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Fine flavors: Wine.Dive an upscale but affordable addition to Downtown

Wine bars began to proliferate in the 1990s, fueled by a desire to relieve some of the price and pretense associated with ordering a bottle at a restaurant. Apparently, they didn’t go far enough for some people, because recent years have brought “wine dives,” establishments that promise an even more unassuming experience with the grape.

Wine.Dive, Albuquerque’s first manifestation of this phenomenon, recently opened its doors Downtown. The menu describes it as “bridging the gap between boojie and busted” – boojie, as in bourgeois, or fancy-pants, and busted, as in flat broke.

Despite the name, Wine.Dive is nothing like a dive at all. It’s actually quite classy, set behind a metallic, stepped façade that rises at Second and Gold like the prow of a ship. Inside, the high-ceilinged space is dominated by a wall of wine bottles and a large, suspended disk from which luminous tendrils of LED lights dangle down. The copper-colored banquettes and black leather couches arrayed by the big street-side windows further dispel any notion that you are slumming in here.

The menu, cleverly presented in a spiral-bound notebook, proffers a modest portfolio of wines, with most glasses coming in south of $10. Food choices include two soups, a salad, five entrees and a varied selection of cheeses and charcuterie.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all charcuterie board, the menu lets you pick and choose, with each of the meats and cheeses listed alongside a recommended partner. For instance, berry compote ($1) is linked with the Stilton blue cheese ($3), and olive tapenade ($2) goes with the calabrese ($3), or spicy salami. These are just suggestions, though; you’re free to mix and match as you choose.

A pairing of port wine Derby ($3), semifirm, purple-marbled cheese, with an excellent pear chutney ($2) made with onions and cashews skews too much to the sweet side. Air-cured bresaola ($5), which is to beef as prosciutto is to pork, and silky-smooth deviled egg cream ($2) is a better combination.

Wine.Dive’s Roots dish includes fondant potatoes, watermelon radish, sweet potato puree and chimichurri. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

The fittingly named Roots entree ($12) presents a beautiful palette of root vegetables. Three fondant potatoes, cut into cylinders, seared and roasted, share the plate with watermelon radish, roasted purple and white carrots and a sweet potato puree. Garlicky chimichurri sauce helps cut through the starchiness of it all. The dish pairs well with a light, crisp Chloe pinot grigio ($7) from Italy. You can add a lamb shank to it for $20.

Wine.Dive’s version of ratatouille ($14) is an inventive variation of a classic French comfort dish. A long, thin slice of eggplant lies under a pile of cherry tomatoes, roasted baby zucchini and microgreens alongside mounds of red chile crema. The dish effectively balances sweet, spicy and acidic flavors. I hoovered it up along with a glass of Columbia merlot ($8), a fruity varietal that is finally regaining its reputation 14 years after Paul Giamatti’s wine-snob character famously derided it in the movie “Sideways.”

Live music begins in the dining room at about 6 every night. The sight of musicians setting up next to a big speaker only a few feet from the dining tables made me briefly wonder whether hearing loss was among tonight’s specials. Fortunately, the duo of guitarist-singer Clark Andrew Libbey and violinist Kristen Rad played their evocative folk-country music at a subdued volume that abetted the atmosphere without drowning out conversation.

Don’t let the name fool you: Wine.Dive is an upscale addition to Downtown, albeit with affordable offerings. Given its proximity to the Century 14 movie theater and the Box Performance Space, it’s a great spot to unwind after a show, try some new wines and enjoy local musical talent.