Raise a Glass

Posted on November 4, 2011 – 3:02 AM | by Admin
  • Share

By Becky Grunewald Photos by Scott Duncan

My taste in wine has been heavily influenced by MidMo wine writer Michele Hebert,  though my knowledge is but a thimbleful compared to her ocean.Her taste, as you know if you read her wine column, runs toward the European, the complex, the esoteric. (If you’d like the hear her expound on wine come to the November 20th Sacramento Living Library as listed in Things To Do– she’s a wonderful evangelist.) This can cause problems at restaurants, because most wine lists in Sacramento run toward the local, the fruit-forward, the familiar.  I want to be challenged, educated, even titillated by a wine list; I want so much more than to just get a buzz on, although that’s nice, too.

Tuli Bistro’s wine list is exactly the type of selection I look for.  Tuli’s general manager, Claudia Bovero, called their wine list “eclectic but approachable. We try to bring great wines in that people may or may not be familiar with…we try to support smaller houses, smaller wineries.  We try to introduce people to new things, basically, that complement things on our menu.”

Much of Tuli’s wine list was wonderfully unfamiliar to me, so I placed myself in the hands of my server.  To pair with my first course, a pizza with housemade sausage, rapini, mozzarella, and golden raisin mostarda (an Italian condiment made of fruit and mustard), she recommended a wine from the alpine Savoy region of France, made from the Jacquère grape.  This light and neutral white cut through the sticky sweetness of the mostarda; it was just what I wanted.  For my sister, a lover of fruit-forward wine, the server recommended a Portuguese red from the Douro; it was just what she wanted. The pizza was an interesting mix of bitter (rapini), spicy (sausage), and sweet (the aforementioned mostarda). 

The pizza had been prepared right before me in a wood-fired Vesuvio oven by a line cook; during the course of the meal I watched him and the other tattooed cooks theatrically spin pizza dough and usher a beautiful-looking steak to perfection in picturesquely battered, lima bean-green Descoware.  The seats at the bar in Tuli really are the best seats in the house.

For my next courses, I gave my server the almost-impossible task of pairing a wine with an Asian-inspired fish dish and a summer vegetable “rillette.”  She recommended a Coteaux du Lyonnais rosé, which is made from the Gamay grape – one of my favorites.  The wine smelled faintly of berries and had a nice minerality; it paired well with the rich, oily eggplant and veggie rillette, not so well with the hot battered catfish garnished with mint.  A beer would have been much better; luckily, Tuli also has one of the best beer lists in town.

A trip to Taylor’s Market to buy wine is always a treat.  On any given visit I’ll chat about wine with Richard Ebert, the wine buyer, and then talk cheese pairings with their cheesemonger, Felicia Johnson.  I always spend wayyy too much but the passion that the employees bring to their work is infectious.  This spirit has carried over into the restaurant arm of the business: Taylor’s Kitchen.  Their constantly-changing menu is packed with intriguing-sounding dishes.  Early in October the chef, Robert Lind, had jumped fully into fall, offering earthy dishes featuring seasonal mushrooms, roasted root vegetables, and hearty stew.  It’s exciting to see a menu devoid of all the usual unctuous default dishes that far too many of Sacramento’s chefs are still foisting on us season after season.

That’s why I was surprised to see a small wine list heavy on the Chardonnay and Syrah; I struggled to find anything interesting.  The aforementioned wine buyer, Richard Ebert (who I assumed chose the list), is as much at home discussing a Lagrein from the Alto Adige as he is recommending a California Pinot, so what gives? 

More on that later, but first: the meal.  Due to the association with the market and the open kitchen area, Taylor’s Kitchen seems like a casual restaurant, but the prices and some aspects of the service belie that appearance.  For instance: my chair was pulled out for me and I was quickly brought an amuse-bouche of a potato gaufrette topped with fig-fennel jam and Point Reyes blue cheese.  The three strong flavors of the snack hit, in succession, like a Wonka creation.  Another nice touch was the basket of warmed bread with grassy olive oil, which is replenished almost too often.

I paired an appetizer of Prince Edward Island mussels with a glass of Cheverny, a citrus-y blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from the Loire Valley in France.  The fragrance of the mussel dish was glorious; I dipped the grilled bread in the saffron-laced broth made spicy by the addition of Spanish chorizo.  I was sold on the ale-braised pork belly dish not by the rich pork belly, but because it came with firm de puy lentils, chewy chanterelles, and a bright mustard sauce. 

When I struggled to choose a wine to pair with the entrees, my server, who had fielded all my food questions well but was too young to drink, deferred to the sommelier.  I didn’t know Taylor’s Kitchen had a sommelier, but when I described what I was looking for I was delighted to take his suggestion of an off-list Beaujolais, another wine made from the Gamay grape.

Taylor’s butchers are legendary, so I was not surprised that my pork chop was brined and cooked perfectly.  It was truly one of the best pork chops I’ve ever had; the only off note was the apple sauce alongside that tasted too much like pie filling.  The bitterness of the chard and ricotta filling in the housemade agnolotti pasta contrasted well with sweet, tiny baby turnips on the side, which were almost too precious to eat.

The dessert list (created by Jodie Chavious) was also rife with intriguing ingredients and combinations.  Again I had to call the sommelier over to help with a pairing for the lemon verbena pot de crème, and again he brought me something off the list: a Moscato d’Asti – a sparkling wine made from the Muscat grape.  I’m not sure that the intensely herbal custard paired well with that most taste-bud tickling of wines (if that phrase is making you cringe, go drink a glass of Moscato d’Asti and get back to me!), but the sommelier gave it the old college try. 

My only real quibble with Taylor’s Kitchen is the contrast between the high prices (not the prices themselves, which I’m sure are warranted by the high-quality ingredients and skill of the staff) and the pacing of the meal.  The first starter was brought hot on the heels of the second even though the table was too small to accommodate both and I felt rushed.  I spent over a hundred dollars on a meal that didn’t last 100 minutes – I like for there to be some correlation between these two numbers. 

Who was the mystery sommelier who saved the day and why was he bringing me wines that were so much more interesting that what was on the list?  Turns out his name is Keith Fergel, his wine credentials are impressive, and he’s only been the sommelier at Taylor’s Kitchen for a couple of months.  He has plans for the wine list, and I’ll be profiling him in these pages soon – stay tuned.  He, Claudia Bovero at Tuli Bistro, and other wine professionals in Sacramento who are daring to expand our horizons beyond California and beyond the same four grapes we’re used to are fighting an uphill battle; I raise a glass to them.

Post a Comment