Wine Enthusiast Magazine has released its list of the 100 Best Wine Restaurants and Circa 1886 was honored on this list. Mark Severs, who puts together the list at Circa, was happy to talk about how he is inspired, how the wine list comes together, and some of his favorite selections on the list.
What are your inspirations for how you put together the wine list at Circa? Do you study other lists or do research? I do look at other wine lists either online or when I go out to dinner. I also read several trade magazines to get ideas and follow trends. I also have close to a dozen wine companies that I order from. Between all of them, I am always tasting new wines in the market. They routinely put on wine seminars around town that I like to attend to taste wines.
How often do you change the wine list? The wine list seemingly changes daily. It is very hard to keep up with; from selling out of bottles and taking them off the list, to vintage changes, to seasonal changes, and just trying out some wines that I find new and exciting wines--the list is always influx.
In your opinion, what are a few of the standouts on the list right now, and why? Our best sellers tend to be the Perception wines, because of their local ties to Charleston and our servers enjoy telling their story to diners. We have several wines that you'd be hard pressed to find on other lists--they could be considered our destination bottles (ex.Chateau Margaux '05, Donatella Cinelli Colombini Progretto Prime Donne Brunello '03, and Boscaini Marono Amarone '88).
How big a factor is the menu when planning the list? Do you ever do pairings/tastings with Chef Marc Collins' dishes before putting something on the list? The menu is a big factor when putting together the list. Since Chef changes the menu seasonally, I focus on lighter reds and interesting whites for his summer menus and heavier whites and bolder reds to pair up with the richer dishes of the fall and winter menus. A lot of times when I am tasting a new wine and thinking of adding it to the list, I do envision a particular dish and how it will pair.
How do you stay on top of a list so big? Again, I have weekly tastings with a dozen different wine companies. I also attend their seminars whenever possible, read trade magazines, and online articles. Whenever I bring a new wine in, I have a tasting with the staff and we discuss possible pairings, flavor profile, and back story of the wine. The most difficult part of the wine list is just keeping it up to date with year changes, bottle substitutions, and inventory issues.
Anything else you would like to add? Because we are so small, our dynamic of ordering wine is a lot different than some of the larger restaurant groups. A lot of times they can order several cases of wine or bring on multiple bottle placements. I have to be very picky on what I add and what commitments I make to that placement. We have to keep a smaller inventory of wine, so it is a constant battle to move slower selling bottles off the list, and replace them with new and exciting placements.