First Look: Vine & Tap
Wine takes center stage at Buckhead's Vine & TapTuesday April 8, 2014 04:00 am EDT
So you've noticed the undeniable heat of my love affair with Atlanta craft beer and cocktails — all the new local breweries I've been seeing, the clamor of bartenders. But, trust me, I still love you. Surely you heard about Stem Wine Bar opening late last year, and now look at Vine & Tap — another new wine bar! Vine & Tap is exactly the kind of place where we can work on this relationship, bring back some of the excitement, some of the ... discovery. Yes, wine, I think this is a good thing for the both of us.
Vine & Tap opened on Valentines Day, a wine bar tucked into a strip of shops on Lenox Road near Lenox Square. It's the work of Ian Mendelsohn, a sommelier who came to Atlanta back in 2010 as wine director for the St. Regis in Buckhead. With previous stints at Windows on the World in New York and the restaurants of the Wynn Las Vegas, Mendelsohn brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. But Vine & Tap's approach to wine is much more about passion. This is not the kind of place with an encyclopedic leather-bound list or heavy-handed information overload, just a bunch of great wines that Mendelsohn is eager to share.
The vibe inside is that of a sophisticated, friendly contemporary bistro. Tangles of Edison bulbs hang overhead and plush, love seat-like sofas line a row of tables along one wall. The bar runs along the opposite wall, but most of the room is given over to tables. Yes, there's food. And a few (mostly) local beers on tap. But once you settle into Vine & Tap, you'll see that the real joy resides in exploring the wine list.
Indeed, Vine & Tap's kitchen works in service of the wine — you won't find overpowering flavors, or heavy acidity, or things like raw shallots that can potentially ruin a nice glass. What you will find is a diverse set of mostly snack-y plates. There's a small selection of charcuterie from chef Chris Rabideau, like a spread of smooth and earthy rabbit rillettes. There's also a few simple and crunchy bruschetta, and a few equally simple and crunchy paninis. But the most interesting dishes are the collection of full-size plates on offer, like a perfectly crisp pork schnitzel blanketing a pile of herb spaetzle. The dish works as a wonderful blank canvas for almost any wine. Even better is the bowl of red royal shrimp swimming in butter and garlic, begging for an acidic white. There's also a tasty off-menu Maryland-style crab cake that seems to be approximately 95 percent lump crab, 4 percent butter, and 1 percent other. Again, this is a dish begging to be paired with wine, and Vine & Tap is eager to oblige with thoughtful selections.
While Mendelsohn plans to expand the wine list over the coming months, the current 100-plus offerings are diverse, trotting around the world to destinations like Sicily or the Loire Valley that don't often get much love on your typical Atlanta wine list. There may be several restaurants in town with deeper selections and older cellars, but Vine & Tap offers enough to introduce wine drinkers at any level to something new and interesting.
The list starts out with four wines on tap. These are mostly recognizable wines, like Lioco chardonnay and Qupé syrah, but Vine & Tap pulls them from kegs into glasses or carafes. Mendelsohn likes the flexibility the tap allows, but that's just the start. The next section is by the glass — a couple rosés, five sparkling wines, five whites, seven reds, and a nice selection of port, sherry, and Madeira to boot. Here, the esoteric factor starts to pick up — a delightful sparkling rosé from the Rheingau, a 98 percent Marsanne from the Rhone's famed Clos des Papes. And the glasses are priced fairly, ranging from $7 to $18.
But the real kicker comes with the bottle list — where Vine & Tap employs a gadget called the Coravin to allow any of the 90 or so wines to be offered as a 3-ounce taste. You heard me right. The quick way to describe the Coravin is that it basically inserts a needle through the cork to extract the wine, then pumps in inert gas to fill the space, leaving the bottle none the worse for wear. It's brilliant, and apparently lives up to its promise. I asked Mendelsohn what he had heard from guests thus far, and he professed envy for anyone actually selling the Coravin, since so many diners had asked about buying one (you can get your own at coravin.com for $279-$299).
Our knowledgeable, wine-geeky server brought the Coravin to the table to do the honors, pouring out 3-ounce portions of the wines we ordered — a floral 1991 German riesling, two different Sicilian reds with cult-like followings. You'll pay a bit more for the opportunity to tap into any bottle — that 3-ounce pour is priced at one-sixth of the (very fair) bottle prices — but it's worth it if you see something you're eager to try.
Tucked away as it is alongside a residential outer-pocket of Buckhead, Vine & Tap also takes the unusual (for a wine bar) tack of supporting parents out with their children — mac and cheese and PB&J top the kids' menu. There are also monthly Women's Wine Club tastings, another organized by varietal, and even Champagne specials each Friday. Whatever it takes to bring the good people of Atlanta closer to wine, Vine & Tap is there to spark the love.