Alex FoxThis week we ran our first wine list review to accompany Jonathan Kauffman’s restaurant review in the print edition of SF Weekly. Jonathan likes to offer people a little extra flavor on the web, so I decided to do that too by dropping by Bar Tartine on a Friday morning to taste wine with general manager and wine director Alex Fox.
While Fox and I were tasting eight obscure wines from five countries, we got to talking about pornography.
We were talking about natural wines, and tasting wine, and one of us, we
won’t can’t remember which, stated that European porn stars are more “natural” than American. Then we wondered whether people’s tastes in wine and porn might be linked. New World wine palate; Las Vegas showgirls (or Chippendales, depending on which section of the list you order from). Old World palate? Maybe you’ll prefer people who look real.
“Most Americans don’t know the difference between enhanced and augmented,” Fox says. “There’s a place for big and voluptuous, but it has to be in balance.”
That said, there are few Marilyn Monroes on Bar Tartine’s wine list. Instead, it’s a fashion parade of Christina Riccis: lean and just a little weird, but sexy for those who appreciate them.
I can’t hide my excitement over the Vinoterra Kakheti (Georgia) Saperavi 2005 ($59), which Fox describes as “a Rioja mixed with barbecue sauce.” That’s pretty accurate: notes of dark and dried cherries mingle with a slightly tomatoey, spicy note. It smells and tastes sufficiently rich, yet it’s only 13 percent alcohol. Most Georgian reds are sweet, but this is bone dry, and it gets my highest compliment in my notebook: “I could drink the heck out of this.”
Turns out the winemaker buries the fermenting wine underground in earthenware vessels, an ancient technique created when there was no refrigeration and recently revived as part of the back-to-nature movement. Very little of the wine makes it to the U.S., and Fox said he buys nearly half of it.
I oohed and aahed over the Clos du Tue-Boeuf Rouillon Cheverny 2010 ($46), a 50-50 blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, a freaky combination you don’t usually see. It’s light-bodied — most of Bar Tartine’s red wines are — with a spicy cinnamon character with notes of dried cherry and orange peel. And it’s just 11.5 percent alcohol, which is astonishingly low for reds these days.
“This guy must have been a hippie because he has a half-cow, half-butterfly on the label,” Fox says. Made from Biodynamic and organically grown grapes, the wine has minimal sulfur, which means it won’t last long in the bottle. “I used to think of ageability as an important factor in wine quality,” Fox says. “The natural wine movement and wines like this have made me come around on that. What’s wrong with a wine to drink right now?”
We differ on the Monasterio de Corias Seis Octavos Joven Seleccion Congas 2009 ($9 by the glass.) Fox likes and I dislike the same quality: the fizziness, and the sense that it’s still fermenting.
“If you think about all the trendy food in the world these days, it’s all about fermentation,” he says. “Making your own pickles, all of that. You wouldn’t believe the smells that come out of the basement here sometimes.” We’re glad to take his word for it.
While Fox pours me the Teran Terzolo Istria Croatia 2008 ($44), which has so much iron that its finish tastes like a mineral supplement, we chat about the need to balance wines he likes with what the public likes.
“I can do a lot more here than I could at a big restaurant downtown,” says Fox, who previously worked at Myth and Gary Danko. “Being in this neighborhood, our crowd is more adventurous. But you can take that too far, and some places do. I want to have some of these unique wines that I love, but I don’t want to force them on people. You have to have some Pinot Noir and Cabernet and things like that.”
Fox and I both adore the Massican Annia Napa Valley White Wine 2010 ($47), a blend of 47 percent Tocai Fruliano, 33 percent Ribolla Gialla, and 20 percent Chardonnay. On the first sip you notice the minerality, unusual for a Napa white, and the lean, refreshing profile of a wine that’s just 12.1 percent alcohol. But on subsequent sips you notice just how much melon and lime and dried pineapple fruit it packs onto its lean frame.
“It really is a Napa white, but in its own way,” Fox says. “It has all the fruit. It just isn’t hanging out all over the place.” I think this was when we started talking about porn. And I think I’m going to end this post right here.
561 Valencia (at 16th St.), San Francisco, CA