That’s how Phil Scharfstein answered my question about his late father, Ben, and how he became such an expert on wines.
Until his death at the age of 63 in 2010, Ben was my go-to person for strange questions like: “What wine pairs best with chicken livers?” His answer, by the way, was an American red zinfandel.
And the gregarious Ben didn’t stop there. He went on to give me a short seminar on wine and fried chicken, explaining how a chardonnay would taste best with warm chicken. Served cold the next day, the chicken, according to Ben, would go perfectly with “an herbaceous sauvignon blanc, since refrigeration will take some of the richness out of the chicken.”
Having those kinds of answers helped Ben launch his family business, One Stop Wines and Spirits, on South Roan Street in Johnson City back in 1983. He picked up chicken expertise when he and his wife Caroline started selling the broasted variety at the convenience store next door. You could buy one of Caroline’s hand-painted wine glasses there, too.
The Scharfsteins descended from Austrian immigrants who ended up in Brooklyn, where they made knickers. Ben Scharfstein graduated from Science Hill High School in 1964. When his father died in 1965, he came back home from the University of Virginia to manage the family business, Stein-Way Clothing Company, which was later purchased by Levi Strauss.
As laws governing the sale of alcoholic beverages began to evolve in the early 1980s, Ben changed direction, opening the largest store of its kind in the region, during what his son calls “the jug wine days.” Shortly thereafter, Ben hired Mel Bowman to manage the business, and she remains in that job today, in a new location on State of Franklin Road in Johnson City and one on North Roan Street. Phil Scharfstein says Mel is “like a sister to me.”
One Stop has always been a place where you don’t just pick up a quick bottle and leave. It’s a place where you ask those questions and learn. And Phil handles them as well as his father did.
When I asked, for example, what kind of wine he would recommend with country ham, Phil answered immediately: champagne. “As much carbonation as we consume, you would think that champagne and sparkling wines would be at the top of consumption,” Phil says. “But they’re really not. They’re at the bottom, which surprises me.”
But with salty foods, such as oysters, or a good, long-cured country ham, champagne, Phil says, “goes wonderfully well. And this time of year, people want bubbles in the house.”
And so, when I was in search of some creative cocktails for the Christmas season this year, One Stop was the obvious source.
The inspirations for these two playful drinks are campfires and the kitchens of southern grandmothers.
Chocolate sauce or syrup
3 ounces Bailey’s Irish Cream
Crush the graham crackers and layer them in a Mason jar or parfait glass. Drizzle with chocolate sauce and Bailey’s Irish Cream. Add a layer of miniature marshmallows. (Optional: Toast the marshmallows with a kitchen torch.) This is as much a dessert as it is a drink.
Sugar Cookie Martini
Vanilla icing (store-bought works fine)
Red and green sprinkles
1 ounce vanilla vodka
1 ounce Bailey’s Irish Cream
Half an ounce Amaretto
A splash of milk
Using a knife, spread vanilla icing around the rim of a martini glass. Then roll the glass in the red and green sprinkles. In a shaker with ice, combine vodka, Bailey’s, Amaretto, and milk and shake well. Pour into martini glass.
Fred Sauceman is the author of the book “The Proffitts of Ridgewood: An Appalachian Family’s Life in Barbecue.”