Less Whining By More Wining

Photo by Tenaya Hills"Mine's the Fat Bastard," my charming companion enthused. Then she thought about what she had just said. "Or maybe it's yours. Or mine. Wait—which one do you think is fruitier?"

"Mine is fruitier," I replied authoritatively. "Mine is the Fat Bastard."

"Are you sure about that?"

My glare was answer enough.

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Tannins Restaurant was the place of this debate. We wanted to end our rough week with some high-class boozing at this estimable San Juan Capistrano wine bar. To begin our slow, genteel evening, we requested some opening snifters from their extensive wine menu—both chardonnays, both light to the mouth and nose, both delicious.

Only problem—after the waiter placed the six-ounce servings before us, he left without identifying either of them.

The wine menu had described the Fat Bastard as possessing a strong apple flavor; our other wine choice was supposed to exhibit toasted something or other. But with the waiter off to grab some appetizers, my charming companion and I could only guess. We mimicked the florid descriptions and raised-glass pontifications of the Sidewayscrowd and sipped the respective chardonnays. We traded. And sipped. Again.

We finally agreed: the Fat Bastard was mine. Or rather, I agreed. Mine was the one of a thousand orchards, of Granny Smith acidity and Fuji sweetness. Hers was duskier, with vanilla wisps and maybe even a citrus murmur.

The waiter returned, balancing a bowl of fragrant scampi with a bread basket on our wobbly table.

"Excuse me, which wine is which?" my charming companion asked.

"Oh, I'm sorry," the waiter replied. "It's easy—yours is the Fat Bastard."

Her smirking eyes were retort enough.

Tannins has charmed county wine connoisseurs and pretenders for about two years. It remains San Juan Capistrano's premier dining buzz spot despite its terrible location, sandwiched between a Starbucks and a car wash. Inside this shopping-plaza hell, however, Tannins creates an ambiance as serene as the verdant hills of the Capistrano Valley. There's a bustling main dining room, an impressive wine cellar with more than 700 choices for tasting or purchase, and a high-stooled wine bar with glasses dangling over the heads of the parched like forbidden fruit for Tantalus.

Although the food menu isn't particularly extraordinary—an unimaginative, though tasteful, tour of northern and southern Italian favorites, with weekly chefs' menus of American fare like steaks and sesame-encrusted ahi passing for experimental—Tannins' wine execution and presentation make the place a must-dine. Sommelier Kijou Morris rotates the wine list every three months and scours the vineyards of the globe for pleasing brands. He even offers a cheat sheet for the ignorant—every entrée lists two wine recommendations. More important, Morris trains the young staff on the finer points of his craft, as my night's second embarrassing wine moment would prove.

After knifing through the scampi—an octet of hefty sautéed shrimp that kept their pungent marine charm despite the buttery, lovely white wine reduction in which they floated—I quizzed our waiter on the vintages available for my next course. I would order the penne with roasted peppers and goat cheese as my entrée, I told him, but he would choose the wine. Just a couple of parameters: I wanted it red, not too sweet or light, and it had to charm my glasses off. Capisce?

He didn't think for long before offering a chardonnay; I dismissed it immediately. He shot back with a Matanzas Creek merlot. I nodded my head—challenge on.

In Spanish, "Matanzas" means "killings," and that's what the superb merlot did to my ego. This liquid was bold, smoky with a subtle but marked spicy bounce at the end. It complemented my entrée like Magic did Larry—drew out the distinct sweetness of the red pepper, elevated the rustic juiciness of the tomatoes and cylindrical pasta, toned down the bracing saltiness of the goat cheese. My charming companion, meanwhile, swished through her chardonnay while knifing into slightly dry ono fillet. She knows wines—remember the Fat Bastard episode?—and offered a swig of her choice. It was too sweet for me but went well with that ono and its accompanying raspberry salad.

When it was time for dessert, our waiter asked if I wanted his advice for a wine to go with our spumoni. I waved him off, confident in my ability, looking to redeem myself from the night of errors into which this Friday eve had transformed. I ordered and enjoyed—of course, when there are two choices and both are ports, even this pig is bound to dig up a truffle.


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Tannins Lounge

27211 Ortega Highway
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675



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