Some of the best wine experiences are waiting for you at restaurants, and not just fancy ones with ginormous wine lists. We know that markups at too many places are outrageous. But if you are willing to take a little bit of a risk and seek the unknown, you could find a memorable bottle in that neighborhood joint where you don’t expect it, something you might never buy or even see at a store. This just happened to us.
When John started college, a very long time ago, the first restaurant he went to was a Greek spot called Symposium, near the campus of Columbia University. His friend Lou suggested it. John’s family didn’t often go out to eat and, in any case, Jacksonville, Fla., was not a hotspot for Greek cuisine. Lou spoke Greek, so when they walked down a couple of steps to this informal, friendly place, they were treated like family.
When we were dating in the 1970s, John took Dottie to Symposium during our first visit to New York. There’s artwork all over the walls and ceilings, sturdy wooden tables and reasonably priced Greek comfort food. We have been visiting Symposium ever since and it has not changed much.
We went a couple of weeks ago. The wine list, as always, was all-Greek. In the past, we’ve often had a carafe of the pleasant house wine because, really, how often do neighborhood places offer carafes of house wine anymore? But we looked at the short wine list this time and it seemed particularly interesting. One wine caught our eye: a rosé called APLA from Oenops Wines. Since we’d never seen it before, we decided to take the leap. It was $37, which is reasonable for a bottle of wine in a Manhattan restaurant.
When the clear bottle came, the wine looked very inviting, a light watermelon color. On the label’s side, in English and Greek, was a quotation attributed to Charlie Chaplin: “Simplicity is not a simple thing.” The label said the wine was made from Xinomavro, a well-known Greek grape; and two lesser-known others, Limniona and Mavroudi. It was 2022.
(Dottie with Greek rosé)
The waiter opened the bottle, gave us each a taste and then left it for us to pour. We were immediately taken. The wine was dry with a clarity and a fresh juiciness to it. The blend of unfamiliar grapes appealed to us as authentic, a different, mouth-watering experience. There was nothing obvious about it. It was almost ephemeral, certainly unusual in our experience with rosé. We both wondered if this would fit into today’s category of “natural” wines, though the label said nothing about that.
After a few sips, Dottie, who has always had the better palate and nose, looked at John quizzically and said, “Tomato?” John said, “Oh my Gosh. Yes! Tomato! Thomas Keller!”
That might seem a leap, but that’s how we talk about wine. Some years ago, we had a light tomato dish at the French Laundry in Napa – we can’t remember if it was a consommé or maybe even a sorbet. But it expanded our appreciation of how tomatoes could taste and smell, with an earthy elegance that seemed impossible to touch.