The city of Jacksonville, can sometimes struggle with the cultural vibe it gives off. Are we a "beachy destination", a "southern" welcoming town, a "bohemian" diverse area, a "foody" city, a wine and craft cocktail destination, or are we a city that doesn't quite know what to be? The last certainly isn't true.
Instead, I believe Jacksonville comprises a bit of all these titles. By encompassing a portion of all of these things, Jacksonville allows itself to be open to constant cultural enrichment. The aspect of the city I'm most interested in is, of course, the wine culture.
In my past visits home, I was prematurely unimpressed with Jacksonville's wine destination offerings compared to Napa Valley and New York. Clearly I was being a wine snob. I wasn't looking hard enough and completely missed the growing tide of wine appreciation and curiosity among wine professionals and consumers. Upon returning to Jacksonville in November, I decided to reinvigorate my search for wine friendly restaurants. I went to three restaurants with solid reputations for wine and food. Here is what I found...
Overall impression- Orsay has a unique, engaging, and thoughtful wine program. The staff is knowledgeable and generous with their wine recommendations. They offer friendly and well-known wines alongside more alternative and unique options. The list includes interesting flights and Coravin pours (they take a bit of wine from the bottle and preserve the rest) to expand your wine palate. They truly have the most contemplative, well-rounded, and extensive wine list I have found in Jacksonville.
Wines by the glass- For white, have a glass of the Vinho Verde from Portugal by Arca Nova ($9) for a bright, crisp wine with harmonious floral and citrus/stone fruit notes. For red, have a glass of the Nebbiolo from Langhe (northern Italy near Barolo) by G.D. Vajra ($15) for a earthy, ethereal, and complex food friendly wine.
Wines by the bottles- When I think about a bottle for the table, I want to go for the most crowd pleasing, interesting, and food friendly option I can find. I try to avoid the boring, polarizing, or commonplace choice. For this list, I would order the Chardonnay, Xanadu Exmoor, Margaret River, 2016 ($40) or the Mencia, Alvarez de Toledo, Bierzo, 2009 ($30.) The Mencia grape from northern Spain creates a wine with a lighter body, juicy fruit, and undertones of earth and spice.
What to get when you go- The food is diverse and flavorful and seems to beg for a glass of wine. The dish I would recommend to pair most seamlessly with pretty much any wine you order would be the Bouillabaisse. This beautiful seafood dish has copious seafood and a saffron tomato broth. The dish allows many whites and reds to gain additional complexity, while also allowing wine to add even more depth to its own flavors.
Overall impression- The best word to describe the wine program would be, classic. I was most impressed with how Biscottis offered recognizable and familiar wines, but with high quality. The list is approachable and food friendly. The prices by the glass are very reasonable and you will surely find something to enjoy. If you want wine staples this is the wine program for you. However, there a few wines worth branching out for, too.
Wines by the glass- For the whites, grab a glass of the Falanghina from the producer Feudi San Gregorio, Compania ($9) for a unique southern Italian mouth-filling white. For reds, try a glass of the Syrah, Cab, Merlot blend from the producer North by Northwest, Washington ($9.) The wine embodies a deep, spicy, and dark fruit forward red. Both of these wines offer an affordable way to try something off the beaten path.
Wines by the bottle- The bottle list here isn't intimidatingly large. Thus, if you see a reliable, iconic producer at an extremely reasonable price go for it. I recommend ordering the Riesling by iconic producer Dr. Loosen, Urziger Wurtzgarten Vineyard, Germany ($48.) Dr. Loosen is one of the most respected producers in the Mosel Valley of Germany. He makes wine with precision, authenticity, and pure expression of the place where the grapes are grown. The wine will be flavorful, slightly off-dry, but still endlessly mouthwatering. For a bottle of red, I was impressed by the Dolcetto d'Alba by another iconic producer Vietti, Piedmont, Italy ($56.) Dolcetto is a grape famous in the northeastern region of Italy, Piedmont. Typically, we know the Nebbiolo or the Barbera grapes from this region. However, the Dolcetto grape offers a lovely break from the expected. The wines are purple in color, aromatics of blue fruit, medium body, and a strong structure along with a refreshing juiciness.
What to get when you go- The meal I believe would go best with a myriad of different wine choices would be the Ancho Chili Rubbed Pork Chop with baked mac n' cheese ($25.) Pork pairs seamlessly with whites and reds. The flavor, depth, and richness of the dish has the ability to play very nicely with food.
Overall impression- Bistro Aix sits somewhere in between Orsay and Biscottis in respect to their wine program. They have a good bit of depth in terms of wines offered with some unique options at your fingertips. Bistro Aix exudes a french cuisine focus. I especially enjoyed the French wine offerings to match.
Wines by the glass- The wines by the glass offer a solid mix of options. For a white, I would go with the producer Stadt Krems, Gruner Veltliner, Kremstal, Austria, 2017 ($10.) This Gruner Vetliner has an intense herbal spiciness rounded out by fresh citrus and stone fruit. There is also the welcomed savory vegetal component, which creates a multitude of food pairing options. For a glass of red, I would splurge for the Round Pond, Kith & Kin, Napa Valley, California, 2016 ($16.) Round Pound is a reliable producer and the wine offers a well priced hearty Napa Cab.
Wines by the bottle- The bottle list has a strong showing of French wines, but also wines from around the world, as well. For a white, Latour, Montagny, Premier Cru La Grande Roche, Burgundy, France, 2016 ($50) presents a sound choice. This wine is a Chardonnay from Burgundy, but from a lesser known region of Montagny within the Cote Chalonnaise. You will still experience the complex combination of intense flavor in unison with a subtle feel on the palate. You will feel wonderful not paying what you might expect from a "white burgundy." An option for a unique bottle of red is the Tornatore, Etna Rosso, Sicily, 2016 ($58.) This wine is made from the Nerello Mascalese grape grown on the Etna volcano range in northeastern Sicily. The wine has a smoky earthiness to it, framed by bright red fruits alongside refreshing juiciness. Sicily may become your new go to for a crowd pleasing and fascinating wine.
What to get when you go - The dish begging for a delicious glass of wine is the Coq Au Vin ($27.) This wine braised chicken dish is served with gnocchi and the depth of flavors is off the charts. Any of the previously mentioned wines will pair beautifully with it.
Jacksonville, I was wrong. There is so much to explore, discover, and learn about this food and wine culture. I hope you all join me. Cheers to the constant exploration of wine and food!!!