The name Mike Isabella doesn’t mean much to me.
I know just enough to recognize that he’s one of those celebrity chefs manufactured by some show. So when his new restaurant, Kapnos, opened a couple blocks from my house — an ambitious neighborhood joint consistent with the rapid-fire restaurantification of Washington, DC’s 14th St corridor — well, that didn’t mean a whole lot to me, either.
But I swung by one night on a lark, and I now believe I’ve seen the future of wine programs at hip urban restaurants.
If the “Isabella” name didn’t grab my attention, a long, by-the-glass list of aged Chateau Musar certainly did. Seeing the famed wines of Ghazir, Lebanon isn’t something I’m accustomed to seeing at the other restaurants in my neighborhood. I opted for a glass of the 2000 Musar; more profligate or eager wine geeks might splurge for a glass of the ’78, or any number of other vintages.
It was a perfect pairing.
Characteristically and purposefully desiccated — stylized “old world” — massive amounts of Brettanomyces and volatile acidity blasted out of the Musar. So why did I like it so much? And how was I able to afford it on my PBR budget?
Kapnos is able to serve Musar – together with a long list of other usually cost-prohibitive treasures, like a 2000 Chateau Palmer, a 1983 Spari Amaroni, and an 11-year-vertical of the Greek Skouras “Labyrinth” –because the restaurant uses a Coravin. (The Coravin was thoroughly explored earlier this week on Terroirist by Scott Claffee.)
I was giddy to see the Coravin in action — and even clapped like a wide-eyed kindergartener watching puppet theater. And I’m no gadget geek. Soon, I imagine, these things are going to pop up everywhere.
One must wonder how far this gadget will take us. Will you be able to taste bottles at restaurants without opening them? Will it make ordering whole bottles obsolete? But then, I don’t know anything about argon, or the medium-term effects of the “natural” ability of a cork to re-seal itself — especially after repeated “needlings.” I’ll let others figure that out.
Perhaps the real name to know at Kapnos is James Horn, the forward-thinking sommelier that presides over the impressive wine list and an impressive selection of homemade artisanal drinks, ranging from “kegged lemonade” to watermelon & fennel soda.
In addition to the Musar and the other Coravin-enabled rarities, Horn offers a long list of exotic Greek wines that beckon attention. The fact that he’s able to pull this off at what is essentially a neighborhood restaurant is remarkable, and it would no doubt be impossible without the Coravin.
Still, as a natural skeptic, I’m reluctant to stick a needle into my own aging favorites.
Why does it feel like playing God with my wine? Perhaps I don’t want to disrespect the long relationship I have with all those bottles that lay in my cellar, stubbornly insisting, in their quiet dignity, to be opened the old fashioned way, when they are ready.
I’m probably getting too metaphysical about it all, but many bottles in my cellar have been with me for a long time — much longer than Kapnos or the Coravin! I feel an obligation to honor that relationship. But my mind is reeling with the possibilities. In the not-too-distant future, it’s very possible that the corks in my cellar will have more track marks than William Burroughs’ left arm.
Ed Comstock loves to travel and discover new wines, often at the same time. When he’s not doing that, he teaches classes in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, DC.