Ask the Sommelier
By Stett Holbrook
MARCHÉ is one of Silicon Valley's true destination restaurants. Chef Guillaume Bienaime is creating some of the most delicious and exciting food the South Bay has to offer. Part of the restaurant's appeal is also wine director John Sanders. Not only is his wine list a showcase of well-chosen and sometimes eclectic wines, but Sanders' friendly and knowledgeable presence makes choosing wine a real pleasure.
METRO: Why did you decide to pursue a career in wine?
JOHN SANDERS: I have been in the restaurant industry for over 17 years, first as a server, then bartender and finally [since 2004] as the wine director at Marché. I started noticing wine about 12 years ago. I first started with Marché back in 2002 as the bartender. The general manager at the time was also heading up the wine program. She was a real inspiration for me. Through her, I began to really appreciate not just wine but also where it came from, how it was made and, most importantly, how [it should be drunk] and what types of food it should be drunk with.
What makes the wine list at Marché special?
By and large the wines on Marché's list are chosen for how well I think they will work with the cuisine. If there is a big blockbuster wine made available to me that has all the requisite scores and favorable press but just doesn't work well with food, then I am not interested. While wine can be enjoyed on its own, I view it as an extension of the food. When wine and food work together it's truly wonderful. I want people to be able to come into Marché and find a great bottle of wine regardless of price that will enhance their dining experience.
What wine or wines are you passionate about right now?
I have been on a white wine kick for some time now. I especially like higher acid wines with little or no oak, and I'm not afraid of a little bit of residual sugar. Austrian grüner veltliner, Loire Valley sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc, chablis and riesling from almost anywhere, especially Germany—these are what I like. They are versatile and friendly to a wide range of food, and in the case of Germany and Austria, the quality vs. price ratio is quite high. You can find a grand cru quality German for a mere fraction of the cost of a grand cru Burgundy, and if it doesn't blow your mind, I'll drink it!
What are some of the best wine values now?
The wine world has really gone global. There are deals to be had from all over the world. As I mentioned, Germany and Austria offer wonderful wines at fantastic prices but there is more—Greece, South America, even in France. Do a bit of homework, and you can find really good, eminently affordable wines from almost anywhere.
What is your go-to wine for everyday, casual drinking?
I'll trumpet the riesling horn one more time. A German kabinett or spatlese makes for a great glass of wine. At about 8 percent alcohol with a touch of residual sugar and loads of juicy acidity, they can be great as sippers or with a few bites. Another great thing is that they only get better with age, so if you find some you like, hold a few bottles back if you can!
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