Sophistication on the Cheap
In my line of work, "happy hour drink specials" usually means discount Miller Lite or rail vodkas that are closer to paint stripper than Snow Queen. When wine is marked down, it's often from one of those commercial Australian wineries with colorful animals on a colorful label, or a ho-hum California producer that tastes Straight Outta Tha Box.
That's what makes some wine-centric happy hours so surprising: They actually want to give you the good stuff. Sometimes, they even give it away.
Sommeliers know that the best way to get people to order wine is to educate them about wine, and you can't do that without letting them taste it. Every Tuesday at classy Vidalia, wine expert Doug Mohr unveils his favorites new bottles from the list, which could be anything from a French rose to some unheralded German gewÃ¼rztraminer, and offers free samples. You'll get to chat about the wine from 5 to 7 while nibbling on complementary appetizers.
Tied up on Tuesday? The weekly tastings have become so popular that Vidalia is adding a new daily happy hour, with 20 wines offered for $7 or less. (For comparison's sake, most wines by the glass on Vidalia's current menu are in the $9 to $14 range, with a few for $16 or even $19.) Free hors d'oeuvres make it an even better deal.
Also giving away wine in the name of education is Bistro Lepic, which offers free samples of French wine in its cozy upstairs bars on Tuesday from 6 to 8. While the appellations can be overly familiar to regular drinkers -- Bordeaux, Cotes du Rhone, Cotes du Rhone Villages -- there's always a new small producer to discover.
Firefly chef John Wabeck spent time working at an exclusive Napa Valley winery -- cleaning barrels and picking grapes -- and his love of wine shows on the restaurant's thoughtful list. More interesting, though, is the Wine Down happy hour, which features a rotating odds-n-sods selection that changes almost every day. These are samples from various producers, remnants from old wine lists or just something that Waback -- studying for his Master Sommelier diploma from the internationally recognized Court of Master Sommeliers -- picked up to taste. Glasses are about $6 to $8 for a healthy pour.
Sometimes, though, you'd rather just get together with friends than try to broaden your palette. And even when it's some mass-produced brand that's a step up from plonk, drinking wine at happy hour seems more sophisticated than popping the cap off another bottle of beer.
Here's one that's only for the ladies: Every Wednesday night, Barracks Row lounge Tapatinis -- famous for its free drinks on Thursdays -- offers complementary glasses of wine to women from 5 to 9. No cover charge, no food purchased required, no strings attached. While no one will confuse BV Century Cellars Cabernet with a Grand Cru from Bordeaux, the tables full of women are usually too busy chatting and catching up to worry about the citrus notes in the chardonnay.
In Bethesda, Mon Ami Gabi offers half-price house wines -- from the estate of Georges Duboeuf -- daily from 5 to 6:30 in the bar area. They're really nothing special, though Duboeuf's Beaujolaiss-Villages makes a lovely after-work tipple.
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