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The Drinker: Listening to win

By Jordan Mackay | Photos: Cody Pickens | October 19, 2011 | Story Wine and Spirits

The first thing you’re likely to notice upon entering Dig, a new wine shop in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, is a turntable elegantly making its rounds. It’s not what you expect to find when you go shopping for wine, but it makes sense when you learn that the store’s owner, Wayne Garcia, was the managing editor of the Absolute Sound, a magazine dedicated to music and sound technology, and a writer on such matters as well. He once made his living selling high-end audio equipment. And when it comes to wine, Garcia has a particularly well-developed set of ears.

“A lot of audio geeks tend to be wine geeks too,” Garcia says. “They just seem to go hand in hand. I’m not sure what it is.”

What wine and music have most in common is what they defy: language. Both offer a very subjective, personal experience that’s almost impossible to put into words. This ineffability leaves some people indifferent. In others, it sparks delight and a yearning for a deeper experience.

Garcia is a fan of what audiophiles call near-field listening, which positions speakers quite close to the audience in order for them to enjoy the clearest, most enveloping sound. At Dig, he endeavors to bring the near-field experience to wine. Garcia sells only wines from Italy and France. The selection is somewhat obscure and precise: He gives special attention to small, independent producers from often overlooked regions like France’s Jura or Italy’s Valle d’Aosta, producers who tend to make lighter and clearer, but also highly expressive, minimal-interventionist wines.

“A word that comes up a lot in both the audio and the wine world is transparency,” Garcia says. “The sense that you want the imprint of mediation between the source and the vehicle to be as small as possible.” The source in audio is obvious—the musicians. For a wine, it’s the earth itself.

Garcia invited me to his home, where he poured an Edi Kante vitovska from northeastern Italy and put a Miles Davis record on the turntable. On his home stereo (with its five-and-a-half-foot-tall speakers and banks of colored lights and dials), I could clearly hear the occasional sputter of Davis’s lips and feel the deep, resonant space within Paul Chambers’s bass. The experience helped me understand how wine serves as a vehicle for the soil. The wineglass is the speaker (which is why you want good ones), and the wine itself is the medium for reproducing the voice of the vineyard. As Garcia says, “a good recording seeks fidelity, as does a good wine.”

As for the obscurity of so many of the wines at his shop, so far it hasn’t been a problem. “I seem to be creating a little army of Jura enthusiasts in the Dogpatch,” he says. Indeed, when I visited Dig, he was out of poulsard, my favorite Jura red, as someone had swooped in for the last few cases. “I just won’t sell a wine I wouldn’t want to drink,” Garcia says.

The prices are very good, too—the vast majority of the bottles sell for under $40, their prices written by hand in big white print on the neck of the bottle (which Garcia wipes off before bagging the wine). It’s a nice detail, as it shows that every single bottle on display was touched. But that’s what I love about Dig—the whole store bears Garcia’s touch. In these days of megastores that carry everything, it’s nice to find someone who puts as much self-expression into filling the shelves of his wine shop as other people do into loading their iPods.

Dig it
Jordan Mackay’s top hits from Wayne Garcia’s wine shop.
2006 Château Pierre-Bise Savennières “Roche aux Moines,” Loire Valley, France

This chenin blanc from one of the Loire’s top producers is loaded with exotic fruits and spice, but the finish is exceptionally dry and mineral. $30

2009 Bisson pigato, Liguria, Italy
The Ligurian grape pigato is largely unknown in the United States, but the wine’s bright, citrusy crispness and unrelenting stoniness are gaining favor here. This one is tremendous. $24

2008 Domaine de la Tournelle trousseau de corvées, Jura, France
A light-bodied wine that’s deep with savory, earthy character, trousseau has no lack of delicious berry fruit. It’s lovely with a slight chill alongside a platter of salami. $24

2009 Tami frappato, Sicily, Italy
Light-bodied, refreshing, and redolent of strawberries, brambles, and spring flowers, this frappato is as addictive a quaff as you’ll find. $17

Dig, 1005 Minnesota St., S.F., 415-648-6133


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