Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for June, 2007

Why There Have Been No Posts, Column…

William Brand’s What’s On Tap Logo

Why there have been no blog postings...Hi all. I've been quite ill, wound up in the hospital. Out now, slowly recuperating. Prognosis is good, thankfully.

I'm taking about three weeks off from my weekly column, but plan to post occasionally on the blog as my energy allows. We're running ``best of'' columns in my absence.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to call and e-mail me, when my column came up missing this past Wednesday. I'm enormously flattered by the response. The explanation was omitted in error in some editions.

Anyway, have a good 4th of July week. All my best – William Brand

Posted on Friday, June 29th, 2007
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Margrit Mondavi’s Hall of Fame induction

It was pretty amazing to witness Margrit Mondavi, that delicate dove of a woman, being inducted into the Women for Wine Sense Hall of Fame on Saturday. She’s the first. As the vice president of culture at Robert Mondavi Winery and co-founder of Copia, she is literally the American pioneer of fusing wine and the arts. Nobody was doing it before she joined the winery in 1967. Before that, she was a tour guide at Charles Krug. She made $2 a day.

Another little know fact about Margrit: she’s quite the artist herself, working with watercolors, crayons and acrylic paints. She applied her talents to commercial design and also created a line of home accessory designs exclusively for Robert Mondavi Winery, including table and kitchen linens, wine sleeves and bottles containing Robert Mondavi Winery’s olive oil and wine vinegar.

But watching her, it’s not these things you think of. Rather, you see that she’s the utter embodiment of joie de vivre, of everything she promotes, good times with wine and food and friends and the arts. The countless people she’s touched and helped, it’s really overwhelming to think about. It looked like she had tears in her eyes during the standing ovation, and each time she got up to thank someone, however painfully, it was a kiss on each cheek. Every time. Always smiling, she’s so graceful and gracious.

The other honorary award, a lifetime achievement, went to Carole Meredith, the retired professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis. I called her once to decipher the variety and origin of a mystery grape in Lodi that tastes like butterscotch. She’s a plant geneticist and when I tell you what she’s credited with, it’s enough to make your head spin:

1. Carole pioneered the use of fingerprinting to identify grape variety percentages and origin.
2. She first discovered genetic links among Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc in 1996, leading to the conclusion that Cab Sauvignon resulted from a cross between the other two varieties about 300 years ago.
3. She proved that Zinfandel and Primitivo are identical, as well as Charbono and Corbeau.
4. She broke through the mysteries of the origins of Syrah, Chardonnay and Gamay.

She now grows world class Syrah in the Mount Veeder appellation of Napa Valley with her husband Stephen Legier. Their label is Legier-Meredith.

Posted on Thursday, June 28th, 2007
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The Noble nose: Sniffing and swirling with Ann Noble

There’s so much to say about Saturday’s first annual Wines Women Want at the Four Seasons, I’ll no doubt blog and write about it in the paper for some time. After all, 60 percent of wine consumers are women; and women are still usually the ones bringing family and friends together for food and drink and celebration. Though I’d say my millennial male friends are gaining on us, with their master brewing and affinity for tapas. They’re becoming quite the Martha Stewarts, with an edge.

Back to Saturday. I took a sensory evaluation class from Ann Noble, the food science professor at UC Davis and the inventor of the wine aroma wheel. She’s a sensory scientist and flavor chemist and the first to make a diagram out of the dominant flavor descriptors in red and white wines. Ann’s an idol of mine.

Before we started tasting, Ann explained that this was “kindergarten of the nose.” That it’s easy to describe wine but because we grew up in a verbal and auditory world, and a world where colors are a popular descriptor, we don’t pay attention to our noses. But humans have the ability to catalog 4,000 aromas. What we lack is the vocabulary to discuss them. I was fascinated. Growing up, she would go on bike rides calling out scents to her friends instead of visual stimulation.

What we did next is a must in any wine descriptor or sensory evaluation class. Monica Chappelle at the Lafayette Community Center does this too. With Ann, we sniffed and eventually tasted three white wines blind. On the table, covered up, were the physical representations of the eight main aromas in white wines: from pineapple juice and lychees to vanilla and clove.

I had more than a few ah-ha moments — when I sniffed the actual item and them recognized it in the wine. Wow. It’s really a must for anyone interested in enhancing or perhaps finally breaking through their sensory walls with wine. Tip: Cover the wine up with your hand or a lid while you’re swirling. Uncover and then smell. It’s much more effective.

The wines, a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and White Reisling, were all great and all by J. Lohr, one of my favorite Paso Robles producers.

Posted on Wednesday, June 27th, 2007
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Trattoria La Siciliana – awful experience, great wine

Argh. Just had to blog about my awful experience last night at the cult Italian restaurant in my neighborhood. Anyone who lives in Berkeley or the East Bay in general swoons at the mention of Trattoria La Siciliana on College Avenue in Elmwood.

Well, I love it too. The charm. The rustic, affordable, Zagat-rated menu. The great Sicilian vibe (cash only). But I hated it last night. It was a Monday, so my friend Kelly and I got in with no wait around 6:30. I had raved to him about it, like all Berzerkley-ites do. Despite the empty tables, it took forever to order, to receive our Proseccos, our salad, and eventually, our entree.

His arrived at 8. Mine, at least 20 minutes later. Isn’t that the cardinal rule of running a restaurant? Entrees at the same time. His salmon arrived cold, and the rationale was that my swordfish was on the grill and would arrive shortly. If it was really on the grill, why was it also cold and dry when it arrived? I was so ticked off.

Then this: The chef kept running outside throughout the night, bringing in what appeared to be large parties of his friends celebrating their birthdays. I know this because the lights to the restaurant were right by our table so Kelly and I offered to turn them off and on to help out with the celebration. We were offered a complimentary chocolate souffle for the overall terrible experience. Funny enough, we never said a word. They just knew how poor our experience was.

The bright side? I liked their wines by the glass. While the selection is minimal, the two glasses we tried were superb, especially the red: a 2001 Tatone Montepulciano D’Abruzzo for $8.50. It was a steal given the wine’s optimal age, dark fruit and peppery nose and silky finish. The Prosecco, a Carpene Malvolti, could’ve been drier but paired nicely with our ice cold fish. The bubbles were big and passive, perfect for Kelly’s sensitive tummy. He can’t drink Champagne, probably because of its fierce, tiny and abundant bubbles. So if you have the same problem, try it. And try that ’01 before they’re out.

How’s that for a balanced review? Regardless, Trattoria doesn’t need a review from me or anyone else. They thrive on word of mouth and that unwavering neighborhood loyalty, a Bay Area phenomenon that can be troubling at times. What if you have a horrible experience? I almost feel like you’re supposed to keep it to yourself. If you’re not careful, the concept of local local local can lull the brain. The next time someone is gushing over Trattoria, I’ll gush along with them, but I will definitely mention this past experience too.

Posted on Tuesday, June 26th, 2007
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Blind Wine game

If you want to hold a blind tasting and don’t have time to gather all the items you’ll need, try Blind Wine’s Wine Tasting Game: Where Friends & Family Compete, made by two East Bay guys who love wine. Their company, Marc & Josh’s House Party, LLC, is based in Danville. The game is sold at Prima in Walnut Creek and online at Blind Wine. It costs $25. I see it more as a gift that something you’d buy for yourself.

As someone who attends or throws a blind tasting once a month, I wouldn’t call it a game. That threw me a little. I took Blind Wine to my monthly Wine Groupies, thinking inside was some fun wine trivia board game or something competitive we could play after we go through our blind tasting, which usually involves at least 8 wines and is pretty focused and serious. There’s no winner, per se, because we’re not guessing the wines.

We merely choose a varietal or category (Unoaked Chardonnay; 04 Pinot Noir) and taste them against one another and then rate them. If there’s any winner, I suppose it’s the person who happened to buy the wine that comes out on top. But in a lot of cases (like this month’s category, Portuguese blends), the winner was unfamiliar with their bottle. They just got lucky.

Anyway, back to Blind Wine. It’s essentially a kit comprised of all the things we forage for around the house: invitations and envelopes to send in advance (we just use Evite or email), a booklet on how to throw a blind tasting (it’s really not that complicated), a first place medal (we have a last place, racy cork from Vegas), scoring cards, bags to cover the bottles (we use aluminum foil or brown bags from wine stores), pencils, thank you cards and wine glass labels.

Again, it’s a nice introduction to blind tastings but it’s not a board game or anything. Cheers!

Posted on Monday, June 25th, 2007
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Ride the Roshambus

Wondering what happened to Roshambo, the hipster Sonoma winery with the laid back, “it’s just fermented grape juice” attitude? Well, they couldn’t afford that grand winery, but they can sure keep it real in a swanked-out rock ‘n’ roll bus!

This summer, if you’re headed to a barbecue in Santa Rosa or lunch in downtown Healdsburg and see the red, black and white (White Stripes colors!) 38-feet tour bus, stop for a tasting. The Roshambus is a temporary home while owner Naomi Brilliant and her crew build their new tasting room on Westside Road in Dry Creek. In typical rock-star fashion, they’re taking their show on the road, to new and old fans around the country.

I talked to spokesperson Daniel Ricciato, who informed me that in typical Roshambo style, local artists designed the artwork that’s wrapped on the bus’s exterior, and the entire interior is a collaborative effort between Levi Miller, Ricky Watts, and Brilliant of graffiti art and tricked out walls. Sit on either of the two cream-colored leather loveseats, or lounge on the double bed in the flower filled bedroom. Yes, handcuffs are available.

Incidentally, a six-pack of RPS Red and RPS White is currently available on their Web site for $35.

Find out where the bus’ll be at

Posted on Friday, June 22nd, 2007
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Detailed schedule of Women for Winesense

For those of you attending tomorrow’s event at the Four Seasons in San Francisco, here’s the itinerary for the seminars. Attendees get to attend two seminars plus the the Awards Presentation immediately following. Can’t wait. See you bright and early at 8:30!:

8:30-9:45 a.m.
How do I find the Passion(fruit) in my Chardonnay or Chocolate in my Cabernet?
Aging Gracefully – Building a Wine Collection

10:00-11:15 a.m.
Cultivating the Vines – Successful Careers in the Wine Industry
Women Icons in the Wine Industry

Posted on Friday, June 22nd, 2007
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Buy Languedoc wines…or else!

Anyone else see Jason Burke’s piece about hard times in the Languedoc? My friend George sent The Observer link to me, and boy, is it a hoot. I love British wine-writing. It’s so…ripe.

Not to make light of it. Wine growers in the south of France have been suffering economic hardship for some time, mainly due to competition from abroad: their brothers’ Burgundy and Bordeaux, our Cabs, and maybe, most recently, New Zealand’s Pinots topping the list, I’d say. Spanish wines and Malbec are probably taking a piece of their pie as well. Other parts of France haven’t felt it, but the Languedoc-Roussillon, ignored to some extent by consumers within France, certainly has.

Turns out a group there known as CRAV (Comité Régional d’Action Viticole), or regional winegrowers’ action committee, threatened violence in a video released to French TV if new President Nicolas Sarkozy does not do something soon to help them.

While it begs for Al Queada-like treatment in a Saturday Night Live spoof (I can just see Alec Baldwin swirling and spitting and spitting again), these people aren’t joking. According to the story, two years ago, winegrowers in the area protested similar economic conditions that caused them to sell their production at a loss. They clashed with police and two buildings were targeted with makeshift bombs. Last year, the wine tanks of distributors in the southwest, blamed for forcing local prices down by importing cheap wine from Spain, were destroyed.

As an homage to the Languedoc, which produces delicious, exciting and affordable table wines, may I recommend Domaine De Niza’s Coteaux de Languedoc? It’s a hearty blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache that’s got equal parts smoke, meat and blackened fruit.

Posted on Tuesday, June 19th, 2007
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Firestone Walker Tasting Tonight


Note: For graphics, links go here:

Firestone Walker 10-2Got nothing to do tonight: Friday, June 15. Check out Firestone Walker’s Knock Out Fiesta starting at 6 p.m. at The Knock Out, 3223 Mission St. at Valencia in San Francisco, (415-550-6994).
Among other things, Firestone Walker’s Mark Cabrera promises a case of Firestone Walker 10****.
So what’s 10. Here’s my Beer of the Week Column from last November:

Firestone Walker’s Commemorative Brew Rates 10 for Complexity

By William Brand
MediaNews Staff Writer

OUR Beer of the Week is easily one of the most unusual beers any of us will encounter this year. It’s Firestone Walker Brewing’s “10” +, which commemorates the Paso Robles brewery’s 10th anniversary.

In a sense, it’s a back-to-the-past beer. Before the modern era, beer was fermented and aged in wooden barrels and it was common to blend several brews together to achieve a desired taste. It’s the way a lot of wine is still made.

Firestone Walker’s “10” was made that way with a couple of modern twists.

It’s a blend of 10 batches of strong beers of various kinds, most fermented and aged in a variety of wooden barrels which had been used in Kentucky to make Old Fitzgerald Bourbon, Old Fitzgerald Wheat Whiskey, Heaven Hill Bourbon and Heaven Hill Brandy.

Firestone Walker LogoThe brewers also used new oak barrels, the wood toasted to their specifications. In all, the project involved beer in 80 barrels.

As an added wrinkle, Central Coast winemakers, experienced in blending wine, helped the Firestone Walker brew crew produce the beer.

A number of amazing people had a hand in crafting ’10’,” head brewer Matt Brynildson said. But it was Brynildson who did the research. Beers in the blend included Abacus, a strong English-style barley wine; Parabola Imperial Oatmeal Stout, Ruby American Style Barley wine, and Bravo Imperial Brown Ale, each aged in a variety of barrels; plus Walker’s Reserve, Humboldt Hemp Ale and Double Barrel Ale, which also is aged in oak. More kinds of hops and malts went into these beers

Brynildson said that when it came time to blend the beers into “10,” winemakers and brewers had differing opinions.

The brew crew favored a rock-your-socks blend emphasizing the Parabola Imperial Stout and the Bourbon barrel flavor.

Winemakers — perhaps thinking ahead five years when “10” has matured — wanted complexity and balance.
In the end, “10” was blended much like a wine, with a bit of Abacus providing the dominant flavor and Parabola providing cherry and chocolate.
There’s a lot more.

It’s a wild conclusion, I know, but at this point, “10” is a very young beer. It’s very much a digestif, a beer to enjoy after dinner in a brandy glass, perhaps, Brynildson suggests, with an assortment of fine chocolates. I taste vanilla and oak and other mysterious notes. This is a great beer today and without a doubt a world class beer in a year or two.

There’s so much more to say about this beer that I’ve posted Brynildson’s notes on my blogs at and
It comes in a 22-ounce bottle for $9.99, meant to share with friends.

Posted on Friday, June 15th, 2007
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Honor Margrit Mondavi and women at wine event

You know Robert Mondavi’s contributions to the industry. But the woman at his side is a ground-breaking pioneer as well. Essentially, Mrs. Mondavi introduced the concept of hospitality to the winemakers of America. Furthermore, whatever artistic collaborations you see in wineries today, be they exhibits, concerts, cooking classes or literary events, you have her to thank.

I had the honor of sitting next to Mrs. Mondavi at the Judgment of Paris reenactment last year at Copia. She’s delightful, not to mention stunning. I felt more star-quality and radiance from her than any entertainment celebrity I’ve ever interviewed. I’m pretty sure my palms were sweating. She told us stories taken straight from her diary about those early days, four decades ago, in Napa. They will no doubt resurface in the Judgment movie, which begins production this fall, I believe.

Women for WineSense, a 17-year organization dedicated to supporting women in wine, is honoring Mrs. Mondavi as its first inductee into the Women for WineSense Hall of Fame, which will have its physical home at Copia. She will be inducted on Saturday, June 23, at the San Francisco Four Seasons Hotel, as part of the Wines Women Want Grand Tasting event.

Definitely check it out. You’ll be able to taste the winning wines from the first National Women’s Wine Competition back in March. In addition, there will be a day-long series of educational programs and opportunities for women in the wine industry.

The program begins at 8:30 in the morning and includes seminars and panel discussions on wine appreciation, sensory analysis, careers in the wine industry and women icons in the wine industry. Afterwards, a walkabout lunch limited to 200 participants and prepared by the Four Seasons chef follows an award ceremony, and features stations offering food and wine pairings.

A Grand Tasting, featuring the winners of the National Women’s Wine Competition, begins at 2 p.m. About 100 wineries will be showcasing their award-winning wines. Want to attend it all? Full admission, including the Education Programs, Award Ceremony, Luncheon and Grand Tasting, is $125 ($100 for WWS members). That’s quite a deal, I think. Tickets for the Walkabout Lunch and Grand Tasting are $95 ($85 for WWS members). Just want to hit the Grand Tasting Event? It’s only $50 ($40 for WWS members).

Tickets are available online at Wines Women Want. Proceeds from the event will underwrite the educational programs and activities of WWS and fund two scholarships for women in viticulture/winemaking and women wine educators. See you there!

Posted on Wednesday, June 13th, 2007
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