Checking Lists: A Critical Look at Restaurant Wine by Alan Goldfarb (Bocadillos)


Alan Goldfarb was the wine editor at the St. Helena Star, where it is said that assignment must be akin to covering Catholicism in Vatican City. He was also the senior editor for His work has appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter. He’s the contributor of the chapter “Chewing on Chile” in the Travelers’ Tales book Adventures in Wine. He was also the technical editor for California Wine for Dummies.

He’s a restaurant wine consultant and advises wineries on public relations projects. (For his “Checking Lists” column, he will not promote his clients.) You can listen to his latest appearance on iWine Radio. Have a question or a comment? You can email Alan. He’d love to hear from you.

Bocadillos: Sandwiched Between Borders

Gerald Hirigoyen, I’m confident, is cognizant that most San Franciscans know tapas, but pintxos, not so much. It’s like the difference between pinot grigio and pinot gris. There is no difference; it’s just a matter of provenance. So Hirigoyen, the chef-proprietor of Piperade and Bocadillos, plays it down the middle: sort of like straddling the western Pyrenees of north-central Spain and southwest France, as do the Basques, among which Hirigoyen can be counted. At the more upscale Piperade, on the north waterfront, he plays up the French side of Basque culture. At his more relaxed Bocadillos in North Beach, Spain is more prevalent.

One might think that the Basque word pintxo would prevail over the Spanish word tapa at Bocadillos; it does not. Executive chef James Lalonde lists just a trio of pintxos offerings under the much larger title of tapas. Here, too, where the wines of northern Spain might prevail, we find selections from all over the Iberian Peninsula.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m always big on keeping things true to their origins. Bocadillos is certainly not unique here, where restaurants try to satisfy diverse desires by broadening their scope. It’s just that my hope is for restos to be truly local to their cuisine when it comes to their wine programs; hardly any do.

All of which is not to disparage Bocadillos. I really, really like the place. It reminds me of those more modern tapas bars in Barcelona: easy, fun, and slightly raucous. The food at Bocadillos (which means “little sandwiches”) is sensational and full of flavor; and the portions are ample enough to be in line with the prices, which range from $3 to $17.

Two wines got my attention. The 2012 Do Ferreiro albariño ($12, glass), an aromatic white from Rias Baixas in the northwest, was more than a suitable foil for the fantastic crispy grilled, garlicky prawns in a lemon confit (one of the more expensive but outstanding dishes at $17). A chicken liver mousse ($10) with sherry (yeah!) was rich and silky as you’d expect and tasted wonderfully malty under the aegis of the Do Ferreiro (one of a quintet of albariños).

Fried corn fritters with Manchego ($13) and a bocadillo of braised short ribs ($6) with sherry (again), of course, were naturals with the 2008 Arrels Garnacha ($42, bottle) from Montsant. The region, in the schist-laden mountains about 1½ hours south of Barcelona, is one of my favorite Spanish appellations. The flaky stone lends an evident minerality to the red wines of the area, while Montsant’s dark fruit always seems opulent and rich without feeling heavy.

Here, the color of the Arrels is inky with deep, grapy aromas and a slight leatheriness that is a manifestation of 5 years in the bottle, although this wine has another 8 to 10 years of life. On the palate, there’s bitter chocolate, which played off the sherry-infused, sugary onions in the short ribs sandwich.

The wine list is fairly priced, ranging from $30 (‘09 La Fenêtre chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley) to $84 (‘09 Tallulah cabernet, Napa Valley). But do try some of the Spanish wines, where you can find some bargains, such as a five-year-old white (!) garnacha from Portal in Terra Alta (also $30), the ‘10 Reposo Muscat blend ($34) from Valencia, and an ‘11 mencia (the grape variety, not the comedian) from Guimaro ($38) in Ribeira Sacra.

As a tilt toward Basque sensibilities, there are two apple ciders, of course, one from France (‘10 Basa Jaun, $35) and one from Spain (‘13 Isastegi; $6/glass or $12/375ml). They can be taken as a metaphor for Gerard Hirigoyen’s place in the world.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: 2011 Do Ferreiro Albariño, Rias Baixas ($12/glass, $51/bottle).

For some reason, the vineyard of Do Ferreiro gives the wine an idiosyncratically peatlike quality, not unlike a single-malt Scotch. That’s what sets this albariño apart. Because of the soil, or the steam, that runs through the land, there is smokiness in the aroma, along with an herbal quality. The wine is beautiful, with crisp acidity and a lemon-lime finish. Rias Baixas is in the northwest corner of Spain, just above the Portugese border.

Why we don’t see more of the albariño grape here, I’m not sure. It’s affordable, it can be lovely, and it’s a hell of a food wine, what with its minerality and good acid. This albariño is aromatic with peach and citrus, and has delicious tropical fruit flavors with lemon-lime zest undertones.

Please feel free to email Alan with your comments and your experiences with restaurant wine. He’d love to hear from you.