i’m going to go ahead and take issue with Michael Bauer
UPDATE: Michael Bauer e-mailed me and confirmed that he did in fact write the wine list review, contary to what others have suggested might have been the case in the comments and to me privately in e-mails. Thanks for that, Michael.
Joe Dressner pointed me to this review earlier, and i couldn’t help but take the bait.
In his review of San Francisco’s new Baker & Banker restaurant it would seem that Michael Bauer enjoyed himself a great deal. he enjoyed the food (calling it “soulful, well-crafted food that subtly spans the globe for inspiration”), the service, the atmosphere. That is until you get to his comments on the wine list. “Strange” he calls it.
What the fuck does that mean? Well later on he explains himself:
While I appreciate the International bent of the menu at Baker & Banker, I find it difficult to warm to the wine list. It’s as if the restaurant tried to collect every exotic varietal on one compact menu.
Aside from Chardonnay, the most listed varietal is Chenin Blanc and Malvasia, the main grape in a Croatia selection. I’m sure the 2007 Clai Bijele “Sveti Jakov” from Croatia is a hard sell at $74, even if it is a good wine.
The tendency is even more pronounced in the red wines. Among the 33 on the regular list, there are at least five wines using Rhone varietals, and four Gamays. There’s also Zweigelt from Austria, Frappato from Sicily and Hondarribi Beltza from the Basque country.
Heres the actual list: http://www.bakerandbanker.com/index.php/site/wine/
Looking at the list i can see a lot of care went into it. There is Hank Beckmeyer at La Clarine and Mike Dashe right there, two of the most interesting winemakers in California. There is a Pinot from Pyramid Valley in New Zealand, some of the most interesting wine coming out of that country. There is Beaver Creek, the ill named but incredibly interesting sans soufre merlot from California. There is that bastion of spanish tradition, Lopez de Heredia right alongside the Loire newcomer Noella Morantin. There is America, New Zealand, Spain, Croatia, France, Italy, Austria, Croatia, Portugal. Almost all the wines are from producers that are dynamic, working naturally, traditionalists and terroir driven winemakers pulling wine back from the brink of homogenization. Soulful? You bet? Globe spanning? Check. Inspired? Damn right.
So what is the problem? Does Michael Bauer even know these wines? Does he even discuss how they pair with the food? Does he even care beyond the fact that a Croatian wine is a hard sell (it is, but maybe someday it won’t be).
Wine lists and menus are often treated as separate entities instead of as an integrated whole. Inventiveness in a menu is usually acclaimed, in a wine list it is treated as an annoying distraction. Ingredients that are wild or exotic are highlighted, played with, explored. Croatian wines that are hard to pronounce are looked down upon. Pairing is so rarely brought up. The most important part of the list, how it and the menu mix, is not mentioned.
i’ve talked to Colin (the wine director at Baker & Banker) quite a bit. He is nothing if not inquisitive when it comes to wine. He is often talking about pairings. “What would you do with this?” was a common question. His twitter feed is packed with pairing ideas from his list and the Baker & Banker menu. And for this adventurous wine list he gets dumped on? i don’t even agree with some of his picks, but the wine list is very much his wine list.
Like Slows Barbecue in Detroit this is a wine list that should make you want to go in the restaurant even before you see the menu itself. it speaks volume about the willingness of a place to step outside of other people’s comfort zone. Even the California selections on the list are challenging and unique. Did you even know that someone was making a fascinating sans soufre merlot right here in California? No? Interested?
Then Baker & Banker’s wine list has you covered.
Note: i had no idea joe also posted this earlier on his blog, with similiar thoughts (i thought it was just a wine discussion board post). Read Here: