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April 02, 2009

Is this wine or grape juice?

April 2. Day 276.

Splash, a new high-concept wine bar that's a quick drive from my house, is just the place for flitters.

You know, those women with interesting handbags who flit and flutter about from Amarone to Cali Cab to Riesling -- sometimes in the same night -- causing scandal and devastation in their wake. Those willowy men in v-necks who can't decide if they're a red or white kick, and so keep switching.

Because at Splash, the idea is that less is more. Rather than selling just wine by the glass or bottle, clients can fill up prepaid cards and then deduct "splashes" from these nifty dispensers. A few ounces of this syrah? 80 cents. A few gulps of that barolo? $6. When you pay by the drop, the wine goes down a lot easier and a lot faster. Because don't we know it: it's a lot more fun than committing to a single glass.

I met a friend there who knows about wines -- so much, in fact, that she writes a column for the local paper and just reviewed this place. (Here's her story!)

Over the course of the night, I sampled a few great ones, a few that were more pucker than pout, and one total dud: A 2006 Alcove, by Vignobles Dornier (Clos les Vins D'Amour). A sweet grenache that should be paired with chocolate, the label said.

The wines of love? I should have been immediately suspicious. But the description sounded yummy, so I gave it a try. First thought: Manishevitz? Second thought: Are you kidding? $5 for a sip of grape juice?

Goaded by my fellow flitter, I went up to the bar and asked if it was supposed to taste like that.

The bartender sniffed at it. Then he brought the glass to his lips, looking curious but doubtful about my claim -- and potential viral loads.

"I'm not sick," I offered. Instead, he took the glass to the kitchen, conferred with the manager, and returned to say that's how it's supposed to taste. She came out right behind him.

"It's a dessert wine," she explained. "It's meant to be that sweet." And then, to the bartender: "Give her another splash." I had my card ready in hand -- money back. Excellent. But he was busy with other customers, and moments later she guided me back to the wines.

"If you want a grenache, I recommend this Blabidiblah, or over here we have a similar Yakitiyak. But less sweet. Have fun!"

And she was off.

And my refund?

Tackle that later. For now, I refilled my glass.

Mmm, this one is nice.

Ahh, what about trying that one again?

Meanwhile, our food came out, a mediterranean pizza, I settled back into a flowery Greco di Tufo and forgot all about that nasty wine.

Gained: Well, I didn't get a refund, but on the other hand, that's part of the bargain. The place would never survive if it had a "money back guarantee," since the whole idea is to try new things.
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