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Local ingredients and International wines

I have a random question that I've been thinking about and hoping CHers can answer. Recently I've been to a lot of restaurants in the Bay Area that focus on sourcing ingredients locally and leaving as little carbon footprint as possible (ie Oliveto). What I don't understand is that many of these restaurants carry a wide selection of European and other International wines vs. California wines. Does wine not count in the whole sourcing of local products? Just curious. Thanks.

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  1. I suppose it all depends upon WHY one is being a "locavore." In terms of food, Oliveto (and other SF Bay area establishments) have access to to a selection of locally gown/produced ingredients which -- quite often -- chefs elsewhere in the US can merely dream of.

    But wine is -- at least for me, although I suspect this is true for Oliveto and other restaurants -- another matter entirely. For example, have you tasted a California-made Nebbiolo? Sangiovese? Garganega? How do they compare to a Barbaresco? a Chianti Classico? or a Soave?

    Even when the wines are of comparable quality -- say between a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and a classified growth Bordeaux -- there remains a significant difference to the flavor profile. The same is true between a local Chardonnay and a white Burgundy, for instance, or a Pinot Noir and a red Burgundy, and so on and so on and so on . . .

    Using a locally grown haricot vert, for example, Oliveto will have a fresher tasting bean, and a better tasting dish, than one picked last week in France and flown over here. But wines taste VERY different from one place to another . . .

    1 Reply
    1. re: zin1953

      In addition, the style of many California wines isn't very food friendly. Most European wine is crafted to be drunk with food.

      I poked around the Oliveto website and didn't see the words "carbon footprint" anywhere. As zin1953 noted, there are many reasons to source food locally, many of which have nothing to do with carbon footprints.

    2. If a restaurant touts itself as locavore, than the wine (philosophically) should be local as well which isn't a big deal in California. That said, how many restaurants are truly locavore or tout themselves as such? I don't think that many. Most would say they like to source local ingredients but few would box themselves in like that as hardcore locavore.

      Of course as a diner and consumer, you can order local wines iwth locavore food. I went to Manresa and the wine guy in the group made a great suggestion of ordering local wines and simply told the sommelier that was the plan. Worked out very nicely and made sense in the spirit of things. Manresa says it sources many local ingredients and grows stuff in their garden but I've never heard them take on the locavore label.

      In other words, I don't think that many places really take on the locavore label and thus most avoid having to totally source local.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ML8000

        On the other hand . . .

        Personally, I find -- as I said above -- that French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Austrian wines taste nothing like California wines produced from the same grape. Further, I am in agreement with Ruth's statement above, in that I find many California wines are not very "food friendly" -- especially compared to their European counterparts. (Note: I find Australian wines much closer in flavor to California.)

        It's one thing if you announce that your restaurant is based upon the philosophy of "locavore-ism" (I don't know -- whatever the right word is). If that's the case, then I can see the argument that local wines are the only wines that will belong on the wine list. But think about it: if you're in Omaha, do you really want only local wines? California isn't all that different. San Diego? Do you really want wines only from San Diego and Temecula? (I wouldn't.)

        Now, as far as Manresa is concerned, the ONE place that I think the wines are more food-friendly is the Santa Cruz Mountains. AND it's one of my favorite -- no, it IS my favorite region in California! Still, I'm glad I have other choices . . .

        From Manresa's website:

        >>> The wine list at Manresa has over 600 selections and focuses on the Santa Cruz Mountains, Burgundy and Germany. <<<


        1. re: ML8000

          The one place I can think of that does good local food and tries to be local with their wines is Encuentro in Oakland.

        2. The California fad for ultra-ripe grapes, massive extraction, lots of new oak, and high alcohol results in wines that many of us find unpleasant to drink with food, or at all. I think most of those restaurants will carry more California wines as soon as they find more that taste as good as European wines.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            While I think that may be true awhile ago, at this point there's hundreds of winemakers of all different styles all across California (and Oregon for that matter). Producers abound, and many now have small secondary bottlings.

            Assuming one is a restaurant with a modest under 100 bottle list. There are absolutely 25-50 producers in all of California (and if you are in NorCal may as well include Oregon as well) that make food friendly wines. Sommeliers at Manresa, Benu, French Laundry, Atelier Crenn etc. can find them.

            I think the argument that the restaurant isn't trying to be environmentally conscious just wanted to support local food producers is an understandable one.

            And the argument that customers aren't ready for local wine only lists even if they are ready for local food only menus is also an understandable one.

            But I think the position that they would serve only local wines if they could only find a producer that made food friendly wines is silly. You can find them. They certainly exist. They may not be the majority, they may not have as good QPR, but again in a state with thousands of wine producers - the don't need to be the majority.

            1. re: goldangl95

              Another problem you fail to mention is one of visibility. Customers (by and large) are seeking out familiar names on wine lists. In other words, while they may be willing to spend $____ on an unfamiliar bottle at retail, they are less willing to do so on a wine list. Thus, while they may see, for example, a wine from Lavender Ridge, Bonterra, or even Coturri, they are probably far more comfortable with buying a wine from a label they are more familiar with -- be it Jordan, Grgich, Hall, or Mondavi . . . .

              1. re: zin1953

                Preconceptions may also be a problem. People think they know what a California cabernet tastes like. Therefore, they may assume that they won't like any California cab on the list (or think it won't go with their food), even one they've never heard of.

                European wines are much harder to pigeonhole. Plus, it's often not obvious from the name of a European wine what it is or what its characteristics are, which prompts people to ask the waiter/sommelier and have an actual conversation about the wine.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Ruth Lafer and Zin1953 - I completely agree with you that name recognition and generalizations can be a huge barrier in featuring local wines and that many restaurants don't feel up to the challenge.

                  I think that problem falls into the category that consumers aren't ready for local only wine/spirits lists even if they've become ready for local only food.

                  Getting people into local, organic, heirloom foods used to be an uphill battle as well - it's now more on trend and people are more accepting of green tomatoes, substituting seeweed for lettuce, and going without berries in the winter. But it took awhile.

                  It would be nice if a place opened up that was like say, St. Vincent's in San Francisco. Featuring tons of variety many little known producers and varietals etc. but with more of a local focus.

                  1. re: goldangl95

                    Again, it all depends upon the WHY . . . why is a restaurant buying local? Is it for ecological / carbon footprint reasons? Or is it a matter of taste?

                    California is in a unique position, and the San Francisco Bay Area all the more so. It's the rest of the country that wants our produce.

                    Now, if we accept "local" as within 100 miles, from the San Francisco Bay Area, all of Napa, Sonoma, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz Counties, along with their respective AVAs, are accessible, along with a small part of Mendocino. The Sierra Foothills and Monterey County, the Anderson Valley and the rest are out-of-bounds. But one can certainly get some excellent wines from within 100 miles of downtown San Francisco.

                    But what about LA? The wine regions of Santa Barbara are more than 100 miles away. So you're left with Cucamonga, Temecula, Fallbrook, and the wineries in and around Escondido. Speaking personally? (Yawn.)

                    Let alone, as I mentioned earlier, the Midwest . . .

                    But the one thing we are forgetting, it seems to me, is that wine is not the same as fresh, local produce. California wineries can obtain grapes from anywhere -- so if a Sonoma winery makes a Santa Rita Hills AVA Pinot Noir, is it local? The Sonoma winery is within 100 miles of the San Francisco restaurant, but the grapes (aka "fresh local produce") that made the wine were not. This doesn't even include the California winery that makes wine from grapes grown in Oregon . . . or Washington!

                    Wine is, in this analogy, more like a processed food than "fresh local produce." Does the flour used to make the in-house pizza have to be made from within the 100-mile radius? Is it OK to use flour made from wheat grown in North Dakota for that great pizza from the locavore restaurant around the corner? What about the olive oil? And no one grows peppercorns or vanilla beans within 100 miles of San Francisco.

                    How "strict" does one have to be to be a locavore?

                    The local wine thing seems silly to me, but I'm just old and stuck in my ways. I go to certain restaurants because the food is good -- better (or different) than I can make at home. Quite often, a part of the reason the food is so good is that some or all of the produce is local. (Then again, part of the reason the food we make at home is so good is that we source our produce from some of the same farmers that top-quality local restaurants do.) But, FOR ME (and I can only speak for myself), it is of more importance that the food taste good than that it is local. If it's both, so much the better! But if I have to choose between a great restaurant and an average one that promotes itself as being a "locavore" establishment, I'm opting for greatness every time!

                    When it comes to wine, I want the same thing: I want my wine to taste great, and compliment my meal. If my taste runs towards a Vinho Tinto from the Douro, or a crisp Txakoli from the Basque region of Spain -- so be it, as long as it compliments the meal. Again, for *me* it is my personal palate preference that wins out every time! There are times when I'll have, for example, a California Syrah from Edmunds St. John from El Dorado County, or open a bottle of Santa Cruz Mountains AVA Equinox sparkling wine . . . but there are also times when I want a Syrah from the Northern Rhône or a true Champagne . . . .

                    Just my own 2¢. YMMV.


                2. re: zin1953

                  I generally do not expect to see any wine names (producers) that I am familiar with on wine lists. I tend to expect that any names I do recognize will be priced beyond my reach.

                  (Excluding the 10 bottle list at the local Italian etc.)

                  1. re: FrankJBN

                    Is this because all you purchase is 2BC, and only the name you recognize is Château Lafite? Or because the only wines you drink are so obscure that no restaurant has ever heard of them?

                    Personally I've ***never*** seen a wine list in the US (or even abroad) where I don't recognize at least one wine on it . . .

                3. re: goldangl95

                  The overripe fruit / high alcohol / heavy oak thing is a relatively modern fad, such wines were almost unknown before the 80s. The pendulum seems to be swinging back but it's still really difficult to find exceptions at competitive prices-–and Bay Area restaurant customers are very value-conscious and quite adventurous in trying and consuming new wines if the price is right. It wasn't many years ago that Gruner and Falanghima were inheard of on local lists.

              2. Gaumenkitzel, where I had lunch today, calls itself a green business, with local, organic ingredients and yet it only serves German wine and beer. In fact, the waitress told me "German wine is better." I don't know about that, but it was delicious. Maybe it suited the food better, too. I'm not really wine-savvy enough to know for sure. Seems reasonable, though.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Glencora

                  *sigh* the green business part does get to me - I must admit. I mean lots of semi-endangered fish, truffles and caviar, or ingredients that are not in season, or spices from some far way place etc. can all taste better than say making do with what's in a sixty mile radius in the depth of winter.

                  But the whole point if you're saying you are a green and sustainable business...is to try and be green and sustainable. In my opinion, importing heavy glass bottles internationally really doesn't speak to that practice.

                  1. re: goldangl95

                    The carbon footprint of a ship carrying freight is less than that of a delivery truck driving across the state.

                    1. re: plaidbowtie

                      This is sad but true. Farmers driving a small truck or van to the farmers market has a high carbon footprint because it loses the efficiencies of scale. Actually, the largest part of the carbon foot print is the drive from the point of purchase to the point of consumption. If you're driving more than a little farther to the farmers market than to the store you would otherwise buy from you're not saving at all on your carbon footprint (especially since you're probably going to the conventional market anyway for other things). There are lots of reasons to support local farmers, but lowing your carbon footprint isn't one of them.

                2. From the restaurant owner's perspective, there is also an issue of value (profit), in that many good quality, food-friendly imported wines can be obtained relatively inexpensively and can be marked up 3+ times and are still perceived to be at an appropriate price, whereas the best local wines may start at a much higher wholesale cost. Yes, there is no carbon footprint logic in that equation.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: foodeye

                    Tap wines seem to be an exception to that rule. The economics favor local producers, and they seem to be making fresher, more European-styled wines for the keg trade. I had a great Wind Gap Trousseau Gris at Comal.

                  2. As an aside, Abbot's Cellar which opened recently and I haven't been to yet has a very reasonable wine list - all California wines. Their beer list on the other hand is extensive and from all over:

                    34 Replies
                    1. re: goldangl95

                      Usual problem for the all-California lists I see: some whites I like, but not one red. Expensive, too.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        To each to their own tastes for sure, but one certainly can't say that all the reds on that list are over the top fruit bombs that won't go with food. Especially with the age on a lot of those. Six of the reds on the list are $60 or under for a bottle *shrug* which seems very reasonable for California wines at a restaurant in this price range- especially since there's only some 15 reds total.

                        Sure it's not as easy as grabbing the best wines from whatever region, but it's also not easy to find local sustainable produce - AND it was partially demand from restaurants and partnerships with restaurants that allowed more local farmers/producers to thrive and create sustainable practices.

                        1. re: goldangl95

                          Very interesting discussion, thanks for all the comments. I agree with zin1953 that I personally pick restaurants where the food and wine are good, and if they're local, even better. I've just been feeling like a lot of restaurants promote the green and sustainable thing and didn't know where international wines, or even European olive oils fit in. I appreciate all the perspectives.

                          1. re: calalilly

                            Not entirely in line with your question, but last week some of the wine community from coast to coast has been debating wine list composition and raising some of the same issues. Links to some of the pieces,

                            1. re: calalilly

                              I know this is really late to the discussion, but there's also one part of your original post that hasn't really been addressed.

                              Obviously the farther produce has to travel, the older it is by the time it gets to its final destination. Thus, if a restaurant wants "fresh," they source locally. Then again, there are certain items which are not harmed by travel (or harmed so little as to be irrelevant). One such item is wine.

                              If you are an Italian restaurant, like Oliveto, would you want to carry Italian wines? or local wines? (Personally, I'd want to have both on my wine list if I were the owner of Oliveto; as a customer, I only order Italian wines when I'm there.)

                              The same holds true for any restaurant with a wine list. Should a Japanese restaurant only carry sake made in the US?

                              Any number of restaurants here in California have tried "California-only" wine lists. Usually these fail; too many customers want wines from overseas.

                              And how is a restaurant in, say, New Orleans or Miami or Chicago going to carry an extensive wine list if they ONLY cary "local" wines?


                              1. re: zin1953

                                Sake made in the U.S. is produced from table rice intended for eating, such as Japonica, while sake made in Japan is made from sake rice specifically intended for sake brewing. There is quite a large difference in flavor. Sake rice is not presently grown in the U.S. as far as I know.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Takara USA on their website carefully sidesteps this question by not mentioning the specific variety of rice used in the sake they make in the U.S. Of course, Takara in Japan uses Yamada Nishiki rice, but this is just general information on the site, used with an English translation. For their ShoChikuBai sake made in Berkeley, they only mention "superior rice" from the Sacramento Valley. I have sent them an e-mail asking what variety of rice is used in the ShoChikuBai they brew in Berkeley, and will post when I receive an answer.

                                    1. re: Tripeler

                                      Regardless of the variety of rice used (this, IMHO, is a side-issue and not directly on point), the idea of "restricting" a wine list to ONLY using local wines -- whether it's Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, or sake -- is ludicrous.

                                      Call me "blind" or a "carbon whore," but the idea of having no Italian wines (for example) on a wine list at an Italian restaurant like Oliveto or A16, is something I find silly. The same is true for a place like Yoshi's and other Japanese restaurants with an extensive list of sakes in many styles and from various places within Japan.

                                      And -- conveniently, I suppose -- I've never seen the issue of distillates and "locavore" raised. Do people really want to give up their favorite single malts, Irish or Canadian whiskies; Cognac, Armagnac or Calvados; Tequila, R(h)um, etc. in favor of ONLY drinking the distillates produced within a 100 mile radius of downtown San Francisco?

                                      Now, personally, I already enjoy No. 209 Gin (made on Treasure Island), Hangar One Vodka (made on Alameda), and Germain-Robin brandy (made in Mendocino), But I am not about to give up on my Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados -- all from France, with no equivalent produced anywhere in the world; my Rhum Agricole, or even my Rye and Bourbon from Kentucky . . . and so on and so on.

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        Sidebar's bar menu has regular and locavore versions of some cocktails. 100% locavore would be impractical (e.g. no tequila), but lots of places use as much local stuff as exists.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          And certainly, Robert, many, MANY places in the Bay Area pour -- or at least offer -- Hangar One vodka, for example, or No. 209 gin.

                                          But, for one to replace _______________ [enter your favorite single malt Scotch here] with, for example, the malt whiskey produced by St. George Spirits on Alameda, one first has to actually LIKE their malt. I do not, though I enjoy many of their eaux-de-vie and most of their Hangar One brand of vodkas.

                                          As for "no tequila," I would be remiss if I didn't point out that St. George also produces "Agua Azul" 100% blue agave . . . but, again, you have to like it in order to use it.


                                        2. re: zin1953

                                          I would like to think of the locavore movement less about exclusion and more about support/inclusion. It's not so much whether they serve food/alcohol outside the area as much as how much are they trying to do to support and encourage more from inside the area?

                                          There is a great market right now for small batch/artisan liquors and as Richard points out, many bars are making a great effort to feature them (while still having the standards around for those who want them). i'd like to see more of that on wine lists - and actually I am starting to see more of that - and I think it's a good thing to encourage a greater variety of wine varietals and styles in Northern California.

                                          1. re: goldangl95

                                            Not to be (strictly) contrarian, but . . . .

                                            >>> I think it's a good thing to encourage a greater variety of wine varietals and styles in Northern California. <<<

                                            Are you suggesting that people plant varieties that don't do well here, just so that it can be "local"? And, clearly, that doesn't address the issue I asked above: "And how is a restaurant in, say, New Orleans or Miami or Chicago going to carry an extensive wine list if they ONLY carry 'local' wines?"

                                            To that regard, we in Northern California are quite lucky to have so many truly great wines originate from within the 100-mile radius I see discussed so much as "locavore." But not even LA is so blessed, let alone Chicago, New Orleans, etc., etc.

                                            As far as spirits are concerned, see my reply directly to Robert. (Who's Richard?)

                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              "Are you suggesting that people plant varieties that don't do well here, just so that it can be "local"?"

                                              The rule in California is that grape growers plant only the most popular Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties with zero regard for whether they are appropriate for the local terroir.

                                              Locavores in LA should stick to salt water.

                                          2. re: zin1953

                                            What I am saying about rice, Zin1953, is that sake brewed from table rice is comparable to wine made from Thompson Seedless grapes. Unfortunately, sake brewed in the U.S. is not made from special sake rice varieties, but instead is made from table rice, specifically Japonica from the central valley. I am all in favor of people anywhere getting sake from Japan because in all cases it is simply better. The variety of rice is NOT a side issue.

                                            I sent an e-mail to Takara in Berkeley 24 hours ago, asking what variety of rice is used in their ShoChikuBai product, but have yet to hear back from them. Rice variety matters in sake, every bit as much as grape varieties used for wines.

                                            1. re: Tripeler

                                              I think they must use the local short-grained variety called Sho-Chiku-Bai, since that name appears on their domestic sakes and is a registered trademark of Koda Farms.


                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                I would doubt that because ShoChikuBai is also the brand name of a sake in Japan, and the fact that Koda Farms uses that as a brand name for their mochi rice is really a coincidence. By the way, mochi rice is the highly glutinous rice used in Japanese sweets, and would not at all be suitable for sake brewing. It's been two days since I sent Takara in Berkeley an e-mail about what kind of rice they are using, but I still have not heard back from them. As far as I know, no sake rice varieties are grown in the U.S. at present.

                                              2. re: Tripeler

                                                I agree 100% that the type of rice is CRUCIAL for sake production, as is the geographic location of its origin. My point about it being a "side issue" is that the variety of rice is irrelevant when it comes to someone deciding to carry only local sake because they want to be a locavore . . . .

                                  2. re: goldangl95

                                    Hmmm ... that wine list seems ridiculously, and unnecessarily, expensive to me. Only one bottle (barely) under $40. In fact, I'm a little confused as to why anyone would buy a bottle when you can have three courses with wine pairing for $60!

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Right the pairings are mostly beer. And again bottles of wine in the $50 really seems to be about the price range these days when ones food is going to cost $65 a person. $50 a bottle works out 10 to 12.5 a glass which is the norm (these days) at these type of restaurants.

                                      2. re: goldangl95

                                        To my palate those reds are all overripe, overly alcoholic, or over-oaked. Age doesn't improve such wines. The Abbot's Cellar's markup is standard but that's no consolation when there's nothing to my taste. Moot point there as I'd drink beer anyway but I regularly avoid restaurants where I like the food when the wine list is so Inhospitable to my taste.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Ah yes I think we must have very different palates. I've never found the pinot featured from Rhys or the cabs from Kathryn Kennedy as overripe or over alcoholic or over oaked. Indeed, I find them edging on under ripe, green and stemmy.

                                          1. re: goldangl95

                                            Yes, some of the Rhys wines are leaner than the current crop of Burgundies.

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Different palates. I've been drinking my way through nearly all of a case of 1994 Laurel Glen CS, purchased on release, and it is far from overripe, overly alcoholic or overoaked to my palate. Quite restrained, and it took 10+ years for the tannins to calm down. Of the reds on the list, Drew is the one producer that I've not tried before so I cannot comment on the style. I could agree that Caymus, especially in 1990, might fit your description yet, Caymus wines do hold up over the years and often improve.

                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                              Different palates, but palates like mine and value-conscious consumers like me explain the Eurocentric lists.

                                              When you go back to 1990, Parkerized wines were not yet ubiquitous, so some CA Cabs from back then are drinking nicely these days (thank you, Grocery Outlet), though the price-value ratio is rarely competitive with vintage Bordeaux. What's the alcohol on the 1994 Laurel Glen? Current release is 15%.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Don't have a bottle in front of me, but this old thread on WS says 1994 LG is 12.5% alcohol.

                                                That said, for me "overly alcoholic" is not an absolute number but a question of balance.

                                                Not in reference to Parkerization, I highlighted 1990 because it was a very ripe and concentrated year in CA. That's what nature gave us, just as North Coast weather conditions produced much lower alcohol wines in 2010 and 2011. The Caymus is the one wine on the list that deviates from what seems to be the focus of the list, maybe the wine has matured to something else.

                                                But I've strayed far from calalilly's question. I just didn't want your blanket statement about the nature of the red wines to go unchallenged when my own experience with those producers has been so different.

                                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                  The percentage at which a wine is overly alcoholic depends on how it's balanced by other factors, but 12.5 is virtually never, 15 is almost always, and you can't get Cabernet to 15 without overripe grapes.

                                                  I wasn't really paying much attention to the $100+ wines on that list as for me they might as well not exist. I would have said overripe, overly alcoholic, over-oaked, or overpriced compared with European wines.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    I'm with Melanie on the % and the taste do not always correlate, plus the alcohol % is often not quite accurate. Brix may be a more accurate measure to get a feel of what it would taste like but granted that is harder info to find.

                                                    But - and I'm sorry to harp on this, and I don't have experience with most of the less expensive bottles on the list because they are not the bigger producers that are open for tastings, do events etc. but of the bottles under $50

                                                    The County Line Pinot Noir is 13.4% alcohol. I didn't have time to go through the rest but many are around 14%

                                                    Which seems perfectly restrained and somewhat inline with European wines.

                                                    1. re: goldangl95

                                                      Just read this in the Chronicle. I don't always agree with Michael Bauer, but interesting perspective I haven't considered.


                                                      For me personally, I grew up in the Napa Valley so am definitely biased towards Northern California wines and always try to order local when dining. But that also makes me not as familiar with international wines.

                                                      1. re: calalilly

                                                        If you read the comments attached to Bauer's post, you'll find one from someone who identifies him- or herself as a California winemaker. He/she supports Bauer's position, rather enthusiastically I might add. But I find this comparison of wine drinking/buying to locavore eating makes NO SENSE to me whatsoever.

                                                        What is the difference between, for example, radishes grown in Sonoma Co. and the same variety of radish grown in Mexico, or Spain, or China? Answer: freshness. Absolutely, locally grown vegetables (and by extension, other foods) are better, and better tasting, than produce shipped halfway around the world. But wine? A Côte-Rotie will be different from a California Syrah regardless of who the winemakers involved are; a Chianti Classico will taste like no Sangiovese ever made in California; and so on. A German Riesling? A French Champagne? A wine from the Douro or Rioja? Please. The faulty logic comes from the fact that California produces the VERY BEST California wines in the world. But they are California wines -- not French, not Australian, not Lebanese . . . each location produces wines unique to that locale, to that terroir, if you will. And one is not a direct substitute for the other. An all-French (or -Italian or -Spanish, etc.) wine list is just as wrong as an all-California one -- both miss out on a world of different tastes, different qualities, different nuances and food pairings. The wines selected for service in a restaurant should be hand-selected by the chef & wine buyer working together, to make sure each and every bottle works with the menu, the cuisine of the restaurant -- and not by trend, fashion, location, or -- God forbid! -- critics and/or sales reps . . .

                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      You haven't actually tasted all those wines you opined on despite saying "to my palate". That confused me.

                                                      Yesterday I visited Laurel Glen and thought I'd add this bit of info. The collateral material for the 2007 Laurel Glen cab does state 15% alcohol, but this is not typical of the estate. It says, "2007 was a smaller than average harvest that started later than most. Vineyard yields were about 20% lower than either 2006 or 2008. Only 11 harvest, of the 34 recorded since 1978, started later than October 2, 2007. And only 5 vintages were picked at a brix higher than 24.5."

                                                      The 2009 is the new release. Average brix at harvest was 25 degrees, and alcohol is 14.3%.

                                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                        I think I actually had tasted all the reds on the list on Abbot's Cellar's web site in August. The current list is much more toward my taste.

                                                        My point about the Laurel Glen was that the 1994 was probably made before the high-alcohol fad, and 12.5% then vs. 14.3% today supports that. Even if 14.3% is toward the current low end and below Darrel Corti's cutoff, it's still rare that I enjoy a wine with that much alcohol.

                                      3. Michael Bauer weighs in on this topic in his blog post today, completely missing the issues of most California wines being food-hostile and the exceptions being much more expensive than similar imports.

                                        I wonder whether the guy even drinks wine. In passing he outs the person from whom he gets his information / misinformation about wine markups, one Diane Teitelbaum of Dallas.


                                        11 Replies
                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I was talking with Gideon Beinstock of Clos Saron at a tasting a few weeks ago and he pointed out that the European wineries producing great wines at reasonable prices have generally not changed hands in generations, which allows them to make money selling wine at lower prices than most California winemakers can. Case in point, his "Out of the Blue" is a delicious old-vines Cinsault blend, but it costs $30 and I can buy similar imports for under $20.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            I think he also misses his own point: "They serve mostly Burgundy in Burgundy, mostly Piedmont in Piedmont, mostly Argentine in Argentina. It goes with the food grown locally, it is good and appropriate, and people come there to try the local wines."

                                            But as Robert noted, most of the common varietals grown in California are French, and as Bauer noted not long ago, California cuisine more closely resembles Italian. If in Piedmont they drink Piedmontese, then why, at an Italian (or Italian-inspired) restaurant -- whether in San Francisco or Italy -- would you pair a French varietal just because it happened to be grown locally?

                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              Ruth, I'd pair Wine ___________ with entrée _____________ because the two paired well together, regardless of race, religion, creed, or national origin . . .


                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                LOL. Okay. But that wasn't Bauer's argument, which was that the wine of a region goes with the food of a region. But in the places he was talking about, there's an indigenous cuisine that developed with the indigenous wine (even in Argentina, with their Malbecs). In California that's not true. Although you could make an argument that the most "California" wine -- zinfandel -- goes well with the more rustic versions of California cuisine.

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  We have had a rather lengthy discussion of this over on Chowhound's wine board . . . the theory ONLY works with "Old World" wine, and even then there are many exceptions.

                                                  As you rightly point out, all of California's grapes came from someplace else. Perhaps, if Michael insists on being "local," he should move to Manhattan and drink Concord with his meals.

                                                  (I'm just sayin')

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    LOL. That would be right in line with his tastes. ;-)

                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              wow, that is astounding, and kind of shakes my faith in the Chronicle. I have met Diane Teittelbaum, and spoken to her on occasion, having lived in Dallas for more years than I want to admit to. Credibility aside, why would someone in Dallas have insight into the San Francisco wine scene? I now find myself wishing that I didn't have this information in my head.

                                              1. re: pinotho

                                                She has access to wholesale price lists, though from some of the nonsense Bauer has written about wine markups I'm not sure they're California price lists.

                                                Jon Bonné, the Chron's wine writer, is excellent.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Texas prices are significantly higher than SF....you would expect that on CA wines, but it's also the case for European wines. I find this situation bizarre.... perhaps I just need to accept the fact that newspapers no longer fact check their information. Perhaps a byproduct of the digital age. I would agree with you about Bonne, pretty damn impressive.

                                                  1. re: pinotho

                                                    The stupidest thing Bauer ever wrote about wine markups was lauding Michael Chiarello for his claim that he was marking up only 2X wholesale at Bottega instead of the usual 3X, when in reality some bottles at the low end of the list were marked up more than the standard 3X.

                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    >>> Jon Bonné, the Chron's wine writer, is excellent. <<<