Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for the 'Corkheads' Category

Gloria Ferrer 2002 Royal Cuvee: A compelling steal

Gloria Ferrer 2002 Royal Cuvee

I recently opened this Gloria Ferrer 2002 Royal Cuvee sparkling wine by accident. Meaning, I’d usually save something this tantalizing for a special occasion. But the special occasion in this case was my bird brain, so here goes. I was mesmerized.

The gorgeous gold tone in the glass was breathtaking, not to mention the almost pedantic stream of bubbles. I poured it into two flutes to see how it performed: A cheap, thick stemless and a thinner, higher quality stem. It danced in both.

The aroma was equally beautiful. Crisp apple tart with a distinct brioche. On the palate, I got lemon, apple, and more brioche flavors plus an extra long finish. Sixteen base wines were blended for the final cuvee, and the wine was aged on the lees for more than five years. It shows. I think it will continue to develop complexity for at least another 5 years. But I’m not sorry I opened it.

Honestly, it is an utter steal at $32 and is available on the Gloria Ferrer website.

Posted on Friday, October 15th, 2010
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Free tastings at Williams Selyem’s new Russian River winery

Williams Selyem's new Sonoma winery

How’s that for a great recession headline? It’s true. Williams Selyem, producer of some of the world’s most iconic and coveted small production pinot noir and chardonnay, has opened a new, 33,000 square foot winery off Westside Road in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County.

Even better, they offer free tastings. Yes, free. The tasting consists of three to six wines. Typically, two of the wines are only available in the winery, and the others are dependent on the time of year and availability. In general, their wines are sold through a list and are allocated two times a year on a first come, first served basis.

So you may not be trying that 100-point pinot, but all of their wines are produced using artisan methods and a proprietary yeast. They lack fining and filtration, and are glorious in my opinion.

What’s not glorious is the Williams Selyem List. It’s been in place ever since the early 80s and consists of about 20,000 people to date. To take advantage of the free tasting and tour of the new facility, which includes a new bottling line and barrel room, you need to sign up on the website, and naturally, there’s gotta be a wait.

But I’ve been relatively assured that if you sign up online you shouldn’t have to wait too long to book your free appointment. Let’s hope by Christmas.

Posted on Tuesday, October 5th, 2010
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Crushpad creates 1 out of 100 wines sold in U.S.

It’s hard to believe, but the warehouse winery that started in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill in 2004 has crossed the 1 percent mark for U.S. wine production.

Crushpad, now based in Napa Valley and Bordeaux, has churched out 3,247 different wines to date, more than any winery in the history of the biz. From home winemakers to some 150 commercial brands, these are unique wines, not generic bottles slapped with custom labels.

Of the custom crush facility’s 3,000-plus wines, some were projects as small as 25 cases; others were  commercial wineries producing 10,000 cases. They specialize in making wines from 50 top vineyards in California and Bordeaux.

Now it’s time to add grapes from the rest of the world!

Posted on Friday, October 1st, 2010
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Wesley Ashley Wines winemaker dinner Oct. 17

If you like rustic Southern Rhone wines with a fruity California edge, you may want to check out this upcoming winemakers dinner at Vesu in Walnut Creek.

Wesley Ashley Wines is the brainchild of James Sloate, an Alamo resident whose love for hearty blends and philosophical bent led him to create two cuvees, Intelligent Design, and Intelligent Design Blanc. Winemaker Jason Welch brings his vision to life.

The grapes for the red wine hail from Clos La Chance’s estate vineyards in San Martin. The red is a blend of six varietals: carignan, grenache, cinsault, petite sirah, and pinot noir. The 2007 is dark ruby in color with aromas and flavors of rich berry pie.

The white blend – viognier, roussane, and grenache blanc – were harvested in Santa Barbara County. Intelligent Design Blanc has a tropical and creamy characteristic, with just slightly too much French oak for me on the finish.

Chef Robert Sapirman of Vesu has planned a four course dinner for these two wines, and it includes halibut ceviche and citrus braised pork. In addition to the two wines, you’ll have an opportunity to taste upcoming blends out of barrel as well as a sweet treat paired with Sapirman’s decadent Point Reyes Blue Cheese Beignets: Intelligent Design Syrup.

Need I say more? Tickets are $70 for wine club members; $80 for everyone else. To reserve your spot, contact Vesu at 925-280-8378.

Posted on Monday, September 27th, 2010
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Beehive Market wine dinners in Berkeley

Matt Smith of Blacksmith Cellars

The Beehive Market in Berkeley is taking local to a new level. A wine level.

Since Sept. 14, the green lifestyle market – where you can snack on raw vegan bars whilst learning about rainwater catchment systems – has hosted weekly wine themed dinners with winemakers from the East Bay Vintners. The Beehive Market occurs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays in the parking lot of the Berkeley Adult School.

The dinners, which happen on Tuesdays at the Beehive’s exclusive loft, are three courses and each course is paired with a different wine from the showcased winery.

A little appetite whetting: At the launch with Blacksmith Cellars, chef John Silva of Culinary Eye Catering paired the winery’s syrah-grenache blend with a Roasted Halibut with Smoked Tomato Sugo. At the upcoming Sept. 28 dinner with Periscope Cellars, there will be Moroccan Spiced Soul Food Chicken sausages with Brendan Eliason’s killer 2006 Rose.

By now, your mouth is watering. You need valuable information. How do I partake? How do I support a local endeavor while eating organic and rubbing elbows with my local vintners?

The cost is $55. Reservations are required. The dinners take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the Beehive Loft, 2607 Seventh Street, Suite A, Berkeley. Reservations can be made by calling 510-644-9517.

Posted on Thursday, September 23rd, 2010
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Happiness is Handley Cellars’ Gewurztraminer

Recently, I tasted through a bunch of Mendocino dry white wines, and this one was a stand out.

Handley Cellars

The Mendocino coast’s cool climate is famous for producing pinot noir and a host of white wines, including chardonnay. But the aromatic whites, with their exotic, almost intoxicating aromas, are my favorite.

The Handley Cellars Gewurztraminer ($18) comes from grapes grown on the Boonville end of Anderson Valley, where the warmer weather contributes floral and tropical notes. In 2009, these components developed during the same time as the tannins and sugars, which, according to the folks at Handley, is a rare combination at harvest.

This is the kind of wine you want to keep smelling. The glass is filled with aromas of honeysuckle, lavender, and white peaches. On the rich palate (half the wine is aged in oak foudres and puncheons), I got flavors of grapefruit and lychee. Try it with Asian lettuce cups.

Posted on Thursday, August 12th, 2010
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Santa Cruz pinotage? Yes, at Loma Prieta Winery

Pinotage is the rather rustic grape created in 1925 in South Africa by crossing pinot noir and cinsault. There are less than 50 acres of pinotage growing in California. You know where this is going…

Loma Prieta Winery is the only winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains growing and producing pinotage. If you want to taste what the Cali sun can do for this wild, red variety, I suggest you pop over to the Los Gatos winery this weekend, August 7 and 8, as they taste visitors through their second bottling of the 2008 Pinotage from the Amarosa Vineyard in Lodi. The first sold out in a flash.

The winery is open from noon to 5 p.m. both days.


Posted on Wednesday, August 4th, 2010
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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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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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