There is something about having a local watering hole in walking distance, where everybody knows your name, and the wine flows. No, it’s not Cheers, and thank god I don’t have a Cliff Claven sitting next to me, but I do have a fantastic new wine bar to tell you about.
Barrique Wine Bar, in San Francisco’s Financial District (ok well it’s really more like Chinatown but who’s looking) is located steps from my office and offers a unique experience for the wine lover or wine curious. While the concept of Barrique is not new, the use in a full service wine bar is.
What IS this amazing, fantastic, life changing concept? Why a negociant of course! A négociant, a particular breed of wine merchant, has been a concept in France from the beginning of winedom. This person is a particular type of wine merchant who assembles groups of small producers and winemakers and sells the resulting wines under their own label (or labels). Given that the average wine grower in France once had less than 10 acres, this is a necessary part of the wine making business.
Here in the states, we have developed our own version of the negociant – a wine merchant who takes finished wine and slaps their own label on it. Cameron Hughes wines has created a booming business model with this idea, taking famous maker producer wine and putting his own own spin on it at a fraction of the price. Why do this as a wine producer? It’s pretty simple actually. First, the economics of making wine demand that you ensure that you can sell your excess juice. You might have 1000 cases of 2010 Chardonnay sitting around, and another 1000 cases in barrel. If you’re not moving existing inventory, you have no cash flow — you have another 1000 cases sitting around. Voila, sell it off, you have cash. Second, premium brands often need ot crate the appearance of scarcity. How much would you really pay for Screaming Eagle if you knew that it was on every store shelf from here to Manhattan? Probably not 100 bucks. So, in order to not dilute the market and encourage allocation only wines that will sell out, wineries often sell off excess juice to negociants. Finally, sometimes, the wine is just not up to your standard. It might be perfectly lovely wine, but it isn’t your ultra premium winemaker pick. That is how some negociants get exceptional wine, and can offer it as an exceptional value. Trader Joe’s private label is one example of this, and many premium wineries have second labels that also serve this purpose.
Now, with Barrique, you have the opportunity to take being a negociant to a new level. Packed with barrels, this small space off of Jackson Square has about 10 tables and 5 bar high tops. At any given time, 5-10 wines are on tap from these barrels, the private label wines selected specifically for the wine bar. Additionally, you can elect to purchase a bottle or glass off of the wine list if you want to go mainstream. Eventually, the team at Barrique hopes to bottle their own wine for retail sale. Having the ability to create your own wine flight based on the current barrel offerings allows you to explore wines from a specific region, or cross regions to gain more tasting experience.
The staff at Barrique is warm and welcoming, and I’ve spent several hours talking wine with Sommelier extraordinaire Tom Capo. My first time at the bar, I was meeting a friend for drinks when I happened to bump in to Ted Elliot aka TR Elliot wines; of course we got to talking, and my identity as a wine blogger was revealed – inspiring a great conversation with Tom about Barrique and being a negociant in general. Pouring generous (and I DO mean generous) glasses from the barrel, Tom encourages you express your wine likes and dislikes, so he can customize your tasting experience. He will also create a flight, which will let you taste several things without drinking a whole bottle er barrel. Find something you really like? You can also elect to purchase a .5 liter measure of any wine from the barrel, which is about 3 big glasses, or 4 good glasses, to share with friends. Tom also creates weekly flights along a theme, which might include a La Folette pinot or a pinot on tap from Carneros. You can also purchase any bottle on the list to take home at 10% off list price. This is a great service, because one thing I hate is tasting a fantastic wine at a bar and not being able to find it again!
Of course, you can also have a beer if you must, as well as a nice selection of cheeses and light appetizers.
All in all, Barrique is a great experience, and is tucked away in an out of the way 100 year old building. Offering private event space and a fun atmosphere, it should be on your list while downtown. Today, I stumbled across a special blind tasting event (sold out sadly) that would be a blast! Since I can see the front door from my office, it’s become my regular hangout, so you’re apt to find me there every other Thursday about 5. Hope to see you there too!
Barrique is located at 461 Pacific Ave, between Sansome and Montgomery in San Francisco. Check out the website for more info!