Not only that, it was good enough to get me a good wine on a night when I had an absolutely terrible sommelier.
Wines from Napa Valley are listed by name. But all of the wines that aren't from Napa Valley -- and there are plenty -- are only described.
I've included parts of the list so you can see what I mean. The descriptions vary: sometimes they're about the producer, sometimes about the character of the wine, and sometimes both. (To be clear, the price is on the right. I don't know what the number on the left is; a bin number, probably.)
If you order something by the description, they wrap it in aluminum foil so you can sample it without knowing what it is. Of course you can pull off the foil as soon as you like. It adds an element of fun discovery to a meal.
Some of these wines that you order semi-blind are not cheap: there's a Sangiovese at $995 (in the picture), and a Chardonnay at $650, described only as "Those in the know consider him the king of this neighborhood, 2011."
But there are values, and I ended up ordering a $44 Pinot Noir, "One of the coldest regions to grow this aromatic beauty, 2012." It was August Kesseler Pfalz (Germany) Pinot Noir, and we quite enjoyed it. I thought I was going to be the first person to report on this unique wine list, but when I got home I learned that not only had Wine Spectator's Harvey Steiman gotten there first -- he had ordered the same wine. Great minds, and all that.
This was good because the sommelier on duty just didn't understand at all what I was looking for, nor did she try. She first recommended a $170 Napa Valley Chardonnay that was too rich for me in more ways than one, which is exactly what I said. So then she recommended a more expensive Napa Valley Chardonnay, one of Parker's favorites. I don't like to say, "I write about wine for a living," but I did at this point, and explained that I wanted something lighter. I said I didn't want to spend that much money, and that I taste a lot of wine and would rather try something unusual, and especially something with good acidity.
So she recommended a $150 Napa Valley Merlot.
|Shrimp and grits and hopefully no sommelier spit|
Sommeliers often say that they don't include descriptions on wine lists because they want you to talk to the sommelier. This was a perfect example of why that's inadequate. I expect that the wine director, or somebody from the restaurant's PR department, will send me an email after this post makes its way to their desk. Yeah, great, you give terrific wine advice, but where the hell were you when I was actually dining? What am I supposed to do, send the sommelier away and ask for her boss? I would much, much rather walk out and eat somewhere else. Or just order a glass of some wine I know, and maybe never come back.
I would come back to Harvest Table though, because its wine list is idiot-sommelier-proof.
One more interesting point about Harvest Table: the restaurant isn't that expensive for St. Helena, but has a $65 roast chicken. When Michael Bauer reviewed it for the San Francisco Chronicle, he loved the $65 roast chicken. When I told people in Napa Valley I was going there for dinner, and later that I had gone, their reaction was all the same: "That place is really expensive, I heard roast chicken is $65." We had an easy time getting in on a nice Friday night and the restaurant never filled up, when others around it were booked up. The reputation for being pricey must have something to do with it, because I didn't speak to one local who wanted to eat there, and I'm talking about winery owners and others who have money. I don't know what the answer is: not have a $65 dish on your opening menu? Perhaps tell Michael Bauer you're all out of it? Bauer's positive review, focusing on that dish, has cost Harvest Table a lot of money.
Hmm, now I understand why they're pushing the $170 Napa Valley Chardonnay.