There are places that we go to where we don’t go for the food. That’s not to say that the food isn’t good, it just isn’t what we’re there for. On those nights when we’re feeling like drinking a bit of wine, we head for the closest wine bar. For us, that happens to be SoHo Kitchen and Bar. Located on Mercer, a couple blocks south of the Angelika Film Center, this cavernous establishment is a must stop for anyone interested in sampling the basics of wine.
The decor is modern bar, and indistinguishable from any of a dozen other places, with two exceptions. A massive hundred bottle dispenser for wines by the glass dominates the center of the space, a polished wooden bar encircling (well, actually, en-ovaling). The other is a huge relief mural just inside the entrance of what appears to be a Spanish village, with matadors, bulls, food, drink, and the like intertwined.
When seated, either at bar or table, we are presented with the standard menu, the specials of the day, the wine list and the beer list, all stuffed neatly into a standard plastic menu cover. The food, for us, is secondary to the wine, but consists of a nicely prepared selection of salads, sandwiches, pastas and simple entrees. We’ve never had anything we didn’t like, but we’ve never shouted “Eureka” either. The pastas tend to be our favorites, my personal one a penne with prosciutto and peas in a light cream sauce.
We turn first, and I suppose last, however, to the wine list. The hundred wines offered are organized into “flights”. That is, they are grouped by either region or grape variety, or some criterion that the owners judged appropriate. Each flight contains anywhere from three to eight wines. You can order any wine by the bottle, or by the standard glass (5 ounces), or by a smaller tasting glass (2½ ounces), or, for those who are serious about their sampling, by flight. For the flight, you get a small amount of each wine (1½ ounces). From our samplings so far, we have yet to have a wine we didn’t enjoy, and each flight has contained at least one outstanding wine.
Examples of flights – a Pinot Grigio (one each from Italy, the U.S. and Alsace); French Chardonnays (7 white wines from Burgundy); and Italian Reds (4 top contenders from all over the country). If you’ll indulge me a moment, and hopefully without intruding too far upon our wine columnist’s arena, I’d like to take you through a sample flight.
One of my favorites has been the French Chardonnay flight I mentioned above. It’s a great way to see the difference that both the style of winemaking and the climate and geology of differing areas make when using the same grape. The seven wines arrive on a placemat with adorable little circles on it. Our waiter places a glass in each of the first seven circles and lets us know that from left to right they follow the flight list.
The first wine is a 1991 Domaine Dampt Chablis, from perhaps obviously, Chablis, in the north of the Burgundy region. The wine tastes of peaches and a buttery flavor, and just a hit of stone (Chablis aficionados look for a “flinty” character in the wine). It is light, refreshing, and a nice start to the flight. The second wine we sample is the 1992 Georges Duboeuf Coupe-Dailly, from Saint-Veran, in the southern Maconnais region of Burgundy. This wine is light, refreshing and tastes of apples, with a “woodsy” character to it. Continuing on, we sample 1991 William Fevre Montmain Chablis Premier Cru – now back to the northern end of Burgundy, and a higher quality Chablis, tasting of the obligatory flint, along with oranges and a touch of nutmeg. We move on to the 1990 Vaudoisey Les Vireuils, from the Meursault region, down at the south end of Burgundy. This wine tastes of pears with hints of hazelnuts and toast.
Moving to the 1989 Domain Chauvo from Chassagne-Montrachet, we find the peach and hazelnut flavors combined, along with an earthy or mushroomy character that is typical of this southern Burgundy area. The 1990 Joseph Drouhin Les Folatieres from the next door Puligny-Montrachet area is our favorite, with an immediate aroma that reminds us of banana-pecan waffles, and then hints of mint and pepper. We end with the 1992 Georges Duboeuf Pouilly-Fuisse, a trifle on the light side with flavors of raspberries and honey and a hint of rose petals.
Okay, now I admit that all the flavors and aromas are purely subjective, that you might taste something totally different, and that you might think that all this wine stuff is too silly for words. Just order a bottle of your favorite whatever and enjoy the atmosphere. Or drop by the table and join us in the fun…
SoHo Kitchen and Bar, 103 Greene Street (between Prince and Spring Streets), 925-1866. Open 7 days a week for lunch and inner. Credit Cards accepted. Figure on your meal running around $10 to $15, plus whatever damage you do in wine…
CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!