Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for September, 2007

The Worldwide Toast to Michael Jackson

Did you toast Michael Jackson at 6 p.m. tonight (PDT). I did, so did a whole lot of people around the Bay Area.

A waitress at Barclays on College Avenue said about 100 people hoisted glasses. “Can’t talk any longer,” she said. “There was a street fair on College today and we’re slammed. The place is jammed,” she said.

At the Bistro in Hayward, Kevin, the bartender, said about 35 people showed up to toast the late, much loved bard of beer, who died Aug. 30 of a heart attack at his home in London. Michael had been diagosed with Parkison’s disease,but hid it extremely well, continuing to travel the world, carrying the word about great beer and whiskey and still working on books.

Folks at the Toronado in San Francisco said about 100 people toasted Michael, like the Bistro, the drink of choice was something Belgian.

Michael’s first book on the beers of Belgium, Great Beers of Belgium, in 1991 brought the world of traditional Belgian beer to the English-speaking world, especially to those of us in the isolated New World.

He contributed so much to the cause of great beer. So much has been said. A world wide toast was the least we could do.

Also, just wrote a check for $25 to the National Parkinson Foundation, Attn: Kay Houghton, 1501 N.W. 9th Avenue / Bob Hope Road, Miami, Florida, USA 33136-1494. So long as you write “Tribute to Michael Jackson” in the memo line, your donation will be attributed to this event. (Canadian participants are advised that the NPF also operates 5 Centers of Excellence in Canada and does issue tax receipts for all contributions, including those from Canada.)

Finally, a reader, Stuart, who’s a Michael Jackson fan, sends us this link from an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross. Check it out:

Oh yes, the beer I chose for the toast. Thought about it for a while. The most appropriate, I thought, might be Fuller’s London Pride or Fuller’s ESB, beers, I know, Michael always liked.

But I thought about the inspiration that he provided for lovers of good beer; he was so persuavive that people in perfectly good careers, dumped them to brew beer. One of those was Mark Ruedrich, who founded North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg, CA. on the Mendocino coast in 1988. He was a marine biologist before he made the great leap to brewing.

We can all be thanksfull he did it, because North Caost has produced some wonderful beers.

So I chose for the toast Old Rasputin 10th Anniversary Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout. At 11 percent it was a beer worthy, even of Michael Jackson.

As a tribute to his contributions, I drank it in a Chimay glass. Salud, Michhael and L’Cheim.

Posted on Sunday, September 30th, 2007
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A few words on Merlot

For a while, I’ve been feeling much too feisty for Merlot. I’ve been reaching for peppery Syrahs and even kicky, wild roses to match my sentiments. Not the Mellow M.

In the past few weeks, however, I’ve had two gorgeous Merlots and am starting to change my tune. Let’s discuss — briefly — shall we?

The first is the 2003 Markham Vineyards Merlot ($22.50), which I enjoyed last night at the new Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Walnut Creek.

Incidentally, I was sandwiched between the chain’s wine director, Marion Jansen op de Haar, who recently moved to Napa, and Stephen Eliot, associate editor of the Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wines and the wine instructor at the California Culinary Academy.

It was a finely-tuned Merlot, I thought, with a lot of violet and blackberry in the nose that prepared me for a rich Cabernet. But spice, coffee and vanilla on the soft finish made me remember what I was drinking and did not overburden my salmon.

But the true star in my recent Merlot awakening is the 2004 Oak Knoll District Proprietary Red Wine (about $80) by Blackbird Vineyards, which I enjoyed weeks ago at the winery and again at home last week.

blackbird vineyards

Winemaker Sarah Gott is a star to me, recalling the best of Bordeaux’s Pomerol but tweaking it ever so slightly with her signature Cali style. I drink everything she makes, from her husband Joel’s wines to her stuff for Joseph Phelps. This particular Merlot is blended with a 5 percent dash of Cabernet Sauvignon. The cherries are black here, not bing, and the fruit is tinged with espresso.

It’s a seductive wine, and it’s good to be back.

Posted on Friday, September 28th, 2007
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Wine Styles now open in Walnut Creek


I went to the grand opening of Wine Styles last night at 1532 Locust Street in Walnut Creek. The easy-to-navigate wine store has been open a month, but the bash was the first opportunity I’ve had to pop in.

It’s a great concept. The woman who started the company has a European background, and never understood why her friends on this side of the Atlantic lacked confidence when selecting wine.

So she organizes the 150-bottle inventories of the 180 franchises not by region or country or even varietal, but by flavor profile and food pairing. Wines in alcoves under the “Crisp” banner are “refreshing, clean and bright with flavors of citrus, apple and pear” and are tasty with “shellfish, spicy dishes and cheeses.”

“Mellow” promises a selection of “round, velvety and smooth” wines with flavors of cherry, berries and earth” and goes with “pasta, veal, pork or beef.” You get the idea. The other headers are Silky, Rich, Bubbly, Fruity, Bold, Nectar and my favorite, If You Insist…

The selection was promising. I walked out with a Dragon Seal Brut ($12.99), a sparkling wine from China that I’ve been curious to try. I’m impressed they carried it. I also spotted serious Trefethens and Silver Oaks and just about everything in between. The majority of bottles are under $25.

New World had a strong presence, but I spotted one bargain Bordeaux and some Italian blends as well.

Despite being a chain, I got a good local vibe from owner Dyan Cushing, who’s lived in Pleasant Hill for more than 20 years. In addition to in-store tastings and private parties, she plans to host excursions for wine club members. Thirty five bucks gets you two bottles a month worth $40, by the way.

The coolest thing about the store is this barrel that doubles as an instant bottle chiller and is worth upwards of $1,700. If you’re on your way home, simply dunk your bottle into the barrel to achieve the desired temperature drop within minutes. Just as good as salt. :)

Posted on Wednesday, September 26th, 2007
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Events coming up this Friday…

There are a whole lot of events coming up in the Bay Area in the next couple of weeks. Here’s a few for starters; when I have time, I’ll add more.

Friday, Sept, 28, 4 – 6 p.m. Puccini and Pinetti, 129 Ellis St., San Francisco; also 4-7 p.m., Beverages and More, 3678 North Freeway Blvd., Sacrmento. Free tasting of two new Sam Adams beers. One is a Dunkelweizen Dark Wheat Ale, the other’s an Irish Style Red Ale.
I’ve sampled them both and they’re absolutely excellent. The Dunkel’s a rich copper color with a creamy head and a tannic, roast malt flavor with a rush of mild hop bitterness.
The Red Ale is a stunner, thick creamy head with lacework trailing down the glass, clean malty nose. Taste has lots of malt sweetness with a bit of hops in the follow in a drying finish. Very drinkable.

If you’re in the city Friday afternoon, they’re worth a trip to sample. Boston Brewing, which makes Sam Adams, has been testing both beers across the country, asking samplers to pick their favorite.

The winner, the company says, will be bottled in January and distributed nationwide. Personally, I think they should bottle both. More info:

If you miss the Sam Adams tasting, get on over to the Toronado, 547 Haight St., San Francisco and try Moonlight Brewing’s fresh hop ale. Brewer Brian Hunt calls it Weak in the Knees. It was made Sept. 16 with hops from his own field.

Also this Friday, Sept. 21, 4-9 p.m., the second annual Rock the Dock Festival will be held at Pillar Point, Princeton-by-the-Sea, which is just north of Half Moon Bay on Hwy. 101. alf Moon Bay Brewing Company’s Mavericks Amber Ale and Harbor Light Ale and wines from Half Moon Bay-based La Nebbia Winery. Benefits Half Moon Bay Fisherman’s Association.

Posted on Tuesday, September 25th, 2007
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The best way to chill Champagne: salt it!



Last night, I wanted to open a bottle of 2003 Clover Hill Reserve, a gorgeous Tasmanian sparkling wine crafted from the classic Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier that’s spot-on French in style.

Components of selected reserve wine are aged in French oak followed by extended maturation on yeast lees in the bottle for three years.

The result is a clear, steady stream of forceful micro bubbles that is matched by a light camel color reminiscent of butter and a foamy mouth full of your most revered almond croissants.

Only problem: it was warm, and my friends were already halfway across the Bridge. So I threw the bottle in my IKEA bucket, filled it about halfway with cold water and dumped a few handfuls of ice in there. On top of that, I added a quarter cup of rock salt. Presto — the sparkling wine was down to 45 degrees minutes after they arrived.

Knowing this trick but curious to know how it works, I called upon science writer Betsy Mason, who explained that salt helps lower the freezing point of water from 32 to 27 degrees, hence the joy of making ice cream using a salt water solution.

Anyway, wow your friends the next time you pop open some bubbly. I highly recommend the Clover Hill, especially at $32. It’s serious proof of the New World. Or proof of serious New World. Either one.

Posted on Tuesday, September 25th, 2007
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A Worldwide Toast to Michael Jackson – The Beer Hunter

If you’re reading this blog, you no doubt know I’m talking about Michael Jackson, the great English beer critic and author who died Aug. 30 at his home in London. There’s going to be a toast around the world on Sunday, Sept. 30 AT 6 p.m. PDT.A number of Bay Area pubs will host toasts, including the Bistro, Hayward, Pyramid Ale Houses in Berkeley, Walnut Creek and Sacramento, CA., Rogue Ales Public House, San Francisco and the Toronado, San Francisco.

The note below from beer author Stephen Beaumont explains it all:

“By now, word has spread fairly far and wide of the sad and sudden death of a
true giant of beer and spirits writing, Michael Jackson. Like many who appreciate good beer, I owe much inspiration to Michael and his many books and articles, and I am further honoured to have been able to call him a friend. So it is with all the enthusiasm I can muster that I encourage you to participate in a coming event designed to celebrate his life and many, many achievements.

“At 6 p.m.(Pacific Daylight Time) this Sunday, Sept. 30, a continent-wide toast will be held in tribute to Michael and to raise money to fight the illness that afflicted him for the final decade of his life, Parkinson Disease. What happens that night is being left to the participating establishments – some will celebrate Michael’s life all night long and donate all or a portion of their revenue, while others will simply contribute from a specially-designated “Michael’s Memory” keg or pass the hat to solicit donations – but at 6 p.m., glasses shall be raised across Canada and the United States, and indeed in many other parts of the world, in honour of a great and passionate individual.

“Details on how to participate and the official promotional poster are available at If you are a beer drinker, encourage your local bar or restaurants to become involved; if you’re a licensee, organize an event of your own for the 30th; and if you brew or own or work at a brewery, try to get as many of your accounts as possible on board.
“If you can’’t make it to an official Toast, raise your glass anyway! And then write a check and mail it to the National Parkinson Foundation, Attn: Kay Houghton, 1501 N.W. 9th Avenue / Bob Hope Road, Miami, Florida, USA 33136-1494. So long as you write “Tribute to Michael Jackson” in the memo line, your donation will be attributed to this event. (Canadian participants are advised that the NPF also operates 5 Centers of Excellence in Canada and does issue tax receipts for all contributions, including those from Canada.)

“Let us all join together for one very important night and pay tribute to the
memory of the one and only Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson!

Posted on Monday, September 24th, 2007
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Wine quotes make the fast faster

What can I say, it was a a pensive weekend for me, what with the shedding of my physical body during the enlightened Yom Kippur fast and trying to come up with a name for my new column.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about what winemaker Bryan Harrington said about making Pinot Noir, and how it’s like painting:

“When you look at a painting, you are drawn into it. You move around it and find some resolve. Same with wine. You have a nose that pulls you in, and a definite attack that brings you in deeper. The mid-palate is where things begin to evolve, and then the finish leaves you hooked.”

So I decided to turn to my wine quote obsession for inspiration, and to get my mind off food. Good one, I know. There’s nothing like dreaming of Cava and 4-cheese mac (what I broke my fast with at the Grove) and reading Galileo’s thoughts on vino.

Besides love or suffering, it’s safe to say that no other subject has brought together so many great minds. There are multiple sites and dozens of archivists devoted to wine quotes, including the Wine Lover’s Page.
Spend some time on there. You might just stitch one on a pillow.

I came across two quotes that captured at least part of the essence of this new, unnamed column. The trippy part is that they were uttered a good 800 years apart. Check it out:

“A wine doesn’t have to be an important wine to move me — and drinking it doesn’t have to be an earth shattering kind of experience that shakes me to my shoes.”
— Winemaker Steve Edmunds

Then back in the 12th Century, a mystic and Sufi poet mused:

“Drink the wine that moves you as a camel moves when it’s been untied, and is just ambling about.”
— Jalaluddin Rumi


Here are some others that struck me:

“Wine is light, held together by water.”
— Galileo

“God made only water, but man made wine.”
— Victor Hugo

“The wine cup is the little silver well, where truth, if truth there be, doth dwell.”
— William Shakespeare

“I resolve daily that at dusk I shall repent for a night with a cup full of wine spent.”
— Omar Khayyam

“The spirit of wine sang in my glass, and I listened with love to his odorous music, his flushed and magnificent song.”
— William Ernest Henly

If you think of a column name, email me at

Posted on Monday, September 24th, 2007
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NBC’s “In Wine Country” goes national

mary babbitt

The local NBC-11 weekly show has been picked up for national distribution, and I’m thrilled for them.

Starting Sept. 28, your friends in 210 cities that have NBC affiliate stations can watch host Mary Babbitt (pictured above) tour wineries, meet California’s premier chefs, and get a taste of our state’s zest for gardening and decorating.

Speaking of zest, I went to a taping of “In Wine Country” last night at a private residence in Diablo, and was thoroughly impressed by producer Jeanine Michelle Olsen’s passion for getting the right shots and asking the right questions to get people pumped up about wine.

This particular episode, which will air in February, was a blind tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon ranging from $10-$50 using the Blind Wine game. I’ve blogged about the game, which was created by two Monte Vista High School graduates now living in Martinez and Pleasanton. It’s basically a snazzy kit to throw a complete blind tasting party for up to 12 guests.

However, the first episode to air nationally will be “In Wine Country’s” Golden Grape Awards. The episode, which kicks off the their seventh season, will air here at 9:30 p.m. Sunday Sept. 23. Tell your friends outside of Cali to check their local listings, or the web site for more information.

Based in San Jose, the show has been running on a five-person staff all these years, sweeping up eight Emmys and a James Beard award for best local show. Let’s hope this means NBC will beef up their staff. Publicist Meredith Smith calls it the “little show that could.” And I couldn’t agree more.

While they hope to expand their coverage to include other American wine regions, Smith says they have no immediate plans to do so. For the time being, they will focus on California. Represent!

Posted on Friday, September 21st, 2007
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Corkheads expands to print, oh the irony!

Hey folks — just had to share the good news. I’m launching a wine column. In the newspaper! Isn’t the irony delicious? I’m gushing like an overly ripe cluster of Zinfandel grapes.

The mission and theme of the column will be similar to this blog — demystifying wine. I hope to give you accessible and informative prose with just a dash of irreverence and a slight millennial slant.

Translation: I’ll try not to go on and on about $200 Cabernet (ok, maybe just a little). But I hope to share with you what you really need to know: bargain Brunellos and neumonic devices for quick recall when ordering French wines at a restaurant.

I’m also fascinated by the people behind the bottle — chefs, sommeliers, vineyard managers, winemakers, wine educators, winery dogs. They too, will make an appearance. If you want to know what to get your wine buff for Christmas, I hope to help you. If you want to know how to identify that lychee in your glass of white wine, I’ll tell you (hint: smell a real lychee right before).

The column launches Oct. 3 in the Food & Wine section and runs bimonthly from there. If there is something specific you want me to write about, let me know by posting it here. I’ll post ya back. Until then, cheers.

Posted on Thursday, September 20th, 2007
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Chard-Sauv blend for $7

I know it’s early to start thinking about Georges DuBoeuf and their Thanksgiving-geared Juicy Fruit Beaujolais, but the Vins de Pays d’Oc winery in France also puts out an interesting white wine: A light-bodied blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, believe it or not.

Throw this wine against a seafood salad any day of the week. It’s only $7 and marries the best qualities of both varietals — think spiked chamomile tea.

Posted on Wednesday, September 19th, 2007
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