Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for August, 2007

More on Michael Jackson

I’ve been working at my day job all day, writing last, about fruit flies, but my mind has been on the death of Michael Jackson, a man who blazed the trail for lovers of good beer from the late 1960s until today.

I still have two columns and a magazine article to write this afternoon, so I’ll reserve my comments for now. But All About Beer, the excellent beer magazine, has posted an obit and people are logging on and adding comments. They’re worth a read and if you knew Michael, by all means add your comment. Bye for now.

Very sadly, William Brand

Posted on Thursday, August 30th, 2007
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It’s True. Michael Jackson, the incredible beer guru is dead.

Just got this. It’s from the Morning Advertiser, a UK newspaper.

Michael Jackson dies

30/08/2007 17:00

Top beer expert Michael Jackson died this morning.

Jackson dedicated more than three decades to the pursuit and documentation of the world’s finest beers, and wrote many books on the subject.

He became known as the most widely-published and influential author on beer. He developed a cult television series known as “The Beer Hunter”, and contributed articles to countless magazines and newspapers.

Jackson was especially well-known for his particular passion for the specialty brews of Belgium, and his bestseller The Great Beers of Belgium.

Morning Advertiser beer writer Roger Protz said: “I’m in Germany at a beer conference and when I announced he was dead people were totally shocked – he was just so well-known.

“He was the best – and always will be the best. His knowledge of beer is unsurpassable. His genius was to to be able to write simply and beautifully about beer.

“He was a very private person but I enjoyed his company – he always had a really amusing story to tell abou

Posted on Thursday, August 30th, 2007
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Michael Jackson: Beer Guru, Craft Beer Pioneer

I just picked this up from Jay Brooks excellent beer blog:

Haven’t gotten it confirmed yet. Emailed Roger Protz at Camra, in the UK, but no response so far. So I’m going to withhold an obit or eulogy, pending receipt of solid news.

Michael Jackson Passes Away
by J @ 6:48 am. Filed under News, Europe, Great Britain

I just got word from a friend and colleague that Michael Jackson passed away yesterday in his home. He got the word from Roger Protz, a beer writer in England, that he had been found in his tub. I have no details at this time but will update this when I can find out more information. This is very sad day for the beer world. Michael was larger than life and his influence cannot be overestimated. To say he will be missed seems a great understatement.

Here’s another link.

Posted on Thursday, August 30th, 2007
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Letters: Lagunitas Ode to Frank Zappa

Lagunitas Kill Ugly Radio
Hello William,
I really enjoy your column on beer every week. I haven’t been getting your articles in our paper (West County Times) for that long, so I’m not sure if you wrote about the first ale they brewed for the 40th anniversary of the release “Freak Out”, by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention.

I just got the latest celebration selection from them called “Kill Ugly Radio”. It is quite possibly the best beer I have ever tasted; being Sierra Nevada Pale ale & Red tail are 2 of my favorites. Anyhow I hope you get a chance to review that beer & give your opinion. Thanks also for all of your great news & recommendations on the malted beverage scene.
Bill T.

Hi William,
I don’t recall if you reviewed Lagunitas’s Kill Ugly Radio, but I had a bottle of this double IPA over the weekend. It tastes like Racer 5, always a good thing.

Yes, I’m writing about it in my column Wednesday (Aug. 29, 2007). Very unusual for Lagunitas, hoppy and dry. Lagunitas’ Tony Magee calls it a “pale ale.” With 60 IBU and 7.5 percent ABV, it’s an Amerian pale ale on steroids.
And yes, I wrote about Lagunitas first ode to Frank Zappa. I posted it here in my other blog: The California Beer Newsletter.
Lagunitas Kill Ugly Radio

Posted on Tuesday, August 28th, 2007
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Vintners Club tasting results; Ridge finishes last

The view from the Carnelian Room’s exclusive, 52nd-floor Wine Room set the mood for last night’s high-end California Cabernet tasting. As the smoky pastel haze settled on the Bay Bridge, the 65 members of the elite Vintners Club took their seats and got to sniffing, swirling, sipping and ultimately judging.

There wasn’t much discussion during this portion of the evening. It reminded me of the Judgment of Paris reenactment at Copia, May of 2006. Save for a clicking glass or two, you could’ve heard a pin drop in that room, and it was the same here.

We were tasting blind 12 (A-L) of the finest Cabernet wines made in California, if not the world. This is a serious wine club, with serious members and a 36-year history. This was their 1,466th tasting. Wine importers, top winemakers, serious collectors. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Treasurer Lalita Waterman, who I learned shares a similar palate to me. To my left, Domaine Chandon’s winemaker James Kress. Across the table was a lovely Danville couple, the Silvas, who have an impress 1,000-plus bottle cellar.

I loved the Vintners Club’s extended Wine Wheel, modified to include nutty aromas (walnut, hazelnut and almond). They’d opened the bottles around 1:30 p.m., Lalita told me, and poured the wines around 4:45 p.m. The tasting began promptly at 6 p.m.

I mention this because many of the wines, we all concluded, were a bit off and no one could figure out quite what it was. Clarity was minimal, I thought, and the nose on many of the wines was tight, closed. What’s more, a few were imbalanced and flawed, according to Kress’ copious notes. Unusual, considering most of us were very familiar with these wines, the likes of Shafer, Ridge and Corison, albeit older vintages. Most were 2004 vintages, ranged in price from $65 to $217, and command five-year waiting lists.

My favorite wine: I voted the Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Napa Valley as my #1. So did Lalita. It was silky and full and gorgeous; it stood up to its Napa Valley roots with big dark fruits, chewy tannins and even some green and black olives in the back of the nose. I thought it was true to varietal, something a lot of the thinner bodied, jammy wines did not command.

Before Lalita announced the results of the blind tasting, Paul Draper, Ridge’s legendary winemaker and a Vintners Club member, spoke about his traditional training and the terroir of his Santa Cruz appellation that produces the Judgment winner, Monte Bello. He’s a great man. A class act and a star, so what I’m about to tell you probably didn’t phase him much. The Ridge Monte Bello finished last in the blind tasting. I ranked it 4th.

The group’s #1 was Rocca Family Vineyard’s Yountville Napa Valley, the second most affordable wine, at $65, in the tasting. I ranked it 6th. Shafer’s Hillside Select, the cult wine of cult wines and one I still dream about after tasting it during Premiere Napa Valley earlier this year, came in 3rd. I voted it 8th. There you have it.

What does all this mean? Vintage vintage. Aging aging. I think we should go back and taste these wines next year. 2001 continues to go down as my favorite year for Cabernet, but now that I think about it, I felt that way in 2004. What is extremely interesting is how these wines will play out to the French, who will taste many of them as a group for the first time in Bordeaux on October 19. The Danville couple I mentioned is going. The Vintners Club has deep ties to Bordeaux, and when the chateau owners and winemakers from Margaux, Mouton Rothschild and Lafite-Rothschild among others expressed interest in a blind tasting of Cali cabs, the Tiburon-based club was happy to organize.

Until then, here are the 12 wines along with group ranking and price. Cheers.

1st Place: Rocca ($65)
2nd Place: Garguilo Money Road Ranch ($70)
3rd Place: Shafer Hillside Select ($217)
4th Place: Ramey Pedregal Vineyard ($152)
5th Place: Kendall-Jackson Stature ($103)
6th Place: Caymus Special Selection ($147)
7th Place: Flora Springs Out-of-Sight Vineyard ($92)
8th Place: Williamson Wines Atlas Peak ($62)
9th Place: Chappelet Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard ($135)
10th Place: Corison Kronos Vineyard ($135)
11th Place: Dominus Estate Yountville ($132)
12th Place: Ridge Monte Bello ($217)

Posted on Tuesday, August 28th, 2007
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A Belated Post on the Toronado’s 20th

I very unfortunately was out of town for the Toronado’s 20th anniversary celebration. However, a whole lot of people made the trek, including Michael C., who wrote this and sent me the brilliant picture of him with David Keene, the meister of the evening and founder of Toronado oh those many, many eons ago.
He intended to do a dance bar, but he stocked Anchor from Day One and soon was stocking other craft beers and then. Holy cow.

That’s Mike, right, with David, left.David Keene. Michael C at Torondos 20th

William: My wife and I went to Toronado for the 20th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday evening. The place was packed. I was somehow able to get to the bar and get two rounds of beer. Both of the Russian River Brewing Company beers, the “Toronado 20th Anniversary Beer” and the “50-50″, were not for the timid. They are strong tasting beers and there’s no question that they were in the 10% alcohol range. We also tried two Lagunitas beers — the Anniversary Red and the Hop Stoopid. We both loved the Hop Stoopid, and both thought that the Anniversary Red was mediocre. I’m not sure if this Anniversary Red is the same as their Lucky 13 Anniversary Ale. Attached is a photo of me with Dave — I’m holding an Anniversary glass containing the Anniversary beer.


Addendum from me:
After sampling the Toronado’s 20th, the Russian River 50-50 and Hop Stoopid (which I dearly love), anything else would taste bland. I think Anniversary Red was Lagunitas’ seasonal, Imperial Red. I would bet that if Mike tries it alone, he’d like it. wb.

Posted on Monday, August 27th, 2007
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Five standouts from Urban Wine Experience

I haven’t blogged about the Urban Wine Experience on purpose because I’m devoting an entire cover to the wines, the people and the overall movement in our paper on Sept. 19.

But for now, I can’t help but gush about some of the wines. I’m very proud this is all happening in my backyard (the 15 wineries that make up the East Bay Vintners are in Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda areas).

If you missed the event, here are the wines you need to get your hands on now. Look out for my story in the Food & Wine pages of both our paper and the Oakland Tribune on Sept. 19, where I hope to tell their stories:

The winery: Harrington Pinot Noir, Berkeley.
What to try: The Carneros pinot was my favorite, but since that’s hard to find, I recommend the 2005 Sonoma Coast ($38). They made 160 cases of it. It’s got a lot of big tannins, dark fruit and game.
Find at: Solano Cellars, Albany and Farmstead Cheeses & Wines, Alameda.

The winery: Dashe Cellars, Oakland.
What to try: 2006 Dry Riesling from McFadden Farms ($20), in Mendocino County’s Potter Valley appellation. Bone dry, it’s got an orange blossom nose and honeysuckle flavor. Gorgeous acidity. I can’t wait to have this with Burmese food.
Find at: Their web site, or call the distributor.

The winery: Eno, North Berkeley.
What to try: Grenache “G05,” Eaglepoint Ranch, Mendocino ($25). The 10 percent Syrah deepends this wine’s color and mouth feel yet stays completely true to the varietal, with bright colored fruit flavors. I can see why, as it was age in neutral French oak.
Find at: on their site.

The winery: JC Cellars, Oakland.
What to try: 2005 Preston Vineyard Marsanne ($32), gorgeous, lush, full of mineral and a treat to be home grown. If you can afford it, get your hands on the Pourquoi Pas ($135) as well, half winemaker Jeff Cohn’s Rockpile Syrah and half his buddy, French winemaker Pierre Gaillard’s Northern Rhone Syrah, from Cote Rotie. As of last weekend, they only had 9 cases left but boy is this stuff beautiful. It’s the only Syrah blend of its kind and should age beautifully for at least a decade.
Find at: on their site.

The winery: Aubin Cellars, Oakland.
What to try: 2004 Columbia Valley Syrah. Boy oh boy, talk about complex and black currant goodness. Washington state’s long growing season (harvest in October) helped I’m sure.
Find at: Du Vin Fine Wines, Alameda.

Posted on Monday, August 27th, 2007
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High-end cab tasting in Bordeaux, and here

vintners club of tirubon

Here’s a San Francisco tasting garnering international chatter. On Monday, Aug. 27, the Vintners Club of Tiburon is hosting a blind tasting of the 12 finest Cabernet Sauvignon made on our state’s soil. Yes, the likes of Shafer, Ridge, Corison and other small production, 5-year waiting list bottles that fetch $200 and up each.

The tasting will be held at the Carnelian Room’s legendary Wine Room in San Francisco at 6 p.m. But here’s the kicker: a similar tasting will take place in October in Bordeaux, for Old World winemaking stars who are curious about the competition here in the States.

I spoke with Lalita Waterman of the Vintners Club for a few minutes yesterday, and she told me the goal of the tasting is to see how these wines appeal to the European palate. It’s the first blind tasting of its kind in Bordeaux, and for this reason, Waterman has been inundated with calls from Los Angeles to China, mostly from wine press and serious enthusiasts hoping to snag a seat.

At this point, those command $205 for nonmembers, and $165 for members on this side of the Atlantic. You can try to get a last minute seat by calling 415-381-4467. Waterman and I joked that you’re also paying for that glorious view, which I wrote about in Night Writer earlier this month.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The folks in Bordeaux — at a chateau in the Margaux appellation, to be specific — will taste the 2002 vintage of all the wines, including Justin and L’Aventure, both of Paso Robles, while we will be served the 2004.

Doesn’t seem fair? Waterman says it’s fine with her and the big-name members and organizers from the 36-year-old Vintners Club, which includes high-end consumers and winemakers such as Mike Grgich, Warren Winiarski and Paul Draper, of Ridge. His Monte Bello won the Paris Tasting re-enactment last year. Grgich and Winiarski, you’ll recall, won back in 1976.

They rationalize that the older wines will be slightly softer, more mellow, and thus more familiar to the European palate. And since we’re not rating them or comparing them to their French counterparts a la Judgment of Paris, what’s the fuss?

I’ll tell you when I taste them on Monday. Here’s a list. Cheers for now:

Caymus Vineyards, Special Selection
Ramey Wines, Pedregal
Ridge Vineyards, Monte Bello
Dominus Estate
Corison Winery, Kronos Vineyard
Shafer Vineyards, Hillside Select
Flora Springs, Out-of-Sight Vineyard
Gargiulo Vineyards, Money Road Ranch
Kendall-Jackson Vineyards, Stature
Rocca Family Vineyards
Williamson Wines, Atlas Peak
Chappellet Vineyard & Winery, Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard

Posted on Friday, August 24th, 2007
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Fabulous (and easy!) three course pairing

My friend Chloe hosted a wonderful dinner in her Rockridge apartment last night. I was in charge of bringing the wines to match her four courses. I want to share with you what I did and pretty much show you how easy pairings can be. All you have to do is look for some similar or contrasting nuances. And if you choose smart, one wine can usually do duty on two courses.

Here’s her menu. Don’t drool.

Gruyere with rustic bread, roasted garlic, fresh figs, wild strawberries and quince preserve
Insalata Caprese with heirloom tomatoes and purple basil
Swiss chard and red onion ravioli with red pepper pasta wrappers, olive oil and sage sauce
Hazelnut chocolate mousse

So when you think garlic and fruit you pretty much think rose. The acidity will cut and stand up to the garlic and a really fruity rose will match the figs and quince nicely. I went with: La Crema Pinot Noir Rose Russian River Valley 2006 ($20). This wine is dark for a rose and is brimming with strawberry and watermelon on the finish. It was perfect and versatile. Read on.

The grassy basil, juicy yellow tomatoes and subtle nuttiness of the cheese in the insalata caprese needed a super dry white wine, even drier than a Sauvignon Blanc. Is there such a thing? You bet. I went with: Grgich Hills Fume Blanc 2006 ($30). I popped the cork and let the herbal notes of the wine open for a few minutes before serving it. Those who needed something with a little more depth to tackle the acidity in those tomatoes kept drinking their rose with the salad.

That gorgeous ravioli from Market Hall. I’m still thinking about it. The subtle bitterness of the chard. The sweetness of the onions. The richness of the olive oil. I knew it needed something sparkling but with enough fruit to stand up to the onions. I went with: Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Barbolini ($20). The beauty of this wine, and all three really, is that they were totally interchangeable with the three courses.

Had I had time, I would’ve grabbed a Madeira port or reserve Zinfandel to go with the mousse. But, thank goodness, it tasted just fine with the Lambrusco.

So what’s the takeaway? That pink wines and lean, dry whites go with everything? Yup, pretty much. Deal with it.

Posted on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007
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Avery Brewing and Adam Avery Coming to Bay Area

Hi All. Just posted an item on Avery Brewing tastings and a very fancy beer dinner on my other site. You can find it all here: SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE, BUT THIS SITE REMAINS FOULED UP.

Posted on Friday, August 17th, 2007
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