The lights are dim, the mood is subdued and the jazz music makes for an air of sophistication at Sonoma Wine Bar & Restaurant, which can cater to the finest of tastes while offering worldly flavors.
Bubbly from Champagne, France, is available at the Heights location at 801 Studewood St. So are cured meats and exotic cheeses from all over Europe, salmon from the North Atlantic, filet mignon from a Central Texas ranch and a $350 bottle of wine from Italy.
But you don’t have to be part of high society to enjoy Sonoma, which won’t break your bank account if you can’t afford the aforementioned offerings. And there’s no pretentiousness in the place, which welcomed a regular guy who walked in wearing blue jeans, boots and a ballcap at about 9 p.m. on a recent Friday night.
I’m no wine connoisseur. Never met a bottle I didn’t like, in fact, although I’ve come across several that didn’t fit within my budget.
Luckily for me, and for wine drinkers in the area, Sonoma has something good for everyone and at decent prices, to boot.
The restaurant has ambiance and is aesthetically pleasing, with a fireplace in the dining room, big couches for lounging and modern art decorating the walls. Even the menu, made out of cork, was a nice touch.
From that menu I chose one of Sonoma’s wine-tasting flights, which include a trio of 3-ounce pours for $20 or $25. I went with the “Bold & Beautiful Reds” because, well, I like my wine red and the bolder, the better.
My server said his favorite of the three was a blend from Napa Valley, the NV14 Cain Cuvee. It was my least favorite but still plenty good and mostly smooth, greeting me with peppery spice and leaving me with a slight smokiness.
I also enjoyed the 2016 Day El Diablo Vineyard, a Zinfandel from California’s Russian River Valley. It was dry, in a good way, and had balanced flavors with a touch of tartness.
The best of my bunch was the 2017 Felino, a Malbec from Argentina that had a soft taste and gave me a sense of warmth from the moment it touched my lips. Berry flavors poked through, and some pepperiness at the end made for a perfect finish.
Good wine is best enjoyed with good food, so I felt compelled to see how Sonoma stacked up in that department as well. The kitchen was out of the Baked Artichoke Dip I initially ordered, which was a bit disappointing, but it ended up working out well for my wallet and my waistline.
Instead I opted for the “Build Your Own Board,” in which customers can make one ($7), two ($13) or three ($19) choices from a list of 13 cheeses and seven meats. I picked the Melkbus, a Dutch Gouda laced with black truffles, and the Bresaola, an Italian-style, dry-cured beef tenderloin.
The cheese, which resembled Swiss in color, felt almost spongy and smelled a little funky. But I mean that as a compliment. I’m a fan of strong flavors, and the slight sweetness of the truffle worked well with the Gouda.
The beef, sliced so thin you could see through it, might have been even better. It had a simple savory flavor, and a single slice just about melted in my mouth.
The meat and cheese was served with water crackers, Texas honey and house-made pickle slices that were sweet with a slight spice. My favorite way to enjoy it all was all together, with a little bit of everything piled onto one cracker.
Is that allowed at a fancy wine bar like Sonoma? I don’t know, but the people there didn’t seem to mind.
The place, which has a dog-friendly patio and a daily happy hour, provided a fine dining experience without being finicky. And my server made knowledgeable recommendations without being pushy or presumptuous.
It all made for a pleasant experience, and so did the result of the baseball game that was on the TV at the bar and viewable from my table. So I left Sonoma feeling satisfied and relaxed, and not just because I had three glasses of good wine.
Sonoma Wine Bar & Restaurant
Address: 801 Studewood St.
Hours: 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.–midnight Thursday-Saturday, 3-10 p.m. Sunday
Pricing: $7-$16 per wine glass, $35-$350 per wine bottle, $7-$35 for food
Healthy options: No
Star of the show: Bold & Beautiful Reds wine-tasting flight