Water for Chefs—Richard Hart, Tartine Bakery, San Francisco
The diaries of chefly oenophiles.
January 4, 2016
We all have Richard Hart to thank for continuing to blow our carbo-loaded minds. As Head Baker for Tartine Bakery, Mr. Hart's East London charm (and unmatched technical skill, of course) makes its way into every perfectly crusty, buttery, chewy baked miracle proffered up out of those legendary ovens. Maybe it's the sourdough starter running in his veins, but when it comes to wine, Hart likes to bring the funk. The natural wine funk. "Some of these smell like cheese or feet. Like, they absolutely stink." He'll have you convinced in no time. Promise.
Would you consider yourself a wine drinker?
I don’t think I've ever been a wine drinker. To be honest, I never really understood the difference between good wine and shit wine until this year, traveling through Europe. I started trying natural wines, and I’ve been completely blown away. The funkier they get, the more I like them. Like, you put your nose in the glass, and it really stinks, but then you taste it and it's absolutely mind-blowing delicious. You could say I'm getting into natural wine.
Paint the whole picture of your bangin'-est wine experience, REAL or IMAGINED.
I was in Holland with Chad Robertson. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant. We had just been to In De Wulf, where we had Sébastien Riffault's 2010 Sancerre (I only know this because I started taking photos of any wine I like.) I showed a picture of the wine to our waiter in Holland, and he got really excited; his day job was at a natural wine shop. They had it on their list, so we got a bottle. I don’t remember what we were eating—it was a tasting menu, and each course was coming out excruciatingly, painfully slow. But, being that we were in Amsterdam, I had smoked a bit of a joint, so it didn’t really matter. I think we were there for hours. Or I was just stoned. And I realized that I really liked funky, smelly, IPA-ish wines.
If you could choose the ultimate wine mate for the food you cook, what would you choose?
Look, I’ve got absolutely no idea. I’m a bread baker. I love eating bread with cheese and cured meats. Give me some sort of orange wine.
Have you experienced a wine pairing that you felt truly elevated your food?
I’ve eaten lots of tasting menus with wine pairings over the last year. All over the world. I’ve had great pairings at Blanca, Noma and Saison. But, the one that stands out to me the most was at Relae, where all the wines are natural. I took photo after photo. I left the dinner with three bottles of wine: 2014 Tom Lubbe Matassa 'Brutal Orange,' 2013 Tschida Illmitz Himmel Auf Erden and 2011 Rata-Poil Titan Cachet. The last one was a dessert wine that tasted like cream soda.
What makes you like a wine?
As I said, the funkier the better. Friends of mine in London have a wine shop called Sager + Wilde. When we were there last, Michael (the owner) was really excited because he got to open these wines they save for special occasions. It was awesome. There was a bottle of Aligoté from Burgundy -- I think the woman who owns the estate is named Leroy. Apparently, she's some hot, eighty-ish year-old woman. [Note: Chef Hart is referring to Domaine Leroy, one of Burgundy's most storied, sought-after, famously hard-to-come-by wines. We're jealous.] It was fucking amazing. At first I wasn’t sure I would like it. It was stinky. It was really stinky. And then, as soon as I drank it, it was absolutely delicious.
If you could drink one wine RIGHT AT THIS VERY MOMENT, what would you drink?
I would drink any of the wines that I've been talking about, and I would be so bloody happy. I hope we can get more on the natural wine page in the States.
Time to trash those training wheels, kids. We're going deep into the funk. Chef Hart set this one up nicely, as there's probably no better wine to kick off your foray into the wilds of natural wine than Riffault's single-vineyard 'Akméniné' Sancerre. Why? For one thing, it's Sancerre; this is a region that prides itself on turning out predictably clean wines, and the natural wine movement loves a little subversion. (The thirty-something, beard-rocking, horse-plow-driving Sébastien Riffault is something of a poster boy for the punk-wine revolution, and his tiny biodynamic farm is making waves in the sea of corporatized Sauv Blanc.) Besides that? Christ on a bicycle, it's funky. Made from fully ripe grapes (rare for Sancerre), allowed to complete malolactic fermentation (unheard of in Sancerre) the wine is matured for 18-24 months in barrel and another year in bottle before release (WHAT). It's unfined, unfiltered, unsulphured—un-fucked-with. The results? Spices, orchard fruit, herbs, earth...just get a loaf of Tartine goodness and see for yourself.