Considering the star power in the kitchen, it wasn’t all that unexpected that San Francisco’sCala restaurant, which opened last fall, would quickly become one of the best seafood restaurants in the country. Here, chef Gabriela Cámara, who also owns the outstanding Contramar in Mexico City, works with local fisherman to showcase the freshest fish she can find, often in simple, beautiful, raw ways.
What comes as a little bit of a surprise, however, is that the wine program is just as spot-on as the food. Cala wine director Lauren Feldman has put together a list of mostly sparkling, white and rosé bottles to amplify Cámara’s work. She’s even found some red wines that work with seafood. “At first, we threw out the idea of not having any red wines at all, but I [knew] there were red wines that go with spicy food and seafood,” says Feldman. “You just have to know where to look.” And experimentation is recommended in that most of the wines are available by the carafe or glass.
The sorts of wines that Feldman has found work best come from coastal regions. “I like a lot of northern Spain and Basque country wines and wines from the French, Italian and Spanish rivieras, that whole Mediterranean coastline. I’ve sourced a lot of island wines, like from Corsica and the Canary Islands.”
Naturally, all this research means that Feldman is an expert on beach wines. In the warm months, you’ll find her on her off-days in the north bay of San Francisco on the shores of Bodega Bay and Dillon Beach, as well as Kirby Cove when forced to stay close to the city. And along with her come wines that love the sunshine, can be tossed in a cooler and pair expertly with everything that comes out of the water. These are six of her top picks.
“Fino is so great for the beach. It has refreshing acidity and saltiness; it tastes like ocean water, like briny oyster wine. People might be like, ‘Oh, my God, you can’t do that,’ but if you have a Solo cup with ice and put some fino sherry in it, it’s pretty delicious. And it’s affordable. We get the Valdespino in 375-milliliter bottles ($13), which is almost a personal serving of sherry. Valdespino is a super classic producer, and I like the complexity that you get from the Fino Inocente at that reasonable price. It’s a really classic, typical example of the fino style but not boring at all—really salty and beautiful.”
“This is so expected, but what else are you going to drink at the beach? With this one ($22), I would say the complexity is minimal; it’s straightforward with a little bit of berry but mostly watermelon and a refreshing summer fruit quality to it. It has a little bit of effervescence, and you can just chug it. It’s also lower in alcohol, which is nice if you’re going to be on the beach in the sun.”
“Evan Frazier works for Kongsgaard winery in Napa—he’s the general manager there—but on the side, he makes this albariño ($20) and a tempranillo. People always think of California as being Mediterranean, but as you get farther inland, in Lodi, where this is grown, Spanish grape varieties do really well, and I’m happy to see more people working with them.
“This is super crisp, refreshing and not terribly fussy. It’s a good wine for someone that usually drinks a sauvignon blanc or grüner veltliner, who wants something that’s dry and crisp and clean, which is what we get requests for more than anything at Cala. I’ve had a fair amount of California albariño, and this one is probably my favorite, but I also think that for this price point and for a beach wine (there are definitely others with more complexity that cost more), it’s a good one. It has a pretty bottle, too—good for Instagram pictures at the beach.”
“The Canary Island wines are blowing up right now, and I think it’s pretty cool. They kind of lost a little traction with wine—all of the islands did—as tourism started to become more important. Now there are these producers, like Los Bermejos, that are really trying to get back to the roots and make sure that these indigenous varieties do not become extinct.
“This rosado ($22) has a kind of saltiness to it, that ocean air quality to it. It’s a pretty ripe rosé, and there’s peachiness to it that’s pretty cool. This wine is very textured, and there’s certainly a funkiness to it that I think of as smoky but also lightly mushroomy. It’s a really good food wine, especially with fish tacos and that sort of stuff. We have a trout tostada on our menu, and it’s a perfect pairing—trout with chipotle aioli and fried leeks. But the wine has so much going on that it can stand up to some of the more roasted dishes, as well. It’s a wine for the whole meal.”
“This one is not really a rosé—I have it on our rosé list, and it’s the fullest bodied one on there. Chiaretto is a style of sangiovese that’s not heavy on the skin contact. Even though it looks like a red, this wine ($30) totally drinks like a rosé—it’s super crisp and fresh. I mostly put it on with our rosés because I want to serve it completely cold. This is just a beautiful, really complex rosé or light red, however you want to put it. It bridges this gap where people don’t really know what to think.
“Altura is made on an island, Isola del Giglio, off the coast of Tuscany. These grapes are farmed with such care; they’re making the wines totally naturally, and there’s not a lot of fruit on the island. It’s one of those wines that really changes as it gets more oxygen. It starts off tart and bright and pretty cranberry, fresh and floral and then kind of opens up into more of a deeper berry, cherries, strawberries—all really fresh, kind of youthful flavors with an underlying, island herbaceousness.”
“This is one of my favorite projects. I worked harvest for [winemaker] Elisabetta Foradori up in Trentino in fall of 2014, but she has this project in Tuscany in a town called Roccatederighi too. She had us help with the biodynamic preparations down there. We got to stay at her house on this rocky crag of a mountain, overlooking the Maremma, the whole Tuscan coast, and it’s just beautiful. They’re growing some indigenous grape varieties, but this bottle ($20) is mostly Alicante, which is same thing as grenache.
“It’s sort of a surprising, light, juicy number from Tuscany. I think people expect that it’s going to be sangiovese and rustic and meaty, but this is super light and fresh and chuggable. I had a bottle of it on a beach in Tuscany, and it was the best experience. It’s a liter bottle, and you can just drink it right out of bottle and pass it around to your friends. It’s a red wine that I do like with a little bit of a chill on it; it can be in the cooler with all of the other things that you’re trucking out to the beach. You can have it with burgers or whatever you’re grilling or with seafood. It’s a very versatile wine.”