Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for July, 2010

Next Gen vs The Chronicle: One judge, two competitions

The NextGen Wine Competition judges

2010 Chronicle Wine Competition Judges

What’s the saying? A picture says a thousand words?

As a judge, I didn’t see too many differences between Next Gen Wine Competition for Millennial Wine Drinkers, which I wrote about on July 28 in the Contra Costa Times, and more traditional competitions, like the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, this past January.

If anything stands out in the photo above, it’s that I felt young on the Chron jury. On the Next Gen jury, I almost felt old. At 34, I was one of the oldest judges there. Funny, eh?

So, what of this age gap? What did I notice? Certainly, it’s hard to compare a competition in its infancy with one pushing 30 years. But here are some basics.

Wine entries: Chronicle, 5,000. NextGen: 750.

Total judges: Chronicle, 60. NextGen, 20.

Female judges: Chronicle, 13. (Yeah, ouch). NextGen, 9.

Judges under 40: Chronicle, 5 (an educated guess). NextGen, 20.

Level of late-night partying: About even, surprisingly. Though I don’t think the 60-somethings at the Chron competition were getting thrown out of hotel rooms and filling up a millennial winemaker’s bathtub with Palmolive. Then lathering up. Then again, maybe I just wasn’t invited.

Uniforms: Chron, white lab coats over jeans and sweatshirts. Next Gen, we risked wine stains as you can see in the photo above, courtesy of Millennier.

Jokes: Chron, Minnesotan farmers, sex, and goats. Next Gen, Twitter jabs.

Procedure: Almost identical. Judging is by consensus using multiple panels of 3 to 6 members. A head judge fosters dialogue, tallies medals, and calls it.

Certainly, in the end, a balance of ages, gender, and cultures is necessary to glean accurate results.

At Next Gen, what surprised me the most was that despite an image that exudes independence in decision-making and lack of snobbery about money or status, a good many Next Geners were pumping their Riedels in disgrace over that Best of Show winning $6 Barefoot Moscato, which is, at the moment, the best selling Moscato in the country.

“C’mon you guys, do we really want a Barefoot Moscato to represent us,” yelled a certain outspoken judge on the jury after the results were read. She wasn’t the only one who had sung its praises and voted for the wine two minutes earlier.

I was a bit surprised. Had the wine’s pleasing aroma, stunning acidity, and all over yum factor evaporated in the glass? All of a sudden, it was chaptalized, meaning sugar had been added to the grape must to increase the alcohol after fermentation. All of a sudden, because it was a mainstream brand that real consumers can afford, it sucked. Sad.

As Johnny Slamon, a Fifth Floor sommelier and fellow judge later said to me, “I think reactions like that just go to show how much pressure is on us and how much we want to be taken seriously. I feel like too often we’re told by the old school that only first growth Bordeaux is worthy of winning medals.”

Posted on Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
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Blues & Brews Fest TODAY in Pleasant Hill

I just heard this morning (thanks Rod) that there’s a new beer festival taking place in Pleasant Hill later today. The Blues & Brews Festival starts at 11:00 his morning and goes until 6:00 p.m. and will be held at Pleasant Hill Park. They’ll be music from five bands: The Tommy Castro Band, the Volker Strifler Band, Delta Wires,
Tari LaCourt & the TLC Band, and Caroompas Room. Tickets are $40 and a number of area breweries and a few imports will be pouring their beer. Check out the festival’s website or the event’s Facebook page for more details.


Posted on Saturday, July 24th, 2010
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Diseno 2009 Malbec Argentina rocks

2009 Diseno Malbec

If there’s one thing I like in a wine, it is over delivery. Diseno winemaker Alejandro Wainer has a reputation for going above and beyond, but this vintage of their signature Malbec stands above the others.

Maybe it was the water, which flows from melted glaciers into mountain rivers, enriching the vineyard soil with minerals. Or maybe it was that this particular autumn in Mendoza was the driest in 10 years. Maybe it was the addition of more old vine fruit in this vintage than in previous vintages.

The 2009 Malbec, which bears a fancy new label with a silver Diseno crest, is rich without being raunchy. On the nose, it has cherry tobacco aromas that translate into mocha-dipped blueberries on the palate. The finish is surprisingly long, and thanks to an acidity rarely found in big red wines, the 14.5 percent alcohol is hardly detectable.

All of this for $10.99. Check it out.

Posted on Wednesday, July 21st, 2010
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Livermore’s annual Taste of Terroir July 22

Taste of Terroir

For the third consecutive year, I have the honor of judging Livermore Valley’s Taste of Terroir, an event that connects 20 or so wineries with local chefs in the ultimate food and wine pairing challenge. Iron Chef? Call this Iron Pairing. It takes place from 6 to 9 July 22 at the Palm Event Center in Livermore. Tickets are $75 and can be purchased on the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association web site.

Last year Ruby Hill Winery and Casa Real at Ruby Hill won the Judge’s Best when they paired a sultry 2007 Estate Reserve Zinfandel with a divine Summertime Braised Pork with Blueberry-Chipotle BBQ Sauce and Carrot-Ginger Slaw.

Need I say more? The dishes are innovative. The wines are powerful. But do they always work together? You decide. The public votes, too, and winners are announced around 8:15 p.m.

This year I’ll be joined by “Check Please” TV host Leslie Sbrocco (girl crush!) and fellow Bay Area food and wine writer W. Blake  Gray.

Posted on Monday, July 19th, 2010
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U.S. Brewery Total Tops 1600

The Brewers Association had an interesting little item yesterday, A New Brewery Nearly Every Day, in which they detailed the recent numbers of new brewery openings. It’s a pretty remarkable jump.

  • Last Year: 110 confirmed openings
  • So Far This Year: 155 confirmed openings
  • Total U.S. Breweries Now: 1,625

If that pace continues, we’d see roughly 250 open this year, which is more than in any other year I can recall. This is made even more impressive given the state of our economy. I’d be curious to know where the financing for these new businesses is coming from, whether traditional small business loans or from more creative sources.

Here’s where that leaves us:

Where does that put us for brewery counts? We believe there were 1,625 U.S. breweries as of the June 30 count. While the brewpub roster is climbing a little, up to 993, as we see some closings to offset the growth somewhat, the number of microbreweries is at 520 now.

Will it continue for the rest of the year? Here’s a stat. One year ago we had 260 projects on our breweries-in-planning list. Today we have 389.


Posted on Saturday, July 17th, 2010
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Breastfest This Weekend

This Saturday — tomorrow really — from 1:00-5:00 p.m., the 10th annual Breastfest will be held and it will take place at a new Location; at the Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason, San Francisco. As always, the festival’s proceeds will benefit Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic.

From the press release: The Breast Fest, a beer festival guaranteed to be a good time for a good cause is celebrating 10 years of fundraising efforts for Bay Area non-profit Charlotte Maxwell Cancer Clinic. This 10th year will be the biggest festival yet, with over 60 breweries in attendance. Expect to see first rate breweries such as Anderson Valley, Sudwerks, 21stAmendment, Iron Springs, Lagunitas, Magnolia Pub & Brewery, Bear Republic, Rubicon, Russian River, Third Street Ales Works and Stone Brewery, to name a few. Each ticket price includes free food, non-alcoholic beverages and unlimited beer tasting.

Tickets are $45 in advance, $50 at the door and can be purchased online at


Festival attendees will also take home a commemorative tasting glass as part of the admission price. Musical entertainment at the festival will be provided by two local favorites, starting with Pocket Change. This funk/rock party band is dedicated to getting everyone moving! Continuing the entertainment will be Metal Shop, known as the San Francisco go-to band for hilarious hits of 80’s Hair Rock Bands.

Over the past ten years, The Breast Fest has donated over 200,000 to the Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic in hopes of keeping great resources available to low income woman. With offices in Oakland and San Francisco, CMCC is a state-licensed primary care clinic providing free complementary alternative medicine treatments (acupuncture, massage therapy, Chinese and Western herbs, therapeutic imagery), social services and educational workshops for low-income women with cancer. Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic is located at 5691 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland 94609, and at 2601 Mission St., Ste 201 San Francisco, CA 94110, for more information on CMCC, visit


Posted on Friday, July 16th, 2010
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C.G. Di Arie 2007 Barbera: Tart berry goodness

Once again Chaim Gur-Arieh achieves balance when it comes to the fully extracted wines of the Sierra Foothills. This may be my favorite wine of his yet because it does justice to the genetics of this Italian grape and food wine.

Barbera, the most widely planted grape in the Piemonte region, is known for its tart cranberry and pomegranate flavors and balanced acidity. Gur-Arieh’s version is true to that but with the richer blackberry flavors that can only come from the longer hang time under the strong California sun. 

The wine ($24) was aged in French and American oak barrels for 10 months and has 13 percent Zinfandel and 8 percent Primitivo blended in, I’m guessing, for color, structure, and complexity. They made 900 cases of this wine, and you can order it on the C.G. Di Arie winery website.

Posted on Friday, July 9th, 2010
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Yes, semillon: 2008 Roquefort Bordeaux Blanc

Chateau Roquefort

I recently tasted my way through Walla Walla, Washington, and was surprised to see so many single varietal bottlings of Semillon. Not sure it works for me that way. It’s almost too woodsy on its own.

In France, the white Bordeaux babe is almost always blended with Sauvignon Blanc. The exception is when Semillon is bortrytis-ed into the world’s most coveted wine, Sauternes.

Most California producers of Semillon blend it too. I think the almost figgy character of the grape does wonders to balance Sauvignon Blanc’s zippy, acerbic personality.

Recent proof: the 2008 Roquefort Bordeaux Blanc. The wine is delicious, especially for the price (I’ve seen it for $11-$13). It’s bright, with a delightful apple-pear core and a boat load of acidity.

I’ve enjoyed it over the past three nights with everything from seafood red curry to grilled peppers.

Posted on Thursday, July 8th, 2010
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JC Cellars Summer Beach party: Get your wine ice cream cones

Jeff Cohn

Winery open houses come and go. For locals, there are some you can’t miss. JC Cellars’ annual summer beach party is one. Owners Alexandra and Jeff Cohn (make that Alexandra and her two daughters, they do all the work) transform the urban winery into a chilled out day at the beach.

There are Hawaiian shirts. There are flip flops. There is usually some form of live music not to mention a petanque court.

In addition to 15 new and current wines, you have the opportunity to chow on as many Tuckers’ JC Cellars Syrah and chocolate chip ice cream cones as you can. I’m talking Kobayashi style. There will also be appetizers from Roli Roti, a traveling rotisserie cart. Seriously grubby.

You’ll most definitely have an opportunity to chat up Jeff, the winemaker, and meet some of the growers from whom he sources some of the state’s best fruit. Are you dying for the deets yet? The event takes place this Saturday, July 10, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the winery, 55 4th St., Oakland. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door, and $15 for designated drivers. Wine club members automatically receive $5 off of their admission and other perks. I bet you’re wondering what those are…

Posted on Wednesday, July 7th, 2010
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Oppose San Francisco’s Proposed Alcohol Fee


Two weeks ago, the City of San Francisco proposed a new fee to be added to every drink sold in the city. It was proposed by supervisor John Avalos, but it was created by the Marin Institute, an anti-alcohol group in Northern California. It’s being sold as recouping money spent by people who drink too much and burdening the city’s health and justice system. But the fee unfairly targets everyone who drinks alcohol, including the vast majority who do so responsibly and don’t overtax those resources. It would most likely raise nowhere near the amount its proponents expect and will undoubtedly cause a loss of jobs. And we can’t even say what the impact will be, because the required nexus study has not even been made public, despite the fact that the vote on the ordinance is only a week away.

Most mainstream news outlets have covered just one side of the issue, though on my personal blog, where I write more about the politics of beer, I tried to give the other side of the story with two posts, San Francisco Wants To Add Alcohol Fee To Every Drink and Alcohol Fees Vs. Taxes: The Sinclair Decision, which is the controlling legal case for imposing fees of this type. I also rebutted Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius’ column supporting the proposed fee on alcohol in the city. In his column, he interviewed the California Alliance of Hospitality Workers so he could appear to show both sides of the argument. It was not really in any way balanced, and in fact I think he used them as a straw man, though he did so in a way that I believe was incorrect at any rate.

Happily, the California Alliance of Hospitality Workers is fighting back, and is trying to get people to contact their local supervisor in San Francisco to have city residents ask their politicians to oppose the proposed fee. The e-mail to use is If you live in San Francisco and drink alcohol in moderation and responsibly, please contact your supervisor and ask him or her to oppose the ordinance.


You can also see their response to the proposed ordinance, Supervisors’ Short-Sighted Proposal to Tax Alcohol Will Hurt Hard-Working San Franciscans. They’ve also set up a Facebook page.

Here’s just a few more reasons why this tax is unfair, particularly to craft beer:

  • This legislation taxes beer by alcohol strength, putting a huge and cumbersome burden on brewpubs, self-distributing small brewers and wholesalers because each and every beer is taxed at a different rate.
  • Craft brewers are not part of the problem. Craft beer is priced high and is a product of quality, not quantity. Craft beer drinkers do not abuse their beverages.
  • With the “margin chain” and price point consideration, the tax will be much higher than five cents a drink. At retail off-premise, the increase will be about 50-75 cents a six-pack and on premise about 75 cents to a dollar per pint.
  • Brewers are already heavily taxed. Small brewers already pay a state and a federal excise tax in addition to all other business and sales taxes. Combined, about 40-44% of the cost of a beer already goes to taxes.
  • Higher drink prices in a singular market such as San Francisco will lead consumers to not come into the City for dining and entertainment.
  • Higher taxes will lead to lost jobs, off-setting the new tax.
  • The proposed tax would hinder the ability of craft brewers in the City to grow, employ more people and positively contribute to City’s economic recovery.
  • Higher taxes will mean higher prices which means lower sales. If this tax in imposed, sales will decrease and craft brewers will not be able to sustain the ability to continue full employment or continue to invest in our business and community.

Posted on Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
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