No, Rosé isn’t the only type of wine they drink in Provence as much as those lifestyle magazines want you to think they do. Guillaume Issaverdens—originally from the small town of Le Lavandou—and his fellow Provençal residents know that Rosé’s fruit forward notes and gorgeous pink hue is lovely for lunch or perhaps as an apéritif if it’s not a Pastis night.
Running a wine-centric restaurant in San Francisco, Issaverdens is running up against the same fierce local wine philosophy. Like how it seems to be a given you should drink the pink in Provence, shouldn’t you be sipping from California grapes in California?
Consider an evening at Issaverdens’s two year old restaurant and wine bar a golden opportunity to learn about the un-heralded wines of France the locals drink at home. That means the small producers from small appellations. The wines that represent the French terroir’s heart, instead of the beefed-up estates with bottles that end up at auction. This is not the place for Château Lafite Rothschild. This is not the place either to come sample Napa’s premier Cabernet Sauvignon or the latest boutique Chardonnay from Santa Barbara. There are hundreds of other spots to do that in the city.
Spend any time with Issaverdens and you immediately feel his joie de vivre and shake your head that people still consider the French to be snobbish. When it comes to his philosophy on wine, Issaverdens is anything but snobbish. He purposefully orchestrated a roster of lesser known French wines to encourage discussion with confused, timid or, conversely, adventurous diners. He wants wine to be an important and enjoyable part of your life, not a stressful one.
Issaverdens came to San Francisco six years ago, after an initial stop in Boston. After the beloved Bar Crudo re-located to new digs in 2011, the perfect spot opened up for Issaverdens to bring some of his homeland to his new home by the Bay. Situated half way up Nob Hill from Union Square on a small stretch of Bush Street that can be considered a “Petit Paris” with the French Consulate and some French cafés, Bouche perfectly fits the restaurant-wine bar description. The downstairs is a casual wooden wine bar, while upstairs is more of an intimate, slightly upscale dining room.
With the French wines, the compact menu is hearty French infused with sunny California influences. Starters include duck confit croquants paired with both Japanese and watermelon radishes, and a cherry sauce, or sweetbreads sautéed with porcini cream, and a chanterelles and lobster mushrooms persillade. Mains could feature a Tomahawk pork chop with butter beans, a walnut and quince marmalade, and a grape and Cognac sauce (pair with a Syrah-Grenache blend?) or pan seared red snapper over fennel purée, a green peppercorn sauce, kale, and pomme-paille (a Rosé or an Arbois white?).
I’m not sure how many restaurants and cafes in Provence specialize in California wines, but it’s a pleasure to have such a champion of unheralded French wines full of character here on the West Coast. Now, let’s learn if we can get a Chablis at Bouche.
Vino247: What wines right now are you most excited about, both on the list and off the list, that you’d like to have on the list?
Guillaume Issaverdens: By the glass, I just got the Trigone Le Soula Cuvée “L11″ from the Côtes Catalanes. It’s surprisingly crisp and floral, mainly the Macabeu grape (with a lot of others), but very interesting because they blended 4 vintages : I believe 40% 2012, 45% 2011, 9% 2010 and 6% 2009.
For the reds, probably the Ardeche: the Marselan, or the very different and plummy Chatus (on the reserve list).nApproaching more towards the “American palate,” the Vougeot Blanc is fantastic on the reserve. It’s pretty unusual and very small production (I think it might be the only white produced in that appellation…need to check)… a little silky and hints of licorice. The Chinon 1989 is great, an anniversary release that did hold the years surprisingly well. It’s drinking like an old Bordeaux (very little is sent to the U.S.).
Which region do you see as the “next big region?” Are old standards like Bordeaux and Burgundy fading because they’re not “hip” or thought of as too expensive?
My program is dedicated to lesser-known appellations. If I were to add a Chablis to the list, it would be all I sell. It’s a great way to interact with the customer and give tastes, and make people discover new things. For example: everybody knows Sancerre for its Sauvignon Blancs, but hardly anybody has heard of the Pinot Noirs. I do have a Burgundy and a Bordeaux, but I get them from the small (and great) appellations of Fixin and Reignac…I do believe that for Burgundy and Bordeaux, you have to pay the price to get anything decent… so it is more for the reserve list, and I try to go for older vintages.
What are some of the doubts/ myths you’ve heard about French wines you’ve heard diners talk to you about? Are they true?
Like, I would like a glass of Chablis.
Sorry, we do not have a Chablis, but how about I let you try this great and minerally Chardonnay from Beaujolais?
No thank you, I don’t like Chardonnay, I would like a Chablis.
No comment…it happens!
How is the American market welcoming French wines right now? Are there generation differences, significant social class differences that you notice?
Everybody seems to enjoy them equally, though, people visiting do want to try domestic regional wines…I personally love them all. The only reason why we only have French is because of space and storage.
As bizarre as it sounds, do you think the complex varietal names and complicated pronunciations of many of the wines really keeps lots of the public from reaching out to the wines?
In general yes, think of the Chablis story. People are going to go for what they know. And there is what is currently in vogue. That’s why the list only contains interesting appellations and varietals. I, or we, Europeans, don’t see wines as varietals. We see them by appellation. I am fascinated to see what comes out of a tiny parcel and how it can be so different from a wine made from the same varietal produced only a mile away.
Looking at the list…Corsican wines?! Can you talk a bit about the Domaine Maestracci E Prove from Calvi?
Funny you ask!
When we opened, my first waiter was from Corsica, and we could not find any Corsican wines anywhere. Now, they’re popping up all around.
I have had a couple different ones this year. I must admit, I’m not so crazy about the whites.
I’m getting excited now with the Ardeche (and it reminds me of my great grandparents!).
The E Prove is Niellucciu and Grenache, and fits perfectly on the list as I try to have something for all palates. It’s dry and robust, but has soft tannins, and is just a little step up from the other Grenache by the glass (the Domaine Lafage from the south of France).
What wines would you be drinking for dinner tonight? How about at a special celebration dinner?
I will have beer :)
No, probably a Rhône. I am a big northern Rhône fan…like Cornas or St. Joseph.
Why did you decide to have a list with so many wines by the glass?
Well, the space called for it. The dining room upstairs is a little more formal and downstairs kind of has the feel of a wine bar, which is what I wanted to open when I first started working on the project. So, no hard liquor, no room for beers (kegs). Just a nice wine selection.
Is it me or do I not see any California wines on the list? In San Francisco?!
There are two on the list: the Claypool Rosé and the Pinot Noir. I decided to stick to just French because of space, but Les Claypool (Primus) is a friend of mine and his wines are great (and I met my wife at one of his concerts!). The Pinot Noir is very Burgundy in style and Ross Cobb, their new wine guru did a fantastic job with the Rosé, and I am from Provence!!! I am very particular with my Rosés…
603 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108
Open Monday to Saturday for dinner (until 1am) and Sunday brunch