Zach Pace of SF’s Foreign Cinema on vidadillo, bobal and Walla Walla cabernet

Several Italian wines did very well for you: the 2009 Talenti Pian di Conte Rosso di Montalcino, and a 2004 Gianfranco Bovio Barolo. What’s cool about that Rosso di Montalcino?

For running a by-the-glass program, we’ve been fortunate to have a string of really good vintages that are both ageable and approachable in their youth—both in Tuscany and Piedmont.

With the Rosso di Montalcino, it’s a style people are looking for: plush, aromatic and medium-bodied. It’s not overly oaked, and it’s one-hundred-percent sangiovese. It’s a style that people are demanding more often.

Do you have to work to sell the Barolo, or does it sell itself?
There’s a certain demographic that will just pick it up. But if the guest is looking for a fuller-bodied wine, my servers tend to direct them to [the Bovio] because the 2004s are starting to come around—though the tannins and acidity are still fairly high.  The wine has a fairly classic bent to it.

One of your best sellers was a vidadillo from the Ribera del Jiloca. I’ve never heard of that variety—what is it?
I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Spain in September 2010, and I went to that area, which straddles the border between Cariñena and Calatayud. It’s a Vino de la Tierra, essentially the same as a VdP in France. This guy, José Antonio Martin of Vinae Mureri, kind of rescued vidadillo from becoming extinct. It’s a really rare heirloom varietal. Some farmer was farming it, didn’t even know what he had, and this producer took it to a nearby university to have it analyzed, and found out that it was this rare ancient grape. The wine is 80 percent vidadillo, 20 percent bobal. With the help of the importer, Classical Wines, I set up a special direct import of this wine, so we’re the only place to sell it in the US.

It’s not primarily fruit-forward. It has supple tannins, very integrated, with a soft cherry orchard fruit quality to it and a little more depth. It was my favorite wine of his lineup, and the only one that wasn’t being imported to the US.

Some fairly uncommon varieties made your top-ten list: Montinore Muller Thurgau, Palmina Tocai Friulano, In general, have guests been pretty willing to go outside their comfort zones this year?
We see no sign of the major varietals waning. We’ll always sell a Carneros or Napa chardonnay, a full-bodied Napa cabernet, a Santa Barbara pinot noir. Those aren’t going to disappear from our by-the-glass list.

But there is a group gravitating toward another side, and that’s were these varieties come in. They spark conversations with the server or bartender, and allow them to delve into the stories.

Palmina, for example, has been part of the program from the beginning. Their wines aren’t good just because they’re low alcohol, but because they’re in balance. The purity of the variety comes through, whether it’s the tocai friulano or the dolcetto.

Chardonnay seemed to do really well for you by the glass, whether it was from the Russian River Valley or Chablis. Is ordering chardonnay by the glass a pretty automatic thing?
Absolutely. If there’s not one on the list, people will be asking for what’s closest to it, or will be going for a half bottle or a full bottle.

I actually find California chardonnay really easy to pair with food, especially with some of the meatier, spicier dishes we serve. A rich, full-bodied chardonnay goes really well.

What wine this year have you been most excited about hand-selling?
Washington to me seems to be in somewhat of a transitional phase, where they’re trying to find and define their own style. I’ve really fallen in love with Seven Hills, especially their 2007 Cabernet from Walla Walla Valley. It is very distinctly cabernet to me: black currant, leafy tones, minerality, but dialed-back oak and lower alcohol, with beautiful acidity. A pure style.

Do you have a “year’s most embarrassing moment” that you’re willing to share?
I teach WSET classes, and there was a moment recently when the students were doing some pre-class blind tasting practice. They handed a glass to me, and I swirled it around—I didn’t know what it was and neither did they. I smelled it and I said: “I already know what this is. This is a 2006 Vouvray.” Turns it that it was a 1996 Pouilly-Fuissé from Louis Jadot. My notes were lanolin, hay, pear, a touch of RS. I had it so dead to rights, and I made a snap decision.

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