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When I’m not working from our “Upper East Side Location” or my “Home Office,” I like to work from what we refer to as the “West Side Branch” of Champagne and Hotdogs – AKA Lansdowne Road

Lansdowne’s tagline is “Drink Like a Champion Today,” so we obviously consider this place a second home.

They have half-price drinks at happy hour, which is virtually unheard of in Manhattan, home of the $18 cocktail ($2 off from 5-6, every 9th Tuesday falling on a leap year!), 50-cent wings on Monday and a fun little lunch special that includes a sandwich and a draft beer for under $10. They also play mid-90s alternative music and have free WiFi. It’s the Devin version of a cozy coffee shop, minus the barista snobbery, small-business-owner clichés and caffeine jitters. I have been spending an increasing amount of hours here each week ever since my neighbor, whose WiFi I may or may not have been stealing, ever so inconsiderately upped and moved.

While my mother would likely to take this opportunity to ask me if I have a drinking problem (true story), I am taking this particular workday to answer the age-old question – is wine at a bar bar a no no?

Normally, I opt for light beer at this establishment – especially while working. There is something about several frosty mugs of Bud Light that allows one to dance the line between carelessness and creativity so gracefully. But today, in the name of wine social science, I have ordered a glass.

It’s almost impossible not to feel like a total d-bag ordering wine at the fratty, sausage-fest-y, “do-you-guys-kinda-smell-barf-too?”-y kind of place you frequented in your early- and mid-20s, when you were a totally down-to-earth girl who just wanted to watch sports and hang with the guys, and really wasn’t looking for commitment either…or something. It’s also a well-established fact that the odds of finding a decent glass of grape juice at a place called The Blarney Stone or anything starting with a “Mc” or “O’” are as great as successfully hailing a taxi during rush hour in the rain.

But, being the wine professional that I am, sometimes I really just can’t stomach one more beer or Irish car bomb. I need wine and I suspect I’m not the only one. So I thought I would compile a few guidelines to keep your bar wine-buying as risk free as possible.

  1. Stick to white.  A crappy glass of white is bad, but it’s definitely the lesser of two evils when compared to a crappy glass of red. White is also stored in the fridge, which will slow any oxidation down considerably, and hide any old or cheap flavors.
  2. Stick to simple. An oaky Chardonnay gone wrong is going to taste a hell of a lot worse than that handle of Pinot Grigio they’re pulling out of the bar fridge. I’m not talking a top-shelf white Burgundy that can probably hold up after being opened a few days if stored properly. I’m talking that sweet, vanilla-laced cheap Chardonnay that you’re going to find at most bars. Trust me when I say that stuff isn’t fit for an episode of “Intervention” when it cost $3 per Liter.
  3. If you must go with red, stick to the familiar. No matter how badly you would like to try a glass of Zweigelt at your corner pub, don’t. You’re far better off ordering a Cabernet or a Malbec. Chances are, these are the most popular choices and are therefore the least likely to have been sitting on the bar – open – for a week at a time. You know that cloying, raisin-y taste you sometimes get in wine? That’s because it’s been open and exposed to air. Just like that Rioja you ordered at O’Malley’s the other night. And, if there’s one thing more ridiculous than ordering wine at a bar, it’s sending wine back at that same bar. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve done it. But I am still in therapy over the mocking I received as a result.
  4. Own it. You ordered that wine. At 3AM. With your chicken wings. Knowing those girls at the end of the bar drinking Michelob Ultra are laughing at you. Raise your glass to them, toast in their direction, and mouth “Yes. Yes, I did.” Then steal their boyfriends.
I’ve never actually had a glass of wine from Lansdowne, but I wanted to test my theories. Not wanting white before my husband gets home (let’s just say I apparently have a bit of a “crying problem” when I drink white wine during the day), I ordered a glass of the Cabernet (as opposed to the Pinot Noir – don’t ever order this in a bar. Seriously. I will explain later, but for now, take my word for it). I honestly have no clue what the make or model of this wine is, but it looks like this.

Stemware and situation can go a long way. If it had been served to me in a different setting (say, fireplace, fluffy couch, cigar, Nina Simone and a Bose surround sound) in a Riedel glass, I may have swooned. But it wasn’t. And I know I’m at a bar. But, I can – and did – confirm that the bottle was freshly opened, and I truly wasn’t disappointed. It was no Chateau Margaux, but it was palatable. Pleasant, even.

And let’s be honest. After a few shots of tequila, you probably don’t really care what the hell you’re imbibing, now do you? I know I don’t. You’re busy watching some college football team score a touchdown and trying not to look too awkward when you high five his friends. I never did manage to master that skill. Thank god I could always bury my face in a glass of bar Merlot.

 
 
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Some things have happened over the last few months that have led me to progress further and further down the wine price-point ladder. Let’s just say abandoning a lucrative career and branching out on your own to launch a small business has its perks, but it also leaves little money left over for Grand Cru Burgundy. And yet the show must go on (And puh-lease. Not buying wine is just not an option, as Lindsay so matter-of-factly pointed out to me the other day).

Always a glass full kinda gal (my husband actually snorted on to my computer screen when he read that), I have chosen to see the silver lining in this state of affairs. On one hand, I no longer have to crane my neck to view those top-shelf bottles, or ask for assistance from surly wine store associates to pull down the bottles my five-foot frame cannot reach. The ones I am now in the market for are even lower than eye-line. A thigh-toning squat down, in fact (hello, two birds, one stone). On the other, I am getting to explore a realm of wine I don’t normally visit and, of course, share my findings with the world. Is that $6 bottle of Pinot Grigioreally that bad?

Unfortunately, the answer, as one might predict, isn’t definitive. Sometimes it really is that bad. But sometimes, you stumble across an awesome gem of a wine that is the holy grail of wine finds: super cheap and delicious.

Enter: the 2009 Thorny Rose Red Blend from Columbia Valley. Most people who know me know that I am a pretty die-hard fan of Washington State wines. Talk about bang for your two-buck-chuck. This bottle was $10 and change (although a cursory web search showed it for slightly more and slightly less, depending on the retailer) and was exactly what the doctor ordered after schlepping home in sleet and snow and traffic and wind, cursing the very founders of New York for ever building this infuriating city. Add a bubble bath, some candles and a little Billie Holiday on the iPod and you have yourself what I like to call a seriously zen moment.

I am totally encouraged by this find. It really was that good.  I know it was $10, not $6. But let’s be honest. My $10 is most people’s $6 when it comes to wine. And besides, finding a super juicy, chocolaty, belly-warming wine for $10 that doesn’t taste like vanilla and oak chips should be a hallelujah moment for all wine drinkers.

I promise I really will brave the $6 wines soon and report dutifully back. Just give me some time and a few more New-York-State-sized bills. We’ll get there. For now, go grab yourself a bottle of the Thorny Rose and tell your friends you heard it here first.