Stroll into Blends Wine Bar in Belton and chances are you will hear soft jazz playing over the sound system. The intimate lounge is filled with comfortable chairs and small tables, just large enough to rest a glass of wine while listening to live music or conversing with friends, new and old.
The ambiance is a blend of cozy, eclectic and contemporary. It offers a mix of music, including Friday Night Jazz — a showcase for jazz musicians from local high schools and colleges. The space is young, fresh and comfortable and “attracts a diverse array of people.”
“If you are sitting here, in the course of the night you might hear something that’s not your taste. But it will shift, change,” said Blends owner Kat Kaliski.
Kaliski is as eclectic as her new business. She is a blend of traditional, vintage and contemporary in all areas of her life. A vocal performer, her music selections range from jazz and old standards to Motown and Drake. She enjoys the tunes of Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald, for a “bluesy kind of jazz,” to more contemporary jazz renditions.
Along with her personal favorite old standards playing at the bar, you might also hear contemporary recordings from artists such as Diane Krall, Norah Jones and En Vogue coming from the speakers.
Kaliski knew she wanted to open a wine bar since her days as an undergrad at the University of Texas in Austin. A singer in her own right, she was performing her own brand of jazz and contemporary songs back then, playing the local bars and bistros.
She approached every gig with her eyes wide open, surveying the surroundings to see what she liked, imagining what her own bar might look like someday.
While at UT she also coordinated and planned events that included hiring talent. She graduated from UT with a Bachelor of Arts in Ethnic Studies, and attended Golden Gate University School of Law to pursue a degree in intellectual property law.
But she wasn’t sure if it was the best course for her life, so she enlisted in the U.S. Army, where she has served for eight years, first as an intelligence officer before switching over to public affairs. Now she is an Army Reserve Public Affairs Captain at the 205th press camp headquarters in San Antonio.
“Public Affairs is awesome. It’s everything I love in life,” she said. “I love media, working at radio stations, doing promotions, creating fliers, group press releases. I like the rush of deadlines, people coming out for large press conferences, the adrenaline rush.”
Her attention to detail, planning and deadlines, along with her boundless energy helped in the opening of Blends, creating a space that merges the work from local artists and musicians with wine.
There is a science, history and geography that is behind every wine vintage, she said. “You can learn quite a bit while enjoying wine.”
Kaliski offers weekly Wine 101 classes through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust with a professional sommelier who teaches the finer points of wine for budding oenophiles.
“Every week we pick a different topic — looking at wines from different regions, different varieties of a region. We are educating people on wine,” Kaliski said, adding that wine has its own language. “A lot of people have not figured out the language of wine.”
By attending Kaliski classes, Beverly Ramsey said she found that she “likes white wine more than red.
“That’s one thing,” Ramsey said. “I’ve also had rosé wine, which I thought of as sweet, but learned there are dry rosés. There are different tastes, new tastes of wine.”
Learning the language of wine has taught Ramsey about tannic in wines, how to get the fragrance, not just the taste, and that she doesn’t like oak aged wines. She prefers wines aged in stainless steel vats.
“I’ve made new friends there. It’s always a fun time, a nice atmosphere and educational,” she said.
Learning about wine also helps when it comes to choosing the right bottle for a meal.
For the first-time wine buyer it’s important to know that wines are as different as the grapes they are made from and the barrels they are aged in. From whites to reds to blends and sparkling wines or champagne, there is a vintage to complement any meal.
When shopping for a wine for a dinner party, ask yourself several questions: What’s on the menu? How many courses? Do you know your guests’ palate? Do they prefer sweet or dry, red or white? Do you want to pair wine with the menu?
“If you only want one wine, base it off the entrée,” Kaliski said. “If you are serving a light pasta dish, a chardonnay is the easiest selection.”
If you really want to impress your guests, Kaliski said offer a wine to match each of the courses.
Are you serving hors d’oeuvres? Will there be a salad? Maybe you want a dessert wine.
When it comes to stocking her shelves, Kaliski said she looks for labels that are not typical, and offers a selection for the most serious connoisseur.
“I have Israeli and Romanian wines, South American, German, wines from all different areas of France, as well as California, Texas and Oregon. I look for anything more emerging and atypical, not an in-the-box or traditional. I like to challenge people to try new things. It’s fun.”