Wine Bars Deliver Tasty Vintages, Meals to Match

Posted January 16, 2008 at 5:47pm

Capitol Hill may be full of speculation over the perfect pairing on each party ticket come November, but when you leave the office, thoughts may turn to a nonpolitical kind of pairing: what to eat and drink.

[IMGCAP(1)]Thanks to a flurry of wine bar openings in the past few months, there are more opportunities than ever to experience well-paired food and wine.

A wine bar in its purest form, Veritas (2031 Florida Ave. NW) focuses on what’s in the glass with an impressive list boasting around 70 wines and a small supporting menu of cheese and charcuterie. Since its September opening, the dim, brick-walled hangout — barely bigger than some restaurant kitchens — has regularly been packed to capacity.

Also getting in on the sip-and-swirl trend are Vinoteca (1940 11th St. NW) — open since November and pouring around 60 choices — and the forthcoming Cork Wine Bar. Cork is slated to open later this month.

“We visited wine bars in Paris and NYC and really just loved the concept,” said Diane Gross, who co-owns Cork with her husband Khalid Pitts. “I think that new restaurants and bars with that [wine] focus are trying to meet the needs and wants of D.C. residents who really want fun places to hang out with friends, but they also want to drink good wine so a traditional bar might not be their first choice.”

With wine seizing the spotlight, that’s not to say food is relegated to the back burner. Cork, for example, has lured a local talent to head its kitchen: Ron Tanaka, former sous chef at the acclaimed CityZen restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental.

In the spirit of exploring the interplay between food and wine, we asked owners of popular wine-centric spots around town for some favorite pairings off their menus.

Sipping Spot: Cork (opening later this month)

The Pairing: Owners Pitts and Gross suggest the pan-crisped brioche sandwich of prosciutto, fontina and Path Valley egg paired with La Giaretta, Valpolicella “Volpare” 2005 (a blend of Italian Rondinella, Corvina and Molinara grapes).

Details: Cork will open on 14th Street Northwest’s hottest stretch later this month, offering a well-edited selection of wines by the glass, complemented by the cooking of chef Tanaka.

1720 14th St. NW, 202-265-2675.

Sipping Spot: Proof

The Pairing: Owner Mark Kuller suggests the roasted pork loin with smoked ham hock, butternut squash risotto and crispy collards paired with a Chateauneuf du Pape such as Chateau de Beaucastel, particularly the 2000 or 2001 vintage. “This rich, scrumptious dish is my go-to choice on a cold, blustery night,” Kuller says. “The earthiness of the wine matches well with the rustic, smoky flavors found in the risotto, and the sweet Grenache fruit provides a delicious counterpoint to the butternut squash.”

Details: Wine collector turned restaurateur Kuller has stocked Penn Quarter’s Proof with an impressive number of rare and hard-to-find wines, as well as some of his personal favorites. “Our wine list is loaded with Chateauneuf — both my and chef Haidar Karoum’s favorite wine,” Kuller says. There are more than 30 choices poured by the glass.

775 G St. NW, 202-737-7663.

Sipping Spot: Sonoma

The Pairing: Co-owner Elias Hengst suggests the Shenandoah lamb ragu with house-made pappardelle and shaved pecorino paired with Ajello “Furat” 2004, a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, Syrah and Nero d’Avola from Sicily. “The wine offers just enough acidity and complexity to balance the comfort- and smile-inducing warmth and moderate ‘richness’ of this locally sourced and house-made dish,” Hengst says.

Details: As a top Capitol Hill spot for sipping wine, Sonoma offers around 40 wines by the glass, with a focus on California and Italy. The seasonal menu, crafted by executive chef Drew Trautmann, highlights regional ingredients that are often organic or sustainably produced. Hengst and co- owner Jared Rager also oversee Georgetown’s popular Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar, and the pair have a third restaurant on the way this spring called Redwood in Bethesda, Md.

223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, 202-544-8088.

Sipping Spot: Locanda

The Pairing: Owner Aykan Demiroglu suggests the lamb shank braised in Chianti with celery root purée and lamb jus paired with Rosso Piceno “Il Maschio da Monte” 2004. The wine, says Demiroglu, “is intensely ruby red, has the grand smell of ‘Marasca’ cherry and rewards with a long, full aftertaste of boysenberry fruit.”

Details: Locanda, which opened last summer, has become a neighborhood favorite for fresh pastas and beautifully prepared Italian fare with Mediterranean influences. Thanks to a carefully selected wine list, it’s also a great place to stop in for a drink and a snack. Demiroglu has a passion for Italian wine, and he’s often on hand to help guests choose a great match for their meal. Locanda pours more than 20 wines by the glass and by the quartino, or third of a bottle.

633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, 202-547-0002.