Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for February, 2009

Corkage deals in the Bay Area


Thanks to Reid Edwards’ suggestion, let’s start compiling deals we hear about low or zero corkage fees at Bay Area restaurants.

I’ll start. Khoon Chang, one of my favorite Thai restaurants in San Francisco, charges $6. I brought a special German Riesling there that my boyfriend brought back from Frankfurt recently.

The Barney’s chain, with locations in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, does not charge corkage. Some friends and I split the price of a fabulous Sonoma Pinot Noir at Solano Cellars in Albany once and walked across the street to the Barney’s and drank it with turkey burgers in the restaurant’s tumblers. Good times.

Recession or not, isn’t that what wine should be?

Posted on Friday, February 27th, 2009
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U.S. wine exports pass $1 billion

Here’s a silver lining among the depressing news.

According to the Wine Institute, U.S. wine exports (90 percent of which come from California) passed the $1 billion milestone for the first time with $1,008,259,000 in revenues in 2008.

That’s a 6 percent increase from the previous year. That means that we’ve remained competitive despite psycho changes in U.S. dollar exchange rates. And that nasty recession thing.

Nearly half of U.S. exports go to Europe. Germany, in particular, has seen a renewed interest in collecting California wines. After Europe, Canada, Japan,  Hong Kong and then Mexico.

China, where everyone wants to be because of the larger size of its population,  grew too, by 34 percent. But the slower rate is a sign that the global economic crisis is impacting the Chinese market, at least for imported goods such as wine.

Plus, the Chinese have been getting a lot of the higher end Australian wine brands while we get Yellowtail.

Posted on Thursday, February 26th, 2009
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Daily glass of booze can increase cancer risk

Now I’ve heard it all. Alcohol, including red wine, increases your chance of cancer if you’re a middle-aged women? I read the story about this huge British study confirming alcohol’s carcinogenic properties in today’s SF Chronicle and also saw Dr. Nancy Snyderman discussing it on the Today Show this morning.

Everything about the study, which will be published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute on March 4, is contradictory. So the polyphenols and reversatrol are good for your heart and brain but some other part of fermented fill-in-the-blank is bad? So the U.S. didn’t know this when establishing its Dietary Guidelines? Are they going to make an addendum?

According to a researcher who led the study of 1.3 million women at Oxford University, even one glass of alcohol a day – doesn’t matter if it’s Pinot Grigio or gin, is harmful when it comes to contracting cancers from your mouth down to your stomach.

It’s the largest study ever to examine if alcohol increases a woman’s risk of cancer.  Based on the findings, the researchers estimated that about 5 percent of all cancers diagnosed in women each year in the United States is due to low to moderate alcohol consumption. They’re able to make this correlation because American women have similar drinking patterns to British women.

Men are not harmed, as they metaboloize alcohol differently than women.

I’m going to go crawl under a rock now.

Posted on Wednesday, February 25th, 2009
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An excerpt from Bill Brand’s book proposal

Hey, folks. I got a call yesterday from a Philadelphia literary agent named Jenni Hatton. She was working with the late Bill Brand, our beer blogger who died on Feb. 20 after being hit by a MUNI train on Feb. 8, on a coffee table book about his love for California beers.

They’d only met a month ago, but as was his tendency, Bill’s passion for California breweries and brewmasters hooked Jenni right away. She and her company were prepared to represent Bill in the publishing world.

I’d like to share an excerpt of the loose proposal Bill sent to Jenni via e-mail on January 15. Here it is:

What I want to do is write about the beer, to infuse my prose with the passion I feel for great beer. One page for each beer. A great photo of the beer, and perhaps a small photo of the brewer or brewery, a description of the way the beer tastes and a very brief explanation of how it was conceived, whether it can be put away for months or years.

I’m thinking about something on the order of “100 Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die” or  “Around London in 80 Beers.”  Both are English.  The format would be easily doable as a trade coffee table book or a portable paperback.

California is vast. But it’s easily broken into sections, Northern California, San Francisco Bay Area, Central Coast, greater Los Angeles, San Diego County.  However, I’m not sure that’s the way to go. Organizing in the traditional way  compels one to have at least a rough idea of this state’s geography. In beer it’s not too important.

It might be simpler to list beers alphabetically — Alesmith Speedway Stout to Santa  Cruz Mountain Brewing Dread Brown. That makes reading the book an adventure, each time the reader turns the page, there’s something new to discover.”

Thanks again to Jenni Hatton for sending this our way.

Posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
Under: Corkheads, what's on tap | 4 Comments »
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Open That Bottle at Indigo in SF

Here’s something peculiar. At a time when some Bay Area restaurants are increasing their corkages to encourage you to order a glass off of their lists, San Francisco’s Indigo, a New American restaurant not far from Civic Center, got rid of its corkage. Completely.

I’ve heard of some recession-friendly restaurants dropping corkage one night a week, or increasing their by-the-glass programs. But Indigo’s move caught my eye.

That means you can go in there any night of the week and drink your special bottle for free. I say that’s where you head for Open That Bottle Night, the unofficial holiday started in 2000 by Wall Street Journal wine writers Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher.

Open that Bottle Night falls on the last Saturday in February and reminds us that there are no special occasions to wait for when it comes to uncorking that bottle you’re holding on to. Only special people and plenty of mundane Tuesdays to spend with them, sipping great wine.

Posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
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Gather at the Trappist to remember Bill Brand

The generous owners of The Trappist, where Bill Brand drank and analyzed many a beer, are opening up their doors for those of us who want to raise a glass as a community and remember Bill.

Stop by this Sunday, March 1 at 1 p.m. in the back room of the Trappist. Directions are available on the Trappist web site. See you there.

Posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
Under: what's on tap | 10 Comments »
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Two great pinots from Joseph Phelps

Freestone Pinot Noir

You know Joseph Phelps Vineyards, which dates back to the 1970s. But do you know about Joe’s Freestone project?

In 1999, Joe purchased 100 acres on the Sonoma Coast near Freestone in the hopes of making world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He and his family planted 80 acres to Pinot Noir, and the rest to Chardonnay — on three separate sites (Freestone, Quarter Moon and Ferguson).

I recently had the pleasure of tasting two Pinot Noirs from these estate vineyards, which are farmed biodynamically.

The 2006 Freestone Pinot Noir is made from grapes grown on the Freestone and Quarter Moon vineyards. Despite nine days of continuous rain, the long growing season in 2006 provided the winery with Pinot Noir stellar grapes: crisp skins, big bouquets and great tannins.

Aged in French oak for 15 months, the wine is silky in the mouth and shows hints of sandalwood and berry tea. I thought it was quite elegant, but not too restrained to stand up to my mushroom pizza. It had just enough acidity and minerality to pair beautifully with earthy flavors.

The other Pinot, Fog Dog, comes from grapes grown in all three vineyards, and is aged for 12 months in French oak. I had this wine with Thai curries and lemongrass baby back ribs. It stood up very well to those overwhelming flavors because of its own intriguing and even Asian spices.

In the nose, the wine has aromas of currants and black tea. On the palate, it had signature strawberry and plum flavors, soft tannins and a peppery finish. You can order the Fog Dog on Freestone’s web site for $35.

Posted on Monday, February 23rd, 2009
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Bonhams to auction wines hidden from Nazis

Bonhams, a London auction house, is selling 1,500 bottles of rare wine, including bottles of Latour and Margaux from the 1920s, that were hidden from the Nazis when they occupied the Channel Islands during World War II. This Decanter story has some good details.

The auction is set for Friday, March 17.

The wine from the Guernsey-based Bucktrout & Co was tucked away in a chamber between the shop and a loading area. The chamber had been used to entertain clients privately, but was used to hide the rare vintages when the islands, between England and France, were occupied.

An 1897 Harvey’s Special Quality Port that is valued at $142 to $285 will also be auctioned off. Learn more about the auctioneers on the Bonhams web site.

Posted on Friday, February 20th, 2009
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Latest on wildfire damage in Yarra Valley

Hello folks. I apologize for not posting since Tuesday. Combination of traffic court, a large story load, and my shock over the tragic death of Bottoms Up’s own Bill Brand.

But I do want to share the latest news from the Yarra Valley Winegrowers Association on the toll the wildfires have taken in that winegrowing region in the state of Victoria, Australia.

There have been deaths. Wine business proprietor Greg Leonard and his wife Gail died in the fires that swept through the Steels Creek area.  Wine distributor Rob Davy, his wife and their two children perished in the Kinglake fire.  Their deaths are part of the rising toll of over 200 people killed on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 9 and 10.

In terms  of vineyards, there have been 29 vineyards damaged or destroyed, wholly or partially, by fire and this corresponds to an area of 385 acres.  This represents about 5 percent of the planted vineyard area in the Yarra Valley.

Property damage: Three small wineries, Roundstone and Yarra Yarra, and Calders have been destroyed. Read more about the area, which was weeks from starting harvest, in this piece in The Australian. Tomlinsons lost winery equipment, Immerse winery lost three accommodation buildings and a barn, Punt Road winery lost a machinery shed, Domaine Chandon suffered fire damage to two warehouses and Punch some damage to the winery.

In all, 35 wineries and vineyards have suffered some asset damage.

The general feeling, I’m told, is that while this is a tragedy, the majority of wineries are doing well and are open for business. The Association fears that the fires will have a negative impact on tourism and they want to ensure potential visitors that the Valley is looking beautiful and that they welcome everyone as usual.

Crushpad is holding a benefit tonight for Australian Bushfire Relief. Tickets are $30 and you can purchase them on the Crushpad website. Taste wines made in Victoria and help your mates. All you need to do is remember the wildfires that devastated California not long ago.

Posted on Friday, February 20th, 2009
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Sad news

Our dear friend and longtime reporter Bill Brand passed away early this morning at S.F. General Hospital.

A brief obituary has been posted on the Oakland Tribune.

More will be added later about memorial services and the life of this wonderful man.

There is a guestbook with the story for those who would like to leave a message.

SAN FRANCISCO — William Brand, a longtime reporter for the Oakland Tribune, died early Friday as a result of injuries suffered in a Muni train incident in San Francisco Feb. 8. He was 70.
Brand died at San Francisco General Hospital, surrounded by family and friends, according to a friend of the family.
A recently retired reporter, Brand was walking near Second and King streets around 9:10 p.m. Feb. 8 when he was hit by oncoming N-Judah train, SF police said.
Brand was knocked into a nearby pole by the impact, police Inspector Dean Taylor said.
The investigation is continuing, but it appears to have been an accident, Taylor said.
Brand retired from regular news gathering at the Tribune in November after 27 years at the paper. He continued to write a well-read beer blog titled “What’s On Tap.”
The night he was struck by the train, Brand was returning from the 21st Amendment Brewery on Second Street where he had attended a food and beer pairing event he was writing about for his blog.
A memorial service is planned and details will be announced later today, a friend said.

Posted on Friday, February 20th, 2009
Under: what's on tap | 89 Comments »
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