Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The wine that got away


February 23, 2011 | Leave Comment

The weather goddess blessed our annual post-holiday trip to the Big City — in search of urban anonymity and Acme Bakery sourdough cheese wheels. The very last day of December found us sitting outside the Ferry Building at a sunny table over looking the San Francisco Bay, plotting our two precious days away from home.

Most of the plotting had to do with food and wine, you won’t be surprised to know. This trip I wanted to try a wine bar in the Russian Hill area called Amelie. I found it mentioned in a couple of those “My 10 Favorite” blogs, its chief attraction being the Happy Hour $10 wine flights. You can, the bloggers explained, custom-create your flight, choosing any three wines from the bar’s list of wines by the glass.

The bar turned out to be as pleasant a place as promised, and since that list ran to three pages, it took us a while to whittle down our choices. I eventually settled on two French wines — a Marsanne and a Gigondas — and the most expensive Spanish wine on the list, about which I knew nothing.

The tastes, we discovered to our pleasure, were generous — about 3 ounces — and of the many tastes we eventually ordered, not a single wine disappointed. The Marsanne started off a little bland — too cold — but once it warmed for a few minutes, the fruit seemed to ripen and balance the characteristic minerality. Lovely. I actually preferred Rebecca’s lively, citrus-y Sancerre that nicely cut through the strong cheeses (including Humboldt Fog and a French goat) we chose.

While I loved my Gigondas, the wine I would have just kept drinking (all night if possible) was the Spanish one, whose smoky earthiness not only went well with cheeses but warmed me up on that cold (relatively) winter night. Its earthiness didn’t preclude elegance, and the wine revealed layer after layer (well, as many layers as 3 ounces can reveal).

Because I had determined that this foray into new territory would NOT be work-related, I didn’t write anything down. I figured that if I decided to write about Amelie, the web would magically provide me with the wine list. Alas, the site says only that its list of 125 wines “changes frequently.” I thought of calling (“Do you still have a copy of your Dec. 30 wine list?”), but a) I doubt I’d be able to find the wine in a store, b) I probably wouldn’t be able to afford it if I did and c) it might not live up to my now gigantic expectations. Besides, there’s something nice about knowing there’s a Wine Out There that will ever elude me.

By the time we finished our flights and cheese, we couldn’t hear ourselves talk in the narrow, filled-to-edges room, so, in spite of the tasting fun, I’m not sure we’ll be returning to this sweet French-inflected spot.

Amelie’s is not, of course, the only San Francisco possibility for flights. One of my favorites is  Bocadillos, a tiny Basque bistro in the Financial District, where the wines are almost all Spanish (with some California-Spanish) and uniformly well-chosen. They offer happy hour flights every day, which I highly recommend.

But I’m about to reveal the non-wine secret of Bocadillos. I hesitate because part of me wants to keep the secret to myself. Since, though, one of my (Chinese) New Year’s resolutions is to be more generous, here goes: Bocadillos serves perhaps the best breakfast in San Francisco. It’s pretty difficult to choose from the limited menu because everything’s just about perfect.

This time I settled on poached eggs with patatas bravas, served with a toasted roll (the same delicious roll used to make the eponymous little sandwiches) and lovely little green salad. Rebecca had the succulent breakfast wrap with eggs, spinach and spicy potatoes. Bocadillos uses organic eggs and local produce, which adds to the attraction of this casual, cute and friendly place.

Do not spread the word.  I hate waiting in in line for my morning caffeine.

And then, home. After The Wine, I wasn’t quite ready to return to my $5 bargain bottles, so I had a little chat with Claire at the Davis Food Co-op, who persuaded me to try the Argentinian Crios De Susana Balbo ’08 Syrah-Bonarda. No, it wasn’t The Wine, but it shared The Wine’s dry smokiness. Medium-bodied, a bit rustic and gamey, it tasted of deep red berries and proved a delicious companion to our home-made pizza. Susana Balbo makes serious wine for un-serious prices — this beauty is on sale at the Co-op for $10.99.

If celebrating the imminence of spring with wine and music sounds appealing, head over to Rominger West Winery tonight to hear a terrific duo, Misner and Smith, while you sip your Syrah. I love them. And on Saturday, the wonderful classical guitarist Elizabeth Busch returns to RW with flutist Sue Sheya.

Finally, congratulations to Karen and Craig Senders on the gold medal their ’07 Reserve Carneros Pinot garnered at the ninth annual Pinot Noir Shootout. Another triumph for our local wine!

— Contact Susan Leonardi at Comment on this column at

Susan Leonardi


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