When Lulu McAllister was studying at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, she was given the project of dissecting a wine program. She chose NOPA in San Francisco, a restaurant she had appreciated while attending the University of San Francisco. “I started to try to criticize it, and I found it flawless: it was everything that speaks to me, my favorite Champagne by the glass, a great half-bottle program…” After graduating, she immediately applied to NOPA and got a job, working her way up to the wine director role, putting together rotating regional focuses and boisterous Magnum Mondays for a trade-heavy crowd.
I’m gearing up to start a new program called Snacks with Winemaker, as a monthly event. We serve snacks from five to six pm, small bites at the communal table. This is kind of a precious time, when people are chilling out and having things on a small scale. I thought: this would be a great time for a winemaker to come in and do a mini-flight of wines. Jamie Kutch is going to be the first, and he’ll pour three wines, maybe five. It will be five to ten dollars to do the tasting, and they meet the winemakers themselves.
Favorite Magnum Mondays wine?
We had Faith Armstrong-Foster come in—Onward is her solo project, and she poured her Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir [from Anderson Valley]. (She’s also making a few other wines, like experimenting with a really lean malvasia pet-nat.) The wine was singing, and she was just so fun to have around—completely comfortable with the guests and the staff.
My “island wine” feature focused on some special wines from the Mediterranean. During that research I stumbled upon one of my favorite wines to drink and sell: 2013 Gentilini Robola from the island of Cephalonia. It’s this grape that grows on cliffs on this archipelago of islands in the Ionian Sea. It makes amazing wines, with aromatics sort of like grüner or riesling: pretty, minty, high-toned, fresh, mineral. And the palate reminds me more of some northern Italian wines—there’s this savory, saline element to it.
We poured four wines in total, two whites and two reds, and that was definitely a discovery wine. The price point is insane, too. I think we sold it for $39.
We poured Antoine Arana’s Carco Rouge from Corsica, on the other end. It’s this bloody, ferrous wine that doesn’t relent until midway through the meal. You can imagine the livestock moving across the landscape there. I was looking at pictures, thinking about weather and landscape, trying to picture wine in context of place, You imagine the hardiness of the place and the hearty meat dishes, lamb and goat, that they might eat with the wine.
These were both wines of place.
I feel like everybody always starts with bubbles; I think sparkling rosé has definitely taken a leap. Italian white wines—I’ve seen more of those going out with industry folks. But it’s still a lot of the Jura and Loire action happening. I think we’re still very much in that phase.
Longtime senior editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Luke now works for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.