Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Terroir(s) Wine Bars in London, New York and San Francisco – Wines with a Sense of Place versus Natural Wines

Pictures: London, San Francisco, New York City

I have been in the past 2 years in 3 wine bars that have (almost) the same name: Terroir in New York and San Francisco, and Terroirs in London.

Terroir in San Francisco: Natural Wines from the Old World and Bar Food

Let’s start with Terroir in San Francisco. It serves only wines that are considered by the owners as natural wines and that are from the Old World. Generally, the idea behind natural wine is non-intervention and a respect for nature. For the Terroir San Francisco people this has a lot to do with the use of sulfur in the fermentation process. “We certainly have the largest list of wines in the US with no added sulfur, but not all our wines are sulfur free. When they are not, we allow for only very small amounts” said owner Luc Ertoran.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller at Terroir Wine Bar in San Francisco

Terroir was inspired by wine bars like La Cremerie in Paris, where the natural wine movement started. Like La Cremerie, Terroir is a combined retail store and wine bar. Terroir opened in 2007 selling 70 wines. Now it has 600 to 700 available. Almost all the wines are European. Within Europe, France and Italy dominate.

Terroir looks like a converted warehouse with exposed beams - modern and minimalistic. There is a large open space, a simple, minimal bar, bottles on rough wood shelves and a wine storage area in back. Terroir has a record player in the corner and an extensive collection of vinyl.

As for food, “we have charcuterie and cheese’’ said Luc and we ordered a very nice cheese plate.

Terroir, 1116 Folsom St. (at 7th St.), San Francisco. 415-558-9946. Terroirsf.com.

Terroir in New York City: Wines with a Sense of Place and Bar Food

In fact, there are now 2 Terroir wine bars in New York City, both owned by New York wine guru Paul Grieco (in the East Village, which was the first one, and in Tribeca). They are an outgrowth of the restaurant Hearth, just down the street of Terroir East Village, where Grieco previously engineered a milepost-setting wine list.

The 2 Terroir wine bars in New York have nothing to do with the natural wine movement. The guiding principle for the selection of wines is the terroir principle: Terroir is a French word often referred to as a “sense of place” in a wine. “One thing we demand of our grapes is that they express clearly and profoundly a sense of place,” writes Grieco.

Pictures: Terroir (East Village) in New York

The list is very heavy in European wines, as they are generally of the more terroir driven style. There are very few New World wines. There is also an unusually large selection of Rieslings, including many German Rieslings and a full page about Hermann Wiemer wines from the Finger Lakes alone. But again, all wines are conventionally made wines, sometimes with a heavy dose of sulfur, as for example in the case of the noble sweet wines from Germany.

The 2 Terroir wine bars in New York City are wine bars with a sense of humor. The staff wears red Che Guevara t-shirts, only Che’s image has been swapped out for Bartolo Mascarello, a producer of Barolo wines. The wine menus are graffitied, 3-ring binders printed on lined loose leaf. The three-ring binders are plastered with wine-centric graffiti, crudely drawn cartoon figures, and Hello Kitty stickers. Inside, each page has a different theme, and a different font to reflect it, like scary Gothic lettering for German wines. A lot of love and personality went into their creation. The loose leaf notebook/menu with scribblings make for fun reading while enjoying your glass.

We had cheese, which was excellent. If you're in the mood for dessert, try the panna cotta with cherries!

Terroir - Tribeca: 24 Harrison Street
Terroir - East Village: 413 E. 12th St.

Terroirs in London: Natural Wines, Bar Food and Full Meals

Terroirs is a wine bar and restaurant situated in the heart of the London West End, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square and adjacent to the Charing Cross station. It seats 45 covers with a further 12 seats at the zinc top bar (which are non bookable).

The Terroirs in London is spelled with an s at the end. In terms of the wine selection, it resembles very much the San Francisco Terroir. But while Terroirs London also focuses on natural wine, it defines natural wine in a broader sense than the Terroir San Francisco, wines that I would call “green wines”, wines made with an ecological concept in mind. There are lots of certified organic and biodynamic wines on the list.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller at Terroirs Wine Bar in London

The focus is on France and Italy. I did not see any New World wines. Many of the French growers are certified organic and biodynamic. Several of the Italian growers belong to Vin Veri (Real Wines), a movement of like-minded natural winemakers. About 25 wines are under £20 and 80 in total under £30.

Charcuterie is a feature of Terroirs. The selection changes but usually offers a terrine, a rustic jambon persillé, some French saucisse, lardo di Colonnata and ham. A selection of seasonal cheeses is available. The cheeses can be ordered individually or as part of a selection. There are also quite a number of full-sized dishes - pot-roasted quail with pancetta and gremolata, for example, or salt cod with soft-boiled eggs.

Terroirs, 5 William IV Street

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Excellency and Ecology: The Wines of Gebrueder Dr. Becker in Rheinhessen, Germany

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