The SOMM Journal

December 2014/January 2015

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Page 117 of 119

118 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2014/2015 IT'S NOT EVERY DAY THAT A SOMMELIER CHOOSES TO START A conversation with a discussion of the merits of hybrids, but Steven Grubbs, Beverage Director at Athens, Georgia's Five & Ten and Atlanta's Empire State South, wasn't hesitant to plop down and chat up a bottle of 100% Chambourcin (thought to be a crossing of North American vines with a Siebel hybrid, although its exact parentage is unknown) from Virginia. "People are really quick to dismiss hybrids, but they have real American DNA and could make simple, good, American table wines," he said. His interest in hybrids reflects the way Grubbs came of age learning about wine as part of Chef Hugh Acheson's Southern restaurant empire (Grubbs is part owner of Empire State South). Southern food wasn't created to go with wine; sweet tea is the typical drink of choice at any "meat-and-three" (a Southern dining tradition of choosing meat plus three side dishes). Without traditional pairings to guide him, Grubbs went for wines he likes that just plain taste good with the food—don't be surprised to find a Riesling among his white preferences. Grubbs and Acheson opened Empire State South in 2010, focusing on "haute Southern cuisine"—one with a strong tradition of country cooking at its core. And to complement that, Grubbs sought out beautiful wines with a strong sense of place. "Burgundy obviously came up [as] a high-end wine with a country heart," he noted. But he expanded the list to other wines that spoke to this philosophy. "I love Langhe Rosso from Piedmont; it's a great country grape, especially when it's from producers like Aldo Conterno." When they first opened, "people went toward the safe stuff—one of the Cabs or Malbecs on the menu," Grubbs notes, but now people are getting more adventurous, trying wines like Dirty & Rowdy's skin-fermented Semillon. "Atlanta is experiencing a sort of cultural growth spurt," Grubb says, and his wine list reflects that. Every wine includes parenthetical comments to help diners expand their palates. "It takes the edge off the wines for the patrons [and] gets them into wines they otherwise wouldn't try." Southern Manners Food obsession: "Tacos are my favorite thing in the world. Athens is rife with terrific Mexican food, but it's harder in Atlanta." Harvest highlight: "I showed up to work harvest with Valter Scarbolo in Friuli, but it was during the down time between the whites and the reds. So he asked me if I wanted to bartend in his restaurant, and I spent a week pulling his wines from kegs. It was awesome." Wine wish list: "For the right celebration, I would love to pop a bottle of rosé Champagne from Aÿ, a 2004 Billiot. It's in my fridge and I keep trying to find a reason to open it." Kicking back: "I play in a scrappy folk-punk band called Little Francis—it's blues and country and '60s rock-and-roll all mixed in. It's more about playing and having a blast." Tasty travels: "I love Italy. I stayed once in Norcia, Umbria, which is the best little eating town, known for its salumi, truffles and chocolate. I brought back some chocolate truffles stuffed with truffles—they were amazing." closing time THE SIDE BAR COUNTRY DRINKING WITH STEVEN GRUBBS by Sarah Bray

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