Chef's Blog

Solage Calistoga's Executive Chef Brandon Sharp shares his passion for cooking, life and all things Napa Valley.

April 12, 2010

My professional experience with wine is limited, but the solbar Sommelier, Bradley Wasserman, and I have been working on a new format for our wine list since September 2009.  With the help of Solage Calistoga GM Richard Hill, we finally rolled it out two weeks ago. The challenge was to create a format and a style that matched my approach to food and how I write the dining room menus, dessert menus, and cocktail menus–and maintaining, all the while, an intelligible, logical, comprehensible document.

Keep in mind that we did not fundamentally change the content of the list–it has become more far-reaching and dynamic, but we have retained our California focus, with a sprinkling of international selections where California has holes (moschofilero, rosso di montalcino, royal tokaji) and a full dose of Champagne.  What we did is change the sequence and the presentation.  The first page is a selection of our servers’ and managers’ favorite wines, with a sentence from each of them about why that particular bottle is a special one.

Within each subsequent section, the wines are listed with the grape varietal first, then the producer, viticultural region, vintage, and price, and they are listed in order of weight–that is, the lightest wines are first, and those that follw become progressively fuller within each section, and from one section (“zipadeedoodah”) to the next (“flex”).  We dispensed with our former system of listing by varietal, and within each varietal, viticultural area, for two reasons: one, our list isn’t broad enough to carry a wide array of wines from each Napa microclimate (Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, etc., and the newest AVA, Calistoga) mainly because my food isn’t geared, by and large, for Napa Cabs; two, how can you tell, from such a list, what wine is stronger than the next without a Sommelier’s assistance?  We wanted a list that is easy to read, not intimidating, stimulates the beer drinker and oenophile alike, and matches the solbar menu in tone and content.

I speak with the greater part of our guests during their meals at solbar, and they don’t pull punches with their feedback (I’ve been at Solage since six months before we opened, and several guests, as soon as I’ve told them so, have said “Really?  Because the food now is lots better than it was before.”  Which isn’t great to hear but could of course be worse), so I expect to hear from them about the new wine list, good and bad.

At this point in my career, I know enough about wine to know that I’m never going to know that much about wine. With some expert help, I wrote a wine list anyway.  So, eh . . . . Fandango is a long-lost footnote to the careers of several good actors, but it gave us roman-candle fights, Truman Sparks, and one of my favorite lines of all time:  ”I’ve done things that made a lot less sense than this.”

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