Ok, I know nothing about Cercle Rouge other than that people have been blogging it and I don't remember many people screaming that I had to rush there, so I didn't. Last night, Helmet, myself, and a crew of bacchanals were going to check out Vino Vino but it was closed for a private party. Not ones to let the Christmas season interfere with our wine drinking, we bounced right off, rolled left and went down to Liquor Store Bar which I read had recently reopened. It was closed. Now feeling like the piece of string in the old "frayed knot" joke, we bopped into Cercle Rouge.
The good news is that someone has definitely gone through all the rigors of decorating here. This place bears the trademark silly red paint/ gold lettering on the glass/long two-sided laminate wine list holder that lets us New Yorkers know we are in a French bistro. Think Balthazar, French Roast, Bistro Du Vin, and Pastis, except with a TGIF's racecar flavor.
Not knowing anything about the place, Helmet and I stood at the bar in this French restaurant, looking at a wine list that was so soulless that we saw this as an opportunity to try two wines we would never order anywhere else. With trepidation, we ordered an '03 Far Niente Chardonay and a '98 Silver Oak Cabernet. There is nothing wrong with these wines, in fact they are so respected that we wanted to try them. It's just that most wine lists they appear on usually have more interesting things similarly priced that we tend to grab first; not at Cercle Rouge.
Four times I had to tell the bartender the names of the wines we had chosen, then a gentleman with a very French accent showed up to tell us he "would be doing the wine." Three times with him, and we were pretty convinced that our wine was as ordered as it could be without a winery representative stopping by. The Silver Oak was an American cocktail wine; a heavily oaked, alcoholic, fruit bomb that was fun to drink standing around a bar. That being said, I'll never need to order it again, now I know.
I wish I could tell you how the Far Niente was. I can't. Like a fool, when presented with the bottle after the long wait in an empty restaurant all I did was confirm vintage in the hopes that a little efficiency on my part would get our wines open within the hour we had allotted to try this place and drink the wine. Well, that's what I get.
Helmet and I drank the whole thing trying to figure out why we had heard so much about a wine that was so comically oaken. It was a disaster; it had the horrible sweetish movie popcorn butter feeling cheap Asti Spumante leaves you with. Had you chilled it down to maybe forty degrees it may have been drinkable, if you were very thirsty, but in the upper fifties, where good chardonnay usually struts its stuff, it felt like you had laid your tongue on a barrel and commenced hitting it with a buttered Louisville Slugger. None of this matters though, it wasn't the Far Niente, it was a Nickel and Nickel Searby Vineyard Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley, (improperly labeled Napa on the list), my fault for not grabbing the bottle when it was presented to me by laying it on the bar. Oh well.
I wanted to try Cercle Rouge and I did. In this town you only get one chance to get it right, and they didn't. It is a shame, because someone obviously spent a lot of time figuring out the graphics for the screen saver on the Micros machines there. Too bad they didn't spend half that time establishing a wine program. The saddest part is that, when they do go broke, there won't even be any interesting wines to try to grab at an auction.