Comparing your wine list now to, say, four years ago, what are the big shifts?
Our list has gotten a lot more diverse. We’ve added more regions, both in the Old World and the New World. Three years ago we didn’t have a Jura section, now we do.
What other regions are getting more attention?
Variety from Spain is getting better and better. I always like red wines from white wine regions—I like less-ripe reds in general. So reds from Rías Baixas, Bierzo, Ribera Sacra. And Basque reds. We’ve also had success with wines from the Canary Islands, coming in through José Pastor. And the Sherry section has grown immensely. When we started we had three Sherries by the glass. Now we have ten, plus two Madeiras.
We were big into the Languedoc when we opened and that’s coming back. There is obviously some really great land; there are a lot of old vines; there is a long history. But it is also a sort of Wild West region where experimentation is common. And the wines go well with our food.
Plus, there’s a lot of fun stuff happening in California right now. It’s as good as I’ve ever known. Thing like Steve Matthiasson’s whites and reds, or people making syrah and chardonnay and going leaner and leaner, looking for more balance. Or doing some skin contact for whites. It seems like the shell has really broken open for California wines.
Any changes in terms of wine service?
We’re always thinking about glassware—what tradition tells us, and what our own preferences tell us. At home, I try the same wine out of different glasses all the time. We’re serving lot of really old, high-end Sherries in big Burgundy glasses. Some of the Champagnes that see wood, or the more vinous Champagnes, we’ll also serve in Burgundy glasses.
Your most successful new wine this year was a 2001 Etna Rosso from Calabretta. Tell me about that wine.
That wine has been big all over the city. It’s such a great wine for the money it’s silly: an aged wine, unique volcanic soil, a cool grape. It’s a great drinking experience for not a lot of money. I like nerello mascalese a lot. You get both the refinement of nebbiolo and the volcanic quality of aglianico.
Two zinfandels made your top-ten list. Do you consider yourself a zin advocate?
It’s an important grape in California, and it’s one of the few things that we can do better than anywhere else. We have a separate section for it. Wine drinkers come here from other countries, and they want to drink zin, and I don’t blame them, considering the old vines—they’re the most interesting vines we have here in the state. It doesn’t have to be done in a huge style, either. It’s usually 14.5 plus alcohol, but it carries it pretty well. It’s a cool grape and I’d hate to see it forsaken because it’s not hip enough.
A couple of domestic pinot noirs also made your top-ten list. Is pinot as hot as ever?
It used to be that if you put a pinot noir on the bottle list at $35, and by the glass at $10, that wine would account for 80 percent of the wine sales. People would default to it. Now, if you have that wine, people will consider it but they won’t go right to it. That manic pinot thing has tailed off a little.
Any other trends that are shaping your list?
Our guests are definitely more tuned in to importers than in the past. The natural wine movement is largely responsible for this. Wine people have always been more or less aware of a couple of importers, like Kermit Lynch or Neal Rosenthal. But there is a whole new wave of younger wine drinkers obsessed with [Joe] Dressner and many of the small folks following his lead. Like Selection Massale in San Francisco, or Metropolis and C&P Wines out of New York.
Longtime senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Luke now works for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.