Anna Netrebko, the sexy superstar operatic soprano, looks worried as she takes a sip of the white wine in her glass. "I get headaches from California wines sometimes," says the Russian singer, in San Francisco to sing Violetta, the title role in Verdi’s La Traviata. "Are you sure this is OK?"
I had a pretty good idea this one would be fine, but our choices were limited because last-minute demands on her schedule changed our meeting venue twice. We had scheduled an early dinner at RN74, where Raj Parr’s huge, eclectic list would have provided endless possibilities to mix and match. But San Francisco Opera needed her for a donor event at just that time, so we agreed to meet mid-afternoon at Zuni Café, which has a nice list. But Zuni was closed, and Cav (a great wine bar next door) wouldn’t be open for several hours, so I called an audible and we ended up at Heaven’s Dog, Charles Phan’s casual Chinese restaurant that’s open all day and has a nice small list with interesting options.
I thought she would go for one of the Austrian or German Rieslings, familiar to her because she lives most of the year in Vienna. But she opted for a 2008 from Santa Barbara, unfamiliar to me, by Municipal Winemakers. She reminded me that her press agent had contacted me originally to see if I would be willing to take her around Napa Valley to prove to her that her distrust of California wines was misapplied.
"She knows a lot, but likes only European wines," he told me. "I keep telling her she’s missing out on California wines." I responded with a different suggestion, that we taste a range of wines over dinner. Ah well, the best laid plans, and all that.
Netrebko, it turns out, has had an avid interest in wine since she was introduced to good wine, ironically, on her first visit to San Francisco. She made her U.S. debut here in 1995 as the lead soprano role in a rarely heard Russian opera, Ruslan and Lyudmila. "I was taken to some good restaurants and drank some very good wines," she recalls. "Unfortunately, that was long before I could afford them, and I don’t remember what they were. That was not exactly an 'aha' moment, but close."
She drinks wine or cocktails, but more often wine, although, she notes, “I have to be careful. I can’t drink too much the day before a performance. But the day after, no problem."
Ask her to describe what it is about wine that fascinates her, and she laughs, “Everything.” Then she turns serious. “It’s the taste. It perks up my appetite, and that makes the food taste better."
“I am a gourmand,” she continues, “not a gourmet. I love to eat, and to drink wine, but just enough to make me feel relaxed and happy. It’s important in life, to have a glass of wine or two every evening. If I can’t drink, the food’s not that delicious for me. I can’t have just water with dinner.”
She recalls some memorable experiences with wine, including a private party in a Los Angeles restaurant. "The chef was cooking especially for us, and each course had a different wine," she remembers. "I was scared that there were so many wines, but it was OK. We only had a a glass of each one. The one I remember was 1959 Château Margaux. There were two bottles, and one was better than the other. Such a beautiful wine. I was swimming on tastes I had never tried before. The flavors were there but you could not catch them, they’re running away from you. Amazing. I’m trying to explain in my English, it’s not so good."
Actually, that’s as eloquent a description of what makes wine so magical as I can recall.
Superstar soprano Anna Netrebko has excellent taste in wine (despite her bias against the wines of California).
Keir Mccartney — League City,TX — June 19, 2009 4:16pm ET
Larry Schaffer — central coast, ca — June 23, 2009 5:58pm ET
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