When you set foot in Splash Wine Lounge, one of North Park's newest and spiffiest wine bars, you might be inclined to ask directions, because you'll think you've stumbled on an autoclave factory by mistake. An autoclave is used to sterilize medical equipment—it can run the size of a refrigerator, and its usually stainless-steel exterior gives it this ghoulish, impenetrable facelessness, like that of Laura Bush or the architecture of the Third Reich.
But there's a function to Splash's contraptions, one you hard-core oenophiles may appreciate. The “autoclaves” actually dispense one-ounce tasters that you buy with a prepaid card the bartender supplies. Stick the card in a slot, press a button adjacent to your choice, and off you go, arming yourself with the fresh scoop on the glass or bottle you might want to score.
It may seem off-putting at first; the process does trump interaction with your regular barkeep, who's otherwise happy to spring for a sample as you show interest in a purchase. The difference here is in the preservation of the product. The engineering leaves the wine at a constant temperature, unexposed to the elements and immune to overshifting of the contents; you're thus assured your hundredth taste is as representative as your first. The Ojai Vineyard's 2008 Rose ($1.97 a shot) was spectacular; I topped off my glass and will probably go back for a bottle. As for you, you have 72 choices at your feet from the world over. The cheapest tasters start at $1.01, and at $9.03, one French entry will break your nearly empty wallet. (There is a physical bar and seating areas, and the place serves up meat and cheese trays and bruschetta pizzas.)
Splash has been around since late December, barely time to settle in at its address (3043 University Ave.) and take phone calls (619-296-0714; also see www.asplashofwine.com). Fitting that a new venue would sport such a funky, advanced technology—but like the autoclave, it may well spare you a fate undeserved.