A Return to San Francisco

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I seem to find myself in the great city of San Francisco at least a couple times a year. Every time I head down I am bombarded with possibility. In terms of wine, the progressive scene changes quickly here as new exciting wines constantly enter the market. I was lucky to discover a number of superb wines at great prices that do not find themselves on Canadian shelves.

The most exciting wine I discovered was the 2010 Domaine Frantz Saumon “Mineral” Montlouis-sur-Loire from Selection Massale, an importer started by one of the owners and an employee of Terroir wine bar in SOMA. It was superbly balanced and intensely expressive and is the best young Chenin Blanc I’ve ever tasted (I think it is more elegant, nuanced and complex than even Huet when young).

Speaking of Terroir, while there I got a taste of a fascinating wine from the small Provencal estate Clos Cibonne made from the obscure Tibouren grape. This was an interesting wine and surprisingly light, pretty and delicious for such a hot region and worth checking out. I also greatly enjoyed a fantastic white wine from the Canary Islands producer Bodegas Carballo that was honeyed, floral and very slightly oxidative but also balanced and inherently structured and delicious all in one.

An aggressive but flavourful orange wine from La Stoppa was delicious with a wicked cured meat sandwich from Boccalone in the Ferry Plaza. It is amazing how orange wine can seem so esoteric and weird and yet pair with the simplest and most delicious foods with which other wines have difficulty – try nuts, olives, cured meats, etc.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, after tasting the 2003 Faurie Hermitage and finding it overly pruney and under-developed (clearly both a product of vintage and a wine in need of a lot more time), I received a complimentary pour of the Pelerin Les Violettes Syrah from the Santa Lucia Highlands. This was a California Syrah that combined richness with excellent acidity and impressively complex aromatics. I am frequently surprised at how some wineries are making greatly expressive and nuanced Syrah from central California, even as the predominant score-whores go for the big and extracted.

When it comes to food, San Francisco is both creative and home to some of the freshest ingredients in the world. Almost all restaurants of any merit in the city have fantastic sourcing. I enjoyed both fantastic fresh and creative Peruvian food at great prices from Limon and some of the most intricately prepared and creative food I’ve ever had from the Asian-French Molecular Gastronomy maestro Corey Lee at Benu. Lee was formerly the chef-de-cuisine at the French Laundry for a number of years. Unlike most Molecural Gastronomy, all of the crazy techniques here were subtle and played a background role to the fusion concept and heavy reliance on hard-core asian ingredients like 1000 year old quail eggs, sea urchin, seaweed, roe, and abalone. In addition, about half of the menu foregrounded the asian elements of each dish over the French, which played a background role until the latter half of the menu, when the French style came out more overtly but never dominant. The menu was perfectly paced and each dish was astoundingly creative with beautiful presentation. I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

San Francisco continues to be a source of inspiration in wine and food culture and I hope more of its influences head up to Vancouver. We definitely need a Peruvian restaurant and a Natural Wine movement of our own!

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