SF’s Super-Luxe Sommelier Recommends His Favorite Bottles
The wine Michael Lagau and his Bin 415 partner love to share, and their $$$ white whales
Michael Lagau knows the power of wine: over a mood, over a meal, even over a life. After all, in the face of all manner of obstacles and hurdles, he’s been able to reinvent his career time and time again thanks to the wealth offered by the wine world.
An experienced sommelier with two decades of experience in Michelin-starred establishments and with top-rated hotel brands like the Four Seasons and Fairmont — not to mention gigs alongside celebrity chefs like Daniel Patterson — Lagau decided, 10 years ago, that he was ready to leave the fine-dining world for good.
“It was literally one of those moments in life where literally everything just goes crazy,” Lagau tells InsideHook. “From my father passing away to a bad breakup to getting evicted in San Francisco and needing a hip surgery…all of which happened within 30 days. It was like…comically bad.”
Lagau had first entered the world of restaurants as a 14-year-old dishwasher; he realized soon thereafter that the best way to make a food and beverage job profitable was to enter the fine-dining space. But while he soon settled on a career as a sommelier, it took time for him to be convinced by the world of luxury wine.
“I always thought wine was kind of fancy, for rich people,” he says. “Like, ‘Oh I’m getting blackberry notes….’ I used to literally mock what I do now.”
The moment that changed his mind came while working at a La Jolla wine bar seven years later, when he had the chance to sample an “insanely good” David Bruce pinot noir.
“All of a sudden there was a light that went off in my head,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wait a second, wine can taste like that?’” From there, he says, he made it his mission to expand and deepen his palate.
“I would travel to Europe, to Spain, to France, to Italy,” he says. “And that was where I really caught the bug in terms of actually becoming a little bit more passionate about it, rather than just as a job to clock in at.”
But over time, the job he had been so excited about in his 20s began to take a toll.
“I was really getting tired, being in my 30s, of working in the late-night grind of the Michelin world,” he says. “I wanted to eat dinner before midnight, and I wanted to have a more balanced life.”
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To attempt a more diurnal lifestyle, all the while capitalizing on his love of exquisite wines, Lagau decided to launch a new enterprise: hosting wine trips and tastings in nearby Napa and Sonoma for clients of local luxury hotels.
“I went all-in, maxed out all my credit cards, bought a Mercedes I could not afford, and went up to the hotel and was like, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing! What do you guys think?’”
“You guys” in this case was the Four Seasons, the St. Regis, the Ritz-Carlton. And what they thought was that it was a surefire hit.
The business took off, and for a while, Lagau was flying high. Then 2020 came around. At the onset of the pandemic, Lagau was once again in a position of having to start from scratch.
“My daughter at the time was two,” he says. “It was me and her, joined at the hip, and I was like, ‘Either I’m gonna end up having to go bankrupt, or I can lean in and figure this out.’”
He approached the Fairmont San Francisco, detailing an idea he had to convert their former jewelry shop into a tasting room and wine shop. And despite the precarity of the situation, the general manager took a chance. Lagau tapped friends with a range of expertises from contracting to art, and soon, with nearly no budget, the space was converted into a luxury, on-site wine tasting facility.
Today, Bin 415 is above all a gateway for wine lovers to taste some of California’s rarest vintages and legacy producers, whether in the intimate eight-seat tasting room or via private tours of nearby Napa and Sonoma. Both offers are geared above all towards the crème de la crème: the top-notch, bucket-list bottles that made Lagau fall in love with wine in the first place.
And if you can’t make it to Bin 415 right now, he and his associate Kelly Evans, formerly head sommelier at three-Michelin-star Saison and GM at Lazy Bear, have shared some of their own shoot-for-the-stars bottles.
The Gateway Wine
Michael Lagau: “I was working at [Julius’ Castle], and this guy came in and ordered a filet mignon and a 1982 Rothschild Lafite. At the time, it was $3,000 of wine. And he was like, ‘I’m having a very good night, I had a very good day, so I’m celebrating.’ And he was like, ‘Have you ever had this before?’ ‘…no.’ ‘You haven’t had it? Get a glass!’ I took a sip, and immediately, my brain was looking for fruit, because I hadn’t had any older wines at that time. And he was talking to me about the 1982 vintage, and he knew way more about wine than I did. Then just all of a sudden, the way he was talking about it, and while I was drinking it, I was just like…this is next level, just something I didn’t know existed. And he paid the check, he left me $500, and he also left me a third of the bottle. And I shared it with everyone, and we geeked out on it. It just expanded my whole world.”
Kelly Evans: “It wasn’t just one wine, but a flight of three different vintages of an old Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de la Tour. I got the chance to taste the ’82, ’83 and ’84 side by side at a place where I used to work in Houston, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse — by the way, they have the only Grand Award in Texas so the wine list and the wine team are phenomenal. If you’re ever in Houston then you should check it out. This is before I got into wine as a career, and I was only working as a server, but my manager was kind enough to show us the differences between the three vintages. What made it even more special is that BV replanted the vineyard in ’85 and started blending it into their Private Reserve bottling instead of doing a single vineyard. It wasn’t only really exciting to taste those wines — it was also historical because those are wines no one will ever see again.”
The One He Loves to Share
ML: “We serve Screaming Eagle by the ounce. No one really wants to spend five Gs on a bottle to check that bucket list, because that’s a trip to Paris, right? Versus like…I will pay $295 for an ounce, so that I can check that box and have an experience around it. I do also kind of want to demystify Screaming Eagle and bring it down to earth — like, meet this unicorn of which you’ve heard. And I like putting it next to Harlan, because that’s another ‘cult wine’ that people hear about. Then what’s really fun is, I put a 2012 Dominus next to it, and that’s owned by the people who own Chateau Petrus, and also it’s 11 years old. It has that sort of French sensibility to it, it’s a little more nuanced for California, for Napa. And I then get to showcase how California wines can age.”
KE: “This is kind of a hard question to answer because the obvious answer would be a bottle of DRC [Domaine de la Romanée-Conti] — I think it was a 1973 — that my boss opened for a guest at Saison. Fortunately the guest left some for the wine team, and we got to try it. However, I think the more interesting answer is a wine that nobody expects. I like surprising people with things they would have never even thought to try. This was also at Saison — we were lucky to try a lot of great wines there — and we were pairing this wine with one of the dishes on the menu. It’s from a German producer, Rebholz, from the Pfalz region, and he has only Grosses Gewachs vineyards, so the fruit is amazing. It’s actually in the hills that span the border of Germany and France (Alsace). He made this Weissburgunder that was absolutely insane. I mean, it should be, since it was almost $70 per bottle wholesale! For a Pinot Blanc, that is crazy. Nobody was going to buy that except for us, so we paired it with an eggplant and venison dish and it absolutely blew the tops off people’s heads. That this white wine could be so rich and full and complex and that it could match up against a fire-roasted eggplant was totally surprising. Such a cool experience because it’s very rare to be completely surprised like that.”
Their White Whale
KE: “Coche-Dury Les Perrieres Premier Cru 1999 or Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 1992 because I just love Burgundy Chardonnay. It’s the best overall wine ounce for ounce. It pairs with more things than any other wine I can think of, and it’s amazing on its own. A lot of people don’t realize that really good, high-acid Chardonnay can age well, and they are missing out. These wines get so incredibly complex with age, and Coche-Dury makes them better than almost anyone else in Burgundy — I’m sure Raveneau fans would want to argue with me on that. Of course, these are wines that start at $3,500 and go all the way up to $10,000, so I’ll probably never see them, but it’s always nice to dream.”
ML: “Wine can also be paired with a place or an experience — it’s just part of it. It’s more important than the food pairings, frankly. So what I think would be really cool is I would love to try a 1947 Chateau Margaux or Cheval Blanc. And the reason isn’t, ‘Oh, I want to see what that would taste like.’ It’s thinking about when that was released — like 1949, 1950 — and trying a little bit and thinking about World War II ending, thinking about the zeitgeist at that time. I feel like it would have so much emotional charge around it, when you think about what these people went through, who made the wine, who were in the vineyards. That phenomenal vintage, but more just because it captures a time and a place. And that is just such an intense time and place that I would like to think, too, that there was obviously a lot of destruction; it’s not as though the war ended and everyone was like, ‘Hooray!’ But there was still optimism in the air, like this rebuilding, this sort of phoenix-style energy around it. So I would like to be at one of the chateaux, and then maybe hear someone talking about their grandfather, who was at the chateau, who had some stories around it, to give it some more context or depth. That would be so cool to me.”
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