A wine lover can find much to sip and savor in this treasured Southern city.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Charleston, South Carolina may not top your list of must-see wine destinations. It’s true that you’ll find no rolling hills of vines, no designated viticulture area, no treasured local grape. Don’t let that stop you from planning a wine-themed trip here as soon as possible. Trust me, a wine tourist can find a lot to love about Charleston.
After all, wine and food go together and Charleston is a foodie haven, the capital of lowcountry cuisine. Expect to find the best grits on earth—often costarring in heavenly shrimp & grits (a dish that I can eat three times a day for weeks and never tire of gobbling). Menus are packed with fresh seafood but serve up plenty of other options, too, with the beverages as carefully curated as the food. From outdoor cafés to casual bistros to fine dining establishments, you’ll find hundreds of restaurants that take food and wine seriously, prepare it the best way possible, and serve it with Southern hospitality.
When ready to uncork Charleston, start with these recommendations.
Where To Stay: Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston
Wine lover or (gasp!) not, the Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston is an excellent hotel choice in this city. It’s gorgeous, conveniently located within walking distance of most everything downtown, and adults-oriented.
I crossed the threshold into my king guestroom and was instantly smitten. The longer I stayed in this artsy and pampering space, the deeper my adoration for this hotel grew. With its European-influenced design, my guestroom felt romantic. With its super-sized bathroom, it felt luxurious. With its convenient location, homey. Friendly and helpful staffers always made me feel welcome and safe, a welcome perk since I was traveling solo.
Though it was about twice the size of my hotel room the last time I was in Paris, this King-sized hotel room is still smaller than a comparable typical U.S. hotel room, except for the bathroom, which is huge…I think the architects wisely put the space where it’s needed most, where it is most useful plus makes the greatest impression.
Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston is a member of the Marriott Autograph Collection and also part of The Kessler Collection. It’s the Kessler Collection’s first property in South Carolina. This was my first stay at a Kessler Collection hotel and I sure hope it’s not my last. After two nights at this hotel, I arrived home and promptly told my husband to consider me always ready for a getaway to the Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston. If such eagerness to return is not high praise, I don’t know what is.
The whole hotel feels like a work of art, but the ground-level gallery should not be missed. Established by hotelier and art enthusiast Richard C. Kessler, it displays original and rare pieces of artwork by local, regional, and international artists, which are also for sale. Works include oil paintings, glass, wood, contemporary jewelry, bronze sculptures and more. The gallery hosts monthly exhibitions and artist receptions.
This boutique hotel has just 50 guestrooms plus an on-site art gallery, an on-site specialty coffee shop that’s especially convenient for breakfast, a rooftop restaurant and bar that showcases farm-to-table cuisine with great views of Charleston, and, of particular interest to wine tourists, a wine tasting room, which offers the opportunity to taste 32 varietals and vintages in a one-ounce taste, half- or full-glass pour, and a wine blending experience.
Wine Blending Experience @ Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston
While blending wine is as simple as mixing together any number of different wines until you get the taste you want, achieving a pleasant, well-balanced, complex wine takes some skill and practice. Do you have a knack for it? Find out at Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston’s wine blending experience.
This 90-minute hands-on workshop, led by a sommelier, starts with an introduction and history of winemaking and blending. You’re then invited to taste a series of four single varietal red wines produced by Raymond Vineyards in California (currently pouring the 2014 vintage): Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Then blend the wines in any which way you please using however much or little of each varietal you think best, keeping careful notes on percentages, until you’re happy with the result. Once you’re finished with your creation, your blend is bottled with a custom label that bears whatever wording you choose. (My label combines two inside jokes.)
Classes are offered Wednesday through Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. A maximum of 12 adults can participate in each workshop, so reservations are strongly recommended. 21 Plus Salute! The wine blending experience is exclusively available to adults age 21 and older.
If your wine blend gets such rave reviews that you want additional bottles, no problem. “We keep your blend percentages on file so it is an option to buy more,” says Sarah Young, sommelier and master blender. “It’s $40 a bottle.”
You could take your custom bottle up to your guestroom and enjoy a private night in. But it would be a shame to miss the chance to dine out in Charleston.
Sip & Savor: A Taste of Charleston
Mira Winery Napa Valley Education Center is just like the sort of wine tasting rooms that abound in California—because it’s an extension of a specific winery in Napa. In the tasting room you can see displays that showcase how different vineyards’ soil looks as experts pour wine samples made from grapes grown and harvested from these different vineyard plots to demonstrate how earth, weather and other factors factor into what is in the glass. Why did Mira Winery open a tasting room in Charleston of all places? “To have an East Coast presence,” says tasting room manager Tami Prisco. “Charleston is such an amazing food and beverage city. This location on Queen Street is a nice address next to Chef Sean Brock’s Husk restaurant which lures serious foodies. We want as many people as possible to taste our wines.” One sip and you’ll want to taste as many Mira wines as possible. Winemaker Gustavo A. Gonzalez has more than 20 years of experience in five different countries. Wines are for sale by the bottle, glass or flight. Sit at the bar for informative discussions or head out to the barrel-stave fenced patio to relax with a glass. Mira Winery takes a “gentle, non-invasive approach to winemaking,” says Prisco. “The owners believe in highlighting the fruit.” Tasting will likely lead to you wanting to buy a bottle or more; in addition to tasting room sales, Mira Winery distributes to 18 states and can ship anywhere legally allowed. There’s no food menu here, so plan it as a before- and/or after-dinner spot.
Caviar & Bananas is an all-occasion eatery and market, with four locations already open and a new one opening in Nashville, Tenn. in June. You can buy a bottle of wine to go or a glass to sip on site, as is true for other beverages including specialty coffees and craft beer. The international wine selection features an array of boutique, small production wines representing different countries, varietals and price points. You can grab food to-go or sit and linger over a meal, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack. From baked goods to charcuterie trays, crab cakes to classic Italian lasagna, and so much more, dishes here are all made from scratch and prepared to perfection using quality ingredients: “We use clean and responsible ingredients,” says co-owner Margaret Furniss. Understandably, the dining room bustles with locals and visitors alike throughout the day. Find sandwiches and salads, sushi, cheese, candy, pastries (three pastry chefs are on staff to prepare all the sweet treats), specialty packaged foods and just about anything your taste buds crave alongside stuff you never heard of before yet will want to try: “Our specialty retail area is stocked with unusual items you may not find anywhere else,” says Furniss. Inspired by New York shops and delis, Caviar & Bananas is as crazy-good as its name suggests.
Circa 1886 isn’t just a great place to eat and drink, it’s a dining experience. This Forbes Four Star and AAA Four Diamond -rated restaurant is helmed by Chef Marc Collins (the creative force behind the annual Charleston Wine + Food Festival). Housed in the Wentworth Mansion (built in 1885), Circa 1886 is elegant in a swanky white-tablecloth, candlelit, hushed-ambiance kind of way with servers who maintain such a high level of attentive pampering they’d make Mr. Carson proud (that finicky butler on Downton Abbey). Chef Marc Collins finds inspiration in global cuisines and seasonal ingredients, never compromising on flavor. If you see antelope on the menu, get it. At the time of my visit the antelope was rubbed with achiote seeds and served atop a buckwheat crepe with avocado, pico de gallo, cole slaw and a tequila cilantro hollandaise—a Southwestern treatment that ranks as one of the best dishes of my life: I showed great restraint by not licking the plate. My starter was a creative parmesan and black truffle panna cotta while dessert was American black walnut cake. I let my server choose wine pairings and each recommendation was spot on. Whatever strikes your fancy, order it. You can’t go wrong here.
Eli’s Table is where I experienced a new kind of culinary bliss. The breakfast menu offers three different types of Eggs Benedict, my personal favorite breakfast dish, including a shrimp & grits version. As you may recall, shrimp & grits is my all-time favorite dish. So, of course, I saw the words “Shrimp & Grits Eggs Benedict” and stopped reading the menu. I was done. No way anybody was going to talk me into eating anything other than that. It arrived, I snapped photos, and then slipped into a sort of relaxed contentment that generally only happens for me at a spa. One thing that in particular stood out for me in this dish is that it features grits cakes, which typically do not impress me at all. Great grits can clump together on a spoon or fork and hold a sauce yet feel creamy and smooth on the tongue; bad grits are a soupy mess that melt beneath sauce or, on the other extreme, are crunchy. Grit cakes are too often crunchy. These grit cakes are thick and that may be a key factor in helping them manage to achieve the amazing feat of being both a cake and creamy. I’m glad to have eaten every bite I was served.
The Grocery offers Southern fusion fare inspired by seasonal ingredients that are sourced from local and regional farmers and fishermen alongside signature cocktails, wine and craft beer. The menu is set up so you can eat as much or as little as you want, from “snacks” to “plates” to sharable “table” options. Chef Kevin Johnson is a Johnson & Wales University graduate, was a semifinalist in the 2014 James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Southeast.” To enjoy alongside a red wine of your choice—if you’re stumped the server can recommend a pairing—I highly recommend lamb meatballs with braised chickpeas, feta, eggplant and pistachio relish. On your visit I hope you get the same server that I did; she’s among the most sincerely friendly folks I’ve ever met.
Oyster House on The Market is a casual eatery located in the heart of Charleston’s French Quarter; the patio overlooks Historic Charleston Market. The menu features seafood and lowcountry favorites including lowcountry boil, shrimp & grits, crab cakes, fresh catch of the day, she crab soup, and more. At lunch I opted for a grouper sandwich, a fresh and simple reprieve some the heartier things I consumed on this trip. Many folks come to Oyster House specifically to sample raw oysters from across the country alongside cocktails crafted from local ingredients. By-the-glass specials and deals like a bottle of Veuve Clicquot with a dozen oysters for $90 reel in wine tourists.
In a food city like Charleston, of course barbecue is elevated above-the-norm by one of the city’s native sons. “Barbecue is a craft and labor of love,” says co-owner and Chef Roland Feldman of Smoke BBQ. “I felt that applying some techniques I gained from the fine dining world could elevate barbecue.” Mission accomplished. Wine is on the bar menu, but it’s the food to pair with it that most gets taste buds to dance. Read more about Smoke BBQ.
Also of note, Charleston’s Fig restaurant is a 2017 nominee for a James Beard Award (the food world’s equivalent of an Academy Award) for “outstanding wine program,” which the James Beard Foundation defines as “a restaurant in operation five or more years that serves as a standard-bearer for excellence in wine service through a well-presented wine list, knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about wine.” I wasn’t able to make it to Fig on this recent trip, but have been to the recent on previous trips and count it as a personal favorite.
Traveling to Charleston, a city I’ve visited many times, with a specifically wine-focused itinerary helped reveal new sides of the city to me. I plan to continue to uncork new discoveries on future visits.
Cheers to Charleston, one of the nation’s finest cities with rich history, spectacular architecture, diverse cultures, compelling arts, exquisite shopping, friendly people, a perhaps-surprisingly robust wine scene, and so much more!
Get Festive: Wine Events in Charleston
The annual Charleston Wine + Food Festival, held each Spring, is one of the city’s and region’s most anticipated events.
The first Sunday in December Boone Hall Plantation hosts its annual Wine Under The Oaks festival, one of the most popular Christmas holiday events in the South Carolina Lowcountry. (Tickets will go on sale in July.) The event showcases more than 100 wine labels under 58 tents and is strictly for adults age 21 and older. 21 Plus Salute! Read more about Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens.
Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston
55 Wentworth St.
Historic Downtown Charleston, S.C.
- Marriott Autograph Collection
- AAA Four Diamond
- Free Wi-Fi
- Check-in 4 p.m.; check out by 11 a.m.
- Valet parking $30/day
- Separate tub and shower, both large and luxurious
- Dogs allowed $150 + $50 for 2nd dog, max 2
- In-room coffee maker with basic supplies
- Mini refrigerator in guestroom
- Standard rates from $474/night
- Read about the South Carolina Aquarium.
- Read about the only independent bookstore in Charleston SC.
- Read more about Charleston SC.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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