FIG, in Charleston, South Carolina, is widely considered to be a wine destination, with its tight, 150-bottle powerhouse list. In fact, just this year, the restaurant notched a James Beard Award nomination for Best Wine Program.
But it wasn’t always so. When the restaurant opened 14 years ago, the list featured only 25 bottles.
General manager Morgan Calcote, who took over the wine program three years ago, credits owner and manager Adam Nemirow with slowly building out the selections with an eye toward underrepresented regions and grapes. “There’s been a pretty big evolution,” she says of the list, which Nemirow chose to grow alongside what Calcote describes as a “broadening of the public wine palate.”
The current iteration leans toward Old World selections with a predilection for the new mainstream: heavy on the Loire, Mosel and Beaujolais, but also touching on Greece, Sicily and Switzerland. A decent amount of California, Oregon and the Finger Lakes wines also make the cut, but are usually tucked in alongside their Old World counterparts. “Carignan from California will be listed under Rhône varieties,” explains Calcote.
Though there are organic and biodynamic selections, Calcote is quick to stress that FIG is more interested in sourcing wine that “reflects place and is exemplary of the variety.” That doesn’t mean it can’t get a little weird: unusual picks such as Broc Cellar’s Mission and Von Winning’s Sauvignon Blanc “I” get called out on the menu with a “worthy of inquiry before order” disclaimer.
Calcote says the philosophical guiding force behind her picks is to match the way the food menu is assembled. “The chef works hard to source ingredients with producers we have relationships with,” she says. “On the wine side, we try to mirror that, but with the globe as sourcing.” What that means in practice is that even though the list turns over frequently—both a reflection staying nimble to match the hyper-seasonal menu and a hazard of working with small production wines—she finds herself returning to certain producers, cycling through vintages and different offerings.
One of Calcote’s favorite features of the list is the ability to deliver value to diners. With an average price point of $80, she prioritizes wines that may not immediately recognizable, but offers “bang for your buck at whatever price.” And even still, she looks to undercut expectations.
“I want to hit the bottom edge of [the diner’s] price range or below and make them sit back and say, ‘Oh,’” she says. “It makes the experience that we’re able to offer more complete.”
FIG In Five Bottles
Arnot-Roberts North Coast Trousseau
This bottling, when served with just a hint of chill, is one of Calcote’s go-to picks for pairing with in-season tomato dishes. This trousseau is one of three wines—along with a chardonnay and a syrah—from New California power duo Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, currently on the list. It’s an example of how, even though the list changes frequently, Calcote relies on producers with whom she has a relationship.
- Price: $35
- Vintage: 2016
Cantalupo Anno Primo Ghemme
Calcote has a soft spot for versatile wines that can complement a range of dishes, including this nearly ten-year-old nebbiolo, which she says has a layered complexity but not the “burly framework or aggressive tannin the way a Barolo or Barbaresco of the same vintage might right now.” That character allows the wine to work with anything from lean pork dishes to more delicate fish preparations.
- Price: $36
- Vintage: 2008
Clos de l’Élu Ephata Anjou Blanc
FIG’s wine list is no stranger to orange and oxidative wines; there’s an entire section devoted to them. But what Calcote likes about this chenin blanc, is that even though it’s fermented and aged in amphora, it still presents itself in a classic expression that she describes as nuanced and elegant. “[It’s] an example of how using ancient yet trendy techniques in a seamless way [means that] you don’t necessarily have to have a disclaimer next to it,” she says.
- Price: $24
- Vintage: 2013
Brundlmayer Alte Reben Grüner Veltliner Kamptal
With a menu full of seasonal vegetables and seafood, Calcote says keeping of a selection of grüner veltliners on the list is a no-brainer. “It’s one of those vegetable pairing grapes,” she says. She likens this pick to Old World chardonnay, with an almost meaty texture, plus acidity and “a bright vein of lime around riper fruit.”
- Price: $56
- Vintage: 2013