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55 Degrees: Just Right For Malbec,
Just Not Enough of It

From the outside, 55 Degrees Wine Bar & Bistro doesn't appear to be anything special. Just the name on the rather dingy double-decker strip mall announces its presence, and there is no patio. Inside, however, is quite another matter. Sofas, comfy armchairs, and coffee tables greet you when you first enter the boxlike interior, and there is plenty of stone, a long bar and tall, wooden tables. Casual elegance is the order of the day, and the proprietress will bustle right up to the door to seat you and hand out wine and bistro menus.

When my wining companion and I arrived and were seated at one of the tables, a genial waitress introduced herself and asked if we had any questions. Seeing that the menu offered a choice of only one Sauvignon Blanc, my companion asked about unoaked Chardonnays. Stumped, the server promptly retired to consult the proprietress, only to return with a free tasting of Hendry unoaked. My companion quickly approved and ordered a full glass. Floral, clean and crisp, with plenty of pineapple and apricot, the Hendry chard proved a pleasant quaff.

For myself, I am often drawn to Malbecs by some mysterious force, but when I enquired about the Barricus, I was told that they had sold out. Off went our waitress again to consult, but this time the proprietress was ready with a sample of Pascual Toso Malbec, also from Argentina. Rich and smoky, with lots of licorice, blackberry and leather, this Malbec was well worth the $6 per glass upcharge. A shrewd bit of casual salesmanship indeed.

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Unfortunately, my main quibble with 55 degrees surfaced at this point; the skimpy size of the pours. A standard pour is 5 ounces and places like Cru are notorious for their generous 6 ounce pours. Now, math and metric guesswork is not my strong suit, but the pours at 55 degrees appeared to be less than 5 ounces. As it turns out, this was our main reason we decided not to linger. The atmosphere was very good and the wines excellent, and the Tuscan flatbread (a sensual concoction of grilled chicken, mozzarella, bacon, and Alfredo sauce) absolutely superb. Still, had the pours been more generous we would have ordered more food and at least one more round.

This begs the question: Have I been seeing more generous pours around town lately, and the pours at 55 degrees just seemed skimpy? Obviously, a wine bar is in business to make money, but is it better to offer more generous pours to get patrons to stay and spend more or does it make the establishment look cheap? This is a dilemma that restaurant owners face all the time.

In any case, the quality of wines and food at 55 Degrees is so good that I will probably return, doubtless drawn by the mysterious force of a superb Malbec.

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