by Eric Ginsburg
“Well,” she said as she tipped up her glass for the final sip of wine, “I better go back to work.”
Not that it was particularly early — Corks, Caps & Taps, a downtown Winston-Salem bottle shop and bar, had opened its doors more than five hours prior. But this woman had slipped in some time around 5 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, picking one of the white wines available by the glass as an afternoon tide-over.
She wasn’t alone — at the other end of the bar, a man nursed a beer and watched a women’s tennis match with the bartender, noting the player’s skill and apparel. Later, a woman who appeared to be his wife joined him.
“Uh oh, here comes the fun police,” he joked as she walked through the door, and the bartender noted that he already had her drink ready for her like clockwork. The only other folks in the place, a couple, stayed at a table outside.
The scene at Corks, Caps & Taps can be much rowdier, like on a recent Friday night as patrons formed a boisterous clump on the sidewalk who seemed like an overflow crowd from a house party in comparison to the more orderly and seated customers at Foothills brewery a few doors down. But the venue’s greater appeal is as a grab-and-go joint, despite a well-finished interior.
Not long after the woman’s mid-shift dip-in, a twentysomething alt kid walked seeking hard cider for his roommate. The bottle shop has a few options, on draft and bottled, among its broader selection of beers and wines.
Corks, Caps & Taps helps distinguish itself with growler fills, with a beer selection that isn’t overly concerned with North Carolina crafts as competitors are. Two Triad breweries are currently on draft: Gibb’s Hundred and Pig Pounder, both in Greensboro, though featuring neighbor Foothills might be redundant and Small Batch in Winston-Salem doesn’t distribute. With about 35 taps, there’s plenty to choose from.
In addition to wines by the glass, Corks, Caps & Taps also offers eight wines — four red, four white — from automatic dispensers in 1, 2.5 and 5-ounce pours. After preloading any amount of money on a card, customers can sample the wines.
The current whites trend sweet. But one of the reds, the Chateau Pas de L’Ane Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, a 2006 red blend from Bordeaux, is one of the best wines the bartender said he’s ever tried. At $7.32 for a 1-ounce pour, it isn’t exactly cheap, and even at the five-ounce rate, there’s no discount for the larger buy.
Rather than a different way to sit and drink, the automatic wine machines are best utilized as a way to check a wine before buying a bottle — the bottle shop retails each directly below the sampling machine.
For someone like me who appreciates wine but who is still relatively clueless, it’s a step up from bad habits formed at half-off wine nights or snagging the cheapest bottle of a particular kind of wine available to bring home. My self doubt magnified as I perused the selection, realizing that Lodi, Calif. isn’t a town invented by “Sons of Anarchy” but rather is home to Boneshaker winery, and finding out that, though apparently his products have been around since the ’90s, I had no clue that NASCAR star Jeff Gordon makes pretty decent wines.
And that’s where the samples come in, or the general benefit of drinking wine at a bottle shop where you can sample by the ounce or glass and leave with more under your arm. A $2 one-ounce pour of Boneshaker’s zinfandel proved enough to know the $17 full bottle is more than worth its price tag. The same could be said of the 2012 pinot noir from Santa Lucia, Calif. vineyard Gallo, but the more expensive 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella from Santi in Italy — a fruit-forward and somewhat overpowering wine — didn’t make the grade.
Other wine shops offer automatic wine dispensers by the ounce too, of course. What makes Corks, Caps & Taps appealing, besides its central location, is the mélange of choices, be it a wine club, growler fills or the ability to appeal to younger late-night drinkers or people stopping in after — or during — work.
Visit Corks, Caps & Taps at 626 W. Fourth Street (W-S) or at corkscapstaps.com.