Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant, Cincinnati: Wining and Dining

While at the recent Western & Southern Open tennis tournament in Mason, Ohio, we had several options for dinner. We were there with our good friends Glorious T and the Cabinator.
Cincinnati has an assortment of outstanding restaurants, but that would be 45 minutes or so away. Many of our top picks were booked solid.
Glorious T came to the rescue with an outstanding pick: Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant. They had us at “winery!”
Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant (not to be confused with the Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards in Ontario) is an upscale restaurant concept that started in the Chicago area and now has about 20 locations. The focus is on handcrafted wine and modern cuisine. The restaurant we went to is on Montgomery Road and has a Cincinnati address but is located in the Blue Ash area.
Upon walking in, the first impression is superb wine country quality. You enter into a tasting room and gift shop. It looks for all the world like a tasting room you might encounter in California.
We quickly zeroed in on the free wine samples. The featured wine was Barbera Merlot. We spent the previous night watching Roger Federer battle Gael Monfils. Cabinator and I returned to the tennis center to watch the quarterfinal matches on this day while the ladies toured and shopped. The sun was really beating down in Center Court, so we were ready for refreshment.
We were whisked into the dining room, which is richly decorated in high contemporary style. It captures style without being stuffy and conveys a feeling of vibrancy. While walking to our table I noticed a device on some tables that appeared similar to a launch gantry for the Apollo moon rockets.
Of course the “launch gantry” is actually a crazy cool wine aerator and decanter. It differs from anything else I’ve ever seen. It’s main distinction is a glass globe over which the wine is poured. The wine then is aerated through a perforated metal plate and comes to rest in a conical decanter, which has an easy pour valve. We certainly needed one with dinner.
The Cooper’s Hawk Winery is located in Illinois and grapes are trucked in from California, Washington, Oregon and other locations. The winemaker is Rob Warren, who has experience in Virginia and Ontario, including Malivoire and Kacaba Vineyards – on of our favorites in the Niagara Peninsula.
Guests are able to sample wines in order to make their dinner selection. Our experience so far (aside from a little bit of a wait due to a completely packed restaurant) was outstanding. Here we hit a bit of a bump in the road.
The only wines offered are those from Cooper’s Hawk. That’s understandable and not necessarily a problem. I noticed that there were no vintages listed and no specifics on the winemaking.
When I asked our server what grapes were in the Cooper’s Hawk Red, he had no answer. You’d think that would be a common question in a wine-focused restaurant. He then checked his “playbook” and told me it had smooth tannins and a core of dark berries – but still not what grapes.
After doing several samples, we couldn’t really find anything outstanding. We all liked the Barbera-Merlot, but that was only available to wine club members. The membership was aggressively pitched in the tasting room and during dinner.
Another red we liked was the Winemaker’s Barrel Reserve – but this was only available by the glass unless you were a wine club member. We finally settled on the Cabernet Zinfandel, although the Cabinator got a glass of the Winemaker’s Barrel Reserve.
Dinner was spectacular. I enjoyed the trio of beef medallions, crusted with horseradish, blue cheese and parmesan.  The Cab Zinfandel has some earthy flavors, and I would classify it as enjoyable. Alas, it did not have the robust body you would expect. The finish dissolved early and left town.
The meal was outstanding and the portions more than ample. We opted against dessert, but spent time browsing in the gift shop and we bought some chocolate truffles to enjoy back at the hotel with our post-dinner wine.
I was attracted to the large format bottles. Green Dragon and I were continuing our trip down to Tennessee to spend some time with a group of friends in a Smoky Mountain cabin. It would have been nice to walk in with a Salmanazar (equal to 12 bottles). The prices were especially good – but I didn’t want to invest $230 in a non-vintage bottle of so-so wine.
Would I recommend this restaurant? Absolutely. The quality of the wine experience does lags behind the décor, food, service and overall experience, which are sensational.
We have some suggestions on upgrading the wine experience: 1) Create and serve vintage wines, 2) More visibly disclose the origin of the grapes in each wine, 3) The wine list and menu should disclose the grapes in each wine, especially the blends, and 4) Information at the restaurant should more clearly explain how the wine is made (grapes from top growing regions vinted at the Illinois winery).
With a few tweaks, this upscale restaurant chain will continue to fly high.

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