Something to Wine About!
by Lauren Levine
Shortly after moving to Charleston, I began hearing the name Manoli pop up every couple of weeks. It's not the kind of name you forget, so every time it was said, I noticed. One day, while at work, my beloved co-worker says, "You know we get some of our cheeses from Manoli." Finally I said, "Who is Manoli?" I felt as if she must be like the magical Oz, having her name spoken everywhere, but where and who is this woman? And there begins our story.
Manoli Davani is a woman of poise and kindness. She has an everlasting, peaceful smile that welcomes you into her shop and eyes with a light that feel like she is about to tell you a secret. My first visit to Avondale Wine and Cheese was with that same co-worker that released the secret of Manoli to me. It was on her Monday night tasting, and if you believe you can fall in love with an experience, a place, or a night, this is what happened to me. It was the most peaceful room, with charming yellow walls and alluring artwork hung in every direction. Later I would learn the artist's name, Sean Williams. Each piece he created was so vibrant and so different from the one next to it, from the boxers in a ring to the ethereal pale blue woman looking over the shop, watching and protecting all who enter. Avondale Wine and Cheese has a soul. We are forever running to the grocery store or similar store of sorts, racing to complete our task at hand. At Manoli's, time stands still. It happened that night. The most fantastic cheeses were presented in one corner, including Epoisses and Boucheron. In the other corner, 2002 Morey-Saint Denis Premiere Cru "Clos Sorbe", 2006 Joseph Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin and 2009 Feraud Brunel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Just like Sean Williams boxers, these two sides came to compete, and also compliment eachother. Every Monday and Thursday night at work, I wonder what Manoli must be pouring at her tastings. I've often contemplated making my schedule around them.
It's only fitting that she host one of her tastings on Monday nights, for it was a Monday night tasting about twenty years ago where wine first called Manoli's name. After the tasting line up, she would buy two bottles of her favorite wine that evening. If she drank one, she would go search for the exact bottle and vintage and purchase another. This searching and collecting led Manoli to dream of the wine world.
"Come with me. Do you want to try something?" I picked up my mouthwatering glass of Gruner Veltliner and followed right behind her. She led me to a back room with a tiny kitchen and a larger tasting table. It confirmed my images of meeting the great Oz. She began to unwrap a decadent looking cheese and place it on her cheese board. "This is Testun al Barolo from the Piedmont region of Italy. The cheese is covered with residues of Nebbiolo grapes used to make Barolos." She cut a small slice and placed it on my finger. It was one of the most glorious cheeses I have ever tasted. We giggled a little more and began walking towards the front of the shop. A customer appeared and I veered to the left into a little room filled with wine. It felt like a secret hideaway with bottles ranging from every region you can imagine, and although it doesn't have the aisles of bottles grocery stores have, you know each bottle is special and delicious because Manoli has picked them herself. She believes in every item that comes into her shop, from the inexpensive, high quality sale items to the White Burgundy that graces her shelves. "Cheese and Wine are what connects me to every person who comes in." There's also a little bit of specialty chocolate, chorizo and salami too. Her current salami being Fennel Pollen with Sangiovese Wine. There's also the cutest little sign in her Cremant section reading, "Misc. sparkling wine that is way more affordable than Champagne but not Champagne because only Champagne is Champagne." I smile at the clever description and think of her days at one of her many past jobs as a teacher and how it still serves her well.
As I wonder back to the front of Avondale Wine and Cheese and sit at the charming little tables near the front door, I see Manoli teaching and guiding her customers to the items she feels suit them best. I sipped my Gruner Veltliner and thought what a wonderful place this is to come to every day. I look at the pale, blue woman guarding us, thinking she must be happy to be there as well. Manoli sat back down and I asked her how she knew opening the shop would be so gratifying and worthwhile. She said she didn't. She was working so many different jobs, that one day her husband called her at work. He told her to "pick up a bottle of Champagne and come home. Quit your jobs and we'll figure it out." His support helped lead her to this place in time. "We are ever evolving." The words she spoke so true, in life and in wine. While I went to the shop for a small, very inexpensive wine tasting, I left several hours later with much more than I paid for. A new friend, a new home away from home and a big grin across my face knowing I had found a quaint haven of sorts to escape to. After all, isn't that what we all need in life?
Avondale Wine and Cheese
813-B Savannah Highway
Charleston, S.C. 29407
Tastings every Monday and Thursday 5-8pm and Fridays 4-8pm. Happy hour glasses $3! Cheese plates available.