Going on wine-tasting treks is one of the joys of living in the Northwest. There is no greater find than driving past vineyards and discovering a sweet little tasting room off the beaten path. But even though I don’t often have the days—or the cash—to spend weekends across the mountains, my love of wine and wine touring doesn’t wane. That’s not to say there isn’t some fine wine to be tasted closer to home: Woodinville has grown into a true wine destination. But now, with Urban Enoteca—a much buzzed-about tasting room, restaurant and unique event space in SoDo—Seattle proper is luring tourists and locals to its urban outback with some of the state’s best wines and a gorgeous setting in which to taste them.
Nestled under a bridge on First Avenue South near Georgetown, Urban Enoteca is not what you’d expect to find among lumber stores and light industrial manufacturers. Behind a set of giant, reclaimed wooden doors is a huge tasting room, complete with roaring fireplaces, comfy leather chairs and rough-hewn tables, all surrounded by tasting counters where member wineries pour their wines. But this venue isn’t merely a tasting room. There are several different event spaces, such as the large medieval-hall-like room, with its huge wooden chandeliers; and the intimate “Blanc de Blanc” room, with (you guessed it) all white walls, floor and furniture, perfect for small get-togethers. Oh yes, and a full-service restaurant, where chef Chris Opsata has created a wine-friendly menu for happy hour, dinner and special winemaker dinners. Events and wine classes—on topics such as summer wines, French wines and Washington wines—are always on the lineup, taught by wine educator, Master of Wine Joel Butler (one of two in the state, the other is winemaker Bob Betz) and his partner, Karen Graf of WineKnow wine appreciation classes (mywineknow.com).
At the center of it all is a wine-tasting opportunity like no other. At press time, Urban Enoteca, which can accommodate 14 wineries, houses the tasting counters of seven wineries, representing some of the finest producers in the state that, up to this point, haven’t had much westside representation, including: Cave B, Côte Bonneville, Fidelitas, Fielding Hills, Five Star, Kiona and McCrea. Urban Enoteca owner Terry Thompson, a former commercial real estate developer and home builder, was looking for a new project to cater to his love of wine. He sought to feature smaller wineries that didn’t have a strong presence in the Seattle area and to showcase the best from around the state. “We are trying to create a place where people can enjoy amazing events in a wine-country setting right in downtown Seattle,” says Thompson.
The wine tasting works like this: You register for a “library card” using a credit card at the front door and then take it around to your chosen tasting counters, where the card is swiped; you pay at the end. The winemakers are sometimes on hand to pour wine themselves, but when they’re busy in eastern Washington, their capable staff will tell you all about the latest releases while you nibble on a local cheese plate by the fire. Tasting prices range from $1.75 to $6 (depending on the wine) for about a 1-ounce pour, and if you like what you taste, you can bring bottles home. (Some wineries offer discounts if purchased by the case.)
Cheeses, local salumi and snacks may accompany the tasting, but a full-service restaurant, tucked into yet another corner of the building, is also a part of the experience. First set up by Crush’s Jason Wilson, the Library Lounge is now overseen by chef Chris Opsata (formerly of Bellevue’s Tam O’Shanter Golf & Country Club), who creates a happy hour, a small-bites dinner menu and wedding feasts for 200 with an Italian flair. The charcuterie plate is an amazing spread of local meats served with Macrina bread; a cheese plate comes with jams, crackers and dried fruits. Chef Opsata often makes fresh pasta, as well as a braised meat ragu that makes the wines shine. He also offers fascinating food-related dinner events, such as “Terroir: Meat and Grapes,” a quarterly wine-dinner series that focuses on grass-fed beef to demonstrate how seasonal differences affect the meat’s taste. With local fare, classes, and a chance to taste and learn about Washington wines in one place, it is worth a trip to SoDo to enjoy a journey to wine country.
Favorite bottles from Urban Enoteca’s featured wineries
For the full Urban Enoteca experience, start with a fresh, crisp white wine or two. I suggest the McCrea Cellars 2009 Grenache Blanc ($25), for its fresh acidity and lively spice and peach notes. A richer white should come next, the Kiona 2010 Chenin Blanc ($25), perhaps, a slightly off-dry Chenin Blanc made in a Vouvray style, with bright citrus and melon notes and a zesty, crisp finish. Next, the Cave B Estate Winery 2008 Cuvée du Soleil ($40) Bordeaux-style blend will lead you into the reds, with its fresh cherry fruit and brightness of acidity. The Fielding Hills 2008 Cabernet Franc ($42) is a great example of the earthiness, minerality and freshness of red fruits that a Washington Cabernet Franc can produce. The Five Star 2007 Merlot ($44) is a classic Washington Merlot, soft and full bodied, with deep black fruit, rich mouthfeel and a long finish. Next, the Fidelitas 2008 Columbia Valley Malbec ($35) shows the big blue and black fruit we love in a Malbec, with a backbone of tannin and spice. Finish up with Côte Bonneville’s 2006 Carriage House Red Blend ($50), a complex and elegant Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend with well-balanced acidity and tannins, a mouthful of dark fruits and lots of interesting undertones, such as cedar, herbs and tea.