An Early Look at Enology

The dining room at Cleveland Park's Enology. Photograph by Rina Rapuano.

When meeting friends at Cleveland Park’s Enology, the latest in the avalanche of area wine bars, make sure you get there first—or look at the menu online before you go. If you’re not prepared, you might end up behind the eight ball the minute you sit down, with waiters expecting you to order in a reasonable amount of time—only it’s difficult to absorb the 37 pages of menu that sit before you in a reasonable amount of time.

Once you do crack this novel of a menu—the bulk of which is devoted to some 55 varietals of wine—you might notice a theme emerging. This nascent wine bar looks to distinguish itself from the feverish trend by focusing on American wines, cheeses, charcuterie, beers, spirits, and chocolates.

“I wanted a little challenge, something fun and unique,” says Adam Manson, who owns Dupont Circle wine bar Veritas, the Hill hangout Capitol Lounge, and now Enology. “Our whole goal is, if you like Pinot Noir, we’ve got ten other things you might like besides Pinot Noir.”

To help guide sippers who may not have heard of Rkatsiteli, Sémillon, or Valdiguié varieties, servers trained for about a week with general manager and sommelier Jamie Smith, formerly of Veritas and Indebleu. Smith, who is British, is “the only thing that’s not American,” jokes Manson.

Despite all the attention lavished on the wine list, the flatbreads—which are the sole entréelike items on the menu—were a let-down when we tried them one night. We wondered whether the crusts were frozen, but it turns out they’re par-baked by Firehook Bakery before being topped and baked at Enology. The unfortunate result is that the good-quality toppings—such as the basil pesto, oil-cured tomato, and local mozzarella on the Isle St. George flatbread—lose their luster, and the result resembles something you might find in the frozen-food aisle of a supermarket.

That said, the carefully chosen cheeses and charcuterie showed the same care given to the wine list. The chocolates, which even Manson admits are his favorite food on the menu, are inventive and made locally by J. Chocolatier. Try the salty caramel, a fine rendition of the chocolate world’s new favorite pairing, or the dark chocolate spiked with coconut and lime.

The upside of this type of dining—that is, grazing—is that you can completely customize your meal. The downside is that all those little dishes can add up to a big tab, especially when the wine is flowing. Still, if you’re mindful of that, Enology is a great place to sit and sip, whether you’re on the patio or enjoying the fresh and contemporary neighborhood vibe inside.

Enology Wine Bar, 3238 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-362-0362; Open Sunday to Thursday 5 PM to 12:45 AM, Friday and Saturday, 5 PM to 2 AM.