First Impressions: Port maker opens midtown spot

05/24/2013 12:00 AM

05/28/2013 9:25 AM

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com.

Ficklin-Wilcox

920 20th St., Sacramento; (916) 341-0240, http://ficklinwilcox.com

Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays


After a delay of more than six months, Ficklin-Wilcox recently swung open its doors to bring a taste of port wines to midtown. Ficklin-Wilcox specializes in port – fortified wines made from Portuguese grape varietals – and has produced them for nearly 70 years in the sun-baked Central Valley town of Madera.

Under European guidelines, only wines made in Portugal can technically be called "port" – much like how only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be labeled as "champagne." However, in the United States "port" is considered a generic term for this style of wine.

In any case, with its first satellite location Ficklin- Wilcox adds to a growing wine scene in the central city, which includes Downtown & Vine on the K Street mall and the urban wineries Rail Bridge Cellars and Revolution Wines. Let's see how Ficklin-Wilcox fits into the local wine scene thus far.

Menu: The wine list is dominated by port-style wines, including a vintage port from 1957, fortified wines with chocolate, raspberry and other flavors, aged tawny ports and about 30 others.

Offerings include a handful of table wines, crafted mostly with Portuguese varietals, including tinta cao and verdelho, the signature Portuguese white grape.

Price point: Wine tasting includes five pours for a very reasonable $6.

Individual bottles cost $17 on the lowest end, including an "old vine tinta" and chocolate "passport," but plan to spend at least $30 for an aged port. Single vineyard tawny port, or "colheita," cost between $49 and $59, while vintage ports range from the mid $40s to $375 for the 1957 vintage port.

Ficklin-Wilcox also features a special barrel on its main floor, which will change every four to six weeks. It costs $45 for the first purchase of port from this barrel, but hold on to the bottle. Each refill costs $25.

Table wines cost between $18 and $30 per bottle.

Ambiance: This former office space has been transformed into a wine-tasting room with a touch of Sur La Table. Along with racks of wines and barrels positioned about the space, Ficklin-Wilcox features cookware, cookbooks and a few pre-packaged chocolates. The room is fairly typical of what you'd find at some rustic Amador County tasting rooms, but with a little urban flair coming from 20th Street.

Drinks: It's a wine-tasting room, and that's basically all you'll drink here, save for some water to clear your palate.

Service: Fear not those who think wine-tasting rooms are havens of snootiness. We were greeted right away as we entered and browsed around the shop, and the tasting bar staff was plenty accommodating. We were asked what styles of table wine and port we preferred, and the tasting was geared around those preferences. For those who are new to port wines, a guide to their various styles is available at the bar, and you won't be made to feel like a nimrod for asking basic questions.

First impressions: Nice addition to midtown's wine scene and excellent service, but we hoped for more. Even a simple cheese plate or chocolate sampler would've been welcome for pairing with these wines, but all this was a no-go on our visit. This tasting room is apt for browsing or sipping through a flight of wines, but you'll have to go elsewhere for more amenities. Unlike Revolution Wines on 28th and S streets, Ficklin-Wilcox doesn't plan to operate a food program.

We'll also check out one of Ficklin-Wilcox's classes once they're up and running, which will be held in a classroomlike space in the back starting in June.

Try it if: You're a fan of fortified wines and like a casual tasting experience.

Forget it if: You're looking to taste wines from more than one producer, or port isn't your thing. This also won't be your spot if you're looking to fill your stomach with food.

Call The Bee's Chris Macias (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.

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