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Found a great new place to drink wine. It’s a restaurant in Irvine called Cucina Enoteca. It’s not exactly a wine bar but it’s got some wine bar qualities, like Ben Kephart, a clued-in sommelier, and a boutique selection of bottles. You can buy one to go, or choose one to take to your table. The drink-it-now price is only $8 higher than its retail—a fair corkage fee especially when you consider that most wine lists mark bottles up two or three times.
The idea is to get you sipping, swirling, and discovering new bottles. The first one I noticed was a Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc for $33 (the release price is $30). “We get it at the same price as everyone else, we just sell it at a reasonable price. We might take a big hit on something but we just want to be full. Volume is the secret,” he says.
He stocks 200 to 250 wines with 15 available by the glass. The list indicates which are sustainable, organic, biodynamic, and from certified Napa green wineries. I liked the descriptors by category. Instead of “Burgundies,” and so on it’s designed to help you make choices with the food. Other restos are doing this too but Ben’s are fun: full and feisty, knee-buckling whites; bigger but not too big (reds), medium(ish) in body; funky stuff for winegeeks and corkdorks. We like his style and we also like that he knows how to steer you to a value wine. He’ll point out that Veracity from Epoch is made by Justin Smith of Saxum and Finca 8 is a second label of Sonoma giant Paul Hobbs.
Stop by and see what I’m talking about. The place is foodie but friendly with a common table, pizzas, pastas, and a rockin’ burger topped with short ribs—how’s that for overkill? And if you’re a wine snob there are plenty of choices in the “really, really good stuff” category of the list. Mostly vegetarian me is thinking about coming back on my birthday for that burger and splitting it with a friend. Burger? $16.50. The chance to drink it with a 2006 Marassin Pinot Noir? Priceless. Actually not, it’s $249 on the wine list. But since it’s made by Helen Turley it should be good to the last drop.—Anne Valdespino