Fresh Eats: Deciphering the Wine List at Bar Tartine

SF Weekly has decided to occasionally write about the wine lists of restaurants Jonathan Kauffman reviews, when appropriate. (Burger Joint: Probably not appropriate. Michael Mina: Yeah, we're on it.) Because we like to make things difficult, we're starting out at Bar Tartine, whose general manager and wine director Alex Fox previously worked at Gary Danko and Myth.

Fox has assembled an exciting list for wine geeks that is bound to perplex people who aren't regular readers of Palate Press: a Napa Valley Tocai Friulano/Ribolla Gialla/Chardonnay blend, a Saperavi from Georgia (not the one next to Florida), and other obscurities.

"The emphasis is on lighter, lower-tannin reds," Fox says. "There's a lot of spice in the food, but it's not hot. We're looking for aromatic wines that have a little sweet and sour, playing off the cabbage. I don't care what the [grape] variety is."

Not one of the 66 wines could be called a major brand. Calera is the most familiar name, and we like the 2008 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir ($79). But who goes to a Cal-Hungarian restaurant for the familiar? By the glass, we'd try that Massican "Annia" 2010 Tocai/Ribolla/Chard blend ($12) or the Abbazia di Novacella Alto Adige Müller-Thurgau 2009 ($10), because with the rich food, we'd look for something light and aromatic to refresh the palate.

With the goat meatballs, Fox suggests a glass of the Tami Sicilia Nero d'Avola 2009 ($9). But with the sour-cherry soup, he recommends one of his 16 beers by the bottle, the Rodenbach Flanders Red from Belgium ($7).

Markup on bottles is generally about double retail, but we found a steal: Wittmann Westhofener S Rheinhessen Trocken Riesling 2007 ($55), which is over $40 in many stores. For a red, we have our eye on Charles Joguet Clos du Chêne Vert Chinon 2005 ($59), from a very good Loire Cabernet Franc producer in a very good vintage. We'd be perfectly happy with the cheapest wine on the list, Domaine de la Pepière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie 2009 ($36), which typifies the small-producer, hand-harvested aesthetic Fox is shooting for.

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