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all words: Laura Herman
all photos: Kimberly Cadena

Cork Wine Bar (1720 14 St NW) is sort of place where you find yourself thinking: “I should really spend more time here.” After sampling some of Cork co-owners Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts’ (who also double as 14th street’s cutest couple) selections for the spring and summer, I wanted to take up permanent residence in the warmly lit dining room to just people-watch, sip, and talk wine all day.

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This friendly neighborhood spot was as busy this past Tuesday night as when I stopped in last Friday evening. I think people have really caught on to—and embraced—everything that Diane and Khalid have going on here: an accessible, fun way to experience interesting wines.

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I love that Cork is all about making wine approachable. And beyond that, exciting. It doesn’t have to be scary or stuffy; wine can be fun, and tasting is about experimenting and figuring out what you like.

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The entire wine list at Cork—which includes a range of wines by the glass, rotating tasting flights, and over 200 bottles—is comprised of “old world” selections, meaning wines originating from France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, and Slovenia. But just because they like their wine old world at Cork doesn’t mean that they’re old school about the selection.

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Look elsewhere for over-done standards, like boring pinot grigios (which I’m turned off to ever since Ramona Singer of the Real Housewives of New York started bottling her own) and bland house reds. Sure, you’ll find names and grapes that you recognize on their wine list—I had a delicious pinot noir the last time I was there that felt familiar and comfortable, like an old wine friend—but you can rest assured that they’ve been hand-selected as the best possible representatives of their kind. Beyond these more familiar selections is an array of eclectic and unique wines, including varietals that are less common in the US market.

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Nearly all of the wines served at Cork are estate wines, so they’re cultivated in smaller, artisanal production settings, often by families who have been in the wine business for generations. While wines at Cork Wine Bar and the Cork Market & Tasting Room (across the street at 1805 14th St NW) are selected based on quality and character, they also aim to price wines at affordable price points to make tasting accessible.

Diane noted that one of her favorite aspects of Cork is the way their selection enables the drinker to travel via wine—down the Italian coast, along the Mediterranean, or through the French countryside. Similarly, our tasting was a trip: one that that took me from an outdoor, sunlit patio to a cozy, candlelit meal.

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We started out with a Tissot Cremant du Jura Rosé, a sparkling rosé that danced on my tongue. I immediately wanted to be sitting outside, basking in the sun, and sipping this. As a big fan of sparkling wines in general, I love the idea of taking them out of the “strictly celebratory” zone and into more everyday consumption. Plus, what’s more summer-y than a rosé? But more on that later.

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Moving on to whites of Spain, Italy, and France, we tasted several varietals, some of which were familiar and some that were totally new. This turned out to be a great way to gauge our thoughts on newer wines, through comparison to more familiar flavors.

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Winemakers and producers frequently visit Cork to conduct tasting and discuss their wines. On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of being joined by Salvatore of the Grotta Del Sole wine estate in Campania, Italy, which added depth to the 2008 Coste di Cuma we sampled beyond its own rich flavor. The wine, made from lesser known but trendy falanghia grapes (a nice contrast to more familiar Italian whites), had a crisp citrus nose, and tasted like honey and apples. Listening to Salvatore talk about the way his family cares for their vineyards and makes wines really added a personal element to the tasting.

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My other favorite white was the 2009 Gutierres Casta Diva, a muscat-based wine from Alicante, Spain. Upon smelling the wine and noting the muscat grape, I braced myself to taste a cloyingly sweet wine. Though much to my (delighted!) surprise, the wine was crisp and dry with notes of mint and green tea. I loved the playfulness of this wine in that it smelled one way and tasted another; tasting and really engaging with wine lets you experience all of your senses.

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We moved on to a 2010 Bagnol Cassis Rosé as a bridge wine, to transition us over from whites to reds in our tasting journey. This rosé was very different from the sparking rosé we’d started with and was unlike any other rosé I’ve ever tasted.

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To anyone who turns your nose up at rosé: you must try this. I’m generally not a fan of sweet wines, but this rosé struck a perfect balance between acidity and sweetness on the palate. It was tart, refreshing, and reminded me of pink lemonade. Please note: if you invite me over for a barbeque or meal this summer, this is what I will be brining. You’re welcome.

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Finally, my personal favorite red of the evening was a 2009 Gauthier Soif de Jour, a cabernet franc (see, told you there are varietals you’ll recognize on the menu) from the Loire Valley in France. To me, this was the perfect kind of red: mineral-y, full-bodied, with notes of red fruit that can stand on its own or pair well with food. I can see myself ordering this wine on any occasion and in different seasons.

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I’d also be remiss to not mention the food at Cork, because a girl cannot live on wine alone. Diane and Khalid are passionate about food, and the menu is designed with pairings in mind to allow diners to choose cheeses, charcuterie, and small plates like lemon and black pepper dusted calamari and rock shrimp to complement suggested wines, or vice versa. Each staff member at Cork is trained extensively in the wine list—I dig that they don’t need a sommelier on staff because everyone knows their stuff— and is happy to assist in suggesting wine or food pairings. I sampled a pillow-y goat cheese cake with the flight of red wines that was absolutely out of this world.

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After our journey throughout France, Italy, and Spain was complete, my taste buds were smiling. I left plotting a stop by the Cork Market and a return to the wine bar, where I plan to sample more of their small plate pairings and impress friends with my newfound wine knowledge.

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