Posted On: 04/01/2005
Atop and in my fridge, I have six bottles of wine. Five are Trader Joe’s infamous Three-Buck Chuck – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay Beaujolais – the other is red Marqués de Cáceres. Honestly, I know little about wine, but, as you can tell, I’m trying to learn. Sure, mostly on the cheap, but I’m trying. I figure with six varieties, I can sharpen my grape palate.
I’ve come to think that being a wine connoisseur is cool – like being a nine-ball hustler or boxing trainer. This was well before “Sideways,” mind you. (Do you really think Paul Giamatti could do for wine what Paul Newman, in “The Hustler,” did for pool?) Still, the movie and Giamatti amplified wine’s appeal. If I really try to hone my taste buds, it shouldn’t take too long to finish my bottles. By Friday? Luckily, the list of people I can go to for better products and advice is growing, most recently on South Grand Boulevard.
The look …
More so than just about any other neighborhood in the STL, South Grand is big-city colorful, like Chicago or New York. Side by side, the jam-packed 70 Grand MetroBus and BMW SUVs roll past Vietnamese restaurants, Afghan markets and antique shops. Recently, inside the historic terra cotta Dickmann Building, a futon store has given way to Erato Wine Bar & Grand Market. For proprietors Adam Pashea, Chris Hamilton (business partners) and Tim Foley (sommelier), this is Erato No. 2, after debuting originally in Edwardsville two years ago.
Impatient folk thought that Erato’s “wine bar coming soon” sign was up too long, but once inside, you can tell the extra time served the rehab well. For a wine bar, the space is incredibly airy, large and wood-heavy. Oak scents the room when you glide on the original wood floors. Picture windows present bustling South Grand, while the south wall is exposed brick, chalkboard drink menus and the bar. By contrast, the north wall is dominated by large oak wine cabinets and a cheese display case. Unless it’s daytime, light is always muted.
Though the 75-seat Erato extends well into the building, most of the action’s up front, with black, round, four-top tables. Mid-room, the sleek dark-concrete bar seats 21. In the rear (over-illuminated to minor annoyance), the glassed, private tasting room houses the temperature-sensitive wines.
With the most interesting building on South Grand, Erato should be easy to spot, but I drove past twice. Spotlight that sign, Erato, so the BMWs don’t keep rolling by.
The scene …
Wine connoisseurs are a growing bunch (because it’s cool …) and, thankfully, drinking wine begs for particularly social occasions. So the crowd is exclusively couples (dates, friends) and groups (double dates, girls’ night out, happy hour). Nonetheless, each table is an island of its own conversation or courting where nearly every item ordered is communal and opined on (you must have an opinion on your wine), from Chardonnay to chèvre to cheesecake.
Wine appreciation comes with age, so clientele leans from 30 to 50 but of varying race, gender and sexual orientation – like the neighborhood. You can’t be exclusive on South Grand. Typical dress for both sexes is casually stylish.
Crowds peak with no-cover live music (usually jazz connected to the fine Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville program) on Friday and Saturday nights. Music volume in a conversation-friendly wine bar is tricky business, so I urge Erato to keep it manageable.
It’s Erato Wine Bar & Grand Market, so everything is for sale. Many people drop in to buy wine, and others purchase after drinking a bottle in-house.
The products …
Erato’s wine list offers more than 120 selections, eclectic in varietals and styles, representing vineyards throughout the world. You’ll find few of these labels at Schnucks. Select from Erato’s expansive by-the-bottle list – in-store prices run $18 to $235, while take-homes start at $8. A modest but diverse collection of 13 wines is offered by the glass ($5 to $12). No flights to sharpen a rookie’s palate … like mine.
Wine is the lynchpin, but Erato has a great rotating beer list (35+; many relatively obscure imports; mostly under $6) and an equally impressive liquor selection (all top-shelf labels, vodka to brandy; prices vary). Signature cocktails ($8) include the New Orleans-born Sazerac and a Caipirinha.
The ever-changing food menu divides into about 14 artisan cheeses, like Manchego and Gruyère ($9 to $15 per pound; $4 for a well-presented in-house order), three or four kinds of pizzas (Greek, prosciutto, Italiano) and several desserts (mostly $6 and chocolate).
I suggest walking to the cheese counter to ask questions and see what you’re ordering – it’s surprisingly difficult to describe cheeses to those who don’t know them. Perhaps some sort of this-cheese-tastes-awesome-with-this-wine crib sheet could help novices … like me.
The staff is friendly and helpful, but on busy nights, the single waitress seemed stretched.
The straight 411 …
For communal wine drinking and palate sharpening on colorfully grand South Grand, head to Erato.
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