• April 2012

Screwtop: The Wine Bar of Wendy Buckley's Dreams

Wendy Buckley is living the dream of many: To own a fun, funky wine bar and cheese charcuterie in the middle of the hip, happening Clarendon section of Arlington, VA.

How did she do it?

Buckley admits she figured she had nothing to lose back in 2009 when, then 32, she quit her job as director of programming at AOL to pursue her passion: Wine.

She quickly got a job with a local wine distributor to learn the business, and also learned quite a bit about the cheese business from the owners of the Alexandria speciality shop Cheesetique.

And, she took a class with the Court of Master Sommeliers, where she got a Level 1 certification. “We had to be able to tell the difference between a shiraz and cabernet, zinfandel, and merlot just by smelling a tasting,” she shares. “It was tough, but it was fun.”

Then, on Dec. 15, 2009, Buckley opened the store. And the people came.

“Of course, that was the day of DC’s Snowmageddon,” she recalls. “I woke up and there was about 6 feet of snow on the ground, and I said to my husband David, we have to open the shop.”

Together, they managed to pour wine, make food, bus tables, and provide a safe haven for the dozens of snowed-in Arlingtonians eager to booze it up and bond for the day.

In the two years since, Screwtop has become a favorite watering hole for many locals—women, in particular, who Buckley believes make up about 80 percent (maybe 90 percent) of her customer base.

“This is the anti-sportsbar,” Buckley insists. “And that’s exactly what I was hoping to create. Before I opened Screwtop, my husband and I would go out for drinks and all we could find were smokey places with big TVs tuned to sporting events. That wasn’t the romantic evening I was hoping for, so creating a place where women can come with their girlfriends for wine, good girl talk, and great food is what I wanted Screwtop to be.”

As for the wine and food, Buckley says she’s a perfectionist when it comes to the wines she purchases, and the cheese and menu offerings she pairs them with. In fact, the menu is updated regularly, as are the 40+ bottles of wine that can be purchased for take-out.

Brunch and daily lunch specials are also featured, including the eight lunch items for $8.99 that are available 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.

On a recent trip to Screwtop to celebrate my friend Catherine’s 53rd birthday, we both ordered from the $8.99 menu—I had the Chicken Lemon Caesar Salad, and Catherine went for Dos Tacos, which included two beer-braised, pulled-pork tacos that were served with Monterey Jack cheese, cilantro, onion, and a side of chipotle salsa and sour cream.

Being that Catherine grew up in Austin, this was a perfect taste of home. And what’s a trip to Screwtop without a little vino? We enjoyed a bottle of crisp Chilean chardonnay ($10 off select bottles all day on Wednesday).

Another trip to Screwtop came the following week during Happy Hour, which I shared with my friend Annie, a well-known yogi about town. She had been wanting to stop by the wine bar for weeks, and my review provided us with the perfect excuse.

We sat at the bar and selected from the wine and cheese pairing portion of the dinner menu, then spent the next two hours enjoying the Baked Goat plate from the Sharing & Pairing menu ($13.50).

I paired it with the suggested bubbly, Babbo Prosecco, which perfectly complemented the warm chevre that was topped with herbs de Provence, and served with a toasted baguette and spicy plum chutney. Annie chose a glass of Nemesio Pino Noir. The menu said the food was enough for three, and indeed, Annie took a box full of leftovers home.

Needless to say, a trip to Screwtop is fun, easy—and often packed with loads of locals who sit at the bar or the handful of tables for four.

There are two big wooden tables in the wine and cheese section of shop, which is perfect for hanging out with friends.

For those who love wine and cheese, there’s another fun option to consider: The Screwtop Wine and Cheese Club.

For about $40/month, you’ll get two bottles of wine, a cheese perfect for pairing, discounts on wine, gourmet food and bar purchases, and insider access to events and classes—including two monthly pick-up parties (Sunday 3-6 p.m., and Tuesday 6-8 p.m.) where club members gather to get their goodies, drink a little, and hang out with fellow wine lovers.

So if you love wine, good food, and like to hang out in easy going, happening spots, a trip to Screwtop should be in your future.

What’s Hot This April at Screwtop? Australian Wines!

Stop by for a glass of these Saucy Aussie’s:

Grape/Varietal: Shiraz
Region: McLaren Valley
Vintage: 2008

Barrel-fermented and aged for 10 months in 100% new American oak. Saturated purple in color, it reveals a splendid bouquet of smoke, pencil lead, bacon, grilled meat, and blueberry. Supple-textured and opulent, this full-bodied Shiraz offers a range of spicy, complex flavors, superb balance, and enough well-concealed tannin to support 5-7 years of additional cellaring. $13/glass, $46/bottle

JESTER, Mitolo Wines
Grape/Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: McLaren Valley
Vintage: 2008

Deep crimson, with brick red hues, the 2008 Jester Cabernet shows licorice, nutmeg and cassis notes which provide a lift to the subtle hints of French oak. Well rounded on the palate, the firm tannins are complemented by nuances of chocolate, blackcurrant and earth. $13/glass, $46/bottle

Grape/Varietals: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre
Region: Barossa Valley
Vintage: 2008

The classic three-way of the wine world, Fetish Playmates brings together Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvedre. This playful GSM blend has a fair bit of complexity. It starts with scents of hickory, cedar and vanilla, adds plum and black cherry fruit, then hints at espresso and black olive on the finish. $14/glass, $49/bottle

And don’t miss these Righteous Rieslings:

Dry: DANDELION, Dandelion Vineyards
Grape/Varietals: Riesling
Region: Eden Valley
Vintage: 2010

Bursting with fruit freshness and invigorating aromas of lime skin, citrus blossom, green apple, ripe guavas and just a hint of cinnamon.  The first sip offers crisp fruit flavors of stone fruit (peachy-apricot) as well as mandarin oranges on the mid palate and finishes with a racy, yet balanced steely minerality. $13/glass, $46/bottle

Off-Dry: MONSTERS ATTACK, Some Young Punks winery
Grape/Varietals: Riesling
Region: Clare Valley
Vintage: 2010

This lifted, floral and musky Clare riesling presents an attractively feminine perfume blessed by sweet-edged notes of lychee, rose petal, apple blossom and musk stick. Its happily clean and clear palate announces rich and luscious, sweet musk, lychee and rose oil tones in a sticky, almost moscato-like manner, but then there’s a much welcomed, firm influence of Clare’s tight acidity. $13.50/glass, $47/bottle

Sweet: FRISK PRICKLY, Frisk Wines
Grape/Varietals: Riesling, Muscat Gordo
Region: Victoria
Vintage: 2011 It’s a mouth-revving Riesling with a bite that sings with mountain-stream purity. Its flavors dart all over, quartz-like acidity coming right at you, bold and unapologetic. You may see notes of lemon sorbet, bath salts and white lilies layered with spices. A slight spritz gives this wine its Prickly nature. Pairs well with both sweet and spicy foods. $7.50/glass, $26/bottle

Screwtop Wine Bar
1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington, VA