At wineLAIR, It’s All About Passion, Community and — Of Course — the Wine
By June 17, 2021 0 511•
It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that alcohol consumption increased during the pandemic. That was either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your waistline, your wallet or your state of mind. But had you been a member of the wineLAIR DC, those long, long months might have passed so much more enjoyably.
Christian Ress, co-owner and managing director of Balthasar Ress, a 151-year-old wine estate in Rheingau, Germany, launched wineLAIR (and, before that, wineBANK in Europe) as a way to carry on the family tradition of “being good hosts and creating fine moments with fine wines.” Washington, he said, was the top choice for the first location in the U.S. “As a bustling capital city and international hub, we felt the fabric of the community reflected our love of wine, hospitality and travel.”
Nestled next to, but not a part of, the Ritz Carlton in the West End, wineLAIR is, in the words of General Manager Stéphane Norbert, “une cave (wine cellar) in the middle of the city.” It is an inviting space that opens into a warm and welcoming sitting room that leads past a formal dining room to a convivial bar and restaurant and then on to the back of the house where the extensive wine storage and tasting area holds court.
The wineLAIR is open yet intimate, with a traditional clubby aesthetic set off by sleek contemporary features and finishes. In the restaurant, cork patterned flooring adds visual interest to an otherwise muted room and inside the wine storage area with its 358 lockers, there are clusters of tables where wine aficionados can gather to enjoy bottles straight from other members’ collections. Every design element has been chosen to play up the wine tasting experience.
To complement the wining, there is, of course, dining on a grand scale. Members can order a “simple” wineLAIR charcuterie board (pro tip: the Delice Mon Sire triple crème cheese is superb) or a little something from Ris, the celebrated bistro known for its seasonal new American fare.
There are four membership tiers, each with its own distinct privileges. Membership is reciprocal so D.C. members are welcome at any of the eight European wineBANK locations. They are also invited to participate in wineLAIR’s robust schedule of programming, which includes master classes, wine tastings, winemaker dinners and other high-level events.
According to Ron Wight, a partner in wineLAIR DC, “Our goal is to make this club a full wine-immersion experience for our members — from storing their collection to receiving valuable tasting notes about when to drink their wines and with what. You don’t have to be an expert. You just have to love wine — and the shared passion of the community will take it from there.”
After a year of, well, plonk, I wanted to upgrade my palate, so I asked Ron what wines he’d recommend for the summer. “Rosé, rosé rosé,” he replied with a laugh. “Although I drink it anytime.” He particularly likes rosés from Provence and Italy (Piedmont and Sicily, which are more vegetal than floral.) He also recommended a “super fresh” white wine from Austria, a Grüner Veltliner (“very food friendly”) or a dry Riesling from Germany.