Monday, January 21, 2008

Plenty of style, not sure about substance...

I stopped by Oakland's newest wine bar last night, Vine, on Lakeshore -- I was mainly intrigued by some comments (which were complaints) akin to "What business does a wine bar have playing thumping techno on an early weeknight?" For me that seemed like a positive (as long as the music wasn't cheesy Energy 92.7-style dance music), as I have long dreamed of a space that combines good techno with the wine bar experience.

When Brian & I walked in around 6 it was pretty empty, with only a few other people at the bar, but by the time we sat down with a glass of wine it was considerably more full. Deep house was playing, which seemed like an appropriate choice, although it was a bit loud (soon it switched to R & B then jazz, both OK, but would have liked to hear more house...) We were immediately greeted by host Adrian (who, although very welcoming seemed a tad bit too eager) explained the enomatic machine concept -- I guess most people wandering into Vine haven't seen one of these automatic wine-dispensing machines before). Unfortunately you can't buy cards of less than $20, making the enomatic route a bit pricey if you also plan on settling down with a full glass or two.

The decor was impressive -- exposed brick walls, colorful paintings (especially liked a huge, stretched-canvas piece of wine bottles), track-light chandeliers, chocolate-leather benches and stools, and lovely orchids tastefully spotlighted by the shining lights. While the bar area in back was a bit bright, the front area was considerably cozier and more inviting.

But we weren't blown away by the wines, even though they had two I have long wanted to try. One was Ca'del Solo AlbariƱo from quirky Santa Cruz Mountains producer Bonny Doon, which lacked the enticing peachy-floral aromas and mineral zip of other (mainly Spanish) AlbariƱos. The other was Klinker Brick's Old Ghost, a Lodi old-vine Zin that Vine was selling out of the machine at $6.50 for a taste or -- get this -- $120 a bottle! Considering it retails for $37, that's quite the markup. Hmmmm... Also tried a Pellegrini Carignane, which lacked the lush fruit and rich earthiness I usually find in this Rhone grape.

While Vine didn't quite win me over, I'm glad to see Oakland's getting it's own share of wine bars. I will go back and hopefully find better wines and more house music!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Cheapies for the post-holiday (wallet) hangover

If you're like me, you probably are feeling a bit broke now that the holidays are over. While you can spend a tidy amount on pricey bottles of knock-out California Pinot or Cab (or a small fortune during a wine-tasting trip to Mendocino County!!), there are some excellent steals to be found, often in the import category.

Some recent outstanding bottles I sampled were the Bodega Campo Reales '05 Tempranillo from Spain, an absolute steal at $6.99 at Beltramo's in Redwood City. The tannins are very smooth and the currant and vanilla aromas and juicy taste would match well with straightforward fare such as hamburgers and chili, which along with the price, make it a great bachelor wine...

Another winner from Beltramo's was Southern Right '07 Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa for $12.99. Given that B & I are SB lovers and have tried quite a few from around the world, we were blown away by this one, which has a rounder mouthfeel than the New Zealand SBs we love, but enough minerality and citrus-pear notes to give it the zip we crave in New World Sauv Blancs. Another great reason to buy this wine is that Southern Right Winery (which makes only SB and Pinotage) donated a portion of the proceeds from each bottle sold to conservation of the whale species from which it takes its name.

Speaking of NZ Sauv Blancs, we had an exceptional one last night with friends at L Wine Lounge and Urban Kitchen in Sacramento: Chasing Venus '07 Sauvignon Blanc from Crew Wine Co. for $17. Classic NZ SB flavors of grapefruit and gooseberry with a lively finish. Nearly the whole table was drinking this one by the time we left.