True oenophiles, or wine aficionados, always remember the exact bottle that first piqued their passion. For Nick Parrous, co-owner of Fayetteville favorite Luigi’s Italian Restaurant and Bar, it was a Brunello di Montalcino.
“I’d been exposed to wine from growing up in a European family, but I knew nothing about regions or vintages,” he says. “The Brunello was more expensive than I could afford, but it was the first time I’d tried a truly high-quality wine, and it stayed in the back of my mind for years. When my sister, brother-in-law and I took over the business from my parents, I started to develop our first real wine list – and as the demand grew, so did my passion.”
Parrous’ love of everything from Beaujolais to zinfandel is not lost on his customers, many of whom are part of the Fort Bragg military community. “These people have traveled all over the world and have been exposed to the places where some of our wines originate. I’ve had people come in and say, ‘I was stationed in this region in Italy. Do you have a wine from there?’ That’s unique for a town like this.”
Parrous hosts a wine tasting every Thursday night at Luigi’s and is active in the Fayetteville Wine Society, a group that meets once a month at various locations around the city. “We bring in wines from different regions and talk about the region as a whole, what they’re known for, their history in terms of winemaking and taste six to 10 wines that represent the best of what the region is producing today,” he says.
“We bring in the kinds of wines you can’t find on the grocery shelf.” Nicole Edson, wine steward at Hilltop House Restaurant, also has her nose in the business of wine, and lays claim to one of the most extensive lists in the city. “We feature wines from all around the world in a variety of price ranges,” Edson says. “You can get a bottle for $20 or $200 and have it decanted at your table.” Edson hosts everything from wine dinners with Hilltop House’s signature synchronized service to weekly tastings with cheese and crackers to cleanse the palate between sips. “We switch it up from week to week,” Edson says. “Some weeks we’ll do a theme with all Italian wines or wines that pair with a certain type of food. Before Valentine’s Day we did a champagne and dessert wine tasting.”
Mike Laurenceau, co-owner of Pierro’s restaurant, doesn’t have to look far to assess his customers’ interests. “On any given night I look around and see wine on at least 95 percent of our tables,” he says. Patrons enjoy selections from a list so varied it includes German rieslings, Italian red and whites, California table wines and even local offerings from Shelton Vineyards near Dobson and Mt. Airy. Bartender Mike Regan hosts weekly tastings, trying out new wines the restaurant ownership is considering adding to their list.
Hay Street hotspot Tonia’s Blue Moon Café also has its own collection of cork dorks who gather to drink and discuss what Parrous calls “the beverage of the intellectual.” “Every time you drink a different wine, there’s something to be learned,” Parrous says. “Each bottle is unique, a lesson not only in history and geography but hedonism as far as pleasure – and you can’t find anything else that brings those things together so well.”