When you just feel like paying a lot for a glass of wine: Crú Wine Bar

Do you ever go to the car dealership to get your oil changed? You figure they sell your particular car, so they should know the most about them. Right? Shouldn’t the dealer be able to tell you exactly what you need to do to maintain your car better than just a generalist mechanic? So what if it costs $20 more for an oil change. To me, going to a dealer to get my car serviced is like going to a wine bar to get a glass of wine.

One would think that I go to wine bars fairly often seeing as I love wine and all, but I just don’t. I know that going to a wine bar can be a good way to try wines by the glass before committing to a full bottle. I realize that many of them have knowledgeable staff that can suggest good wine to try. There are also plenty of decent wine bars in town with a good selection of wine. So why don’t I go to them more often? I get my oil changed at Jiffy Lube because I can’t stand paying way too much at the dealer. That’s how I feel about going to a wine bar.

 I recently went to Crú Wine Bar in the Domain in north Austin and had the oil change at the dealer experience. Cru was started in Dallas and now has 8 locations in Austin, Dallas, Denver and Houston. Pros:

  • They offer more than 300 wines by the bottle, 40 wines by the glass and a selection of three-glass flights.
  • Cru has a decent menu of cheeses and other nibbles to pair with the wine.
  • It’s got a comfy feel with fat chairs and couches and a nice patio.
  • The staff is adequately knowledgeable, but not as much as you might expect from a sommelier at a fine restaurant.

 So what’s not to like?

 Its f^$&ing expensive.  While it was lovely, I couldn’t get passed the feeling that I was paying way too much. Have you ever been in the midst of doing something you love, but you weren’t fully enjoying it because there was something a little bit off that detracted from the experience? Like you are in the throes of passion, but it’s with your ninth grade science teacher. Yeah, it’s sort of like that. That and they offered a flight of Pinot Noir that didn’t include anything from Oregon. Heresy. That’s like Christmas without the baby Jesus.

 I had Flight #9, “The King and I” which was a selection of three, 2 oz. pours of California Cabs for $16. The flight menu changes regularly, so you might not find it there where you visit. Here is what Cru put together for its cab flight.  

 Hess Allomi Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

The Hess Collection has four lines of wine, and the Allomi Vineyard is from its Single Vineyard line. The Allomi Vineyard is at the foot of Howell Mountain in Napa County. The wine is a blend of 87 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 percent Petite Sirah and 1 percent Petit Verdot. Here are my tasting notes.

Look A royal amethyst amulet, bright yet almost opaque.
Smell A full nose of rich fennel, black currant and vanilla.
Taste A big, round dark fruit driven wine with blackberry, cocoa, oak bark, long finish mild tannins.
Price $14/glass, $56/bottle at Cru or $28/ bottle retail elsewhere

This is a fairly typical fruit-forward Calif. Cab and felt like a relative bargain in this flight of three. I would serve this at home any time.

 2007 Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Wine makers Craig and Kathryn Hall bought the old Bergfeld winery in St. Helena and converted it to their own winery in 2003. They make classic Bordeaux style wines in two lines, the Napa Valley Collection and the Artisan Collection. The Napa Valley Cab is a blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot, 4 percent petit verdot and 1 percent cabernet franc. Here is what it tastes like.

Look Slightly brighter than the first, the Hall is deep purple, opaque with a lavender edge.
Smell I had to sniff deep to get a good smell of this reserved wine, but found blackberry, ripe strawberry and spice.
Taste This is a bowl of stewed fruit, extracted and dark. It tastes of cooked blueberry, chocolate, tobacco, and cedar.
Price $18/glass, $72/bottle at Cru or $44/bottle retail elsewhere  

 The wine was OK, not great. I sure wouldn’t pay $18 a glass for it.

 2006 Markham, “The Altruist,” Calistoga Estate Cabernet Sauvignon  

This is a pretty special wine. Not only is Markham Vineyards’ first of two single-vineyard, limited production – only 300 cases of it and its sister wine, The Philanthropist, produced – estate grown cabernet sauvignon wines. It’s also part of Markham’s “Mark of Distinction” program. The winery is giving $25,000 grants to the Bartlett Arboretum, a tree habitat, in Bell Plaine, Kansas with proceeds from the ’06 vintage of The Altruist and. Drinking for a good cause makes me feel all warm and cuddly inside.  Here’s another thing special about it.

Look A shimmering glass of purple pirate booty, translucent and bright ruby edge
Smell Markham made a fruit pie in the woods; dusty, lush, floral, black cherry, cedar and pepper scents burst from the glass.
Taste The Altruist Full is a giver, full of currant, plum, black cherry, jammy blackberries and chocolate with a long finish punctuated by mild oaky tannins.
Price $32/glass, $125/bottle at Cru or $50 a bottle retail elsewhere (that’s $12.50 a glass if you drink it at home)

This is a delicious wine. I had to have a full glass of it after the flight, even though I knew there was more than a 50 percent mark-up on it. Damn good thing someone else was picking up the tab (thanks Drew).

I know I sound like a cheap curmudgeon. Of course there is significant mark-up on wine at most wine bars and restaurants. That’s the biz. I’m willing to pay the mark-up at a restaurant because I get to experience the wine with excellent food. I’m typically less accepting of the steep prices at a wine bar because there is less additive benefit for me to experience.

 All-in-all Cru is a respectable wine bar that meets my expectations. If you are the type that gets your oil changed at the car dealership, you’ll like this place. If you are buying, by all means please invite me to join you.

 What are you drinking?

The Right Wine for a Tweet-Up: Arroba Winery

I’ve been hearing enough about Arroba Winery that I felt compelled to try its 2007Cabernet Sauvignon from the Sonoma Valley.  Arroba is linked with Deerfield Ranch Winery, where veteran craftsman winemaker, Robert Rex, produces delicious Zins and Syrah. The winery has a reputation for producing solid cabs and had introduced a line of affordable wines.

The first thing I noticed right away about the bottle is the ampersand featured prominently on their logo. Shrewd marketing perhaps? Using an @ just has to be a nod to the ridiculously popular social media tool, Twitter. Twitter users call out other people on it by putting an @ in front of their screen name. For example, I’m @MattMcGinnis on Twitter – adroit name huh?

Drinking this wine was just like going to a Tweet-up for me (don’t ya feel a little ridiculous saying the world tweet-up? It’s just stupid). Here is a wine that I know about by reputation, that I want to get to know better and that I have a chance to meet in person. That’s the whole concept behind Tweet-ups. They are gatherings of people that know each other online on Twitter who want to meet the real person behind the 140 character tweets. Do the people match their online personas, or is it hype? Who is that guy with the witty snark about the Austin music scene? Who is the person that posts a zillion lol catz and other memes? Who is the clever writer reviewing great cocktails and the accidents that happen after she drinks them? Who is the girl with the really hot profile photo?

There is a big Tweet-up in Austin that I go to sometimes called the Big Ass Twitter Happy Hour, or #BATHH. More than 300 people get together each month, slap their Twit name on their chest and mingle with other Twitter users. I’ve met several people that I stay in contact with off of Twitter. They are like decent wines that I’d known by online reputation that I’ve tried, like, and now buy and keep in regular rotation. I’ve met other people at BATHH that are nice enough, but aren’t nearly as interesting in person as they online. If they were wine, I wouldn’t buy them again. We’ll stick to being Twitter friends. And well, there are others that I’m getting out of the BATHH to avoid. I’m de-friending them as soon as I’m back online. I’d dump that bottle down the drain.

Let’s see how this Cab from Arroba Winery fares at a Tweet-up.

Look She carries herself well in a group setting, with rich, deep purple that could pass for opulent in a darkened bar. A great first impression at a Tweet-up.
Smell Pleasant, but not particularly well balanced with spicy raspberry, but just a little too much alcohol. On first meeting at a Tweet-up, you could see this going either way. She smells decent enough to have promise, but is that load of alcohol on her breath an indication that she doesn’t quite have it all together?  
Taste Now for the conversation. Here’s where we discover that she doesn’t measure up to the hype. Thin mouth-feel without the velvety lushness expected. The fruit is weak, unripen blackberries. She has enough alcohol to make me choke a little when I trilled the wine. She had a short finish without much to say.
Price $12

How do I break this to you Arroba Winery? It’s not you, it’s me. No, actually it’s you. You are a decent wine to serve at a Tweet-up where there is a big mix of people I don’t know all that well, some of whom don’t deserve good wine. Your snazzy packaging at least gets you in the door and your twist top makes you immediately approachable. Alas, you are not a wine that’s going to graduate from my interest in your reputation to a wine that I put in rotation at home. You’re just not that remarkable.

If I ever serve this wine to you at my house, it means that I’d prefer we stick to being just online friends. No really, you can take the rest of the wine with you in a plastic cup. There’s no reason for you to stick around any longer because you’re just not that interesting in person. See ya on Twitter.

What are you drinking?