One of the (many) perks of being a food blogger is that I am able to discover some of the city’s best kept dining secrets, ranging from an underground tasting menu to a greasy spoon diner going organic. And yesterday, I was treated to a blogger cocktail party at a newly opened wine bar in Friendship Heights, called The Tasting Room. Tucked into a discreet corner of The Shops at Wisconsin Place, The Tasting Room is a hidden gem boasting top-notch wine and high-tech service that will appeal to both serious wine aficionados and newcomers looking to for a fun way to taste several varieties of wine.
The Tasting Room is an extension of Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, VA. Owned by former president and owner of the NFL Washington Redskins, John Kent Cooke spared no expense on developing both the winery and the tasting room. (Fun fact: Jack Kent Cooke, John’s father, also used to own the LA Lakers and LA Kings!) Cooke installed state-of-the-art equipment at the winery, bought certified grapevines from France, and hired prominent winemaker Stephane Derenoncourt as a consultant. He hopes to put Virginia wine on the map with his Bordeaux-style blends.
Like the winery, The Tasting Room seems to be an expensive, technologically-impressive venture. It has a sleek, almost futuristic aesthetic, with dark walls, minimalist lighting, and a silver circular machine near the center of the room (pictured above). That machine, stocked with several bottles of wine, is an Enomatic, the latest wine dispenser system cropping up at bars across DC. But in contrast to other bars, The Tasting Room allows patrons to dispense the wine themselves, allowing for a more personalized process. Customers upload money to a card, and insert the card into the machine. Each wine can be poured by the taste ($2-4), half a glass ($5-9), or a full glass ($5-25). The simple press of a button results in a perfect pour.
Whites and reds from all over the world are available for tasting. “We want customers to be able to compare Boxwood Wines with others and show that ours are just as good–or even better,” explained Sean Martin, who manages the site. Boxwood produces three wines: a dry rosé, Boxwood (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot blend), and Topiary (a Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend). To me, the appeal of the system is that you can try as many (or as little) wines as you’d like–without maxing out your credit card. I tried about 10 wines, and the total was only $18.
I don’t claim to be a wine expert by any means (though I did take Cornell’s infamous wine tasting course!), but I enjoyed several of the wines I tasted. In particular, the 2007 Brandborg Gewürztraminer and 2006 Brooks Riesling were my favorite whites. The Gewürz was spicy and aromatic, and the Riesling was floral and sweet. For the reds, I was a fan of 2008 Neudorf Pinot Noir, 2007 Finca Sandoval Syrah/Mourvedre/Bobal, and the Boxwood 2007 Topiary. The Pinot had nice tannins and cherry flavor; the syrah blend was smooth and light for a syrah; and the Topiary was fruity and round with soft tannins.
The Tasting Room’s food menu is a bit short, when compared to its long wine list. It consists of cheese plates, hummus, charcuterie, and a couple desserts. For the blogger cocktail party, though, The Tasting Room provided the cheese (photo above) while M Cafe, located just across the street, provided the rest of the refreshments.
Grilled Mediterranean lamb sausages with spicy black ketchup were absolutely delicious and packed a lot flavor into one small bite. Ahi tuna tartar with hass avocado, toasted sesame seeds and meyer lemon on toasted brioche tasted light and fresh, and paired well with a few of the white wines. Also on the menu were jumbo lump crab meat, english cucumbers, and manila mango in a parmesan crisp roll–a colorful dish, but not my favorite. I found the crab meat paired with the parmesan crisp overwhelmingly salty, which buried the flavor and freshness of the cucumber and mango.
My favorite dish of the night was the mini sliders with braised duck confit, mission figs, and aged balsamic syrup. The duck was braised to perfection: tender and not at all fatty or greasy like other versions I’ve had. And I will admit, I am a sucker for anything with figs–and these figs were fresh and ripe as can be. The dish paired nicely with the Boxwood Topiary as well.
The event was a success, and I am grateful to The Tasting Room for the invite. And while I wish some the dishes I tasted that night were on the regular menu (or more dishes in general, perhaps), I do think the serve-yourself idea is a fun and new concept that I haven’t seen in other wine bars. Next time you’re shopping in Friendship Heights and find yourself in dire need of a drink, head over to The Tasting Room and sample some of their fabulous wines!
The Tasting Room at Wisconsin Place
5330-A Western Ave.
Chevy Chase, MD 20850
Other locations in Reston Town Center and Downtown Middleburg
The Collection at Chevy Chase
5471 Wisconsin Ave.
Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Photos courtesy of Catherine Coughlin and The Tasting Room