Thinking Small at Toast Wine Lounge

New Rockridge shop a refuge for busy parents and limited-production wines.

The owners of the new Toast Wine Lounge (5900 College Ave., Oakland) met ten years ago while walking their Labradors down the road near Hardy Park. They became immediate friends, both considering food and wine a necessity rather than a hobby.

Time went by and Heather Sittig, 36, a local realtor, and Kristen Policy, 36, a wedding, family, and food photographer, found themselves wheeling babies ’round the streets, lamenting the need for a comfortable wine bar where they could chat with babes in tow. They spent many hours dreaming, plotting, and planning this imaginary bar while sipping wine by the fire and conferring with their trusted friends, whom they call their Board of Directors.

When San Francisco Dancewear moved out of its storefront at the corner of College Avenue and Chabot Road after twenty years, the women saw potential in the bright space and outdoor seating area and secured the place last December 1. They started with an initial $17,000 pledged through the online funding platform Kickstarter.

Their aim was to make Toast a relaxed and comfortable community space that welcomed children — a wine bar to impress the keenest oenophiles, but with no pretentiousness. The wine chosen to go with the food — all small plates — is sourced from small producing vineyards, the limited production meaning that wines would be constantly rotating with a sense of newness and adventure. Their slogan: Drink More Wine.

Four friends and I gathered at one of the shop’s organically swervy redwood tables. Earlier in the afternoon, bar manager Todd O’Leary, formerly a wine rep and front-of-house at Perbacco in San Francisco’s Financial District, had recommended three food-wine combinations. We tried them all.

First, he suggested pairing the red Wolmuth Blaufrankisch (2007, $10/glass) from Austria, which he described as an unusual grape — minerally and lean with cherry fruit — with the earthiness of the mushroom escabeche dish, as it would not overwhelm. We did find the wine minerally, and my friend Mike said it was toasty with a touch of tobacco with a nice yet brief finish.

The white Bokisch Albarino (2009, $8/glass), from a small family vineyard in Lodi, is known for its vibrant bouquet, which O’Leary selected to complement the saltiness of the Prosciutto dish. Mike found it to have a great nose, crisp and lemony, and I could sniff a hint of starfruit.

Without food, we tried a bottle of rosé, the Sans Liege Grenache-Mourvedre (2009, $36/bottle) from California’s Central Coast. All five of us thought it tasted too much like fruit juice.

Shypoke Charbono (2008, $12/glass) from Calistoga used to be a wine routinely made by California vintners, but was slowly replaced by the more fashionable Cabernets. O’Leary described it as a low-alcohol Zin. It was nicely peppery and went well with the spicy lamb balls and the short ribs with butternut squash purée.

The best quality for value were the two wines on tap, with the better being the Andrew Lane CabSav-Gamay (2008, $9/glass) from Rutherford — pleasant, round, and full.


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