You enter The Vineyard Wine Room (2645 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, 513-871-1110) down a narrow corridor, through the soft glow of leaded-glass doors, into a cool, cosmopolitan space. A striking mural featuring a substantial woman wraps a cylindrical wall near the bar; bright, modernist paintings of acrobats line another.
Decorated with high tables and sleek couches, there's nowhere to comfortably linger over a large meal. So while the Wine Room offers the same menu and wine list as in its sister restaurant, the Vineyard Café, just two doors down, you're better off in here just sharing appetizers while experimenting with wines by the glass.
As a certified wine geek, I always look for wine lists online so I can peruse the choices beforehand rather than in front of my dining companions. While the list posted on the café Web site is long out of date, the current list contains several appealing choices from America, Spain, France and Australia. Particularly interesting bottles include a 1998 Clos des Brusquieres Chteauneuf-du-Pape ($48) and 2004 Two Hands "Angel's Share" Shiraz ($51).
The many wine choices generally pair well with the imaginative, eclectic cuisine, but there are some holes -- for instance, a sparkling Italian Prosecco would match their Prosciutto appetizer beautifully, but none is offered. Looking for quality, budget-minded pairings, we chose the following (each under $11/glass):
· 2003 Mcon-Lugny "Les Charmes." A value-priced, un-oaked Chardonnay from Burgundy, it's delicate and crisp with nice hints of citrus.
· 1999 Condesa de Leganza Crianza. From the arid plains of La Mancha, this 100 percent Spanish tempranillo shows pleasant strawberry and leather flavors with hints of sweet, vanillin oak on the finish.
· 2003 Hill of Content Pinot Noir. A bit hot and rustic for a pinot, this Australian red still possesses loads of raspberry fruit and nice, plush mouthfeel.
· 2004 Rutherglen "Red." This Shiraz and Petite Sirah blend (unusual for Australia) is a tooth-staining purple, bursting with dark berry fruit, bitter-chocolate. Roasted-coffee notes emerge among the youthful tannins.
The wines are served in excellent, Austrian-made Riedel stems, but wine storage may be an issue. The bartender explained that several bottles "on display" in the Wine Room were taken off the list because they were (prematurely) dead. This could be because red wines are stored in racks separating the dining room from the warm kitchen.
On the plus side, the wine staff actively manages the list, removing anything that no longer measures up. Despite pricing that leans toward expensive and the other issues I've mentioned, I think Cincinnati needs more places like this -- neighborhood restaurants where the wine list is not merely an afterthought and where any wine geek (or novice) with money to spare can find imaginative fare and something interesting to drink with it. On that level, The Wine Room delivers.
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