For many years, I’ve had a saying about wine: I like it only if it sparkles.
Sorry, connoisseurs. I know that makes you cringe, but I gave up on trying to be an oenophile sometime after “Sideways.” That movie convinced me I loved wine. But I never could taste the notes. That’s why I never made my way into the Cellar & Loft, the swanky wine club in the River Market.
But last summer, when the owner, former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Eddie Kennison, said he wanted to expand the space and include a pizza place called Slap Yo Momma, my stomach spoke to me.
Where I’m from, that funny phrase is a term of endearment for only the best food. And though Kennison decided against the name, opting to just add pizza to the Cellar & Loft menu, I’ve been wanting to go.
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When Kennison opened the space about four years ago with Bill and Maggie Dane, it was meant to cater to wine lovers. Memberships allow them to get a certain number of bottles a month, access to the cellar and free tastings. When I walked in on Saturday, it was a whole new world to me. There’s an extensive craft beer menu, and the clubs aren’t exclusive to wine. You can get a scotch, beer or specialty (rum, vodka, gin, etc.) membership.
The loft upstairs looks like a polished pizzeria and is open all week for lunch and dinner. I figured that we were there just for dinner, that the cellar was a members-only deal. But the hostess told us we should try the bubbly wine-tasting downstairs. Cellar & Loft offers tastings from 6 to 8 p.m. every Friday and Saturday. Last weekend it was the Treveri Cellars tasting, sampling five sparkling wines.
She had me at bubbles. The sampling costs $10 for non-members. Not a bad date at all.
We ordered mushroom caps and a pizza — Italian Meat (pepperoni, capicola and Italian sausage). They gave us a number and told us they would bring our food to us downstairs at the tasting. As soon as we hit the stairs, we could hear singing. I liked this place already. A guitarist, who goes simply by Mark, played everything from Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.”
There’s nothing pretentious about this basement. If “That ’70s Show” couple Eric Forman and Donna Pinciotti grew up and got their lives together, I imagine they would have a cellar like this. It’s shabby chic and casual, with wooden wine racks and rows and rows of bottles. One caught my eye: Cherry Pie Pinot Noir, with a pie on the label. (Lighten up, wine snobs!) There’s a space for beer, a nook for scotch and the like. Barrels are here and there, alongside couches and lounge areas. A members-only room provides lockers for drink stashes.
Caitlyn, our sommelier, walked us through the tasting, from drier to sweeter: Treveri Extra Brut, Treveri Rose, Treveri Sparkling Pinot Gris, Treveri Sparkling Riesling and Treveri Sparkling Gewurztraminer. You taste at your own pace. It took me over an hour to taste all five, and even then we weren’t finished. Caitlyn invited us to try a few different splashes of brandy mixed in with the Extra Brut. There was cranberry, apple and a very potent pear.
I realize there are just four sips per glass, but $10 for eight samples? It was more than worth it.
By the end of the tasting, I picked my favorite: the Rose. But the Gewurztraminer was the best match for our pizza. About that pizza — Kennison is right. It is Slap Yo Momma good. The crust wasn’t cracker thin, but it wasn’t deep dish either. It was right in the middle, crunchy yet chewy. It held a wondrous balance of cheese and sauce, a peppery kick and a trio of meat that makes you, well, slap happy.
Cellar & Loft
There are tastings in the cellar, 525 Walnut St., from 6 to 8 p.m. every Friday and Saturday. $10 for non-members, free for members. Memberships start at $35 a month.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.