Tori Amos once recalled that fellow musician Al Stewart (the man behind the ’70s hit “Year of the Cat”) once gave her a valuable piece of advice: “Burgundy’s for sex, Bordeaux’s for intellect.” A fairly handy (if slightly sleazy) way of choosing your tipple. Me, I can never remember which wines I like, and usually end up arriving at friends’ apartments bearing bottles with names like Werewolf. But a recent trip to Vin Rouge (629 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn), a new South Slope wine bar, helped to allay some of the intimidation involved in choosing the right quaff. “Do you like it?” seems to be the guiding principle.
Opened a few months ago by a partner in the Has Bean Coffee spot across the street, Vin Rouge lies on a rather forlorn stretch of Fifth Avenue where it crosses Prospect. The place felt familiar at first—the handsome, dark-wood bar, the exposed-brick walls, and the strains of Sinatra on the stereo added up to what a New Orleans native called “French Quarter authentic.” At one table, a couple of jazz musicians talked shop, even throwing the word cat around in the hep sense. It was nearly too much when the Chairman of the Board began a loungey version of “Mrs. Robinson,” so the bartender laughed and switched it off in favor of the original, which led into a mix of the Beatles, Bollywood, and a certain red-haired piano-pounder.
The menu’s casual and silly descriptions of the 25 wines available by the glass—from “This 100-percent Pinot Noir rocks” to a Sicilian option declared “Superba!”—would’ve been much more charming had the staff been more helpful; they seemed unable to provide much guidance beyond a sort of general enthusiasm. Unfortunately, there were far too many misfires to justify prices in the $8-to-$12 range. The Petite Syrah ($10 a glass) and a bottle of Petite Verdad ($39) stood out, while other options were wan and uninteresting by comparison. Bottled beers like Duvel, Anchor Steam, and Smutty Nose ($5–$7) are also on hand, but seem kind of beside the point.
The menu includes a few bites for nibbling on. The meat-and-cheese platter ($10) was decent enough, and a plate of Ritz crackers with cheddar and a garlicky grape jelly ($5) was satisfying, like the afternoon snack your mom used to make. In the end, though, nothing at Vin Rouge stood out enough to make it worth a return trip. The remote location is incongruous with the prices; the place feels confused, as if unsure who exactly it’s trying to entice. Both the sexy and the intellectual will find it wanting.
OTHER BROOKLYN SPOTS FOR BUDDING WINOS
Black Mountain Wine House
The proprietors wisely chose a place off Carroll Gardens’ heavily trafficked main drag for this newish spot, going instead for something quieter. Whitewashed walls are lined with shelves bearing wine bottles, and the room is filled with tables and chairs of the intentionally mismatched variety. Branch out from a boring old Merlot with a Greek white or Moroccan red (both $6.50) and grab a bite from the short but smartly conceived menu of salads, cheeses, sandwiches, and the like ($4–$10).
415 Union Street, 718-395-2614
D.O.C. Wine Bar
Offering a quality array of moderately priced Italian wines, Williamsburg’s D.O.C. relaxes guests with its laid-back, intimate atmosphere. The bar’s pastoral décor, including a wooden picnic table, fits well with the Sardinian fare (traditionally eaten by shepherds) of flatbread, cheeses, and porks. A smart place for a third date.
83 North 7th Street, 718-963-1925Stonehome Wine Bar
This Fort Greene spot offers 140 varieties, but plan on ordering a bottle—only 30 of those selections can be bought by the glass. Nibble on meats and cheeses while mellow music wafts in the background. 87 Lafayette Avenue, 718-624 9443