Friday, April 6, 2012
Top 10 Wine Lists in San Francisco: Short is beautiful
"How can you leave RN74 off the list? They have 2000 wines."
The answer is simple: despite the 2000 fine wines on celebrity sommelier Raj Parr's list, RN74 is not one of the 10 San Francisco restaurants where I would most enjoy ordering a bottle of wine. And I believe a majority of SF Weekly readers would agree with me.
If I were a wealthy investor with a taste for grand cru Burgundy -- imagine if Mitt Romney were cool -- RN74 might be my No. 1. I didn't leave it off my Top 10 because the list is too long; I left it off because it's too expensive. Look at the half-bottle prices, for example, because it just takes too long to read the entire list. Hurray, 55 half-bottles of red -- but just three under $60. Half-bottles.
Most "top wine lists" articles are written for the 1%, both in funds and devotion to traditional luxury brands, and the prevailing paradigm has usually been that more = better.
Yet in all but special cases, very long wine lists are more of a hassle than a blessing.
Obviously there are exceptions. Wine lovers from around the world, including me, wouldn't fly to Tampa to eat at Bern's Steak House if the list had only 2000 wines. I thoroughly enjoyed the hour I spent with the Bern's list before ordering dinner on my last visit; so did my wine-geek friends in the group. I hope the apps and bubbly we ordered to placate the others did the trick.
But for most meals, I don't want or need to have that many choices -- and I'm a wine geek. I would rather have a well-chosen 75-bottle list than a 750-bottle list. Unless I'm dining in Los Olivos, I don't want a choice of 10 Santa Barbara County Chardonnays. I want the sommelier to choose 3-5 Chardonnays from the entire state of California in different styles and be ready to explain the advantages of the Lioco vs. the Ridge.
And I can be satisfied with less choice than that. Anchor Oyster Bar usually carries 4 white wines (and three reds, but who has red with oysters?), and it's walking distance from my house, but I have never brought a bottle of wine there because I'm confident that they'll have something I want. I like the simplicity of that: do you want the Sancerre or the Viognier? So does my wife, because I don't spend 20 minutes with my face buried in a wine list.
Don't get me wrong: I want variety on a wine list. But I want it between types of wine, not between versions of that type of wine. In other words, give me 3-5 Cabernet Sauvignons total, preferably from different regions, and if I'm in a Cab mood I'll order one. I like more Pinot Noirs than other types of wine because it's so food-friendly and varies so much by terroir, but 7-10 well-chosen ones are more than enough. Let me have the option of a couple of Rhone wines, Italian reds, values from South America, something from Spain and matching options from California. If the wine buyer has taste, who really needs more?
Of course, that "if" is big in more ways than text size. Very long wine lists are some protection against wine buyers with either poor taste or tastes customers don't share. Yet is that really a strength: "our list is so long, even an idiot can buy wine for it?"
Apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way. After writing the Top 10 Wine Lists, but before its publication, I was terrified to see the headline "The Bay Area's incredible shrinking wine lists" in the San Francisco Chronicle. Fortunately for me the Chron didn't pick a top 10 (thanks, Jon). Apparently restaurants aren't shortening their ponderous wine lists to make choices easier, but because the economy makes carrying too much inventory hazardous. Sometimes great things happen for unexpected reasons.
So here's a link to the Top 10 Wine Lists in San Francisco. And yes, unless I'm with someone who stole Mitt Romney's wallet, I really would rather order wine at Piccino than RN74. Sorry, Raj, but out of 2000 wines, you really need more under $50.
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 5:30 AM