SF Street Food Meets Terroir

Or, Terroir, welcome to SF street food.


(Above: An empty taco truck lacking signage is parked in front of Chez Spencer)

Via Inside Scoop, one of the bestest, greatest things ever in the San Francisco Chronicle: Looks like plans are in the works for a Chez Spencer taco truck, erm, make that a frog truck, to park itself across the street from Terroir. Which makes sense; after all, two of Terroir’s owners used to work there.

Within a week or two, look for the Spencer on the Go truck across the street from Terroir Natural Wine Merchant & Bar (1116 Folsom St., at Langton) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when visitors can take their plates of skate braised with capers ($8) and frog’s legs with curry ($9) inside the wine bar and order a glass. Katgely aims to keep all prices less than $12 and rotate the menu often.

(Go here for the whole thing)

Exciting news, and just in time for summer too. Sigh, there go my dreams of fitting into my vintage swimsuit…

*Note: If you don’t know Terroir, check out this article I wrote last year for the Chronicle.

(Thanks to Rob for the tip)

Does Terroir Matter?

(Above: I image googled ‘terroir’ and got this abstract painting* back as a result)

A challenging question apparently, and while I would answer in the affirmative, that yes it does, there are people out there who might disagree. And that’s fine.

But I did drink a syrah the other night that had me wondering for a moment, really, if terroir does matter. The wine in question came from Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast–the 2001 Scrio, a syrah from Le Macchiole is, frankly, pretty awesome wine. All savory and peppery, too, with the density of Cornas. But if I think about it for a minute, I realize that the wine (a French grape on the Tuscan coast), and my reaction to it (to think of Cornas, which is neither coastal nor anywhere near Tuscany), are somewhat contradictory to the commonly accepted notion of terroir. Did it matter where this syrah came from, or just that it was good syrah?

So it was with great delight that I read Joel Stein’s article at Time, “Fifty States of Wine”. His premise is simple: Now that all fifty states make wine, why not try a wine from each state and see if and how the concept of terroir works here in the US. In other words, can you make good wine anywhere? Or as Stein puts it: “Great wine keeps coming from surprising new places–New Zealand, Lebanon, Slovenia–so why not Nebraska?” He does seem to disregard winemaking style–a glaring omission if you ask me, but considering that this is Time Magazine, probably a moot point.

One of the more choice sections:

In reviewing somewhat randomly selected bottles priced around $15 to $20, I learned a few general truths. White is easier to make than red. Wines made at golf courses are not good. And the importance of terroir is definitely questionable, since no region of the country seems ill suited for winemaking except the Deep South, all of which I think Sherman salted. Though I didn’t touch the dirt on these vineyards, my impression is that it’s more a matter of finding the right grape for your climate. (Michigan’s riesling was one of my favorites.)

(Go here to read the entire article)

* – painting by Clay Vajgrt

My Name Doesn’t Change Very Often…

“…but it’s never been Don and Sherri”

Away from the wine, at least until later tonight when I suspect I’ll indulge plenty.

Here’s the video for one of my favorite tracks of this year (or at least from within the last year): Matthew Dear’s Don & Sherri. Fun, funky upbeat stuff…good for a long bike ride, not that I’m advocating the use of headphones while riding or anything. Dig the layered vocal effect!

The entire record, Asa Breed, is really excellent, and absolutely worth checking out (thanks to Guilhaume down at Terroir for turning me on to it! Like their wine, the boys at Terroir take their tunes seriously, playing only vinyl records of course).

There’s also a Hot Chip version kicking around; somebody’s homemade, erm, video is below:

Natural’s Not In It, or, In Search of Clean Wine

Apologies to Gang of Four…

So Monday night found me out on the town with the Third Degree. I was at the magazine until late trying to come up with something timely to say about the American Biodynamic movement, specifically following the Biodynamics Forum held here in San Francisco this past November. I managed about a paragraph before the noisy neighbors, a massive tasting hangover and plain ol’ writer’s block set in. Thankfully my phone rang; Third Degree was outside, and she was surrounded by a crowd of people leaving the AA meeting (yes, among the colorful building mates here at the W&S San Francisco HQ is a AA affiliate club). Locked up and headed downstairs.

We went first to Local (no website yet), which a friend of mine is involved with. Official opening day is today, December 11, although they’ve been soft opening for a couple weeks now. S and I went a couple weeks ago to test the menu–good, simple food, the kind of comfort fare appropriate to a place aiming for a neighborhood vibe. But tonight was more of an opening party, and the place was mobbed. We hung around for a drink watching the crowd and then decided to split.


On a whim I suggested that we check out Terroir, a natural wine store and bar that opened recently over on 7th and Folsom near Julie’s Supper Club. Like a lot of people in the wine biz these days, I’m taken with the concept of ‘natural wine’–which, put most simply, means a wine that’s made with as little intervention on the part of the winemaker as possible, and that respects the traditions of its region. In some ways these are wines that, in theory, could have been made the same way 100 or more years ago. Marcel Lapierre, Josko Gravner, Catherine and Pierre Breton, and basically any wine imported by Louis/Dressner, fall into this category. Apparently natural wine bars are the hip thing in Paris (my friend Peter Liem wrote an excellent article listing some of these watering holes in the December issue of Wine & Spirits).

Natural wine is a vague term that feels simultaneously honest and maybe just a bit romantic. It’s also in danger of becoming another meaningless marketing term in the endless cycle of winespin. Remember ‘organic’, ‘green’ and ‘sustainable‘? But these are superb wines of true character, and I’m hopeful that their greatness can transcend the trend. And in any case, if this is a trend, I’m all for it.

Terroir was empty when we arrived and it pretty much stayed that way all night, save for a guy who came in for a glass and promptly asked why the bar was named terrier. Maybe these guys have their work cut out for them?

Anyway, I counted about 20 wines in the retail shop that I’d love to try, and the list of wines open for tasting (by the glass, carafe or bottle) was fantastic. Started off with a carafe of Domaine Jo Pithon Savennieres, which, as the charming Luc and Guilhaume–two of the three partners in Terroir–pointed out to the Third Degree is a textbook natural wine. Fresh, vibrant and completely engaging chenin blanc, this was the kind of wine Guilhaume meant when he explained that a natural wine for him is really a “clean wine.” I can get that–you feel good after drinking these wines, as if their inherent balance is transferred to those consuming them.

If you want a wine that’s not open for tasting at Terroir, you pop over to the retail part of the store and pick something out (there’s no wine list)–add $12 to the price and you can drink it there. After the Pithon we moved to Italy and had a bottle of the Erbaluna 2004 Langhe Nebbiolo. This was earthy, almost poopy, tar and roses nebbiolo with no taste of oak on it. Yum! I loved it. Third Degree? Well, she came around after a glass. But again, another one of these natural wines–in this case, made with organically grown grapes from the Barolo commune of La Morra. Good shit–literally (some decanting helped that).

So Terroir rocks. In fact, it’s my favorite wine bar in San Francisco–minimal, laidback, and with great wine that’s been chosen with care and passion. Plus the only food is salumi and cheese, none of this faux restaurant-wine bar stuff. Hell yeah, that’s how it should be.


Terroir Natural Wine Merchant, 116 Folsom St, San Francisco; 415-558-9946, terroirsf.com