Soif Wine Bar, Santa Cruz
A wine bar sounds like such a good idea doesn’t it? It’s a bar for wine drinkers, instead of those degenerate malt lovers (please note i do not consider beer drinkers degenerates, just cocktail drinkers).
In the real world, however, wine bars tend to be crap. Poorly lit, pretentious, musically challenged even for fans of adult contemporary, and sadly populist and accomodating in their wine menus. I don’t particularly care for anything that caters to as broad an audience as possible, i prefer people and establishments that try and build a foundation around what they like, then build on top of that. This is to say that they trust their own judgment, and hope you agree, rather than trying to find something you like. Soif Wine Bar in Santa Cruz is just such a place.
Soif’s website details the basic philosophy of the place like so (if your uncomfortable with the idea of a wine bar with a philosophy you’re a probably a philosophy major, which means pre-law, so give it a few years and you won’t mind anymore):
“Since opening, our goal has been to provide a comfortable place to drink great wine and eat food that is as good as the wine, and then, if the wine was really good, to be able to buy some and take it home. We wanted wines that are usually a challenge to find: reflective of their origin, expressive of the vineyard and the vintage and the traditions of their region, wines that are not a commodity, but limited and handmade, wines of great provenance and flavor.”
The idea that wine should be reflective of place first, varietal second, and winemaker third is not a new one, in fact it is at the center of perhaps the biggest debate in wine, that of terroir vs. technique. Soif has definitely come down on the side of terroir, and rightfully so in my opinion, given the hand chosen, far ranging, and most importantly, unique wines in their list.
At present, according to shop manager Luke Kamman, the store sells around 400 wines give or take at any time, including gems like an exceedingly light Chardonnay from Israel, well known vintages from wineries such as Lopez de Heredia and Chateau Musar, an excellent selection of local wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the best selection of Alsatian, Austrian and German whites i have yet encountered. Of these 400 bottles some 40-50 are featured on a rotating basis in the bar/restaurant area where they accompany a full menu of new American, locavorian dishes.
i’ve always preferred food pics in their ravished state
It is this last part where wine buyer John Locke and owner Patrice Boyle’s vision of the wine list gets tested. i have written before about the importance to me of a wine made for food, not as an apertif, and afterthought, or (worse) a distraction. Luckily, for the patron (and the bar which serves as an enticement to visit the store afterwards, which is, strangely enough, not too easy to discern the entrance to if you only eneter the bar area), it succeeds. The wine list, though by no means a by the numbers varietal listing, always has a range of wines from light to heavier (you won’t find any glycerine heavy cabs here, however) that are usually lower alcohol and with a nice helping of food friendly acids or tannins. Wines are available either in a small taste, a glass, or any wine from the store can be opened for a small fee (the fee is tiny compared to typical restaurant markups). The best part, however, is that oftentimes they will have glasses available to taste that are generally found by the bottle only. The first time i ever tried a ’81 Heredia, for instance, was at Soif in a two-ounce pour, same goes for aged Chenin from Poniatkowski. The service should speak for itself, in both efficiency and knowledge. The wait staff has an excellent grasp of the wines and they won’t hesitate to steer in their own direction. Same goes for Luke on the retail side, who (probably to the owner’s slight chagrin) will consistently undersell my wife and i if he thinks he thinks something would better suit us. As a major bonus from time to time the staff will invite wine importers in to the bar to try and sell you directly, tell jokes, and give a history course on the wines they sell, which, as a non-wine professional gives you the chance to taste excellent wines and a better sense of what they are about before buying.
So typically this is the point where i would wrap up the post by running over major points and perhaps throw in some criticism and give a score (i would use some type of hybrid star/thumb/percentage system that would only mean something to me). I won’t, because if you don’t want to go from reading this post, i haven’t a clue what you’re doing here.