KENNEBUNK – Old Vines Wine Bar serves wine by the taste, the glass and the bottle, while offering an array of excellent plates of food, from hot chorizo and shrimp with feta to silken thin slices of Serrano ham.

Even if its own website doesn’t suggest you can dine here, because the food is simple and limited to salads, panini, cheese and cured meats, we enjoyed a supper and ate well indeed.

Perhaps I am jaded by too many big dinners elsewhere with only a fraction of the wonderful tastes that were on offer at Old Vines.

The warm ambiance was welcome on a cool, rainy night that presaged the fall. The cool weather also inspired our enthusiasm for red wines, and Old Vines has a list of reds that will intoxicate your taste buds long before any alcohol filters into your bloodstream.

My party of three benefitted from the knowledgeable attention of the business owner and chef, Mike Farrell, who compiled the wine selections and menu items with unerring discrimination.

He helped us select three glasses of roughly similar light and medium-bodied reds to begin with, and a second round of wonderful full-bodied reds.


Like the finely crafted wines, the tables and bar deserve mention. Built by hand from boards more than 100 years old, the table and bar surfaces are velvet to the touch with 10 coats of satin-finish polyurethane. According to Farrell, the finishing process itself took months.

Earthy reds and yellows color the walls and are reflected back in the gleaming tables. Maine sea salt in a grinder and pepper grinders are set on each table, along with blue-flecked glass vases that hold small oil lamps.

A bubbling hot dish of garlicky shrimp and spicy chorizo sausage sprinkled with feta gave an excuse to enjoy more of the chewy white bread as we mopped up the spicy oil.

Casa Ferreirinha Vineyard’s Vinha Grande 2002 ($6 for a tasting, $12 a glass, $42 a bottle, the order all prices here will follow), from Portugal’s Douro River valley was a favorite among our first round, with a seamless structure and a sooth but excited taste.

Acidic and bright Sangiovese 2009 from Trappolini Vineyards in Lazio, Italy ($5.50, $11, $38.50) tasted best with a mouthful of the sausage or spiced and crunchy roasted almonds ($5) made with paprika, cocoa, cumin, pepper and salt.

A 2007 Pinot Noir and Gamay blend from Famille Laurent Vineyards in the Loire valley in France ($5, $10, $35) was the lightest of the three reds, but it was just as well made, balanced, and good to drink.


A foot-wide white bowl held the roasted beet salad ($9). Mixed with Bucheron — a creamy, bloom-rind goat cheese from France — rehydrated sour cherries, sliced radishes and greens with some toasted hazelnuts, this salad was another beautiful composition.

Heirloom tomato tartine ($13), mozzarella and sliced tomato on thick slices of baguette that had been spread with pesto brought the same joyful eating, with edges of the cheese broiled into a golden crisp. The tartine was thoughtfully sliced into three generous sections, and some salad greens on the side refreshed our mouths in between bites of cheese, sweet tomato and summery pesto.

But there was more attention even so going to the glasses. One of us raved over the Klinker Brick Winery Old Vines Zinfandel ($6, $12, $42), a Lodi, Calif., red that was dense and complicated with notes of toffee, smoke and tobacco. A 2007 Placios Alvaro Camens Grenache blend from Spain’s Priorat ($7.50, $15, $52) was a little sweeter, with dark chocolate woven into dark fruit.

And an acidic edge distinguished a plum and prune fragrant 2003 Cabernet Franc from Domaine de Bel Air, again in the Loire.

The $5 tasting of Serrano ham, an 18-month-aged ham from Spain, showed the same care in curing as the work that went into the wine. Old Vines was out of house duck prosciutto, next on our wish list.

Traffic and Santana’s “Abraxas” played as we wined and dined. We skipped cheese, despite the allure of Gorgonzola piccante and Mahon ($10), in favor of dessert.


Harvey Wallbanger cake ($6) is a classic pound cake finely flavored with orange liquor and iced with buttercream frosting.

The dessert menu suggested a shot of Pedro Ximenez Sherry on gelato from Gelato Fiasco. This combination is fantastic, the spicy gelato mixing with aromatic sherry in a match made in heaven.

Coffee from Carpe Diem in Berwick in a French press lived up to my companions’ standards for dark-roasted and strong.

A chocolate truffle ($2 each) was also perfectly dark and bitter, buttery and not too sweet. Rolled in unsweetened cocoa to resemble a truffle dug up from under oak trees, it filled our mouths with one last triumph of earthy goodness. 

N.L. English is a Portland freelance writer and the author of “Chow Maine: The Best Restaurants, Cafes, Lobster Shacks and Markets on the Coast.” Visit English’s website,


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