Star Sommelier

Going 10 Rounds With Sommelier Morgan Calcote

The general manager at Charleston restaurant Fig tackles our speed round of questions.

Courtesy Olivia Rae James

What do you like to drink after a shift? “Either an IPA that’s pleasantly bitter but not hyper-hopped or Manzanilla Sherry. Or, Champagne, because there is no bad time for Champagne.”

What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “‘Friends in Low Places’ by Garth Brooks.”

Name the first good wine you ever drank and where you had it. “A lot of my memorable wine experiences are part of these little ‘a-ha!’ moments when a dish and a wine just clicked in a really special way. I had about a dozen of those moments, one after the other, when I dined at Eleven Madison Park (a splurge when I totally couldn’t afford it while working my first restaurant management job). There were a couple of moments pretty early in my wine career when a few wines just blew my mind. Once, it was a guest sharing glasses from bottles of the 1982 Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Latour he’d brought in from his cellar. Another time, I was at a post-shift gathering during the Charleston Wine & Food Festival and a visiting winemaker offered me a glass of red wine, which he served in a plastic cup. The wine ended up being Allemand “Reynard” Cornas and had some age. It was so delicious and complex, but that experience still reminds me not to take wine so seriously that you can’t have fun with it.”

What book on wine, cocktails, spirits or food is your go-to resource? “There’s something I really love about thumbing through an actual book, so I keep quite a few titles around for references at work and at home. Wine Grapes and The World Atlas of Wine are always at-hand for wine. When I have support staff that wants to start learning about wine, I always recommend Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course as a great first step to tackling such a big topic. For cocktails, Meehan’s Bartender Manual, is the new staple publication. I also keep The Food Lover’s Companion around for quick referencing of food and menu terms.”

Name the wine region that took you the longest to truly understand. “I feel like I’m still working on most of them. Burgundy and Champagne are so complex that the more I learn, the more I feel like I don’t know. Italy’s zillions of grape varieties still leave my head spinning from time to time. That’s a lot of what I love about wine, though, that it’s a subject so vast and evolving that it continually challenges me to keep learning.”

What’s your favorite wine and food pairing? “I love, love, love Champagne and popcorn. The combination of Champagne’s bubbles and acidity with the crunch, butter, and salt of the popcorn is so incredibly gratifying.”

What’s the most common wine myth you have to debunk? “The old ‘all Riesling is sweet’ and ‘all sparkling wine is called Champagne’ lines never seem to disappear from tableside conversation no matter how savvy the wine drinking public becomes.”

What’s your favorite bottle of wine under $20? “This is what I think of as the ‘Tuesday night dinner at home wine’ category for when you are looking for something super satisfying but not change-out-of-your-pajama-pants fancy. For white, I like Domaine des Hauts de Sanziers Saumur Blanc (mouthwatering chenin blanc) and my go-to red to drink with a little chill on it is from Sardinia, Cardedu’s “Praja,” which is 100-percent Monica, an indigenous grape to the island.”

What’s your favorite bottle of wine over $1,000? “Drawing a blank on this one. My wine origins are pretty humble and I have never worked in a place that had a huge or high-dollar cellar. I suppose I could pick one in theory, but realistically, my experiences with bottles at that price range probably don’t count into double digits.”

What tool do you use to open a bottle? “I have been using the same Pulltaps double-hinged corkscrew since I started waiting tables at Fig more than five years ago. It’s nothing fancy but I feel out of sorts using anything else in service.”

Morgan Calcote is general manager of Charleston restaurant Fig, which is a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for outstanding wine program.

Interview has been condensed and edited.