Food & Drink Swell or swill?

Copa Wine Bar stretches your palate and your pocketbook

I recently attended a for-the-trade wine tasting featuring some very heavy hitters. Retailers and restaurateurs were buzzing around the tasting tables like greedy bees. If you arrived there early enough, there were iconic reds, such as Grange from Australia. Even with my late arrival, I managed to snag a taste of the gorgeous Mt. Veeder '01 Reserve Cabernet, and the intriguing Jarvis 2000 Cabernet (with a nose like, well, pot). While these tastings are an invaluable and appreciated experience, I'm equally happy to sit down in a casual setting and run through a series of less-lofty wines.

Patrons line the tasting bar at Copa Wine Bar. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

A wine bar, until recently an endangered species in San Antonio, is the perfect place to carry out this exercise, and Copa gives our palates a workout. Vaguely European, Copa's environment is pleasant enough (though I'd avoid the noisy mezzanine), and despite a focus that seems to ignore France and Italy, there's plenty to taste by the glass and the bottle. The pricing policy is another compelling reason to investigate Copa: All bottles are available to-go at retail prices, and are only an additional $3 more, with a few exceptions, to drink in-house. "We want to make the customer feel comfortable consuming wine here or taking it home," said owner Jeff Bridges, a former wine retailer. And this surely ought to do it.

The wine list is organized in the usual white-to-red and light-to-heavy categories with no vintages and little information as to provenance, so a lot of questions might be in order. Bridges and his wife Angie have also provided a series of "flights," or small-pour tastings of select varietals (at an average price of about $16), organized in units of four from modest to more muscular in character. No vintages are given on the flight list, either, and the server doesn't show the bottles, so more questions might be in order, especially if you find wines you like - in theory, the point of all this. Unfortunately, all the flights aren't available all the time. The FantaZin flight we ordered was not available; we had to substitute Life is a Cabernet. Alas. The Blanc Check flight, however, arrived with no substitutions and provided an intriguing glimpse into the world of sauvignon blanc: Who'd have thought to start with a Bulgarian example?

Copa Wine Bar

19141 Stone Oak Parkway at Huebner Rd.
Noon-11pm Tue-Thu,
noon-midnight Fri-Sat, noon-9pm Sun
Price range: $5-10 (tapas)
Credit cards
Wheelchair accessible

Actually, the Balkan blanc was our least favorite, but the pink-grapefruit- and passion-fruit-loaded Tohu from New Zealand was a revelation, besting Chile's Monte Sur and even the flossier Farrari Carano Fume Blanc. In the cabernet category, Rosemount's Hill of Gold Aussie cab was substituted for a Washington state product at the heavy end of the spectrum, and the other wines were from California producers. I wouldn't buy any of them, but then this is one of the reasons for tasting. And, in any case, all the wines tasted better with our (over-ambitious as it happens) selection of tapas.

Copa's tapas shine, with not-so-little plates, such as the tortilla española (part of Angie's heritage) being preeminent. This fritatta-like egg dish with onion and potato is simple and a great complement to wine. The excellent house hummus, spiked with a little chipotle, is restrained enough not to fight with the wines, a plate of Spanish ham, sausage, cheese, and olives, is another universal accompaniment. And the pizzette, a flatbread crisp with goat cheese and mushrooms is sensational alone or with nearly all the wines. Only the prosciutto panino was less than perfect; cutting it into smaller pieces might be all it would take to make it more tasting-friendly. A plate with blue cheese, honey, and nuts is designed to go with Copa's dessert wine flight. It also would work with the heavier of the many available beers.

Though wine wonks of the male persuasion attended earlier outings, on a Thursday night the patrons were, by a large margin, young, well-dressed women. Either women are more interested in testing their palates or Copa provides a comfortable, non-bar environment in which to hang out with friends - or maybe there's just something about Thursday.


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