My level of wine expertise falls somewhere between red wine neophyte and casual red wine drinker. While I enjoy drinking [red] wine, just pronouncing “Tempranillo” or “Sangiovese” gives me quivers of self-doubt. Over the years, I’ve developed some “tricks” to make it appear as if I know more about wine than I do. In fact, I once wrote an article for Urbanspoon (on their now extinct official blog) called How to Order Wine Like a Boss. The article consisted of 600+ words of advice on how to successfully order a bottle of wine at a business meeting without looking like a schmuck.
Despite this light-grade wine anxiety, one of my favorite nights-on-the-town is spent sharing wine and small plates with friends. Recently, I did just that with Frank Vafier, co-owner of Corkbuzz, a restaurant and wine bar in South Park. You’d think drinking wine with a wine bar owner would be intimidating but Frank is an easygoing sort of guy. We spent the evening talking about ping-pong tournaments, karaoke, and our shared interest in dinner parties while we tasted several dishes on the Corkbuzz dinner menu.
According to Frank, the idea for Corkbuzz was hatched by his niece, Master Sommelier Laura Maniec. Laura is one of about thirty female Master Sommeliers in the world, and at one point in time she was the youngest Master Sommelier, period. Despite these rather impressive credentials, the Corkbuzz philosophy on wine is relaxed, with a focus on “enjoying wine and talking about wine in a way that makes everyone feel welcome and never intimidated.” Their approachability is exemplified by their knowledgable unpretentious servers, the restaurant’s no-corkage-fee policy, and the “ask the Master Sommelier” link on the website that invites website guests to send their wine questions Laura’s way.
The Charlotte restaurant is the third Corkbuzz location — there are two more in New York City. Corkbuzz Charlotte is located in South Park on Ashley Park Lane (off of Sharon Road, behind Whole Foods), an area with tons of free parking. The girthy wine list spans the price range gamut ($23-$465 per bottle, by my last check) and includes wine flight options plus over 30 wines available by the glass. While wine is a big part of their business, Corkbuzz is more than just a wine bar: it also offers a full chef-driven menu.
Looking over the offerings, I struggle to simply slap a categorization on the food at Corkbuzz. The menu is varied–what I’d call Modern American with thoughtful dashes of French, Asian, Mediterranean, and Southern cooking. A mash-up done well. The mushroom gnocchi with brussels sprouts, potatoes, arugula pesto, and parmesan is fantastic (and available at lunch and dinner). One of the more popular dishes is the bourguignon burger with red wine fondue and bacon-mushroom relish, which I feel confident labeling a CLT Food Blogger favorite.
Other lunch offerings include the grilled chicken sandwich with Gruyère, crab falafel pita, and roasted chicken stuffed with spicy prosciutto. There’s also cheese and charcuterie and a warm mushroom salad with cauliflower, kale, and parmesan buttermilk dressing that I cannot wait to try.
I have somehow eaten at Corkbuzz three times now and not tried the goat cheese dumplings with spring onions and spicy shrimp sauce. Clearly an oversight on my part. The grilled octopus with housemade herb dumplings, bacon, macadamia nuts, and whipped feta is truly a standout dish, and the cornmeal crusted Carolina catfish with collard greens, cauliflower, and charcuterie sauce got rave reviews from my dinner dates.
Also on the dinner menu: crispy oyster lettuce wraps, crispy pork belly, pork tenderloin, beef carpaccio, and wagyu beef sirloin. A tip for my gluten-free friends out there: Corkbuzz has gluten-free bread, crackers, and pasta available upon request.
Overall, I think Corbuzz is a wonderful restaurant–one that’s actually worth venturing to South Park for!
Corkbuzz offers several great wine classes each month, with topics ranging from Wine 101 to Blind Tasting to wine Tours of France and Italy. Check out their class offerings available here.
For location, hours, and contact information, head here.