Photo credit: StockFood / Hans-Peter Siffert
Morgan Calcote knows a little something about the typically eclectic (OK, schizoid) feast that is Easter brunch or dinner. The general manager of FIG in her native Charleston, South Carolina—a restaurant where the wine program just earned its second James Beard Award nomination—grew up attending two Easter feasts every year.
“We did double duty on holidays so we could see all the family,” says Calcotte. Her paternal grandmother, she recalls, was a “wonderful woman with 12 dishes she did really well.” But “when she could get away with it,” Calcotte laughs, “she would take us to the country club or yacht club, and we’d get in the buffet line.” The kids would pile up plates of fried chicken and omelets, salads, carved lamb, and pretty much anything they wanted.
Her maternal grandmother, on the other hand, had a huge vegetable garden. She’d serve platters brimming with potatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, and green beans, and get up at dawn to prepare a “giant standing rib roast that was probably a quarter cow carved up.” The final touch? Southern classics such as deviled eggs and some sort of fruit salad decked out with a mayo-based dressing.
We asked Calcotte how she, as an adult, would buy wine for these sorts of kaleidoscopic meals. Here are her picks, each of which costs less than $20, and her go-to formula for hosting any sort of Easter fête…without breaking the bank.
How would you have selected wine for your maternal grandma’s party?
“I’m a big proponent of having variety available, especially with families that are opinionated. My go-to is a white, a rosé and a red … for spring vegetables, I look for a zippy Grüner Veltliner. Glatzer’s makes a nice Grüner for the value ($12). It’s consistent vintage to vintage. The signature Grüner flavors are bright acidity, kind of that crunchy green bright citrus quality that is complementary to lighter vegetable preparations.
This time of year rosé is never a bad option, freshly bottled with tension and liveliness to them. They’re a great complement to a wide range of [dishes]: fried chicken, salad, even a rib roast if you really don’t want to get into the red wine. For a red, you want both acid and tannin for a big, rich piece of meat, but you don’t want to go crazy tannic. I find Italy is a great place to look for wines with body, acid and tannins. [I like] Aglianaco from Campania and De Angelis’s Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio ($18).”
If you want to spend less than $50 and have three wines, what types would you pick?
“I’d probably do bubbles; it’s never a bad place to start. I’d have a Gruner [Veltliner], probably, and I’d probably have a rosé. I’d probably skip the red. I think people reflexively bring reds to parties, because it feels safe. Pinot Noir will always show up to a party.”
What is the perfect wine if you’re hosting a brunch?
“Ham, omelets, crisp spring vegetables, and perhaps even some fried chicken in the mix provide a challenging array of flavors to make nice with wine. My go-to? Bubbles. A crisp, dry French sparkler like Jean Francois Merieau’s “Bulles” ($18) from Touraine in the Loire, or a Champagne-esque Cremant du Jura (Hubert Clavelin, $18) are great. They can be swilled on their own or combined with a splashes of Aperol, OJ, and grapefruit juice for a tasty late-morning cocktail.”
When should one serve rosé?
“In general, springtime to me screams rosé, and there are a host of domestic producers putting out really great pinks. From ham to your great-aunt’s fruit cocktail, it’s hard to find a dish that doesn’t make nice with a dry rosé. The spectrum is wide—sweet or dry— Provençal styles of lighter rosés are my go-to, although there’s definitely a place for a sweeter pink. (I think about pâtés and raw fish dishes with spice to them, and charcuterie for sweeter rosés.) Provençal style is better for eggs and salads. Dr. Konstantin Frank in NY’s Finger Lakes makes a deeply hued rosé of Pinot Noir and for $13, it’s a standout, as is Cep’s Rosé of Pinot Noir for slightly more ($19).”
Should you serve a full-bodied red this time of year?
“It’s a context thing. If there’s a beautifully roasted piece of meat, at dinner, maybe have a Barolo or Cabernet-based or Bordeaux blend or something more intense. For me, traditionally, Easter is during the day. I wouldn’t want to bring out a really robust Cabernet-based wine. I think: ‘What do I want to be sipping on at three in the afternoon?’
There’s something about wine that there’s a right answer for everybody. No matter what, somebody’s going to ask for a Cabernet Sauvignon at noon. Maybe have something that isn’t exactly that…but something that’s comparable, like that Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio.”
Want more to sip on?
Do you celebrate Easter? What will you be drinking this year?