Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for March, 2010

Passover: Wines to enjoy with gefilte fish

My Hebrew friends. Passover is in full swing, and I for one am already sick of corn flakes and macaroons. However, for most of us heebs, the culinary self-flagellation continues another six days, so why not have some fun?

Judd’s Hill winery in Napa Valley certainly knows how. Recently, winemaker and social media powerhouse Judd Finkelstein organized a tasting at nearby Cindi’s Backstreet Kitchen to tackle the fifth question of the Passover holiday.

Not ‘Why is this night different from all other nights,’ but ‘What wine goes with gefilte fish?’

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, March 31st, 2010
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Oakland Brewing Finds A Home

Steve McDaniel and the folks trying to launch Oakland Brewing Co. have some good news. They’ve found a location, finally. It’s the Old Cottonmill building at 1010 22nd Avenue in Oakland. It looks like a great old brick building with some history to it. As Steve is quick to remind me, they still have a very long way to go before the building can be turned into a working brewery, but if their luck holds they hope to have beer in the market by the end of 2010.


The building, I’m told, is located “a short diagonal off Livingston Street (terminating at I-880), which intersects Embarcadero where Quinn’s Lighthouse sits, just northwest from Coast Guard Island.  Once you’re on 22nd Ave, drive toward the freeway and the building will be on your right … if you hit Numi Tea at I-880, you’ve gone too far. Irish Monkey Cellars, who make a fine Cabernet Franc, is right in that same area too.”

You can see more photos of the building at their website.


Posted on Friday, March 26th, 2010
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1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die

The book I contributed to, 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die, comes out today in the U.S. The book is the collaborative effort of 42 beers writers from around the world. We each wrote up beers from our areas of expertise, telling the beer’s story and also including tasting notes. There are 1,001 beers from 69 different countries listed, though the United States has more in the book than any other nation. I contributed 35 beers to the project, many of them from the Bay Area or the West Coast, with seven more American beer writers — all friends and colleagues — filling in the rest. Some of the beers were chosen by the editorial staff and the Adrian Tierney-Jones who headed the project, and the rest were suggested by all of the other writers.


It’s a beautiful book, I must say, fully illustrated with nearly every beer’s label or bottle shown in full color. With every beer getting at least a half-page and most a full one, it’s also one seriously heavy book, weighing in at nearly five pounds and with 960 pages! I’m not sure where it will be sold, but it is currently available on, though the American cover is the one above, showing a full pint and bottle of our own Anchor Steam beer. It’s certainly great to see a book about beer from around the world that uses a San Francisco favorite on the cover.

Most pages look like this, which is the first beer reviewed, Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale (it’s also one of mine.)

Posted on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
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Prima’s 2010 Women in Wine has stellar lineup

For serious food and wine dinners east of the Caldecott Tunnel in the Bay Area, Prima Ristorante in Walnut Creek always delivers. Over three decades, wine director John Rittmaster has become a pioneer for his world-class wine program. Executive Chef Peter Chastain is a master at creating an Italian sense of place that is both rustic and contemporary.

For their annual Women in Wine Celebration on March 30, these gents pull out all the stops. They even have a fab new female sommelier, Angela Luciano.

I always get a bit giddy when the press release arrives, curious and anxious to see who they landed for the four-course meal and party that usually lasts hours and involves too much excellent wine.

If you’ve been holding out this year on committing to any big-ticket wine dinners, I suggest you jump on this one. It’s $88 and the menu includes duck, pork and wines from some of the biggest names in wine, including Delia Viader and Eileen Crane. There are seven winemakers participating this year.

Go to the Prima website for tickets or call 925-935-7780

Posted on Thursday, March 18th, 2010
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How To Drink A Guinness

As today is St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s likely you might drink a stout today, I got some interesting press info from Guinness recently which I thought I’d share.


The Proper Way To Drink A Guinness — 6 Steps

So, the bartender has done a professional job crafting the pint. As the pint is presented to you, the intensity is coming alive and that wonderful creamy head being formed. It’s time to drink your pint of Guinness. But as Guinness Master Brewer Fergal Murray says, there are proper steps to best taste the natural ingredients and 250 years of brewing art inside a pint of Guinness:

1. The Visual impact – you always drink a pint of Guinness with your eyes first. Take a moment to view the beauty of the beer in the glass. Never look down at a pint of Guinness; always look to the horizon and raise your pint to your mouth

2. Own the pint. Stand proud and stand tall. Feel confident and think, ‘This is my pint. I deserve it.’

3. Get your elbow up. Prepare to tilt the glass to allow your lips to pull the liquid through the glass.

4. Raise your pint and drink the liquid through the head. (Too often, a first‐time Guinness drinker will take a small sip and get only the creamy head, which is full of bitter tasting notes). By drinking through the head, you will get the roastiness of the barley in the liquid with a hint of bitterness from the head to
round out the overall taste experience.

5. Always drink from the same side of the glass so you can see the glass become laced and layered. With each pull from a pint of Guinness, you should see a “ring” of head inside your glass, which we refer to as “lacing.” Stand your ground, tilting the glass so you get enough liquid in your mouth, and energizing the four key elements of Guinness in all areas of the throat; 1) the sweetness of the malted barley on the front of your tongue 2) the roastiness of the roasted barley in the liquid on the sides of your mouth and the 3) the fantastic lingering hint of bitterness on the back of the throat as the liquid flows down. And best of all, 4) that fabulous smooth finish unique to Guinness draught as the taste buds awaken.

6. Drink responsibly. Guinness is a product for those that respect great beer and have great respect for themselves and those around them.


Fergal Murray, Brewmaster for Guinness

As master of one of the most famous brews in the world, what are your job responsibilities? Are you the one and only Brewmaster, or are there others?

I have a few responsibilities as Brewmaster. The first is to ensure that every ounce of Guinness that leaves St. James Gate is of the finest quality because people around the world have come to expect as much. Similarly, I help to ensure that our beer innovations meet our quality standards for taste, appearance and drinking experience. The second part of my job is traveling the world educating people on the proper way to serve and enjoy Guinness, including the fundementals of the Perfect Pour. I work alongside a number of beer making experts in our collective quest to create the pinnacle beer experience.


Pouring the Perfect Pint

  1. Clean dry glass — preferably with branded logo and the 20 oz pint
  2. Hold glass at 45 degree angle and never allow the spout to touch beer or glass
  3. The Pour — pull faucet down and allow beer to fill glass – you will see the surge commence
  4. The Settle — allow the nitrogen bubbles create the theatre and wonderful surge event creating the beautiful creamy head
  5. The Top Up — the Beer has settled (distinct gap between dark liquid and head) and the glass is topped up slowly to create a domed effect with the head proud of the glass
  6. The Presentation — Give the creation of the perfect pint to the adoring customer

Posted on Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
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Anderson Valley Brewing Co. Sold

There have been rumors floating around for a few months now, and it’s been no secret that owner Ken Allen has been trying to sell his Anderson Valley Brewery for several years. According to the North Bay Business Journal, it looks like a sale is now official. The terms have not been disclosed, but pending the necessary approvals, a sale is expected to close next month. The buyer is HMB Holdings LLC, a company created for the purchase by Trey White, a former VP with United States Beverage. In addition to the USB portfolio, White has also worked with such brands as Goose Island, SLO and Grolsch. Anderson Valley will continue to be brewed at its present facilities in Boonville, California.


Posted on Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
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The Calistoga AVA is official

Napa Valley

It took six years, but Calistoga, the home of the venerable Schramsberg Vineyards and a region of the Napa Valley famous for growing cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, and syrah, is finally legit.

The Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury made Calistoga an official American Viticultural Area in December. Calistoga has been known for winemaking for more than 100 years, but in recent years, the lack of official designation made it possible for wine producers to include Calistoga in their branding when the wine did not in fact come from there.

According to a press release from the Napa Valley Vintners, they owe the strides to U.S. Rep Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), who worked since 2003 on the fight for truth in labeling.

Posted on Monday, March 15th, 2010
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Lodi food and wine pairing event March 13

It’s not too late to purchase tickets to what I imagine will be a very cool inaugural event. Tomorrow night, March 13, 22 Lodi appellation wineries will pair their wines with dishes created by students from the Art Institute of California at Sacramento.

The event, dubbed Pairing Perfection: Culinary Art Meets Lodi Winemakers, takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. at Wine & Roses Hotel in Lodi. I’ll be there as a judge as will Rick Kushman, Sacramento Bee columnist and author of “A Movable Thirst: Tales and Tastes from a Season in Napa Wine Country.”

The concept is great. If you’ve been to Livermore’s annual Taste of Terroir, it’s similar except there’s an educational component here because the dishes will be created by students. Trust me – these kids can cook. Like Taste of Terroir, general audience members also get to vote on a People’s Choice Award. Judging will be based on presentation, pairing creativity and quality.

Tickets are $60 and get you samples of all 22 culinary creations and wines in addition to a recipe book and glass. Purchase your tickets by visiting the Lodi-Woodbridge Wine Grape Commission or call 209-365-0621.

Posted on Friday, March 12th, 2010
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Millbrandt Vineyard wines – elegant and tasty

Millbrant Vineyards

I tasted through eight wines from Eastern Washington based Millbrandt Vineyards for my article that ran today about Millbrandt Vineyards. Here are tasting notes are three of my favorites:

Traditions 2007 Pinot Gris, Washington State: A racy little one. Most of the grapes for this tangy wine hail from the Millbrandt’s 1,600-feet-high Evergreen Vineyards. Combine that mountain climate with the broken basalt soils and the result is an almost chalky minerality that begs for leafy greens or raw fish soaked in lime vinaigrette. Around $12.99.

Traditions 2006 Merlot, Washington State: Merlots such as this one remind us of the grape’s potential for elegance and quaffability. It’s got a lot of soft, ripe fruit flavors and a dusty edge with lovely, lush tannins. It’s a sexy, sophisticated wine, and a steal at $14.99.

Estates 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State: This cabernet hails from Eastern Washington’s Wahluke Slope, where long, hot days and virtually no rain fall produces full-bodied, intense blackberry flavors and a smokiness I usually associate with Paso Robles Syrah. Robust yet integrated. $24.99.

Posted on Wednesday, March 10th, 2010
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A Donkey & Goat goes to VinNatur

Donkey & Goat wines

OK, proud East Bay moment. Winemakers and proprietors Jared and Tracey Brandt of A Donkey & Goat Winery in Berkeley will be the only Americans at the 7th Annual VinNatur in Italy this April.

VinNatur is among Europe’s largest gatherings of natural winemakers. This year, the Brandts, who specialize in Chardonnay and Rhone varietals, will join  more than 100 winemakers from nine countries to share ideas and practices.

And, you won’t see a Mega-Purple stained shirt in the bunch.

Natural winemakers believe in hands-off, terroir-driven winemaking over the chemicals and wizardry that are taking place more and more often behind cellar doors. In the United States and other New World regions, the idea is taking off as chic, but in many older wine regions, like Alsace and Burgundy, it is simply tradition.

The Brandts implement a lot of these techniques, including adding ver jus (unripe grapes) to Chardonnay for acidity; minimizing sulphur, and staying away from cultivated yeasts, fining and filtration. They learned natural winemaking from Eric Texier in the northern Rhone Valley.

To see the Brandts off and taste their latest vintage of naturally made  wines, check out their spring open house from 1 to 5 p.m. March 20 at the A Donkey & Goat Winery, 2323B 4th St., Berkeley. Admission is $20 in advance and $30 at the door.

Posted on Tuesday, March 9th, 2010
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