Saturday, October 07, 2006

Vino Vino's My Kinda Wine Bar...Or Will Be

What makes a wine bar whip ass? Before I even get into the answer, let's talk about what it takes for a body to open a neighborhood wine shop at all.
You gotta make sweet love to the Neighborhood Association, convince 'em you're not a nightclub drawing in frat boys who will puke in their yard. Then there's licensing and the great row of hoops to jump through with various ordinances. Occassionally, one must make annoying accomodations to comply, such as limiting the number of seats at the bar until the parking issue is settled, or opening initially as a "convenience store" before serving wine by the glass.

Jeff Courington seems to be pulling it together despite the odds, and boy, am I glad. While some columnists would have you believe that all the brand new wine bars in Austin deserve equal praise, I'm of the mind that it takes some special things to make a wine bar kick ass. Jeff's vision is the kind of thing I want: swanky but laid back with loads of groovy, unusual wines from all over the world, not just the usual suspects from California and France. When Jeff and wine buyer Jerry Reid say they want people to try new things, they really mean it. What's the fun in introducing a big Cab drinker to another big Cab? Or a big Malbec or Super Tuscan, for that matter? These guys encourage people to expand their palates, try different styles, get back in touch with great white wine and great bubbles. That's what Austin needs.

The space Jeff for this new venture has it's challenges, parking in particular, and it's well worth the risk. It's a beautiful and roomy space with century-old wood floors painted in warm colors. One long wall opposite the bar is lined to the hilt with bottles categorized by weight, white to red, light to full bodied. There's a definite slant towards the Old World style, and these guys understand how to introduce them in a user-friendly way. While waiting for the proper licensing to serve by the glass (the goal is December), Vino Vino is strictly retail and will hold tastings Tuesdays and Thursdays in the evening. Eventually they'll add a cold kitchen to serve sandwiches, cheese and charcuterie plates and salads to pair with the wines.

You can also trust these guys not to jack you on the prices. "Moderate pricing" is a relative concept, especially when it comes to wine. Go into a wine bar sometime and ask them the price difference between four glasses of wine and a bottle of the same to take home and you'll find there's a "discount" on the retail. That means the same product by the glass is forty or fifty percent more expensive. They want to call this a corkage fee, or some such thing, but the fact remains: you pay more to drink it there. Jeff believes in popping the bottle on premises for the same cash. He'll even open any bottle in the store for you, as long as you commit to buying at least two glasses out of it.

Austin has a long way to go before there's a bonafide selection of classy wine bars, but Vino Vino is my idea of the right direction. I wish the boys much luck.