Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for October, 2007

Vintners Club’s Bordeaux results in

Nth Degree

Late yesterday, I received a press release about the big blind tasting of 12 high-end California Cabernets that took place in Bordeaux on Oct. 19. You might recall I went to the local version of this tasting, organized by the Vintners Club, in September. I’ve been anticipating these results.

The vintners from the States included winemakers Chuck Wagner of Caymus, Amelia Ceja from Ceja Vineyards, and Ravenswood founders Jim and Julia Wisner. They used a 20-point scale. All wines were from the 2002 vintage.

Tasters from Bordeaux included top producers such as Hubert de Bouard of Chateau Angelus, Christian Seely of AXA Millesimes, Liliane Barton of Leoville Barton, Kees Van Leeuwen of Chateau Cheval-Blanc, Eric d’Aramon of Chateau Figeac and May-Eliane de Lencquesaing of Chateau Pichon-Lalande.

The impetus for the tasting came when Bordeaux producers expressed a desire to taste some of our best blind. Never has such a tasting of California wines taken place in Bordeaux, which I find a bit strange.

And here’s an even bigger surprise: Karl Wente’s The Nth Degree Cabernet Sauvignon ranked 4th. I’ve tried this wine and recall finding it a bit hot for a Cabernet, but perhaps it was straight out of the bottle and probably could’ve used some aeration.

Meanwhile, Ridge’s Monte Bello, which won the Judgment reenactment last year, finished 11th. It also finished low in our local tasting back in September. Here’s the complete list, in order of ranking by the group:

1. Rocca Family Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, Napa Valley (Release SRP $55)
2. Caymus Vineyards, Special Selection, Napa Valley (Release SRP $136)
3. L’Aventure, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles (Release SRP $60)
4. Wente Vineyards The Nth Degree, Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley (Release SRP $50)
5. O’Shaughnessy Estate, Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (Release SRP $65)
6. Ramey Wine Cellars, Jericho Canyon Vineyard Cabernet Blend, Napa Valley (Release SRP $90)
7. Robert Craig Wine Cellars, Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (Release SRP $60)
8. Flora Springs, Rutherford Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (Release SRP $100)
9. ZD Wines, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (Release SRP $115)
10. Palmaz Vineyards “Gaston,” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (Release SRP $100)
11. Ridge Vineyards, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains (Release SRP $120)
12. Justin Vineyards, Isosceles Reserve, Paso Robles (Release SRP $85)

A quote from the proud Karl Wente:

“The Livermore Valley is truly one of the premier wine regions of the world,” Wente said in the press release. “When we developed our small-lot winery to create The Nth Degree wines, our goal was to prove that our estate can produce wines that are among the best in the world. This tasting is one of many validations of the estate fruit. To earn a place among some of California’s greatest, most iconic Cabernets is very rewarding.”

What do you think of these results? Do you have a favorite wine among this list? Caymus and Justin are among my favorites, and of course the Monte Bello, but I have noticed that that wine is less consistent than the Justin and Caymus.

I want to hear your feedback, and your favorite Cabernet, whether it’s on this list or not. Let me know!

Posted on Wednesday, October 31st, 2007
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Pleasant Hill Red and pizza, good times!

I opened up this Zinfandel-based blend with a Trader Joe’s Roasted Vegetable pizza last night, and it was a winning combination.

The 2005 Pleasant Hill Zinfandel Cuvee, made by Larson Family Winery for Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants, is not a jammy bomb. It’s actually got a lot black pepper and herb on the palate. And the fruits don’t taste like cooked strawberries. Rather, they are dark, like baked bing cherries. My kind of Zin.

I’m sure the 12 percent Petit Sirah in the blend and the 13.9 percent alcohol (relatively low for a California Zinfandel) helped balance the wine. Also, the pizza was cheese less, so it didn’t weigh down the wine with fat and allowed the caramelized onions and smoky, roasted veggies to sing in Zinny harmony.

Find it for around $12 (a steal) at Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants in Pleasant Hill.

Posted on Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
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Burgers and wine

I’m working on a story about comfort food wines that’s running on Nov. 7, and had to share a great resource I stumbled upon in my research.

Build a Better Burger offers delectable wine pairings for nutty burgers, mushroom burgers, even Chinese burgers. What a better pairing than a bunch of protein with a big tannic wine (tannins are proteins too — amino acids, actually — so they are quite complementary.

Likewise, salmon and turkey burgers dressed with lemony mayonnaise or fruity salsas pair quite nicely with lean, citrusy whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. It’s a Sutter Home sponsored site, but you don’t have to drink their wines with the burgers. Just be inspired by the recipes.

My favorites are the Beijing Burgers (beef seasoned with Chinese five-spice powder, ginger, rice vinegar, sesame and soy) with Gewurztraminer and Chipotle-Honey BBQ Bacon Burgers with Gorgonzola Cheese with a Shiraz. YUM. Have at it!

Posted on Monday, October 29th, 2007
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Letters: Stone Anniversary XI, Finding Cask Ale

Bill .My brother-in-law Mark’s one and only Law of Barbecue is that if you are barbecuing you have to have a beer in your hand. Usually when I’m not feeling very well Currently I have a mild cold, but I was barbecuing some lambkabobs so in order not to violate Mark’s law I poured myself a Stone XI anniversary IPA.

IPA. It stands for India PALE Ale. Pale, but this beer is black. How much more black could it be? A black IPA. Illogical. Illogical.

But just so. It is true. This beer is very different from the Xth Anniversary IPA which was a full bodied bang you over the head double IPA with tons of grapefruit overtones. This beer, although it appears darker, is lighter in body and very smooth. I can’t comment on the subtleties of the aroma as I have a cold, but I did smell hops.

And this beer has hops aplenty. They don’t even list the international bitterness units (IBU). They just say “Lots.” It’s a very dry, very bitter beer–in the ilk of English bitters I’ve had but more. More of what? If you know Stone, it’s just “more.”

Although even though it’s black you can still totally tell that this is an IPA base. But the blackness adds subtle dry roasted malt flavors and it is terrific. But only get it if you are a serious IPA fan. If you are a sweet beer or light lager fan–skip this one. 4 stars. — Stuart.

Thanks for the review, Stu. It came out in September, it’s 8.7 percent and the brainchild, apparently, of Stone’s headbrewer Mitch Steele, who came to Stone from Anheuser-Busch where he headed their craft brewing section.


Bill,alt=’stone-anniversary-xi.jpg’ /> I read your column in the Oakland Tribune regularly and enjoy it. The New York Times on Wednesday had an article on cask-conditioned beers. Do you know of any bars in the east bay that serve them? Thanks, Tom K

Sure Tom. Triple Rock in Berkeley taps one, I believe, every Thursday. Barclay’s in Oakland often has one; so does the Bistro in Hayward and Jupiter in Berkeley.
The Toronado in San Francisco does. Magnolia’s on Haight in San Francisco usually has a whole array from a British-style mile to IPAs and even stronger. Emil Caluori at Steelhead at Burlingame Station on the Peninsula regularly has a beer on cask. By the way, this is a nice place to visit and you can get there via BART/CalTrain. It’s literally across the street from the Burlingame CalTrain station.

Lots of these places are accessible by BART. Check out for more info.


The Times piece last Wednesday by Eric Asimov was an excellent review of cask beer. You can find it here.

Posted on Sunday, October 28th, 2007
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A Free Email Newsletter from Beer Cookbook Author Lucy Saunders

Lucy Saunders, Ray Daniels, GABF 2007

Photo: Lucy Saunders, and her editor Ray Daniels at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. She’s holding her cookbook
Credit: William Brand

Are you a foodie? I am. That is, I love good food and when it’s paired with or made with beer, that’s plus.

Well, here’s an email newsletter you can subscribe to without charge that features the best of both world: food and beer. It’s the Grilling With Beer Newsletter, written monthly by cookbook author Lucy Saunders. Her latest book is: The Best of American Food & Beer: Pairing & Cooking With Craft Beer, 2007, Brewers Publications. It’s a wide-ranging look at craft beer across America with an emphasis on pairing beer with food and cheese.

Last year, she wrote Grilling With Beer: Bastes, BBQ Sauces, Mops, Marinates, & More Made With Craft Beer, F&B Communications. This is the best book on the subject of barbecue and beer today. I’ve tried numerous recipes; they all work beautifully.
You can find a couple of her recipes here on my blog.

To subscribe to her newsletter, email: You can find lots of recipes and more at her website:

Here’s a recipe from her October newsletter:

Pike’s XXXXX Chocolate Sauce

Rose Ann Finkel, an extraordinary chef and partner in the Pike Brewery, cautions not to substitute chocolate chips for the chopped chocolate in this recipe “because chips are too waxy” and the sauce won’t be as smooth.
Note: You can find Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract in the baking section of specialty food stores and online by mail order.

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dry stout
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60% to 72% cocoa), finely chopped
1 teaspoon Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract

1. Combine the cream and stout in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat.

2. Pour it over the chopped chocolate and gently whisk until the chocolate is melted and the sauce is smooth.

3. Whisk in the vanilla and serve warm, or cool completely and store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Keeps for up to 1 week.
Makes 1 2/3 cups

Suggested pairing: Dry stout

About Pike Brewing Co

Posted on Sunday, October 28th, 2007
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Beer glass Half Moon Bay Brewing


This is a glass of India Pale Ale from Half Moon Bay Brewing in Half Moon Bay, CA. No doubt the beer used to enter the race Saturday morning won’t be as good as this.

Forget trophies for the first annual Old Tunnel Road Race that begins at noon today. The prize will be beer, potentially a mind-boggling amount of beer.

“Our entry fee is simple,” says the race creator, Brian Rutherford, of Berkeley. “It’s 12 bottles of beer and the winner gets all the beer.”

“I didn’t want to make it a money thing, but I wanted an entry fee so people would be committed,” he said. “Everybody likes to drink beer, so why not?”

The potential, Rutherford admits, is rather stunning. “If we get 20 people to run, that’s 500 beers; if we get 40, that’s a thousand.”

Also, Rutherford plans to hand out free t-shirts to everyone from his fledgling clothing design company, Elevation 42. Rutherford a longtime runner as well as a bicycle racer with the Montano Velo team in Oakland, decided that the East Bay needs an unusual race and what better place than Old Tunnel Road.

“Old Tunnel Road is one of the most well-known roads in the East Bay. It’s used by all sorts of athletes, all the local bike riders use it, tons of runners, rollerblades and skaters use that road all the time. I thought it would be perfect,” he said,

The race begins beside the 1991 Firestorm Memorial on Hiller Drive at the junction with Tunnel Road. It ends a steeply sloping 3.2 miles later at the junction of Old Tunnel Road and Grizzly Peak Boulevard near the top of the East Bay hills.
“We’ve got a number serious runners committed,” Rutherford said. “But everybody’s welcome.”

He admits there’s no restriction on what kind of beer to bring to enter the race. That’s up to the runners, he said. For more information, contact Rutherford at

Posted on Friday, October 26th, 2007
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JC Cellars Harvest Party

As you’ve probably figured, my winery au moment is JC Cellars, makers of hand-crafted, single vineyard wines in Oakland. Well, the corky geekdom continues.

As the winery wraps up harvest, they will celebrate with a blow-out party from 1 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 4. Tickets at the door are $20 per person, or $30 for a pair in advance online. The winery is located at 55 4th St. Their number is 510-465-5900.

In addition to their current releases (listed below), they’ll be pouring futures and serving appetizers. DJ Brett Pinkin will be spinning. Oh, and definitely bring the kids: Alana Dill of Alameda will be painting faces and there will also be an arts and crafts area. Maybe we’ll get to paint a barrel!

I’ll be there, pouring the bottles of nectar, so please come by and say hi. I can’t promise you’ll get a sample of the wild Pourquoi Pas Syrah, the unheated and thereby lovely Zinfandel, and all of winemaker Jeff Cohn’s silky Rhone-style whites. I may just hoard them all to myself.

I guarantee you’ll have a good time with Cohn as your host. The guy always said he’d dye his hair if one of his wines ever scored a 95 or higher. Well, he did it when Parker gave his 2004 Philary Syrah a 96. See you on the 4th…

purple hair

Current Releases:

2003 Pourquoi Pas Syrah
2004 A La Cave Syrah
2004 California Cuvée Syrah
2004 Rockpile Vineyard Syrah Haley’s Reserve
2004 Ventana Vineyards Syrah
2005 Arrowhead Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel
2005 California Cuvée Syrah
2005 Fess Parker’s Vineyard Syrah
2005 Frediani Vineyard Petite Syrah
2005 Iron Hill Vineyard Zinfandel
2005 Preston Vineyard Marsanne
2005 Ripken Late Harvest Viognier
2005 The Impostor

Posted on Thursday, October 25th, 2007
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Wet Hop Fest This Saturday at the Toronado


The Toronado in San Francisco is having its wet hop festival this Saturday and if you like the idea of beers made with just-harvested hops, here’s an occasion to try some of the best.

One interesting note. Proprietor David Keene says five wet hop beers from San Diego County won’t be available because the fires down there have made it too chaotic to ship beer.

Toronado LogoOne note from me. Be sure to try Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Ale. It’s dynamite. This is the first time they’ve bottled this fresh hop beer. I tried it and loved it at the Bistro’s Wet Hop Fest two weeks ago in Hayward. Tried it again the other night, it’s mellowed a bit and the malt and hops are beginning to blend. Can’t wait to try some others to see if the same thing’s happened to the others.

Another one to check is Moylan’s Wet Hopsickle. The regular Hopsickle won a gold medal in the double IPA category at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver earlier this month.

Anyway, the fest starts at 11:30 a.m. There’s no admission charge, just buy your beer. Hint: Go for small glasses, many of these beers are high octane.

Here are the beers lined up now, although I’m sure there will be more by Saturday:
Deschutes Hop Trip, Drakes Harvest Ale, Bear Republic Confiscation, Beach Chalet Hop Patootie, 21 st Amendment Harvest Moon, Half Moon Bay Green Gold, Blue Frog Last Hop Standing, Moonlight Brewing Co Sublimminal, Moonlight Brewing Greenbud Chinnook, Moonlight Brewing Greenbud Cascade, Sierra Nevada 20th Street Ale, Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, Marin Wet Hop Cask IPA, Moylans Wet Hopsickle.

Posted on Thursday, October 25th, 2007
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A Gold Medal Dinner in Marin

noonans-brendan-moylan-jose-flores.jpgmarin-brewing-arne-johnson.jpgmarin-brewing-blonde-pt.jpgFood to Pair With Uber Hops

I love White Knuckle, the high octane Double India Pale Ale from Marin Brewing in Larkspur. But I have no idea what kind of food I would would pair with this splendid beer, created by head brewer Arne Johnson.

I found out last Thursday night at beer diner at Noonan’s, the fine wine restaurant in Larkspur Landing, Larkspur, CA., launched a few years ago by Marin Brewing proprietor Brendan Moylan. The answer is simple: An 80 IBU beer like White Knuckle is a perfect match for spicy food. It can take the heat.

Noonan’s chef Jesse Flores paired White Knuckle with Petaluma

Duck Breast, Pale Ale braised beet greens, sage and queso fesco polenta served in an ancho chile orange sauce. The key was the anchos. These are the dried version of those triangular shaped poblano chiles used stuffed in chile rellenos, omnipresent in Tex-Mex restaurants.

Compared to some chiles, anchos are mild, but they do bring a deep, but subtly burning heat to a dish and they certainly did in this one.

What a wonderful match. Like the much more famous Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, White Knuckle has a substantial malt component. It’s 8.2 percent ABV, not as big as some double IPAs these days, but plenty big enough for me.

I was fairly shocked how well the combination worked. The sweetness of the duck, the orange in the sauce and the malt in the beer blended perfectly and the hops melted the heat of the anchos like a warm knife in butter. Made the sauce quite tolerable, made the aromatics hop pop out.

Wish I could run out tonight and order the same thing again, same duck breast in ancho orange sauce and of course, a flagon of Eldridge Grade White Knuckle IPA. (It’s named for a very tough Marin County bicycle trail.)

I know this, everytime I duck into Marin Brewing, I have my fingers crossed, and if I’m lucky, White Knuckle’s on. Arne says the next batch of White Knuckle’s about 11 weeks away. He’ll bottle it for sale at the pub; Morris Distributing, which handles accounts in San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma County will have some for select customers and a bit will creep over here to the East Bay.

Best bet, pay a visit to Marin Brewing.

The dinner was planned long before Arne and his assistant brewer, Shane Aldrich won four gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver earlier this month.

So the dinner became a fete for the brewers and the menu displayed their gold medal winners, Tiburon Blonde in the Belgian and French-Style Ale category, Star Brew Triple Wheat in the American Style Wheat Wine Ale category, Point Reyes Porter annd Triple Dipsea Belgian-Style Ale in Belgian-Style Abbey Ales.

Tiburon Blonde, made with a Belgian yeast and a melange of European hops and malts, was served with an Avocado-Cabbage Salad with margarita marinated prawns and a citrus vinaigrette.

This is a big, maltybeer with a towering, creamy head. Taste is very soft and malty , but not sweet, with a dry hoppy follow. The meaty prawns and the fruity vinaigrette accented the malt as well as the fruit in the yeast. Very nice.

Pt. Reyes Porter’s the kind of dark, roast malt porter that homebrewers eternally try to make: roast malt nose and a delicious, dry follow. It was served with Pork Mole Empanadas with fresh cotija cheese, that dry, crumbly kind much used in Mexico. The unsweetened chocolate in the mole accented the dark roast notes in the porter and the cheese acted like a punctuation mark, intensifying the effect.

Desert was Oaxaca Molten Chocolate Cake with coconut ice cream, paried with Marin Brewing’s Barrel Aged Quad. Arne explained that the beer was brewed two years ago, then placed in a Maker’s Mark bourbon whiskey barrel and fermented for five months with wild yeast, a cultured version of the little yeast beasties that float in the air around us. The finished beer is 12 percent ABV and poured like still wine with a bourbon nose.

“This is what craft brewing’s all about,” Arne said. Always pushing the envelope

The cake, really a thick rind of baked hard chocolate cake, filled with a rich chocolate pudding, brought out the winey, wild yeast taste of the beer; the sweet coconut ice cream intensified the bourbon . Another fairly stunning combo.

After desert, Arne brought out a number of his barrel-aged beers and spice beers including the gold medal winning Star Brew Triple Wheat a pale, 9 percent beer, fermented since last January with wild yeast, brettanomyces. Sweet wheat nose, complex taste and a cidery finish. Very, interesting beer.

Interested in these beers. Call Marin Brewing, or better, stop by. If you live in the East Bay or San Francisco, it’s a great ferry ride away. Catch the Larkspur Ferry in San Francisco; the ferry landing in Larkspur is a short trip across an elevated walkway to Larkspur Landing and Marin Brewing.

And, if you like wine, Noonan’s is just across the plaza from the pub.

Posted on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007
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Two fine sparklings for your holiday fare

If you’re starting to think bubbles for the holidays, let me suggest two sparkling wines from Healdsburg’s J Vineyards. They’re different in style and will thus satisfy any roomful of guests — and their affinity for California or French bubbles.

As for me, I used to prefer the fun, fruity, easy style of California sparkling wines (think flavored Calistoga) but am definitely going to the other side. I still like that style from time to time, but I now crave complexity, baked croissants and more time on the yeast.

Many American producers, like J and Domain Chandon, are answering the call for me by offering a range in their portfolios, sort of a colors of the sparkling rainbow, if you will. (Will you? That sounded a bit flowery). Anyway, I attended a J Vineyards winemaker’s dinner at Jardiniere last night, and tasted their current releases with small plates that dazzled the senses.

You’ll have to check back for insider details, like winemaker George Bursick’s stories about the French and his mad-scientist penchant for yeast fermentations from the 1930s, but I can tell you two of these sparklings are fabulous, affordable and you should have them at your parties this season. Here goes:

J Cuvee 20 Brut NV: At $32, this is a sophisticated display of the best of cool-climate, Russian River Valley fruit-forward sparkling. The aromas are quite lemony and give way to apples and grapefruit on the palate, and maybe a touch of nuts. The acidity held up nicely to an array of appetizers, including ahi tuna tartare. The wine’s a great way to start the night.

1999 J Vintage Brut: This is totally where I’m at in my sparkling evolution — creamy yet crisp, three quarters of the way between California and Champagne. At $50, it’s an excellent example of what six years of aging in the bottle will do to Russian River fruit. The nose is all toasted almonds and baked brioche and spices but the palate is awash in apples and pears and citrus fruits. We sipped this number with a cauliflower panna cotta!! It was probably one of the best examples of using texture in a pairing that I’ve ever experienced — it was like I was spreading the creaminess of the panna cotta on the bread in the glass. You know what I mean?

Stay tuned: I promise to dish soon on 2005 and 2006 barrel samples we tried of J Vineyards Pinot Noir. They won’t be released until May, but I have two words for you: Noony’s Vineyard! Yowza.

Posted on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007
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