BY ANDREW SARGUS KLEIN
Published September 13, 2006
The ambiance of Vinology, one of Main Street's latest accoutrements, looks like a stripped-down version of a '50s diner. But the interior boasts a rich atmosphere suitable for any displaced Manhattanite to find cultured respite. Ashley's, hands down the most diverse (in terms of beer and whiskey selection) bar in Ann Arbor, now has a stepsister in Vinology.
Both watering holes annihilate the naive patron with an extensive drink list. Whereas beer taps overwhelm patrons at Ashley's, the upstairs bar at Vinology has no visible taps - instead, as the name might suggest, the restaurant is stocked with extensive shelves of wine.
My visit to Vinology, though, did not include the upstairs. Instead, I had the pleasure of experiencing the Tuesday night wine tasting - and two hours later left slightly buzzed and completely enamored with the place.
At $35 a head (plus tax and gratuity), the venture seems a bit steep. But wine director Paul Hannah makes sure every cent, second and sip of your two hours is well spent. In the almost too-cozy basement confines, Hannah takes you through 10 or so wines. Always featuring a theme, Vinology showcased the wines of South Africa on my particular night.
Whether you hold your glass by the stem or the body, make use of the spit buckets located on every table, enjoy the flinty textures of African soil or just want a damn good glass of wine, this is the place to go.
Hannah deftly mixes tongue-in-cheek humor with legitimate "geeky wine things" to present a breadth of knowledge accessible to both the beginner and the connoisseur. He described our first wine, a Chenin Blanc, as a "patio pounder." His mission is to present the art of wine as "easy to understand, rather than snobby and imposing."
And he succeeds. I don't feel ridiculous for knowing it takes 25 years to make the cork for a bottle of wine. Nor will I hang my head in embarrassment for ordering an LH Gewrtztraminer with my shrimp curry.
As we opened the tasting - complete with hors d'oeuvre, including oysters and guacamole-smothered chicken - Hannah immediately launched into how apartheid played a significant role in the development of South Africa as an international wine market. With such heady historical background, I was expecting a trite, upturned-nose conversation. To my pleasant surprise, this was not the case. The information was presented in such a down-to-earth fashion, and it was impossible not to engage in the tasting wholeheartedly.
You don't go to Vinology to become a connoisseur (well, you could, easily). You go to Vinology to better appreciate wine as one of mankind's most unbelievably diverse beverages. The atmosphere invites all levels of knowledge, and Hannah answered all innocent, curious questions with warmth and geniality.
The two couples at my table had as little knowledge of wine as I did. But eight or so rounds into the evening and everyone was rosy-cheeked, chatting, laughing and comparing wines like experts.
And oh yeah: Each person goes home with an individual bottle of wine. Now the steep price isn't quite so steep - and the experience makes up for it. This might not be the perfect spot for a first date, but expect major bonus points from your significant other if you bring him/her to the Tuesday wine tasting for a special occasion.