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What is it with SFO/Central Coast and High Alcohol Wine Lists?

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What is it with SFO/Central Coast and High Alcohol Wine Lists?

Steve Drucker | Oct 26, 2010 06:15 AM

In a just completed week of estimable eating in San Francisco, Portland and the Monterey Peninsula (Hakka, Perbacco, Mochica, Millbrae-Asian Pearl, Stockton / Jackson St take away dim sum and Plow in Potrero Hill and Kenny and Zukes in Portland), our penultimate night at a Chowhound favored Monterey Peninsula seafood restaurant confronted us with a 300+ bottle wine list.

'We're both eating fish--let's get a crisp white, although not a real Chablis because it would blow the whole dinner budget on a north of $100 bottle, maybe a good muscadet or lighter Italian white' I muttered to myself.

I leafed through the weighty wine book with the embossed front cover. Pages turned. Reds, super reds, new world centric, high alcohol (14% minimum) cabernets, merlots, pinot noirs and zinfindels chardonnays, new world pinot grigios and sauvignon blancs all got dismissed out of hand. Too headache-y, too red, too oak-y, too vanilla-y, too high sugar to balance the high alcohol, too wrong for seafood.

Finally a full page was labeled 'Vibrant Whites'.

'Aha' I thought to myself. My kind of wines. There was only one problem. Almost all of them were 13% alcohol and greater.

So what's the problem one might ask? When pairing with food, it's my taste to drink anti-Wine Advocate anti-Robert Parker market proven style composed wines. (There are exceptions--but those I prefer simple pairings, with cheese for example.)

Rather, wines made in the classic style, less then 13% alcohol. Red or white--the razor applies to both. We drink these daily at home--from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Even my old classmate of Freya Cellars, whom I haven't seen or spoke to in years since the vines were young, makes only Pinot Noir from vines he planted himself up in Oregon, and only at less than 13% alcohol. And he sells out by subscription every year. It's reassuring as it affirms that I'm not way way weird.

From the 'Vibrant White' section, I inquired after a $35 Sancerre. '14%' answered the waiter after returning from the wine wall where 300 bottle specific wine summaries were posted for the waitstaff. Then I asked after another. She asked if I had other questions so she could get all the answers in one trip to the reference section.

'I'm not sure' I said 'I need to get some answers first'. She sent over the manager/sommelier. I asked her the same questions.

'Sorry--it's global warming. They are even growing chardonnay in Germany. It's unlikely we have anything you would like'.

I tuned her out muy pronto. Where is she getting this drivel (not about global warming, but about wine making styles, global warming and chardonnay--Salon, wine salesmen)?

So I ordered an expensive Vinho Verde. 'Alvarinho' it also said. We tasted it. It was grapefruity, but in a mineral styled ok way. Not nearly like so many grapefruit pith tasting Spanish albarinos. ALBARARINOS . I slapped myself upside the head. This was no more a vinho verde than I'm a 20 something wine wanna be. It was an albarino, albeit Portuguese and rather good for its kind. It had a brown glass bottle. How could I have not seen it?

Maybe because it was misleadingly labeled in the weighty 17 mile Drive centric wine book?

But I didn't say a word. My wife fidgeted. That's what she does when she is almost out of patience and about to head to the bar to console herself. That's about as serious as it gets. I sucked down the wine and laughed at myself for having gotten snagged into an albarino when I was after a simple fun vinho verde, a know-it-all as momentarily clueless as any babe in the woods wanna be.

The next night at Asian Pearl in Millbrae, our final dinner, we ate like kings for little--Steamed Giant Clam sliced with garlic, Roast Pork, Salt and Pepper Squid and Mustard Greens (Sherlihon). The pork with salt fish was a too rare plate sized sausage patty too underdone to merit re-order, but we didn't care. With a couple of beers and tip the bill was only 60% of the previous night's well north of $100 tab.

Sigh. And some drool worthy pictures:

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Perbacco
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Mochica
937 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

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