Last Friday, we made our first (long-overdue) visit to Water Tower Fine Wines, a new store in Mt. Washington owned and operated by David and Jan Lazarus. David and Jan have been friends of the Vine since our successful Sunday Salon in February 2008. David's one of the most knowledgeable folks I've ever met about all things oenological, and he told me on multiple occasions over the last couple of years that he's always wanted to run his own wine store.
The store is a converted, rambling house initially built in the 1890's and built onto over the years. It still has a "homey" layout (several adjoining rooms and seating areas instead of aisles and queues, which gives the place a laid-back feel. Water Tower's selection is quite broad, although not as wide as many of the more "traditional" stores that you'll see around the area. This is by design. David is the person from whom I shamelessly cribbed "pop tart wines" as a descriptor of inexpensive, interchangeable, mass produced selection where one producer is very much like the other. (For instance, Funky Llama vs. Little Boomey vs. Yellow Tail.) Small differences, yes -- but pop tarts are pop tarts. You won't find those wines in this store.
Most of the varieties in the store, both red and white start around $12-15 and run up into the hundreds. His zinfandel, pinot noir, and rosé ranges are especially impressive. A few varietals (such as some of the South Americans) have somewhat limited selections, but what's there is quality stuff. Water Tower has just about the broadest variety of sparkling wine -- considering price point, origin, and style -- as any store I've seen in the area. David also takes a great deal of pride and pleasure out of both helping people find wines that they're looking for and to take the opportunity to educate a bit. I'll readily admit that I've learned quite a bit from David. He's led me into temptation several times, but he's never led me astray.
Every Friday, Water Tower hosts a wine tasting. They charge $15 for at least 6 tastes, with a couple of "premium pours" available for a few extra bucks. Plus, according to David, "We'll usually have a couple of other things open" for people to try. The charge also includes light hors d’oeuvres, put together by Jan -- who is an accomplished cook. She changes the menu each time to pair best with the week's selections. This week, to pair with their Marsanne, Roussane, and Zinfandel tasting, Jan offered up gourmet versions of chili mac and mac and cheese, as well as some toasted pate-spread flatbreads -- and some other usual wine noshables like cheese, Italian meats, and crackers.
Yes, the SPinC and I ended up taking home a couple of wines from their tasting menu on Friday. We picked up the Early Bird "Syn" Cuvee Blanc ($19) -- a sparkling blend from Australia that's light, floral, and just plain ol' pleasant. This is, to my knowledge, the first white sparkling wine from Australia that we'd ever tried. (We'd had sparkling shiraz, however.) Instead of chardonnay, the traditional grape for Australian sparklers, this was a blend of Marsanne, Roussane, and Semillon. This paired well with almost everything, but I thought it was best with the flatbreads.
We also got the Verget du Sud 2007 Vaucluse Marsanne, which is a wonderful value at $14. A creamy-yet-light white to enjoy just about any time of the day. Lots of soft citrus and minerally goodness there. This one, I thought, went incredibly well with the "mac & four-cheeses." The creaminess of each were nice complements.
We also very much enjoyed the Haywood 2005 Morning Sun and Haywood 2006 Rocky Terrace Zinfandels (both $37) which made an interesting contrast in terroir from the same winery. With the meats, both of these went incredibly well. (However, instead of picking one of those up, David pointed me to an on-sale 1er cru Nuits-St-Georges Burgundy at about the same price that I picked up and stashed down in the cellar.)
The chili mac went well with most of the reds -- the other wines were a couple of single-vineyard zinfandel selections from Ravenswood -- the Teldeschi ($35) & Belloni (on sale for $18) from 2006, and the premium, which was a Napa syrah from Kuleto ($46).
Water Tower Fine Wines is located at 6316 Campus Lane in Mount Washington. Campus Lane is just off Beechmont. It's on the opposite side of Beechmont Avenue from the Mt. Washington Kroger. Basically, just look for the water tower. It's right across the street. Mike says check them out.