Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for September, 2006

Bloomingdales’ wine

The new Bloomingdales opens in Union Square today. I went to the red carpet gala on Tuesday night — which was a hoot, let me tell you: trumpeter Chris Botti, the most beautiful boys SF has to offer, and high society done up in 80s fashion. But anyway, I had some great Zinfandel, which is saying a lot (for me) because it’s not a favorite of mine. I liked the St. Francis Old Vine Zinfandel because it wasn’t Smuckers in a bottle. It was peppery and bold, with darker fruits that felt as if they were smoked on the grill. The Sonoma wine runs about $16 a bottle. Not bad.

Posted on Thursday, September 28th, 2006
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The Big One in Denver

DENVER – It’s the 25th annual running of what has finally lived up to its press agent name: The Great American Beer Festival. It’s truly a big deal: A thousand and a half beers , or more – beers from craft brewers across America in a convention hall, nearly as large as one of the Moscone Center halls in San Francisco.

Unlike, Moscone, the Colorado Convention Center will be filled with beer this week. The three public sessions are tonight (Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006), Friday night and Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening. If you’re into statistics, go here.The cost is $40 tonight, $45 for the other sessions. Expect a crowd, like 20,000 people a night or something like that.

But there’s a lot more to the GABF than the public sessions. This has become a big reunion for brewers and for fans of good beer. So there are events taking place non-stop and hotels and taverns and brewpubs across town.

If you’re reading this blog and have ideas or suggestions during the GABF, drop me an email:
More later.

Posted on Thursday, September 28th, 2006
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Pairing Anheuser-Busch Beers and Cheese

Credit: “Photo courtesy of the farmers who own Cabot Creamery.”

Cabot Creamery’s Five Peppercorn Cheddar  paired with a light lager: Michelob Light, in this case. This is one of a half-dozen pairings of Anheuser-Busch beers and cheese overseen by Anheuser-Busch brewer George Reisch. I wrote about the best in my column today, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2006.  For a complete list of the cheeses and beers, drop me an e-mail at I’ll link to my column as soon as its up on the web.

Posted on Tuesday, September 26th, 2006
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Letters: Duvel for Breakfast, Real Ale and Great Cider

My Beer of the Week column on Duvel – the Belgian classic – in the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA) and other papers got a real response. I’ve gotten a ton of calls and e-mails from readers, some with stories about Duvel, others asking where they could find the beer.

Even though we live in a beer nirvana, sort of – the supply lines are thin. Even a great beer like Duvel can be hard to find. That’s why I’ve developed a list of stores in the greater Bay Area with excellent beer stocks. Want the list? E-mail us at and ask for our 2006 Retail Beer Store List. Also, I e-mail my weekly column. If you’d like to join the list, drop me an e-mail.

On to the letters:

Beer for Breakfast

Hi Bill,

I love Duvel! I was so excited to see it’s beer of the week. And I have a story:

My boyfriend and I were listening to some satellite radio beer show in which a “beermaster” (that’s what he called himself) claimed that Duvel was a perfect pairing with chorizo and eggs in the morning.

Intrigued, we bought a bottle and brought it up to Clear Lake on vacation. While we didn’t end up having it with chorizo and eggs (instead it was some sort of spicy Mexican-style scramble with bacon and hot salsa) we did enjoy it immensely for breakfast (though we were a little unmotivated for a while after breakfast) Good thing we were on vacation!

I plan to have it at other meals too, but in my mind it will always be the best breakfast beer I’ve ever had.

J., Oakland, CA.

From Duvel to Real Ale to Incredible Cider

Hi,  I’ve been spoiled by England where I studied hotel management in the 60’s and subsequently traveled to 30 countries. Anything to do with food, beer or wine draws my attention and so did Duvel, surely the devil of all beers. And so also hard ciders.

Regrettably local beers somehow do not impress me and I have yet not found hard cider on tap anywhere.

A relative owns a liquor store and he has no idea what I am talking about. I guess demand drives everything.

G., Union City, CA.

Hi G. I too am spoiled by England and I’ve only visited twice. There are some great beers being made in the Bay Area, but they tend to be very local. A good place to find excellent beer is The Bistro on B. Street in Hayward.

There are several West Coast craft brewers who make English-style ales. (That is, with malt not hops as the emphasis.)

Grant Johnston at Black Diamond in Concord. His Black Diamond Pale Ale is very much an English bitter. It’s available on tap around the East Bay.
North Coast Red Seal Ale is an English style beer in bottles that I like. Also, Magnolia in San Francisco, owner-brewer Dave McLean makes a string of Real Ales. It’s at 1398 Haight St.

Cider in the Bay Area’s a sad story indeed. Just the the multi-nationals from the UK and a couple of American perrys made with apple juice and pear extract or something like that.

The one really great America cider in California is made by Tim Bates at his farm in Philo, 18501 Greenwood Road (near Boonville, CA., (707) 895-2333. The place is called The Philo Apple Farm, and he sells it only at a roadside stand. If you’re headed to Mendocino, it’s worth a stop. There’s more to the story, of course.

Tim Bates, wife, Karen and her mother  Sally Schmitt, run a cooking school at the farm. They also have B&B overnight accommodations. Who is Sally Schmitt?

Sally and her husband, Don,  started The French Laundry  in Yountville, arguably the most famous restaurant on the West Coast  – just try to get a reservation.  They built it into a very successful regional restaurant, sold it in 1994 to chef-superstar Thomas Keller , who made it world famous.

The Schmitts and Tim and Karen bought the Apple Farm, which Tim converted to an all-organic operation. Hint: If he has no hard cider, buy the apple juice. It’s the best apple juice you’ll ever drink. The cooking school is also justfiably famous, exquisite setting, expert instruction.

I just tried Tim on the phone, couldn’t reach him. So I e-mailed him. I’ll drop his response into this blog in a while.

Posted on Tuesday, September 26th, 2006
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The downfall of barrel samples

Someone recently asked me what a barrel sample is. When you go to a winery, sometimes they will offer a taste of the wine while it’s aging in the barrel. Yes, the wine is going to taste very young, so you shouldn’t judge that as the final wine, but rather as its potential. By the time it makes it into the bottle, it’s going to change significantly. Not to mention the fact that, if the wine in the bottle was cabernet sauvingnon, they may add some cab franc to it.

Posted on Monday, September 25th, 2006
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Loire Valley: Hot Damn!

I went to an early Thanksgiving dinner at Rubicon last night in SF to learn more about wines from the Loire Valley, the region south west of Paris. Aside from being a warm and fabulous night hosted by the French, with folks from Gourmet, Savuer and Chow in attendance, Jenny and I fell in love with Cabernet Francs coming out of the Loire. Here are some standouts:

Gratien & Meyer Cuvee Flamme Saumur Brut Rose NV: Only $19.99 and mostly from Cab Franc; however, the 32 percent Grolleau, a grape used mostly for blending, gives this elegant sparkling an unusually caramel color. Gorgeous!

Domaine Philippe Alliet Chinon Vieilles Vignes 2004: Alliet de-stems grapes after harvesting to eliminate any vegetal characteristics, which explains why Jenny, lover of meaty California cab and Australian shiraz, was gushing more than a ripe grape over this wine. Talk about bacon fat. Hot damn! Only $22.99.

Chateau de Fesles Bonnezaux 1999: Just to show that the high Loire quality is enough to make converts out of Big Red snobs, this Chenin Blanc dessert wine grew on us after half a few whips and swirls. The gold color, the non-syrupy quality, and the heavenly caramelized pumpkin cream cheese custard served with it certainly made me nostaglic for my younger palate, with its penchant for orange muscato. This is the far superior, grown up version. $60.

Posted on Friday, September 22nd, 2006
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New Favorite Book

Go buy "Secrets from the Wine Diva." Now. Author Christine Ansbacher eschews soil and flowery descriptions for concrete tips as early as page 2: Avoid red wine headaches by taking an antihistamine, don’t store wine in the fridge unless it’s a screw cap, and make a $10 Cabernet taste like a $30 one by playing TAP – temperature, aceration, glassware. The book is published by Sterling, costs $14.95 and is thin enough to fit in my purse. It’s my BART book right now. I read it on my way back from treks to Vino Venue in SF. Of the last five wine books I’ve read, this is the only one that doesn’t put me to sleep, isn’t filled with antiquated name-dropping that means nothing to us and actually teaches me something I can do now to buy, order and enjoy wine better.

Posted on Wednesday, September 20th, 2006
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US wine producing rank

Someone recently asked me where the U.S. ranks in terms of wine producing nations. Well, here’s your answer: We’re fourth, behind France, Italy and Spain.

Posted on Monday, September 18th, 2006
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The spilled wine on 680 yesterday

Was anyone besides me wondering what the wine was that spilled out of the truck on Hwy. 680 yesterday? Unfortunately, it was  pretty good stuff: The Big Paw Chardonnay and Howling Syrah of Santa Maria’s Ambuellneo Vineyards, a favorite of sommeliers at Gary Danko, Michael Mina, Fifth Floor, French Laundry and Martini House. That’s quite a list, eh? I talked to owner Greg Linn yesterday and confirmed. They lost 7 cases of chard and 5 cases of syrah headed for shipment to their mailing list. The latter is particularly painful, as they only made 100 cases of the syrah.

Posted on Friday, September 15th, 2006
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Brave New Wine

I found the news in the Associated Press story today abhorrent. I’m all for chemists trying to uncover the compounds responsible for the flavors, textures and fragrances in wine. But using that data to forecast the price and what score a certain Critic to End All Critics with a background in law is going to give it? What’s the point to laboring over the vines all year? Just as we’re learning to make sophisticated wines without the haughtiness, just as sustainability and biodynamics are back en vogue — that alone took us 100 years — we’d be willing to throw it all away for the promise of a Brave New Wine? Might as well just step on the grape.

Posted on Thursday, September 14th, 2006
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