P ick a number, but not just any number. “I would hate to have someone just pick blindly and not love it,” owner Linda Fitzpatrick says of her customers and their wine choices at Cave à Vin.
“Wine can be intimidating,” Fitzpatrick says. To make it user-friendly, she encourages guests to order by bin number, thus eliminating that awkward moment of trying to pronounce an obscure grape varietal in a foreign language, and instead skip right to the pleasing prospect of awaiting a glass of wine.
Fitzpatrick doesn’t offer pairing suggestions. Rather, her favorite question is: “What haven’t you tried before?” Based on the answer, she might redirect her customer to consider a taste of something new. Fitzpatrick culls from a variety of wine review resources and the winemaker’s own bottle notes to craft a compelling portrait of each wine on the menu.
For the indecisive or the wine lover who wants to try it all, Cave à Vin has the solution: a wine flight with 2-ounce tastes of three different wines. Flights are priced to order with menu categories for 2 ounces/glass/bottle options for each wine. The bar operates under a tavern license, which means only beer and wine are available, no spirits. While wine is the focus, with more than 60 choices in rotation on any given week, there are a dozen beer selections available, from specialties such as Chimay, the Belgian beer brewed at a Trappist monastery, to Lindemans Framboise, the raspberry Lambic beer, to staples like Stella Artois.
The food is simple and well prepared. It’s a non-cooking kitchen with a variety of panini selections and cheese boards you can build yourself, served on wine barrel staves from Napa Valley. Fitzpatrick created Cheese & Charcuterie paper fliers for every table, complete with check boxes for customizing your order, $9 for one item plus fruit, crackers and Judies European Bakery bread, then extra items run $5 each. Prices for cheese boards can rise quickly, especially if you’ve already had a glass or two, in part because there are so many tempting options. Nearly 20 cheese options are grouped by animal—cow, sheep, or goat—and include marbled Ardagh Elderberry Wine Cheese and Chevrai “Fig” and Sun-Dried Tomato Pecorino, accompanied by meat selections like baby Genoa salami and prosciutto.
There are also dessert paninis, soups in the winter, and an outsized Blue Stilton salad in the summer featuring local tomatoes and cucumbers from the farmers’ market when in season. Fitzpatrick is experimenting with fondue variations, currently $10 for a pot for two.
Cave à Vin was a five-year dream in the making for Fitzpatrick, who worked for a Connecticut winery and then for a wine distributor for several years. September 9th marks Vin’s one year anniversary. To celebrate, Fitzpatrick lined up an evening of festivities on Saturday, Sept. 15, including free tastings by one of her wine distributors, Slocum & Sons, and performances by the Elligers Brothers jazz trio from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m.
Live music has become an integral part of Cave à Vin with open mic nights on Thursday, acoustic groups on Friday, music of any variety on Saturdays, and jazz pianists on Sunday. The monthly schedule is posted on the front door and online. During one recent show, Fitzpatrick says Faye Green, a local jazz vocalist, walked right past the patio onto the sidewalk to serenade passers-by. The story is a perfect example of the classy, very welcoming, but ever so slightly rowdy vibe at Cave à Vin.
Fitzpatrick greets her regulars with hugs and double kisses on the cheeks. As one of the recipients of those double kisses, frequent customer Sue Cohen says of the atmosphere as she takes a seat at the bar, “It has this lounge-y feel, very mellow.”
The décor plays up the wine theme, but what you would never guess is how resourceful Fitzpatrick was in designing the space. She found the wood for her bar online: someone was looking to get rid of an old tree in their backyard, a red oak that took four men to deliver, bark and all. Fitzpatrick had it professionally cut, sanded and finished to create a glossy, honey-colored two-inch thick bar surface. The base of the bar came from the sides of an old barn in Guilford. Fitzpatrick added two strips of metal to mimic a wine barrel. She used real wine barrels for bar tables, French imports with the markings still visible through her custom-made glass table tops. Each of these treasures she found on Craigslist and repurposed.
The lights above the bar are also custom-made, from old wine bottles in alternating green and brown glass. Fitzpatrick proudly shares that she drank each one of them.
Cave à Vin
975 State Street, New Haven (map)
Open 4pm until whenever people head home
Written and photographed by Jane Rushmore.