Bang for Your Buck, Bon Vivant, Drink Well, Entertaining, Lifestyle, Restaurant Reviews, Travel, Wine Pairing, Wine Recommendations, Wine Reviews, Wine Tasting, Winemakers, Wineries and Vineyards
One of my favorite things about wine is how it so often interacts with culture, art, politics, history. In addition to the beautiful spread of mezze and interesting wines, these topics were at the forefront of a wine dinner at Agora I attended with Vinkara wines.
Wine consumption in Turkey is small, averaging just one liter per person a year. In fact, 80 percent of Turks do not drink alcohol at all and advertising within the country is currently forbidden, making the export business critically important to the success of wineries. However, the grapes are often ancient indigenous varieties which can be difficult for foreigners to pronounce. To say that winemakers are up against some particularly tough odds is an understatement.
It is a tumultuous time in Turkey, particularly for the nation’s wine industry. Current laws and custom stand in stark contrast to an ancient history of viticulture. Anatolia is said to be the birthplace of winemaking- scientific studies note the existence of winemaking in the region for 15,000 years. The vines have remained through millennia of turmoil and good fortune, war and peace.
It is often said that the best wines come from vines that struggle. In many parts of the world vines are partially deprived of water so that they seek deeper soil, adding strength and character to the plant and its prodigy. Just as vines that have grown more complex and resilient through struggle, the wines produced in Turkey are wonderfully complex, in spite of, and perhaps because of, the very struggles that they face.
The good news is, Vinkara has an incredibly passionate winemaker, Ardiç Gürsel, who is focused on revitalizing many of Turkey’s indigenous grapes with an eye on producing quality wines. She makes beautiful and complex wines at accessible price points- just $18 to $40.
Below, a few of my favorite wines from the beautiful mezze dinner with pairing suggestions. The overall quality was outstanding for the price, and while the names of these wines don’t exactly roll off the tongue, they are a pleasure to consume.
If you’re new to Turkish wine, here’s where I recommend you start! Kalecik Karasi is an ancient variety that is related to pinot noir. It’s all gorgeous red fruit, herbes de provence, and earthy minerality. Light bodied, immensely approachable, and a great pairing with a variety of foods. Average Price: $21.
This wine has a slightly more intense body style. I got a lot of raspberry, cherry notes, coffee, and baking spices. Medium tannin, medium acidity. Pair with meat or heavier pasta dishes. Average Price: $18.
This reserve wine was the most full bodied of the night, with brooding tannins. Chocolate, dark fruit, and licorice on the palate. It deserved some time to decant and open properly to reveal beautifully integrated fruit and a voluptuous body. Pair with rich stews and red meat. Average Price: $24
Have you ever tried Turkish Wine?
Looks Can be Decieving
Suburban mall food doesn’t normally conjure images of gourmet food and artisan cocktails, but I was pleased to have those preconceived notions blown out of the water during a recent dinner at CRAVE Restaurant in Bethesda.
For those craving something more gourmand than the Cheesecake Factory during marathon shopping excursions, look no further! CRAVE offers sleek design, artisan cocktails, and an array of culinary treats. In fact, it’s worth a visit regardless of your shopping needs.
We started with a tray of “Angry Dragon Martinis” and an outstanding sushi platter.
Bacardi Dragon Berry, Soho Lychee, Citrus Rim
While the menu offered distinct nods to Crave’s other locations throughout the country, it is also largely Chef driven, with an impressive amount of autonomy for a boutique “chain” restaurant.
We moved on to a beautiful array of Americana cuisine- Chef Joel Hassanali is originally from Trininad and Tobago, and subtle nods to Caribbean influences showed up throughout the 5 course meal.
This wino was pleased and surprised to even see a walk in wine cellar for oenophiles. Discussions to bring in local craft wines are apparently in the works!
Wine and Sake cellar
For more pictures, check out BonVivantDC on Instagram!
Have you tried CRAVE yet?
Pizza Vinoteca opens in Ballston tonight and after a preview event I can attest it’s a place that will get this DC gal out to the ‘burbs more often!
Although it’s decidedly casual, there’s no skimping on quality at Pizza Vinoteca. An uplit wall of wine lines the foyer before guests are greeted by an impressive open kitchen and pizza oven directly inside. A round bar dominates the open space, lending credence to the wine-centric menu. The architecture is a thoughtful indication of the consideration behind serious food and wine at prices that won’t break the bank.
Wine bottles line the entry to the casual eatery.
The restaurant serves 36 wines by the glass in an argon gas system that preserves the vino and allows for longer shelf life and a greater variety of wines offered by the glass. The best part? All wines are under $10/glass and they have some truly interesting options.
While you’ll find the expected Pinot Grigio and Chianti on the list, it also features Orange Wine, Lambrusco, and a Sparkling Nebbiolo among other esoteric wine selections that will have wine geeks excited.
Enjoying a sparkling Nebbiolo with CEO Ari Malcolm
The list offers outstanding value, pulling from regions that offer great bang for the buck while offering clients outstanding value and interesting choices. Half pours are also available for those wishing to try something new without committing to a full glass.
CEO Ari Malcolm adapted the concept from his New York outpost and said he tasted over 1,000 wines before settling on the list. The menu is meant to be both tasty and accessible, and I found it to achieve these goals.
The food is produced in a kitchen visible through glass walls that cranks out interesting and delicious pizzas among other casual fare.
While you can certainly get your pepperoni fix, there are some unexpected combinations that really won me over. The Brussels Sprout pizza was perhaps my favorite. The shaved sprouts are made zesty with a kick of lemon zest, crunchy with toasted walnuts, and creamy with Ricotta Cheese. Trust me, just order it! Another stand out was the Kale, Pesto, Andouille Sausage and Fontina Cheese option.
Prosciutto, pineapple, peppers and arugula
Pizza Vinoteca opens to the general public tonight.
Check out the menus below:
I recently guest blogged over at Virginia Wine in my Pocket’s new “Go!” feature about my restaurant and winery picks for a quick Charlottesville, VA getaway. If you’re planning a weekend getaway this fall, check out my recommendations here!
Taking in the view at Trump Winery with a glass of blanc de blanc
I’ve included 2 stand out wineries including Pippin Hill, Trump, a great local company that offers private vans so you can sip safely, and some amazing restaurant options!
Head on over to VAWIMP GO! for more details, and enjoy some eye candy below!
Grape vines at Pippin Hill Winery
Cheese and Charcuterie at Pippin Hill Winery
The view of the vineyards at Trump Winery
Are you planning any weekend getaways this fall? What are some of your favorite Charlottesville wineries and restaurants?
No matter how busy Sona is, there has never been a time when owners Conan & Genevieve O’Sullivan don’t stop to greet me with a smile.
The Capitol Hill outpost has just celebrated 100 days of being open to the public and has already cultivated a devoted group of regulars.
Happy hour lasts from 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM every day, featuring generous $6 pours of bubbly, white, rosé, and red wines.
My favorites are the Chardonnay from Macon- crisp with apple and pear notes, and refreshing minerality- and the recent addition of a French rosé- aromatic with red fruit and a classic, Provençal blend perfect for spring sipping.
These two Pacific Northwesterners made the cross country move to be closer to family, finding DC to be nothing but “kind, open, and welcoming,” words that aren’t generally used to describe this town.
When Conan used those words to describe their DC initiation I was surprised, because they’re the exact words I would use to describe Sona and it’s affable proprietors.
“This is our dream,” said Gen, of opening Sona.
They’ve put together a team that works seamlessly, “dividing and conquering” the crowds that come in for a bite to eat or a glass of wine. Even though they seem to have come as a package deal, the managerial team is actually just a fortuitous conglomeration- and it’s one that clearly works. “These are people I would want to hang out with,” says Gen.
Chef Frank D. Paris, III churns out impeccable small plates to accompany the wine list. Here he shows off his affinity for swine, which makes frequent appearances on the outstanding menu.
Originally from Virginia, this Mid-Atlantic native has spent plenty of time in the real south (no, VA doesn’t count, Chef!). These Dixie culinary influences are consistent throughout the menu, most notably (and deliciously) in the Pig Ear and Pimento Cheese Crostini- a dish I have trouble not ordering each time I come in. The Fried Chicken, Mac & Cheese and Turkey Burger are other menu standouts, although I haven’t tried anything that I didn’t enjoy immensely.
Pig Ear and Pimento Cheese Crostini. Trust me, just try it.
DC’s best Turkey Burger. Available at lunch until 5:00 PM.
In approximately 2 weeks, diners and sippers can enjoy patio seating, and more wine dinners are in initial planning stages. While the wine list currently focuses on by the glass selections, there are plans to introduce a reserve bottle list- the result of careful listening to what their patrons want.
After the recent loss of Cowgirl Creamery’s DC outpost, Sona will be the only creamery in Washington, DC. It’s a process that has taken years of planning, permitting, engineering, and consulting with veteran cheese makers from France, Canada, Holland and across the States.
Cheese making vat
For now, they are working on the last step- the boiler installation process; no small feat that involves engineers, permits, and precise science. Once it has been installed they’ll start the cheese making process immediately. Some cheeses, like Chevre, take a mere 24 hours, while aged Goudas can take anywhere from 3 months to 3 years to produce.
For now the temperature and humidity controlled cheese cave houses wine.
When I asked, “Why cheese?”, Chef Frank was quick to quip “because you can’t raise a pig in a vat.” Conan, laughed, adding, “we fell in love with the process….It’s 80% process and 20% magic.”
Just a small selection of Sona’s cheese offerings.
When they’re not dividing and conquering, you can see the team laughing and joking together in rare down time like old friends.
It’s a place I like to do the same, taking friends and family members to enjoy what has quickly become a neighborhood favorite.
Have you tried Sona yet? If you’re on the hill, be sure to stop by in honor of National Small Business Week- you won’t regret it!