The Wine Bank: Deposit cash, withdraw Aussie vino

Before going to Flo for lunch last week, The Flash and I visited The Wine Bank next door. The defining features are 14-foot ceilings, red brick walls, pine shelving and stone floors, with touches of glass, cast iron and gold trim. A second-floor alcove includes two sofas, while there are several tables up front if you want to park and try a bottle – after buying it, of course.

The Wine Bank has its share of tackiness – plastic plants, brick “wallpaper” pasted over cement in spots and the owner’s all-too-visible golf club collection. Even so, as The Flash says, “This is a nice place to have a seat and a bottle of wine.”

More than 80 percent of the wine on offer hails from Australia and includes labels such as Timber Ridge, Tallboy, Ferngrove, Plantagenet, Peel, and Just Red.

The Wine Bank is open from 11 AM to 9 PM, with free parking out front. It’s a convenient place to drop by and pick up a few bottles and, according to one employee, more branches are planned.

Pasta post: Nearby the Tree

While The Tree is famous for pizza, sibling restaurant Nearby the Tree aims to make it big with pasta. The chilled-out second floor offers table seating, lounge areas, and an open kitchen (note: if you’re seeking a wireless signal, it’s strongest in the bar downstairs).

I had ricotta and spinach tortellini in spicy tomato sauce (RMB50). Homemade and tasty, the pasta is perfectly bite-sized. The only downside is that I easily could have eaten more and that there was a lot of leftover sauce. Easy solution: provide more bread – I only got two small pieces - thus providing more filler and ensuring that spicy sauce is mopped up.

By the way, the menu lists plenty of Belgian beers, including Leffe, Chimay and Waterloo Tripel, with prices starting at RMB45 and topping out at RMB 1405-165 for the 750 ML specialty beers. De Koninck, Hoegaarden and Beamish are available on tap for RMB40-50.

Another wine and Sprite joke? Put a cork in it

Question: Is it true that people in China mix wine with Sprite?

Answer: Yes.

I have witnessed hundreds of people indulge in this practice that raises the wrath of the wine-loving world. Ironically, most imbibers are foreigners and the smoking gun, so to speak, is none other than… the Champagne cocktail.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Frankly, I have not witnessed Chinese mix Sprite with an ’82 Latour or any other such vintage wine though I am sure this and other vinological atrocities have occurred. (And they make for good copy, as Business Week , The New York Times, Decanter and other media show.) It more likely happens with cheap local wine, the labels most foreigners wouldn’t even stoop to use for the Sangria they brew here. (Aha! Mixing wine and fruit, are we?).

People worldwide mix wine with plenty of things. It’s a pity if vintage wine is despoiled, but when it comes to most local grog, a dash of bubbly (variety: soda) doesn’t hurt. Just something to mull over while enjoying a perfectly good cup of Chinese tea… mixed with sugar and milk.

(Note: I added this post to my grapewallofchina.com site a few days ago, but thought it was appropriate here, too.)

Tasting time: Beijing

If your taste buds need some exercise, check out some of these upcoming events in our fair city. If you’re in Shanghai, check here. (It’s always best to double-check the details with the event organizers.)

November 28, 7 PM, Loong Bar – JW Marriott (RMB150)
Taittinger Champagne tasting, by Torres, with guest Clovis Taittinger; RSVP with Sophie Sun (5165-519, x208 / sophie@torres.com.cn).

November 29, 7 PM, Aria Restaurant – China World Hotel (RMB888)
Sacred Hill wine dinner, by Jebsen, with chief winemaker Tony Bish; RSVP with Laurie Chai (8519-8693 / lauriechai@jebsen.com)

December 1, 6:30 PM, China Lounge (RMB388)
Washington State wines and contemporary Chinese cuisine, by ASC; RSVP with Dennis Zhang (6418-1598, x130 / dennis@asc-wines.com)

December 4, 7 PM, Le Quai Restaurant & Lounge (RMB508)
Cabernets of the World wine dinner, by Summergate; RSVP with Jessie Xiao (6562-5800 / jessie.xiao@summergate.com)

December 4, 7 PM, L’Isola Restaurant (RMB588)
Planeta wine dinner and launch, by East Meets West, with Francesco Planeta; RSVP with Wendy (6539-3773 / wendy@emw-wines.com).

December 6, 7 PM, Jasmine (RMB249)
Robert Skalli wine dinner, RSVP with Dennis Zhang (6418-1598, x130 / dennis@asc-wines.com)

The ballad of Special K

As some readers know, my cohorts for pub and restaurant research, wine tastings, and general merrymaking often prefer to be known by pseudonyms. Thus, mention is made of Eddie O or The Cellar Rat or Agent Red Wolf, in order to protect their identities as high government officials and whatnot. One such pseudonym is Special K, a dangerous man to associate with if you are remotely interested in losing, or even maintaining your, weight.

Consider the past week - meeting this man meant gorging at Kro’s Nest, wolfing down deep-fried Camembert and assorted meats at Schindler’s, guzzling home-made pizzas at a house party, tackling enough food for six at Indian Kitchen, and draining pints of beer at Paddy O’Shea’s and Alfa, among other endeavors. In honor of Special K, who might better be named Special KG, and because I just finished the mammoth Outlaws of the Marsh, I quickly wrote some verse (with special references to his homeland of Canada):

Hail, the gourmand, Special K
From the land of hockey puck
Hear his hearty, “Let’s eat, eh?”
This foe of fowl and geoduck*

Wand-cum-menu in his hand
Heaven shakes on his command
Chicken bones in mountains rise
Up spring hills of curly fries
Stout in ebon rivers flows
Armies march of escargot
Hark! A noble waiter cries -
Here, my lord, Eskimo pies!

Hail, the gourmand, Special K
Gravy stain upon his toque
Hear his hearty, “I’m full, eh?”
So full, in fact, he wants to puke.

* Pronounced “gooey duck”