For the second installment of the "Date Night" series, I thought it would be worthwhile to venture to one of Wine Spectator's Best of Award of Excellence restaurants.
Since there are only two restaurants in the state to receive this distinction and only one in southern New Hampshire, that narrowed down my choices. Bedford Village Inn got the nod. However, the part of the inn we visited is not your mom and pop's Inn. It was the chic Corks Wine Bar, which opened last November.
I had a chance to speak with BVI's general manager and sommelier Jon Carnevale about the creation of Corks. The concept emerged from a discussion surrounding what to do with a seldom used dining room. Considering the reputation it had for being the vanguard of fine wine and dining in New Hampshire, the choice to open a wine bar should be of little surprise.
When my wife and I first walked in, we were very drawn in by the surroundings. The austerity of BVI's fine dining area melted away. The room we were standing in was stylistically unique. Corks is superbly designed to feel like a room created for a memorable wine experience. The comfortable chairs and intimate seating arrangement are perfect for a romantic night out - so much so that we witnessed a couple getting engaged. The wallpaper is made from pressed cork and bottles are beautifully displayed throughout the room. Another unique element is the artwork of acclaimed artist Gerard Puvis displayed throughout. His pieces are unique as they are created using the foil wraps from wine bottles. Impressive is a very accurate description.
With all of this lauding of the atmosphere, how was the most important part of the evening?
After being seated in a quiet corner, my wife and I took the economical approach, with a few glasses of wine, an appetizer and dinner. The menus, both for wine and food, are geared toward having a very different experience; you are able to select from their tavern and fine dining menus, as well. Chef Peter Agostrinelli's menu for Corks has more of a tapas feel and offered items that were distinctive and comfortably priced. We selected the chorizo lollipops and the fried olives stuffed with sausage and fontina as starters. The lollipops were good, but they were outshone by the wonderful olives, which we could have eaten all night. For our main course, we opted for the kobe beef burgers with homemade tots, which was one of the better burgers I have had lately. Price altogether for food: $28!
Wait, is this really the Bedford Village Inn?
The common misconception is that BVI is expensive. The truth is that most menu items are in line with most of the nicer area restaurants and its wine markups are far less! I believe the misconception arises from the fact that BVI inspires you to indulge and embrace the experience it creates. The reality is that any restaurant will be as expensive, or inexpensive as you make it.
Due to the reasonably priced food menu, we were able to enjoy their wine list a little more liberally. However, before getting too far into its wine list, I want to make sure that all the beer drinkers out there know that Corks offers a very nice selection of brews on tap and by the bottle. It also offers a beer flight, which I explained in the past is a way to sample a few different offerings that are deliberately paired together.
OK, back to the wine.
Corks has at its disposal the full breadth of BVI's award-wining wine list of more than 700 different wines. A list of this size could be a bit daunting, but don't be overwhelmed, as they made it approachable for us all. The Corks wine list has been condensed and is broken down into two parts, the Corks Cruvinet Selections, which offers the "best of the best" by the glass and a standard "by the glass" list. Each wine is offered in a 2- or 3-ounce tasting pour, a standard glass or by the bottle - it all depends on what you wish to spend. If you are looking for structured variety, there are numerous wine flights offered, each with a distinctive theme.
With this being said, my wife decided to go with a flight of sparkling wine with different liquors. I, on the other hand, jumped into the Cruvinet Selections like a fat kid on cake.
To keep things reasonable, I went with a 2-ounce pour of three different wines. My favorites of the three were the 2007 DuMOL Pinot Noir from Sonoma, which shone of crisp cherry and plum on the nose with sour cherry, plum and some spice on the palate. This was easily a 92-point wine and a tremendous way to start. The other was a 2005 Shafer One Point Five Cabernet from Napa, which was such a refined and elegant cabernet with rich blackberry and currant along with nice minerality and super refined tannins. The Shafer was one of the better Napa Cabs I have had lately, at 93 points. Besides these two, there were another 10 or so on the Cruvinet portion of the list. Carnevale mentioned that they are normally rotated every week.
The reason I speak so highly of the Cruvinet Selections is because it is almost wholly unique to this area. The normal wines by the glass offered in restaurants typically range from $8-$25 wholesale, whereas the wines offered on this list retail range from $50 or more. To me, that provides a level of quality experience that is worth mentioning and a level of sacrifice and investment by the owners for the benefit of their patrons.
The aforementioned wines and food are one part of the consumer-friendly, unique and quality-laden experience offered at Corks. The waitstaff was knowledgeable and friendly (thank you, Meagan), and Carnevale was extremely generous with his time and knowledge. As he mentioned to me, "I love to take time with those who love wine." What more can someone who loves wine ask for? I would highly recommend Corks for your date and hope you share a similar experience.
Corks Wine Bar is at 2 Village Inn Lane in Bedford. For more information, call 472-2001 or visit http://www.bedfordvillageinn.com/.