The name Tartine has become legendary among San Francisco diners since the opening of Tartine Bakery in the Mission District sixteen years ago. Now they have a trendy new restaurant, Tartine Manufactory, open since 2016, also in the Mission. Already in Michael Bauer’s Top 100 list, the Manufactory is a tough reservation to secure.
I was recently lucky enough to get a Saturday prime time table at this restaurant and had a decent experience with it except for a quirk in the wine service.
Located in a gentrifying residential block away from restaurant-row in the Valencia Corridor, the Manufactory is in an open warehouse type space, spacious, aglow with light from big windows and as with most trendy restaurants, noisy.
The wine list was expensive. So what else is new?
I later discovered that Vinny Eng, the wine director for Tartine, prints his bottle list daily, in the format you see in the photo, diagonal indents representing nested varietal groupings. He apparently charges 2.75 mark up on wholesale prices.
I was looking for a white wine, usually cheaper than red, and I could not find any bargains, something I am good at. The cheapest decent ones were in the $70 range.
I feel trapped with such lists. I wish I had brought my own wine and accepted the corkage charge.
I wished this even more when the bottle I ordered turned out unacceptable. I refused it. It was a 2014 Sancerre, Les Quarterons, by Riffault. Sancerre, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley of France, has become about as safe and bland a choice as salmon for an entrée. This one was caramelized.
I instantly detected it from the prominent golden hue in the poured sample. The color was too old for its vintage. Its nose was not of Sauvignon Blanc and its flavors were typical of an over the hill white.
Early aging is not uncommon in French whites. I have discovered this through countless bad experiences. It’s a well kept secret from the wine buying public. The French are over-protective of their reputation.
When I refused the bottle, our waiter, a friendly young man with an informal demeanor, unhesitatingly took it back. He suggested the only other, more expensive Sauvignon Blanc on the list. It was 2016 Massican from Napa, and at $75 definitely more than I am usually willing to pay for any Sauvignon Blanc.
But what can one do in a pinch? I accepted.
Soon a somewhat older man appeared with the Massican. He wore a jacket and sported a well trimmed beard, a more auspicious look compared to the waiter. I asked him if he was the sommelier. He gave me a vague answer I could not make out, something like he had been that in the past.
“The last bottle,” I told to him, “the 2014 Sancerre, was already caramelized.”
He didn’t answer.
“It happens with French whites, you know.”
He put a corkscrew into the Massican and went to work. As the cork popped out, he jokingly said, “Well, I can only drink one bottle tonight and that one is it.” He was referring to the Sancerre I had rejected. “So, I hope you like this one, because I can’t drink two bottles.”
The Massican had a floral nose. It was dry, crisp and suitably acidic for the food I had ordered. I swallowed its price and accepted it.
After the wine steward departed, his words reverberated in my mind. Was he really joking or sending me a message? I had refused the caramelized Sancerre, but he, the pro, would be drinking it.
I left it alone. Maybe I am being too sensitive, I thought.
Still, I can’t help but feel that when clients refuse a bottle for legitimate reasons, the best response should be no response. Just serve the alternate.
I guess they rely and account on the fact that people like you will never go above 2% of the total guests.