Road trips, wine snobs and real fine dining

tBoW loves to visit San Francisco
. Even with the worst parking in the nation and the most ridiculous public policies imaginable (force more commuters to take BART by photographing license plates of downtown’s daily commuters and sending them a bill) the City has endless charms and simply the finest wine-ing and dine-ing east of New York City with Chicago a close second.
A recent trip to Baghdad by the Bay yielded enough cool surprises – two great restaurants with mega-fab wine lists; a legendary wine snob; and new discoveries at old sites; to ensure many happy returns.
Top dining experience was with the folks at Perbacco Ristorante + Bar in the Financial District downtown. PERBACCO.Exterior2.jpgThe recommendation came from a helpful clerk at The Jug Shop on Van Ness who asked if I liked Italian wines. Sure. tBoW touring tip: if you want to dine at the coolest joints in town just ask in the local wine store. Adami prosecco2.jpgMost of the time the helpful person (and fellow wine fiend) even makes the reservation for me! We arrived on time to be sufficiently concerned by (a) the crowd spilling out the door and (b) the $10 valet fee. The difference between great and trendy is often slim. Like many SF dining rooms Perbacco is long and narrow. The hostess directed us to the packed bar at the entrance. We ordered a wine flight from the list. This is how they do it in SF. Choose from 3 flights of 3 ounce pours. We went with mixed Ital over the all-Piemonte and Cal-Ital selections. You can also order by a 6 oz. glass, quarter and half liter or a full bottle. I present the retail price (Internet) and the half liter ticket. Right about now you should be shaking your head wondering WHY WINE BY FLIGHT OR IN CARAFE IS NOT AN LA ROUTINE. I know I wonder why. More on that later.
NV Adami Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Bosco di Giga Brut $17 retail / $11 for 6 oz glass: Fresh and bright with a moderately full taste of pears and leaches. Had to pry it out of Mrs. tBoW’s hand. Great price point and a U20. 11% Hello Summer 2009.
porello camestri.jpg2006 Marco Porello Camestri’ Roero Arneis $13 / $30: The go-to everyday white wine of Piemonte. Typical firm acid backbone with medium weight fruit and some minerality filling out the flavors. Serious but far from grim.
marramiero montepul2006.jpg2006 Marramiero Dama Montepulciano d’Abruzzo $15 / $25: Light to medium weight. Strong red color. Perfumed nose. Excellent selection that fits with the white selections and worked with the cheese plate. 13.5%
The hostess arrived to offer the first booth next to the door. We liked our wines and the cheese so we opted to wait for a table in the back. 10 minutes later we were seated and ordered our second wine flight with advice from manager/sommelier Marco Aponte. Splendid young man who recommended the Ital-Cal and tossed in a white Nebbiolo because tBoW has never tasted [ed. or heard of, take my word for it] a white Nebbiolo.
chavanesca.jpg2007 Chiavennasca Conti Sertolo Salis Lombardia $21 / $33: Chiavennasca is Nebbiolo from Lombardy. Conti Sertolo Salis is one of a few producers in the region. As a white wine it is less interesting than the idea. Almost a leathery oxidized flavor. Apparently recently featured in a TV show (Dirty Sexy Money). So what! We have other wonderful wines in concept and vinous accomplishment in front of us. In the red version this is known as Valtellina, harvested extra ripe like an Amarone.
malvira 2006.jpg2007 Malvira’ Langhe Favorita $11 / 30: K&L featured this wine that not surprisingly sold out. Favorita is related to Vermentino, a grape of which tBoW is a BIG FAN. Has the same qualities of bright fruit with plenty of acid, peaches and lime which probably sounds awful but works when balanced. Like here. Strong lingering finish.
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2006 Peter Paul Russian River Valley Chardonnay
$21 / $45 per bottle on the list: Maybe it was the place but here was another outstanding wine that would not be expected being a California Chard. tBoW has the usual Calif Chard reservations…too much oak…too many tropical fruit flavors…way too pricey. Whoa Nellie. Pure Chardonnay fruit, floral scents. Good acid. Not overdone, extracted or any of the grievous sins committed by most California Chardonnay producers. I still would not buy it even though it is almost a U20. Instead I would get some of those Italian wines (excepting the white Neb). 14.2%
lacrottagamay.jpg2006 La Crotta di Vegneron Vall√©e d’ Aoste Gamay $14 / $30: Just when you thought you could not be more tickled and entertained by a wine list and wine/wait staff here comes another doozy; Gamay from Italy’s ski country. Since Gamay wines from Beaujolais have been the tBoW house favorite in 2006/2007 we had to taste what Italian Gamay might have to show. Familiar plummy fruit, perhaps a bit more smoke. Light to medium weight. Fairly simple if well made. Does not fade. 13.5%
The meal at Perbacco was the finest in recent memory. Everything and everyone was fan-tas-tick. We asked Marco to recommend a spot for the next night and he suggested Delfina. Of course, he ensured a reservation in our name.
Before tBoW reviews Delfina (it was superb) the tale of the Napa Valley Winery Exchange must be told. The closet-sized shop was adjacent to our hotel so I had to stop in where I met Don Gillette who fuses Captain Kangaroo and Michael Broadbent. Don is the finest wine snob I have met in a while…and angelgoyle.jpgI do mean that as high praise. He has a blog and works the front counter of the shop which I will bet does a bang up mail order business with exclusively wine snobs. I thought I might get a sense of his “common snob” knowledge so I asked if he knew Marshall Cellars was sellng for $10 in LA Whole Foods. No he did not but he quickly quoted the release price ($35) and dropped the names of the owner and winemaker. I countered with the case production and the match was ON!! Had he ever tasted the Heitz port? Some time ago. It was nice. Feeling momentum building I followed with the Bouchaine Late Harvest Chardonnay. Tough grape to harvest late he parried and he was certainly correct there and suddenly I hit a sand bar. He seized the moment and tested my “SoCal knowledge” asking about Santa Rita Pinots (turns out the devil worked there 15 years). I turned to the recent tasting wherein the 2002 Ojai Clos Pepe was matched with a Belle Pente small vineyard and the Price Family effort from Russian River. I could not recall the BP vineyard as I noticed several Price Family offerings on the shelf behind him. I could see his brain swell with information. Or maybe that was mine from fever. He rattled off the most recent winemakers who were getting juice from Wes Hagen and suggested one (which one? which?) that would be the humdinger release in 2008. He finished me with a few comments about the Mount Carmel vineyard where the Sanford owner originally sourced his grapes and I limply admitted I did not know it. How could I not? I do not recall seeing the vineyard on any label. Isn’t the Mount Carmel Vineyard in Napa or Monterey? Nope, one of the oldest vineyards in SRH said Don. Let me show you on the map. andruwjones4.jpgI drew small solace the vineyard had been left off the map. He graciously offered to show me the best Pinot Noir in his opinion from SRH and the state. Did I know Chasseur? Shut out again. Andruw Jones crossed my mind. Overcome by shame yet content knowing I had been topped by an old dog, a complete wine geek with that crusty San Francisco insouciance, I accepted the offer to become informed. He brought out a bottle of Chasseur . I do not recall the vineyard. I held it in my hands. How much? $54…but this bottle has someone’s name on it. Deciding not to bolt with the bottle I suggested the name might be his own. No. It belonged to a customer on his Great Pinot Noirs club list. This is the wine snob’s coup de grace, the matador’s final thrust of the sword to the bull’s neck severing the spinal cord. Great pinot noir is never a matter of price but…altogether now…A MATTER OF AVAILABILITY. Chasseur. Now informed I immediately graduated to obsession. Bitten. Infected. Fortunately, I did find a Russian River Valley bottle the next day. I bought it and cracked it.
chasseur07.jpg2007 Chasseur Sonoma County $30: Picked this up at a hole-in-the-wall liquor store in the East Bay – Jacksons in Lafayette– where Mrs. tBoW’s brother-in-law lives. Must be the entry level wine; not listed on the website. Cherry and strawberry on the nose and in the mouth. Light to medium weight. Same fruity aromas. No problem picking out this nose. A bit sweet for my taste but it will please many. Very well balanced. Nice but I will take the Belle Pente. 14.1%
To sum, Don Gillette knows American Pinot Noir. His shop offers a Pinot Noir Wine Club that delivers half a case quarterly of domestic for about $250. liongoyle.jpgIf you love American Pinot Noir I am confident you cannot go wrong. Or you could read his blog!
Delfina Restaurant is in the Mission at 18th and Guererro about four blocks from where Mr. and Mrs. tBoW used to live a very long time ago. About 20 tables with the open kitchen and smart informed wait staff. Our excellent waiter (a woman but when dining is serious as in Hollywood with serious actors one does not qualify gender by referring to the actress or the waitress) knew all we needed to know about the wine. The list favors Italian. Refreshing moment about the meaning of Italian in SF versus LA. In LA Italian means steak house or pasta emporium with big ticket Baroli and Tuscan wines. In SF it means risotto, pork chops, mushrooms, well-priced Chiantis fromTuscany, Barberas and a couple Baroli from Piedmont but nary an Orenllaia or Sassicaia.
renzo2005-2.jpg2006 Renzo Marinai Chianti Classico $26: Spectator highly-scored wine lives up to the hype. More than 90% Sangiovese. Excellent balance without being integrated. Strange as the fruit and acid flavors are only dating and not yet married. Grapes may not be aware they have been vinified. Cherry flavors, good acid spine. Unexpectedly nice. A case in which we trusted the waiter and she came through like a pro. 13.5%
tiefenbrunner2006-2.jpg2006 Tiefenbrunner Sudtirol “Castel Turmhof” Lagrein $18: Lagrein is a Northern Italian grape which our waiter pitched as Syrah-like. Lean, full flavored with medium weight. I ask myself shouldn’t Tempranillo taste this good? I preferred the Chianti but this everyone else loved this bottle. Good forward fruit for such a Northern climate in the Alto Adige. Another ski country wine. 13%
Our waiter recommended an Alamo Square wine bar named Uva Enoteca and a wine shop called Biondivino off of Polk. I can tell by looking at the websites next trip for sure.
The LA Times Wine Critic recently described the best LA has to offer in restaurants with strong wine programs. tBoW will checking out Pinxt with Dotore’ in tow. We already know Palate (top of a short pile) AOC and Lou. We expect this handful to be excellent. We just wish there were more of them!!
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