McNinch House’s Anthony Wesley creates an award-winning wine list at the Fourth Ward landmark.
By Vanessa Infanzon
Anthony Wesley remembers showing up to his interview at McNinch House Restaurant in 2002 not wearing any socks. He’d worn a suit but forgotten to adorn his feet on that hot summer day in Charlotte. Despite his naked ankles (in an era when dress socks were de rigueur), Wesley started three days later as the restaurant’s wine director.
Over the last 17 years, Liberia-born Wesley, 70, has created an award-winning wine program at the Fourth Ward restaurant. He’s worked with owner Ellen Davis to develop the menu for wine as well as beer and cocktails. The restaurant — which is celebrating 30 years in business — has expanded its list to include wines from Oregon, California, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Romania, Ukraine and others. “It’s like winning a Tony,” Wesley says of receiving the Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator for each of the last nine years.
Wesley says his personal preference for wine depends on his mood and the feel of the moment. He remembers buying his first “real” bottle in 1990, when he knew little about wine. He bought a $25 bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape at a Charlotte wine shop. The rest is history.
Comments were lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
How did you educate yourself about wine?
I didn’t know anything about wines at all. When I started working at The Lamplighter restaurant (a former fine-dining venue on East Morehead St.), that’s when I came into wine. The manager encouraged me to do some reading to learn the basics, and to invest a lot of time studying and tasting — especially the tasting part. You get to develop the palate and learn about terroirs — soil, climate, regions.
Why do people develop a preference for red or white wine?
It depends on one’s introduction to wine. Some find a preference and stick with it. I do encourage people to be open-minded and adventurous. They could be missing out on some good stuff and get to expand their horizons. In my educational tastings at the restaurant, I like to explore regions like Italy, because they allow people to try wines from places such as Tuscany, Abruzzo or Apulia.
You’re the unofficial historian of the McNinch House. What should we know?
I learned the history by doing research on my own and digging into some archives. I found out the original owner, Vinton Lidell, bought the land for $3,000 and built the house for $35,000 in 1892. Charlotte Mayor Sam McNinch was the third owner. He purchased the house in 1907 from Charles Patterson. Karl Bitter did the interior of the McNinch House. Later, he was commissioned by the Vanderbilt family to [do work at Asheville’s] Biltmore House.
What’s important about food and wine pairings?
The wine you [should] serve is actually not determined by the protein itself. When people suggest pairing a wine with a specific protein, they’re not taking into account the sauce that is served with the food, the preparations and the ingredients — pepper, salt, seasonings. It’s those items — the sauces — that give the food its flavor. The wine and the sauce form a friendship. If the sauce is not in agreement with the wine, then the wine sucks.
How do you react to guests who may not like a wine you’ve chosen for them?
We all have a different palate. Table one and table two may love it. But if you are table three, and you say, “I really don’t care for it,” I anticipate that and always have a “relief pitcher” ready, another option for guests to try. SP
McNinch House Restaurant, 511 N. Church St.,