Laura and I were ready for a date night. We had both been so busy that we needed an evening off to ourselves. Unfortunately, this was also the weekend of Artisphere, so we were pretty certain that most of our favorite downtown restaurants would be inaccessible.
I got home at my usual time Friday afternoon, and we still didn’t have a plan. Laura had noted that Northampton Wines was having their “How to Taste” wine tasting this evening, and that would have been fun if we’d had reservations. We’ve tried going to that tasting before, but even calling early in the week we would find that it was full. I didn’t hold out much hope for a spur-of-the-moment trip, but I called anyway.
Turns out that our timing was perfect. Everyone was at Artisphere, so there was room for us. They had already set the table for the tasting, but said that they could re-arrange to add to more.
We knew that dinner wasn’t included with the tasting – only wine and cheese. We had a few appetizers at home so that we wouldn’t be drinking on empty stomachs, then headed over for our 6:30 tasting. We were the first to arrive, and were ushered into the back tasting room, which was lined with bins and bottles. As we waited, six glasses were filled with enough to taste the sample vintages for the evening.
The rest of the guests arrived, bringing the total to 17. Our speaker was Richard deBondt, and this evening would focus on the wines of France. He began by talking about sparkling wines and the proper way to open a bottle. We were then served a taste, and were instructed on the proper way to toast.
I’ve never really been one of those wine snobs that detects hints of this and overtones of that when I taste wines. I either like it or I don’t. Nonetheless, the evening was fascinating, as Richard described the various wine-producing areas of France and the types of wines that come from each area. We had a listed of the evening’s vines, and on the back was a map of France showing the wine growing areas.
Vineyards only a few yards apart can produce very different grapes because one is slightly more slanted toward the sun, or the soil has a different acidity. We learned that the more geographical specificity there is in a name, the more likely it is that those grapes came from a single vineyard, rather than as a blend from different vineyards. Typically (but not always) these wines are better, and that’s reflected in their pricing.
We were taught the proper way to taste, and in addition to the sparkling wine we worked our way slowly through two Chardonnays, one rose’, a couple of Beaujolais, and finally a Burgundy. We had three cheeses and a basket of bread to accompany the tastings.
I could definitely detect the differences between the wines. While these were good, the rose’ was my favorite. It was much better and had more complexity than the bland Berringers and other white zinfandels that we’ve had. I may have to go back to pink wines, assuming I can find some good ones.
The tasting ended at 8:00, and so far we had only eaten a few bites of appetizers. It was time for dinner. Since we were right there, we decided to try the restaurant at Northampton.
We were given our choice of a table in the dining area, or a seat at one of the bar tables in the wine store. We opted for the bar because we would be able to order off of the bar menu in addition to the dinner menu.
Northampton Wines has been in Greenville for many years, but we’ve just never had the chance to try it out. The building was built in 1891 and was known as the “trolley barn”, storing equipment first for Greenville Gas, Electric Light, and Power and later for Duke Power until 1980.
First an excellent brew pub, then a Spaghetti Warehouse made their homes here. Sadly, neither was able to make it in this location. Northampton Wines moved here from their previous location in 2000, opening a cafe and tasting room to accompany their wine store.
As one would imagine, the warehouse nature of the historic building has been retained, with brick walls and rough textures. The tasting room in the back and the wine bar are lined with bins. There is also a small selection of wine accessories such as glasses, openers, and books at the front of the store. A separate door leads off to the right and to the dining area, which is more elegantly appointed with table clothes and candles.
The bar area has only high tables and bar stools. My only complaint was that these got to be uncomfortable after awhile.
The clientele (at least at the bar) seemed to be mostly urban professionals. There was a guy in a suit, and several others in lesser attire. The bartender commented that it’s normally much busier on a Friday night.
We were presented two menus – one for the bar and one for dinner. The bar menu offered sandwiches and smaller entree’s such as burgers and crab cake sandwiches. These tended to hover in the $10-$15 range. On the dinner menu there were a few appetizers and salads for a bit less than that. To be honest, since we already had cheese and other appetizers, we didn’t get them much attention.
The main courses included nine dishes with a variety of meats – seafood, quail, steak, etc. These ranged from $26 to $36. As you might imagine, there were LOTS of wines to go along with the choices.
Laura selected crab cakes, and I opted for the scallops. Mine came with a yellow mango salsa, pomegranate molasses, and jasmine rice. Haricort vert and asparagus rounded out the plate. The scallops were fantastic, as were the vegetables. The mango and pomegranate was almost too tart, and I had to cushion it against the scallops. Overall, though, it was an excellent dish.
Laura’s crab cakes came with the same vegetables, but had grits instead of rice. Hers was also excellent, and very, very rich. She only finished one crab cake, and shared the second with me.
Everything was set off with a couple of glasses of Chardonnay. Since we had already had so much tasting of wine, these two glasses didn’t impress us as much.
Service was excellent – quick, knowledgeable, and efficient. Hard to beat that.
We spent a lot of money here this evening, between the wine tasting and the dinner. I think in the future it will need to be one or the other. Everything was excellent, though, and it was a great experience.
A couple of our friends come just for the wine bar on occasion. I think we might consider that, too, and order off of the bar menu to keep the price down. Other than that, the dinners are excellent, and make for nice evening on a special occasion.