Last night, I made the mistake of meeting Caitlin for wine at Counter, after a late lunch at home, when I should have met her there to eat. A “vegetarian bistro”, that also terms itself an “organic wine & martini bar”, is definitely more restaurant (with an upscale diner atmosphere) than bar. In fact, even though we have been eager to meet here for quite some time, I was surprised by their scant offering of wines. (The menu of small plates, on the other hand, looks enticing and divine, and most definitely warrants my return.) Their menu offers five reds and five whites, in addition to a three wine New York State Wine Flight.
The decor at Counter is fickle. The diner-like formica tables stand in stark contrast to the heavy worn wood and leather chairs. Aspiring to achieve a retro-LA diner look, including the half-moon shaped bar, use of geometric shapes, and area specific lights, Counter feels a little less inviting than we would like. Not that the setting halts me in my tracks, but it doesn’t encourage me to linger. And unfortunately, neither do the wines.
Their emphasized commitment to serving organic and biodynamic wines seems a little thin. Of the 15 wines on the menu, nine are sustainable, four are organic, and two are biodynamically produced. What does all of this mean? Based on what I tasted, I couldn’t tell you. The effects of each said chosen practice was not clear. (Obviously one should taste hundreds of wines, before being able to stake a claim on any process’s outcome or effect.) However, in regards to the argument made in my last post, after a couple of glasses at Counter, I’m still left wondering–what makes a restaurant/bar offer wines that bring such limited pleasure to the palate?
Before I go any further, I want to express that what I write is not an indication that Counter doesn’t have anything going for it. The bartender had a pleasant air about him, and he encouraged us to taste through the wines until we found something we liked. (For the record, after sampling a couple, we just said yes to whatever was next.) And while Counter may consider itself an organic wine bar; a wine bar it is not. (For more on this issue, check out a previous post.)
Of the five reds, one is Malbac Yellow + Blue, which in case you don’t know, is organic and comes in a box. And while I applaud the exploration of alternative packaging to reduce global emissions, I am not yet ready to pay $9 for a glass of wine from a box. (I admit that I haven’t yet sampled Yellow + Blue, but I have heard that it’s alright.)
What did we drink? I began with a glass of Grenache & Mourvedre, Domaine Coudoulis Lirac (Southern Rhone) 2003, organic. Light bodied, as one would expect, with notes of cherry and spice; it’s slightly earthy, and nothing more to write home about.
Caitlin drank a Zweigelt rosé that was not the rosé listed on the menu; of this wine she had nothing to report.
The New York State Wine Flight includes a Riesling from the Finger Lakes, a Chardonnay from the North Fork, and a Pinot Noir from Niagara–for $12. I would have gone for this, but the Chardonnay was oaked and therefore not my choice.
Last up was a Pinot Noir Domaine Michlits Burgenland Austria 2007, biodynamic. This was by far the most interesting wine of the night. With notes of dried strawberry fruit and red earth (not as wet as clay, but not as dusty as the desert), the Domaine Michlits displayed round fruit with an arrow of spice shot through it.
[Where: Counter, 105 First Avenue, New York, NY 10003]