Let's face it — sommeliers know their wine lists better than anyone. Even if you are an oenophile yourself, armed with an arsenal of grape knowledge, you might miss out on some hidden gems if you don't tap into the wine director's resources. In case you're a bit shy, we've done some legwork for you. Here, we ask sommeliers to pair their favorite wines with some tasty food. Bon appetit!
2001 Pinot Gris from Domain Bind Humbrecht ($90) with foie gras terrine
112 N. Market St.
Peninsula Grill opened its doors in 1997, and Dennis Perry started working there as a server in 1998. Needless to say, he is a fixture. Since becoming the wine buyer in 2001, he has focused on bringing interesting wines into the restaurant and studying his way toward becoming a master sommelier.
"If you are on track to pass, you are a wine geek," says Perry. "I don't read novels, I don't read poems, and I don't watch a lot of movies." He plans to take the third level of the Master Sommelier (MS) exam later this year and trains his palate on wines like their 2001 Pinot Gris from Domain Bind Humbrecht, which he sells by the bottle and by the glass. Perry thinks that this rich Alsatian white pairs perfectly with the decadent foie gras terrine they often run as a special.
"This is a full-bodied white that is wonderfully aromatic and reminiscent of dried fruits, such as peaches, pears, and apricots. While both the wine and the food by themselves are wonderful, it's the combination that works. The sum is greater than the parts."
2004 Mas Doix Salanques ($35) with lamb chops
224 King St.
Later this year Rick Rubel will sit before the Court of Master Sommeliers and attempt to pass the fourth and final level. This would give him the title of Master Sommelier. The amount of knowledge necessitated by this exam ensures that Rubel can compile a stellar wine list at Charleston Place. When asked to recommend a wine from his list, he gave some options.
"If someone is very special and/or has a lot of money, a special bottle of old Madeira would be something they may have never seen before. I love a Barbeito Bual 1863 (Madeira). What is not to love about a wine that was produced while Abe Lincoln was president? It is a slightly sweet fortified wine that will be most like a tawny port — nutty, caramel [flavors] with dried orange peel aromas. This would be best with cheese and roasted nuts after dinner. This generous gift would set someone back about $700."
"Another wine that is much more affordable is the 2004 Mas Doix 'Salanques' from Priorat, Spain. This is a rich, full-bodied blend of Grenache, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot from the mountainous region northwest of Barcelona. The wine goes great with red meat. Chef Bob Waggoner recently prepared Colorado lamb chops with a simple parsley jus that I think is fantastic with Mas Doix (which costs about $35)."
Crisp Wasabi Tuna with Bergstrom "Lost Highway" Pinot Noir ($115)
167 East Bay St. #200
While attending high school in Italy, Bill Netherland came to appreciate wine as an everyday thing. He realized the truth that most European countries seem to embrace — food and wine go hand and hand. "You don't think about one without thinking about the other," says Netherland. He has put his passion for wine to good use over the past nine years as wine director for the Hospitality Management Group (which owns Cypress, Blossom, and Magnolias).
Netherland has passed the first two levels on the long road to becoming a master sommelier and hopes to continue his studies whenever time allows. At Cypress he recommends the Bergstrom "Lost Highway" Pinot Noir paired with the Crisp Wasabi Tuna.
"With a name like Crisp Wasabi Tuna, most people might assume a Riesling or other aromatic white [wine]. That might be true if the dish was all about heat. This dish is perfectly balanced between hot, sour, salty, and sweet. There is plenty of bright fruit to foil any heat and enough spice and earthiness to complement the chili, soy, edamame, and shiitake mushrooms. The wine is a bit more full-bodied than some Pinot Noirs, but the natural acidity keeps the wine and your palate fresh throughout the meal."
2004 Marquis de Grinon "Caliza" ($50) with grilled barbecue tuna
Slightly North of Broad
192 East Bay St.
As wine director for Maverick Southern Kitchens, Patrick Emerson oversees the wine lists at several high volume restaurants. He says that he has seen a seismic shift in people's wine interest over the years. Emerson has been in the wine industry for 15 years and with Maverick for the past three years. He says that first people became serious about food and secondly about wine.
Emerson plans to take the third level exam toward becoming a master sommelier later this year. He likens the program to studying for a Ph.D. and admits that it's difficult finding time to study. But Emerson enjoys the intellectual challenge just as much as finding outstanding wines to put on his lists. Recently, he prefers a wine on the lists at SNOB and High Cotton: the 2004 Marquis de Grinon "Caliza" from Dominio de Valdepusa, La Mancha, Spain.
"It is the first winery in Spain to receive its own D.O. and is a 65 percent Syrah, 35 percent Graciano blend. 'Caliza' means limestone in Spanish, which reflects the prized soil composition for this wine. The style lands right in the middle of a Syrah from the old and new worlds — earthy, smoky, powerful black fruits with an incredible lushness. It is an incredible wine for the price, around $50 on our lists. I have it placed at SNOB, where I pair it with Chef Frank Lee's awesome grilled barbecue tuna, and at High Cotton with the grilled cowboy ribeye and bourbon bacon sauce. The bold, smoky flavors in the wine perfectly complement the flavorful dishes."
2006 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir ($52) with pork
2 Unity Alley
In addition to studying for the third level of the master sommelier exam, Clint Sloan also participates in Young Sommelier competitions and attends workshops that focus on MS skills like blind tasting. One such workshop in Las Vegas pushed participants to the limit, asking them to identify six wines in two minutes with Dr. Dre and Guns N' Roses blaring in the background.
At McCrady's you won't find the mélange of rap and metal, but you will find Sloan working the floor pairing great wine with great food. He especially recommends the 2006 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir paired with their pork dish, "Eden Natural" Berkshire pork with baby turnips, Dan Kennerty's potatoes, and mulled cider jus.
"The sweetness of the mulled cider jus and the earthiness of the potatoes and turnips balance well with the 2006 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir. The wine has good fruit flavors of bing cherry and nice earthy tones such as mushrooms and beets. The Montinore tends towards that more lighter and delicate Oregon pinot noir, which pairs well with many dishes, both sweet and savory."
2004 Casa Sisca from Bodegas Castano ($140) with tuna
The Ocean Room
1 Sanctuary Beach Drive
Managing the Ocean Room at The Sanctuary on Kiawah keeps Jacob Fuhr busy. He estimates that he spends 65 to 70 hours a week there, but he also managed to pass the second level of the MS exam last year. This year he plans to take the third level and study for the Society of Wine Educators first exam. He doesn't mind. He says that he fell in love with wine and realizes it is his true passion.
Over the past eight months he has enjoyed working with the Ocean Room's new chef, Kevin Ives. "He uses a lot of bold and diverse flavors, which is the best thing for a sommelier," says Fuhr. One such dish would be Ives' tuna, which Fuhr believes defies the "light" stereotype of most tuna preparations. Ives serves the grilled tuna over olive oil-poached leeks and alongside braised pork cheeks with wild mushrooms.
Fuhr says the dish is Spanish inspired and consequently loves to serve it with one of his favorite Spanish wines: the 2004 Casa Sisca from Bodegas Castano. The varietal is the inky monastrell grape (known as mourvedre in France), and Fuhr believes that its spicy, peppery flavors stand up to the richness of the dish.