At St. Vincent (San Francisco), David Lynch is a Dædalus among sommeliers

August 22, 2012

Our meal at the amazing St. Vincent in San Francisco — conceived and directed by Daedalian sommelier and wine writer David Lynch — began with two eggs: one bathed in beet and horseradish, the other in curry and turmeric. If only for their Technicolor, I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed by the food and wine that would follow.

Had I the means, I would gather all the young wine and restaurant professionals in the U.S. and take them to San Francisco to see how it is superbly done by David Lynch, one of the leading sommeliers in the nation right now (as always), veteran of some of the most storied venues in the contemporary history of American restaurateurship.

Granted, David knows me and my palate, and so when I asked him to pick out a wine for us, I wasn’t surprised when he swiftly delivered the Clos du Papillon Savennières above, “not as extreme” as our beloved Joly, he noted, but no less nuanced or thrilling (and perhaps more graceful and focused).

I was equally impressed by the deft hand of chef Bill Niles, to whom David graciously attributed sole authorship of the menu. The “She Crab” (actually lobster in the current season) was adorned with a dollop of sea urchin liver, Carolina rice, and corn chowder. I ate every last drop.

The eggplant roulades, alone, would be worth a return trip. I loved that chef Niles peels his tomatoes for this dish and I’d be remiss in not noting that this was possibly the best tomato I’ve tasted all year.

Chef Niles may draw from a Technicolor palette of culinary experiences and techniques but he also seems to love some of life’s simplest “street-food” pleasures, like this classic pretzel. I dug the juxtaposition of the elegance of his eggplant and the sheer pedestrian delight of the pretzel.

David named his new restaurant (opened just a few months ago) after St. Vincent of Saragossa, one of the patron saints of grape-growers, often invoked by wine- and vinegar-makers.

(Of course, I couldn’t help myself from reading up on why St. Vincent is considered patron of wine and vinegar.)

He is often depicted (St. Vincent, not David) with vines or grape bunches. Although there’s no element in hagiography that would associate him with grapes or grape-growing, his feast day, January 22, is celebrated in wine-growing France as the beginning of the vegetative cycle.

There are a number of French sayings uttered on that day, like quand Saint Vincent est beau, abondance pour le tonneau (when [the weather on] Saint Vincent is fair, there will be [an] abundance [of wine] for the casks).

Like so many examples of pseudo-Catholic folklore, his association with wine is purely arbitrary and can be attributed to the date of his commemoration (in the Greek Orthodox Church, he is remembered on November 11).

There’s nothing arbitrary about the way David runs his new restaurant and it was fantastic to watch him in his habitat (as the Italians say), greeting a guest, explaining a menu item, and serving a Savennières to a very happy wine blogger…

Image via La Chouette.


The whole worlds speaks (indigenous) Italian

October 21, 2009

montille

Above: Where does one take one of the greatest winemakers of Burgundy for lunch? City Meat Market in Giddings, Texas, of course! That’s Étienne de Montille (left) and John Winthrop owner of Veritas Imports enjoying some smoked sausage in Giddings yesterday. It’s been fascinating traveling with Étienne and hearing him talk about his wines, biodynamic farming, sexual confusion, and whole cluster fermentation. More on that later…

It seems the whole world speaks indigenous Italian these days: check out this article published yesterday by Bloomberg on the growing interest for indigenous Italian grape varieties in the U.S. (with a quote from you-know-who).

Seems a lot of folks have San Francisco and its love of European wines on their minds: check out Eric’s post here and SF native John Bonné’s post, where he asks “do our wine lists ignore California?”

I’ve got to hit the road again today with Étienne but stay tuned…


Savary Chablis and Tracie B’s enchilada casserole. Who knew? (also, Gramsci, Gaja, Israel Merlot in Italy, and natty wine in SF)

August 22, 2009

Above: Tracie B’s enchilada casserole may not be pretty but it’s shot to the top of my list of favorite things she cooks with meteoric celerity. And what better with the spicy and rich flavors of tomatillo sauce, cotija cheese, fresh peppers, corn, and cilantro, roast chicken, and corn tortilla than steely, mineral-driven (and affordable) Chablis? Who knew?

Seems we weren’t the only ones drinking Savary Chablis last night: a series of backs-and-forth on Facebook with Anthony on whether or not my silverface Princeton is a 69 or 71 was interrupted around dinner time because Savary 07 Chablis and Tracie B’s enchilada casserole were calling in my case, Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes (I believe the 06) after his show last night (wherever he is!).

It’s Saturday and I’m working today (because I have a tight deadline on a hefty translation: a folio edition of twentieth-century Italian photography, pretty cool stuff actually). But before getting to work this morning, I did indulge in some Antonio Gramsci and his notion of cultural hegemony. I’d been thinking about Gramsci over the last week and how wine, in his era, was considered a luxury product in the eyes of the agrarian class (Italy was still in the early phases of its industrialization) and an important trading commodity by the landlords. How far the western world has come in such a short period of time! With the rise of globalization (unthinkable in Gramsci’s time when protectionism reigned) and the seemingly boundless exchange of wine today, Tracie B and I can enjoy an excellent and affordable (at our price point) Chablis that has traveled seemingly effortlessly across that misunderstanding otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean. And we enjoyed it — no less! — with Mexican cooking spiced up by peppers grown in the farmland that stretches between Dallas and Austin in Texas (we still had some peppers left over from my stopped at the sorghum syrup and stuffed armadillo store).

My hankering for Gramsci was whetted in part by the soul searching that followed the wild exchanges this week but it was garnished by the news — which I read at Franco’s blog — that Angelo Gaja is importing Israeli Cabernet and Merlot to Italy. It seems that like the historic stockfish vendors of the Roman ghetto, Gaja saw an opportunity in bringing modern-style international grape varieties from the promised land and selling them to the “Israelite” communities (as they are called there) in Italy. Does Italy really need another international-style Merlot? From Israel?

Gramsci, where art thou?

In other news…

Above: I bet this guy knows his Gramsci. Guilhaume Gerard, one of the owners of Terroir in SF, pours great wine and writes a great blog with an emphasis on you know what.

I read at McDuff’s excellent blog that there is a now a site with information about the natural wine week event going on in San Francisco next week, hosted by different venues, including one of my favorite natural wine destinations, Terroir, with a symposium led by the inimitable Guilhaume (whose natural wine credentials, by all accounts, are impeccable and who has an amazing palate and writing style).


Just some of the reasons I’m so smitten…

May 22, 2009

From the “it’s Friday so just indulge me” department…

1. She just gets so giddy when you get some good Basque cheese in front of her and some stinky wine (and she’s knock-out gorgeous; to gaze at her makes me feel like Antonioni with Monica Vitti in his camera’s frame). That’s her last week at Terroir Natural Wine Merchant in San Francisco.

2. Her palate is as good as any I’ve ever tasted with and to hear her describe wine is like Petrarch to my ears (that’s her tasting barrel samples of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in Yountville, CA).

3. She is a pro taster and nothing gets by her. She’s never afraid to ask the tough questions (that’s her tasting with Tadeo at Neyers).

4. She is just the coolest blogger and she will travel to the other side of the world for a wine that she loves (like this post she did about tasting in Savennières).

5. I just can’t imagine my life without her (that’s us in Sausalito).

Tell me, what is my life without your love
Tell me, who am I without you, by my side
Oh tell me, what is my life without your love
Tell me, who am I without you, by my side

What is Life, George Harrison


Red, white, and sparkling carpet at Kermit Lynch Tasting

May 20, 2009

Some of the cool people I got to taste with in San Francisco…

The pre-Kermit-Lynch-tasting evening began with an aperitif of stinky wine at Terroir Natural Wine Merchant where we hung with my new friend Guilhaume Gerard. Between him chasing off a would-be shoplifter, a discussion of the cutthroat nature of our trade, and some Django on vinyl (how cool is that?), we had a fantastic time. I’m really digging Guilhaume’s blog, Wine Digger, and highly recommend it. (Book editors: there’s a story there that hasn’t been told yet.)

The pre-tasting dinner was held at an excellent restaurant I’d never been to, Jardinière, with a very chic, glamorous art-deco ambiance and great food. The man himself, Kermit, took time out to chat music and pose for a photo-op with me and the lovely Tracie B.

Also got to taste with Gerard’s partners the next day at the portfolio tasting, Luc Ertoran and Dagan Ministero (to the left and right, respectively) and their friend Ian Becker of Arlequin Wine Merchant in SF.

The previous week, I tasted beer not wine with Clark Z. Terry, who came to see our band Nous Non Plus play in SF. In my view, Clark represents the future of wine marketing: he’s cool, he’s hip, he’s way-friggin-intelligent, and he’s dialing Kermit into the age of viral marketing. Check out the Kermit blog, authored by Clark.

Tracie B and I got to catch up with one of our favorite people in the natural wine business, the inimitable Lou Amdur of Lou on Vine. I don’t really miss living in Los Angeles but I sure miss cozying up to the bar at Lou on Vine and checking out what he has in his glass. Terroir in SF may be giving him a run for my money but Lou remains for me the best natural wine bar and best wine bar period in the U.S.

Representing Austin in the house was Monsieur Josh Loving (center), Austin’s top natural wine palate, classical guitar player, and one of the coolest dudes I know in Texas. We kinda went ape-shit over 1987 Terrebrune Bandol Rouge that we tasted together. Geoffrey Metheny (right), who pours wine at Fino in Austin, had his eye on some of those California natural wine girls.

Our friends Dan and Melinda Redman, who own the company I work for, were so way-super-cool and generous to bring me and Tracie B along for the ride and what a ride it was. Thanks again, guys! Tracie B and I had a blast.

I didn’t taste any wine with this funny bunny but I did take this picture of him in the Sonoma downtown square where he was hanging with some Lego Stormtroopers. Thanks for reading this far!


Terroir found in California (but can I afford it?)

May 17, 2009

Above: “Heirloom Radish Salad” at the girl & the fig restaurant last night in downtown Sonoma was delicious (although I regretted taking our server’s advice on freshly cracked pepper).

It strikes me as incongruous that the people who live in Napa and Sonoma are such fierce champions of unadulterated, pure, wholesome ingredients in their food and yet still favor big, oaky, concentrated, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon in their glass.

Above: This Californiano-turned-Tejano couldn’t resist the Texas Burger (topped with jalapeño, guacamole, and salsa) at Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in St. Helena. And who can say no to Chili Cheese Fries?

On the one hand, they favor locally grown ingredients that reflect the colors and flavors of their land and their approach to cooking — à la Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower — leans heavily toward the simple and direct, with immediate flavors and textures playing the starring role (e.g., the heirloom radish salad above).

And on the other hand, my countrymen speak proudly of the sledge-hammer flavors of their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the buttery texture of their Chardonnay (so much of Napa Chardonnay taste more like Napa than Chardonnay to me). I’ll have a lot more to say on this when I can post unhurriedly next week.

Above: There’s no denying it… Tadeo Borchardt makes excellent terroir-driven expressions of Chardonnay at Neyers Vineyards in Napa. We truly enjoyed the wines (despite my previous but as-of-yet not entirely unresolved misconceptions and prejudices about Californian wines in general).

Tracie B and I agreed, however, that we found “terroir” (and the purposeful use of inverted commas here will become more apparent in an upcoming post) when we tasted yesterday with the winemaker of Neyers Vineyards, Tadeo Borchardt, whose single-vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnays were excellent — and the Thieriot, in particular, was superb. The company I work for represents Neyers’s wines in Texas and so we had been invited to tour the winery and taste all the wines side-by-side. Tadeo’s winemaking style (minimal intervention and ambient yeasts only) marries well with the cool microclimate of the Sonoma Coast growing sites and tasting the wines side-by-side revealed, in fact, just how site-specific each expression of Chardonnay actually was. We looked at each other and agreed that we had found California terroir.

Only one problem: we (personally) can’t afford it.

So little time now and so much to say. We just got to San Francisco and we’re running out the door to taste at Terroir Natural Wine Merchant and then to the Kermit Lynch dinner.

Stay tuned…


Sublime: tuna tartare, avocado, and Soave

May 14, 2009

From the “life could be worse” department…

The acidity and minerality in the 2007 Soave Classico by Suavia and the rich flavors of raw tuna and fresh avocado made for a sublime pairing the other night at the happy hour at Trio, the steakhouse at the Four Season in Austin. When I’m not on the road hawking wine (mostly in San Antonio and Dallas these days), you’ll often find me there, hanging with my buddies chef Todd Duplechan and wine director Mark Sayre (Mark just passed the third level of his Master Sommelier. Right on man!).

Believe me, the wine trade isn’t always as glamorous and fun as it sounds but it’s kinda cool when you get to rep a wine like the Suavia (which I do).

Above: That’s where the grapes are grown. I visited Suavia in Soave Classico in April after Vinitaly.

Today, I’m heading to an “undisclosed location” in Arizona for reasons I am not at liberty to discuss.

Tracie B will be meeting up with me tomorrow in San Francisco and then we’ll head to Napa where we’ll be tasting at some of the wineries the company I work for represents in Texas. I am exhausted after three days on the road hawking some excellent wines from Friuli but, honestly, life sure could could be worse.

The highlight of our trip will be the Kermit Lynch portfolio tasting in San Francisco and the winemakers dinner the night before.

I’m posting from the Austin airport and I gotta run to make my plane. Stay tuned…


NPA and NN+ in SF CA

May 8, 2009

Above: A view from the stage. My bandmate Céline Dijon (Verena Wiesendanger, right) was in a super good mood last night at our show at Rickshaw Stop (hint: a fan was buying her Jameson). The show was a blast and we did three encores. Thanks again to Waldo of Rickshaw for letting us rehearse at the club: enjoy the Clos Roche Blanche Cot we gave you!

It was something of a blogger summit and a meeting of virtual friends last night between Terroir Natural Wine Bar and Merchant and Rickshaw Stop in SF.

Among them were my virtual and now real friends Cory Cartwright (author of Saignée) and his delightful wife Emily. We shared a bottle of the enigmatic 2002 Ribolla Gialla by Gravner. One blogger, who prefers to remain anonymous, noted (and I concur) that the Gravner is an “abstract” wine, a wine (in a certain sense) that you cannot drink. There’s no question that Gravner’s wines are fascinating, thought-provoking, and intriguing: as the wine aerated it revealed a remarkable array of fruit aromas — think dried and moldy apricot (but in the mouth, it still felt to me like the wood dominated). Owners Dagan Ministero and Luc Ertoran were on hand as well, and a lively discussion of “orange wine” ensued and they generously tasted us on a number of bottlings (including Ca’ de Noci and Damijan). Virtual friends Slaton Lipscomb and Simona (author of Briciole) were there, too, and Clark Terry of Kermit Lynch blog fame also joined up at the show.

The most interesting and unique wine of the evening was the Natural Process Alliance skin-fermented Chardonnay (above), sold only in reusable stainless-steel containers. (Spume has written about this wine as has Alice.) This wine is as stinky and cloudy as it gets and it is 100% delicious (maybe not for everyone but just right for yours truly). Slaton noted that it tastes slightly different every time because its malolactic fermentation has not completed when it ships. You can only get locally and I highly recommend it.

The crowd was fantastic last night and we did three encores, closing with a rocking version of “Ca Plane Pour Moi” by Plastic Bertrand. Tonight we play at an all-ages club in San Jose and I’m just passing time until tomorrow when I get to be reunited with my Tracie B, who’s flying in to visit with her girlfriends and see our show at Spaceland.

Highway run
Into the midnight sun
Wheels go ’round and ’round
You’re on my mind
Restless hearts
Sleep alone tonight
Sendin’ all my love
Along the wire


Nous Non Plus in San Francisco tonight

May 7, 2009

From the “shameless self-promotion” department…

Come see what Ménagerie is all about, tonight in San Francisco (Friday in San Jose and Saturday in Los Angeles at Spaceland, my favorite LA club).


Human, all too human: remembering Josko Gravner’s son

May 4, 2009

One of the owners of Terroir Natural Wine Merchant and Bar in San Francisco, Guilhaume Gerard, recently reminded me that that the wines come first, before the people who import them. Guilhaume pointed out rightly that while there are a lot of people in the wine trade whom we admire and care about and others whose scruples give us pause, the wines are what is really important. I agree with him.

To Guilhaume’s observation, I would add only that the wines and the people who make them come before the people who import and sell them.

miha_gravnerToday, after Franco and I posted on VinoWire about the tragic and senseless passing of the young Miha Gravner (left, photo by Alfonso), I was blown away by how many people linked back to our post, on Facebook and on their blogs, writing about how they never met the young man but how, nonetheless, they felt a personal connection to him and his family through their wines. As Franco wrote in his post at Vino al Vino, Miha had begun working closely with his father Josko and would have continued his father’s legacy.

Josko Gravner was part of a small group of radical “extreme” winemakers, who, as Eric wrote today in an unrelated post, vinified and aged their wine in clay amphorae. I’ve tasted Gravner’s wines on many different occasions, from many different vintages, and no one can deny that these are benchmark, original wines, wines that push the envelope of contemporary winemaking by reaching back to the secrets of the ancients. Josko is also one of the fathers of the natural wine movement in Italy and was inspired by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner.

Cory at Saignée put it best when he wrote:

    If you’ve never had one of Josko’s wine, now is the perfect time to grab a bottle and raise a glass to him. They are some of the most individualistic, interesting, and unforgettable wines in the world from a man who has dedicated his life to exploring the possibilities of what wine can be. i, of course, have never met the man and am only familiar with his wines, but i’d like to think that personality can come across in wine making and that you can know someone just a little through their wines, and i wish him the best through this tragedy.

I imagine that Cory, Guilhaume, and I will open a bottle of Gravner at Terroir on Thursday night before I head over to do our set with Nous Non Plus at Rickshaw Stop.

Stop by if you have the time and we’ll remember a young man who would have made the wines we would have drunk for a lifetime.


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