Met up with Jen for convo and reminiscing last night. She called the place: The Hidden Vine, a wine bar in the basement of the Taylor Hotel in Nob Hill. Convenient for her, not so much for me. But it was a worthwhile excursion.
The place is cute, subterranean, and were it not for the placard on the corner of Cosmo Alley, would live up to its name. When I arrived, Jen was pretty much the only soul there; within 30 minutes the place was hopping.
They were pushing Portuguese wines, which I admittedly know little about. At first, my instinct was "high margins," but I kept an open mind and ordered a fleet of tastings. I had the 2001 Vinhos Sogrape; the 2003 Quinto do Crasto and the 2001 Quinto do Carmo. Unsurprisingly, they were similar in complexion to central Spanish wines -- extremely earthy, pretty tannic but had a few surprises in store.
Initially, all three were so tannic I could hardly discern any real character, but over time each opened up and revealed itself like a flower. The Vinhos Sogrape was the most basic, not really developing much complexity but eventually relaxing into a pleasant softness. The Quinta do Crasto developed a pronounced combination of smokey and honeyed notes, so much so that it was decidedly reminiscent of ham. The Quinta do Carmo started out with lush chocolate, tobacco and leather notes, but eventually picked up more delicate overtones of violet and mint.
It was cheese night, meaning they set out small trays with three cheeses and some (rather good) chorizo. Not enough to make a meal out of, mind you, but it's always nice to have some absorptive foil to a winey evening.
The server was quite helpful and clearly knowledgeable about the wines, even excited about educating people on Portuguese wines in particular. However, as the night wore on and our conversation lasted longer than our wine, we eventually were given the clear hint that the table could be better utilized. So much for European-style service. We hadn't even fully departed our table before some vulture-like twentysomethings descended upon it.
This is precisely what I don't like about wine bars. For my money, I'd be content to sit at the bar at Incanto, order up a flight of off-the-beaten-track Italian wines and enjoy a few small plates of top-notch food. Perhaps a Portuguese counterpart will come along someday.