This past winter when The Digest dropped into Third & Vine, downtown Jersey City’s neighborhood wine and cheese bar, it was working hard to change preconceived notions about sherry. This time around, marking the return of Spring, the focus is vermouth. Yes, vermouth, perhaps the most overlooked alcohol in your home bar, generally reserved for martinis or other cocktails like manhattans—so largely unappreciated that it was the butt of a Mad Men joke this season. However, the right vermouths work just as well on their own, with a splash of soda water or even prosecco. This should not come as a surprise, as Third & Vine’s beverage director Brian Rothbart explained to me, “In some cases, generations of people have perfected these recipes. There are dozens of botanicals in these. Somebody, his father, and his grandfather had to make this the coolest thing ever, the best tasting beverage that they can and it’s not always necessary for us to tinker with it too much.”
The time I spent at Third & Vine made me a convert to vermouth. Conventional thinking would have you believe that there is sweet vermouth which is red and dry vermouth which is white, but vermouth has a broad repertoire of flavors and varieties that are eye opening and delicious. My personal favorite of the many I tried was a Spanish white vermouth from the Basque country called Manuel Acha which is wonderfully light and fruity, with floral botanicals, and a mild bitterness on the back end. It is a sipping vermouth, and I can sip on it all day long. That is just one of twelve vermouths that you can experiment with, which run the spectrum of vermouth flavors, from sweet to bitter. But if you don’t want vermouth, the rest of the bar is just as comprehensive and wonderful.
However, the libations are only half of the equation that makes Third & Vine so special, the other half being the cheeses. The real star of Third & Vine’s repertoire, the place has 35 cheese varieties at any given time, both national and international which are paired to wines or cocktails, as well as a condiment for each cheese. You are likely to find cheeses here that you may never taste elsewhere, in combinations that you may never have thought of. While the pairings were yet to be determined, when I asked Jamie Mayne, the fromager, what she would pair with traditional, more herbaceous vermouths, she gave an unexpected but welcome answer. “I love blue cheeses and vermouth, especially a sweet vermouth,” she said. “Some blue cheese, get a little bit of chocolate in there, or nutella.”
Third & Vine is also one of the few places that pairs cheeses with cocktails. Mayne admits that it’s a welcome challenge. “Only in the past year and a half have I really been challenged to pair cheeses with cocktails,” she explained. “Beer, wine, or sherry I’m very in tune with, but this is still relatively new to me.” When the staff challenges itself and works to create a unique experience for their patrons, you know it is a place worth experiencing. Third & Vine is where you go to discover something new, it is a place to learn and explore one’s palate in an environment that is both fun and sophisticated. And don’t feel intimidated by fancy wines and cheeses, because Chef Lynn Wheeler’s menu features a great selection of small plate dishes as well as hot cheese sandwiches. What’s more down to earth than melted cheese in between bread?