Uncorked: Gals mob VAVino opening

VaVino, the state's first full-scale winebar and retail shop dedicated entirely to the tasteful enjoyment of Virginia vintages, opened its Downtown Mall doors on Monday, August 8. When I popped in seven days later– on a sweltering Sunday afternoon– I found VaVino's creator, Michael Shaps, enjoying a moment of cool afternoon solitude, calmly planning the next week's menu– substituting new wines and cheeses in an attempt to keep things fresh and varied.

"The response thus far has been phenomenal," he says. "People are very excited to see something different. This is not a typical bar." With its bright yellow walls, high ceilings, buckets of sunflowers, long zinc bar, and black and white photographs of vineyard scenes and workers, VaVino looks more like a gallery or chic café than a simple watering hole. But that's no accident. As the design shows, VaVino's purpose is to showcase the artful nature of winemaking and make tasting into a sensory pleasure.

Shaps says they've seen a nice mix of clientele thus far– young and older, locals and out-of-towners. But women have definitely outnumbered men. "It's amazing how many groups of two, four and six women we've seen," he says.

VaVino's daily wine list stars an ample, ever-changing selection of wines by the glass and bottle. The opening week list included 12 whites, 18 reds, 4 rosé and 3 dessert wines priced from $5 ( 2004 Kluge Estate "Albemarle" Rosé) to $12.50 (2002 Barboursville Octagon) per glass and from $16 to $38 per bottle.

In addition to individual glasses, six tasting "flights" encourage comparing and contrasting four interpretations of the same grape. At $10, the Cabernet Franc Flight, for instance, pours you side-by-side tasting portions of the 2004 Michael Shaps, the 2003 Pearmund, the 2003 Afton Mountain, and the 2002 Willowcroft.

To encourage pairing and discovery, VaVino serves a selection of cheese and paté plates. Robiola Bossina, Humboldt Fog chevre and Everona Piedmont make up this week's "white wine cheese plate" ($12), accented with Asian pears, Basque olives, and an Albemarle Baking Co. baguette. This same bakery is to thank for two of the three dessert selections– a chocolate praline dome ($6) and a gateau à la framboise (raspberry white chocolate layer cake). Gearheart's "boutique chocolate sampler" ($9) tops the tempting dessert list. VaVino is open 7 days,11am-10 or 11pm and noon-5pm on Sundays.


A Taste of Ethiopia on Wertland


The first week of August meant the end of UVA's summer session and the beginning of a new restaurant season on The Corner. Basil, a Mediterranean bistro with a Lebanese/Middle-Eastern and Italian emphasis, opened in the former Frank's Pizza spot on Wednesday August 10 and was buzzing by Thursday.

Owner Raif Antar completely remodeled the interior, which sets a new aesthetic standard for The Corner.

If you turn the corner onto Wertland from 14th, you'll discover something quite newsworthy indeed: Mesob, Charlottesville's only Ethiopian restaurant. Considering that the largest Ethiopian community in America is located in nearby Washington, D.C., it was only a matter of time before the culinary riches of this east African country trickled down to Charlottesville.

Mesob's owner and cook, Asegu Bejiga came to Virginia from Addis Abeba 15 years ago and has many restaurant-owning relatives in D.C. If you're tired of chicken fingers and pizza, Ethiopian is one of the best ways to expose your kids to something besides standard American fare, since the delicious beef, chicken, lamb, and vegetarian dishes are eaten not with forks, but with pieces of thin, crepe-like injera bread (made from teff, a 2,000 year old cereal) that you rip off with your fingers and use to scoop up the food. If you're new to Ethiopian cuisine, Mesob's six-dish combo platters are the way to go. (For more on Ethiopian cuisine and restaurants, visit ethiopianrestaurant.com).

Virginia wine bar