The greatest risk to Argentina's wine business is hail. On the plateaus of the Andes, some 5,000 feet above sea level where the grapes are grown, sudden storms can spring up and demolish acres of vines. This isn't information that's necessarily relevant to our lives. Nor is it what we would expect to learn when sitting down to dine at a former roadhouse on Route 108 in Columbia.
But life is full of surprises.
And one of the most pleasant recently was dinner at the Iron Bridge Wine Company on a warm evening seemingly custom-ordered to complement the signature white wine of Argentina, the crisp and full Torrontes. The wine is a blend of the Criolla Chica grape (similar to California's mission grape, and with the same origins--imported for holy use) and muscat.
"Fruity," was restaurant co-owner Rob Wecker's assessment as he sipped a sample earlier. "But bone dry."
Iron Bridge hosts its Tuesday Night Wine Club nearly every week, pulling together a selection of wines from a particular region in a range of prices. The 35 diners, who all sign up and pay in advance, sit along the communal S-shaped table or at two-tops along the wall in the side room, and listen to Wecker hold forth as they enjoy the wines he has selected to accompany chef Marc Dixon's dishes.
I had already heard the bit about the hail. A week earlier, I had spent part of an afternoon tasting wine with Wecker and Patrick Raum, a distributor from Bacchus Imports who had recently been to Argentina. (Too ladylike to master the art of spitting, I spent the rest of the afternoon recovering.)
Wecker had asked Raum to bring a soup-to-nuts collection of Argentinean wines, and we worked our way through the as-yet-theoretical dinner courses, imagining how each pour would go with each dish.
The Iron Bridge Wine Company opened its doors in May 2003. Brothers Rob and Steve Wecker had both been involved in the Elkridge Furnace Inn, now owned exclusively by their brother Dan. Rob and Steve's financial partner, Don Reuwer, is joint master of Howard County-Iron Bridge Hounds, an organization named for a bridge that crosses the Patuxent River.
The derivation of the name is the easy part. Once inside Iron Bridge, it's a little difficult to pin a label on the place: Is it a wine shop, a restaurant, or a great spot to meet like-minded amateur oenophiles out for a good meal on a Tuesday night?
It's a lovely place to shop for a nice bottle of wine--if you don't feel awkward wandering among diners to examine 350-plus offerings in the bins lining the walls. It's an even better place to sit down and have your purchase uncorked (for a $5 fee) and poured into Reidel crystal glasses. Better yet, it's a place that serves dishes planned to please a wine lover's palate.
The menu changes daily, with a selection of salads and other starters--flatbread pizza, seared scallops, a cheese plate--followed by a handful of entrees. On a recent night, we chose an oven-roasted grouper with an herb panko crust, a chipotle ginger vinaigrette, and Thai pineapple basil salsa served with broccolini and red cabbage. We also tried a mushroom risotto with grilled shrimp. That evening, we let our server steer us toward toward appropriate wines by the glass; more than 35 are offered each night.
Each visit to Iron Bridge can easily become a mini-lesson. Rob Wecker, who hovers in the dining room, is happy to step in a recommend a glass or a flight, and Steve, while modestly claming ignorance compared to his younger brother, has tasted--and remembers--his hare of fine wines.