An enticing, modern looking restaurant and wine bar in the Wallingford area, Claret is a great new stop if you are looking for an outstanding range of local and international wines with great casual fare. Dropping in we were immediately met by a certified sommelier, Jessica Gonser, who waited on us during dinner. The bottle list was pretty thoughtful with many world regions well represented, showing a particular nod to local wineries. Chris Horn serves as wine director, having roughly 30 years of restaurant experience. He has previously served as the wine service director at Wild Ginger.
Chris has amassed a great, highly focused list. Sitting down with him to talk about his creation he mentions “The background is trying to corral the world of wine in one place. You have a lot of freedom to look into the places. With Claret you don’t want it to be Purple Cafe but something great. One of the great experience’s at Purple is not only having the wine pairings but the flights where you can taste wines of the world in context. I wanted to create that experience in a small neighborhood wine bar you can’t have flights. We wanted to craft a more casual experience at Claret.” Chris came up with having two wines side by side, aptly named ‘duos.’ He explained “Duos was the idea that we can up with. Having an Argentinian Malbec against one from Cahors. You can have two different experiences and there is a lot that you can like about those things. We can create a neighborhood wine bar and also not ask the guests to focus and engage. If you are going back and forth between two wines then that makes it a lot easier. It doesn’t require the customer to work for you.” Claret is also working on creating a wholesale program where people can enjoy great wines like Gaja with very reasonable markup. Chris talks about this program, explaining “if we can take a $250.00 dollar bottle and charge them $3.00 an ounce, this can be really good for someone who just learning about wine but also are preparing for the Court of Master Sommeliers. The opportunity to taste Dageaneau is not something that people can always do.”
Shaela Ward, Claret general manage talks about the wine team at this neighborhood wine bar. She denotes “We are really fortunate of the wine team that we are building here. We want to keep wine approachable and we are exited to talk wine with anyone who wants to chat. Our staff is educated to do a lot of fun comparisons.” She mentioned that she is working on utilizing their space for tasting groups and those studying for their WSET or somm exams. She explains “We are excited about the space and the community that we can bring. It is nice that we have fire pits out there for nighttime and we are ready for summer and Rose on the patio.” Chis Horn talked about the importance of having well-trained sommeliers for the Claret experience. He explains “Three nights a week we have Tyler Alden who is the director of education for thew Heavy Group; He is way smart and is sitting for the master somm exam and he will probably pass that exam test. Tyler has a really personal service style which adds to the patron experience. I am trying to be there as well and will come somm at the restaurant especially on the weekend. I live pretty close to there so it is my neighborhood wine bar as well. We want to always have someone around with the wine knowledge but we want to have someone personable waiting on you.”
After some challenging choices I decided to start with a glass of the 2015 L’Ecole No. 41 Chardonnay (WWB, 90) which delivers a ton of value for the price. We were all hungry and fortunately opted for the cheese and meat platter which came with delicious honey and fig spread. The sheeps cheese in particular enticed. Claret is one of the few places in Seattle that has famed Nikolaihof wines available by the bottle. That proved to be a wonderful pairing with the meat and cheese plate, as the bright acidity cut nicely through the fatty texture of the rich cheese. The star of the show was definitely the rich liver mousse, delightfully earthy and impossible to resist.
Claret makes an excellent and tangy steak tartare that was wonderfully rich with a very smooth texture. I opted for their burger, which was perfectly cooked at medium rare. Messy but wonderfully rich, this is one of Seattle’s great burgers. We finished our meal off with some blind dessert wines paired by sommelier. One great finish of the night was the 2015 Brian Carter Winery ‘Opulento’ Dessert Wine (WWB, 90) which was a delicious treat to savor. While we did not utilize the outdoor space, next time we will return to sip wines from their well-curated list outside. If you are looking for a great new spot for a great glass pour list or some excellent small bites, Claret is a must visit in Fremont.