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


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.

Bouche Amused

There’s French all around you: It’s the language everyone seems to be speaking; it’s on the menu and wine list; it’s in the food, of course—it’s the gestalt of Bouche. But when I start to proclaim to owner Guillaume Issaverdens how it reminds me of …, he cuts me off midsentence. “Not Paris!”

Of course, Bouche—a tiny bistro atop the Stockton Tunnel in the former Bar Crudo space—doesn’t resemble anything one might expect in Paris; just the way a restaurant in New Orleans is nothing like a restaurant anywhere else in the States. Bouche, which is on Bush (a cute coincidence or an apt pun?) will fill your mouth, your stomach, your heart, and your soul, if you let it.

Meaning: Pay no mind to the cramped quarters, the backless bar stools, and the funky locale. The food will sate you, the wine will thrill you, and Issaverdens’ knowledge of all things Provence are all in attempt to make his guests feel as though they’re in the south of France. Bouche, which is inexplicably off the radar, will have you headed home with a sense of well-being.

It’s at the bar, which doubles as a galley-like kitchen, where you’re most likely to take in most of those feel-good vibes. For it’s there that Issaverdens maneuvers—both staying out of the way of his cooks and pouring the wines, some of which he’s brought from home that day. The latter is not necessarily a manifestation of his savoir faire, but a pragmatic necessity since there’s not much room in the ship-like hull to store a lot of wine.

Even so, the list is amazingly abundant and chockablock with exclusively French wines (with one Cali exception); a preponderance of which I would guess most of us are unfamiliar with. Issaverdens—who claims he “knows little about wine”—is eager to share his knowledge about each of his selections.

None of the wines are listed by variety, which might add to some confusion, but you’ve got to give it up to Issaverdens because, as he says, “I want it to be all about the appellations.” So there are small-production wines from some little known but on-the-come regions such as Luberon, Jurançon, Corsica, and, of course, Provence.

There’s an aromatic white from Trigone Le Soula ($14 glass/$49 bottle), a grenache cuvee from 2009 and 2010 from another of those curious areas, Côtes Catalanes in the Languedoc-Roussillon. There’s some licorice and the wine is full-bodied enough to stand up to appetizers from chef Jerome Albaric, such as a duck confit croquette (!) and an arugula salad with a pickled poached egg (wow). Oh, you’ve got to try the bacon bread.

Another app—cured sea trout from Alaska with salmon roe cream—was perfect with a very dry 2011 Neri Rosé Luberon made from grenache noir (70 percent) and syrah. The grapes nary had a moment with the skins, rendering it nearly white, but there was plenty of cherry flavor, complexity, and body.

A 2009 Domaine Rolet Arbois Rouge ($13 glass/$45 bottle) from the Jura was sensational with the stuffed chicken with sage sausage and a pan-seared snapper with an aromatic green peppercorn sauce. The wine was light in color with loads of berries and sweet rhubarb.

Did I mention the bacon bread?

Also on the list is a Château La Lagune, a Grand Cru from Haut-Médoc (a red Bordeaux), which is the most expensive bottle, at $210, and an 1989 Couly-Dutheil la Baronnie Madeleine chinon, the oldest selection. And that lone non-French wine? There are a couple of Les Claypool’s (of the band Primus, who befriended Issaverdens) pinots—a 2010 Claypool Cellars Pachyderm Russian River Rosé ($65) and a 2010 Hurst Vineyard ($90).

If you want to get your Francophile on, head over to Bouche and fill your mouth, your head, and your soul with Guillaume Issaverdens’ wine and food.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: 2009 Domaine Rolet Arbois Rouge Tradition Jura ($13 glass/$45 bottle)

A blend of 40 percent poulsard, 30 percent trousseau, and 30 percent pinot noir. Poulsard is indigenous to the Jura, which is between Burgundy and the Swiss line. Trousseau, or bastardo as it’s sometimes known, is a red grape that has been gaining some popularity here of late. The wine itself is very light in color, with a hint of caramel, or oxidation, as is often the case with the idiosyncratic wines of Jura. It’s a kicky wine with lots of strawberry and rhubarb flavors and a bit of bitterness in the finish.

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