If you’re like many Americans, you like wine but hesitate to walk into a wine bar because you don’t want to risk looking foolish by asking a lot of “elementary” questions that more expert people might scoff at. I mean, who likes to feel like they’re being looked down upon?
What foods pair well with which wines? Is the price of a wine a good indicator of its quality? If not, how do I know what to order? How do I even talk about wine? (Do I have to?)
Andrew Nguyen, the bar manager at Vino Vino in downtown Sunnyvale, just hates the pretension that often surrounds wine drinking in America -- and he’s doing something about it.
That’s why one of the first things a customer notices upon entering the store at 100 S. Murphy Ave. is the big block letters on the corrugated metal overhang: Wine Without Attitude.
Fixed price and on tap
So relax, friend. Vino Vino, with its rustic design evoking a wine cellar, bends over backward to take the anxiety out of experimenting with wine and food. The great majority of the wine sold is on tap – 13 kinds – an unheard-of number in the industry. And every glass of tap wine is $9.
“They’re priced all the same,” Nguyen said, “because we want to keep it simplistic. We want people to choose what to drink based on what they want to drink, not based on price.”
Adding to the casual experience is the glassware. Instead of the typical stemware, the wines are served in a vessel that looks like the product a rendezvous between a hefty pint glass for ale (bottom half) and the sensuous bubble shape of a standard wine glass.
Vino Vino, which opened two years ago at Murphy and Washington avenues in historic downtown Sunnyvale, features only wines from the immediate area: Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, northern Monterey County and Livermore. “Localism is huge to us,” Nguyen said.
He personally selects all the wines and buys only those whose characteristics remain stable when served on tap. He works closely with the vintners to ensure quality and adequate supply.
He adapted a standard beer tap system specifically for wine. Why? Two reasons. First, buying and selling barreled wine reduces the cost – no bottling and corking. That’s how he can afford to sell all the wines at the same price. But Nguyen said sustainability is also a big part of the reason.
Chilled wine, chill staff
The staff aims to keep things relaxed, too. Nguyen trains them to know their stuff, but they aren’t going to start going all oenophile on you -- unless you ask or they read in your body language that you have questions or comments. They’re trained to watch and listen discreetly, pick up comments about how guests are reacting to what they’re drinking, and pass along the info Nguyen, who closely monitors the product himself.
The staff will also happily recommend food-and-wine pairings. Luscious Italian-influenced cuisine dominates the the menu: panini, bruschetta, capocollo and more.
Dinner reservations are available at 408-675-8466. Happy hour, which includes $5 appetizers, runs Monday through Friday, 2-5 p.m. and Saturdays, 9:30pm to 1am.
With the arrival of the holidays – what better time to toast your friends? –
why not drop by Vino Vino for a relaxed, celebratory glass?
From aerospace and high tech PR to wine shop owner was a natural step for Susan Walker. She fell in love with wine during a month-long trip to France in her 20’s and at a certain point in her career, realized that being a permanent hostess in her own wine bar would be a dream in the making.
There was never any question it would be in Sunnyvale, where she’s lived for more than two decades. “I love it here,” she says, “it keeps its small-town appeal and home town feel - no matter how big it gets.”
Intimate Atmosphere - Friendly Service
Founder and owner of Brandon’s on Murphy Avenue, Susan takes pride in the atmosphere at this 12-year-old wine bar and shop. “People come here because they can sit and have a quiet chat, they can enjoy the camaraderie of others if they choose, and primarily because it’s a lovely intimate atmosphere to drink very good wine.”
Brandon’s specializes in small, boutique wines not easily found outside the winery. Susan says that, “We serve wines that are bottled in lots fewer than 1000 cases, so they can be hard to find elsewhere. The stock is different every two weeks.” They also offer a selection of beers, ports and champagnes, which can be from anywhere as suits the season and the availability.
No matter where the drink is from, each is selected to please the customers that Susan has come to know so well. “I love our customers,” she says. “Some are CEO's of big firms who have grown with us over the past 12 years, others are relatively new to California but looking for a more personal interaction with wines. It’s a diverse group.”
On-Site by the Glass - Bottles for Sale
Brandon’s wines are available on-site by the glass and for sale by the bottle or case. Frequently they supply high-end, limited edition wines to corporations seeking something special for corporate events.
In the summer, there is music on Wednesday and Fridays, and throughout the year there are special events, most publicized via their Facebook page and a private client email list.
Closed Sunday and Monday, Brandon’s is the ideal place to sit and get to know someone, to share a quiet moment, celebrate a special event or to develop your personal wine palate. It is located at 165 S. Murphy Avenue, #D (at the opening to the ally) and you can reach out to Brandon’s at: 408-732-6387, and their vibrant Facebook community.
Like historic Murphy Avenue itself, this is a distinct destination, one that as Susan pointed out, is “always welcoming to people who want to share a moment with us.”
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