Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for October, 2007

J. Lohr’s Valdiguie for Thanksgiving dinner

j. lohr

I found the wine I’m serving for Thanksgiving dinner. Last year, I wrote a Bible on turkey wines, interviewing top chefs doing prix fixe dinners, and in the end, it turned out that you can serve just about anything with enough fruit or acidity to stand up to all those side dishes.

Ya dig? The wine pairing has nothing to do with the dull bird. It’s the buttery yams, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole that the wine has to cut through. Hence, the usual suspects are sparkling reds, crisp whites or Beaujolais, which packs more fruit than Hawaiian punch.

This year, I’m definitely going with J. Lohr Estates 2006 Wildflower Valdiguie. The grapes are grown on Chualar loam soil in the cold, windy Arroyo Seco appellation of Monterey County. They were originally thought to be the Gamay Noir grape (Beaujolais), but UC Davis scientists have since identified it as the grape Valdiguié, probably from an area in the southwest of France. Only the wine gods know how it got there, or when.

But anyhoo, it’s quite reminiscent of Crus Beaujolais like Morgon but with slightly more purple in the glass, and dark boysenberry complexity. Last night, over more Tivo catch-up (“Friday Night Lights” this time), my roommate tested it out with a huge plate of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. I swigged my glass with baked salmon.

While we nearly finished the bottle, a point that I missed: it would’ve been much more vibrant chilled! So stick it in the fridge an hour before your guests arrive. Order it now and you’ll be in great shape for the holidays.

Posted on Monday, October 22nd, 2007
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Vinum wine somewhere between “Las Vegas” and “The Office”


The other night, my roommate and I popped open a bottle of 2005 Vinum Cellars’ Red Dirt Red, a blend of the Rhone varietals Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache. The weather was nippy, we were catching up on Tivo, and needed a good Wednesday night blend.

Caleb Taft, the sales manager over at Vinum Cellars, had advised me to give the wine a lot of air, alerting me that it was a “bigg un.” I followed his recommendation, decanting the purplish wine (with unmistakable brown undertones) and letting it sit for a good 20 minutes while Gav fried his brain on an episode of “Las Vegas.”

“This is my US Weekly,” he said. Fair enough.

I poured us each a glass, swirled the sucker and took a sip. Despite having less than 15 percent alcohol, the wine slightly singed my nose hairs, and I was disappointed in its viscosity. Big? Where? I shrugged and checked email for another 20 minutes.

By the time “The Office” came on, I cuddled up on the couch and took another swig. There it was! Aromas of black and even red crushed pepper on the nose and layers of bacon-wrapped blackberries on the palate. Gav concurred — much better. We polished off the decanter, pleased with ourselves for drinking a $30, low-production (766 cases six-bottle cases) wine that puts a Cali twist on Chateauneuf du Pape.

Posted on Friday, October 19th, 2007
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Petit Sirah picks

Per today’s column on my existential crisis surrounding wines that are and aren’t true to varietal, here are some details on the Petit Sirahs discussed. Enjoy!

– Concannon Heritage Livermore Valley 2004 ($54): This wine finished eighth overall in the Vintners Club blind tasting, but it was my No. 2 for its true-to-style black fruit, slight pepper and big yet supple age-worthy tannins.

If you’re looking for a lighter style of Petite Sirah, try these:

– Silkwood Wines, Stanislaus County 2004 ($42): This wine finished fifth out of 10 for its lovely balance of fruit and tannins. A pretty thing; try this wine slapped against herbed flank steak.

– Clayhouse Estate, Paso Robles 2005 ($26): This wine finished third for its strawberry jam nose and chocolate-covered cherry palate. Drink it alone or with barbecued chicken.

Posted on Wednesday, October 17th, 2007
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My First GABF Slide Show

We’ve just posted our first slide show on the Great American Beer Festival that ended this past Saturday.

Here’s the link.

This is a learning experience. To read the entire caption for many of the photos you’ll have to slow the slide show down, but dragging your mouse on the photo.

Many thanks to two excellent freelance photographers who took most of the photos: Gregory Daurer of Denver, Colo., a novelist, and Greg Wiggins of Arlington, VA., a reporter for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.

Posted on Wednesday, October 17th, 2007
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A Chance to Meet Orval Rep in SF

Orval glassOk this is incredibly short notice, but…the Toronado, 547 Haight St. in San Francisco, is hosting Orval’s Director of Operations Francois Breanne tonight at 7 p.m. at the pub. There will, of course, be scrumptious (can a beer be scrumptious? If it’s Orval, the Trappsit beer, yes indeed) be on tap. No charge, buy your beer.

If you can’t make the Toronado tonight, there’s a second chance. Craig Wathen, proprietor of City Beer, 1168 Folsom St. in San Francisco, will host Msgr. Breanne Wednesday from 6 – 8 p.m. Again, buy your beer, but there’s no charge otherwise. City Beer has a unique license _ you can sample beer, then buy bottles to take home, if you’ve never visited, I highly recommend it.

FYI Orval. I’ve posted a column I wrote just below this post.


Posted on Tuesday, October 16th, 2007
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Orval: Beer of the Week Backgrounder

Beer of the Week

Our beer of the week is unusual in many ways. It’s Orval *****, the world classic ale from the ancient CistercianOrval Bottle Trappist monastery, Abbaye Orval, in Belgium near the French border.

Brewing began here in the 12th Century, but stopped in 1793, when Napoleon sacked and burned the monastery. Brewing did not resume until 1931.

The beer – formulated by a German brewmaster with help from a Belgian – is quite different than beers from the other six Trappist breweries. They all make strong, dark, sweet ales. Orval does not.

This is a 6.2 percent alcohol by volume beer, packaged in a unique .33 cl (11.15 oz.) bottle. It’s a brilliant, dusky gold beer with a towering, lively head of foam that lasts and lasts. The nose is spicy with an aroma of ripe pears and hints of apples.

The beer’s dominant taste is hoppy and dry with exquisite undertones, maybe even a touch of old leather.

It’s brewed with an ale yeast using pale barley malt and a touch of caramel malt. Hops are aromatic Bavarian Hallertau. It’s always been dry hopped in the English style: mildly spicy, Serbian Styrian Golding hops are added during fermentation.

When the beer is bottled, a bit of white candy sugar and a wild yeast – Brettanomyces is added to each bottle, so fermentation continues. The brett gives the beer its characteristic leathery, dryness. The sugar insures the beer will be lively when poured. Tim Webb, author of the “Good Beer Guide to Belgium” recommends letting the beer age for a year before drinking to allow the beer to mature.

An abbey this old is steeped in history, and of course, legends. According to the original legend, a noble lady, Mathilda of Tuscany who was a widow, lost her wedding ring in a fountain. “She prayed to the Lord and at once a trout rose to the surface with the precious ring in its mouth.

“Mathilda exclaimed, `Truly this place is a Val d’Or.’ In gratitude she established a monastery on the site. The Orval label shows a trout with the ring. Proceeds from the beer support the monks and their many charitable works.

For more information on this unusual beer go here. Can’t find this beer? Call (510) 915-1180 or email us for a copy of our Bay Area Retail Beer List.orval-bottle.jpg

Posted on Tuesday, October 16th, 2007
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A View of the GABF and Our Beer from Across the Pond

I’ve still got more Great American Beer Festival reporting to post, including a bunch of photos of some of the wilder costumes at the fest. But the story below ran in the Sunday Observer in London, a friend in Brussels sent me the link. It’s an interesting view from the UK. One note though, Coors Blue Moon’s no drop in the bucket. They sold nearly 700,000 barrels of Blue Moon Belgian-Style White Ale last year. Read on:

It’s ale the rage over the pond

Forget the big-name, watery lagers: more and more Americans are knocking back speciality ‘craft beers’ and wine, writes James Doran in New York

Sunday October 14, 2007
The Observer

A giant image of Michael Jackson last night hung over more than 40,000 beer aficionados, gathered in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. Not the self-styled and somewhat tarnished King of Pop, you understand, but the revered and, sadly, recently deceased British writer and champion of real ale.
‘It shows you how much attitude towards beer has changed in America when this many people gather to remember someone like Michael. He was a lovely man and a great friend,’ says Steve Hindy, the chairman of the American Brewers Association, host of the annual beerfest, and chief executive of the Brooklyn Brewery, one of America’s leading small beer makers. Read more…

Posted on Monday, October 15th, 2007
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DENVER – Rushing to catch a plane at Denver’s gigantic airport, I made a 22 oz. mistake. Didn’t get it until I was in the middle of the security gate.The G.D. Yeti. Yes! I’d hurridly stuffed a bottle of Great Divide Aged Yetigreat-divide-aged-yeti-label.jpg in my carryon bag. Oops. Don’t try that.

The security officers smiled. Another great beer for lunch, huh. Well, now I have a good reason to return to Denver. Aloha and yah–hoo pardnuh.

In truth, I’ve got some more GABF stuff to post including a tasting of some very interesting beers from Anheuser-Busch, including an 8 percent cherry beer for the holidays. Stay tuned.

Posted on Sunday, October 14th, 2007
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GABF: Industry honors for Californians

GABF Addendum…The Brewers Association also presents a number of industry awards at the Great American Beer Festival and California brewers fared well.

Matt Brynildson, Firestone Walker, Paso Robles, was named Mid-Size Brewer of the Year and Firestone Walker won the Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year award. Well deserved honors and not the first time, either.


Caption: That’s Matt Brynildson, right, with Firestone Walker brew crew members Will Crosby, Dave Seiler holidng some of the medals they won Saturday (Oct 13, 2007) at the GABF in Denver.

Credit: Photo by Gregory Daurer

Firestone Walker, which opened in 1996, also was named “Champion Mid-Size Brewery” at both the 2006 World Beer Cup and 2004 World Beer Cup, and also won the same award at the GABF in 2003.

Here’s a link to an excellent interview with Matt.

Moving on…Port Brewing & The Lost Abbey, San Marcos, and head brewer-wizard Tomme Arthur won the GABF’s Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year Awards. Tomme’s won before as head of Pizza Port breweries in San Clemente and Carlsbad. It’s the first award for hiom at the new venture, which occupies the former Stone Brewing site. Stone moved to larger digs down the coast at Escondido.

Large brewer, brewery of the year honors went to Pabst Brewing, Woodridge, IL and brewer Bob Newman. Follow this link for more industy awards.

Posted on Sunday, October 14th, 2007
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The 2007 Sam Adams Longshot Homebrew Winners

DENVER – There’s always a local angle – at least if one comes from the San Francisco Bay Area, I guess. Here’s the latest: An ace homebrewer from Clayton out in Contra Costa brewed one of the three winning beers that Boston Beer Co. will release nationally this winter in its Longshot package

He is Mike McDole, a member of the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts, based in Walnut Creek. His beer is a double IPA, 9.6 percent ABV, 100 IBUs – seven kinds of aromatic malts and a hefty malt bill for balance. More on Mike in my column next week.

His co-winner is Rodney Kibzey, of Chicago, Ill., whose entry was a mighty weizenbock.

This was a national contest, sponsored and underwritten by Boston Beer, but company founder Jim Koch, speaking today (Saturday, Oct. 13, 2007) at a media brunch at Earl’s Cafe on the 16th Street Mall, gave credit to homebrewers across the country, who helped organize it, sifted the entries and chose the finalists.

A panel of six judges chose the two winners. I was invited and sadly, becaue I’d just had surgery, I couldn’t do it. According to Tony Forder, of Ale Street News, one of the judges, it was a tough competition, the finalists were deadlocked for a time _ the beers in the finals were that good.

“Finally,” Tony said, “we each voted for our favorite; we were divided 3 -3.” Basically, he said, those were the winners, Mike’s double IPA and Rodney’s weizenbock.

It was a lemon-colored, cloudy wheat with characeristic nose of cloves and malt. Rodney explained it’s a blend of 60 percent wheat, and pale barley malt and a bit of darker Munich barley malt.

The final beer in the Longshot Six Pack was chosen this weekend by festival goers at the GABF, who could try three beers, brewed by homebrewer employees of Boston Beer. The winner will be known when the votes are counted.

The beers were a grape fruit ale, a malted rye IPA and a Bavarian weiss or wheat beer.

The fruit beer was a surprise, medium copper color, hops and ripe fruit in the nose and the subtle, but definite taste of grapes in the follow. The brewer, Lily Hess, who lives in Hawaii, said she wanted to combine her two loves, beer and wine, ergo grapes. They were a late addtion in the brewing process, she said.

The Malted Rye IPA had a definite hoppy edge and the mysterious (to me) dryness from the rye. The brewer, Scott Cook, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, said he eased the hop bitterness with a touch of honey.

The weiss was a cloudy lemon, with a hint of orange in the nose, taste was full and malty with a definite taste or orange in a tart follow. The brewer, Mike Kramer, of Boston, said the beer’s unfiltered with a touch of bitter orange added at the end of the boil to balance the sweetness of the malt.


Posted on Saturday, October 13th, 2007
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