It’s always fun to pick on easy targets, like those restaurants with their overpriced wine lists who mistake diners for suckers. But it’s even more fun to discover those restaurants that get it right. These establishments not only price their lists appropriately, but actually have lists worth digging into, and the service that those lists deserve. These restaurants are worth a closer look.
In recent years Alameda has enjoyed a rising tide of quality dining, and a growing number of smart wine lists, but the one restaurant that gets wine right, from every possible angle, start to finish, is Pappo. Owned and operated by Chef John Thiel, Pappo stands apart from all comers. Its wine list changes regularly; a recent compilation boasted offerings from the US, France, Spain, and Italy, and dozens of appellations within those nations. Nearly 30 varieties can be found on the Pappo list. There is special attention paid to local winemakers. Bottles range from eminently affordable to “let’s splurge” and are priced below the usually minimum markup of 100%. Corkage is $18, which is reasonable given the quality and value of the wines listed. The selection of wines by the glass has no match in town for its breadth or depth. It’s a fun list that moves seamlessly from the mainstream to the obscure, from chardonnay to picpoul and cabernet to croatina.
The wait staff at Pappo gives these wines the attention they deserve. Servers are well-versed in the specific varieties and their growing regions, and can speak intelligently and with passion about possible food pairings. Never tried a Muscadet? Not sure how one sangiovese differs from another? Wondering if you can or should drink zinfandel with your salad? The folks at Pappo can answer any question you might come up with, and they do so without making you feel foolish or ignorant. They know that wine is supposed to be fun, and they want you to feel the same way.
A few nights ago at Pappo, on a long overdue night out, my wife chose an exceptionally succulent pork chop and I opted for the perfectly grilled bavette steak and garlic fries. But what wine would work with both? We had a few ideas but thought we’d include our server in the conversation. She agreed with our choices but said we should consider the 2005 Primofiore Old Vine Croatina. She was spot-on. The wine was the perfect complement, with a terrific balance of fruit and acid that married superbly with both entrees. And, with a rich, lingering finish, it was a challenge to keep it from disappearing all too quickly, a challenge at which we failed miserably. Just your usual night out at Pappo.
Oh, one more thing. The wine at Pappo is served at the correct temperature and in proper stemware. Some restaurants can actually do that.