Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for July, 2007

Sparkling-only producer comes to Livermore

Have you heard the news? An all-sparkling winery is moving into the Livermore Valley.

I recall rumblings of Wente starting a sparkling facility but never got confirmation on why it tanked. Little Valley makes three sparkling wines, but they’re flavored and not particularly serious. Battaion’s will be, or so winemaker Dustin Battaion and his wife Chandra promise.

They will focus on traditional and contemporary sparkling wines using only the finest local grapes. Dustin’s background is in organic grape growing with an emphasis on producing traditional sparklings in the French method.

Battaion Cellars’s tasting room is currently under construction, but you can taste the wines in their all-bubbly portfolio by calling 925-245-9242 and making an appointment. Their temporary digs are at 8626 Lupin Way in Livermore.

The winery currently offers four sparkling wines available for purchase. Traditional styles include a 1996 Vintage, a Non Vintage Brut, and a Blanc De Noirs; a pink California Sparkling wine, made entirely with Pinot Noir grapes. For those who like sparkling Shiraz or Lambrusco, their Cuvee Rouge, an aromatic red sparkling made with Syrah and Grenache grapes, should be just the ticket. Wines go for $24 to $35.

I’m interested in speaking with Dustin, given Livermore’s heat and the early harvest necessary for making sparklings.

Get more info at their web site.

Posted on Thursday, July 19th, 2007
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2006 La Crema Viognier

My friend Ryan made the most gorgeous pork tenderloin last night. He’d marinated it overnight in a host of goodies — from honey and soy sauce to some secret Chinese spices — and grilled it to moist perfection. Mad skills. Sometimes I wish I was a boy.

Anyway, I had a hunch that La Crema’s Viognier would be a good match for Ryan’s dish. Typically, pork goes with medium-bodied whites just as well as medium-bodied reds, but because of the intense salty-spice of his marinade, the juicy tangerine, lemon peel and jasmine of this particular Viognier was an excellent complement.

Technically a blend, it has just a smidge (4 percent) of Chardonnay in it, which I think really rounds out the mouth feel. His wife, Elizabeth, and I were in heaven. Seriously, clone that man.

Good to note as well: a small percentage (less than 10) of the blend was aged in French oak for four months, and therefore produces a touch of cream that enriches the varietal’s character. The rest of the wine was fermented at cool temperatures in stainless steel tanks, ‘natch.

The 2006 Viognier retails for $20 and is only available in their tasting room in downtown Healdsburg. It’s darling, and if you haven’t been, I highly recommend a visit. The Pinot Noir alone is a good enough reason.

Posted on Wednesday, July 18th, 2007
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The incredible (stupid) motorized beer cooler

Cruisin’ Beer Coolers

Are you someone whose idea of exercise is a long, downhill bike ride? Then the motorized beer cooler may be for you.

This Youtube video’s so stupid, it’s outrageous. Follow the link to “motorized” cruisin’ beer coolers.

Check it out here. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, July 17th, 2007
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Still on the trail of Anchor Small

Still on the trail of Anchor Small

Random notes…LOOKING FOR ANCHOR SMALL BEER: Called Anchor Monday, got referred to the East Bay sales director, who said he would talk to the distributor and get back to me.
Anchor SmallMeanwhile, Craig Wathen, who runs City Beer, the unique on-and-off-premises store at 1168 Folsom St. in San Francisco, (415-503-1033) says he has a limited supply of Anchor Small on hand and plans to get more.
If you’ve never checked out City Beer, I highly recommend it. Craig has an unusual state license. Patrons can pick any of the hundreds of bottles of craft and import beers on his refrigerated shelves, split it with a friend at the standard retail price.
If you like it, you can buy more to take home. He also has a rotating number of taps, each with a great beer.
Critics point out that his prices are high, but my comparisons don’t show that. Everything’s fairly priced, no higher than any other store with a good beer list.
Anchor Small

Posted on Tuesday, July 17th, 2007
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Domaine De Nizas, the wild wines of the Languedoc

I don’t get a huge kick out of telling people what to drink. But the inspiring wines of Domaine De Nizas, an artisan winery near Pezanas in the Languedoc region of southern France? These I demand you experience. I’ve raved plenty about Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, another underreported southern region. Now it’s all about the ‘Doc. And to some extent, Syrah from the ‘Doc.

I’ve tried all six wines in their portfolio and can tell you they come from a place where terroir is still paramount, where regional Mediterranean flavors mingle with an elegance that is honed from listening to the land — a mere 156 acres in the case of this property.

The vines range from gnarled 60-year-old Carignans to modern clones of Syrah — perhaps the golden child of the Domaine’s expression. They — that’s winemaker Bernard Meunier, winemaking consultant Bernard Portet of Clos Du Val fame and managing director Arnaud Deville — can trace each bottle to a specific vineyard plot. Naturally, in the grape biz, this makes for ultimate quality control and constant improvement.

Vines are planted high in density and produce low yields, further ensuring optimal expression. Think of it as extreme terroir. Naturally, people who love their land in this way also practice sustainable agriculture. Domaine De Nizas uses cover crops, grows grass between the vines and sprays minimally.

Now that I’ve proved their quality, let’s talk about the soil. They’re blessed with a dynamite trio: limestone clay, villafanchien (a blend of river pebbles and red clay that is often found in Chateauneuf-du-Pape), and basalt. Yes, ancient volcanic flow. Combine that with a superior climate that comes from a location 20 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, and you can understand why the wines are of such distinction. All are under $35. Onward:

Domaine de Nizas Rose, AOC Coteaux du Languedoc:

There’s one word for this dazzling rose quartz wine. Sex. It’s a powerhouse of spice compared to last year’s vintage. Arnaud tells me it’s because they upped the Syrah to 40 percent and lowered the Grenache. It’s spectacular with a spice-flecked salmon and one you should reach for the next time you’re dining with someone who “doesn’t drink pink wines.” Please. Get over yourself. Try Nizas’ style and then come see me with your bottle, er, tail, between your legs.

Carignan Vielles Vignes, Vin de Pays de Caux: A friend of a friend was so taken with the unique aroma and mouth feel of this 100 percent old vine Carignan that she served it at her wedding. Go Jen! Merlot and Chardonnay? Phsaw. It’s gorgeous and anything like it is hard to find, especially made in the states.

Domaine De Nizas Reserve, Vin de Pays d’Oc: Only 500 cases of this blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are made and at $35 a bottle, it’s their high end baby. With soft tannins and an acidity that will develop over the years, it’s a sophisticated bottle that demands the $50-plus price tags of Napa Cabernets. Yet the comparable alcohol content of this wine (14.5 percent) won’t singe your tongue.

If you can’t get your hands on the reserve, try either of the Domaine’s signature Syrah blends: Le Mas Rouge or the AOC Coteaux du Languedoc promise a medley of dark floral, chocolate and espresso aromas and flavors of spice, sexy, spice.

To learn more, go to the Domaine de Nizas web site. Simply translate into English, or go through Clos Du Val’s site. To buy locally, try those devilish Thieves in Lafayette.

Posted on Monday, July 16th, 2007
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Letters: Eggplant and Finding Anchor Small Beer

LETTERS: EGGPLANT AND FINDING ANCHOR SMALL BEER

note: the tekkies still haven’t gotten to this site to fix it. For a better presentation, go to my much better site: www.beernewsletter.com/blog.

Letters: Eggplant and Finding Anchor Small Beer
July 15th, 2007

Bill,
Glad you reprinted this one. I’ve always loved eggplant because I think it’s the vegetable that tastes the most like meat; on the other hand, I’ve got a friend who replied to the previous statement of mine by saying, “I hate eggplant, because it’s the vegetable that tastes the most like *eggplant*.” I’ve put that in a fictionalized setting for the novel I’ve just written.

Ordered Thai food delivery last night and didn’t have much in the way of standard beer. So I decided to crack open the 22 oz. of Alaskan Smoked Porter. Actually worked fairly decently together: the green curry and the smoked malty beer.

Wishing you further recovery in a speedy fashion.

Best, Greg, Denver.

Note: Read the Eggplant and Damnation article and recipe here.

Finding the Elusive Anchor Small Beer

Hi Bill, I enjoy your column tremendously. I read about Anchor Small in your article a few weeks ago but have not been able to find it anywhere in Walnut Creek, Concord, or Pleasant Hill. Do you know where I can get it?

Anchor SmallThanks for your help. Kevin

Hi Kevin. Your best bet is Monument Wine & Spirits, 2250 Monument Blvd. (Just north of Oak Grove Road in the Safeway shopping center. (925) 682-1514.
They only make it when the make Old Foghorn, which they do several times a year. But Monument probably has it; they keep all their beer refrigerated, so it should be in good shape even if its a couple of months old. Good hunting.

Hi Bill, I checked Monument but Stephen Drury the beer buyer said he doesn’t have room. He wasn’t impressed with the taste for some reason. Any other place that you know in the Bay to try it?

Hi Kevin. I talked to my primo beer retailer source, Ed Ledger at Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley. He said Anchor’s East Bay distributor won’t carry it. So Ed called Anchor, They said if he comes over to the brewery, they’ll sell him some. He said he’s headed over there next week and will let me know when he has it. And, I’ll let you know.
I’ll also give Anchor a ring on Monday.

Mr Brand,
I recently stumbled upon your column about beer in the CC Times and thoroughly enjoy it. I have a couple of questions. A friend of mine spent time in the marines in San Diego and found a couple of fabulous beer houses with dozens (hundreds) of beers on tap that rotate from week to week. Do you know of any places in Contra Costa County that have a large selection of beers on tap that would bring my friends there Monday after Monday during football (and basketball and baseball) seasons??

I read your article reviewing Consumer Reports article on light beer. I have never heard of Anchor small beer. Where can I find it? I eagerly await your reply!

Jim, Contra Costa

Hi Jim. I’m going to answer your questions by forwarding my retail beer store list and my good pub list.
Good pubs include Pete’s Brass Rail in Danville and Hoptown in Pleasanton. Stadium Hot Dogs in Walnut Creek has an OK, but not great beer list, but lots of big screen TVs. EJ Phair in downtown Concord has their own beer and always a decent list of guests, plus big screen tvs. A place with one of the best beer lists, especially Belgians, in the Eastbay is Bo’s Barbecue in Lafayette. However, I don;t even know if they have a TV. But the food is four star barbeque.
.
Best places to find Anchor Small Beer in Coco are Monument Wine & Spirits in Concord and Jackson’s Liquors in Lafayette. (Of course, I was wrong. See above.)

Anchor LabelsHi,
Thanks for drawing my attention to Anchor’s Small Beer. We have corresponded before on the subject of session beers and this looks like it could be a winner. I wonder if you could ask your contacts in the industry why Anchor feels it can charge full price for what was historically a safe substitute for polluted water? “Because it can” is probably the answer, I can only hope that market forces may persuade them to reposition the ale.

Now if I could find it being cask conditioned and served from a hand pump, cost would not be an object.

Tim

Hi Tim. Sorry for the delay. I’ve been ill and am just getting back to my email. I believe Anchor charges full price for the beer because they don’t want to confuse it with the low-priced swill that passes for mainstream beer in this country. They believe Anchor is a hallmark of quality and they don’t want to confuse the issue. They do add a lot of hops to their second running and most of the cost of beer is the packaging and sales, not the ingredients.

It’s really more of an English low gravity mild and just a bit too mild for me to enjoy several pints at a session. But then, I’ve never considered it that way either. Intriguing idea. Think I’ll try a couple of pints tomorrow night. Thanks for the info. b.

Anchor flash pasteurizes all their beer. Wish they didn’t. And on hand pump? That’s a great idea. About pasteurization – when Fritz Maytag took over the brewery in the late 1960s, Anchor wasn’t pasteurized and it often arrived at the pub or restaurant in terrible condition. Anchor sells beer across the country and pastuerization insures the beer arrives in good condition without infections.

Bill: Sorry to hear you’ve been under the weather.
I had to order Anchor Small through my specialist winemerchant as BevMo couldn’t keep it in stock. (I suspect disinterest rather than rabid demand.)
Weimax in Burlingame ordered me a case – great people incidentally. They taste everything they sell and can talk intelligently about every bottle in stock, and the stock is huge! Tell them what sorts of wines you enjoy and a price range and they will hand pick a mixed case in which every bottle is a winner. They aren’t so strong on the spirits, but you can’t fault their selection.

Anchor is failry unique among small breweries in that it does not appear to have a pub attached. To drink the beer on premises you must sign up for the tour (they recommend a month in advance). Seems like a lot of work to taste Anchor on draft.

BTW, have you noticed how New Belgium out of Colorado is cranking out great beers now? Used to be that all I saw was Fat Tire, a very respectable hearty bitter. Now there are over half a dozen varieties in my supermarket. I like the seasonals, especially Skinny Dip and 2 Below. – Tim

Hi Bill,
I’ve just recently read your
Wednesday May 9th article from the San Mateo County Times, titled
“Belgian Trappist Ale Nearly Religious Experience”. First off, I
must say thank you for bringing attention to a collection of the
most amazing ales I have ever experienced! I have just recently
returned from my first trip to Europe where I fell in love with the
Trappist brew collection. I found it quite sobering to return home,
however, to realize how underappreciated, and frankly unknown,
these ales are in the U.S.
Since then, I have been on a quest to learn more about the brewing
process, history, and overall Trappist experience.
I have had the good fortune to be able to experience a selection
from 4 of the 7 Trappist Breweries, and have made it my personal
goal to work my way through the rest of the list. The biggest
dilemna however, has been trying to track these ales down back in
the States. Thank you so very much for the listing of Bo’s
Barbecue, as it sounds like an excellent beer lovers find which I
am truly looking forward to visiting as soon as I can. I’d also
like to request your “2007 Retail Beer Store List” to guide me in
my search as well.
Again, thank you so much for sharing your “What’s on Tap?” wit
and wisdom with us! I might also point out, if you aren’t already
familiar with The Toronado Pub in San Francisco (547 Haight
Street), they too have a truly amazing beer selection, which I
recently stumbled upon. They have a spectacular bottled beer list
which includes Westvleteren, Westmalle, Rochefort, Chimay, and
Orval! Plus, with over 45 taps, they really can’t go wrong! (Yes, a
tear of joy comes to my eye just thinking about it!)
Anyhow, thank you for all the wonderful information you have
provided in your columns, and I am looking forward with great
anticipation to the Retail Beer List. Keep up the good work & CHEERS!

Leah

Hi Leah…excuse my delay in replying to your note. I’m pleased that
you’ve discovered the world of great beer. Wow, you’ve expanded your
horizons, even discovered the Toronado, which is kind of hidden away
on a scuzzy block of lower Haight. There’s another place you might
find interesting (if you haven’t already found it: City Beer. It’s
fairly unique, you can sample any beer they have in stock for the
price of the bottle, then buy more if you like it.
I’m also sending you my Good Pub list. And finally — you’re
obviously a first-rate beer scout. So if you find any retail spots or
good pubs not on our list, let me know.

Hey Bill!
Thanks for the great beer lists! I’ve been having some computer problems myself (glass of water in the keyboard is never a good thing!), so I apologize for the delayed response! I did have a chance to get out to New Star-Ell for the first time yesterday and was COMPLETELY blown away by the Belgian selection. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your great finds! I will definately keep you updated if I find any spots that aren’t on your list as well. Also, I have no problem with you posting my original letter. As you can tell, I got excited and went on a bit of a rant, so feel free to edit! :)
Thanks again for sharing your beer wisdom!
Cheers! -Leah

Mounting a Bigfoot expedition

Bill… As you know, Sierra Nevada makes a beer called Bigfoot barley wine style ale. I had one recently and the bottle cap said something about 2007 Exposition. Is there an event? If so when and where?

Kati

Bigfoot Bottle CapHi Kati, Good question. I e-mailed someone I know at Sierra Nevada. But I believe it’s all in fun. It’s always been on Bigfoot bottlecaps. I don’t believe it refers to an actual event.

Thanks for checking. And if it turns out it is not an actual event now, maybe they should consider creating one. Bet it would have a solid following!
Kati

Bill,
The writer could use some eyeglasses. The crown says “2007 Expedition”, which is a joke about searching for Bigfoot.

Steve Dressler, Sierra Nevada Brewmaster.

Pubs: The Great and Not So Great

Hi Bill,

So sorry to hear you’re ill. We’re wishing you a very quick recovery. We just got back from Southern Oregon and Northern Ca. where we did some camping, siteseeing and visits to about 10 breweries, with a big finish at Russian River. Loved Etna. Bill, the brewmaster gave us a taste of his not-to-be-released smoked porter, smoked with applewood. Wonderful concoction. Standing Stone (Ashland, OR) and Wild River in Grants Pass, Oregon had at least 1 or 2 beers we enjoyed, 6 Rivers in Mckinleyville had a good IPA. We were not very impressed with Stumptown or Sebastopol.

Hope we can bend an elbow with you soon.

Steve

Note: Steve and his wife, Gail, are the creators of beerbybart.com. This very neat site guides one to the best brewpubs, pubs and beer restaurants within walking distance of a BART station in the San Francisco Bay Area. Check it out.

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Posted on Sunday, July 15th, 2007
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Bruce Paton’s next beer dinner

Bruce Paton’s next beer dinner will be Saturday, Aug. 11

NOTE: LINKS, PHOTOS AREN’T WORKING ON THIS SITE. PLEASE GO TO MY MIRROR SITE AT www.beernewsletter.com.

Bruce Paton just e-mailed the menu for his next beer dinner at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco, where he’s executive chef.

He’s changed the date from Friday to Saturday, Aug. 11. Cost is $65 per Person. The hotel also offers an discounted overnight room rate for guests. Bruce asks for reservations by Aug. 3.
Go to www.beer-chef.com
I might add, the beer is stellar, the food is always great.

Here’s the menu.

THE BEER CHEF Presents Dinner with the Brewmaster
Saturday August 11, 2007
The Cathedral Hill Hotel
Featuring
The Fine Ales of
21st Amendment Brewery

Reception
6:30 PM
Beer Chef’s Hors D’Oeuvre Selection
21ST Amendment IPA

Dinner
7:30PM
First Course
Smoked Salmon Tower with Heirloom Tomatoes and Cucumber Gelee and
Scallion Creme Fraiche

Watermelon Wheat

Second Course
Slow Roasted Berkshire Pork Tenderloin with Cambazola Flan
and Ancho Jus

Double Trouble Imperial IPA

Third Course
Chocolate Triple Threat

General Pippo’s Porter

Posted on Friday, July 13th, 2007
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Good cause, cheap paella

Check this out: As you know, the 21st Annual Napa Sonoma Wine Country Film Festival is rolling through the Valley this month. It will hit American Canyon’s Cartlidge & Browne Winery July 19 to 22 for a host of activities. In case you’re not familiar, that’s the winery with the big “Stick Your Nose In Our Business” sign you see on Hwy. 29.

On July 21 there will be a showing of “Maroa” as a benefit for Aldea Children & Family Services, an organization which supports children and families with behavior, mental and social health problems in Napa and Solano Counties. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard “Maroa” is a film based on the real life stories of Venezuelan children who have been rescued from the barrios and transformed by the power of classical music.

If you’re interested, it will be shown at 8:45 p.m. on July 21 in the outdoor venue at the winery; tickets cost $15.00. Here’s the cool part: the winery’s founder and president, Tony Cartlidge, will prepare a paella dinner on preceding the showing of the film from 5 to 8 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased in advance at 707-935-3456 or the Wine Country Film Festival Web site. They can also be purchased at the door.

Bonus, for skateboarders and skateboard enthusiasts: Also on July 21 at Cartlidge &
Browne: an enormous skateboarding ramp will be built for a demo from 1 to 4 p.m. This follows the 11 a.m. showing of “Rising Sun: The Legend of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi,” a film
chronicling the rise, fall and rebirth of the skateboard superstar, including interviews with friends like Tony Hawk.

For details on Cartlidge & Browne Winery, visit their Web site.

Posted on Thursday, July 12th, 2007
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Two Buck bomb: Chuck Chard best in state

Stop the presses. Er, make that the blogging tool. At the recent California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, Charles Shaw’s 2005 Chardonnay was named the best in the state. Yes, it beat out about 350 other Chards from every price point.

That’s right C-heads, good old Two Buck ($1.99, actually) Chuck. I thought the whole Chuck model was to introduce people — young people who don’t have a lot of money — to wine, and once they realize it’s something they can have on their table every night and not just for special occasions, they would move up, to say, a $6 bottle of Bogle.

But no. It continues to sell. In fact, the exclusive Trader Joe’s line accounted for a whopping 8 percent of wines sold in California last year. That’s crazy! Chuck, released by vintner Fred Franzia, just celebrated its fifth anniversary and 300 millionth bottle. It’s like the Big Mac of wine!

I can see why people are calling it the Judgment of California. A penny for Grgich’s thoughts. And I have to agree with Laurie Daniel of the San Jose Mercury News. I bet the reason it won is because wine judges, like critics, taste, vote and probably pee in opinionated herds.

Oaky, butter bomb Chardonnays have been out for almost five years. Younger California winemakers keen on the millennial palate have been making crisp, fresh, fruity and food-friendly Chards for a while now. They’re certainly not complex, but they sell, because they’re cheap and have nifty marketing and bright funky animals on their labels.

Wine judges have to be oh-so-cool and up on these sorts of trends and industry fluctuations. Another reason Chuck could’ve won is their lack of consistency. While I’m not too familiar with their Chardonnay, I can say that, bottle to bottle, their reds are totally off.

I recall loving a bottle of the Cabernet in college, then getting a headache off it the second day. A Merlot was practically a different wine – lush, silky – the third night I drank it. And the first Thanksgiving that they released the Gamay Beaujolais, my friend Jenny and I split a case, we liked it so much. The second year it tasted like Robitussin.

Point made?

Posted on Wednesday, July 11th, 2007
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L’Chaim musings

I’ve been holding off on writing about L’Chaim, the three-day event celebrating Napa’s Jewish vintners. I think it’s because I had such a wonderful time, met so many great people, and drank many a top-notch wine. I just had to let it all sink it.

First of all, I highly recommend this event to everyone, particularly those with Jewish heritage. It fills you with such pride to know that modern day Jews are not only continuing their ancient tradition of taming “the fruit of the vinem” but that they are some of the best in the world doing so. Furthermore, as the new Napa rabbi, Oren Postrel, told me, the community there has a huge spirit. They are small and tight, and they will invite you into their magnificent homes for Shabbat like you are a cousin.

That’s where the festivities began last Friday night, at the St. Helena home of event chair Dick Wollack, and his wife, Sue. There, Rabbi Postrel of Congregation Beth Sholom made a beautiful comparison between between Shabbat/Judaism and wine (the verbage, the heightened spirit, the analysis) and the Finkelstein women (of Judd’s Hill) lit the Sabbath candles and said the blessing.

The following day, I hit a few of the 30 wineries participating in the weekend events. One stand out for me was Hall, which, in addition to making a killer, silky Cabernet Sauvignon (04) and a lovely cherry vanilla Merlot (also 04), has commissioned THE Frank Gehry to rebuild their tasting room. I heard Kathryn Hall speak at Women for Winesense the weekend before, and she is quite a role model for aspiring women in the industry.

More stand outs to come! Five words: Reverie on Diamond Mountain.

Posted on Tuesday, July 10th, 2007
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