Fruit of the vine

Apr 11, 2007 at 12:00 am

When Positive Vibration Wine Bar opened last September in Orion Township on the outer edge of the metroplex, it affirmed the fact that we are currently experiencing the next latest thing in our restaurant world. Wine bars in Royal Oak, Ann Arbor and Plymouth seem appropriate; they seem out-of-place in a relatively obscure exurb on Baldwin Road a mile north from Great Lakes Crossing.

When I asked owner Nathan Hunter why he selected Orion Township for his new venture, he responded that it is a growing area in need of a wine bar. Hunter, a teacher, his wife Vicki, an office manager, and David Homer, a doctor, decided to pool their talents, which included a good deal of knowledge about vinifera, to own and operate Positive Vibration.

Many establishments that serve full dinners, such as Paesano's in Ann Arbor, now call themselves "restaurants and wine bars" while others, such as Royal Oak's Vinotecca, emphasize the vast array of trendy small plates or tapas that accompany their nectar of the gods. Positive Vibration is in a third category, where the food is clearly secondary to the wine — a real wine bar!

This storefront in the Orion Village Crossing strip mall is a long, narrow room that can squeeze in 78 lovers of the grape at a long bar, tall and regulation-height bare wooden laminate tables and several cozy, overstuffed couches and chairs. The mauve, minimally decorated walls evoke Provence, with the wall behind the bar displaying the wine in simple wooden racks.

Nathan, Vicki and David have taken an unusual approach to their wine. First of all, they offer fewer than 50 choices from their constantly changing list. Almost all are selected from small producers; it is unlikely you will find a Kendall Jackson or Columbia Crest here. Instead, vintners such as Loica from Chile, A Few Good Men from South Africa, and Peirano Estate from California dominate the list.

Twenty or so are priced at $26.95 a bottle or $6.95 for a generous 6-ounce pour in correctly oversized, 20-ounce glasses. Of those 20 bottles, there are only one or two of each type so that, for example, among the whites there may be two chardonnays, one pinot grigio, one Bordeaux and so on.

There are an equal number of more elegant wines, sold only by the bottle, which range in price from $35 to $72. In addition, although several "bubblies" break the $72 barrier, you can score a bottle of prosecco for $25.

Other wine bars boast far more choices, and more important, offer flights of the same wine to sample, sometimes in mini-pours. Of course, few of those offer so many reasonably priced and intriguing vintages from so many relatively obscure producers.

Chef Scott Rubenacker, who formerly worked at the Oakhurst Golf Club and the Midtown Café, presents 10 or so food items ($4.50 to $14) to nibble on while sampling the wine. Although the menu leads off with a plate of "home-baked bread," it is not baked on-site and varies from day to day, depending on what his baker contact has in the oven. You might get a crunchy baguette one day, a soft rye another, with oil as a dipping medium.

Most of the "small" plates can easily satisfy two people, with the smoked salmon platter featuring chunks of tender fish, capers, strawberries, blackberries, grapes, olives, cheese and even candied fruit, representative of Rubenacker's eclectic combinations. There has to be something in that kitchen sink of a dish that will go with whatever wine you are sipping.

Another busy choice is the Positive Vibration salad that includes greens and herbs tossed with Romano cheese, turkey bacon and cucumbers, gently bathed in a lemon-garlic dressing. Grilled chicken or citrus-poached shrimp add-ons, which cost an extra $2 and $4 respectively, can transform the salad into a heftier entrée. As befits a wine bar, any vinegar in the dressings is imperceptible.

Similarly unobtrusive is the Greek dressing that comes with the Michigan salad of greens, pecans, dried cherries, onion and blue cheese. That dressing also appears in a salmon and brie salad. Guacamole and tortilla chips, antipasto and a cheese and fruit platter round out the brief regular menu.

Lest the above strike some as a bit on the light side as constituents of a complete dinner, each night Rubenacker creates a dinner special such as smoked turkey stew or shrimps and scallops over angel hair pasta.

Most of the small plates are constructed in a way so as not to interfere with the wine taster's palate, while the cheese in several preparations complement many a wine. The cheese selections themselves, however, are not especially artisanal.

One especially positive vibration is the recorded cool jazz and reggae that helps mask the generally high noise level in the room. In addition, jazz performers appear live on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. And the Hunters host a wine tasting twice a month, usually featuring one of the small producers on their list.

The owners of the Positive Vibration Wine Bar, who borrowed the name from Bob Marley, believe that sharing wines from around the world enhances communication. In addition, the gecko in their logo refers to a Carlos Castaneda tale that also deals with enhancing communication. In vino veritas.

Mel Small teaches history at Wayne State University. Send comments to [email protected].