Acting as if you know what you're doing is a surefire way to miss a lot of pleasure, and doing it with wine is the most criminal thing I can think of – well, other than doing it with food.
What you want is a place where you can explore a little without spending a fortune, get a little guidance and not get overwhelmed. That requires an amiable staff and a well-edited menu, and the Wine Shop at Foxcroft has both.
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Two-ounce “tastes” of wines run about $2 to $5, and come in broadly defined categories such as “medium-bodied reds.” Wines from small producers rule the list; owner Conrad Hunter emphasizes odd varietals and changes about 40 percent of the lineup monthly.
Two ounces is more than you might think: It's enough to get a good sense of the wine, and enough to try it with a few different foods to see what you think.
And the Wine Shop makes it easy to make a meal. Several cheeses (with more on the way) and cured meats can be had singly or in combination, and soups, salads, sandwiches, sides, specials and sweets – amazing alliteration, eh? – are also offered.
Hunter had wanted to offer something tapas-like since he bought out partner Frank Redd nearly two years ago (so this isn't affiliated with the Park Road Wine Shop). He began with noshes from Noble's, before hiring a chef in December. Currently, Johnson & Wales grad Ben Jarrell is at the helm, aided by Meredith Mulleneix, also a J&W alum.
Hunter's a philosopher in more ways than one, championing exploration and the drinking-in of life in his weekly e-mail newsletters to customers. He admits he rambles; I find it charming. Favorite musing to date: his revelation that he used to play covers of the UK's Comsat Angels with his band and his inclusion of a link to the band.
Now that's a guy who wants you to try things.
So you're not surprised when a server suggests Spanish pairings for your Cubano sandwich (pulled pork, shaved Serrano ham with Gruyere, pickled vegetables, garlic aioli): Maybe the 2005 Atteca Old Vines Garnacha or the 2003 Dehesa de Rubiales Prieto Picudo? At $3 a taste, get both. (They're terrific.)
I'd like to see a few price adjustments: A three-cheese plate should either be less than $12 or include niceties like crackers, nuts, fruit and honey or jam. Salads are a mite high – arugula, a worship-worthy pairing with fennel, is $8. And a side of “French country potatoes,” fabulous roasted little skin-on orbs with a creme fraiche sauce and dusting of salt, make me wince at $5.
But panini at $7 and $8 are decently sized and delicious – curried chicken salad with cashews and grapes is one winner; the Belmont (think a really good BLT) another.
And though I was delighted by the staff's willingness and ability to guide folks, I do wish for a few written suggestions, to aid the less-likely-to-ask (and they are legion, right?). It would be an easy thing to offer a few suggestions with each cheese, for instance.
The Wine Shop groups bar-height wood tables and leather-covered barstools near its windows overlooking a little patio; the rest is wooden shelving and bins of wine listed by type or geography. Aisles are just broad enough to browse, with a checkout counter to one side. Tables are just close enough that you can hear other folks' choices – which are either educational (when they're earnestly exploring) or entertaining (when they're doing that acting-like-they-know thing). Either way, it's enjoyable.
Hunter recently signed a lease for a second, somewhat larger store, at RiverGate Shopping Center in Lake Wylie, slated to open in September.