Thursday, May 7, 2009

Raise a glass

Downtown wine bar injects a little fun into wining

Posted on Thu, May 7, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Wine bars have been uncorked all over our fair city, and there's no indication that the trend is about to go stale, not with all the hip sippers of the millennial generation elevating their self-worth in these cool resto-lounges. The undeniable snob appeal of certain wine bars can be a turnoff for those averse to putting on airs in environments heavy on pretense. But more and more, such places are cultivating atmospheres that are relaxed and free of the affectations often associated with grape enthusiasts. Some, like downtown's Tastings, are introducing novel methods that inject fun into wining, while avoiding the artifice of trying to be something they're not.

Located in the mezzanine of the Dynetech Centre, the angular, somewhat awkwardly shaped space offers a tasteful sanctuary for wine aficionados, many of whom grab a glass from one of the Enomatic tasting machines near the entrance, then roam the sizable outdoor balcony overlooking Washington Avenue. The circular contrivances stock a total of 72 wines (many familiar), each available in tasting, half-glass and full-glass portions. Patrons purchase a tasting card with a dollar amount of their choosing, insert the card into the machine, and select the pour quantity. The machines allow quaffers the flexibility of sampling a great range of varietals and vintages, even bottles priced at over $100, like the Nickel & Nickel Napa Valley cabernet (taste: $11.30; half glass: $28.25; full glass: $50.85; bottle: $114). The accommodating hostess was more than willing, and plenty knowledgeable, to walk me through the process and offer her recommendations.

Returning to the table after a thorough slaking, we perused the menu of small plates to see what would pair well with a glass of bordeaux and one of Argentinean malbec. We opted for the Mediterranean lamb chops ($14) and the pan-seared filet medallions ($14), respectively; while the beefy tablets, coated with Maytag butter, were a flawless rendering, the lamb chops failed to materialize. They 'weren't prepped,â?� said the waiter, then added, 'They're still in the freezer.â?� No matter; the roasted herb goat cheese pomodoro ($9) provided an alternate ruminant essence that satisfied wholly. The cheese log sat amid a subtly sweet chunky tomato sauce and came served with crostini and pita. A savory basil pesto lent the 'Napa Valleyâ?� flatbread ($8) a gratifying zest, as did the addition of feta, toasted pine nuts, baby spinach and artichokes. A generous portion of sesame-encrusted tuna ($11), drizzled with wasabi-ginger sauce, was fresh, though slightly overdone.

Desserts aren't made in-house, but there are opportunities to pair chocolate with your red wine of choice. A bold zinfandel can complement the dark-chocolate truffles in the assorted plate ($11); a light merlot matches well with the chocolate marquis ($7), a moussey sponge cake topped with ganache and hazelnuts. A cheese plate ($8 for two cheeses; $15 for four; $28 for eight) works just as well as a capper ' just beware less-than-fresh grapes in the fruit plate. Try a rosé with creamy smooth Port Salut or a sauvignon blanc with Wensleydale with cranberries. Or not. Pairing wine with food can be a trial-and-error endeavor, and I get the sense that the folks here aren't going to judge or scrutinize your pairings, however outlandish.

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