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


Live your best food life.

Sign up to discover your next favorite restaurant, recipe, or cookbook in the largest community of knowledgeable food enthusiasts.
Sign Up For Free
Wine 10

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:

230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

937 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

Want to stay up to date with this post?

Recommended From Chowhound