Spring is perfect for Europa

by Brian Clarey

April marks the passing of one of downtown Greensboro’s rites of spring: the Wednesday night throng that clogs the patio at Café Europa overlooking Festival Park. I don’t make it over there as much as I used to, but I still try to belly up to the bar once a month or so to rub some elbows and hob some nobs.

I may have been jumping the gun last week when I made my way over to that cultural outpost on Davie Street. A slight chill still lingered in the evening air and the fountain on the patio had yet to be turned on – it was covered with a tarp. But the red and white Christmas lights twinkled and a few folks huddled under the awning and at the steel mesh tables.

I am of the opinion that the bartenders at Café Europa are cultured and classy, and nobody pours more Wednesday night wine than these guys. So on my last trip to Europa, my first this spring, I decided to ask the bartenders for their choices on the current incarnation of their wine list.

It was also a nifty way to mix business and pleasure.

The wine list at Europa is simple – a couple dozen selections with about half of them available by the glass. But on Wednesday nights all bottles are subject to the half-price special. So it’s possible to get a glass of great wine – say, a Ferrari Carano Pinot Noir – without having to buy the whole bottle, and the glass will be half off.

As I’ve said, these guys pour more wine than most bartenders in town, so last week I decided to ask them what they thought of the wine list, which owner John Rudy says is subject to change at any time and in no particular cycle.

Jakub Pucilowski, who I believe has the most seniority of Europa’s regular bartenders, is certainly a man of refined tastes. He told me his current fave on the wine list is a 2005 Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly.

A bit on French wines for the beginner: They don’t use the same varietal names as we do here in the US. Or Australia. Or South America. Or pretty much anywhere else wine is made. The French have their own thing going on. In this case, Beaujolais is the region in which the grapes were grown; Brouilly is the village where the wine was blended and bottled. Brouilly is a cru village. That’s a good thing.

The wine is light, thin, with berry notes and mild tannins.

“I like to drink it outside when I’m hanging out,” Jake tells me. “It’s not like a dinner wine.”

He also pours me a taste of the 2004 Campogrande Antinori Orvieto Classico, a nice Italian white, pleasant and light, with notes of grass and melon and a dry finish. Again Orvieto is a town in Italy, right near the center of the boot.

I still think of Sterling Norris as the new guy at Café Europa, though he’s probably been tending bar here for two years.

His current fave, he told me, is a sauvignon blanc: the 2007 Brancott, from New Zealand. It’s on the lighter side of the white wine spectrum, though not as light as the Orvieto. It begins with strong citrus notes – I tasted grapefruit – and it has a very smooth finish.

When I flagged down John Rudy as he chuffed his way behind the bar and asked him what he’d been drinking lately, he immediately poured a glass of the 2005 Seigneurs de Bergerac Red, a simple table wine from the Bordeaux region of France. A taste yielded essences of plum and leather, with soft tannic finish that would make it good with a meal or just fine on its own.

It is worth mentioning that Rudy’s favorite wine is also the cheapest one on the list at $4.25 a glass – half that on Wednesdays. In fact, all the wines I tasted that night are regularly no more than $5 a glass. At Europa, they understand that taste and culture don’t necessarily come with a higher price tag.

“If you want expensive wine,” Pucilowski told me, “don’t come here.”

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