In Pursuit of Great Wine
James Alford says he does not want to sound overly romantic when discussing his life’s passion and employment—as a distributor for Curated Selections— but “I’m just so excited about and love wine.” He is in good company, pointing out that all members of the sommelier- driven wine distribution company staff, from the owners to the drivers, are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the business of wine.
The website expresses Curated Selections’ philosophy: “Wine is what we love, what we drink, and what we’ve spent our lifetimes trying to understand.” It poses the question: “You wouldn’t look to a fishmonger for stock tips, or to a stockbroker for seafood, so why would you go to anyone but a sommelier for wine?”
While there are major companies that inventory thousands of selections of wine from around the globe, Curated Selections has preferred to remain small, focusing its current attention on supplying South Carolina retailers and restaurants with a meticulously chosen few hundred wineries.
“We like having a smaller portfolio,” says Alford, who represents Curated Selections in Columbia. “Currently we have around 400. This number allows us to stay more versatile, refresh more easily and keep no stagnant back stock. We are able to go out and find those esoteric wines not known and compete more readily on pricing.”
In fact, Curated Selections specializes in a boutique approach— seeking far and wide for those distinct and “soulful” wineries with a unique story to tell. While Curated Selections’ stock is primarily Eurocentric, it does include wines from California and Oregon, perfect for local hot spots like Lula Drake, one of Alford’s top clients.
Alford points out that their main approach is to focus on relationships with wineries. Often someone from the team travels to that winery and “learns what they do—soup to nuts,” says Alford. “That way we can sell it better if we experience the wine there … the verbiage on the back of the bottle becomes real to us and we can share that.”
The partners who started Curated Selections include native Englishman Patrick Emerson, who as a boy made elderberry/apple wine with his mother and ale with his father, and Mal Jones, who caught the wine bug working in a restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina. Alford, who was born and raised in the Midlands, and currently lives in Columbia, spent years as a buyer with Morganelli’s before discovering Curated Selections, launched about three years ago. “It was a great fit for me,” says Alford, who joined a little over a year ago.
“I agree with their stance, which is basically that we would rather not be in business than sell a bunch of wine that we don’t believe in. You can tell when a person doesn’t believe in what they’re selling,” he says. “While we might have two Pinot Grigios to choose from rather than 15, we can offer them with a straight face because we believe wholeheartedly in those two.”
Many of Curated Selections’ wines are certified organic/ sustainable; however, many wineries make wines from grapes that are grown on quality farms—they just may not have undergone the painstaking process of certification. Also, Alford explains that while some wineries grow grapes at their own estate vineyards, “well over half make wine from grapes grown only at other vineyards.”
In order to educate not only the stores and restaurants about wine, but customers as well, Alford and other team members will, for example, be present at a wine tasting to “intimately acquaint with the product.” The essence of all that Alford does is to find and provide great wines. “Is the wine good? is the most basic question,” maintains Alford.
What are some of his favorites? What does he suggest for cooling fall days?
Grand Bois Cotes du Rhone Rouge
As a powerful red blend driven by Grenache, this traditional Rhone red will pair with the heartiest of autumn cuisine, but it is also a super-flavorful option for a cocktail hour red.
Charles Gonnet Chignin
From the alpine region of Savioe in France, this is the pitch-perfect white for oyster season. Ultra clean, mineral and refreshing, this will get you out of your Pinot Grigio rut.
Probably the greatest dollar-for-dollar value in Provençal rosé, this will help you dispel the myth that pink wine is only for the summer, as this becomes your new Thanksgiving table favorite.
Kivelstadt “Father’s Watch” Red Blend
A riff on a classic Southern Rhône blend from winemaker Jordan Kivelstadt, this lusty, spicy red takes advantage of some of California’s oldest Grenache vines, while managing not to break the bank.
J. Brix Riesling
This bone-dry take will forever change how you think of Riesling from California. With remarkable purity, and amazing depth and texture, this could easily be your house white for the entirety of fall and winter. Only 10 barrels made!