Tannic impressive

Reno wine bars offer a flight of tastes and styles

Rochelle Jacoville is a bartender at Jungle Vino.

Rochelle Jacoville is a bartender at Jungle Vino.

Photo by LAUREN RANDOLPH

There are bars that serve wine, and wine shops that offer tastings. Now, Reno has a healthy presence of straight-up wine bars.

Reserve
2500 E. Second St., 789-2000, www.grandsierraresort.com/dining/bars_and_lounges/reserve/

What better way to start a girls’ night out of wine drinking than to make a total fool of yourself? Twice.

Kate, Grace and I wade through the smoke and blinking lights of the Grand Sierra Resort’s main floor to reach Reserve wine bar. Black lounge chairs dot the perimeter. Dominating the room’s center is a series of what I can only call wine vending machines, though they look classier than that sounds. Small silver spouts reach beyond the glass from each bottle.

We look at each other befuddled until the nice woman overseeing the place tells us how it works: Get a card, similar to any gift card, and decide how much money to put on it. It can be $2 or $200 or any amount you’d like. (We each buy $5 worth.) Then look at all the offerings—the cabs on one side of a case, chardonnays on another, zinfandels, syrahs and so on. You have the option of buying a 1, 3, or 5 ounce taste of wines at varying prices. (1 ounce portions generally range from $1-$3; you can also buy by the glass or bottle.) Once you decide the type, amount and price you’re willing to spend, insert the card into the machine’s slot, press the button representing your choice, and hold your wine glass beneath the spigot for your taste.

I can’t emphasize this last bit enough: Hold your wine glass beneath the spigot. I learn the hard way. Feeling a bit like I’m in a candy shop but still not in the swing of how the process works, I choose my wine—a Rodney Strong cabernet—press the 1 ounce button … and the spout spits red all over the counter. I had forgotten my glass. Our hostess immediately comes running over with a cloth and starts wiping up the mess. I’m apologizing profusely when she says, “Do you know how many people do that? It happens all the time.”

But my blushing days are not yet over. A few tastes later, I realize I have $1.44 left on my card. To get my money’s worth, I start patrolling the selection for an ounce that will cost that amount. Some have the cost for a 5 ounce blinking over the bottle, so I’m pressing the 1 ounce button to find my match when that same patient hostess comes running over—again—saying, “Stop pressing buttons!” I come out of my $1.44-focused little reverie to face a grimacing, middle-aged woman and her male companion. Apparently, I’d been hitting buttons while they had their card in the slot. In theory, this means many ounces of various wines should be spouting everywhere—funded by the grimacing lady. By the grace of Bacchus, the system must have been as technologically confused as I was, and no liquid was lost.

It is time to go.

Bottom line: Offering more than 80 bottles of wine, from the well-known to the slightly more obscure, Reserve is a fun place to go if you want to taste a bunch of wines for not much money. The atmosphere is stylish, and you could happily sip a few ounces with your friends here. The three of us really enjoyed the Andretti chardonnay. If you prefer that a real person pours your wine, it’s likely not your thing.

West St. Wine Bar
148 West St., Suite A-1; 336-3560,
www.weststwinebar.com

Reno’s newest wine bar deserves all the hype it gets. It’s intimate, with small tables, a welcoming bar, striking yet subdued artwork, brown-painted brick walls and high, industrial ceilings. And the wine is really, really good.

Grace says West St. Wine Bar reminds her of a downtown bar in some other city, someplace a bit sleeker than Reno. Urban, but warm; elegant, but not pretentious. Hands-on owner Rick Martinez is helpful without being intrusive. His love and knowledge of wine is obvious, and for anyone who’s not sure what to choose off the wine list, he has a quiet way of being able to select exactly what you are looking for.

Having been joined by three more girls—Leigh, Nate and Afton, we are in a celebratory mood. On Martinez’s suggestion, we share a $20 bottle of Cava bubbly from Spain. We also order an artisan cheese plate from Beaujolais Bistro, which is located next door and will deliver to the wine bar anything off their menu you’d like.

We move on to individual glasses. Organic and vegan wines are available, and a wine preservation system means more expensive wines can be sold by the glass. I choose what was listed as “Rick’s pick” on the menu, Finca Flichman Tupangato from Argentina. It’s $12 a glass—which is more than I typically spend for a whole bottle of wine, but girls’ nights out are few and far between. (Less expensive glasses around the $7 mark are also available.) I’m no wine expert, but Rick’s pick is good. I’d describe it as a “smooth finish” and “slightly tannic,” but I’m not sure I know what I’m talking about. Remarks around the table: “Wow! Really good. Very interesting. Yummy, yummy.” So there you have it.

Bottom line: Relaxed, classy urban bar where those serving the wine are experts but won’t make you feel dumb if you’re not.

Jungle Vino
246 W. First St.,
www.javajunglevino.com

Just down the street is the equally intimate but more bohemian wine bar Jungle Vino. We scoot past the full tables of people by the street-facing windows, walk along the colorful mosaic tile and have a seat at the bar. The clientele here is mostly in their 20s and 30s. The atmosphere is funky, artsy and low-lit, with paintings by local artists on the walls. The young bartender is friendly but nonimposing, and she appears to know her wines. She discourages Kate from one selection because it’s “not her favorite tannin,” and offers tastes of another she thinks Kate will like more. I try the Arido Malbec from Argentina, which is described as “soft and round in the mouth, with tannins, spicy bright red fruit and balanced acidity.” It tastes like grape juice, but I’m told many malbecs do. Grace and the bartender sing along to Regina Spektor’s “On the Radio.” Leigh and I talk about the housing market as the bartender pours me a glass of $1 wine on special. It’s late. Nate and Afton left an hour ago. We call it a night.

Bottom line: A fun bar for a younger crowd that still appreciates a good glass of wine.

Whispering Vine Wine and Coffee
7665 Towne Square Way, 746-8466,
www.whisperingvinewine.com

Unlike the Whispering Vine Wine location on Mayberry Drive, which is a wine shop that has occasional tastings, Whispering Vine Wine and Coffee is an actual bar. A big, round, wraparound bar in the big, roundabout-strewn housing development of Sommersett in Northwest Reno.

My mom and I go there a couple of days after the last trace of girls’-night-out tannins has left my body. It’s Sunday, and there’s a $3 special on Bloody Marys. In fact, the bar is well stocked with beers on tap and cocktail fixings. The card in front of us even advertises a “single malt scotch seminar.” However, we are there for the wine.

Whispering Vine has a menu featuring various flights, which are always changing. The flights are 2.5 ounce tastings of three different wines. I choose the Cabernet Sauvignon flight of Foxglove, Crane Brothers and Raymond Reserve for $8.75. Mom goes for the “Red Value Flight” of Mondavi Merlot, Ceja Vino de Casa and Yalumba Cabernet, which truly is a value at $4.75. The bartender brings the flights out all at once, and I suspect they are more than 2.5 ounces—I feel like I’m drinking a nearly full glass. And Mom, being a bit of a lightweight, can only finish about half of her order. We’ve also ordered a cheese plate for about $14 that comes with four different types of artisan cheeses, some crackers, salami, chocolate, dried figs, apples and nuts, all of which complement the wines nicely—and let our stomachs absorb it a bit better.

The bartender isn’t terribly informed. He doesn’t seem to know much about the wines, and he can’t name the types of cheeses he’d put on our plate. But he’s very nice.

Bottom line: A cozy bar offering all sorts of drinks while remaining strongly focused on wines. Budget-friendly but with expensive wines also available.