Monday, September 23, 2013

Terroir wine bar, San Francisco

Read any list of the world’s best natural wine bars and Terroir in San Francisco is sure to be included so I was determined to take it in on my 2 day visit to the city the week before last.

To anyone used to natural wine bars in Paris it’s comfortingly familiar - unsurprisingly as it’s run by a Frenchman Luc Ertoran together with his Italian business partner Dagan Ministero - hence the scattering of Italian wines, mainly from Sicily, among the largely French list.  There’s even a sandfilled trough outside to stub out your Gauloise.

Rather over-optimistically I was hoping to see what California had to offer by way of natural wines. There were only two open that day - an Enfield Syrah from Hayes Vineyard in the Napa Valley - fresh, stalky and about as un-Napa a wine as you could imagine (GREEN TO AMBER) and the Trowbridge ‘Four Horsemen’ from Lake County, a somewhat tarry blend of Portuguese varieties that was less to my taste (the same rating)

It was at this point things went pear-shaped. The girl on my left, clearly unaccustomed to natural wine was saying “I keep tasting something that reminds me a bit of vinegar‘ so I pitched in without thinking, concerned that she thought her tastebuds in some way defective and said it was the wine not her and that natural wine took a bit of getting used to.

Unwise. From that moment on Luc clearly decided I needed to be taken down a peg and proceeded to pick an argument about everything from natural wine aficionados who suggested that this was somehow a better way to make wine to whether natural wines fell apart on opening. (They did he insisted, pouring me one to prove his point)

The fact that I detected redcurrant flavours in a Domaine de la Tournelle Uva Arbosiana provoked an even more forceful explosion about how ridiculous tasting terms were. "If you want to analyse do something worthwhile like be a philosopher" he snorted.

I asked if he treated all his customers that way. Not, if they were there to learn, it appeared. It was clearly my presumption in pronouncing on the subject that got his goat.

Eventually he calmed down and we got on OK. He poured a Julien Sunier Fleurie (delicious though Luc said I must simply say I liked it and not pass judgment on it) and a beautifully fragrant Domaine des Sanzay 2008 Les Poyeux from the same vineyard as Clos Rougeard. I presumably knew about Clos Rougeard? No I didn’t. Much eye-rolling and ‘call yourself an expert’ expressions.

Maybe relenting (or deciding I was in need of further education) he said he thought I might be interested in a book called Terroir et L’Humanisme (another one to add to Trevor’s reading list) and refused to take any money for the wines he’d poured. I left $20 anyway.

So - a great place to drink natural wines kept in top condition. Just go in the evening when they’re busy and Luc doesn’t have time on his hands to pick a fight. Oh and if you know anything about natural wine don’t let on. And for goodness sake don’t mention redcurrants*.

* Or - worse still - that a wine reminds you of candied violets in a salad as one customer had been rash enough to do. “I mean, come onnnnn, when have you ever tasted candied violets in a salad. . . . “ See what I mean? Just watch it.

For a fuller report on Terroir read this recent post from Bertrand Celce of Wine Terroirs who obviously got off more lightly than I did.

Terroir is at 1116 Folsom St, San Francisco (on 7th) +1 415-558-9946


  1. Why are so many people in the natural wine crowd so arrogant and generally unpleasant?

  2. It's odd. I wouldn't say it was a majority but there is an angry minority. You'd think they'd be full of peace and lurve. Probably they feel misunderstood.

  3. :) Seems easier with some, let's call them normal wines ;) So, you wasn't there to learn Fiona? ;)

  4. @christer I'm always there to learn ;-)

  5. lol! sounds like you landed on the lair of the "natural wine nazi" :) either that or Luc was having a bad day. was he at least spinning some good LPs?

  6. @wine Yoda He was! Have to give him that!