Willow Restaurant, founded in 2005 by Chefs Tracy O'Grady and Kate Jensen, has hands down the best wine list in Arlington and gives most DC restaurants a run for their money. Sommelier Alison Christ has put together one of the most interesting and well priced by-the-glass programs I have seen, including several obscure domestics and imports ranging from $7 to about $17 a serving. Even on a normal day, Willow is one of the best places in town to try something new and interesting without breaking the bank.
A couple Thursdays ago, after a disappointing experience at another Ballston area wine bar, Grand Cru (lots of potential, sloppy execution and service), Eliza and I swung by Willow in search of a glass of wine that hadn't gone bad. To my surprise, I saw open on the bar several bottles of wine from Jermann, a northern Italian producer of high-end reds and whites. We sat, and were asked if we'd like to partake in the wine tasting. I thought, "Surely they aren't featuring those wines; they are far too expensive!"
Apparently we'd stumbled upon the first of Willow's summer series of wine tastings. For the rest of the summer, every Thursday (Restaurant Week excepted) between 5:30 and 7:30, the bar at Willow is offering a series of themed wines with paired hors d'oeuvres for $25-$30 per person.
These were no typical sample pours —for $30 each we received a full glass each of five of the best wines of northeast Italy, including Jermann’s “Dreams” Chardonnay, one of the most elegant examples of oaked Italian Chardonnay I have ever had, which regularly retails for about $80. The hors d'oeuvres were tasty and well-matched — our cool, oily gazpacho was a great pair with the full-bodied Pinot Bianco, and the stuffed mushrooms, with their earthy/salty qualities, meshed well with the Blau & Blau, a blend of Pinot Noir and the native Austrian varietal Blaufrankish.
Last Thursday featured a selection of high-end Austrian wines, and I regret not having been able to make it. Tonight, four wines featuring Old World vs. New World winemaking techniques are on the docket for $25. If you have any interest in fine wine, great food and meeting some nice people, you should check it out. The staff is really friendly, and you are not going to find a better opportunity to try some great wines for such a price. Make sure to say hello for me!
While you are there, ask if they have any seats left for the big Mollydooker Wine Dinner taking place at the end of this month. Mollydooker, in case you haven’t heard of it, is pretty much the hottest winery to hit the scene in the past five years. Winemakers Sarah and Sparky Marquis make a range of VERY intense Australian reds, some with ABVs in the 16% range! Though the next batch isn’t due to hit the USA until October (upon which time it will disappear very quickly), somehow Willow scored samples of 10 of the wines in the forthcoming release, and Sparky Marquis himself will be there to talk about them. As I said, these wines are enormous, and I am very curious to see what the hell the chefs are going to pair with them. Though their fee of $95 a seat sounds high, this number is all inclusive, and actually a modest sum for this sort of event, particularly considering the hype behind the wine and the prestige of the winemaker. And, be honest, haven't you always wanted to meet a guy named Sparky? I'm saving up my pennies, so maybe I'll see you there.