Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for March, 2007

Wild Blue Lives: A Good Beer from Anheuser-Busch

As I’ve mentioned before, I subscribe to an unusual email newsletter. It’s paid for by Miller Brewing, done by a Milwaukee ad agency. They stalk other big brewers filings and make them public.

Anheuser-Busch Wild Blue. Mostly, I don’t give a damn, you’ve seen one standard lager, well, you know. But last week they came up with some GREAT NEWS. Anheuser-Busch (their obvious nemesis) has “filed a certificate of label approval application with the Treasure Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for WILD BLUE!”

The caps are mine.

Miller Brew Blog, goes on to say it’s an 8 percent lager and AB say it’s made by the “Beechwood Brewing Group.”

What Miller doesn’t know is this is a serious beer, made by A-B’s craft brewing section. I got to try it two years ago at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver and again last year at an A-B-arranged cheese and beer tasting in San Francisco.

I know all the criticism about alco-pops, the sugary, fruit-laden, malternatives. I’m sorry, Wild Blue’s none of that. Here’s an excerpt from my report on that beer and cheese event in September, 2006.

“Blue Dawg Wild Blue***+ and Wensleydale Cranberry****. Cheese comes from an artisian English cheesemaker with origins dating back to Cistercian monks who came to England with William the Conquerer. Blue Dawg is an Anheuser-Busch label; the beer’s made at an A-B brewery in Baldwinsville, NY. It’s being test marketed in Ohio and Michigan.

The beer rating websites hate this beer, but I think part of that’s because it’s A-B and brewed with rice and part because many American beer raters think fruit beers are effeminate. They should try a true, workingman’s Belgian lambic.

Wild Blue’s made with a blend of barley malts and a percentage of rice. Hops are Hallertau and Tettnang. Last year, the company said whole blueberries were added to the mash. Not sure if that’s still true. This is a big beer, 8 percent and it’s true blue. Indeed.

The cheese by itself is fabulous. Crumbly and buttery with a sweetness from the cranberries, offset by an underlying acidity.

The beer is a shock. Yes, there’s sweetness and a definite fruit flavor. But after an initial sweet hit, there’s a surprising dryness that lasts into a long finish. Reisch said they used rice to gain dryness. Without the rice, the beer would be way too sweet, he said.

Together the cheese and beer are spectacular. The taste of the two mingle and explode in the mouth.

Here’s a cheer for Wild Blue. Now, if they’d just skip the rice and use a wild yeast for a secondary foundation to create a bit of sourness to balance the berries…

Posted on Friday, March 30th, 2007
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Learn about the Wines of Portugal

Organizers of trade tastings can be smart, or really foolish. If you want to familiarize the wine media and trade with an underrepresented region, you usually hold a tasting in the afternoon, always in the City, provide munchies and education, and by 5 p.m., you can call it a day.

But if you want to familiarize the consumer – the most important receiver in the wine industry, if you ask me – with that new or underrepresented wine region, you can easily extend the tasting into the evening, charge, and turn it into a benefit. Such is the case with a tasting at the Palace Hotel in SF on April 12 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. It’s focus is Portuguese reds.

ViniPortugal, the Portuguese Trade & Tourism Office, and the Port and Duoro Wines Institute are holding a tasting of more than 400 Portuguese wines and ports by more than 48 producers. The tasting benefits Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation and the suggested donation of $25 will be taken at the door. The charity is the nation’s largest culinary benefit supporting the effort to end childhood hunger in America. All the proceeds will go to the charity.

For those (like me!) eager to sharpen their knowledge of Portuguese wines, the “Keys to Understanding Portugal’s Major Grape Varietals” seminar will take place from 6 to 6:30 p.m.
Reservations can be made at rsvpsf@wagstaffworldwide.com or by phone at 800-871-9012, ext. 24552#.

The producers:

Adega Cartuxa – Fundação Eugénio de Almeida
Aveleda
Azamor / Kilburn & Gomes
Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal, S.A.
Campolargo Vinhos
Casa Agrícola Alexandre Relvas
Casa Cadaval
Casa de Vila Verde
Casa Santa Vitória
Casa Santos Lima _ Companhia das Vinhas, S.A.
Caves da Cerca
Caves São João
Caves Vidigal, S.A.
Cortes de Cima
DFJ Vinhos, Lda.
Douro Family Estates
ENOFORUM
Fiùza & Bright
Herdade do Meio
Herdade do Esporão
Herdade dos Coelheiros
Herdade Grande
Herdade Outeiro da Esquila Vinhos, Lda
J. Portugal Ramos – Vinhos, Lda
José Maria da Fonseca Vinhos, S.A.
Júlio Tassara de Bastos – Dona Maria Vinhos
Manoel D. Poças Junior – Vinhos
Monte da Capela
Monte do Traveo
Monte Seis Reis
Montez Champalimaud, Lda
Monte Novo e Figueirinha
Quinta and Vineyards Bottlers
Quinta da Alorna
Quinta da Cortezia
Quinta da Lagoalva de Cima
Quinta de Ventozelo
Quinta do Carmo
Quinta do Portal
Quinta do Quetzal
Real Companhia Velha
ROQUEVALE, SA
Soc. Agrícola Encosta do Guadiana
Soc. Agrícola D. Diniz (Ravasqueira)
Soc. Agrícola Santar
Soc. Vinhos Borges
Sogevinus Fine Wines (Barros and Cálem)
Sogevinus Fine Wines (Burmester)
Sogrape Vinhos
Symington Family Estates, Lda.
Terras de Alter Companhia de Vinhos
UDACA
Vicente Leite Faria Vinhos
VDS – Vinhos Douro Superior
Wiese & Krohn

Posted on Wednesday, March 28th, 2007
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My March wine club: 3 Great Unoaked Chardonnays

Alright people, I promise this is the last time I write about Chardonnay for a while. And to think, this time last year I was a snooty, practically red-only wine drinker.

Last night, my monthly wine club met at my place. I got off to a late start preparing for the crew of 12, as I hit the Persian New Year party at The Regency Center the night before. We Persians know how to party.

Anyway, I offered a selection of Chard-friendly cheeses, like gruyere and a medium brie, with a cherry and pecan topping; an olive, tomato and havarti lavash tart; endives filled with blue cheese pecan spread; and potato nachos. All in all a delicious and cheesalicious evening.

On to the wines. We bagged and tasted blind 8 unoaked chardonnays. I chose the theme to see if the butter would remain when the oak was taken out of the winemaking process. In addition to no oak, some of the wines also didn’t go through malolactic fermentation. Some did. All the wines were less than $20 and were a combination of Old and New World. I was surprised there was no representation from Chile.

These were our top three:

Omrah 2004 Unoaked Chardonnay: $18. Grapes hailing from two locations, the Adelaide Hills region of southern Australia famed for it’s cooler, high altitude climate that yield crisp, vibrant whites and the warmer Geographe region. Fermented in stainless steel. Nectarine on the nose, lime on the palate. Refreshing and delicious.

Nepenthe 2005 Unoaked Chardonnay: $16. Hailing from the same two regions of southern Australia. No malolactic fermentation. Pale yellow color and delicious pear aroma. Parker gave it 90 points.

Macon-Villages Louis Jadot Chardonnay. $13. Why can’t we learn from the French? Don’t fuss with the variety and watch it bloom. This white Burgundy came in third and had a medium finish that we all insisted was elongated by the cheeses. You can find the wine at Wine Thieves in Lafayette.

Posted on Monday, March 26th, 2007
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SF Brewers Slow Food Fest Saturday, March 24, 2007

I don’t usually send out anything except my column to my email list. But I think this one’s worthwhile. Read on:

SF Brewers Guild Beer & Bites Festival

I’m terribly late with this one. Sorry. Been checked out on vacation. But check this out: Saturday – tomorrow, March 24, 20076 – the San Francisco Brewer’s Guild is sponsoring “Beer & Bites”, more than 20 beers from San Francisco craft brewers, plus great food. Cost is $50, time is from Noon to 4 p.m. at 1 Fort Mason.

The event will benefit Slow Food San Francisco and help to support the School Garden Project at Sanchez Elementary School and other programs.

Here’s all the info, straight from the SF Brewer’s Guild:

“This event is the first of its kind in San Francisco and will focus on tasting and pairing a wide array of San Francisco-brewed beers (more than 20) with some of Northern California’s best artisan food. Participating breweries will include: Beach Chalet, Gordon Biersch, Magnolia Pub and Brewery, The San Francisco Brewing Company, Speakeasy Ales and Lagers, Thirsty Bear, and 21st Amendment. Our participating food producers include Cowgirl Creamery, The Fatted Calf, Acme Bread Company, Harley Farms Goat Dairy, and Hog Island Oyster Company.

“Beer & Bites will be a wonderful opportunity to sample a wide variety of San Francisco-brewed beer, learn about beer-food pairings, and socialize with devotees of good food.

“Tickets are still available online via InTicketing as well as at all particiating breweries while they last. Tickets are $50 for unlimited tasting of beer and food.”

Unfortunately, I’m working until 3:30 p.m., so there’s no way I can make it. Anyway. This one sounds very worthwhile.

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Posted on Friday, March 23rd, 2007
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Marin winery

If you haven’t tried the Pey-Marin label out of Marin county, you really should. Wines in Marin, you ask? Yes, why not? They make wine in Beirut, people. Marin is sandwiched between Sonoma, Napa and the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s got ocean, it’s got fog, it’s got fairly warm winters, all making for a long, balanced growing season and surprisingly fine structure. They’re not big nor hot-hot-hot with alcohol.

If you like world class Burgundian Pinot Noir or dry Reislings, try Pey-Marin’s 2005 Reisling. It’s very dry and citrusy. And the $20 will go a long way. Their 2004 Pinot hails from multiple vineyards and is quite earthy and delicious: $36. Merlot lovers should try the couple’s (that would be Jonathan and Catherine Pey’s) other label, Mount Tamalpais. The 2004 Merlot has sweet tannins and won’t remind you of anything from California.

Posted on Thursday, March 22nd, 2007
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On the Chardonnay Bandwagon

My wine club meets at my house this month. As such, I’ve picked the theme: Unoaked Chardonnay. It’s so hip right now, I decided to get a bunch of these bottles together and see if they really are the antithesis of a buttery Crescent Roll, and instead more like a Pinot Blanc, crisp and honeyed, with notes of roasted nuts. The big producers of this type of Chardonnay come from Chile, New Zealand and Australia, of course, but Napa’s hopping on the bandwagon.

A nice expression of the style is Nickel & Nickel’s Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay. It’s got the price of a snooty Chard ($38) but even though the label doesn’t say anything about no malolactic fermentation, the taste says it all. It’s still rich and creamy but with enough vanilla, earth and crispy citrus to balance it out. Give it a try, and I’ll report back on Monday about the 5 or so official unoaked Chards we’ll be trying.

Posted on Wednesday, March 21st, 2007
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Five Great Passover Wines

If you read your wine magazines, you know that kosher wine has come a long way, baby. For about 20 years now, Israeli wine makers have employed advanced techniques common to long-time developed wine areas, like planting vines in cooler, high-elevation areas and picking at optimal ripeness. Today, it’s not uncommon to walk into BevMo or your local wine store around Passover (which is only two weeks away) and find more than one sophisticated kosher wine. In other words, move over, Baron Herzog.

I’ve had my eye on two. Here they are:

From Galilee, the nation’s biggest wine region, Dalton Canaan White Blend, a mix of White Reisling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It’s fruity without losing its crispness. Drink it now, especially with those apples and honey.

The Dalton Canaan Red Blend, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is a medium-bodied red with a fair amount of fruit and low tannins. It’s great with Mediterranean food, and the 2006 is on sale at Kosher Wines for $11.99, which is actually right where it should be (I’m a fan of Israeli wines but often find them a bit overpriced.) The 2004 White goes for the same price. Order now for immediate consumption on Passover. L’chaim.

Posted on Tuesday, March 20th, 2007
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Gone to Maui: Savoring Some Great Beers

HI ALL. this site is acting hinky today. To see the photos, go to my other blog: What’s On Tap: The California Beer Blog. Sorry for the problem.

Maui beach
Don’t you love this tourist shot of a beac on Maui. It’s nowhere near Maui Brewing Co., but it sure is pretty. You can find the orginal at: http://www.visitmaui.com/

Regular readers of my blogs may wonder where I’ve been. I haven’t posted anything in more than a week.

There’s an easy answer: I’ve gone to Maui with my family for a brief vacation. First thing I did, of course, was check for beer. The first two guidebooks I looked at said there was one brewpub, Maui Brewing and they dumped on it.

The guides are dead wrong. If you like beer, Maui Brewing is the best stop on the island. Period. It’s easy to find, in a corner of a strip mall on Highway 30 on the way to West Maui. It’s right next to Outback Steaks. Not a promising location. After a couple of days wandering through grocery stores, which feature a good stock of mostly light lagers plus the usual imports, much like the mainland, and reading those guidebooks, I wasn’t expecting much.

Well, I was blown away. This is a spectacular brewpub with outstanding beer and excellent food.

maui-brewing-tom-kerns-garrett-marrero.jpg

Brewer Tom Kerns and Maui Brewing owner Garrett

Marrero in their brewery weariung their GABF Medals.

Below: the lineup of Maui Brewing canned beers: This

week only the IPA was available. maui-brewing-co-cans.jpg

The manager and assistant brewer Dave Cunningham explained Maui Brewing’s been through several manifestations since it opened 12 years ago. It had Fish & Game in its name for a while, and Rotisserie for a while. But a couple of years ago, a new owner, Garrett Marrero, took over and with head brewer Tom Kerns changed everything.

Kerns beers have won medals at both the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival in the last two years, including a gold for Coconut Porter last year at the GABF. There are big things ahead; they’re opening a new 20 barrel brew plant down the road, have a canning line in operation. The first three beers to be canned are: Bikini Blonde Lager, Big Swell IPA and Coconut Porter.

The top part of the beer list is light lager land, which one expects in the tropics – although with its constant trade winds and moderate temperatures, it’s hard for me – a onetime resident of coastal Mexico – to think of this as truly tropical. It is in fact: Paraiso tropical.

Anyway, back at the beer list, beyond Bikini Blonde Lager, Honolua Lager and Primo Pilsner, things get interesting indeed.

Over two hours I tasted six splendid beers and one, not-yet-released Coconut Porter aged for the last 100 days in a rum barrel.

The food matched the beer, I ordered French onion soup and Caesar salad, my wife ordered ribs, which were served in a spicy, beer-based sauce. (I’m going back and see if I can get the recipe, it was that good). My daughter and friend, split a plate of a calamari. Another friend had a thick, meaty hamburger with fries and once he got over the sticker shock – $14, this IS Hawaii – said it was excellent.

You have to expect to be somewhat gouged on this tourist island 2,100 ocean miles and three time zones west-southwest of the Bay Area.

So, here’s what I tasted:

Maui Pale Ale ***+. Creamy head, huge hop aroma. Taste is malty with big hoppy hit in the follow, aromatic hops, not bitter. Bittering hops faintly citrusy Galena, finishing, citrusy, piney Cascades, 5.7 percent ABV, 40 Internmational Bitterness Units. I loved this beer.

Double Overhead IPA****. Basically the same hop, malt bill as the Maui, just more malt, more hops. 8 percent ABV, guessing the IBUs around 60 or 70. Intense hop aroma, but restrained bitterness. Great hop-malt balance: Silky malt, aromatic hops.

Belgian Abbey Ale ***, 9.5% ABV, Silver Medal winner at the 2005 GABF in the Belgian-style, strong, speciality ale category. Served in a stemmed chalice.Big, spicy nose. Tastes of raisins and spice, leaves a tang of licorice and dark malt on the tongue. Malts,include Belgian Dark Crystal or Special B malt, which adds a rich, malt aroma and caramel and raisin taste.

Penquin Imperial Stout ***, 8 percent ABV, an opague, dark brown. Chocolate malt and licorice nose, nice balance. Licorice, ripe fruit. Intense.

Red Cock of the Walk Doppel Bock ***+ winner of the 2006 World Beer Cup Bronze in German-style strong bocks. Dark brown with reddish hues, great dark malt aroma. Sweet with lots of hops in the folo. Named after the “jungle fowl”, the wild chickens that populate the islands.

Coconut Porter***, 5.5% ABV,m 32 IBU, Gold Medal, 2006 World Beer Cup, Herb and Spice category. Spiced with dried coconut. An opague, black beer, with a sweet nose of coconut and roast malt. Carries through in the taste, crisp, gently hoppy follow. An island treat.

Black Pearl***+. This is an amazing, barrel aged beer. It’s Coconut Porter aged 100 days in a rum barrel from a local rum-maker. It’s a ramped up, 7 percent, Coconut Porter. It’s not finished yet, when it is, it’ll be served in a stemmed glass for $8. Thick, rocky head of tan foam and a real pirate nose: Rum! Taste is sweet, fading to dry with the taste of rum lingering on the tongue. Powerful, damned unusual.

Definitely a digestif. To be savored after a fine meal. I quit smoking years ago, thank God. But this is a beer that almost demands a cigar or some kind of rich chocolate desert. I’d love to have a jug of this one in my beer refrig back home.

Posted on Monday, March 19th, 2007
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Champagne: Hope in a Glass

Is it just me, or is there something inherently magical about drinking a glass of Champagne? It certainly looks glamorous in your hand; it’s silvery glint a hint of what’s to come. When it coats the sides of your mouth, the tingle is impossible to ignore. It wakes you up. Almost instantly, you lengthen your spine. And that aroma. Anything from citrus fruits to a must that reminds you of vintage couture. Of course, there is no discussion of Champagne’s effect without the mention of bubbles. The transformations are Cinderella-like.

I drank a bottle of 2001 Clover Hill, a Tasmanian sparkling, the other night with a couple very much in love, and a friend of theirs, who was suffering from a wounded heart. The wine wasn’t cold enough, yet the bubbles put up quite a fight, resisting escape from the stemless tumblers we drank from. With every sip, the couple told us of their courtship. They did all the things you’re not supposed to do. Meeting the parents on the second date. Saying ‘I love you’ in the second week. We laughed; I mean the three of us did. But the sad friend seemed to sink deeper into a pensive state, all the while commenting on the rigor of the Tasmanian bubbles.

I think the wine provided some kind of hope for him. I know it did for me. Because I realized it’s not just the Champagne that’s magical, but the situations it brings you to. I loved every minute of that meal, and the hope that this couple gave me. It’s a juju I just can’t put my finger on.

Posted on Friday, March 16th, 2007
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Bonny Doon wine club perks

Woah. For Valentine’s Day, Jenny’s fiance got her a membership to Bonny Doon’s wine club. Along with her Doontastic quarterly wines (she gets two bottles of red with some really over-the-top labels, even for The Doon), she’s able to attend some pretty fabulous winemaker’s dinners. And guess what? The Rhone Deranger himself will be in attendance!

April 14 is Jenny’s bridal shower (which I’m throwing at Clos Du Val), but if we were free, we’d surely go to that one: For this dinner, they’re pulling the cellar’s last remaining bottles of 1986 Estate Claret and 1993 Le Sophiste in magnum. Those who recently tasted these wines say they are spectacular, evolved yet very fresh. Looks like we’ll hit the one in October. It’s a Vineyard Harvest Dinner Featuring Tre Syrah Syrah … Syrah. Not bad for $75. And to have Randall sign my…….this is a family newspaper. Er blog.

Posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2007
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