Mark Bright, Markris Wine Group, Saison San Francisco, Vinyl Wine Bar, Sommelier, Restaurateur, Joshua Skenes, San Francisco, CA, California, 94110, 94117, Wine Blending, Unique


Photograph courtesy of Mark Bright


Q & A With Sommelier Mark Bright

Q. Tell us about Saison...

A. We [Joshua Skenes and Mark Bright] opened Saison in June 2009 with a tasting menu only. It’s not formal, in that men have to be wearing neckties, it’s casual fine dining. But the seriousness of the food and the wine pairings and the application is held to the highest degree. It is something that is easier to experience than explain.

Q. And you have a second place, Vinyl Wine Bar...

A. It is the first time I’ve done a heavily domestic-focused wine bar, but it is now starting to go more international. I focus a lot on smaller producers in the Old World, finding those producers that are just being imported into the US for the first time.

We also allow people to blend their own wines, so they can understand what goes into wine making and blending, how many different variations there are and how complex it can be. Ordering a glass of wine has never been an interactive experience. Right now, we do Super Tuscans, which is Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Cabernet blends that they can do at the bar in 10ml increments for a glass or a bottle... people love it.

We don’t just pick out random wines off the shelf and people blend stuff. These are all grapes that I assisted in the production of and we bottle them one barrel at a time, specifically for blending with each other. I kind of softball it a little bit for the customer too, because I get three very good different wines, so it is hard for the customer to make a bad glass of wine.

Q. Wine Director Cat Silirie says a great wine list is one with a specific point of view. What is your personal perspective?

At Saison, there is a lot of small countryside French wines with higher acid, lower alcohol and that is what goes the best with Josh’s [Skenes] food. At the end of the day that is what I am looking for... to pair with the food.

Over at Vinyl, it’s more of a creative space since it’s not a set normal menu. One of the things we do there is on Sunday night we have a chef come in and he just prepares hand-made pasta. On Wednesdays, we have a chef come in and make hand-made pizzas. Every Tuesday, we have a different food truck from somewhere in San Francisco and we do food and wine pairings with it. It’s a fun, casual experience and it brings in all the people who are used to the food trucks. People think you can’t pair wine with food truck food, but you can pair wine with anything. The food trucks bring in some unique items.

Q. Any particular food and wine pairing at Saison that gets you excited?

A. There’s a couple of them:

1) There’s a brassicas dish with toasted grains, bouillon, quail egg, fois fat, and different kinds of brassicas (which is a family of greens) and they are all cooked in the wood burning oven. Doing that dish with a Premier Cru White Burgundy like Voillot Meursault Chevalier, that’s a home run. Especially when you have a wine that’s a little more fleshier with a little more richness to it, a little bit more mineral and natural smoke. That’s what that dish likes a lot.

2) We do a cru dish which can be sea bream or fluke with river vegetables and foraged flowers, lemon, and olive oil. I’ll do that with Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa. That wine is just phenomenal and works so beautiful with that dish. Fleshiness to go with the fish, some fizz with the lemon, and the natural green tones you find with the river vegetables. Hamilton Russell makes the wine, but the label is Southern Right.

Tips / Advice

Q. What are some classic and non-traditional food and wine pairings you love?

A. Sliced radishes, creme fraiche, nasturtium honey, foraged greens, and pig crackling -- all in a dish. That with Becker Estate Pinot Noir from Pfalz, Germany. Because the wine is light and soft on the palette, because nothing on the dish is too rich, but it has that fleshiness to go with the pork crackling and it has this high-tone, beautiful cherry and cranberry fruit that balance out with the nasturtium honey. The honey is not super rich either. There is also this almost hint of spritziness that balances out the heat of the radish. And the beautiful high acid that cleans the palette.

Thai food and German Riesling Kabinett all day. It’s my number one pairing. It’s magical. I teach at Stamford and it’s the one thing I tell beginners -- if you want to learn about food and wine pairings start here. Take a bottle of Riesling, and make sure it has some residual sugar to it and go to a Thai restaurant and just work it out. I don’t need to tell you the producers, I don’t need to tell you what to order, it is most likely going to work out.

Q. For the average consumer, what are some of your recommendations for working around a wine list with a sommelier?

A. The most important thing is to educate yourself to the point where you can articulate what you like to drink to a sommelier. Are you looking for a wine that is ripe that has a lot of flavor to it, that doesn’t have any residual sugar? Or are you looking for something that has a little residual sugar, but is more earth toned and not fruity? Once you can articulate to a wine professional what you are looking for, then you’ll be able to find whatever you need.

Q. What are some of the mistakes you see when people are selecting wine in restaurants?

A. Being narrow minded. People can order themselves out of the best pairing into what they feel comfortable with. If we have fish on the menu one night, I might recommend an Austrian Riesling because it’s dry, it’s delicious, and it’s going to be the best thing for someone’s meal. If the customer responds that they don’t want a sweet wine because they have the assumption that all rieslings are sweet, they are being too narrow minded. At the end of the day, you can drink whatever you want; it’s your meal. If you ask for an opinion, then you should be opened minded to take the opinion.

Q. Isn’t some of that building trust with the sommelier?

A. Absolutely. But why ask the question if you are going to automatically void what I say?

Sommelier’s Recs | San Francisco Bay Area

FIND | Wine Stores

Where To Buy Wine

The Wine House | Kermit Lynch | North Berkeley Wine | The Wine Club

Good stores with a great selection of wine. The four places I would buy wine in San Francisco.

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FIND | Wine Resources

Book | Secrets of the Sommeliers

Raj Parr recently put out a new book, Secrets of the Sommeliers. It’s really good on tasting, understanding sommeliers, and things you should be focusing on if you are going to be a sommelier.

Book | Windows On The World

It’s is still a great beginners book. Kevin Zraly makes it so simple for people to understand. That’s a book I suggest to people all the time because it just makes it easy.

Magazines | Decanter and Wine & Spirits

They are probably the two I read the most. They tie a little more into the things I am doing rather than Wine Spectator and some of the other magazines.

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Eat | Restaurants

Where Do you Eat On Your Own Dime

I always go to check out new places.


If I was to pick one place to eat, this would be one of them.

Sushi Ran

I eat a lot of Japanese and Indian food.


Vik’s is really delicious, very pure style Indian food. I have been in India a lot and that is what you’d actually find in India.


It’s really classic, Calcutta street-style food. They specialize in kati rolls which are delicious. It’s like an Indian burrito -- how can you go wrong with that?


I like it because it softballs South Indian cuisine, they make it more approachable for the American palette, but they’ll also take you downtown if you want.

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Restaurants with Great Wine Lists

Definitely someone who takes time to find unique wines that are delicious, that inspires me. There are 75 different distribution companies in San Francisco, so having that variety allows us the chance to find so many amazing wines and many small production wines. You can tell when someone really went out of their way to find something great, especially when I see something on the list that I haven’t seen before, rather than having all the basics and the same old thing that everyone else has.


I worked with Raj [Parr] for a long time and that’s who I learned to do that from. He’s really good at that. He also has a team of sommeliers working for him.

Heirloom Cafe

They have a really interesting list.

Bar Tartine

They always have a great round-up of wines. There are very thoughtful sommeliers at both these places.

Twenty-five Lusk

Also with a good wine list.

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For Cheeseburger and a Beer


It’s a really grungy kind of place and people in San Francisco know it well and they kind of laugh. They have about 30 beers on tap, small production and all the imports. It’s an outdoor biker bar that serves killer hamburgers and just pitchers of beer. On a sunny day, there is nothing better.

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Drink | Wine Bars

Heart Wine Bar

It’s a good wine bar worth visiting.

Hidden Vine

They have a really good wine list, and a very casual, comfortable setting to taste wine.


Of course. I do drink at my own place a lot more than anywhere else, but that is because I’m there a lot. I don’t go to wine bars that much, if I am going to go out to drink, I am going out for a cheeseburger and beer.

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Drink | Sake


Definitely a bar you should check out. It’s a super high recommendation, especially for anyone who is at any level interested in sake. One of the best sake sommeliers in the country is there and he has a huge depth of selection of sakes that you can taste. And the food is amazing. I get the little chicken hearts on the skewers all the time.

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Drink | Aperitif or Digestif

Beer | Trumer and Stella Artois

I drink a lot of beer. The two things I drink as much as wine are sake and beer. I spent time in Japan and I am really focused on sake.

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Drink | Beer

The City Beer Store

It’s good because they have all the small production, funky stuff.

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Drink | Wine

Wine Producers You Love

White - French | Domaine de la Cadette Bourgogne Blanc Vezelay

It’s up near Chablis, where the chalk goes away and the limestone starts showing up a little more. That’s a great producer and it’s about $18 retail. That’s a wine I could drink all day.

White - USA | Zocker Gruner Veltliner

From Edna Valley in California. This is a sneaky wine that came out of nowhere. This wine I am really surprised with. It’s the largest Gruner Veltliner vineyard planted outside of Austria. It’s also about $18 retail. There’s a lot of wine in that sweet spot now. This wine is just absolutely phenomenal, no joking about it.

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Rose - France | Domaine de Triennes Rose -  a delicious rose from Provence. Owned by Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac in Burgundy. These are really affordable wines. For the price, they are absolutely phenomenal. You need to go get a bottle now.

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Red - France | Clavelier

Lovely wines from Burgundy.

Red - USA | Littorai Pinot Noir

I have worked with the wine before, but they are just amazing. I could drink them all the time.

Red - USA | Copain

They have a new blend coming out of Mendocino, kind of like the Tous Ensemble called Les Voisins - those are stellar. Acidity, balance, lower alcohol, the purity of the fruit is just great. Very classic pinot. I like them both, but I really enjoy the Syrah. I am more of a Syrah drinker. I named my dog after a Cote Rotie producer -- his name is Jamet.

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More Recs

Download the F.E.D. iPhone app and get more of Mark Bright’s recommendations as well as recommendations from other pros around the world.


Details of Mark Bright’s recommendations for where to eat, drink, and shop in and around San Francisco.


San Francisco, CA





General Information

Liddabit Sweets

Saison San Francisco

178 Townsend Street

San Francisco, CA 94110

T: 415.828.7990 (make a reservation)


Vinyl Wine Bar

359 Divisadero Street

San Francisco, CA 94117

T: 415.621.4132

Markris Consulting