Appetite: Rogue wines and hearty burgers

B3 and the Winemaker's Speakeasy put a punk spin on rare corks

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Street corkin': Jeremy Fish's B3 logo design

B3 -- or B-cubed, as in "Bottles, Burgers and Bites" -- should finally see the light of day on July 20 (call to confirm as this is the hoped-for grand opening). I had the privilege a couple months ago of being part of a test dinner for B3, which set up shop in the former Senses space on Valencia, redone in warm, neutral tones. I’m delighted to give you the preview scoop (see original details in The Perfect Spot), as I have been following this concept since inception.

Basically, B3 is part wine tasting spot, part full-service restaurant with a burger and sausage emphasis as well as a retail wine source. You taste wines as if you were at a tasting room (don't call it a wine bar!) and can purchase what you're tasting by the bottle or case at retail prices rather than at restaurant mark-up.

Rogue wines for days. Photo by Virginia Miller

Wine guys Johnny Gato and Ron Elder invested personal passion into a hand-selected list of affordable local bottles difficult to procure from small-production winemakers -- most don't even have a wine tasting facility. Many are influenced by Old World technique with modern interpretations. Just start talking to Gato and Elder and you’ll begin to discover all kinds of Wine Country gems you had no idea were there… not your typical California wines. Initially the focus will be Napa and Sonoma producers, but they eventually plan to showcase wines (roughly 50 on hand at any given time) from regions like Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, or Santa Barbara, with a goal to rotate wines monthly.

The wine aspect of B3 is called the Winemakers' Speakeasy, an idea in development since 2008, referring to the underground status of the type of wines they want to share with the consumer... truly "small batch", without wine tasting facilities, "by appointment" tours, or major distributors. In many cases, you wouldn't be able to try the kind of wines served here unless you bought a bottle at one of the few restaurants or shops that carry them. They're what Gato calls "rogue" or "punk rock" wines.

Through Gato, who has worked at Moussy’s and Bouchon in Napa, I've discovered incredible wineries such as Napa’s Forlorn Hope, bittersweetly named after the term used to describe the front line of soldiers in a high-risk military operation. I’m smitten with their floral, bright ‘08 La Gitana Torrontes, fabulously layered ‘07 Nacre Semillion, and ‘05 Gascony Cadets Petit Verdot. Then there’s Poem Cellars in Yountville, who’s wines are often sold out completely, particularly their light and spicy 2006 Tastevin Napa Valley Red (only 140 cases produced). Or Beaucanon’s ‘07 Cabernet Franc, Y. Rousseau’s ‘08 Russian River Valley Colombard and ‘08 ‘Milady’ Mount Veeder Chardonnay, Peripolli’s ‘06 Sauvignon Blanc. Just ask Gato, who has followed these wineries closely in his Napa years with a dream to bring them "on the road" to the general public, and he'll tell you about the wine itself but also stories behind winemakers and wineries. Each glass becomes something personal, fascinating.

Chef Kevin Ahajanian, who worked with Gato at Bouchon, is keeping it solid with a burger and sausage menu. If the test dinner and initial menu is any indication, you won’t suffer on the food front. You can top your burger with everything from a fried Petaluma egg to Humboldt Fog cheese. There's lush salads, like a B-Cubed cobb with chicken breast confit, bourbon brown sugar Hobbs bacon and Point Reyes blue cheese.

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