Inside the Wine Cellar at San Francisco’s Jardinière

Beverage director Alan Murray on the five German bottles that define the wine list at this Bay Area institution.

“Our wine list is geared toward sophisticated consumers who are comfortable with the classics—whether it’s Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhône or Germany,” says Alan Murray, beverage director of Traci des Jardins’ signature Jardinière restaurant, which has been a staple of the San Francisco fine-dining scene for over 20 years.

While the list pays proper homage to Gallic benchmarks—there’s no shortage of rare grand crus or prestigious vintage Champagne, for instance—Germany is represented by an equally impressive roster of gems, sourced from the country’s leading winemaking talents—from the Nahe’s storied Dönnhoff estate to Robert Weil’s dazzling expressions of the Rheingau’s top single vineyards.

“German wine truly belongs, and has always belonged, in the company of the great wines of the world,” says Murray. “Part of the challenge is that during the 1980s, they had a bad rap. But that’s all breaking down and people are willing to look at German wine in a different way.”

That’s largely because of wine programs like the one he’s assembled at Jardinière. Like the other “benchmark” wines on the list, the German selections are offered with a touch (and sometimes more) of bottle age—a powerful testament German wine’s remarkable capacity to evolve in the cellar, even after decades of slumber. According to Murray, the experience of drinking a properly mature German riesling is incomparable. “The impression of sweetness tones down, the dryness comes up, and all of this amazing complexity comes out,” he explains.

He should know. Many of the bottles in question—the 2005 Dönnhoff Riesling Kabinett “Oberhäuser Listenberg,” for instance—were sourced directly from his own private cellar. The vintage depth on display extends all the way back to the 1970s.

“From the start of my career, I always had a deep affection for German wines,” he says. “I have been collecting them personally for a long time and I simply collected too many of them. So now I figure, let’s pass them on to our guests.”

Wine Service at Jardinière

Jardinière in Five German Bottles

Dönnhoff Riesling Kabinett "Oberhauser Listenberg" Nahe

This slightly off-dry expression (“It has just a hint of sweetness at this point in its evolution,” according to Murray) from the Nahe region’s iconic Dönnhoff estate offers a case study in riesling’s enormous versatility at the table, capable of pairing with spicier, more intensely flavorful dishes that might overwhelm other wines. “Nothing against chardonnay, or some of the more obscure Italian wines I have on the list, which are food-friendly as well,” Murray explains, “but often the chef will have kimchi or Korean chili on the menu, and when there’s that little bit of spice or umami, nothing beats German riesling.”

  • Price: $75
  • Vintage: 2005

Keller Silvaner Trocken "Feuervogel" Rheinhessen

“An overlooked varietal,” according to Murray, the noble silvaner grape often stands in riesling’s shadow. In the hands of a top winemaker, however, like the Rheinhessen’s Klaus Peter Keller, the results “are simply delicious,” with incredible “length, texture, and acidity” that showcase the creaminess and mineral tension for which his wines are known.

  • Price: $96
  • Vintage: 2015

Von Simmern Riesling Auslese "Eltviller Sonnenberg" Rheingau

“During the 1960s and ’70s, this producer was magical,” Murray explains, noting that this auslese-level bottling from the Sonnenberg vineyard tastes “like a perfect tangerine,” with unmatched length and purity, even after nearly four decades of cellaring. Not nearly as perceptibly sweet as it would have been on release, it makes for an excellent cheese wine. At $360, it’s not exactly cheap, but as a rare window into an earlier era of German wine, it still represents tremendous value.

  • Price: $360
  • Vintage: 1979

Prinz Riesling Kabinett "Jungfer" Auction Rheingau

This special bottling from Rheingau produced by Fred Prinz, one of Germany’s emerging “garage winemakers,” is sourced from a parcel in the original part of the Hallgartener Jungfer vineyard, “before it was expanded in 1971,” Murray explains. Bottled separately and sold at the annual Rheingau wine auction, it is “richer and more complex than wines from the enlarged sections” of the vineyard-qualities that its 14 years of age only enhance. At just $70, it’s also a steal.

  • Price: $70
  • Vintage: 2004

Keller Riesling Auslese "Dalsheimer Hubacker" Rheinhessen

“I purchased this wine shortly after I first meet Klaus Keller,” Murray recalls. “He walked in with dirt under his fingernails-in other words he had been in the vineyard that morning, was going to have our tasting, lunch and back to the vineyards in the afternoon, so it’s is no wonder his wines are so good.” He praises the wine’s razor’s edge of acidity-a byproduct of cooler vintages like 2004, which “often just need time to come around and drink well.”

  • Price: $160
  • Vintage: 2004