Last week, after attending the Slow Wine panel tastings in Willamette Valley and San Francisco (where me and the other editors taste the prize-nominated wines), I spent an evening wine bar hopping in Oakland — the hippest place in America imho to drink groovy wine.
Well, I really didn’t “hop” that much.
As soon as I sat down at the bar at Jeff Berlin’s wonderful À Côté, I felt like I was glued to my seat.
Have you ever read a wine list and thought to yourself, man, I just have to meet the person who wrote and runs this?
From the moment I started browsing, I just fell in love with the way he organizes the wines not by country but by “ancient region.” And I LOVED that he writes the titles of the sections in Latin.
His list (literally) spoke to me in ways that few programs do.
I told Jeff, whom I’d never met, that Balkan and Georgian are categories that I love exploring and he proceeded to pour one show-stopping wine after another as me and my buddy Billy munched out on the kitchen’s delicious food (we definitely had the munchies, so to speak).
Jeff has been at the restaurant for nearly 20 years and it’s amazing to see a veteran restaurateur and sommelier like him who’s never lost the spark, the verve, and the brilliance in running a program that expands the drinker’s experience. He definitely expanded mine.
That’s the last wine he poured for us that night, above, a wonderful coda to a great evening.
I did manage to make it over to the Punchdown natural wine bar later that night (we were ride-sharing). Jenny Eagleton, one of the brightest rising stars in the Oakland wine scene and my friend and colleague, poured us some fun stuff, too.
And before I hit À Côté, I met an old friend for a glass at the super cool Redfield Cider where the focus is — yes, you guessed it — on cider but there is a cool natural wine selection as well.
I had wanted to go to natural wine bar Ordinaire but it was closed because of the staff’s monthly field trip to wine country (how cool is that?). I’ve been before and it’s more like a salon than a wine bar in my experience. Really groovy.
Baygrape was also on my list but it’ll have to wait until next time.
I can’t think of another city in the U.S. where there is so much wholesome wine being poured so thoughtfully in a 20-minute ride-share radius, can you?