The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2016

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Page 85 of 132

april 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  85 You must be a popular man in the Napa Valley. Yeah. Wineries tend to treat me pretty well when I visit. Do you sell much white wine? Not nearly as much as I'd like. A good amount of the white is sold by the glass before dinner. While we are a steakhouse, seafood makes up a large percentage of our appetizers. We've got fresh oysters, steamed clams, smoked salmon and more, so I always try to get a little white on the table whenever possible. High acid whites work well with many of these dishes and can serve as a refreshing aperitif. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are generally the most popular but Riesling is by far my favorite white grape. You're making me thirsty. Your Executive Chef, Mike Buhagiar, has been here for quite a while as well. Chef Mike has been here since 1984, the same year we opened our doors. Nobody knows more about steaks than this man. He's been sourcing our corn-fed beef from the top ranches in the Midwest for over 30 years. He also dry-ages our porterhouse and bone-in New York steaks on-site for 21 days to allow the meat to tenderize naturally. And though we do have a full time butcher on staff, Chef Mike is a master at that as well, helping to shape the finest cuts for our guests. He's really the heart and soul of Harris'. So what is your most popular high-end Cab? (Laughing) Well, high-end is a relative term, isn't it? We try to cover all price points. If you want a great wine that's around 50 dollars, we have it. If you want one for over a thousand dollars, we have that as well. Having said that, we have success with the iconic producers of California: Joseph Phelps, Duckhorn, Silver Oak, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, and Jordan to name a few. But I think one of the strengths of our wine program is in working with some of those smaller wineries, whose stories aren't as well known. For instance, I've been a fan of Arns Winery for over a decade now. They make about 500 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon near the base of Howell Mountain. Some of his vines are over 100 years old! Wines like Arns, Neal Family, Clark-Claudon, Brown Estate . . . they deserve some love as well. I enjoy introducing our guests to wines like these. So after Cabernet, what's next? I'd guess Merlot. Pinot Noir. It didn't used to be that way, but it sure is now. We cover it all, from California to Oregon, France to New Zealand. I am always on the lookout for wines outside of California that complement what we do here. I am sure that the staff here, like the prime rib, is well seasoned. Do you do a lot of staff training? We do. Once every month or two we go up to Napa or Sonoma with the team to taste and break bread with the winemakers. Sometimes we have the opportunity to get our shoes dirty in the vineyard. We do blind tastings here at Harris' about once a week and we change our wines by the glass often. We also like to have guest speakers from the wineries and distributors. Those meetings add a lot of knowledge to our staff's arsenal. It's important for everyone to be on the same page as much as possible. OK, I've missed on all the num- bers. What else don't I know? Loire Valley reds. We do really well with Chinon. We also do well with some of the heartier Italian wines. Who doesn't love a nice bottle of Brunello di Montalcino or Barolo with a juicy steak? I love Syrah. It just doesn't get the love from the general public. How about you? I'm a fan as well; they are a natural pairing with red meat, but it is an uphill battle. We have a whole page of Syrah and are always looking for the guests to try one. The sales reps who call on me always comment surprisingly on how much Syrah we have, and we'll keep building on it. We're tasting a classic today. Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon from the wonderful 2013 vintage. What a lovely wine. I just saw that his brother Peter just passed away. We're running out of legends. I love this wine; we pour it by the glass. This is textbook Napa Valley Cabernet. It's full-bodied, but like all of Mr. Mondavi's wines not over- extracted. I can count on Mondavi wines always being varietally cor- rect. It's very enjoyable in its youth, which is great for our guests. What else do people like to drink at Harris'? Zinfandel is a popular choice. As legend has it, it's the only California native grape, so I love serving it to our out of state guests. And yes, I'm aware that this "native" claim is debatable. What would you say is Jonathan's guilty pleasure wine? Bordeaux. There's just something about them. I love their earthiness and com- plexity. My favorite flavors are savory, like tobacco, leather and green olives. I am fascinated by the Left Bank—espe- cially St. Julien. Château Gruaud-Larose has always been close to my heart—1986, please, if you're buying. So what would your one wish be to change the world of wine? I think we're doing remarkably well. The industry has evolved so much in my career. Consumers are more educated and adventurous. Sommeliers are everywhere, and because of that, wine drinkers are more willing to take a risk and try that bottle they've never heard of. And though there's still a little stigma that wine is fancy and only for those in the know, that's shifting rapidly. My goal is to make wine more accessible to everyone, and I believe that we're on our way. Executive Chef Mike Buhagiar and Wine Director Jonathan Tennenbaum of Harris' Restaurant in San Francisco.

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