Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for February, 2009

Vineyard damages from Australian wildfires

Australian wildfires

An industry statement was released this morning from the Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation detailing the wine industry losses as a result of the devastating wildfires that began in the state of Victoria last week.

“Impacts range from the tragic loss of human life through to property damage, vineyard damage, smoke taint, and heat stress,” the press release states. “However, due to the unpredictable nature of bushfires, the impacts have been highly variable by region and individual enterprises.

So far, the wine producing areas of Beechworth, Bendigo, Gippsland, Heathcote, and the Yarra Valley have been directly threatened. While a full assessment of the impact on the wine sector won’t be available for weeks, the report stated that the majority of wineries in Victoria are operating normally with grapes being crushed and visitors

A more extensive assessment has been made for the Yarra Valley, the largest of the affected regions. The Yarra Valley Wine Growers Association estimates that 200 acres of vineyards have been damaged or destroyed. There will be no crops harvested from these vineyards this year. This represents about 3 percent) of the planted vineyard area. So the impact on grapes won’t be enormous on the size of that harvest.

Still, this tragedy comes at a time when Australia is facing challenges, from mercurial climate woes to low sales overseas. I’m keeping all these great people and their fabulous wines in my heart – and belly – at this time.

Posted on Tuesday, February 17th, 2009
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Ozumo’s sake list

California sparkling wines such as J and Schramsberg have long been my favorite pairing with sashimi. But can we take a moment to recognize the beauty of a similarly dry and crisp sake with the delicate pillows of raw fish?

On a recent trip to the new Ozumo in Oakland, I was floored by their sake list: a whopping 90 brands, many that are hard to find in the United States.

I ordered the Otokoyama ($9) with my tuna belly. The brewery is one of the largest and oldest in Japan, and they’ve been making sake for more than 300 years.

otokoyama sake

It was clear as Evian in the glass with a clean, elegant finish and subtle notes of flowers both in the nose and on the palate. If you need a break from tannins and your favorite brew is out, here’s a reminder to hit our new sake bar and try this other form of high acidity and food-friendliness.

My full review of Ozumo comes out on Feb. 27 in Food & Wine.

Posted on Monday, February 16th, 2009
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SF Beer Week ’09 Open Thread Wrap up

Here’s a photo of beer blogger Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin toasting our man Bill at  “The Night Of Ales” beer dinner at The Peacock Lounge in San Francisco on Thursday.

Jay Brooks

The latest news I have is that Bill’s condition is the same and that his family thanks us for our continued support and good wishes.

Posted on Monday, February 16th, 2009
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Brassfield Pinot Noir solid choice at $25

Sorry I’ve been a bit M.I.A. I’ve been trying to help keep What’s on Tap going. I’m sure many of you know that my colleague Bill Brand, who writes about beer on this blog, is in ICU at San Francisco General after being hit by a MUNI bus on Monday. You can read more about the acciden here. One thing you can do to help is leave a post of encouragement or join us every night at 7 p.m. as we toast to Bill pulling through this. Doesn’t matter what you’re drinking. Thanks.

I toasted to Bill the other night with a great Pinot Noir. Vintage after vintage, Brassfield Estate Winery in Lake County continues to impress me with quality wines at decent prices. Maybe, like me, you used to justify, and justify often, a price tag of $35+ for a bottle of solid Pinot. Not really the case anymore, eh? So when I taste something like the 2006 High Serenity Ranch Pinot Noir I want to share it with others.

brassfield estate winery

You’re not going to get the earthiness of the Central Coast or the forest-floor of Russian River. But this vineyard repeatedly delivers firm cherry pie flavors and toasty nut nuances with a nice balance of soft tannins and acidity. The Pinot is aged in French oak for 16 months and, at around 5,000 cases, is at the sweet spot of production.

Posted on Friday, February 13th, 2009
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SF Beer Week ’09 Open Thread for Friday

If anyone’s going to the Beer & Chocolate dinner tonight, please post and let me know how it is. I’m particularly interested in how that scallop and chocolate-citrus sauce would do with a Malheur 10.

Beer and Chocolate

Not sure how it works in beer circles, but in the wine community there is a never-ending uncertainty about the pairing. Does it really go with dry red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, or do we just wish it would? Or do you need ample sugar to match that sweet flavor, making Port and late-harvest reds such as Mourvedre and Zinfandel the only reasonable choices.

Hope everyone enjoys ending the week with a brew in hand and a toast to Bill every night at 7 p.m. Thanks for being such a great community. I’m sure his family really appreciates the support.

Posted on Friday, February 13th, 2009
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SF Beer Week ’09 Open Thread for Thursday

Thanks to Jesse’s post and pictures yesterday on Beer and Nosh, it’s obvious the Russian River sours were showing quite well at Toronado, and that I missed one heck of a food spread. Weisswurt with curried ketchup, anyone?

I was particularly interested in Jesse’s points about the Toronado 20th Anniversary Ale. He describes the Flanders Red style ale as “sturdy and malty, with a sour finish, but almost no farmhouse funk. The beer is perfectly balanced, with an interplay of roasted malt, hints of brown sugar, and a tart finish that hides all of the alcohol.”

Toronado 20th Anniversary Ale

It cost $50 a bottle, and while that floored me at first, he makes a great point: compared to the mark up of wine in restaurants, which he puts at 150% above retail but it can actually be twice that, this eBay-worthy beer was being sold for less, and for a rare and barrel-aged bottle. “All of that process and storage costs a lot, and it’s reflected in the bottles cost, but also it’s flavors,” he writes. Excellent points.

I’m learning a lot and thank you all for contributing to the open threads and keeping Bill’s community alive. I have great respect and admiration for him. I sit next to another fine columnist, blogger and community builder here at the Times, Gary Bogue, and we chat about Bill and his progress several times a day.

Posted on Thursday, February 12th, 2009
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Breakfast bubbles on Valentine’s Day

Kir Royale

Per today’s Food & Wine cover story about cooking in for Cupid, I thought it’d be fun to share our favorite brunch libations with each other. Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday after all, so I have a feeling there will be a lot of breakfast and brunch creations.

He doesn’t know it yet, but for my boyfriend, I’ll be experimenting with a sake-spiked yogurt cocktail inspired by doogh, a Persian yogurt drink I grew up on.

If that fails, I’ll probably uncork a bottle of J Vineyards Cuvee 20 Brut and make Kir Royales with cassis liqueur.

What will you be serving with your V-day meal?

Posted on Wednesday, February 11th, 2009
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SF Beer Week ’09 Open Thread for Wednesday

S.F. Beer Week is well under way. Anyone meet Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing last night?

Tonight’s all about the cheese. I look forward to hearing about that cheddar and ale pairing at Rogue Ales Public House in North Beach. Which event are you going to tonight? What are you looking forward to tasting?

Please post your comments and treat the thread like a community blog.

Posted on Wednesday, February 11th, 2009
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The recession and fine wines

Not sure how I missed this story about wine investments in the Wall Street Journal, but it’s just as poignant as it was back in October.

For those of us who don’t have $120,000 to spend on age-worthy Champagne, I think it’s interesting to note that wine isn’t necessarily the full-proof investment this article makes it out to be.

Sure, you can buy up a stellar vintage, like 1996, but what about cork taint? Theft? Natural disaster? Short of storing and insuring your wine with a professional cellaring operation, like Subterraneum, who’s to say what can happen to it?

Sorry to be so glum. On the bright side, I’m starting some reporting on a recession-issue I’m sure many are pondering. What the economy is doing to high-end boutique producers.  Will those cult Napa  Cabernets come down to earth? Are vintners halting or reducing production?

If you’re privy to such experiences, feel free to share. The story’s running in Food & Wine on Feb. 25.

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
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SF Beer Week ’09 Open Thread for Tuesday


I understand SF Beer Week is in full swing. I’m sure you devoted readers have much to discuss in the way of brews.

One of Bill’s readers, Andrew, had a great suggestion that as we keep Bill in our thoughts and prayers, we also keep the lively discussion that you’ve come to expect from “What’s On Tap” flowing too – for Bill.

Feel free to share your experiences. Tell us which brewers wowed you and what food pairings knocked your socks off.

I’ll post an open thread every day and let you take it from there.

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
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