The Bar Brainpower of Josh Durr; Before and After Fest of Ale Prep with Todd Antz and Eric Morris

Our plate is full of news here at EatDrinkTalk, home of the city’s finest restaurant and bar podcast. First up we have two ice cream items. We’re pulling for the guys at Comfy Cow, who have been experiencing mechanical problems at their commissary, leading to shortages at their local shops.

Of course, they’ll soon have ice cream competition in Nulu when the Louisville Cream store opens next month. Owner and ice cream maker Darryl Goodner’s product just received Southern Living Magazine’s “Best Southern Made Products” award.

News that River House and Levee have opened their dock service means that a whole lot more people can enjoy the scenery there, including those arriving by boat. Entrepreneurs Scott and Jennifer Benningfield have signed an agreement with Fourth Street Live! that will give their Thirsty Pedaler 16-passenger bikes a prominent storefront and parking space.

There’s a special farm-to-table dinner coming up at the Jeptha Creed Distillery May 30. It will be hosted by Volare’s Josh Moore, who will be serving food directly from his farm.

Our first guest is mixologist Josh Durr, who Steve points out is one of the smartest bar experts in town. To celebrate the Fest of Ale event coming to New Albany June 3, Rick sat down with founder Todd Antz and Gospel Bird chef-owner Eric Morris to talk about the one of the largest local beer fests and the after-party.

In our Copper & Kings favorites segment, Rick tried a vegetarian omelet at the always-reliable North End Cafe. Steve’s choice was a spicy beef dish from Nam Nam in St. Matthews. His drink preference was a recently re-released Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength whiskey. And at Bonefish Grill, Rick tried a Wild Orchid Hawaiian Martini.

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Josh Durr

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Todd Antz and Eric Morris at the Gospel Bird

New Higher Proof Expo offers hands-on learning at Kentucky Bourbon Affair

The 2017 Kentucky Bourbon Affair, dubbed a whiskey fan’s “fantasy camp,” has added a new day-long workshop packed with unique educational and tasting sessions led by top industry professionals, capped with a vintage spirits appraisal from one of the country’s top collectors.

According to a news release, the Higher Proof Expo will be held on Saturday, June 10, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Louisville Marriott East, the official host hotel for the annual Kentucky Bourbon Affair showcase.

The Expo features 18 exclusive learning sessions, lunch and pop-up experiences with the best of Louisville and Kentucky’s food, drink and retail for the Bourbon aficionado. The one-day pass is $99 with access to four sessions. Seating is limited.

“Higher Proof is a deep dive into the history, techniques, science and lore of Kentucky Bourbon culture,” said Adam Johnson, senior director with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association that coordinates the KBA. “The whiskey you’ll be tasting is alone worth the ticket.”

Tickets are on sale at www.kybourbonaffair.com.

Sessions include:

  • A breakdown and sampling of the four unique recipes that Four Roses Distillery used this year to craft its Limited Edition Small Batch honoring brand ambassador Al Young’s 50thanniversary, hosted by master distiller Brent Elliott.
  • Diageo’s Orphan Barrel program shares barrels of delicious and rare whiskey, hidden away and nearly forgotten in the back of rickhouses. Diageo’s master whiskey educator Doug Kragel will take you behind the scenes at this private tasting with the tales and secrets of these rare selections.
  • Experience the bold flavors and discover the subtle notes of country ham through whiskey as Andrea Wilson of Michter’s Distillery and Steve Coomes, author of “Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke,” team up to take your flavor detectors to the next level. Learn the art of complementing and enhancing flavors through pairings of whiskeys, cocktails, cured American hams and Art Eatables chocolates in this delicious and fun seminar.
  • Join Heaven Hill’s national whiskey brand ambassador, Bernie Lubbers, as he reviews the origins and history of the acclaimed Parker’s Heritage annual series of American Whiskey, including samples of the 24-year-old Bottled-In-Bond offering and three no longer available prior editions.
  • Discover the secrets and science of MB Roland’s dark-fired whiskey with co-owners Paul and Merry Beth Tomaszewski. Taste and compare samples of fired and non-dark fired distillate to gain a real appreciation for how this smoking process influences MB Roland’s products.
There will be no shortage of whiskey to taste at the Higher Proof Expo. | Image courtesy of Kentucky Bourbon Affair

There will be no shortage of whiskey to taste at the Higher Proof Expo. | Image courtesy of Kentucky Bourbon Affair

“With all the classes offered, I don’t know how people will be able to choose,” Johnson said. “Luckily, you can’t go wrong. Every one of these sessions is top-notch.”

View the full lineup by clicking here.

The event is curated by Stave & Thief Society, the official Bourbon Certification Program of the KDA, which sifted through dozens of submitted presentations to select the most exclusive experiences for attendees.

The Expo also is offering a vintage spirits appraisal from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. with Bill Thomas, owner of the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C., one of the country’s foremost experts on dusty bottles and Bourbon memorabilia.

KDA President Eric Gregory said vintage spirits are a hot topic right now, with Kentucky leading the way. The state legislature passed a new law this year that allows consumers to sell vintage unopened bottles to licensed retailers beginning Jan. 1.

“We’ve had so many calls from people who have found full, antique bottles or Bourbon paraphernalia in their grandmother’s attic and want to know what it’s worth,” Gregory said. “This is the perfect opportunity to learn the history and value from the experts themselves.”

Tickets are still available to several events at this year’s Kentucky Bourbon Affair, which runs from June 6-11 in Louisville, the official host city. Events include behind-the-scenes access at the world’s most iconic distilleries, nightcap events featuring top chefs, bourbon barons and master distillers, rare tastings, souvenir bottles, and much more.

But wait, there’s more! Make a day of it at the Marriott East by attending Whisky Live, starting one hour after the Higher Proof Expo. In addition to an ample supply of bourbon, this extensive international whiskey tasting event, sponsored by Whisky magazine, will feature a wide array of Scotch, Irish and Asian whiskeys for sampling. Want your palate and whiskey knowledge expanded? Don’t miss this. Find ticket information by clicking here.

Podcast 55 WITH Coffee King Leo Fante, and Bringing Bravazzi to the ‘Ville with Sarah Ross

The best restaurant and bar podcast in the city is back with a refreshing serving of news and personalities. First up, be on the lookout for mushroom-blended burgers at your favorite restaurants. Last week, Rick sampled four of them at Harvest, which hosted the kickoff for a nationwide James Beard Foundation sustainability initiative to reduce meat consumption by adding ground mushrooms to ground meats.

Steve reports that a new national study shows indie restaurants gaining market share vs. chains, though he suspects those operations aren’t making more profits because there are so many new players.

Watch for Highland Morning in St. Matthews to expand, and after years of planning the owners of Mozza Pi are planning a June opening in Anchorage. Last weekend, the Buy Local Fair was planned for Sunday, but on Friday, organizers listened to weather forecasts and canceled the event over severe weather concerns. As you’d expect, Sunday afternoon turned out gorgeous.

Rick’s guest is local coffee legend Leo Fante, who opened his unusual coffee shop on Grinstead Drive 11 weeks ago. The shop is a coffee lover’s dream, with special roasts made in-house, a nice menu and, yes, alcohol.

Steve calls the Bravazzi Hard Italian Soda he sampled “the best adult soda I’ve ever had.” So he talks with Sarah Ross, the company’s co-founder, who was in town promoting helping launch the product here. Tune in to hear all this and more on EatDrinkTalk.

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Leo Fante

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Sarah Ross

Forecastle Bourbon Lodge Rarities Bar to include some scarce selections

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—The Forecastle Bourbon Lodge, Forecastle Festival’s acclaimed Kentucky Bourbon Trail outpost, will give Bourbon fans exclusive access to some rare sips this year when the three-day July music festival is held July 14-16.

According to a news release, Forecastle’s new Rarities Bar, presented by Liquor Barn and curated by category director Brad Williams, will feature some of the most sought-after, limited release Kentucky Bourbon expressions, many of which are exclusive to Forecastle.

In addition, the Rarities Bar will debut unique, one-of-a-kind blends, crafted by Williams and Forecastle Founder JK McKnight, available for sample only at Forecastle and purchase at select Liquor Barn locations.

The Rarities Bar will include the following Kentucky Bourbon Trail offerings and Liquor Barn Private Barrel Selections:

  • Four Roses Al Young “50th Anniversary” Small Batch
  • Four Roses Elliott’s Select 2016 Limited Edition Single Barrel
  • Four Roses 2016 Limited Edition Small Batch
  • Four Roses 2015 Limited Edition Small Batch
  • Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Small Batch
  • Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch
  • Michter’s 10-Year Old Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
  • Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2016
  • Old Forester “The Statesman”
  • Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 23-Year Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
  • Orphan Barrel Barterhouse 20-Year Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
  • Whiskey Barons Collection Bond & Lillard
  • Whiskey Barons Collection Old Ripy
  • Wild Turkey Decades
  • Wild Turkey 17-Year Master’s Keep
  • Woodford Reserve Double Double Oaked

Liquor Barn Private Barrel Selections include:

  • Elijah Craig 12-Year-Old Single Barrel
  • Four Roses Barrel Proof Single Barrel (multiple selections)
  • Knob Creek 14-Year-Old Single Barrel – Forecastle Selection
  • Maker’s Mark Private Select Cask Strength, Forecastle Selection

All Rarities Bar offerings will be released at specific times throughout the festival, and will be available until limited quantities are depleted. A full schedule of releases will be shared prior to the festival and those with Bourbon Lodge memberships, currently available at ForecastleFest.com, will have exclusive early access to the release schedule.

The Bourbon Cares program returns in 2017 to further its aim of matching distillers with Kentucky conservation partners. This year’s program will pair Forecastle Bourbon brands with Forecastle Foundation conservation partners to support numerous Kentucky-based projects, including the Green River and Pine Mountain Wildlife Corridor initiatives. Forecastle attendees can purchase the single-barrel private selections by the drink in the Forecastle Bourbon Lodge or by the bottle at select Liquor Barn locations.

Bourbon Cares Private Barrel Selections include:

  • Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
  • Four Roses Single Barrel 100 Proof
  • Old Forester Single Barrel
  • Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel

According to the release, the sale of these private barrel selections will benefit some of the richest and highly threatened regions of biodiversity left in Kentucky, ranging from endangered shrimp and mussel-filled watersheds in Central Kentucky, to old-growth forests in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

Fireside Chats will return to Bourbon Lodge and offer an intimate living room setting for educational panels, speakers and demonstrations with industry experts, retailers, mixologists and master distillers. The full schedule and programming for Fireside Chats is coming soon.

To get tickets to the festival, as well as Bourbon Lodge memberships, visit ForecastleFest.com.

Jeptha Creed and Ky. Peerless to release whiskeys this weekend

In the hunt for special bottles or just the newest bottle of special amber for your collection? Then carve some time out of your busy Saturday schedule—the lawn can wait until Sunday—to visit either Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. or Jeptha Creed Distillery (or both, which you could easily) for releases of their oldest whiskeys to date.

This will be Peerless’s first whiskey release, Peerless Straight rye, to be specific, and I can tell you from personal experience, it is superb, a rye I predict will wow fans of that style, including bourbon fans.

The distillery will be selling bottles from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but Kentucky retailers will shelve their bottles that day, too. So if you can’t make it downtown, but want a bottle, call around to see who has it. My guess is the larger stores will. This two-year rye will cost $125 per bottle at the distillery, but possibly a little less at retail shops.Jeptha-Creed-Butcher's-Cree

Want to taste it first? Go to Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen and be one of the first 100 guests there to get a free pour and a commemorative tasting glass, beginning at 6 p.m. Reading this from Lexington? Belle’s Cocktail House is hosting a meet-greet-and-sip event for the release. For the $10 ticket you get a pour of the whiskey in a commemorative rocks glass, a cocktail made from Peerless Rye and the chance to meet Peerless owner, Corky Taylor. (The guy has a million great stories, so go meet him.)

Jeptha Creed in Shelbyville is having its third highly limited release of its Bloody Butcher’s Creed Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Opened last fall, this knockout of a visitor-centric distillery (Peerless is equally beautiful and completely different) began a gradual 566-bottle release of bourbon made from the Bloody Butcher heirloom corn grown on the owners’ farm. This batch of whiskey was made nearly three years ago at Death’s Door Distillery in Wisconsin and rested in oak for 2.5 years. Bottled at 100 proof, it is a weighty, fruity, modestly oaky and delightful sipper. (Future releases planned include 4- and 6-year bottlings.)

This is a 10-bottle release done by a drawing. To enter the drawing, you must go to the distillery some time between 12-1:45 to enter your name. During that wait, you’ve got time to take a tour, have a cocktail from its massive bar and even get a sandwich from its café.

“When we did our first (40 bottle) release in December, we had between 150 and 200 people show up,” said Autumn Nethery, co-owner and director of marketing at Jeptha Creed. “We did another 10-bottle release and about 40 people showed up, but that was Mother’s Day, so that might have dropped (attendance) down.”

Should you be lucky enough to have your name drawn, you must be present to buy the bottle, which costs $74.99 at the distillery. There are Bloody Butcher bottles out in the retail market as well.

Local Chefs Join in on National Blended Burger Project

Judging by the number of the city’s top chefs in attendance, expect to see plenty of “blended burgers” popping up on local restaurant menus beginning May 31.

The event was the kickoff of the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project, held in NuLu at Harvest Restaurant, attended by at least a dozen local chefs and several media members. Chefs Patrick Roney of Harvest, Michael Crouch of Bistro 1860, Jon Sanning of Lexington’s Smithtown Seafood, and Dallas McGarity of the Fat Lamb offered up their versions of blended burgers — defined as patties with a blend of at least 25 percent finely chopped mushrooms, along with meat.

Eric Davis, representing the Mushroom Council, stressed the sustainability of mushrooms vs. meat.

“The blend is an idea, not a product,” he said. He added that growing a pound of mushrooms requires just 1.8 gallons of water, and a million pounds can be produced from a single acre.

“A ‘Blended Burger’ is a much more sustainable and plant-forward opportunity for chefs to menu the iconic burger,” said the James Beard Foundation’s Kris Moon. “Producing one pound of mushrooms requires less than two gallons of water, making them one of the most sustainably produced foods.”

Any chef can enter the contest by creating a blended burger, adding it to their menu and persuading diners to vote for it online at this site. The hashtag #BlendedBurgerProject was created so that restaurateurs can promote the contest online. The five chefs who receive the most votes will be invited to New York’s James Beard House, where they will prepare their burger at an event next January.

Last year, 350 restaurants participated, and Davis said the goal for this year is 500. The voting ends July 31.

Among the Harvest event attendees were Butchertown Grocery’s Bobby Benjamin, Ward 426’s Shawn Ward, Anoosh Bistro’s Anoosh Shariat and the Red Herring’s Jacob Coronado.

Local restaurant supplier Superior Meats is also participating in the project by creating its own blend and offering it to local restaurants.

Here are the blends presented at Harvest:

Harvest Louisville
Chef Patrick Roney
2017-05-16 12.30.43

Harvest’s Blended Burger with rabbit

Rivercrest Rabbit and Sysbee Farms Lions Mane Mushroom Slider. Country Ham and Cottage Cheese Biscuit. Red Eye Aioli. Broccoli stem and Black Eyed Pea slaw.

Bistro 1860
Chef Michael Crouch
The Lambda Lambda Omega Moo Burger- 40% lamb-40% cow,20% Frondosa Farms blue oyster mushroom- pickled mustard seed-pickle, harissa mayo-tri onion mix-poppyseed brioche.
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Jon Sanning’s blended burger

Chef Jon Sanning
Smithtown Seafood

Huit-a-burger: Chorizo-spiced blended KYP beef patty on lime cabbage with huitlacoche-queso fresco, avocado cream, crispy potatoes, cilantro & onions on a Dutch’s Bake Shop Cuban bun.
Fat Lamb Louisville
Chef Dallas McGarity
Dallas McGarity's entry

Dallas McGarity’s entry

Local Black Hawk Farms beef double cheeseburger blended with 40% local crimini mushrooms. It is on a poppy seed brioche bun with Dukes mayo and a horseradish pickle served with a Tuscan kale and pickled beet salad with goat cheese and toasted pistachios.

Jim McArthur’s Downtown Vision; Jason Smith’s Fight Against Parkinson’s

The best bar and restaurant podcast in the ‘Ville is back with more news and conversations sure to tingle your taste buds. We’ve got a report on the new Cuvee Wine Bar, a great new spot in the East End opened by one of the few Master Sommeliers in the region.

And remember that you heard it here first — Tony Palombino will convert the Boombozz Tap House in St. Matthews to a new concept called Waylon’s Feed and Firewater, a close cousin to his Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen downtown. We’re also seeing signs, including one that reads “Now Hiring” at the Mission Barbecue in St. Matthews, one of a projected 50 new restaurants scheduled to open in the city in 2017.

We’re looking forward to the Highlands Beer Fest behind the Mid-City Mall on Saturday. (Did you know it was the first modern-day brewfest in the city?) On Sunday, two of our favorite chefs — Harvest’s Patrick Roney and Jacob Coronado of the Red Herring — will face off in an Iron Chef-like competition at the Louisville Independent Business Association’s Buy Local Fair at the Water Tower.

Steve’s guest this week is Harvest Restaurant co-owner Jim McArthur, who has some unique insight into downtown’s changes, and how good it will be for business, when the Convention Center and other construction projects are complete in 2018. Rick sat down with veteran restaurant operator Jason Smith at Gordon Biersch to talk about one of Jason’s pet projects — the Denim & Diamonds fundraiser for Parkinson’s disease. Smith has early onset Parkinson’s, and talks about how he’s affected by the disease and why he’s so passionate about raising money for treatment.

In our Copper & Kings favorites segment, Steve chose to sample fried oysters at La Chasse, while Rick picked the eggplant Parmesan from the menu at Ciao, where he also enjoyed a memorable Old Fashioned. With many to choose from, Steve selected the Chateau de Puligny he tried during a press event at the new Cuvee Wine Table.

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Jason Smith at Gordon Biersch

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La Chasse chef, Dulaney, headed to Maker’s Mark’s Star Hill Provisions

A year and a half after helping La Chasse become one of Louisville’s best regarded restaurants, executive chef Alex Dulaney is leaving his post June 7 to become chef de cuisine at Star Hill Provisions, the recently opened restaurant and catering venue on the campus of Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Ky.

Delany will join owners Newman and Rachel Miller, who operate the business, and who also own the Harrison-Smith House in Bardstown. The restaurant, which went on hiatus last fall, has since become a busy private event venue catering to bourbon tourism and business crowds. Dulaney’s help at that venue will also be essential, said Newman Miller.

“We knew Star Hill Provisions would become busy, but we never imagined it would be as busy as it’s become,” said Miller, who is chef at both venues. His wife manages front-of-the-house teams at each place. “Private events at Harrison-Smith have taken off, too, and we really needed the help. So I’ve been after Alex a long time to come down here.”

Prior to joining La Chasse owner Isaac Fox, Dulaney logged several years as chef at Le Relais. Together, he and Fox created the menu for the rustic French country restaurant which has garnered rave reviews for its exceptional food and imaginative cocktails.

Leaving the restaurant is bittersweet, Dulaney said, but the opportunity to be nearer the countryside and work with Miller, an esteemed Kentucky chef, was too hard to pass up.

“It’s really hard to step away from La Chasse; I’ve loved it here,” said Dulaney. “I feel like I’m at the top of my game in Louisville, business on Bardstown Road is doing really well, our reservations are always filling up—there are so many good reasons to stay.”

But when he lived in Santa Fe, N.M., 14 years ago, he was close to the wilderness where he could leave the city and wind down.

“Working with Newman also gives me the opportunity to work with the distillery, and to get back to some great basics of cooking,” Dulaney said. “The other day I had his biscuits and sausage gravy, and I realized how I’d forgotten how good that was because I’ve been so absorbed in making beef Bourgogne so long.”

While the Millers own the Star Hill Provisions business, Maker’s Mark Distillery owns the facility, and bourbon producer spared no expense in buying top-of-the-line Jade and Winston Industries equipment for the new enterprise. Harrison-Smith House’s kitchen also is well equipped, but nowhere as spacious as Star Hill Provisions, yet Dulaney said both kitchens will be exciting to use.

“Newman devotes a lot of attention to detail, and I thrive on that,” Dulaney said.

Miller called Dulaney “a chef who actually reads and likes numbers, which is essential in this business. We can’t wait to get him down here.”

St. Matthews Boombozz site to become Waylon’s Feed & Fire Water

Boombozz Craft Pizza & Taphouse owner EAP Restaurant Concepts will close that location of the mini-pizza chain at 3939 Shelbyville Rd. this weekend and change it into Waylon’s Feed and Fire Water, a whiskey and taco-centered restaurant by mid-June.

The new concept is a riff on EAP’s Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen, a restaurant, bar and live music venue on Whiskey Row downtown. Beyond some changes to bar offerings, EAP founder Tony Palombino said Waylon’s will be highly similar to Merle’s, adding that a few new offerings to appear in Waylon’s lineup were tested recently at Merle’s.

Palombino said the shift from pizza to whiskey and tacos is a move designed to adjust to the evolution of St. Matthews’ entertainment district. The upcoming addition of El Taco Luchador, Steel City Pops and Quill’s Coffee is adding momentum to the already busy Shelbyville Road segment bookended by Breckenridge Ln. and St. Matthews Ave. Venues already operating there include Drake’s, Tin Roof, Molly Malone’s Irish Bar and Sullivan’s Tap House, which opened in late April.

An architect's rendering of Waylon's future exterior.

An architect’s rendering of Waylon’s future exterior.

“I think Waylon’s coming in is the perfect fit for the future of this area,” Palombino said. No other restaurant or bar option, he added, includes a 100-plus-bottle whiskey selection. “It just mixes it up a little bit for the neighborhood.”

Palombino insists Waylon’s will be more restaurant than bar due to lessons he learned operating Manny & Merle’s, the original iteration of Merle’s Kitchen. At its launch, M&M’s was skewed more toward drinking, but when that formula didn’t meet expectations, Palombino added more food offerings and sales responded.

“Now our food sales outpace the bar at Merle’s,” he said. “That 55 percent food and 45 percent bar mix is the sweet spot for a restaurateur like me.

“Sprinkle in some regional live music and you have the perfect fit for St. Matthews—but not a nightclub.”

Palombino expects to spend $350,000 converting the longstanding pizzeria to Waylon’s. He said physical changes to fixtures and equipment will account for about $275,000 of that amount, and that the balance will be spent on soft costs such as training, rent and utilities. Restaurant seating will remain at 165.

“It’s a little bit more than just lipstick and makeup,” he joked. Though Boombozz’s large pizza oven will be removed, he said the kitchen will remain largely the same.

Referring to the rapid changeover of a Middletown Boombozz to Joella’s Hot Chicken, another EAP concept, Palombino said his firm is getting pretty good at redos.

“You can’t be afraid to change and adapt,” Palombino said. “That’s what we’re doing here, and I’m really excited about that.”

Drinkers can expect some new twists at the bar, including some whiskeys and cocktails poured on tap. Such novelties do attract attention, Palombino said, but that speed of service is the biggest reason for employing them.

Palombino, who informed employees of the change on May 15, said staff reception of the idea was positive. Those who want to work at Waylon’s when it opens in mid-June can be added to the roster at other EAP concepts until that time. And in a tight labor market, that’s what Palombino hopes happens.

“The next few days will tell” whether many want to say, he said.

It’s wine time in Springhurst with opening of Cuvée Wine Table

When a real Master Sommelier (capitalization required and deserved) opens a wine bar, most would imagine it an oenophile’s temple to snobbery. After all, there are only 200 such wine-wonks in the entire world, and so what better place to showcase that knowledge than in your own place?

Thankfully, snobbery isn’t Cuvee Wine Table owner Scott Harper’s style in any respect, and especially so with wine. Oh, he can leap past wine-geek trivia to pinot grigio-dry wine facts in a millisecond—but only if you ask. He even asks permission to dive into the science of wine making, saying, “If that just doesn’t bore you, I’ll go there.”Cuvee bar

If wine drinking isn’t approachable and accessible to all, no one wants to do it, Harper said during a press conference last Friday, just hours before Cuvée’s grand opening. He wants it to be a place where anyone with interest in the fermented grape can feel at ease.

He puts customers at ease by offering some 55 wines by the glass and nearly 70 by the bottle: arguably a short list of selections beside some comparably encyclopedic lineups in town. Old World and New World selections can be found, and a balance of the recognizable and “I’ve never heard of that one” choices are available. He poured two of the latter for the press group: a Furmint Erzsebet Pince Tokaj from Hungary; and a Monthelie (pinot noir) Chateau de Puligny, Montrachet, Cote do Beaune from France. Both were outstanding wines that exemplify choices Harper loves to surprise with.

“It’s always enjoyable, to me anyway, to give people something new,” Harper said. “It gives them a new experience and most times, they want to learn more.”

The name Cuvée Wine Table has a double meaning, Harper explained. Cuvee is a French wine term meaning a blend, and Table was chosen to imply wine’s communal qualities. (One of the space’s standout elements is its 10-person table.) He also chose table to steer clear of any implication of the term “wine bar,” for bar, Harper said, is regularly interpreted as a place to get rapid service or a wide range of beer and cocktails.

“If you looked closely and counted, you saw just seven bourbons on the bar, and one tequila, one vodka and gin,” Harper said. Beer drinkers get eight selections here. “I didn’t want to tell

Steamed mussels.

Steamed mussels.

bourbon drinkers no when they asked for it, but first and foremost, this is about wine.”

Customers can buy wine pours from 2 ozs. to 6.25 ozs. or full bottles, with prices ranging on the extremes from as little as $3.50 for splash of Moscato to $238 for a bottle of Kosta Brown Pinot Noir. Most 6-ounce pours sell for low double-digit prices, but the list is well curated, so you’re paying for a unique experience, not just getting a wine fix.

Executive chef Edoardo Bacci has prepared a menu of about 30 small plates created for wine pairing. Servers are trained to make suggestions to ensure ideal matches as well. If that sounds fussy, just eat the food and choose whatever wine seems best. Not only might it be impossible to make a bad pairing here, if you just want to come nosh a bit, Cuvée would be a great choice.

Cuvee Wine Table is located at 3598 Springhurst Blvd. (formerly Papalino’s Pizza, if that helps.) It’s open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and Friday-Saturday, 11-11 p.m.