Los Gatos restaurants know wine. So running a successful wine bar near perennial Michelin faves like Manresa means offering something beyond the ordinary. Cin Cin Wine Bar & Restaurant wants you to step outside your wine comfort zone and they go to great lengths to source unusual and unheard of labels in the name of that mission.
The 2015 Michelin recommended restaurant challenges customers to expand their wine repertoire with a list that changes every week.
“Cin Cin is all about enjoyment and adventure,” says Lisa Rhorer, Cin Cin’s wine director and sommelier. “We don’t carry Rombauer or Silver Oak because those are brands that most establishments have.”
Rhorer worked in marketing for Google and Oracle, but left to pursue a career in wine. She graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, became a certified sommelier and co-opened Cin Cin and Centonove in Los Gatos. In just eight years, she has created award-winning wine lists for both restaurants.
“Everything I do — the traveling, the tasting, and the training — all focus on getting people to explore the adventures of wine,” Rhorer says. “I’m always looking for wines that bridge the California palate and an international one.”
Rhorer’s explorations include Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Not familiar with New Zealand’s Villa Maria or Joel Gott’s Shatter Grenache? Cin Cin staff, trained by Rhorer, are more than happy to help.
Most glasses stay around $15 though bottles range widely both in price, varietal and provenance.
Rhorer is meticulous about choosing new wines, in part because convincing Silicon Valley oenophiles to swill something unknown or unfashionable is a dicey business proposition.
“People are apprehensive so I try to baby step them into new wines,” Rhorer says. “I know people love chardonnay for its creamy texture and golden apple [taste] so I look for international wines with that profile. I would look at warmer climates in Austria, Italy, or Spain and find wines that are different, but have some of the characteristics that my demographic likes.”
Equally important is personal preference, which Rhorer balances between customer tastes and the wine market trends.
“For my palate, I want an elegant, well-balanced wine with a long finish and minimal oak or fruit concentration,” Rhorer says. “Those features are present in every wine that I bring into Cin Cin.”
Rhorer has been striking the right chord between personal and business wines ever since Cin Cin opened in 2008.
“I ask myself, ‘Is it going to sell? Do I have an audience for it, and can I get my staff behind it?’” Rhorer says. “And if I answer ‘No’ to any of those questions, it doesn’t go on Cin Cin’s list.”
Cin Cin’s staff knowledge of wine requires constant work because of how quickly their wine list changes.
“Wine is intimidating if you don’t recognize the name or varietal,” Rhorer explains. “That’s why I train our staff, so they can be ambassadors to our wine list. I bring in the wines but they’re the ones that sell it, so it’s important that I choose wines that they can get behind and be passionate about.”
In doing so, Rhorer makes Cin Cin exciting yet safe at the same time. You may be choosing from a list of wines you’ve never heard of, but you’ll also be in the hands of some of the best wine experts in Silicon Valley.