I’ve been hearing about Ordinaire Wine Shop & Wine Bar a lot since the beginning of the year. It opened on Grand Avenue in Oakland in November and has become a stomping ground for wine geeks and industry folk, who have been flocking there en masse to plunder its natural wine selection. Finally, I decided it was time to check this one off my bucket list, brave the bridge and see for myself what makes Ordinaire anything but ordinary.
It all starts with the wine list. Organic and natural wines are not as novel as they were several years ago, though a few spots in the Bay Area have made it their focus. Ordinaire proprietor Bradford Taylor has applied a very high standard, choosing not just conversation pieces but also selections that are accessible to people who are not familiar with natural wines.
For example, 2011 Porter-Bass Chardonnay ($53) is biodynamic but it has the qualities that are often associated with California chardonnay, though, it is not over the top. While low alcohol content, lighter reds might be what all the groovy kids are drinking these days, many wine drinkers still prefer big and bold. Instead of shunning this category altogether, Ordinaire has a few high-alcohol and full-bodied wines that are also balanced, such as the 2010 Pax Alder Springs Syrah ($70).
If, however, you want to have your palate expanded to the outer rings of Saturn, there is much to choose from such as Tempinot ($50), a multi vintage Rioja made by The Wine Love, which is delightfully unusual with a mushroom rusticity. I also counted at least a half-dozen selections that are Vin de France, which are largely wines that have been excluded by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée boards for lacking “typicity.”
While Ordinaire carries a number of California natural wine producers you can find in other spots, it also has oldies but goodies such as Mount Eden and Corison — wineries that employed a minimalist winemaking philosophy before it became popular.
If you drink on premise, all bottles cost retail pricing plus $10 corkage, so at the higher end, the wines are a steal. The by-the-glass prices are also fair, ranging from $8 to about $17 for a glass of Champagne. Including wines on tap, Ordinaire offers about 20 selections as well as a make-your-own-flight option for $20.
I’d be remiss if I did not mention Bistro Ordinaire. While cheese and charcuterie are available during the week, Ordinaire turns into a restaurant weekend nights with a limited dinner menu. Honestly, I was blown away by some of the dishes, especially the Watercress Soup with verbena, potato and sea urchin ($12). The menu changes weekly and is usually available on the website, ordinairewine.com, by Friday.
Given the quality of the wine and food, I’d come back here even if it was a hole-in-the-wall — but it is not. Ordinaire is sophisticated without being pretentious, and this carries over to the ambiance. I wish it was closer to, if not in, San Francisco, but I get that Oakland needs to have wine bars of this caliber as well. No matter where you live in the Bay Area, Ordinaire is worth the trip.
Pamela S. Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched TheVinguard.com, a blog covering a variety of wine-related topics.