Wine lists hold surprises for those willing to venture into unknown territory
Walk into any bar or restaurant with a decent wine list and chances are you’ll find the usual suspects: Chardonnay from California, Pinot Noir from France, Sangiovese from Italy, Shiraz from Australia and Tempranillo from Spain.
Eddie V’s in The Headquarters at Seaport District strays from the well-worn path, offering such unexpected wines as Pinot Noir from Macedonia, Cabernet Sauvignon from Sardinia and Pinot Grigio from Slovenia, as well as rosés from Tasmania and Lebanon.
“Our wine list a year ago was probably 90 percent California wines,” Managing Partner Guenevere Wolfe says. “We decided to expand our repertoire because there are so many exciting wines being made in all parts of the world, and many are world-class wines that rival well-known winemakers in the United States for a fraction of the cost. I am pleasantly surprised that a lot of our guests choose these more unusual wines, and I think that’s partly because the awareness of types of wine is growing and there’s a curiosity there.”
At $9 a glass and $36 a bottle, the 2013 Macedon Pinot Noir from Macedonia is the least expensive Pinot Noir on Eddie V’s
“It’s a really smooth, easy-drinking wine,” Guenevere says. “Guests really love it.”
A 2006 Sella & Mosca Cabernet Sauvignon from Sardinia lies in the higher price end, at $144 a bottle (not available by the glass). Yes, it’s Italian, but not from the well-known wine regions on the mainland.
The flip side of the coin — unexpected wines from expected places — offer another unconventional option. Eddie V’s menu gathers a handful under “Interesting Whites.” They include Verdelho from Portugal; a Viura-Malvasia blend from Spain; a blend of Malvasia Istriana, Friulano and Riesling from Italy; and Cortese, also from Italy.
“These wines were specifically chosen to pair with fresh shellfish, because they are very crisp and have a beautiful mineral quality,” Guenevere says.
Similarly, it’s the food that drives the wine list at The Hake in La Jolla.
“We go out of our way to choose wines that will complement our food,” Managing Partner Ricardo Dondisch says. “That’s why we don’t limit ourselves to typical California Cabernet or Chardonnay. We look for regions that have the same type of variety — for example Chablis, which is the same grape as Chardonnay. We think it’s pretty cool for people to be able to taste the same wine from a different region and see the contrast.
“Our suppliers know that we look for those things. They just don’t move them that much,” Ricardo notes. The restaurant also has a retail license and has sold wine to customers by the case that they typically won’t find on store shelves.
While Malbec has brought international attention to Argentinian wine, The Hake promotes the South American country’s white varietal: Torrontés.
“It goes beautifully with our food,” Ricardo says.
General Manager Daniel Valerino refers to it as a flowery white wine evocative of candied melon, adding that the Susana Balbo Signature Torrontés on The Hake’s wine list exhibits notes of crème brûlée or toast.
“This is from one of the best wine producers in South America,” he attests. “It is barrel fermented and has more depth, with a little oak.”
Daniel runs through some of The Hake’s other novel wines:
• Picpoul de Pinet, which he says has good acidity, a round mouth feel and a nice sweetness. It’s what a well-known, neighboring restaurant owner orders whenever he comes in.
• Godello, exhibiting “beautiful lime zest, great acidity and a drier finish.”
• Petit Manseng, a dessert wine with “the sweetness of a Sauterne, but a bit longer, a bit more controlled.” Daniel notes that 2010 Ornus dell’Ornellaia is a highly allocated wine. “We got the last three bottles in California,” he says.
• Cortese di Gavi, which “Chardonnay drinkers typically like” for its round mouth feel and more voluptuous fruit than oak.
• Carignan from Chile, “a big wine, smoother than Cabernet.”
• And these: Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Rousanne from Australia, Vermentino from Sardinia, Verdejo and Albariño from Spain, Grüner Veltliner from Austria and Pinot Noir from New Zealand.
During happy hour, The Hake offers an Embruix Vall de Llach blend of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for $10 a glass.
“We go through quite a bit of it,” Daniel says of the wine from the Priorat region of Spain. “I have poured it for people who are used to Caymus [highly rated, pricey Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley],
and they prefer it.”
“We don’t go for the Rombauers of the world,” Ricardo notes, referring to another acclaimed California wine label. “We go for what we feel is the top representation of wine at different price points.”
The Ebruix “is not one of the wines that sells itself, for sure,” Ricardo admits. But he notes that once introduced to a lesser-known wine by a server, patrons will order it themselves on a return visit. “More people come in and ask, ‘What’s good? What’s new’?” he says.
OB Warehouse in Ocean Beach offers several wine-list curiosities, starting with a white blend of Verdejo and Viura grapes from Spain, which Manager Yami Bryan says “offers floral aromatics and a fresh taste.”
Another light and crisp wine she recom-mends is Verus Vineyards’ Furmint — a classic grape of the Tokaj wine region in Hungary, but this one is from Slovenia.
Although wine lovers have a well-established regard for Pinot Noir, the white version presents another story. OB Warehouse’s wine list includes Pinot Noir Blanc from Southern Pflaz, Germany. Rounding out the restaurant’s less-common wines are Montepulciano from Italy and Carmenere from Chile.
Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia, Viognier from Chile, Monastrell from Spain, Pinot Blanc from Germany and a Pinotage blend from South Africa have found a place at Seasons 52 at various points in time. And if you’re looking forward to the Summer Olympics in Brazil, you can raise an apropos toast.
“We will be bringing in a host of Brazilian wines for our spring and summer Drink Them Before They’re Famous features,” reports Eric McConville, managing partner at the chain’s Headquarters at Seaport District venue. “They include wines you are familiar with — Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay — and some specialties of Brazil, like Tannat and sparkling rosé. We discovered these wines during our exploration trips to South America.”
All of the restaurants mentioned here have found that some guests are more adventurous than others.
“Sometimes we need to ‘present’ new wines to our guests. But we do so with the confidence that they taste good, pair well with our food and bring joy to our guests,” Eric says. “Wine is something you can spend your whole life enjoying and learning about.”