I tried to be a wine geek but just wasn’t up to it. I couldn’t master the jargon without giggling, or even pretend to identify scents associated with various wines. Leather saddle? Talcum powder? Lead pencil? Hint of moldy pine needle? Give me a break. And then there’s the matter of finance.
But drinking good (and affordable) wine, no jargon, with equally good and affordable food? That’s for me.
Which makes Wine Expo an even greater treasure than it was, when it was “just” a wine store with a remarkable selection of mostly Italian wines – not just the usual suspects Barolo-Barbaresco-Montalcino-Montepulciano – and an equally comprehensive selection of brilliantly-selected champagnes you may never have heard of but really should be drinking, again across the price spectrum.
These days it is more than a superb wine store: it’s opened a tasting room directly adjacent to the store, a lovely 30-seat area (with a private room for 16 in the back), in which it serves wine selections, of course, but also more than mere snack food.
You’d expect good food just looking at Roberto Rogness, the wine impresario. He is not a small man, and the creation of the menu is his. As he puts it, “After 20 years of eating crostini and bruschette, I have a pretty good idea of what people will like.” Does he ever.
There’s a selection of salumi plates, choice of prosciutto, Ticino pepper salami or hot coppacola, served with bread, smoked olives correctly identified as addictive, mixed nuts and crackers. Or a grand plate with mixed salumi.
Pick from three cheese plates, labeled mild, not so mild, and a gorgonzola and fig cake platter. The not so mild was my choice and it was perfect – three cheeses on a platter with white truffle honey, smoked olives, mixed nuts, crackers, and bread.
Then there are the crostini platters, in two sizes, twelve pieces or six. The selection varies by day and Roberto’s mood, but generally starts with a ricotta base, on which Roberto puts what he calls a “friendly schmear” of pesto, or caramelized garlic, or a spread from one of the purveyors whose products are sold in a front room, topped with meats and cheeses.
One of those purveyors, Viola’s Gourmet Goodies, deserves mention. Viola Rowland grew up in Missouri, loved to cook, and after her mother’s death, lived with an uncle in Seattle, where she opened a sweet shop. She married George Rowland and they moved to Los Angeles, where she continued to cook, and wound up catering in Hollywood, most notably as the private chef for Hedy Lamarr. Viola died in 1969. Her granddaughter, Nancy, using Viola’s recipes and her life as an inspiration, has created a line of delicious bottled relishes that Roberto uses on his crostini.
All of this wonderful food is complemented by Roberto’s weekly selection of wines: three two-ounce servings of one of two flights of white, and three flights of reds. In both cases, one of the flights features every day wines, the others more expensive by the bottle, but in either case, chosen by someone who really knows wine.
The wine and food are served by a rotating group chosen for their knowledge and their personality. The night I was first there, Jo Ann was as good a server as one could wish for - well-informed about the wines but calibrating her talk to the patron’s level of expertise and desire to hear about the wines.
A further measure of Roberto’s imagination is the music playing in the background. Roberto is about as eclectic in his musical loves as anyone I’ve met, with an emphasis on Brazilian music. This is understandable: Roberto has a wife and daughter in Brazil whom he visits regularly, and he celebrates family, country and its music by driving what must be the only Alfa-Romeo Spider in America whose body is painted green with a convertible top of yellow fabric, the dominant colors of the Brazilian flag.
To start enjoying Roberto’s knowledge and enthusiastic writing, go on the website and sign up for his weekly e-mail newsletters, which include information about new shipments of wine, as well as musical recommendations, and news about upcoming special events at the tasting room.