Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for July, 2007

Judgment movie “Bottle Shock” on its way

The Chronicle had a good story on recent developments (read: drama) surrounding the production of “Bottle Shock,” the first of two in-the-works films about the famed 1976 Judgment of Paris, where a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and a Stag’s Leap Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon beat out their French counterparts and shocked the wine world.

Thing is, this one — call it Judgment Lite — is only about Chateau Montelena.

According to W. Blake Gray’s story and an early draft obtained by the Chron, the filmmaker (Randall Miller, “Noble Son”) never so much as mentions Stag’s Leap or the fact that the competition even had a red portion. Isn’t that ridiculous?

Then again, this IS Hollywood. And in order to get their version out sooner, I can see why they’d take the easier way out, focusing on sexy controversy and some pretty embarrassing events that aren’t even confirmed. I’ll explain. Read on.

You’ll recall that Mike Grgich was at Chateau Montelena at the time and actually made the winning Chardonnay. And ever since he left in 1977 to start Grgich Hills, he and Barrett have disagreed over who should get credit for the Judgment winner.

Personally, I’ve never understood the disagreement. Winemaker’s make the wine. They get the credit. It’s like the difference between directors and producers in the film world. It’s kind of pathetic that a feud as old as me is carrying on to the silver screen so the world outside of our wine bubble will think this industry is a bunch of tannic infighting.

If you’re still interested, here’s the gist of this screenplay: Bill Pullman stars as Chateau Montelena owner Jim Barrett while Alan Rickman, of “Harry Potter” fame, plays Steven Spurrier, the British wine merchant who organized the tasting. Grgich appears briefly in the beginning but has no lines because his role is pretty much left out of the movie. Filming began this week in Sonoma and Napa counties and runs through early September.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the competing script by veteran screenwriter and Sonoma vineyard owner Robert Mark Kamen. His story is based on George Taber’s book, “Judgment of Paris,” and from what I’ve heard, it tells the WHOLE story of the American Dream in Napa Valley. So Grgich, a Croatian immigrant, is featured prominently, natch.

Rumors are swirling that everyone from Danny DeVito to Keanu Reeves will play him at some point in his life. Whoever the actor, he’s got to know how to rock that beret. They’re behind; Kamen’s still writing and I’m sure with bigger names, casting is a longer stickier process. But if they’re telling the whole story, including the reds, I’m more interested in seeing this version.

Posted on Tuesday, July 31st, 2007
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Savor South Africa wine event

My friends and I are obsessed with South African wine. For me, I think it’s more the idea of Stellenbosch. I’m familiar with the Sauvignon Blancs and eccentric Pinotage but otherwise have a lot to learn. That’s why this event from Uncorked, their last of the summer, comes at the primo time.

It’s called Savor South Africa: A New World of Wine. It’s from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 23 at the Officer’s Club, 1 Fort Mason, in San Francisco.

Here’s a blurb about the event from their site:

“We’ve saved the best for last for our last summer tasting showcasing the world-class wines of South Africa. And special wines deserve a memorable venue so we’re returning to the majestic Officer’s Club in Fort Mason overlooking Aquatic Park and Alcatraz.

Did you know that South Africa has been making wine for over 300 years and is the seventh largest producer of wine in the world? You’ll sample over 60 wines from all the top wine regions including the Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschoek, Walker Bay and Constantia. In addition to Chardonnay, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Pinot Noir, you’ll try their wonderfully refreshing Chenin Blanc and their highly unique Pinotage.

Top brands like Warwick Estate, Glen Carlou, Kanonkop, Waterford, Fairview, Simonsig, Meerlust, Neil Ellis and Saxenburg amongst many others will be represented. Rounding out the evening, AG Ferrari will provide a wide array of artisan cheeses, breads, meats and olives
to complement the wines, while DJ Sol adds his signature smooth lounge grooves – all in one very cool, wine-filled mansion overlooking the bay.”

Ok, it’s pretty much gonna go off.

Tickets are $30 through August 17th, $40 after (if available). Get yours at Uncorked.

Posted on Monday, July 30th, 2007
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Sampling Christmas in July at Barclays



Cartoon Christmas TreeMade it to Christmas in July late Friday afternoon at Barclay’s Restaurant and Pub on College Avenue in North Oakland.
It was already crowded and I wound up sitting with a couple of brewers, Rodger Davis and his bride, Claudia, and Christian Kazakoff, head brewer at Triple Rock.
Rodger has just left Drake’s in San Leandro after years of producing prize-winning beers. Rodger and Claudia– she’s famous in her own right as the best barkeep at 21st Amendment Restaurant and Brewery in San Francisco – have plans to start their own craft brewery or brewpub around here. It’s just a matter of raising the cash. So if you want an investment deal, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll put you in touch.
What’s Christmas in July? Well, Barclay’s holds back kegs of holiday beer until summer, then puts them on until they run out.
I was a day late, but the supply was good. In order, I tasted Christian’s Reindeer Ale, a dark brown, tasty brew, a bit of sweetness remaining, satisfying roast malt taste and lots of hops in the follow.
I followed that with Drake’s 2006 Jolly Roger, thick and powerful: Rodger calls it an Imperial IPA at 11 percent, 70 International Bitterness Units, it’s quite regal. Still quite sweet, nearly 9 months after it was made, with a huge hoppy hit.
Followed that head-spinner with another Jolly Rodger 2006 aged in oak brandy barrels. All I say is whew. This one had vanilla in spades from the oak and drank like it had just come out of the barrel. You can still find both of these in small, six ounce bottles. They’re worth hunt.
Finished off the afternoon with a sample of Coast Range’s most unusual Farmhouse Mure Sauvage.
It wasn’t fair to try this unusual, expermental seasonal after those sweet, oaked beers.But hell, it was Christmas.
The color of apple brandy, head brewer Peter Licht brewed it with wild yeast – Brettanomyces and a Belgian yeast. It came out intensely sour and Peter balances the beer with French blackberry flavoring.Besides pale malt, Peter added a dollop of Belgian candy sugar to boost the alcohol.
I can’t say I loved this one. But you know, I’m headed back to Barclay’s tomorrow to try it again, without drinking any Christmas beers first.
By the way, I just checked with Barclay’s and they have lots of holiday beers left. Find the entire, up-to-date list here.

Posted on Saturday, July 28th, 2007
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Taste of Terroir winners

Last night was Livermore’s Taste of Terroir, a wine pairing contest of sorts that takes place in the gorgeous Palm Event Center, on the Michael Katz property off Vineyard Drive in Pleasanton.

Ah the power of a good pairing! It was definitely a positive way to experience Livermore wines, particularly the reds, which I often find too hot for my taste (15.9 % alcohol in a Syrah is not uncommon; neither is 14.4 % in a Tempranillo, which was billed to me as a “lighter red wine”).

I had just come from the new Livemore Safeway on First Street, the chain’s first uber-lifestyle store with a deluxe wine bar I will be covering in the August 8 Food & Wine section. Phil Wente was manning it, pouring free samples of Murrieta’s Well wines. YUM. With their luscious White Meritage lingering on my palate, I headed straight to that station at Taste of Terroir.

The balanced structure and fruit of the Sauvignon Blanc-Semillion blend provided just the right softness for the poached rock shrimp on spicy couscous salad with lemon vinaigrette, courtesy of As Good As It Gets Catering.

But that wasn’t my favorite pairing. My favorite pairing involving a white wine was the John Christopher Cellars 2005 Chardonnay. They served it with seared scallops with chevre and brandied pears topped with organic feta. The pear flavors echoed in the Chardonnay was outstanding, not to mention the mimicking richness and pillowy butter of both scallops, this varietal and the chevre.

I think the most successful pairings help people understand and eventually appreciate a wine’s true style. That’s what this one did for me, a person who doesn’t typically like traditional Chardonnay. For a moment I was over the new, trendy unoaked expressions. Only for a moment though.

There were two fantastic red pairings and both won, which you’ll see below. The Garre Cafe made a phenomenal strawberry stuffed with smoked quail, goat cheese and aged balsamic vinegar to go with Garre Winery’s 2004 Gina Maries Private Reserve Merlot. Pow! The vinegar-kissed berries brought out all that is good and true in Merlot. Try it at home sometime.

The People’s Choice and Judges Award went to the same pairing, a 2005 Syrah Clark’s Corner Syrah from Mitchell Katz Winery that was served with wild boar sliders on sweet potato brioche with Syrah-sour cherry ketchup. Yowzers. Most of us felt that the Syrah was too young on its own, but paired with that lip-smacking ketchup, it was truly a whole new wine.

Best Expression of Local Ingredients
Garré Winery & Garré Café
2004 Gina Maries Private Reserve Merlot, Livermore Valley
Smoked Quail stuffed Strawberry with Goat Cheese and aged Balsamic Reduction

Judges Best
Mitchell Katz Winery at Ruby Hill and The Palm Event Center
2005 Syrah Clark’s Corner, Livermore Valley
Wild Boar Sliders on Sweet Potato Brioche with Syrah-Sour Cherry Ketchup and Baby Arugula

People’s Choice
Mitchell Katz Winery at Ruby Hill
2005 Syrah Clark’s Corner, Livermore Valley
Wild Boar Sliders on Sweet Potato Brioche with Syrah-Sour Cherry Ketchup and Baby Arugula

Posted on Friday, July 27th, 2007
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Toronado Celebrates Its 20th

Toronado Celebrates Its 20thI’m going to write a lot more about this in my column next Wednesday (Aug. 1, 2007) but here’s a heads up.
David Keene, ToronadoThe 20th anniversary of the Toronado, 547 Haight St. in San Francisco is coming up Aug. 9-11. Many events are planned.
But first a note about the beer: It’s a bottle conditioned, oak barrel-aged, 10.43 percent alcohol by volume beer with a lactic edge, brewed by Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, specially for the Toronado at the request of proprietor David Keene.
But wait, there’s more. Actually, after a conversation with David two years ago, Vinnie brewed five different beers and put them on wood for a year.
With David’s input, they chose the proper blend and bottled 130 cases three months ago, 750 ml corked bottles and three liter bottles, plus kegs. David, Vinnie and his crew put the labels on the bottles today (Thursday, July 26, 2007). They’ll be on sale at the Toronado beginning on the anniversary.
Vinnie guessed the price will be in the $10-$12 range. All the kegs, but one go to the Toronado.
Here’s a partial schedule:
Thursday, Aug. 9. They’ll tap the first keg about 5:30 p.m. at Russian River Brewing, 725 4th Street, Santa Rosa, CA, 95404 – 707.545.BEER
Saturday, Aug. 11. This is the anniversary of the Toronado. The beer will be on tap, beginning, I believe, in the afternoon.
There are a lot more events planned. I’m talking to David in the morning, will do another post.
Saludos. WB

Photos : David Keene at the bar in his mythic pub. Photo by William Brand David Keene, Toronado

Posted on Thursday, July 26th, 2007
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Guinness Ice Cream? Believe it


Note: This story ran Wednesday, July 25,2007 in the Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times ALSO THIS SITE REMAINS MESSED UP. TO SEE IT PROPERLY PLEASE GO TO:

href=’’ title=’Guinness draft beer’>Guinness draft beer

Note: This story ran Wednesday, July 25,2007 in the Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times

Guinness draftBy Jolene Thym
A giant scoop of gooey, sticky ice cream dotted with hunks of nut brittle or fresh, ripe fruit has always made David Lebovitz smile.
That, we can understand. But ice cream laced with olive oil? Pecorino cheese and pears? Orange and black pepper? Beer and chocolate? Avocado? Green peas? Sweet potatoes?
“I know it seems odd,” Lebovitz says of the numerous less-than-mainstream ice cream recipes in his book, “The Perfect Scoop” (Ten Speed Press, $24.95). “But there really is nothing new about a lot of these ice cream flavors. They come from the long tradition of ice cream making.
“I travel a lot and since I love ice cream, I eat it everywhere I go. In Mexico, they have avocado ice cream and cheese ice cream with hunks of cheddar cheese in it. In India, they make an ice cream-like dessert flavored with rosewater or saffron,” he says.
Asked if they taste good, Lebovitz says yes, they do. “I’m a person who doesn’t like very sweet things. For me, there’s nothing better than a little scoop of Roquefort ice cream on a poached pear….

For the rest of this story go here . Meanwhile, here’s the recipe for Beer Ice Cream:

Guinness-Milk Chocolate Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart
7 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup Guinness Stout
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Put the chocolate pieces in a large bowl and set a mesh strainer over the top. Set aside.

2. Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.

3. Pour the custard through the strainer over the milk chocolate, then stir until the chocolate is melted. Once the mixture is smooth, whisk in the cream, then the Guinness and vanilla. Stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Per 1/2 cup: 337 calories, 5 g protein, 31 g carbohydrates, 22 g total fat, 12 g saturated fat, 157 mg cholesterol, 68 mg sodium, 1 g fiber. Calories from fat: 84 percent.

Posted on Wednesday, July 25th, 2007
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July Wine Club: Monastrell

We had wine club this weekend at Megan’s darling cottage in Alameda. A welcome breeze broke the afternoon humidity as we sat on a bench under a luscious olallieberry tree in her pebble-studded backyard. What better way to whet the palate than a chilled glass of Godello, a citrusy and refreshing white wine from Valdeorras in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia.

On the table this month: Monastrell, Spain’s answer to Mourvedre, a thick-skinned black grape and a tannic powerhouse that grows in the hot climate of central Spain, namely Jumilla and Yecla. With it’s glinty garnet color, I found Spain’s version slightly lighter and more rustic, with plenty of earth and leather in the glass. Yes, I’ll say it: barn yard.

My gut and what limited exposure I’d had to Monastrell told me this was a blending wine, best to power up Grenache and Tempranillo or make a more nuanced steak wine out of Cabernet or Syrah. Our blind tasting proved that point: the unanimous winner was in fact the only blend on the table. It wasn’t exactly a fair tasting. Would you put a bottle of straight Carignan in a blind tasting with a bunch of blends? Probably not.

But I did find plenty of single varietal versions of Monastrell that weren’t the heavy hitters I was expecting but rather medium-bodied and thus perfect with a smoky paella. Quite the food wines, I found. And they were all under $15. Who knew. Read on for the results:

The wines:

The winner: 2004 Finca Luzon from Jumilla. (50% Monastrell, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Tempranillo). Tons of earth and blackberries with a finish that went on and on.

Second place: 2005 Vinos Sin-Ley M5 (as in to the fifth power) from Yecla. Dark rubies swirling in cigar and tobacco.
Third place: Bellum 2004 Providencia from Yecla. A boderline light-bodied wine with smooth flavor and a silky finish.
Fourth place: 2004 Hecula Castano. This is the one I brought. I rated it second (after the blend) and so did Brian, who sat next to me. I didn’t find it as visually pleasing as the other wines (a tad cloudy perhaps a little decanting would’ve help), but the flavor and finish — earth plus smoked, peppery meats — were insanely delightful. It was a recommendation from Kevin Hogan at The Spanish Table in Berkeley. A home cook and the wine buyer-manager, he’s a wealth of information and an expert on all things Iberian. If you don’t subscribe to his e-newsletter, you must.
Fifth place: 2005 Casa Castillo from Jumilla. Too hot. Prune flavors, almost cooked. The finish did nothing for me.

Posted on Monday, July 23rd, 2007
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The Craft Beer Numbers Game


Note: Graphics on this site are still messed up. To see the post, the way I wrote and for a lot of extras like a Beer Calendar and Archives _ which this site does not allow, please to to:

What exactly IS a craft beer? I don’t really know – even though I’ve been drinking what I call craft beer and writing about for a decade, a definition’s pretty fuzzy. There are things I know. Lagunitas Censored is a craft beer, so is Russian River Damnation.

But what about Blue Moon – the Belgian-style wit? It stands up well in taste tests against other wits, both American and Belgian. Perhaps it’s a bit light for my preference, but very decent.

How about Redhook Longhammer IPA or Widmer Snowplow or Goose Island Bourbon Barrel Stout? Are those crafft beers? Well, the Brewers Association, the Boulder, CO.-based craft beer trade group has decided that they are not craft beers. Reason: Big national brewers have invested in those companies.

Blue Moon’s easy. It’s owned by giant Coors. But the others? Anheuser-Busch owns a percentage of each company. So, in the strange world of craft brewing, they’re NOT craft brewers. Even though from a taste standpoint they’re definitely craft beers.

The most amazing thing is that the association’s decision has been so thorough that they don’t even count sales from Redhood, Widmer or Goose Island in their tally of total craft beer sales in America. In fact, Brewers Association Director Paul Gatza says that if the excluded breweries were included, total craft beer sales would have been 1.1 million barrels higher.

That’s a huge leap. The Brewers Association – with craft breweries partly owned by large brewers omitted – reported total sales of almost 6.7 million barrels in 2006. Add in the 1.1 million and you have nearly a 16 percent increase, a whopping jump from 6 million barrels sold in 2005.

That’s not exactly small potatoes. Interesting fact, add in Blue Moon’s approximately 800,000 barrels and one begins to get the real picture about Americans switch to non-mainstream, full-flavored beer. Add in other full-flavored beer from big breweries and the number grows some more.

Sobering factoid: Anheuser-Busch alone shipped 102 million barrels in 2006, nearly half of all the beer sold in America.

My conclusion: We’ve come a long, long way, but most of the journey still lies ahead. Salud.

Ben Franklin beers.jpg

Posted on Sunday, July 22nd, 2007
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The Tall Sails and Ales Tour in BC

The Tall Sails and Ales Tour in British Columbia

Note: Links, photos aren’t working on this site. To see this post the way it’s supposed to look please go to my other site:

Schooner Maple Leaf – 1Also: The 7th Annual Microbreweries Battling Breast Cancer Fest is Saturday.

If you have a few dollars burning up in your pocket, love beer and the thought of a week on a tall ship in one of the most beautiful, exotic parts of North America – check this out.
It’s the Tall Sails and Ales Tour, visiting the seaward craft brewers of British Columbia – in the Gulf Islands and southern Vancouver Island in Canada for five days aboard the schooner Maple Leaf.
The annual tour from Oct. 25-30 features meetings and tastings with brewers and brewery tours; meals will be paired with appropriate beers.
The cost is $1,865 U.S. and includes everything, accommodations, meals, tastings etc.
Greg Evans, a BC brewing historian and head of the Vancouver branch of the Campaign for Real Ale will be aboard.
Here’s what the tour operators say in their publicity release:
“Fall is harvest time and it allows us to pair the best of B.C. beers with the finest local Island produce,” says Capt. Kevin Smith, owner of ecotourism company Maple Leaf Adventures, which operates the trip. “There is such a variety of flavours being produced here that the toughest part of the trip is ensuring we don’t leave a producer out.”
“The organization has a strong focus on learning and education, and Smith stresses that the tour is a tasting tour, not a drinking tour. It is designed both for people who appreciate a good learning holiday and for those who are knowledgeable about beer.
“Guests will also be treated to wildlife viewing (think porpoises, sea lions, seabirds and intertidal life), sailing the classic tall ship and frequent shore excursions to explore the islands’ natural beauty.”
And a handout quote from Mr. Evans:
“The beer culture and the craft brewing movement in BC are very strong, with some of the finest products and brewers in Canada,” says Evans, whose masters degree is in Vancouver Island’s brewing history and who writes articles with titles like “Hic Hic Hooray: How Canadians Kept Americans Wet During Prohibition”. “Like our American cousins along the Pacific Coast, craft brewers in BC tend to like ‘bigness’ in their beers – that is, a tendency to more hops, more body and products with a big, rich head.”
Damn. This one tickles my fancy. The islands and sea passages between Seattle and Vanouver, B.C. are absolutely heart-stopping gorgeous and outrank, in my humble opinion, the Caribbean, if not the islands of Greece.
Info: or call 1-888-599-5323.

One last events note. If you’re in the Bay Area, don’t forget the 7th annual Microbrewries Battling Breast Cancer Brewfest, Saturday, July 21, noon – 5 p.m. at Marin Brewing, Larkspur. Tickets: $25 at the door, benefits breast cancer research. Over 20 breweries; live music. See you there.

Posted on Friday, July 20th, 2007
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Amelie Wine Bar

The onslaught of new specialized wine bars in San Francisco continues, and Amelie is definitely my happy place. I finally checked out the Euro-heavy wine bar last night during happy hour. And I think I like it as much as Yield, maybe even more.

At the corner of Polk and Washington streets, everything about Amelie is warm and glowing, including the walls. Red frosted wine bottles illuminate them and offset the muted wooden shelves holding some of my favorite bottles, from Ceago Vinegarden to Taltarni.

Like Nectar, the bar offers casual table and chair seating upon entrance. Or you can sit on comfy stools at the bar or grab a cozy booth in the back. Up to you. Jenny and I were feeling the bar, thanks in part to the gorgeous men manning (how’s that for a double entendre?) it.

One was Germain Michel, co-owner and former wine director at Chou Chou. He and Samie Didda, Chou Chou’s owner, own Amelie. They named it after Samie’s daughter. The list is half European, with a big emphasis on France and southern France (woohoo!) and quality, affordable producers. There are also selections from South Africa, New Zealand, California, Australia, Chile and Argentina.

I’m in my French white stage and Jenny’s big on big reds, so we tailored our flights to suit our palates and shared the goods. Major tip: take advantage of Amelie’s happy hour. From 5:30 to 7 p.m. you can customize a flight of three wines for only $10. And we’re talking generous pours. I had a fabulous Alsatian Reisling, a Vouvray from the Loire Valley and a Viognier from the southern Rhone. Jenny had a biodynamic Lake County Merlot, a southern Rhone syrah, and a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Alexander Valley.

We munched on $3 aperitifs: baby shrimp “tacos” on round tortilla chips and goat cheese crostinis drizzled with honey. Another happy hour secret: if you order a regular glass of wine, you get a free aperitif. All in all a gorgeous addition to the wine bar scene and a short cab ride from Civic Center Bart.

They’re open 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Friday. Check them out at Amelie.

Posted on Friday, July 20th, 2007
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