Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for November, 2007

Harrington’s holiday sale this weekend

Ok, I know I’m a little event happy right now, but ’tis the season, eh? The weather’s brisk yet the sun is shining, so we need to take advantage before it starts raining buckets next month.

You already know about Lost Canyon Winery’s Holiday Open House this weekend. Also good to know: Harrington, another maker of fine, single-vineyardPinot Noir, is having its annual holiday sale this Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 1 and 2, from noon to 5 p.m. at the winery, 805 Camelia St., Berkeley.

Harrington will be pouring all five Pinot Noirs from the 2006 vintage. They’ll also be pouring wines from Eno and Edmund St. John. Wow your friends with local, small production wines of exceptional quality.  The press release from Bryan Harrington says to bring friends. So I’m bringing all ya’ll. See ya then.

Posted on Friday, November 30th, 2007
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Opus One winemaker’s dinner

Four Season

Winemakers’ dinners can get expensive. I’ve done enough of them to know this, and understand the hesitation. But they can be revelatory, too, since the chef and winemaker work so closely to unite the flavors of their respective arts.

If there’s one not to miss, this is it.

On Tuesday, December 4, Napa’s Opus One Winery teams up with Seasons Steak & Seafood for a five-course extravaganza at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. There’s a 6:30 p.m. reception followed by the dinner at 7 p.m.

This is the third in a series of quarterly wine pairing dinners at the hotel. Guests will enjoy a special selection of various prized vintages from Opus One Winery and wines from Mondavi paired with dishes by Executive Chef Jeremy Emmerson.

Highlights: Sea Scallop Crudo with Osetra Caviar and Tangerine Oil; Crisp Potato Gnocchi with Melted Raclette Cheese, Pearl Onions, and Bacon-Apple Salad; and Grilled Veal T-Bone with Pan Roasted Turnips and Carrots, Violet Mustard, and Parmesan Potatoes.

They haven’t released which wines will be poured. If they do, I’ll let you know. For now, know this: If they pour the 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon with the veal, you’re golden. I shared a magnum with friends last year, and it goes down as some of the silkiest, most sophisticated California wine I have ever had.

I’ve also eaten at Seasons, and swear by the Surf & Turf. It’s among the City’s best.

Price of the dinner including wine pairings is $150 per person, including tax and gratuity. This is a steal, seriously. Winemakers dinners designed around average or lesser wines usually cost the same, and often don’t include tax and gratuity.

For more information or to make a reservation, visit the Four Season San Francisco web site or call (415) 633-3838. See you there.

Posted on Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
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Gift guide for wine lovers


So I’m planning a column specifically around gifts for wine enthusiasts. I want to provide ideas for varying degrees of wine geekdom, from the budding enthusiast in your life to the connoisseur.

So far I have what I consider the year’s three best wine books, an ice-less chiller, the Rabbit and a gift certificate to a local merchant’s wine club. Do you have a favorite wine gadget or other item that should make the list?

Let me know. Post them here or email me at Make sure to include the price and where you think the item can be purchased. Thanks!

Posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2007
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He’brew Marks its 11th Anniversary and Bruce Paton Schedules 4 Beer Dinners

He’brew Marks its 11th Anniversary and
Bruce Paton Plans Some Super Beer Dinners

Posted on Monday, November 26th, 2007
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Man Chenin Blanc at South Wine Bar

I checked out South Food + Wine Bar last week. It’s a darling little space across the street from the Caltrain station near the ball park in San Francisco. They specialize in all things Down Under — food, wine and a bold lifestyle specific to the regions of Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania and South Africa.

If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a host or waitress with a fabulous accent to boot.

The menu is short but unique and creative, offering seasonal, local dishes like butternut squash with goat cheese and Australian staples like barramundi, a sea bass-like freshwater white fish from the northern part of the country. It was delicious.

I was pleased with the butternut squash and oil-drizzled salmon sashimi but the piece de resistance that night was the glass of South Africa’s Man Chenin Blanc I ordered for $8. The bush-vine grapes are grown in the old shale soils of Paarl in the Perdeberg region, which produces low yields of great complexity and minerality.


They call it extreme terroir, a term I find totally fitting for the tangy yet sophisticated 2007 vintage. Cold fermented and left on its lees until bottling, it’s got a mouth feel akin to Viognier but with much more zeal and acidity. Check it out.

Posted on Monday, November 26th, 2007
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THANKSGIVING UPDATE: Pilgrims stopping for beer is a falsehood, historian Bob Skilnik says.

Bob Skilnik Beer & FoodIf you’re into beer, you’ve probably heard this quote. When I first saw it I was blown away:

“For we could not now take time for further search our victuals being pretty much spent especially our beer.” _ From the log of the Mayflower.

Bob Skilnik, a Chicago-based author who has become a beer historian during his lengthy research for his books, has this advice: Read the whole quote. Skilnik said he uncovered the truth while researching his latest book: Beer & Food: An American History, (Jefferson Press, 2007).

It’s a fragment, he says. Here’s the rest of the quotation. It’s from Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, 1622
“That night we returned again a-shipboard, with resolution the next morning to settle on some of those places; so in the morning, after we had called on God for direction, we came to this resolution: to go presently ashore again, and to take a better view of two places, which we thought most fitting for us, for we could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer, and it being now the 19th of December. After our landing and viewing of the places, so well as we could we came to a conclusion, by most voices, to set on the mainland, on the first place, on a high ground, where there is a great deal of land cleared, and hath been planted with corn three or four years ago, and there is a very sweet brook runs under the hillside, and many delicate springs of as good water as can be drunk…”

MayflowerAbout Mourt’s Relation: On the same Web site, Caleb Johnson, a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, provides this explanation:

Mourt’s Relation was written primarily by Edward Winslow, although William Bradford appears to have written most of the first section.

Written between November 1620 and November 1621, it describes in detail what happened from the landing of the Pilgrims at Cape Cod, though their exploring and eventual settling at Plymouth, to their relations with the surrounding Indians, up to the First Thanksgiving and the arrival of the ship Fortune. Mourt’s Relation was first published in London in 1622, presumably by George Morton (hence the title, Mourt’s Relation).

Photos: Artist’s version of the Mayflower, right. William Bradford, below.

William BradfordSkilnik traced the origin of the fractured quote to post-Prohibition 1935. “Brewers were very concerned about beer sales, because people were turning to hard liquor,” Skilnik says. Times had changed. When Prohibition – the national ban on alcohol sales – began in 1920, America was still an industrial, blue collar society and men drank most of their beer in taverns, Skilnik says.
When Prohibition ended in 1933, it was a different America. People were working 9-5 jobs; you couldn’t drink at lunch or all day.

“This shocked the hell out of brewers; beer sales were skyrocketing, people were euphoric when Prohibition ended, but by 1935 sales were falling.”

The answer, brewers realized, was to put beer in take-home containers, in cans and bottles, and get it into the home, Skilnik said.

One tactic was a series of magazine ads, using quotes like the one about the Pilgrims to show what a great, homey thing beer was. So they snipped the quote a bit, Skilnik says.

It’s a nice story that the Pilgrims stopped at Plymouth Rock because they were out of beer, but that famous quote is part of a longer account, ” Skilnik says. Off the ship the Pilgrims had no beer and could not make it. In England, water was fouled by thousands of years of habitation. People drank beer because it was boiled and safe, Skilnik said.

Schlitz Ad celebrates the end of Prohibition“The Pilgrims found water in America pure and clean and there was no pressing need for beer.”
He adds that beer remained on the Pilgrims’ minds and they made sure that the first relief ship from England a couple of years later brought along a good stock of beer.

More on this and a discussion of the flak Skilnik caught for being so audacious as to challenge a cherished belief can be found on his excellent Web site.

I also strongly recommend his book. Great recipes, many interesting factoids about beer in American history, all devoid of spin.

Caption: Schlitz advertisement celebrates the end of Prohibition.

Posted on Friday, November 23rd, 2007
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UPDATE: Russian River’s New Brewery on Track to Open Next March

Vinnie, Natalie CilurzoIs there a bottled Pliny in the future? Don’t know, but Russian River co-founder Natalie Cilurzo in her regular newsletter says they’re moving rapidly on their new production facility at 1812 Ferdinand Court in Santa Rosa and hope to do their first brew by March, 2008.

Natalie and Vinnie bought a used 50 barrel Pub Brewing System from Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, DE. “They gave us the ‘West Coast Italian Brewer’ deal,” Natalie said. Explanation: Dogfish Head was founded by Sam Calagione. Russian River was founded by the Cilurzos.

“A big thank you to our friends at Dogfish Head – we could not be doing this without you!” she said. “The City of Santa Rosa granted us our permits ahead of schedule and we are moving fast with construction! Within two weeks, concrete was cut and poured, drains were delivered, cold box assembly began, and so much more it is dizzying,” she adds.

Personally, I can’t wait. Now about that bottled Pliny. County records show it’s 10,700 square foot warehouse and it’s leased by Russian River.The new facility’s less than two miles south of the pub on 4th Street, just off the Hwy.101 freeway.

Also, Natalie catches us up on something I wrote about back in October. The pub raised $8,800 for the Women’s Breast Care Center of Santa Rosa, including sale of “All Hopped Up for the Cure” t-shirts, all proceeds were donated. In addition patrons put over $3,000 in cash in a collection pitcher.

Photo: Greg Wiggins

Vinnie and Natalie at the Alpha King hoppiest beer in America contest in October at Falling Rock in Denver, CO. Vinnie’s Pliny the Elder won the Alpha King award.

Posted on Wednesday, November 21st, 2007
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New Year’s Eve at CIA = the best party in town!

You probably haven’t thought about New Year’s yet, but that’s why you have me. I’ve spotted one of the best deals you’re going to find, and I suggest you jump on it before it sells out.

The Culinary Institute of America is offering a lavish, four-course dinner and dancing package for $195 plus 20 percent gratuity per person. If you haven’t been, it’s an absolute must.

Everyone talks about Cyrus and The French Laundry, but for me, CIA has come to define the Napa Valley. It’s the soul of the region.

greystone restaurant

A bastion of food and wine education for more than 60 years, it juts out of Highway 29 like the castle that it is, churning out nationally renown talent and providing a center for wine professionals and novices alike to come together.

The St. Helena location, smack in the middle of Valley, is also perfect for wine tasting the day before or after.

Here’s what they’re offering: A “Fire and Ice” themed-party begins with an elegant four-course dinner in the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant. Two seatings are available at 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.

Then, the evening continues in the historic Barrel Room savoring an elaborate dessert buffet and dancing to the live music of Five Point O.

I attended the annual L’Chaim dinner in this room, and I can only say it rivals the ballrooms of the Four Seasons and the Beverly Hills Hotel.

At midnight, you get a Champagne toast and a bistro buffet. It’s an amazing deal for the culinary mastery, not to mention the ambiance. If you don’t want to drive back home, check this out:

They’re offering an overnight package for couples which includes the Fire and Ice Celebration, a one-night stay at the El Bonita Hotel down the street, transportation to and from Greystone and breakfast at the hotel on New Year’s Day.

Cost for the package is $550 per couple plus 20 percent gratuity. For reservations, call Andrea Zanow at 707-967-2337. Hurry!

Posted on Wednesday, November 21st, 2007
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Toronado in San Francisco plans a Schneider Weiss-Bock night; Hebrew 11 night and a La Folie night

Wednesday, Nov. 28, 5 p.m.
New Belgium La Folie on tap.
Schneider Night.

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 5 p.m.
He’brew night, featuring He’brew 11 and Bourbon Barrel-Aged Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.PA.

How’s that for a full bill? David Keene, the Toronado’s proprietor says he has two five gallon kegs of New Belgium’s extremely hard-to-find, sour, Belgian-style La Folie and he’s going to put it on tap next Wednesday night.

New Belgium La FolieEver since La Folie won a gold medal in the sour beer category at the Bistro’s Barrel-Aged Beer Fest last month, I’ve been flooded with calls and emails from people trying to find it. I foolishly said it’s available in bottles and it is – at the brewery in Fort Collins, CO.

For the record, La Folie (French for ‘the folly’) is 6 percent alcohol by volume beer, brewed with bretanyomyces – wild yeast, then aged two years in a wooden barrels. It’s sour, from the yeast, but it has a real malt backbone that balances the sourness. Experts compare it to either a Belgian Lambic or the original Rodenbach, the sour red ale of Flanders. New Belgium’s brewer Peter Bouckaert worked at Rodenbach in Belgium before going to work for New Belgium – so there’s a connection there.

The big event next Wednesday night is the Schneider fest. There’s a story here. Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn is a Bavarian brewery specializing in wheat beer. The family-owned brewery outside Munich makes a range of wheat beers, but their special is Aventinus, a wheat beer double bock,strong, 7.7 percent and lively.

Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock is 12 percent, kind of an intense Aventinus. Schneider beers are impAventinus Eisbockorted by B. United International, which imports a number of quite exotic, interesting beers. The founder Matthias Neidhart, who is German, explains the brewery discovered 60 years ago that sometimes when shipping Aventinus, bottles froze. The freezing separated water from the beer, leaving a concentrated, stronger beer.

Now the beer is deliberately frozen, creating an entirely different product. Neidhart also ages Aventinus and sells the aged product. But it’s never been seen out here on the West Coast, sadly.

See you at the Toronado.

Posted on Tuesday, November 20th, 2007
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Try sparkling Shiraz for Thanksgiving

An email from my friend Shirley, a reporter here at the Times and a member of my Wine Groupies, recommending a dark, fruity sparkling wine for Turkey Day. Just wanted to pass it along:

“Wouter and I tried a really fun, interesting sparkling Shiraz that would be perfect for Thanksgiving and wanted to share the joy.

Fox Creek

We had the Fox Creek “Vixen” Sparkling Shiraz from Australia during a dinner at Lolo, a new Mexican Turkish restaurant in the Mission. (Tasty fun place! You should try it.) Anyhow, this Shiraz is a lovely cranberry color and tastes like carbonated cran-pomegranate juice in the best way possible.

It’s bone dry: you get a lick of fruit and then it just drops off a cliff of sheer bubbles. Goes great with duck confit — the fruit complements the meat, and the effervescence cuts through the fat.

I think we hunted around online and found the bottle for $20 a pop at K&L.”

Note that below the brief on the opening of Lolo there’s news of South’s opening, the all things Down Under food and wine bar on Townsend in San Francisco. I’ll keep you posted when I check it out.

Posted on Tuesday, November 20th, 2007
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