District drinks director brings lifelong wine passion to SF, Oakland locations 

click to enlarge Caterina Mirabelli
  • Nathaniel Y. Downes/Special to the S.f. Examiner
  • Caterina Mirabelli teaches her staff how to educate their customers about the different wines they serve at District at 216 Townsend St. in SoMa.
There are subtle differences between District’s two locations. Both are fun, creative wine bars in busy commercial areas, with one sitting in the shadow of AT&T Park in San Francisco and the other a fixture of the Old Oakland neighborhood.

Both interiors have a round, central bar, hanging lights and local artists’ works on display. While red-brick walls enclose the San Francisco space, the Oakland bar’s interior has a simpler, more modern aesthetic.

Unlike many wine bars, the Oakland location has a full liquor license. The San Francisco restaurant features just five signature cocktails, which are made using wines or low-alcohol spirits such as shochu vodka. The Oakland bar boasts a separate whiskey menu with a selection of 15 mixed drinks. Food offerings at both bars include housemade charcuterie, artisan cheeses, pizzettas and cold and hot plates featuring everything from oysters to braised oxtail.

A native of Rome, Caterina Mirabelli was already a wine connoisseur at the age of 16 — and living on her own in Asia — when her father’s health issues prompted him to turn his wine cellar over to her. She moved to the U.S. nine years ago to run a restaurant consulting business, and she oversees the beverage programs of both District locations.

How did you become a wine enthusiast at such a young age? My dad definitely got a lot of influence on me. When I was young, he would just take me to taste stuff. I was 9, 10 years old and already drinking grappa. He would pull me out of school in the middle of the day to see vineyards. My mother would object, but he’d say, “There’s a harvest happening at Barolo [Piedmont, Italy], and she needs to experience it!”

It sounds like the upbringing Americans imagine when they think of sophisticated European parents letting their kids drink wine and do all kinds of forbidden things. Yes, everything Americans don’t approve of happened to me, but my mom was driving me nuts, taking me to Catholic school on Sundays to let me be forgiven for drinking!

Is there a particular message or method to how you serve wine? We like to serve wine in “flights” of three glasses each. In a typical flight, you’ll taste three different expressions of similar wines so you can learn what’s your preference. You begin to pick up more who you are and what’s your palate. A flight might let you taste the difference between wines from oak casks versus those from stainless steel ones, or perhaps buttery versus dry chardonnays. You can decide which territory you like more, which soil, microclimate or winemaking technique you belong to.

What types of wines do you prefer to carry? A lot of people expect from me a lot of influence from Italy, but I like to support vineyards around the world, from Lebanon to Uruguay and everything in between.

Is it safe to assume your wine list changes often enough that we shouldn’t mention specific labels? Yes, we have commitment issues here. We’re like a bachelor of wine.

What are your other passions? I climb mountains. I’m always up in Yosemite or Tahoe. Yes, it’s dangerous — it’s great for adrenaline. The last one I climbed was pretty easy: Mount Shasta. I’ve also climbed the Dolemite in Italy.

Is this something you typically do in a group, for safety reasons? Yes, so if something goes wrong we all die together!

District

In San Francisco

Location: 216 Townsend St.

Contact: (415) 896-2120

www.districtsf.com

In Oakland

Location: 827 Washington St.

Contact: (510) 272-9110

www.districtoak.com

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