The Guide to Wine at Zuni Cafe
Since its founding 30 years ago, Zuni Cafe has become one of the “Meccas” of the restaurant world and even though its globally renowned chef/owner, Judy Rodgers, passed away in December 2013, the standard she set in her kitchen is seemingly immortal. Foodies from all over the world, not to mention the Bay Area, make the pilgrimage to this Market Street landmark everyday and while the menu and ambiance are the main attraction, the wine list has always played an Oscar worthy supporting role.
Zuni’s wine program started to make a name for itself in the late 1980’s when one of the managers, Sylvie Darr, realized that Rodgers cuisine deserved a wine list that matched the menu’s excellence. After Darr left, her successors, Steve Kopp and Thierry Lovato, kept this flame alive, maintaining relationships with local winemakers and Bay Area importers, namely Kermit Lynch and Beaune Imports.
Continuity is one of the aspects of Zuni’s wine selection that has set it apart. When a number of San Francisco’s wine buyers were still in diapers, Zuni featured wineries such as Mount Eden Vineyards, Domaine Huet and Domaine de DeMontille, which are now highly coveted in the sommelier community. Many of these oldies but goodies including Navarro Gewurztraminer ($32 for the 2012) and Faury Saint-Joseph, “Vielles Vignes” ($58 for the 2012), find a place on the list, vintage after vintage.
While “classic” producers dominate, you can still find the 2012 Occhipinti Frappato ($72) from Sicily and a handful of other wines made by younger wineries that are by en large organic. Most of chosen producers are, if not certified organic, practicing sustainable viticulture and using native yeast.
It is refreshing to see sparkling wines from a variety of regions getting some play in San Francisco but sometimes you just want a glass Champagne and Zuni always has two available for about $15, give or take. Even before rosé became popular, Zuni never shied away, offering wines from Provence and elsewhere such as the 2013 Domaine de Terrebrune Bandol Rosé ($12 gl/ $60 bt). The BTG choices rotate but there are consistently five whites and five reds ranging in price from $8 - $16.
Servers and bartenders have a good handle on the glass wines and some are also well versed in the 100 or so bottle list. If not, they can usually find someone on staff to help out.
Any restaurant that can stay in business for three decades is doing something right. Zuni’s continued success can be attributed to the many who have cooked here over the years yet the overall vision of the wine program as executed by several talented people, who implemented Rodgers vision on the beverage side, should not be overlooked.
1658 Market St. (at Franklin St.)