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When a Top Sommelier Does a Wine Bar

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Mar 4, 2009 11:20am ET


The sommelier who oversees all of Michael Mina’s restaurants, including the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning Michael Mina in San Francisco, has a new project all his own. Rajat Parr opens RN74 in late April as a sort of homage to Burgundy, but a lot more. It’s named after the road that runs through the Côte d’Or, the heart of Burgundy, Parr’s favorite wine.

This will be the 16th restaurant in the Mina Group, but Parr says it won’t feature Mina’s detailed haute cuisine.

RN74 will be a wine bar that features the cooking of a former French Laundry sous chef. Jason Berthold, who also has his own small winery (Courier), has come up with a menu that lightens up such traditional Burgundian fare as gougonettes and potted foie gras but also will have maitake mushroom tempura and hamachi sashimi. The medium-sized plates are priced at $12 to $15. Specials, at $19, will include coq au vin and boeuf bourguignonne.

“I always wanted a casual place, where we can all wear jeans and open collars, and still drink great wines,” says Parr, turning around his MacBook to show me the planned menu and wine list. “Why should you have to wear a suit and tie to drink Latour or Romanée-Conti? Why not relax and have it with a slice of pizza?”

(Of course, the pizza at RN74 will be made with Époisses cheese, potatoes and herbs. Sounds like just the thing for a lively young white Burgundy.)

Parr is actually planning three lists: 50 by-the-glass wines, priced at $8 to $20; a “market board” of 75 wines, mostly current vintages at $29 to $99 per bottle; and “the collection,” for hardcore wine drinkers who want 40- to 50-year-old Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône wines and other classic bottles.

I like the eclectic choices on the value-oriented lists, such as Ramonet Bourgogne Blanc 2006 ($12), Royal Tokay Furmint 2006 ($8) and Betts & Scholl Hermitage 2004 ($19) on the glass roster, and Lioco Chardonnay 2007 ($36), Domaine des Baumard Savennières 2005 ($50) and Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Calvert 2006 ($82) on the market board.

The wine styles are decidedly European, Parr explains. “I have nothing against big, in-your-face New World wines, but what I like best is mineral-driven and balanced,” he notes. “I chose New World wines that are also in that style.”

Some of those wines will be from Parr’s own wine ventures, including Parr Selections and special RN74 bottlings he assembled by selecting barrels from Au Bon Climat (Chardonnay) and Hirsch Vineyards (Pinot Noir).

“The market board will be up on the wall, where everyone can see the whole list,” Parr says. “If someone is drinking a particular wine, a light will go on next to the listing.” A separate board, a copy of those schedule boards at European train stations that flip the letters with a happy clatter, will list wines that are down to their last bottles. All aboard, if you want one.

Although Parr wants to be on the floor pairing guests with the most apt wines for them, his responsibilities for Mina’s other restaurants require an on-site sommelier. That would be Bernabe de Luna, whose wine list at Highlands Inn in Carmel won a Grand Award some years ago. Bernie has been with Mina Group since the early 2000s. He also has plans to put some of his local sommelier buddies to work one or two days a week as guest sommeliers.

RN74, in the still-under-construction Millennium Tower at 301 Mission Street in San Francisco, looks like it will be fun and well timed for these trying financial days. Good wine for a bit less than usual, and the flexibility to have just a couple of dishes or an extensive menu from a well-schooled chef? It has me salivating.

Chris Lavin
Long Beach, CA —  March 6, 2009 4:19am ET
Raj is a rockstar!! It has been a huge pleasure working with Rajat Parr at XIV by MICHAEL MINA (Los Angeles). His current 7 barrel blend Pinot Noir from the Hirsch vineyard is delicious - and very hard to resist. I look forward to the opening of RN74.

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