Need somm help?

If you’ve made lucrative career choices, inherited a large sum of money or have a rich uncle, check out Spruce Restaurant in San Francisco.

Spruce Restaurant on Sacramento Street in the Presidio Heights neighborhood in San Francisco has delicious California-American cuisine, an attentive staff and a top-notch wine list. (photo by Ed Anderson)

Spruce has incredible California-inspired American cuisine from chef Mark Sullivan and a remarkable wine list under the direction of lead sommelier Lauren Kemp, with 2,900 selections from around the world.

It is the “War and Peace” of wine lists.

During a recent visit to Spruce (thanks to my rich uncle) on Sacramento Street in the Presidio Heights neighborhood, I was handed the Tolstoy-like masterpiece of a wine list and presented with the task of  selecting some wine to pair with the meals for our party of six. After thumbing awkwardly through page after page of single-spaced text for a few minutes, my rich uncle’s rich partner snatched the folder from my hands and summoned our server, Melissa Boardman. Smart move. Had he not taken charge, we still would be seated at the restaurant.

Knowledgable servers, like Melissa, and sommeliers, trained wine professionals, are intimately familiar with the wine list because they likely created or helped create it.  They know where the wines are made, the best vintages, the vineyard’s terroir, the vinification practices, how to pair wine with food and other useful information. The good ones are personable and put diners at ease when perusing a wine list, even one as impressive as Spruce’s, which has received Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence.” They want nothing more than to create a memorable experience. 

Spruce's kitchen can be viewed through a large window inside the restaurant.

Melissa listened intently as our take-charge diner mentioned the dishes our party was thinking of ordering. He gave her a price range and described our style preferences. She left the table to contemplate the parameters and returned after a few minutes.

Melissa recommended the 2012 Hendry Vineyard Napa Valley Chardonnay, and Northern Rhone Syrahs from St-Joseph and Crozes Hermitage. We ordered the Hendry and the Crozes Hermitage, which promised to be bigger and earthier than the St-Joseph. (Syrah is the only red varietal allowed for AOC wines from the Northern Rhone).

The Hendry Chardonnay had flavors of summer fruit, like nectarines, and was crisp and lively. It went well with my salad of young lettuces, walnuts, fine herbs, Meyer lemon, and goat cheese tart with honey gelee.

The 2012 Alain Graillot, La Guiraude from Crozes Hermitage had a pungent, funky nose of damp forest floor, black raspberry and black pepper, with red and dark berry flavors and red licorice that led to a long finish. It paired perfectly with chef Sullivan’s housemade tagliatelle and ragu of braised rabbit, mushrooms a la Grecque and pine nuts.

To go with an assortment of desserts, we each had a splash of Tokaji Aszu, 5 Puttonyos, Tokaj-Hegyalia 2008 – the sweet wine from Hungary made from grapes, mainly Fermunt, affected by noble rot, which concentrates the sugar and acid.

Melissa helped make our dining experience one to remember, as did the entire staff at Spruce. And to think what might have happened had that list remained in my hands … 



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      Bob Highfill

      Record Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a wine enthusiast and has earned Level 3 certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust of London through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Bob will share some of his experiences from his travels to Lodi and other prime wine locales in his blog and welcomes your suggestions, reviews and wine speak.
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