The Laurel Magazine

Laurel Magazine is a monthly magazine guiding you where to shop, play, dine, and stay in Highlands NC and Cashiers NC.

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  • Laurel Contributor

Divine Wine Anytime

by Marlene Osteen

Meritage Bistro is the destination of choice for serious oenophiles, armchair connoisseurs, and those who simply enjoy a good glass of wine paired with a carefully-prepared meal.

To step into Meritage Bistro is to steep yourself in wine.

Owner Andrea Schmitt’s passion for wine is on display everywhere – on racks In the restaurant’s Sun Room; in wine cubes covering the back bar and the entranceway. Not visible are the bottles stored under the seats of the banquets in the main dining room and the hundreds stashed in the kitchen’s temperature controlled wine cellar.

At 490 Carolina Way (the corner of Fifth and Maple Streets), Schmitt has created a wine-centered restaurant on a historic site in a building inspired by the town’s earliest homes.

You could easily walk past this small restaurant on one of Highlands’s backstreets, but that would be a mistake. The corner spot with adjoining garden seating may look and feel like an unassuming neighborhood haunt, but the menu and carefully-curated wine lists boast real pedigree. Think vibrantly flavored dishes, authentic ingredients and culinary flair – all designed to be enjoyed with wine.

The wide-ranging wine list is both intelligent and of good value; with a low rate mark-up creating bargains galore. And the wine cellar is vast, built up over the years with older vintages and an extraordinary range of selections. In fact there are three lists to choose from – the Restaurant’s Core List, a Wine Spectator Top 100 List – with a selection of offerings from the magazine’s annual top 100 selections, and a Reserve List of older vintages and rare and hard to find bottles. If you’re a wine lover with a sense of adventure, there’s much to explore. For people who care about wine, it basically amounts to a love letter.

The Bistro’s deep connection to wine extends to special diners and events. Weekly wine tastings are offered on Thursday afternoons. On November 8, the weekend of the 2019 Highlands Food & Wine Festival, the popular “Wine vs. Beer Dinner” will return – a five-course interactive tasting with both wine and beer pairings assigned to each course. Also that weekend and offered with the regular menu, is a series of wine flights, featuring selections from the Wine Spectator Top 100 list.

Schmitt’s voracious curiosity about and enthusiasm for wine has been cultivated over decades – beginning at a local restaurant, where during her nine-year tenure, she had occasion to observe the creation and development of a world class wine list.

Her “Big Bang” wine moment came on a honeymoon trip to Italy’s famed wine-growing regions – Veneto and Tuscany. In the casual and relaxed trattorias of the country, she observed how wine elevated the dining experience. She determined to bring home that realization – the joy of food with wine – to Wild Thyme, the restaurant she founded in 1991 and operated until 2003. Then in 2014 she opened Meritage, where she continually seeks to explore new regions and unfamiliar varietals.

“I like surprising my guests,” she says – and so she does.

Grab a bottle of wine – you’ll enjoy the trip.