The internet powers-that-be have allowed me to connect with some dope ass folk. Last month, while perusing the Twitterverse, I stumbled upon a tweet announcing BevCon Charleston, a curated event that brings the beverage and culinary-minded, hosted in Charleston, South Carolina. I immediately took to the "Presenters" list and scrolled through the list of familiar faces, hovering my mouse over one in particular that I hadn't recognized: Femi Oyediran, Advanced Sommelier at Charleston Grill. I had to know more about the story behind the name.
So tell me, how did you choose the sommelier path?
FO: It's kind of a funny story. I grew up in a non-drinking family. Wine was never around and it's one of those things that was really a big curiosity, especially as I got older. I was always enamored by food (I was the boy constantly hovering in mom's kitchen) and I think I just needed something to tip me over. When I was 20, I was a big music guy at the time. I DJ'd, brought in out-of-town acts to Charleston , had a hip-hop band, did some graphic design work--that was my culture. A big, lush, bad ass Shiraz and a 22 oz. ribeye, when I was 21 changed all that. I had just started working in at Charleston Grill to help pay the bills, and eventually, I started buying books feeding this tiny obsession and when Rick (Rubel, Wine Director at Charleston Grill) caught on and started mentoring me, and the rest was history.
You've got roots in Nigeria and now your current home city, Charleston. What are your favorite wines to pair with Southern and African fare respectively?
FO: That's easy for me. I have a love affair with Northern Italian reds, particularly the grape variety Nebbiolo from the neighboring regions of Barbaresco and Barolo in Piedmont. When you have a great one, it’s one of those things that you just stick your nose in, pause, look at your company and say 'wow'. Besides just being a sexy bottle to decant, the wines have mind-boggling combinations of floral and red fruit aromatics . Mind you, they can be a bit aggressive when they're young, especially if you're just sipping like a cocktail, but with food especially grilled meats, rich pastas--holy sh*t. Every once in a while, I make my mother's recipe for Efo Riro (Nigerian vegetable stew) and it is amazing with Barolo. Pork chop and Collards? Check.
Most of my friends are intimidated by the sommelier, or let alone, don't even know that asking to speak with one is an option. What are some questions one should definitely ask a sommelier when it comes to selecting a wine?
FO: A sommelier's greatest sword is the ability to communicate with his/her guests. Let them know wines you've enjoyed before, give them an idea of how much you'd like to spend. Are you looking for what goes well with your food, or do you just want a wine to drink with dinner? Hopefully, the sommelier is also asking the right questions. Being a sommelier, funny enough, is kind of like being a DJ. You gotta know your crowd and understand it's less about you and more about the people you're playing for. You can always tell if it's the right time or crowd to play D'Angelo 'Brown Sugar', or you know the crowd you're with just wants to hear the hits. You have to be good at making that differentiation.
Can you offer us a few tips for someone looking to expand their wine knowledge without burying their head in a book?
FO: Go out and taste some wine! Find a good wine store, experiment, and find out what you don't like and what you do. Bring some friends along for the ride and don't take everything so seriously. Wine accentuates the experience of having a good time with friends. Although, Madeline Puckette's Wine Folly is a gold mine for beginners.
What excites you most about working in the wine industry?
FO: The next great bottle I'm going to taste and share with my friends.