Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for the 'Corkheads' Category

Baboons like sweet South African wine grapes

Absolutely had to share this article our wildlife writer Gary Bogue forwarded me. Turns out the wildfires that devastated parts of South Africa – the main foraging areas for the country’s wild baboons – earlier this year are causing hundreds of the primates to forage closer to the prized vineyards outside Cape Town and Johannesburg.

The electric fences that deter most vineyard pests, like squirrels and even deer, don’t seem to bother baboons.

As the story states, they prefer pricey pinot noir and chardonnay grapes for their perceived sweetness. They eat the most ripe and expensive ones and leave the others on the vines or ground. When they get tipsy, they find a shady area to sleep it off.

While it’s a cute story, in the Constantia wine growing region alone, baboon foraging has cost $34,800 in annual crops.

So what’s a vineyard manager to do? They’re hiring people to make noise and scare the baboons away – not a job I think I’d want. Also, the Baboon Research Unit at the local university is pioneering a high-tech collar that will be place around the neck of a baboon troop member. A sensor on it will become activated and send a text message to the winery when a baboon is approaching.

Posted on Thursday, April 15th, 2010
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Taste 500 wines at Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town

April 22 will be one of the biggest and glitziest nights in wine. This year, for its annual Toast of the Town event, Wine Enthusiast magazine will be taking over San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House from 7 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $89 and it’s worth it.

What I love about this event is that it not only brings together domestic and international producers but it showcases the eclectic culinary artists that truly make the Bay Area stand apart from other cities. San Francisco’s Farallon restaurant will be slinging alongside Oakland’ s House of Chicken and Waffles. Biondi-Santi of Tuscany will be pouring alongside Beaulieu Vineyards of Napa.

Five hundred wines will be available for tasting, so take Bart to the Civic Center station, conveniently located a few blocks from the venue.

Posted on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010
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Paso Robles Grand Tasting in Menlo Park April 22

I discovered wine, or rather it found me, on the Central Coast. I was in my mid 20s and living a rather simple but happy life in San Luis Obispo. I had my best friend and partner in wine, my newspaper writing job, and dozens of burgeoning appellations around me.

For whatever reason, we felt a kinship to the wines of Paso Robles. They were big and fruity and even though they’re not necessarily the style of wines that grace my table these days, they still represent that fun, adventurous and innovative part of my winetasting journey. Paso Robles is a very important region in terms of American Rhone blends. And even after 180 bonded wineries, the people in the vineyards and those behind the tasting room bars still have an ease and unpretentiousness that seals my love for this region.

If you haven’t made it down to Paso in a while you’re in luck. The vintners are coming to us on April 22. The Consumer Grand Tasting runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Quadrus Conference Center in Menlo Park. There will be appetizers and more than 150 wines to taste. For tickets, visit the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. Some of my longstanding favorites from the region: J. Lohr, Justin, Wild Horse.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about Paso Robles is that 58 percent of the grapes grown there are sold to wineries outside of the area. They are found in dozens of Napa Valley wines, which raises interesting questions about value and ageability, all of which will surely come up when Sunset Magazine wine editor Sara Schneider gives a talk on Paso wines from 1 to 2 p.m. that same day in the same location.

Posted on Monday, April 12th, 2010
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Passover pick: Weinstock Cellar Select Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Food-friendly Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is almost an oxymoron these days. The wines are typically big and ballsy with whopping alcohol levels and a ripeness better suited for a bag of dried fruit.

So imagine my surprise when I opened this Weinstock Select 2006 Napa cab last night to wash down a simple spice-flecked grilled chicken. It was the third night of Passover, and I was rocking a kosher meal, so I needed a kosher wine.

The fruit was definitely there. The wine exhibited the bold, tobacco and blackberry aromas and flavors indicative of Napa cabs, but this wine had soft tannins and “only” 13.8 percent alcohol. It was elegant with good acidity and refreshed my palate after every bite of charred chicken.

Not only is it in line with kosher law, but the wine is mevushal, meaning that it was flash pasteurized and fit for the most orthodox Jewish wine lover. Looks like Snooth shows the Weinstock wine retailing for $24.99.

If you like balanced cabernet sauvignon and find it challenging to find one from California, I suggest you give this one a swirl.

Posted on Thursday, April 1st, 2010
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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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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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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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