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Monday, Mar. 14, 2011

Wine country comes to the big city

Terry Thompson is such an ardent fan of Washington wines and winemakers that he sold his successful commercial interiors business in 2009, enlisted his entire family and a "dream team" of industry professionals and spent over a year creating URBAN enoteca (Ue), a warm and welcoming "wine center" that debuted last December just south of downtown Seattle.

Thompson was inspired by the Italian "enoteca" or "wine repository," a special kind of wine shop that brings together the best wines from small, local wineries in one easy-to-access location for sampling and wine purchase. Plans for Ue solidified after a visit to Press Club San Francisco, a tasting-bar concept that brings Napa Valley wines to the big city for easy sampling.

But Thompson conceived Ue on a much more grand and lavish scale. Not to be confused with a single tasting room, a wine bar or a restaurant, Ue offers up a "full Washington wine experience and entertainment destination" that includes a spacious wine-tasting venue, top-notch wine-country-styled restaurant, 20,000-square-foot private-event space and 150 free covered and lighted parking spaces-all within one beautifully designed complex.

The former warehouse oozes "urban-rustic" charm thanks to repurposed and up-cycled timber beams and columns, stained-concrete floors, rich wood finishes, stone and travertine walls and multiple fireplaces. Vintage metal gates, recycled wine-barrel-stave sconces, ornate ironwork, birch doors and African mahogany cabinetry act as integral works of art.

At Ue's heart lies The Tasting Center, comprised of seven (eventually, up to 13) tasting bars featuring Eastern Washington wineries.

"In choosing our winery partners, we have three criteria," the ebullient Thompson told me. "The best wine in the state, the best people to do business with and that they have no current presence on the west side of the state."

Ue's tasting bar wineries read like a "who's who" of Washington's finest: Five Star Cellars (Walla Walla Valley), Cave B Estate Winery (Columbia Basin), Cote Bonneville (Yakima Valley), Fielding Hills Winery (Wahluke Slope), Fidelitas (Red Mountain), Kiona Vineyards & Winery (Red Mountain) and McCrea Cellars (Seattle).

When guests arrive in Ue's Grand Hall, the concierge swipes a credit card and creates a "library card," which allows guests to taste selections from any of the seven wineries and purchase the wines they like. Upon check-out, guests pick up purchased wines to carry away or have shipped home.

Ue's private-event spaces include the rustic, yet elegant Riddling Room. With capacity for 175 seated guests, it's perfect for receptions or galas. The 40-seat Barrel Room is often booked by grooms or for corporate business meetings thanks to its dark leather armchairs and masculine vibe. Totally tricked out in white with contemporary furnishings and seating for 25, the Blanc de Blanc Room is a favorite of brides and red-wine lovers, since the wines show up so well against the pale background.

With his experienced palate and superior wine-pairing skills, Ue chef de cuisine Christopher Opsata creates culinary magic in The Library Lounge, offering bites, small plates, shared boards and platters, and sweets. We were particularly taken with his Bagels & Lox, an upscale, playful reinvention of the classic served on a toasted-brioche-crumb base and paired with deftly oaked Fidelitas 2009 Optu White Wine. The chef's rich Roasted Mushroom Soup made a perfect match with McCrea Cellars soulful 2006 Ameríque Syrah. Served with silky Cote Bonneville 2009 Late-Harvest Riesling, Opsata's Homemade Sweet Potato Doughnuts with Tart Cranberries and Sweet Potato Ice Cream formed a fitting finale to a sumptuous supper.

Thompson calls the idea, planning, creation and opening of URBAN enoteca the best business decision of his life.

"There's tremendous growth potential in Washington wines. We haven't even scratched the surface yet."

URBAN enoteca
4130 First Avenue S.
Seattle, WA 98134
206-467-WINE (9463)
Open Tuesday-Sunday. Hours vary.