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Departure Lounge takes a tour through the world of wine

Arianna Auber

Departure Lounge’s wine captain, Mark Pfohl, recently earned his sommelier certification, which means he can get technical when talking about the difference between a California cabernet sauvignon and a Moroccan version.

But if talk of terroir is too much wine jargon for you, he can also tell you all about Departure Lounge’s wine program in more general terms. That’s, of course, when you can try some of the wine that the lounge/coffee bar and travel agency offers by the glass, by the bottle or in specially prepared flights.

The downtown lounge, which opened last year, has more than 80 wines from between 20 to 25 countries at any given time, meaning you’re in for an international adventure even before you start booking your flight to another part of the country or abroad (although you don’t need to have travel plans to set foot inside the wine bar).

A popular option is to try some of the flights that Departure Lounge has on the menu, especially during happy hour when they’re priced at $6 for three 2 oz. pours or $12 for three 4 oz. pours. During a special wine and travel discussion every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m., these flights can be themed by region, but otherwise they come grouped by red, white, rose, dessert or sparkling wine categories. They always feature the wine of three separate countries.

There are also coffees, chocolates and cheeses from all over the world at Departure Lounge.

Owner Keith Waldon, who’s been in the travel business for 28 years, had watched the travel industry struggle as the Internet changed the way people plan trips and learn about far-off places. “Ultimately, people don’t want to go to a travel agency and sit in front of a computer, but they still need help,” he said. So wouldn’t they go to a coffee bar with a variety of wines and foods and then just so happen to get a vacation scheduled?

The concept has worked so far. Waldon decided to make wine such a big part of his business because he’s found that “wine has always tied into travel. When you recount your trip to someone, it’s always about the amazing meal you had or the drink you tried,” he said.

Plus, wine can deliver such a strong sense of place to the drinker. “It’s so miraculous to find a wine that tells you where it’s from,” Pfohl said, noting that once you’ve tried a wine in France, your overseas sojourn will come to mind every time you enjoy the wine in the states.

Or one of the wines alphabetized along the shelves in Departure Lounge can convince you to visit its place of origin, regardless of whether you’ve been or not. One of the wines I tried on a recent visit was a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Morocco’s Ouled Thaleb, a winery founded in 1923, but its thick, velvety plum and blackberry notes (the winemaker left in sediment) was so unlike any Cabernet I’ve had that I had to check the label twice, just to be sure. By the time Pfohl had finished explaining that Morocco is actually becoming an increasingly robust wine region, growing known grapes with new tastes thanks to its particular terroir, I had added the northern African country to the list of places I want to visit someday.

“My somm certification was heavy on France and California, but I still want to explore other regions,” he said. He leads a talk about wine during the Tuesday meet-ups.

He and Waldon are also going to brush up on their knowledge about Texas Hill Country wines. They might be only a short drive away, but Waldon said his clients are increasingly curious about local vineyards. “They’re looking for a close place to get away,” he said.

Departure Lounge, 311 West 5th St. Ste. 102. 512-322-9399, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.