Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for January, 2007

Global warming and wine

Ugh. I’m feeling pretty glum about today’s news on global warming and wine. I’m trying to look on the
bright (no pun intended) side about the rising heat and buttery chardonnay’s down fall. I know that’s not very funny though.

And while heat also good news for those of us who prefer vegetal, peppery zins, this news really scares me. If greenhouse emissions continue at the current rate, 60 percent of our best terrain will be lost by the end of the century!

Just shows how cover crops are more important than ever to keep the grapes from experiencing all the heat that hits them. You can also thin out clusters of grapes to
keep them cooler, which I thought was limited to red grapes, but not according to Betsy’s story. That’s somewhat decent news. I really want to go home and crawl into bed.

All I can say is I plan to make this a top priority come voting time.

Posted on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007
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I leap for Frog’s Leap

I went to Napa this weekend and my experiences there now go something like this: Because I’ve been to so many wineries in the Valley (there are 400 total, mind you), these days I hand pick the ones I haven’t visited and make appointments. There’s no more driving down the Silverado Trail and holding up traffic by stopping every quarter of a mile. Another benefit of doing it this way is that you get a lot of quality time with a tasting room attendant and learn loads more about the fascinating history of the wineries and the Valley back in the day. Each story is a movie to me and fills me with such pride for the Valley. It harkens back to a time when pioneers were college graduates with $100 in their pockets, bussing it cross country to the Valley and bunking in abandoned barns with little more than two mugs and a jug of wine to their name. This is the case with my first appointment, which was at Frog’s Leap Winery. Stunning winery and equally beautiful wines crafted from organically grown grapes. While his wines are up to par with the best in the Valley, winemaker John Williams (the aforementioned barn squatter) is one of the only not charging exhorbitant prices for tastings. In fact, he charges nothing, Lodi and Paso Robles style. According to his staff it’s something he’s never going to change, and I truly admire and respect him for that. Ninety percent of their revenue comes from retail sales — as I’m sure it does for most top-echelon producers — so the bottom line is that they can simply afford to give some of the juice away. He’s a class act and it makes everyone else look silly. If you’re wondering about the name, it’s another way that John honors the history of the Valley: The Red Barn dates back to the late 1800s, when it was a Frog Farm that raised the little buggers and sold their legs for $.33 a dozen to San Francisco gourmets. The leap honors Stag’s Leap Winery, which is where John had his first job as an assistant winemaker. When you hit the Frog, ask for Lindsay. The young lady relayed the story of Frog’s Leap with such passion and grace, you’d think she was there. On to the wines. Two whites and a red continue to swirl in my dreams…….

— Yes, I take back the post from “What Women Drink” about hating chards. At least I don’t hate the Frog’s. I love it. Their 2005 expression is all apple and pear, not butter and vanilla. It’s crisp and fresh, like a Sauvingnon Blanc. Who knew chard could taste this way. I’m sold. $24.

— Speaking of food friendly wines, buy the Leapfrogmilch the next time you’re in the winery. It’s their signature Reisling (with a touch of Chard for body) and this is the last year they’re going to make it. It’s only $14 and heavenly.

— All of the Frog’s reds are silky and sophisticated, but I’m going to focus on the 2003 Rutherford Cabernet. It’s velvety yet bold (usually cabs are one or the other), and there’s a reason for that. “Rutherford Dust” is a term the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff coined to describe the terroir of that region of the Valley. The soils produce rich, balancing aromas of dark fruit and green olives. While I’m usually not thrilled about the exhorbitant amount of California cabs over $50, this one is $75 and truly worth it. Lay it down for 5 years and it will feel like silk going down your throat.

Posted on Monday, January 22nd, 2007
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About those 2005 Craft Beer Statistics…

I wrote about the state of craft brewing in The Oakland, CA. Tribune and the other Alameda Newspaper Group papers this morning – Sunday, Jan. 21,2007. However, I’m having trouble posting the files.

Should have them up in a couple of hours. In the meantine, if you’re interested, e-mail me at and I’ll send you the stats as pdf attachments. b.

Posted on Sunday, January 21st, 2007
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$10.99 fab cab alert

This weather is perfect for hearty cabs and syrahs. And boy have I find one. I’m constantly impressed with the quality, value and sustainability of bottles from the Mendocino Wine Company, and the Big Yellow Cab is no different. The cherries are dry, not bright and jammy, there’s smoky cigar, earth and herbs and the finish is long. This wine would stand up to some of the spices in my mom’s Persian stews. Chipotle in Mexican food and red pepper-based pasta sauces can also take the heat. I absolutely love the North Coast terroir of this wine and how it’s good to go right out of the bottle. At only $10.99, I’ll be likely to hail this cab again and again.

Posted on Friday, January 19th, 2007
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Icy morning temps on grapes

Unlike citrus and avocados, turns out the icy morning temperatures are actually really good for grapes this time of year. Helps send them into their dormant state. But it doesn’t mean the unbelievably cold weather isn’t hurting production in other ways. In Paso Robles, the cold frost burst water pipes at Peachy Canyon Winery. I called the winemaker, Josh Beckett, and he told me the tasting room hasn’t had water in five days. The main water line to the warehouse, where the barrel and cases are, is down too.Out in the vineyards, the irrigation systems are down. Worst of all, they needed to do some winter watering because we haven’t had any rain. That’s the main concern, which could prove problematic for growers everywhere in California. Lack of rain could hurt us if we never get that rain and happen upon an early bloom. I’m checking with the Napa Vintners Association to gauge their concern.

Posted on Wednesday, January 17th, 2007
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Stars in TV Land Are Drinking Good Beer

Times are slowly changing in TV land and the people who stage dramas realize that no one with any taste at all drinks standard American lager anymore.

Watching the exellent ABC drama Brothers & Sisters about the trials of the Walker family, I was slightly shocked, but pleased, when John Pyper-Ferguson, who plays Joe, husband to Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) of the Walkers, grabs a beer from the refrigerator and hands one to his wife, I got a glimpse of the label: Eye of the Hawk**** from Mendocino Brewing. Excellent taste. It’s a malty, strong, 8 percent strong ale, a mainstay beer for me since it first came out in 1984.

A half-hour later on The L Word on Showtime, a couple of the characters share a beer. This time, I believe, it was something from Brooklyn Brewery, proving to me at least that this perplexing, glitzy drama, where everyone is slim, young and beautiful, is done in New York, not in California, where it’s supposed to be set. Or am I wrong?

One comment: Why must actors always drink beer from the bottle, but wine from a glass? It would help craft beer immensely, if they’d just pour it into a glass like ordinary people do.

Posted on Monday, January 15th, 2007
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Hotel Biron

Finally made it to Hotel Biron. Tried going there on New Year’s Eve when I was doing a 4-course pairing at Cav, but alas, Hotel Biron was closed. First off, I love having two wine bars around the corner from each other, especially when they’re so different. Cav is on Market at Gough, next door to Zuni Cafe and reminds me of a Manhattan bar. Hotel Biron is on Rose, that little alley around the corner and reminds me of a half bottle of a bar you’d find somewhere in Aix-en-Provence. Tiny. Brick walls, dim lighting and a faint aroma of oak barrels are a sharp contrast to Cav’s modern minimalist feeling. The bar is totally DIY. You go up to the counter, order your glass or bottle off the double sided menu and pick up your glasses. Sometimes they uncork the bottle for you right there and you take it back to your table, other times they bring it to you. While I was there, I also ordered a Portugese goat’s milk cheese and baguette (cheese are $5, sides like dates or fruit are $3) and that was delivered to our table. Lots of reds from the States on the menu, including a Zin from Turley (yum) and a pinot from Heintz (yummier). The menu when we were there on Saturday differed from the one currently online because we definitely would’ve tried that Hungary/Austria/Germany sparkling Apfel-Cuvee Obstau Reisetbauer. In its absence, we went for a NV Prosecco, whose sweetness nicely complemented the mildly pungent cheese. I’d definitely go back to Hotel Biron, especially on a first Thursday of the month, when the space hosts a reception for local artists.

Posted on Monday, January 15th, 2007
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A Night at the Toronado Tasting Urthel Ales

I must remember to never try and drink beer at the Toronado in San Francisco and conduct interviews. But I always forget and this past Monday night was no exception.

The occasion was a tasting of two beers from Belgium Urthel Hop-It and Samaranth Quadrium Ale***, an ultra-strong, Trappist-style quadruple.

The brewer is Hildegard van Ostaden and the marketing arm of their small company is her husband, Bas. I’ve written extensively about Hop-It***, Hildegard’s very Belgian interpretation of an American West Coast IPA. You can find that Beer of the Week column here.

They were on their way to a beer dinner featuring their beers, put on Monday night by beer chef Bruce Paton. David Keene, proprietor of the Toronado (547 Haight St., San Francisco) at the invitation of Urthel importer, Bob Leggett of Artisanal Imports, held an impromptu tasting before dinner.

A lot of folks headed to the dinner also made it to Dave’s tasting and got to meet the van Ostadens. They are very charming, very European Belgians and they love their beer.
After I wrote my Hop-It column, I got a note from a reader, who is Belgian, who said they were involved in a lawsuit with their Belgian contract brewer, Van Steenberge, and had to have their beer brewed elsewhere.

I asked Hildegard, who said hotly that they had trouble getting their beer delivered and – . Well, I told her, I was here for the beer, not to report on a lawsuit. She liked that.

She told me the beer is now brewed in Holland at the De Koningshoeven Trappist brewery in Tilburg, the brewery where she worked and where she and her husband met and decided to go into the beer biz. Currently, the formulas are Hildegard’s, the brewing’s done a Koningshoeven. The brewery is one of the most commercial of the Trappist breweries and makes and markets the La Trappe beers, which are widely available in the U.S.

A night at the Toronado in San Francisco…

Magnolia proprietor/brewer Dave McLean,
Hildegard and Bas van Ostaden of Brewery
De Leyerth and 21st Amendment’s Shaun

Anyway, about the beer: Samaranth is – at this moment – a blonde beer, but Hildegard saidshe’s changing the malt recipe to add a lot of roast and chocolate malts and the version that will be sold in the U.S. will be quite dark. But the yeast and hops (bullion bittering, spicy Saaz for aroma) will remain the same. Besides barley malts, the beer was made with the addition of candy sugar, about 4 percent, Hildegard said. That’s the way a lot of beer is made in Belgium. The sugar boosts the alcohol and gives a beer an unmistakable light taste that I like.

Right now, it’s a medium golden color with a strong, malty nose and a whiff of heat from the alcohol. The taste begins sweet, but fades into a lasting dryness with a bit of tartness lingering on the tongue.

Hiledgard explained that the beer is almost fully attenuated. That is – it has been fermented to the point that nearly all the fermentable sugars have been converted to alcohol, leaving a very dry, very strong beer.

I noticed that at the Toronado Hop-It was extremely popular as well. Check out my Beer of the Week column for that.

Unfortunately, for my note taking, Dave McLean of Magnolia Brewery & Restaurant and Shaun O’Sullivan, of 21st Amendment showed up and bought us drinks. My note-taking went downhill from there. Oh well.

OK, bottom line, stores in the San Francisco Bay Area with a decent beer list tend to stock Hop-It. If you can’t find it, e-mail me at or call (510) 915-1180 and ask for my 2007 Retail Beer Store List.

Posted on Friday, January 12th, 2007
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Zintastic February in Livermore

The February wine events are starting to roll in, and this just in from John Christopher Cellars. If you like zinfandel, you probably won’t want to miss it.

Each weekend in February the winery at Blacksmith Square will
feature one of its four zinfandels and pair it with a food. They will
also be releasing their newest Zin, the 2004 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel (probably quite the jammy spread) on Feb. 2. The 2002 is supposed to be quite food friendly, and the 2004 late harvest would be the way to go with that box or chocolates you’re planning to eat – er, buy – for your sweetheart. The nominal tasting fee is waived when you purchase wine. But there’s no charge for the food samples. Unreal!

Dates: Each weekend in February
Time: Sat’s 12-5:30 PM  Sundays 12:30-5:30 PM
Place: John Christopher Cellars
Address: 25 South Livemore Ave, Suite 103, Livermore CA 94550
Phone:  (925) 456- WINE (9463)
Cost: No cost for food and wine pairings. Regular Flight tasting fees in place. 

Posted on Thursday, January 11th, 2007
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Beet wines

I’m obsessed with beet salads right now. They’re on every restaurant’s winter menu. I buy the vaccum-sealed ones from Trader Joe’s, slice them, drizzle balsamic vinegar and olive oil on top, and sprinkle them with fresh ground pepper and either feta or goat cheese (whatever’s around). I serve that on a bed of either mache or arugula, and voila, I’m in light-dinner heaven. But I always struggle with what wine to serve with them. My instincts tell me a nice earthy Zinfandel or Syrah, to pick up that dirt taste (as Jenny calls it) in the beets. But actually, you’re supposed to serve beets with something that is fruity and crispy, and can cut some of that dirt. Enter sparkling roses, the continued foodie darling. They have just enough foundation and backbone for beets, not to mention verve and acidity. Another good one is Gruner Vetliner, which will be in 2007 what dry roses were in 2006 — the star of food wines. Gruner has plenty of earth and white pepper that will match not only the beets, but the cheese. Can’t beat that.

Posted on Wednesday, January 10th, 2007
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