Vino Volo Serves Up Hella Wine at OAK
As the parents of a high-flying jet-setting 8-year-old, we spend a lot of time visiting the lovely Oakland International Airport, where two things are guaranteed: 1. I’m going to get felt up by some rando TSA employee, and 2. My stay is going to be hella extended by a delayed flight or two. Refreshingly, the airport anticipates that travelers probably need a drink, so the primary option for food once one enters the secure terminal area is bar food. Usually, bar food accompanied by a horrible wine list. Well whine no more, because at OAK, you can have personal access to a pretty extensive wine list with appropriately astronomical airport pricing.
I have walked by Vino Volo (and its evidently proprietary wine tasting grid*) on at least 7 occasions, but this time, thanks to the East Coast’s weather delaying and canceling tons of flights, it was the only restaurant on the concourse that had an available seat. I hella lucked out when a flight at the gate next to Vino Volo started boarding, clearing the place out. I told Mia (our 8 year old) to run over and grab a seat before anyone else could. She succeeded, and we were able to pass the time waiting for her flight enjoying a seat and a beverage (and she enjoyed some frickin $30 tacos).
Looking over the menu, it was filled with headers like “Kings of California Cab” and “Sommelier’s Selection,” with prices ranging from $11 to $30 per glass, and from which you could choose pre-arranged or self-selected tasting flights of three wines. I wouldn’t say there was anything revolutionary on the list, but there were lots of relatively well-known Napa and Sonoma selections – with a steep markup. I found the tasting profile card to be funny, if a little gimmicky. I never like being told what I’m going to or supposed to taste, so it ended up being a truly succinct way to engage my contrarian side.
I first ordered a pinot noir I had tasted before, from Archery Summit in Dayton, Oregon. But at $19 a glass for the 2012 Premier Cuvee, I was underwhelmed. The tasting grid notes promised hints of cotton candy and strawberry, but I found more dark, spiced fruit and a pretty high viscosity. I enjoyed it, but it would have made more sense at a lower price. Vino Volo has this bottle classified as “bright.” These little squares are all but useless to me. Oh, well…
Forty-five minutes later and still no boarding announcement, and the place was packed, with a waitlist starting. In order to protect my seating territory, I was forced to pick another glass from the list (boo hoo!). This time a Sonoma Zin, from Dry Creek Vineyards. Again the tasting card’s description seemed unreal, saying I’d taste blueberry, allspice, red currants, and blackberries, with a tannic finish. For me, this wine’s minerality was the most notable and lovely feature. The fruit was well proportioned, but definitely more on the side of overripe blackberry than blueberry. I usually think blueberries are pretty tart, am I wrong about that? I enjoyed this one a lot, and it was priced much more reasonably at $13 a glass.
And honestly, I’m surprised at how many people in the airport were purchasing bottles at restaurant prices. I guess it’s true that the best audience is a captive one.
<One week later>
And now it’s Katy’s turn to chill at the airport waiting to retrieve little miss jet set. And where to wait? Vino Volo, obviously! This is a family endeavor.
Of course, I too have waited for hours in the airport either dropping off or picking up this world traveling child, and I’ve definitely haunted Vino Volo’s tables before. This time, I was sold on an off-menu “special” flight from a single producer, Hartford Court in Russian River, Sonoma. It sounded hella exclusive (you know, available to everyone in the place), so I had to give it a try.
The first wine was a 2013 Chardonnay with a crisp, sweet bouquet and light minerality on the palate. Some tropical fruit, some light funk. Gentle hints of baking spice combined with the typical apple and pear flavors you’d expect from a chard. A light bodied, low viscosity wine. At $45/bottle, it’s four stars for me.
Second was a 2013 Pinot Noir, which was not as young-tasting as I feared. Strawberry, tart cherry, dried plant material, woody dry forest floor. Light tannins on the finish with pleasant acidity. Medium-full body, light alcohol. At $60/bottle, it’s also four stars.
The last wine was a 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel. It opened with prune, rose petal, and lavender, with a lush nose of ripe cherry and dark blueberry. This one had heavier tannins on the finish, it was ruby colored, medium-full body, light alcohol. At $55/bottle, four stars.
Overall, the tasting flight was hella nice, and I would be very happy to go taste at Hartford Court, especially to try some of the older vintages. I was surprised to see 2013 reds being served, but I could just be totally behind the times. I’m a tax person, so I’m still just starting 2014 at work, which tends to throw off my subconscious understanding of time. But seriously, for such young wines, the price was slightly prohibitive, especially for someone who is not leaving the state indefinitely. My guess is that it’s more reasonable at the winery. The tasting flight felt high end for the location, and Vino Volo was a nice respite from fast food and overcrowded bar-type restaurants.
Clifford’s take-aways are similar: “Hella 3 times the price. That’s crazy. My impressions: great place for an expensive glass or two. Under no circumstances buy a bottle to take with you. If you’re splitting the bill, maybe a bottle to share.”
Regardless, we’ll almost certainly be back soon (see hella high-flying child, as mentioned above). As far as airport restaurants go, this may be the creme de la creme. So if you have time to kill and some cash to blow at OAK, Vino Volo is the place for you! See you there.
*Vino Volo has apparently patented the tasting grid you see here inside the circle. For tasting flights, they slip the square papers into a little metal tray and set each glass on top of its little descriptive grid paper.