Natural Wine Bar at Tasting Counter

By Ellen Bhang   Somerville · Wine Bar · $$

Chef Peter Ungár has put his Somerville restaurant, Tasting Counter, on the map with sumptuously choreographed tasting menus. But wine enthusiasts know the place has a not-so-secret second life. Each week Wednesday through Saturday at 10 p.m., and on Tuesday at 5 p.m., the space transforms into Natural Wine Bar. Think of it as the spot’s laid-back alter ego with pours by the glass and a la carte bites.

Alex J. Parton, who heads up the wine program, is keen on helping you navigate the ever-changing roster of options. “One of my favorite parts about Tasting Counter is that people want to explore,” he says. “They come in with a desire for new experiences. It’s really exciting to help guide people through these wines and foods.”

All of the pours here are made naturally, crafted by producers who practice organic or biodynamic viticulture and shun additives. They offer a range of funky, savory, and sassy flavors that pair intuitively with seasonally driven small plates. A scallop tartare with yuzu, garlic mustard root, and crispy rice goes great with a Canary Islands white; a smoked duck slider with crunchy pickled vegetables cozies up to a grenache blend from the northern Rhône.

Parton loves to talk about winegrowers and how they work. “These are products I can stand behind,” he enthuses. “They are made by hand by real people who care about wine.”

Just as you would tell a bartender what you like in a cocktail, talk with Parton about styles of wine you prefer. He’ll make a match that’s sure to surprise and delight.

Wondering what gives a dish its spicy-umami kick? Chances are good it’s a fermented condiment made by chef de cuisine Marcos Sanchez. He’s happy to provide a spoonful and tell you all about it.

Larger parties know to arrive early to snag seats at the counter’s corners. That way, everyone can chat comfortably while watching the prep work underway in the open kitchen.

Must Haves

  • Curious about the style? Try some standouts here. To make these skin-contact whites, grape skins are left to ferment with the juice so that orangey hues and grippy textures result. One night, you might sip a glass from Greece, expressing smoke, overripe plum, and a dash of salt; on another, enjoy a pour from Slovenia full of saffron and citrus.

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