African white wine in weight and acidity.
Oyediran: I’m partial to the Snapper dish, plated over Fregola Sarda with red wine reduction and a foray of wild mushrooms. A Beaujolais like Thibault Liger Belair’s Moulin-a-Vent “La Roche” is graceful and aromatically intoxicating.
Which wine would you pair for a picnic in historic downtown Charleston?
Rubel: A dry, still Rosé that has enough “cut” or acidity to cool our summer heat like Paul Thomas’s Sancerre Rosé made 100% Pinot Noir. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Marshall: A well-chilled bottle of Champagne. I will take bubbles in just about any form, but Champagne is king.
Oyediran: I’m picking bubbles too. One that I love right now is Caraccioli Cellars Brut Rosé from Santa Lucia Highlands. It’s fresh, vibrant and just incredibly delicious.
What wine and food pairing have you recommended that were surprising to guests but really work?
Rubel: I can almost hear the “no sweet wines” plea as I approach tables with a German Riesling, but a dollop of residual sugar pairs perfectly with spicy and sweet seafood dishes like Chef’s Catfish Country Captain Stew.
Oyediran: I think Madeira is always surprising as a wine pairing, but it’s great with our Crème Brulee. And not only because of the wine’s historic relationship with Charleston, but because the harmony created between the mutual caramelized flavors is a great way to end a phenomenal dinner.
What are your three personal wine cellar must haves?
Rubel: Can I say Champagne, Burgundy, and wines from the Rhône Valley? Or is that completely cheating? How about Vintage Champagne, German Riesling and Northern Rhône Reds? Wow, that hurts to leave off Red Burgundy. Ask me tomorrow, and I bet my answer is different.
Marshall: Champagne, Burgundy, Rhône. In that order and any other order.
Oyediran: I’ll try to be diplomatic here. A Great Chardonnay from Burgundy because those wines are majestic as they age, an ‘old-school’ Napa Cabernet like Inglenook from the 1970s, and lastly a vintage port because after all of those you’re going to want something you can just sip and contemplate with.
What wine, region, varietal, or wine maker is the “one to watch” or your “favorite” and why?
Rubel: Bordeaux. The region has it all; legendary white, red and dessert wine. Some of the most famous wines on the planet with prices to match come from this region but it also has a treasure trove of good values. I hope consumers will rediscover rich Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominated reds, its elegant “Clarets”, sophisticated barrel fermented whites, crisp whites or excellent dessert wines. Too many great wines to ignore.
Marshall: Canada, and more specifically, British Columbia and Ontario, are producing beautiful examples of Icewine from the world’s most northerly wine regions.
Oyediran: Whether it be the graceful reds of Cerasuolo di Vittoria or of Etna, I think Sicily is producing very intriguing wines that deserve to be included in the dining room.
Next time you find yourself overwhelmed by the options on a restaurant’s wine list or at the grocery store, know you can’t go wrong with one of the suggestions above. Or, as Oyediran says “trust your server and ask questions.” Stop in soon and say hello to Rick and Andrew, who can be found at the Charleston Grill nightly.