Ashley Broshious moved back to her native South Carolina after ten years in California, choosing Charleston for having the sort of wine community that could support her on her quest for Master Sommelier accreditation. For the last year, she’s been redoing the list at Zero, a small restaurant in a historic hotel property downtown, switching out the hipster natural wines for well-aged classics. While she doesn’t move as much sparkling wines as she’d hope, she’s discovered an appreciative audience for Bordeaux reds and white Burgundy—as well as Madeira, a wine with deep Charleston ties.
You report that your wine sales have gone way up.
I think we are getting to be more well known in Charleston. Also, we’ve transitioned in the last 18 months to just a tasting menu. Before, the menu didn’t offer any wine pairings, and last year the list was 80 selections. There were lots of very obscure wines, and the price points were fairly low. When I came on board, I looked at our clientele, which is heavily Southern and high on world-class travelers, and I thought we could offer them more. So I’ve added a lot more selections in areas like Burgundy and Champagne. If we have a customer who wants an $80 pinot, we can now offer one at $100, $120. But also, with the tasting menu, most guests decide to do the wine pairings—and we’ve tripled the amount of diners choosing what we call our Rare Series. Those pairings are with rare, older or allocated wines, and that’s an additional $100 per customer. Also, I’ve been riding my margins really tight, because I want to be able to pour things like a 2008 Brunello or a 2010 Chablis Premier Cru for the wine pairings. Once we explain what they are getting, guests are seeing the value; they are like, “We’re never going to taste this again; I think it’s worth the money.”
It’s unusual to see a Top Ten list with no Sancerre or sauvignon blanc on it. Is that on purpose?
Well, we do sell a lot of Sancerre—in fact, just after I finished filling out your Poll, we sold four bottles in one night. We pour Cloudy Bay and Fournier, and we sell a ton of them, but only by the glass; people know that the tasting menu progresses, and that white Burgundy will be a better fit overall with the tone of the menu. And white Burgundy is really popular. I’m finding that people like drinking varieties that they know, but not the oaky, rich wines poured around town. They don’t want to just pick a bottle and move on; they want to ask questions. So Burgundy is a category they are curious about. If anything, I find that people really gravitate toward Chablis, and anything $80 to $120.
The Turley Duarte Zinfandel seems like a bit of an outlier among your top ten.
I don’t actively sell it; it sells itself, and mainly to regulars. We still do a pre-theater menu, because right across the street is the Gaillard Theater, and this wine is really popular with our older clientele, I think because they’ve known it for so long. It’s not what dishes they are ordering; it’s just “I just like this wine.” Some people still have penchant for very rich wines, very fruit forward ones.
It’s very strange to me. Coming from California, I’ve tried to put on more California wines, but I don’t sell any, even when I push people toward it. They gravitate toward Old World wines. I think, in part, it’s that they go better with chef’s food, but also I feel like people are more interested in wines they don’t know, and they feel like they can trust us. It’s like, OK, I have someone here who can help guide me through this; let’s explore this other region.