Mary Jo Newhouse, editor
Rest and recreation means wine tasting. In this edition, we focus on wine bars – distinguished for our purposes from traditional tasting rooms by the social atmosphere and food offerings, from small plates to a full selection of entrees.
A late afternoon wine bar escape provides instant rest from the office grind and recreation with friends, even in the heart of the workweek. We reviewed several neighborhood wine bars, so no matter where you live, opportunities for R&R are nearby and perhaps as close as right around the corner.
Nothing could be finer on a hot summer evening, after a long day staring at a computer screen or enduring a succession of conference calls, than threading one’s way through Post Alley to The Tasting Room (1924 Post Alley, 206-770-9463) for a glass of wine with a friend.
The Tasting Room is operated by a cooperative of seven local wineries. The selection is limited to their wines. The atmosphere is akin to a local pub in England; the server greets “regulars” as they drift in for a glass or two. We were definitely not regulars, but were nevertheless greeted cheerfully by our server. We ordered two flights – the “Staff Picks” and the “What the F@$%!” Each flight contains four one-ounce pours.
“Staff Picks” started with a bang: a truly luscious, fruity, spirited sparkling wine – a cuvee forte from Mountain Dome Winery (good enough to drink all night). The flight also included a pinot grigio from Two Coyote Vineyard with a creamy, velvety finish like a high-end chardonnay; a curiously dry rosé from Naches Heights Vineyards; and a robust syrah-Grenache blend from Latitude 46.
Next, we tried a medium-bodied 2007 sangiovese from Wineglass Cellars. Yum. Our server finished us off (figuratively) with a one-ounce pour of a very unique-tasting “Madrona” blend from Camaraderie. If you like butterscotch, this is the wine for you.
With the wines, we ordered the obligatory charcuterie from Salumé and a nice selection of pungent cheeses. The whole experience was enhanced by a pleasant banter with our server and the regulars. Other plus: outdoor seating. Minus: not cheap.
Cell phone reception was poor, which could be a plus or minus depending on your circumstances. Overall, you would have to be pretty darned dull not to love this place.
106 Pine (106 Pine St., 206-443-1106) is one of the newest Seattle wine bars. We have become quite fond of it in a short time. The focus is exclusively on Northwest wines. The manager, Shannon Borg, is particularly knowledgeable about wines, growers and winemakers.
Located in a narrow space off Pine, right next to the Chocolate Box, the wine bar is friendly, with modern, clean lines detailed with hints of rustic frontier. Wine is served by both glass or flight and the menu changes frequently. We tried – and enjoyed – the “When in Rhone” flight, which included a Mark Ryan 2008 viognier, Darby 2009 Endless Road rosé and a Daven Lore 2008 syrah.
Special effort is taken to find treasures in both local wines and local foods for pairings. The plums and cheese, showcasing plums pickled by Boat Street Café, with Gothburg Farms goat “Blouda”, was a culinary treat. Marcona almonds are offered with three types of salt for dipping and tasting – Cyprus flake, fume de sel (smoked over used chardonnay barrels) and hiwa kai (volcanic ash). 106 Pine not only sells wine, its people know wines.
In our experience, neighborhoods are divided into two main types — those frequented by locals and those, for entertainment or other reasons, considered “destination neighborhoods.” We like wine bars in both types. To experience one of the best examples of a local neighborhood wine bar, head to Magnolia and spend a relaxing hour or two at Swirl Wine Bar (3217 W. McGraw St., 206-327-9221).
Swirl is cozy and friendly, and well frequented by locals. Two small outdoor tables allow for interaction with the passing neighborhood; families, friends and dogs stroll by contributing to the relaxing vibe. If you arrive too late (or perhaps it is raining) to grab an outdoor seat, head inside for a table or sit at the bar. On our recent visit, we sat inside and decided to revisit white wines (a stretch for a dedicated red-wine drinker and a dedicated beer drinker).
Wine is available by the glass or the bottle and a limited menu of small plates is offered. Swirl takes its commitment to wine enjoyment seriously. The servers welcome questions if you are undecided or unfamiliar with the options. They unhurriedly discuss suggestions after carefully considering your likes and dislikes and make thoughtful, spot-on wine recommendations. We enjoyed the glass of Tedschi soave so much we had to buy a bottle.
We suggest ordering the meat-and-cheese plate, allowing the chef to choose the variety of meats and cheese to best complement your wine selection. The plate was wonderful, served with bread, figs, apricots and nuts, all selected to enhance our foray into white wine. Great food, great wine, relaxed atmosphere, and you are bound to run into a friend or two. We love this place.
An example of a “destination neighborhood” wine bar is Portalis Wine Shop & Bar (5205 Ballard Ave. W. 206-783-2007), tucked away on a tree-lined street of old-town Ballard. Entering Portalis feels a little like walking into an old-world setting. The wine shop fills one side of the space, tables are on the other side next to the front window encouraging sitting, sipping and idly watching the passersby.
The server was polite and offered insight when asked about the local and international wines offered. The Owen Roe Sharecropper’s Red (cabernet sauvignon) was full and hearty. The Australian Langmeil Valley Floor shiraz was enjoyed and the Lager Do Castello 2008 Albariño (Spain) was crisp, minerally balanced and called for seconds.
The highlight of the charcuterie plate was the house-made pâté, with a nice bite to it, and the warmed baguette. The cold cuts were fine, but not outstanding, and a third cornichon (one for each of us) would have been a nice touch. It was a relaxing and enjoyable escape on a warm afternoon when we were able to take advantage of an unexpected early ending to a long day of meetings.
Located on the top of the hill, Bricco della Regina Anna (1525 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-285-4900) is a quaint neighborhood bar. There are only a few tables and some room to sit at the bar, but the small space gives Bricco a comfortable, friendly atmosphere.
It has a good selection of Italian and Northwest boutique wines that can be ordered by the glass. As we consistently found in our research, if you need assistance on your selection, the servers have great suggestions.
Another Bricco high point is its cheese menu. You can select your favorite cheeses from a rotating menu that is listed on the chalkboard above the bar to make your own personalized cheese plate.
Don’t stop at the cheeses. Bricco’s tapas are not to be missed. We recommend the special flatbread of the day — also listed on the chalkboard.
Located in the heart of Wallingford, Smash Wine Bar & Restaurant (1402 N. 45th St., 206-547-3232) offers an amazing selection of wines and food ranging from small snacks to full entrees.
Smash has a large outdoor patio, which is a perfect place on sunny days to sip wine flights and sample a cheese plate. The flights typically consist of three different wines grouped together by a common theme such as “Oregon Trail” or “Washington Redskins.” For after-work rest and recreation, Smash offers a happy hour from 5–6:30 p.m. with wine, cocktails and food at a reduced price.
Poco Wine Room (1408 E. Pine St., 206-322-9463) is located on Pine Street down the hill from 15th — an area enjoying a relative explosion of new restaurants and dining options.
The staff was very friendly. The head chef made herself available to us for a variety of questions and recommendations for pairings. Outdoor seating was an option, complete with an assortment of blankets should the evening turn chilly.
The selection of both local and international wines by the glass or bottle was reasonable; no flights, but they were willing to pour half glasses. We tried several of the wines and were happy with the Sokol Blosser Evolution (white) and the Klinker Brick zinfandel.
The food was promising and designed for pairing small plates with wine. The steamed mussels and clams were excellent. The creamy spinach soup, slightly overpowered by lemon and mint, was enjoyable. The spring pea risotto was also dominated by lemon, but offered a nice combination of peas and arugula.
Overall, the portions and flavors were well suited for pairing with various wines. The wine list and the food offerings rotate every few weeks. Many of the favorite dishes remain on the menu, but others are changed to accommodate seasonal produce and seafood. The friendliness of the staff and the menu rotation make this a place worth trying again.
West Seattle Wine Cellars (6026 California Ave. SW, 206-937-2868) is much more than your average neighborhood wine shop. The owners, Tom and Jan, know the wines and are eager to share their knowledge. If you tell them your price point and what you are making for dinner, they will help you pick out the perfect bottle. They have never steered us wrong. Even better, if they do not have what you are looking for, they will special order it for you.
One reason to make that trek across the West Seattle Bridge (really, it’s not that far) is the Thursday night wine tastings. Every Thursday night, West Seattle Wine Cellars has free wine tastings from 5:30–8 p.m. The tastings are focused on a particular region, winemaker or importer. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed. Each wine that is poured comes with a story about the vineyard, the grapes or the winemaker.
On the third Saturday of each month, from 3–5 p.m., the tastings feature a local winemaker. Check out the website to find out what wines will be sampled next.
Prosser, Yakima Valley
Okay, this is not quite a Seattle neighborhood, but next time you head to the Yakima Valley for R&R wine tasting, consider stopping at Wine O’Clock (548 Cabernet Court, Prosser, 509-786-2197). This restaurant, an extension of the Bunnell Family Cellars and River Aerie tasting room, is situated in the heart of Vintner’s Village and offers food designed to be paired with wines.
The menu is determined in part by fruit and produce ripe and available in the verdant Yakima Valley, creatively prepared by chef Laurie Kennedy. The seafood salad with halibut and scallops was excellent and nicely paired with the Bunnell Family Cellars viognier. The flatbread, straight from the pizza oven, usually features unexpected and delightful combinations such as gorgonzola, figs and lavender honey. The desserts never disappoint. A gem.
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Oh my, not enough time, too many wine bars … even for our dedicated writers. Those on our list we were unable to review but hope to visit soon include The Sitting Room in Queen Anne, Verve Bistro and Wine Cellar in Columbia City, Grand Cru Wine Shop in Bellevue and Bennett’s Pure Food Bistro on Mercer Island.
Originally published in the August 2010 issue of the King County Bar Bulletin. Reprinted with permission of the King County Bar Association.