Vintage Stores

Housing and organizing wine is serious business at these restaurants

York Van Nixon IV takes inventory of Cork Wine Bar’s cellar. Each wine is assigned a bin number, which determines where it is stored within the subterranean space.

Andy Myers is hugging bottles of Riesling and muttering something about “his babies.” His exaggerated love for the wine warms up the 50-degree walk-in fridge — though it’s still chilly enough for a reporter to wish she hadn’t worn a skirt to work — at CityZen, where Myers is sommelier. He’s not the only oenophile in town who gets to work among the objects of his affection. At some local wine destinations, the real story is what’s behind the cellar doors.

CityZen

If you order a bottle of a Spanish albarino at CityZen, Myers (and only Myers) walks downstairs, through the in-room dining kitchens, down a hall and into a passkey-secured walk-in fridge that customers never see. That’s where whites live.

It’s a stark contrast to the restaurant’s signature wine wall, where reds have their home. Sliding-glass doors cover floor-to-ceiling rows of bottles — some of which are not for sale. “If I can’t reach it, we don’t use it,” says the 6-foot-4 Myers.

The wall — like the rest of CityZen’s storage — is organized geographically. Wines are organized by country location from north to south, starting at the top of the wall (the exception is American wines, which are stored in alphabetical order).

To a certain degree, CityZen’s holdings — all 3,875 bottles as of Sept. 1 — reflect Myers’ tastes. “The cellar definitely has my fingerprints all over it,” he says. “I’ve leaned it towards what I love and what I think works best with our food.”

Cork Wine Bar

Inside Cork Wine Bar’s cellar (which is actually subterranean), bottles line the walls, and racks march down the center in an island formation. The wines are arranged strictly according to a bin system (kind of like an alcoholic Dewey Decimal System). Every wine gets a bin number, and the staff learns quickly what goes where, says bar manager York Van Nixon IV. “You ask people who work here, ‘What’s 93?’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s the Primitivo,’ ” an Italian red.

Both the 40 labels available by the glass and the 200 available by the bottle are stored in the cellar; ready-to-serve whites chill in fridges near the bar.

While there is a computer system to track inventory, Van Nixon’s head is a storeroom of cellar information. “I know how much wine we have at any given time,” he says.

Proof

Proof offers one of the largest wine selections in the city, but its cellar is a tight squeeze. Sommelier Jennifer Foucher knows to knock before opening the door, because once someone didn’t and clonked her while she was teetering on a shelf. The 56-degree room filled with 1,000 bottles of reds is less than 5 feet across. Wine is stacked to the ceiling; if someone wants a wine on top, “you have to scale the wall like a little monkey,” she says.

Proof uses a bin system that is constantly evolving “as we get new wines, as we run out of things, as we change things,” Foucher says. Even though the cellar is organized geographically, the bin system is particularly helpful with more obscure labels. If a server isn’t sure where a bottle is from, he can check the list.

Wine is also part of the decor inside Proof’s dining room — partially because the restaurant needs the space, and partially because the bottles add to the atmosphere. After all, if you got it, flaunt it.

CityZen, 1330 Maryland Ave. SW; 202-787-6148.
Cork Wine Bar, 1720 14th St. NW; 202-265-2675.
Proof, 775 G St. NW; 202-737-7663.
Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Katie Aberbach | October 18, 2012