Apr
01
2014

Imbiber

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Anderson Valley from Anderson Valley Brewery grounds (photo: Virginia Miller)

Anderson Valley from Anderson Valley Brewery grounds (photo: Virginia Miller)

WHITE SPRING: Alsace Varietals (and more) from Anderson Valley

Article by Virginia Miller; Photos from winery websites

The further my palate develops, the more I adore white wines in all their wide range of complexities. Ignorantly, in my youthful days, I used to mostly drink reds, missing out on worlds of flavor. Thankfully, I’ve only fallen more in love with countless white varietals over years of incessant tasting. Among my favorite regions for white wine in the world is Alsace, on the northeast corner of France, bordering Germany and Switzerland. Due to this locale, there’s parallels between the wines of Alsace and Germany, another of my favorite white wine countries.

Characteristics of Alsace wines can be floral, aromatic, floral and certainly dry. As with Germany, Riesling and Gewürztraminer are the most common grape varietals of the region, though Pinot Gris follows close behind, with other varietals including Muscat and Pinot Blanc. Though tasting notes are largely arbitrary, I give broad descriptions as I like knowing the general categorizations, like floral vs. mineral, sweet vs. dry.

Angel's Camp

Angel’s Camp

On the heels of Anderson Valley’s Alsace Varietal Festival (held every February), and as I spent time this winter in the rolling hills, farmland and redwood forests of Mendocino County, I’ve been swimming in wines from the region. Here are a few Anderson Valley standouts, plus a few sparkling and reds, plus a few Alsace varietals from other West Coast locales for good measure.

- 2012 Angels Camp Vin Gris of Pinot Noir ($18) – An unusual, very small production rosé of pinot: only 18 cases this year, but that will increase in 2015. There’s an appealing funkiness to this dry rosé with crisp berry notes. Owner Brian Zalaznick’s story of buying this vineyard after great personal loss inspires his unique wines.

- Elke Vineyards – I liked every white I tried from this limited production winery, producing wine from twenty-year-old vines. 2011 Mary Elke Pinot Gris ($16) was fermented in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. The result is bracingly crisp with an undercurrent of ripe fruit. I found it particularly lovely with seafood. A decidedly non-Alsace varietal, 2011 Mary Elke Chardonnay ($19) is another strong white. Fermented in stainless steel, aged in neutral oak, it’s both mineral and acidic, inspired by the French region of Chablis. Elke Vineyards are primarily grape growers, growing for notable wineries, from nearby Mumm Napa and Roederer Estate, down to Au Bon Climat.

Phillips Hill Gewurz

Phillips Hill Gewurz

- Phillips Hill 2012 Gewurztraminer, Valley Foothills Vineyard ($20) – Trying a few Phillip Hill whites, the clean tea and apple notes of this stainless steel-fermented wine stood out. Winemaker Toby Hill is an artist who lived and work in both NYC and San Francisco and designs the labels.

- 2012 Philo Ridge Pinot Gris, Klindt Vineyard ($20) – With a generous acidity (no oak, 0% malolactic fermentation), white grapefruit and bright tropical notes made this one a fine pairing with Asian food and heat.

SPARKLING:

Black Kite

Black Kite Cellars

Mendocino County’s sparkling producers are well known – with great reason. There’s value here from some of the best sparkling wines in the US. Roederer has long been my favorite, but I also love Schramsberg in Calistoga, on the edge of Anderson Valley. In addition, Scharffenberger Non-Vintage Brut Excellence ($20) is a strong value sparkling. I’ve always appreciated their rose brut, but the brut excellence also shines, a blend of 2/3 Chardonnay and 1/3 Pinot Noir grapes, it is made by traditional methode champenoise (bottle-fermented), tasting bready and bright.

AND A COUPLE ANDERSON VALLEY REDS:

On Point

On Point

- Knez Winery 2011 Cerise Pinot Noir ($42): With a young, hip-yet-refined aesthetic, Knez wines feel fresh, whether a balanced 2011 Chardonnay, or the floral spice of the Cerise Pinot.

- 2011 On Point Christinna’s Cuvée Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($36) – The dark, artistic label jumps out first. The wine is almost as moody as the label, redolent of cherry spice, earth and silky tannins.

- Black Kite Cellars Pinot Noir – I tasted through four different single vineyard expressions. Being a small vineyard, they are all from the same plot but varying patches of land. I preferred 2011 Kite’s Rest Vineyard ($45) and 2011 Stony Terrace Pinot ($55), the former bright with bing cherry and spice, the latter with a bolder, complex tone of black cherry, wood, mushroom and dark chocolate.

FOR GOOD MEASURE – A FEW OTHER WEST COAST ALSACE VARIETAL WINES:

Anne Amie Dry Riesling

Anne Amie Dry Riesling

- 2012 Foris Moscato ($14) – Produced in Rogue Valley, Oregon, surrounded by the Siskiyou mountain range, winemaker Bryan Wilson specializes in Alsace varietals. Though muscat can be a little sweet for me, this one strikes a fine balance – and at such a value. Inspired by the moscatos of Italy’s Piedmont region, they’ve been experimenting with moscato since 1976, and the the result is this floral, white peach-evocative, slightly effervescent white wine.

- 2012 Anne Amie Estate Riesling, Yahill-Carlton District ($20) – This Willamette Valley producer caught my eye with its Old World labels: paintings of 1800′s women that feel pulled from classic literature. The wine’s dry minerality and acidity (thanks to slow fermentation in stainless steel) impart notes of lime, nutmeg and candied lemon. I appreciate their whole line of whites.

- 2012 Trefethen Dry Riesling ($23) – I was surprised to like this Riesling as much as I did. I typically don’t look to warmer Napa for Rieslings, but this one is balanced with crisp citrus and floral notes of orange blossom and jasmine. It’s a lovely food pairing with sushi and other Asian cuisines.

- 2012 Archery Summit Vireton Pinto Gris ($24) – Another Willamette Pinot Gris, this vintage is bright with citrus and floral characteristics, tempered by a hint of green herbaceousness and a clean minerality.

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Oct
01
2013

Imbiber

Red Rabbit's Krakow Salt Mine

Red Rabbit’s Krakow Salt Mine

DRINKING in SAC TOWN

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Grappling Hook at Hook & Ladder

Grappling Hook at Hook & Ladder

Sac Town, our California Gold Country capital… known for its politics, surrounded by the boundless produce of inland California which us city dwellers richly benefit from. It’s a town I stop to dine in on the way to or from Tahoe but have only stayed the weekend in a couple times, despite its close proximity to San Francisco. A recent revisit meant I trekked to at least eight spots a day, combing the city’s restaurants, bars, coffee houses and more (read about food/dining here; and my slideshow article on Sacramento highlights for PureWow.

While they’ve been a beer town for awhile, the formerly non-existent cocktail scene has grown exponentially the last five years, throwing its 5th Cocktail Week this August. Innovation isn’t the town’s strong suit, compared to what’s long been happening in other cities around the world – the focus is instead on approachable, straightforward drinks using quality spirits. Wine is growing in sophistication with some small producers exhibiting Old World restraint despite inland heat, as at Revolution.

Red Rabbit

Red Rabbit’s Chappelle Cocktail

Getting the worst out of the way, there was an appalling four spots in one weekend (far more than I experience at home or in frequent trips around the world) where service was lackluster to downright bad. In fact, for those I bothered to give a second chance to (something I typically cannot do, particularly when visiting eight places in a day), service only improved when meeting with a manager. A warm welcome, if not knowledgeable, engaged service, should be standard in raved-about places. Given the wealth of amazing spots in Nor Cal, it’s maddening to pay to be treated with indifference, or, as happened at a renowned cocktail bar, to leave a watery, tasteless drink virtually untouched, and not even be asked if everything was ok when I paid for it.

Compared to what we’re surrounded by in San Francisco, Sac might not (at first glance) seem to be making waves. But it’s a town that has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. Though you might see trends (gourmet donuts & hipster, third wave coffee, etc.) that have been established for years in other cities, Sacramento seems to be finding that sweet spot of embracing the bounty surrounding it and expressing it straightforwardly. Food and drink aficionados can find plenty to satiate here, graced with a California heartland freshness.

Wine

REVOLUTION WINES

Revolution Wines - Virginia Miller

St. Rey Celeste

At Revolution – a winery, restaurant and tasting room in the heart of town – Winemaker Craig Haarmeyer graciously tasted me through their wines from the barrel and the bottle. The whites are a balanced pleasure, like a crisp St. Rey Albarino ($22 per bottle) or grassy, floral, whole cluster Sauvignon Blanc ($19), rested in stainless steel. There are also nuanced reds like the Celeste Sacramento County blend ($30) or pepper-berry notes of a blessedly acidic Zinfandel ($26).

Haarmeyer is experimenting with Syrah grapes grown at over 2500 feet above the nearby town of Auburn. He wisely picks early, veering away from overripeness, ensuring elegant balance to his wines (not to mention the value for the quality). I was privileged to sample an experimental dry vermouth, made with rose petals, rosemary, black pepper, gentian, quinine and sage. I immediately began picturing its best gin pairing, imagining it in a martini – I hope it might be a future release.

Beer

TRACK 7 BREWING

Track 7

Track 7

Sac Town’s cult brewery, Track 7 Brewing, recently turned 1 year old, celebrating with a double-hopped version of their popular Panic IPA, a pleasingly bitter, lively release I had on draft at nearby Red Rabbit.

Friends and former home brewers, Geoff Scott and Ryan Graham, run a welcoming garage brewery where you can bring in your own food or eat from a revolving lineup of food trucks (like Chando’s Taqueria, Krush Burger, Orale Mole, Mama Kim Cooks, etc…), fill up growlers, and sample beers.

After sampling eight beers at the brewery, my favorites (besides the passion fruit bitter of the Panic IPA) are a bright and bready Delta King Saison or malty-earthy Soulman Stout. There are countless fantastic breweries in California, and Track 7 is one of them.

Bars

Inviting bar

Inviting bar

RED RABBIT

Besides being the kind of restaurant that serves winning fusion combinations like a pastrami stir-fry ($14.50), The Red Rabbit is a laid back, friendly, all-day watering hole.

Barman/Owner Matt Nurge (one of the cocktail pioneers in the area who helped open The Shady Lady) ensures quality cocktails ($8-9), heavy on classics like a Boulevardier or Chappelle Cocktail (gin, sweet vermouth, lime, falernum, pineapple). Try the signature house cocktail, Krakow Salt Mine, a salty-sweet refresher of Zubrowka vodka, apple cider, lemon, ginger beer, and kosher salt. The vibe is right at Red Rabbit: relaxed without sacrificing quality.

GRANGE

Elegant Long Island Iced Tea

Elegant Long Island Iced Tea

At Grange in the Citizen Hotel, engaging Bar Manager Ryan Seng (also one of the opening crew at Shady Lady) has created a strong cocktail program, and from what I could see, trains staff well based on the gracious service I encountered even when he was not around.

Seng runs a smart house barrel program with three personally-selected barrels of Bols Genever, Herradura Reposado tequila and Woodford Reserve bourbon he selected in their home country/distillery of origin (in fact, I saw his barrel of Bols Genever in the Bols warehouse outside of Amsterdam when I visited this May, ready to be shipped to California).

Tusk

Tusk

My favorite cocktail at Grange is Seng’s blend of all three house barrels into a boozy-elegant (yes, elegant) Long Island Iced Tea. I’ve never liked that sloppy, booze monster of a drink, but this version makes me reconsider. Another standout is the Grange Margarita ($14) made with their Herradura double barrel reposado tequila, house curacao, lime and agave, rimmed with smoked lime sea salt.

Tusk ($10), a savory-sweet blend of Four Roses bourbon, bacon vermouth and absolutely delicious candied bacon, is sweet and gratifyingly robust. Though I’ve seen bacon-infused whiskey many a time over the years around the US, Seng’s version is a crowd-pleaser.  Spectacular Spectacular ($12) is the aperitif of choice, using Hendrick’s Gin and Grange select barrel aged Bols Genever, mixed with plum, lemon and topped with Prosecco, making a dry, pre-dinner refresher.

HOOK & LADDER

Hook & Ladder's special brand branded via iron onto citrus peels

Hook & Ladder’s special brand branded via iron onto citrus peels

Hook & Ladder is a go-to for low key drinks, rotating cocktails on tap, and a solid collection of craft spirits. The bar is run by Chris Tucker, who was one of the pioneering bartenders to usher in Sacramento’s cocktail renaissance (another in the opening crew at The Shady Lady). He’s got other potential projects in the works, but at H&L, he’s the one person in town featuring a hand-cut ice program and an unusual (and smart) designated driver drink section where house ginger beer, honey blueberry lemonade or a strawberry shrub with soda ($3 each) are free for designated drivers.

Pimm's Proper

Pimm’s Proper

Besides local draft beers like Berryessa or Track 7, there’s wines on tap (like Saintsbury Chardonnay) or nearby producers I’ve enjoyed in recent years such as Lee Family Farm Rio Tinto ($9/32). The cocktail menu is straightforward and fun, offering Cheekies (one-ounce social shots), highballs, bucks, and rotating draft cocktails ($8-9) of classics like a Negroni, Bijou, Martinez, all barrel aged in a 6-gallon French oak barrel.

Pimm’s Proper ($8) is a variation on the Pimm’s Cup combining Pimm’s, gin, lemon juice and ginger beer, or there’s a Grappling Hook ($8) showcasing Candolini Grappa Ruta with Punt E Mes sweet vermouth and Luxardo Maraschino liqueur. My favorite cocktail is seemingly simple: Tucker’s La Fresa ($9) mixes Espolon Blanco tequila with a house strawberry shrub. The shrub is all tart, vinegar brightness – as a good shrub should be – restrained strawberry made complex and savory by salt, pepper, coriander.

HOCK FARM CRAFT & PROVISIONS

Hock Farm's playful-chic decor

Hock Farm’s playful-chic decor

New Hock Farm Craft & Provisions, serves farm-fresh food sourced from nearby farms – far from a unique concept (think ubiquitous gourmet deviled eggs, fried green tomato BLTs, etc.), but it’s well-executed and comforting, the menu featuring a map highlighting the wealth of nearby produce and animal sources, county-by-county.

Bottled cocktails &  bacon popcorn

Bottled cocktails & bacon popcorn

What stood out at spacious, well-designed Hock Farm was Bar Manager/Managing Partner Brad Peters’ cocktails. “Bubbled and bottled” cocktails ($9) are straightforward – Aviation gin and house tonic or Papa’s Pilar rum and a house cream soda, effervescent and lively. An Irish banana colada ($10) combines Jameson Irish whiskey infused with banana and Perfect Puree of Napa Valley coconut and pineapple purees. It’s creamy, tropical goodness – with a touch of Irish.

LOWBRAU

LowBrau beer cocktails

LowBrau beer cocktails

Hipster Germanic fare it is, but what sets LowBrau apart from other such artisan sausage and craft beer joints around the country is damn good sausages on pretzel buns, killer sauces (they perfect curry ketchup), and alongside the beers, the addition of elegant cocktails, and an impressive collection of rare herbal liqueurs (Schwartzhog, Killepitsch, Rossbacher) and schnaps/eaux de vie (Schladerer Himbeer Liqueur, Schonauer Apfel, Freihof Marile Apricot brandy) from Austria, Switzerland, Germany.

Cocktails ($9) and beer cocktails ($7) include the likes of the Zimmerman Plan, giving smoky Del Maguey Vida Mezcal a kick of refreshing lime, orange juice, cilantro simple syrup, jalapeno and a fizzy splash of Hefewiezen. There’s also rare beers from Copenhagen or hot US craft beers like Prairie Ales.

ENOTRIA

Cocktails at Enotria

Cocktails at Enotria

Enotria is arguably the most advanced dining menu in Sacramento at the moment with impeccable wine pairings from Tyler Stacy. Cocktails ($12) by Russell Eastman likewise surprise, and are worth a visit to a somewhat generic-looking bar (the white light-draped outdoor patio is preferable). Employing savory and herbaceous elements in his drinks, Eastman avoids the “same old thing” a cocktail geek is used to expecting (i.e. classics), and instead creates cocktails more in line with a Scott Beattie ethos, utilizing produce and showcasing California bounty.

Eastman’s Electric Relaxation combines tequila blanco, Lillet Blanc, mezcal (for a hint of smokiness), lemon and thyme with a vibrant blueberry-white pepper shrub, resulting in a vivacious drink. A Salvador Dali mixes gin, Campari, lemon, lemongrass and sesame – blessedly heavy, almost textural, with the sesame, though I tasted little lemongrass.

Thankfully, one of the Sac’s best restaurants is also a great place to drink.

SPIRITS SELECTION

CORTI BROTHERS

Corti Brothers

Corti Brothers

From the exterior, Corti Brothers looks like the 1940′s-era grocery store it is, a bit dingy and plain in a nondescript area of Sacramento. Besides boasting an old school deli (take a number and expect a bit of wait) churning out hearty sandwiches, Corti surprises with solid beer and wine sections and an unexpectedly dense spirits selection – the best in the area. This is not an elevated liquor store like Cask in San Francisco or Hi-Time in So Cal, but it may be the best grocery store liquor selection I’ve ever seen. There’s an impressive array of small batch spirits, amari from Italy, Eastern European liqueurs and other rarities one would not expect to find in a place like this.

COFFEE

One of 2 Temple Coffee locations visited

One of 2 Temple Coffee locations visited

Find Sac’s best artisan, third wave coffee at Temple, Insight Coffee, or local’s favorite, Chocolate Fish. Insight in particular is obviously hipster and trendy (think artful graffiti, ubiquitous beards and handlebar mustaches, Chemex and Hario v60′s lining the walls) but the coffee is strong at all three coffee houses, providing a robust fix whether you order a cold brew or a pour over.

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Sep
01
2013

Bibliophile

Best Drink Books of 2013

Article by Virginia Miller

Here are some of the best or noteworthy drink books released this year so far, with one (Whiskey Women) out in October 2013.

THE COCKTAIL LAB – Tony Conigliaro ($29.99)

Tony Conigliaro BookLondon’s experimental cocktail genius, Sicilian Tony Conigliaro, blessed drink aficionados with his book, Drinks, last year in the UK, just released this summer in the US under the name, The Cocktail Lab: Unraveling the Mysteries of Flavor and Aroma in Drink, with Recipes. Updated with ounce measurements for an American audience, the artful book captures an intense level of experimentation that has made Conigliaro the Ferran Adria of cocktails, Adria being one of the chefs Conigliaro visited and learned from in his early days of research.

Conigliaro presents approachable recipes and alternatives for those who don’t possess sous vide, Rotavapor or centrifuge equipment he often works with. In fact, The Cocktail Lab is a fascinating read because of Conigliaro’s scientific and culinary research. Whether exploring the oft neglected realm of aroma with peer Audrey Saunders or learning from the great restaurants of the world (like Adria’s El Bulli or England’s The Fat Duck), his level of analysis is meticulous. He pushes the boundaries of what drink can be, delving into flavor, aroma and liquid form in unequaled ways.

He founded one of the most exciting bar menus in the world at 69 Colebrooke Row and later Zetter Townhouse, two of my favorite bars in London. I’ll never forget my visit to Drink Factory, his experimental lab in Pink Floyd’s old recording studio. Just as in a visit to his lab, his book delves into straightforward-yet-complex recipes, like a sweet broiled lemon margarita or a white truffle martini. Conigliaro explores texture and taste, whether working with seaweed in a Dirty Martini by the Sea, or taking on the greatest brunch cocktail, a Ramos Gin Fizz, moving it in new directions with Italian almond milk and maraschino liqueur.

The Cocktail Lab won Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards this July, being the kind of book that inspires just by glancing through it. It also remains a useful compendium of intricate yet approachable (often no more than three ingredients) cocktails.

The DRUNKEN BOTANIST: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks – Amy Stewart ($19.95)

Drunken BotanistA book that has taken cocktail and spirits geeks by storm this year, The Drunken Botanist, is Amy Stewart’s impressive tome to all things herbal and botanical, a detailed walk through history, uses, and engaging stories of plants, fruits and vegetables used to make alcohol.

From apple varietals used for cider to a thorough exploration of gin botanicals, Stewart uncovers plants with a botanist’s eye and a cocktail/spirit lovers’ appreciation. In fact, Stewart succeeds in writing a book more comprehensive than any yet seen on the subject, while keeping a lighthearted tone that offers something for a wide range of readers, from budding bartender to lifelong gardener and herb grower. No wonder it’s a New York Times bestseller.

WHISKEY WOMEN – Fred Minnick ($26.95)

Whiskey WomenFred Minnick’s Whiskey Women attempts what the group Bourbon Women seeks to achieve: “… to take back something they [women] had lost – a lady’s rightful place in whiskey history.”

Going back to the Sumerian women who invented beer, and the Egyptian woman who created the alembic still, Minnick confirms that women have been behind the greatest strides in alcohol – without receiving credit for it. Well-researched stories from hundreds of years back are fascinating tales of innovation, oppression, corruption and pioneering acts initiated by or inflicted on women in the name of alcohol.

Minnick digs into “tough Irish” and “aquavit-women” with respectful attention. There are stories of women-run distilleries like the very successful Mary Jane Blair Distillery, and of female moonshiners and outlaws, distilling since their teens.  No account of alcohol and women could leave out Prohibition, largely aided by the suffrage movement in reaction to rampant poverty, crime and debauchery often traced to alcoholic husbands. Minnick contrasts Temperance Women with a chapter, Women Moonshiners and Bootleggers, a riveting expose of women who kept booze alive during Prohibition. He comes full circle with Repeal Women Saving Whiskey, telling the story of Pauline Sabin, a Prohibition supporter who ended up being a crucial figure in its repeal.

Modern day whisk(e)y is not neglected, with stories of female master blenders (like Rachel Barrie, Helen Mulholland, Angela D’Orazio), executives and business women, or The First Lady of Scotch, Bessie Williamson, a secretary at Laphroaig who saved the distillery from military takeover and was instrumental in ushering in the demand for single malt vs. blends.

Whiskey Women brings praise and acknowledgement where it is due. Coming from a male writer, it speaks even louder, an enjoyable read of thoughtfully-assembled facts and stories illuminating the forgotten women of apothecaries and distilleries past.

AMERICAN WINE: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines & Wineries of the United States – Jancis Robinson & Linda Murphy ($50)

American WineA lovely coffee table book, American Wine explores the US wine revolution of the past few decades. Wineries across the country are grouped by region. In keeping with volume, quality and influence, the book certainly dominates in California, Oregon, and Washington, but covers winemakers from New York’s Finger Lakes to Hawaii.

With over 7,000 American wine producers today (merely 440 in 1970), British writer Jancis Robinson and Sonoma-based Linda Murphy, deftly weave through key moments in US wine history and noteworthy wineries via photos, 54 maps, bios, and stories. Robinson is the writer of The Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine, while Murphy was the wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times‘ wine website, so one can be assured of an expert exploration of American wine with global perspective.

Photo: anillustratedguidetococktails.com

Photo: anillustratedguidetococktails.com

AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE to COCKTAILS: 50 Classic Cocktail Recipes, Tips and Tales – Orr Shtul, Illustrations by Elizabeth Graeber ($20)

With whimsical artwork and a humorous, conversational tone, An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails ($20) is a fun, almost childlike, little guide to classic cocktail basics.

For the advanced fan, there are few new recipes or discoveries, and yet it’s an enjoyable collection and reminder of cocktail lore for the expert, as it is a useful compilation and introduction for the novice.

The illustrations and playful tone make cocktail history and education in staple recipes a pleasure.

THE CRAFT of GIN – Aaron J. Knoll & David T. Smith ($25)

CraftofGinCoverThe Craft of Gin ($21.25) is a useful overview of all things gin, from digging into typical botanicals used and where they’re sourced around the globe, to tasting notes on many craft gins from the US, UK and beyond.

Knoll and Smith study gin methodically and rigorously, exploring hundreds of gins in their websites, The Gin is In (Knoll) and Summer Fruit Cup (Smith). Besides an overview of gin history, they also interview a number of gin distillers of small, craft brands, and there’s a section on gin’s favorite companion, tonics.

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Written by in: Bibliophile | Tags: ,
Jul
15
2013

The Latest

Deviled eggs and smoked duck popcorn in a wooden Gascon shoe

Deviled eggs and smoked duck popcorn in a wooden Gascon shoe

Transporting New Gascon Wine Bar
from Michelin-Starred Chef

Photos & Article by Virginia Miller

AQUITAINE, Financial District (175 Sutter St. between Lick Place & Kearny St., 415-402-5290)

Pressed tin ceiling glows w/ artful lighting

Pressed tin ceiling glows with artful lighting

We lost San Francisco’s great, historic spirits shop, John Walker & Co. But the former storefront has been reinvented in what could have been just another wine bar. One-month-old newcomer, Aquitaine, is a stand-out wine bar and restaurant, transporting me straight to Europe. Opened by Michelin-starred chef extraordinaire, Laurent Manrique (whose cooking I relished during his days at legendary Aqua), the space is comfortably funky, eclectic, warmed by yellows, woods, and unique light fixtures glowing off a pressed tin ceiling.

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Magret of duck

Aquitaine serves an impressive wine list of uncommon varietals from Gascony, France’s southwest corner where Manrique hails from. Here I’ve sipped less familiar varietals like dry, white 2011 Bru-Bache Gros Manseng ($12), a stunningly earthy, crisp varietal with a mushroom-y nose. Though the wine list veers French, another acidic beauty is a 2012 Apaltagua Carmenere Rose from Colchagua Valley, Chile, while I’m crazy about a wine from one of my favorite Napa producers of the past few years, Forlorn Hope. 2007 Forlorn Hope Cadets Petit Verdot ($18) is a Gascon-style red made from 100% Petit Verdot grown in Suisun Valley near Sacramento.

Smoked duck popcorn or calamari served in a traditional Gascon wooden shoe

Smoked duck popcorn or calamari served in a traditional Gascon wooden shoe

Transporting interior

Transporting interior

Expecting basic (read: unexciting) charcuterie and cheese/wine bar fare, I should have known better with Manrique involved. The food made quite a statement from Executive Chef Patrick Colson. Grignoter (bites) are available all day, while larger plates and appetizers are available after 5:30pm.

Similar to Dutch wooden shoes, here wood Gascony peasant shoes are lined with paper, acting as serving receptacles for smoked duck popcorn ($5) laced with decadent hunks of duck meat, or tender, herb-redolent calamari: calamars persillades ($13). Both are menu highlights, beautiful with a glass of wine.

IMG_0179

Escouton Landais

As satisfying as Italian polenta or Southern grits, Escouton Landais ($16) is the Gascon version: fine-milled corn flour, rich and creamy with Pyrenees cheese, topped with rosemary and cherry tomatoes. Magret of duck ($28 for two) is an arresting presentation. Roasted on the bone, the duck’s neck elegantly drapes over the plate, graced in savory shallot marmalade. The plate rests dramatically on a bed of twigs piled atop a Gascon rooftop tile. Attention to detail is impressive.

Inviting basement

Inviting basement

Just as touches from the entire Aquitaine region appear (Pyrenees mountains to Gascony), so is Aquitaine’s famed wine region, Bordeaux, acknowledged, particularly in dessert.

h

Iles Flottantes

Traditional Bordeaux canneles are doused in Armagnac Pruneaux creme ($9), while fresh, dark berries float in a Bordeaux wine/vanilla syrup ($7). Though meringue or custard-like desserts don’t typically call to me, my top dessert choice here is Iles Flottantes ($7), essentially a floating island (the definition of iles flottantes) of soft, poached meringue (traditionally made from egg whites, sugar, vanilla extract) in a pool of warm crème anglaise. It’s light yet simultaneously decadent.

Head down to comfy couches in Aquitaine’s glowing basement with a glass of sweet Floc de Gascogne to finish. As with my favorite European cafes and worldwide haunts, this space invites lingering over stimulating conversation with a close friend or lover.

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Written by in: The Latest | Tags: ,
Jul
15
2013

Around the Bay

Sunset on the Jenner coastline

Sunset on the Jenner coastline

REMOTE SONOMA COASTLINE:
Weekending at TIMBER COVE INN

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

The historic Timber Cove Inn

The historic Timber Cove Inn

Driving north up Highway 1 along the Sonoma Coast to Jenner feels worlds away from San Francisco or even “typical” Wine Country towns. Though I’ve lived in the Bay Area over 12 years, weekending and day-tripping in remote towns all over, I had not driven this stretch of coast further north from Bodega Bay, well south of Mendocino. As with the rest of Highway 1 and Sonoma County, it’s an inspiring, if slow, drive. Taking in rocky coasts, dramatic waves, rolling, green hills, farmland and vineyards is absolutely rejuvenating.

View from my living room

View from my living room

A June weekend away at historic Timber Cove Inn, particularly as they celebrated their 50th anniversary, was the ideal way to experience this remote stretch of California coastline. The closest town (and ATM machine) is a 30 minute drive away. Once you arrive, you become enveloped by the waves, moonlight, sunrise and birds cruising the coastline.

Magic evenings around the campfire

Magic evenings around the campfire

Timber Cove celebrated their June 1963 opening with a weekend of festivities: a “Vintage & Vino” classic car show and wine tasting, Friday night live jazz, and an afternoon cocktail session from spirits educator (and friend) Danny Ronen. Encouraged to dress retro/vintage if so desired, I sported my everyday wardrobe. Evenings around the campfire are a communal affair where guests of the hotel converge. I found myself sharing a dram of whisk(e)y and cigars with friends and strangers… a highlight of the visit.

Spirits education & cocktail hour with Danny Ronen

Spirits education & cocktail hour with Danny Ronen

Though there is a dated aspect to the hotel, it is charmingly so, from the warm, open lobby with massive stone fireplace to giant stones lining the restaurant wall. The spirit of the 1960′s hasn’t left the place, keeping it humbly appealing as it remains pampering. AS part of a media weekend for the anniversary celebration, I did not stay in the recently remodeled rooms overlooking the cove but did take a peek in that wing where remodeled rooms are modern and refined, boasting stunning views.

Timber Cove's cozy lobby

Timber Cove’s cozy lobby

My roomy suite was upstairs off the lobby with a living room jutting out and ocean vistas viewable from windows on three sides. There was a fireplace, our own private deck and absolutely stunning views of the sea. Entering the room felt like a retreat, cradled by the wind and an eternal ocean skyline. Curling up on the couch with a book, listening to the waves as you fall asleep or gazing at the lush, green coast from the deck with a cappuccino in the morning, is healing.

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Fresh-caught seafood – a highlight at Alexander’s

Though far from any restaurants or options but the hotel’s restaurant, Alexander’s, I was surprised at the quality of the dinners. Breakfasts entailed long waits for average food, but dinners yielded multiple delights from Chef William Oliver, originally from Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. His CIA (Culinary Institute of America) education and years as Sous Chef with Chef Joachim Splichal show in his skill with local ingredients and seafood.

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Eggplant Parmesan

I sampled Alexander’s $50, three-course anniversary dinner, available all June, a fresh interpretation of dishes from their original menu in 1963, including photos and history outlined in a special menu.

Juicy, 5-spice pork ribs

Juicy, five-spice pork ribs

On the regular dinner menu, even common dishes, like fresh Dungeness crab with grapefruit, is impeccably fresh and generous, enlivened by pink peppercorn dressing and fennel puree. Asian-style, five spice pork ribs ($13) are also the kind of dish I’ve seen often over the years but here they are juicy and well-prepared in sweet chili glaze with Asian coleslaw.

Burrata & Heirloom tomato salad

Burrata & Heirloom tomato salad

Roasted duck breast ($32) is appropriately medium rare and tender, brightened by tart Bing cherries, comforting alongside German spaetzle and fava beans. Unexpectedly, an elevated rendition of eggplant parmesan ($21) was a favorite, serendipitous after a discussion about my Jersey years and craving for “red sauce”, American-Italian cuisine smothered in sauce and cheese. This was a Cali-fresh version that remained blessedly cheesy with creamy house ricotta and mozzarella, balanced by sweet-savory tomato sauce made with Heirloom tomatoes just coming into season.

Visiting

Visiting Fort Ross Vineyards

The wine menu is heavy on nearby, local Sonoma Coast wines, particularly from what is Sonoma’s newest AVA, Fort Ross-Seaview, including wines like the highly lauded Flowers Chardonnay. Of the few vineyards in the region, most are not open to visitors, but I had an appointment at Fort Ross Vineyards, about a 20 minute drive up the mountainside at 1500 feet. A striking orange-rust-colored winery – matching the gates to the property – sits on a crest surrounded by trees, with views to the ocean. Fort Ross is known for their Pinot, so I tasted through various Pinot Noir vintages, as well as Chardonnay, Rose and Pinotage (the latter a nod to South Africa – Pinotage territory – where husband/wife owners, Lester and Linda, are from).

Timber Cove is a retreat from the city or anywhere, really. One that actually feels like a retreat: removed and restorative.

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Jan
01
2013

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NEW YEAR SIPS

Article by Virginia Miller

Ringing in the new year is all about celebratory imbibing, but the sometimes dreary days of January likewise call for a cheering pour. It’s a month of planning towards a new year, reaching out for fresh horizons… good reasons to have something quality in the glass, whatever the category. Here are a few worthy bottles, from sake, wine, whisky, even cocktail bitters.

Bitters

Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters (photo source: www.brooklynbitters.com)

Medicinal and mixable, the glut of bitters released the last few years had  oversaturation has been achieved. But Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters ($21 per bottle) stands out in recent years. Made in Brooklyn, the focus is on seasonal flavors like popular Meyer lemon, rhubarb or Sriracha. Heat radiates from their savory-sweet blackberry mole or spicy charred pineapple bitters, or a brisk, bitter chill from Icelandic bitters. These are some of the more inventive, elegant bitters on the market.

A couple additional stand-out bitter flavors: The Bitter End’s vibrant curry bitters ($24) made in Sante Fe and put to perfect use by  Mike Ryan at Sable Kitchen and Bar in Chicago in his Short Circuit cocktail with cachaca, manzanilla sherry and Kalani coconut liqueur. From Canada, Bittered Sling’s plum root beer evokes a sweet sarsaparilla.

Whisky

Nikka Whisky is blessedly and finally distributed in the US through San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling, just releasing two new Nikka imports – hopefully many more to come. My favorite of the two, Yoichi Single Malt ($129), is a splurge-worthy, 15 year old whisky distilled on the island of Hokkaido from pot stills heated with finely powdered natural coal, a rare traditional method. Though more akin to a Highland-style Scotch, it nods to Islay with a hint of peat alongside a balanced brightness. On the more affordable side is Taketsuru Pure Malt ($69.99): a 12 year pure malt whisky blended in vats from Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. The mountain air and river water humidity of the northern Honshu region where Miyagikyo is produced adds silky, ripe pear dimensions.

This November’s Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza in San Francisco (held in 13 major markets), offered tastings of expected Scotches. A few special drams were the fabulous Scotch Malt Whisky Society‘s 8 year Ardbeg Cask No. 33.113, a salty, smoky Scotch young with exotic fruit. The Single Malts’ Auchriosk 20 year Scotch exhibits tropical vividness, though a classic beauty. It was a joy to taste The Balvenie Tun 1401/Batch #6, the youngest whisky in its blend being over 20 yrs old. This rarity expresses layers of fruit, vanilla and spice, lively despite age.

Sake

Sake produced in a town outside Portland? SakeOne is a range of affordable sakes (those mentioned below $13-15)  made from rice grown nearby in Sacramento, CA. There’s Momokawa organic sakes, like a clean Junmai Ginjo or creamy Pearl Sake redolent of banana and coconut, or the smooth, balanced G Joy Sake.

Sangria

Despite low quality bottled sangria you may have tried before, Eppa (found at Bay Area Whole Foods and numerous shops across the country, $12 a bottle) is a refreshing mix of pomegranate, acai, blueberry and blood orange juices with Mendocino Cabernet and Syrah. Trying it chilled over fresh cut fruit this holiday season with family, it tastes homemade,  lush and dark, not too sweet, but just right.

Indy Spirits

It was the best year yet at the San Francisco Indy Spirits Expo last month. A number of newcomers merely await West Coast distribution but are available online. With a slew of “craft” tonics released lately, each using real cinchona bark (quinine) without the natural color removed, Tomr’s Tonic is one of the better I’ve tasted. 100% organic and made in New Jersey, Tom Richter’s lively tonic combines citrus, herbs, cane sugar, with cinchona. The tonic mixes beautifully with a number of gins I sampled it with at home.

Fabrizia Limoncello is produced in New Hampshire with California and South American citrus by two Italian-American brothers. Balanced, fresh, tart (unlike their sweet Blood Orange liqueur), this limoncello is a step up from most. SW4 London Dry Gin, produced in the Clapham neighborhood of London and imported through Luxe Vintages in Florida, is a smooth, solid gin made from 12 botanicals, including lemon peel and cassia.

Wine

Craving the sparkling especially at this time of year, two great value bottles ($15 each) are Nino Franco’s Rustico Prosecco, dry yet lively, clean and tight, and Coppo’s Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont, Italy, its vivd effervescence cutting through intense sweetness, vibrant with brunch or spicy food. For after-dinner dessert wine, Donnafugata’s “Ben Rye” ($45 for half bottle) from Sicily, gives off a rich, raisin-like hue in the glass, made of Zibibbo grapes from the island of Pantelleria. To taste it’s lushly elegant, with a balanced sweetness and nuttiness.

At an industry tasting this fall with Sommelier David Lynch at his restaurant St. Vincent, we explored wines of the fascinating, warm-weather Consorzio Tutela Morellino Di Scansano region of southernmost Tuscany (established as a D.O.C.G. in 2007). I learned the region requires its wines be made with a minimum of 85% Sangiovese grapes. A 2010 Tenuta Pietramora di Collefagiano stood out, unusual at 100% Sangiovese. Its pleasantly funky nose gave way to cherry, even chocolate/earthy notes, balanced by soft acidity.

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Dec
15
2012

Wandering Traveler

Punching down fermenting grapes with Stelzle family at Venteux Vineyards

Fall in PASO ROBLES

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

Zip-lining over vineyards - one of many activities at extensive ranch, Ancient Peaks Winery/Margarita Adventures www.ancientpeaks.com

An October week in what has historically been a Central California ranching (some say “cow”) town, Paso Robles is now best known for wine, maintaining its small town, cowboy spirit with a thriving wine scene that has everyone from natives to the creators of American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance opening wineries (I visited the gamut). Ever since wines like Justin’s Isosceles put the laid back region on the map in the 1990′s, I’ve been coming to the region, watching it change yet thankfully remain low key despite steady winery growth.

Zip-line view at Ancient Peaks Winery

This recent trip was my longest and most concentrated, visiting multiple wineries each day, dining with a number of winemakers each night. The first thing almost all of them talked about was of the unusual camaraderie and unity of local winemakers, something I witnessed firsthand. Paso is a community housing first time winemakers next to experienced Old and New World winemakers experimenting with a wide range of varietals.

Here are but a few taste snapshots from an action-packed week, where I zip-lined over winery grounds and dined on restaurant patios on warm, clear, fall nights.

A TASTING ROOM LIKE NO OTHER: Herman Story

Hanging with sweetheart dogs at Herman Story

Housing a well-loved legless dog and a puppy, nostalgic photos of Dad as life-sized wall art, one tiny tasting room, and wines blended from various plots not just in Paso but in other wine regions of California? Welcome to the one and only Herman Story Wines. Owner/winemaker Russell P. From named the winery after his grandfather, sells every bottle, even those that cost more to produce, at $42 each, quickly selling out of his small production wines (most produced in the 200-800 cases a year range). His vision and style is unique – a bit of Americana, rock and roll rebellion, an artist’s eye, with Old West pioneer spirit using all Rhone varietals.

Family photographs as artwork

Though his wines certainly are New World, calling them fruit bombs or limiting them to any California category would be a disservice. Experimenting outside typical expectations, in his Grenache, for example, he plays with Italian charred oak (up to 20%). From says, “Everyone does medium oak – that’s easy. I like to push it to the limit.” He does. The char gives the 2010 On the Road Grenache (my favorite) its toasty nose, though to taste, earthy, berry notes are balanced by a brisk acidity and green notes, not overwhelmed by char. In fact, toast on the nose feels like something you dreamed up in a Southern, BBQ-smoked haze, elusive to the taste. I was delighted to learn the BBQ aromas I was getting were actually coming from somewhere other than my imagination. From also plays with extended maceration (407 days on the skin) in his rare 407 wine, a Syrah, with crazy notes of coconut married to earthy blackberry.

While Herman Story wines could be polarizing, one thing is certain: there’s no other wines or wine tasting experience like it in Paso… or anywhere else.

GRATIFYING LOCAL MEAL: McPhee’s Grill

McPhee's sous vide double cut pork chop

With the greatest sense of place and history of anywhere I’ve dined in the region over the years, McPhee’s Grill in Templeton was the most satisfying meal of my week. Massive steaks and down home staff in a warm, multi-room restaurant (like dining in a friend’s rambling ranch house) felt like a snapshot of the region’s soul. A massive double cut pork chop is hearty but gourmet, ridiculously juicy cooked low-and-slow sous vide in an ancho chile apricot glaze. A flourless chocolate decadence cake could have been standard, but caramel lime sauce enlivens it.

CHARMING FAMILY B&B: Venteux Vineyards

Venteux's barn

The Stelzle family’s (partnered with the Goldenberg family) charming, 10 acre Venteux Vineyards, marked by a red barn, was the most homey of any winery I visited. It’s a tranquil setting for their cozy B&B, beautifully decorated with old fashioned comforts (clawfoot tub and wrap-around front porch seating) alongside modern sensibilities (sleek wood bar in the communal living area, tasteful decor). Lunch with the family on their porch sipping Viognier and Petite Syrah, followed by punching down fermenting grapes, was one of the more idyllic afternoons I spent in the region.

PIONEERING WINEMAKER KEN VOLK

Tasting wines and the grapes they're made from with Ken Volk at Artisan

Over a multi-course dinner at the East-meets-West restaurant of Artisan off downtown Paso Robles’ town square, I spent much time talking with winemaker Kenneth Volk. His history since 1978 in the region and in Santa Barbara leads other winemakers to herald him as a pioneer and teacher in the region.

His knowledge is encyclopedic, his wines display balance and vision, and he brought fresh clusters of grapes for us to sample alongside bottles produced from those varietals. I particularly enjoyed tasting his whites, like a zippy 2009 Aglianico, and a citrus-laden 2011 Verdelho. Most impressive is the range of varietals he grows and experiments with, like Albarino (the first grown in CA) and one of my favorite Austrian reds, Blaufränkisch.

As we dined on octopus bolognese tossed with cured lemon, another winemaker, the delightful Steve Anglim of Anglim Winery shared his bold-yet-balanced 2008 Grenache, while later in the evening we tasted his rich 2008 Cabernet made from vines over 40 years old.

SMALL BATCH WINES GROWN ON TERRACED HILLSIDES

On terraced vineyard hillside of Caliza Winery

Not unlike tiered vineyards I’ve seen on hillsides in Italy, an afternoon with small brands grown on Caliza Winery’s peaceful grounds was a standout Paso moment. We sipped finished bottles and aging vintages of wines with the hardworking winemakers of Caliza, Brian Benson Cellars and Edmund August wineries on the hillside under the late afternoon sun. Edmund August’s Indelible and Soft Letters wines particularly stood out.

A COUPLE MORE MEMORABLE PASO WINES
From winemaker Vic Roberts’ Victor Hugo Winery (his middle name is actually Hugo), a sweet, port-style Zinfandel, 2009 Quasi Late Harvest Zin ($32), named after author Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo, is a pleasurably musky, sweet, woody dessert wine balanced by acidity.

It was a delight sipping big name winery J. Lohr’s nod to Pomerol, France: a 2006 Cuvee Pom (63% Merlot, Cab, Petit Verdot, splash of Malbec), showing restraint and elegance.

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Sep
15
2012

Imbiber

Burgundy Wine Tasting at SF Wine Center - a class led by Jordan Mackay

FALL WINE ROUND-UP

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

From recommended bottles and fall events in Sonoma to urban wine classes, here’s a few wine tips to start the fall right. Watch Virginia Miller’s Appetite column for restaurants making some of Napa’s best cocktails and more Wine Country dining reviews.

Urban Wine

SF WINE CENTER, 757 Bryant St. between 5th & 6th Sts., 415-655-7300, www.sfwinecenter.com

SF Wine Center's City Room

An in-house wine club, storage facilities, and wine school launched in April, SF Wine Center‘s intimate classes are held in owners Brian and Hillary McGonigle’s inviting City Room. With kitchen, library and comfy leather chairs, it feels more like a friend’s home than a classroom. This room is available for private parties, as is a wood-lined, speakeasy-like room tucked away above the wine storage area – it feels ready for a cigar and a glass of Pinot with a round of cards and good friends.

Tasting Burgundy with Jordan Mackay

This spring, a class led by James Beard award-winning writer and Burgundy expert Jordan Mackay was a walk through regions and wines of Burgundy the best way possible: by tasting a wide range side-by-side. We discussed styles and regions as we sipped nine different wines – a steal considering class price (generally $60-75) vs. costs of wines poured. Tastes ranged from a meaty 2009 Dujac Fils & Pere Cambolle Musigny ($65 a bottle) boasting excellent acidity and earthiness, to a rare 1976 Domaine Leroy Romanee St. Vivant Grand Cru ($500), with sediment and funkiness (it’s a whole cluster wine, after all), and notes of black tea, mushroom, leather, smoke, moss, tart cherry.

Fall classes start up September 25th and sell out quickly. Watch their website for the fall schedule.

BLUXOME, 53 Bluxome St. between 4th & 5th Sts., 415-543-5353, www.bluxomewinery.com

Films of SoMa's wine past on Bluxome's wall

Bluxome Street Winery already wins cool points for being an urban winery with wines actually made here in the city right with grapes from various Sonoma plots.

Already a wine tasting respite, change is afoot with new winemaker Web Marquez, who is also one of three winemakers at Anthill Farms and one of two at C. Donatiello. His early days interning at the excellent Williams Selyem – and in New Zealand and France – give him a balanced perspective on Old and New World wine styles.

Winemaking view

While we have to wait until next year’s bottling to see the results of his approach on Bluxome’s wines, in the meantime we can enjoy a tart 2011 Rose of Pinot Noir or their acidic, balanced 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, or a Chardonnay and three Pinots (all bottles under $45). Taste in their candlelit space while watching winemaking through glass windows under a movie (shining from a brick wall) showcasing San Francisco in pre-1906 quake days when winemaking in the city was common – there were no less than 120 wineries and commercial cellars in SoMa alone. Here’s to Bluxome reviving our rich urban wine history.

Sonoma Events

SLOW FOOD’S FRESH FOOD PICNIC, Santa Rosa 9/15 (11a-6pm)

Pork belly w/ summer squash

In Sonoma County on 9/15 is a foodie’s dream event. Slow Food’s Fresh Food Picnic is a picnic and then some.

Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food himself, flies out from Italy for a rare appearance, while Alice Waters and Nikki Henderson (of Oakland’s People’s Grocery) join him as speakers for the event.

Then there’s the chef line-up. A family-style picnic will be served by Christopher Kostow (Meadowood), Dennis Lee (Namu Gaji), Ryan Farr (4505 Meats), Christopher Kronner (formerly Bar Tartine, Slow Club), Thomas McNaughton (flour+water, Central Kitchen), Christopher Thompson (A16), to name a few.

Carlo Petrini flies out from Italy to speak at Slow Food Picnic in Santa Rosa

There will be tastes from farmers, food artisans and winemakers, local bands, guided hikes and tours of Rancho Mark West, the event’s farm setting.

Proceeds benefit A Thousand Gardens in Africa, a Slow Food International project, and California-based Slow Food initiatives focused on food and farm education.

As a zero waste event, bring your own plates, flatware, and napkins – they provide glassware. Tickets: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/263455.

HARVEST LUNCHES at JORDAN WINERY, Healdsburg, www.jordanwinery.com

Jordan's dreamy, Old World apartments

Jordan is a pioneer in Sonoma’s wine history, started by Tom and Sally Jordan in 1972. These Bordeaux wine lovers built a Bordelais inspired chateau on their 275-acre Alexander Valley vineyard in 1976, a gorgeous structure overseeing the winery’s soothing grounds (tastings by appointment only). With spectacular chateau apartments reserved for overnight guests, the 1100 acre grounds go beyond winery to full working ranch with cattle, chickens, gardens, olive oil groves, and fishing lake with Tiki bar and hammock. As from the beginning, they stay refreshingly focused on only two varietals, a green apple-inflected Chardonnay ($29) and elegant Cabernet ($52 for a bold but balanced 2008 Cab). It’s a family business with son John as CFO, while Rob Davis has been Jordan’s head winemaker for 35 years, since the inaugural vintage in 1976.

Entering the drive at Jordan Winery

You must sign up for their email newsletter and purchase wines to earn points which can be used towards winemaker tours, Christmas library tastings, and harvest lunches, which begin this week and run through mid-October. Harvest season is the most enchanting time in Wine Country, ideal for a family-style, weekday feast alongside winemaking staff and a tour of the grounds during crush season.

Bottle Recommends

K&L Wines, Jug Shop, Bi-Rite, Arlequin, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, SF Wine Trading Co., and D&M, to name a few, offer excellent wine selections in the city.

Family Wineries review?

CALIFORNIA

Au Bon Climat “Hildegard” White Table Wine, Santa Maria Valley
Au Bon Climat’s is one of the state’s great, small wineries – and Hildegard ($35) is one my top California whites. A blend of 55% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Blanc,  5% Aligoté, it’s layered and complex, unfolding with apple, almond, violet. www.aubonclimat.com

Heitz Cellar Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena
Heitz Cellar is one of my longtime Napa favorites for a beautifully balanced, lively Sauvignon Blanc ($19.75), and splurge-worthy Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($110-200) – the far more affordable 2007 Napa Valley Cab ($45) is a worthy substitution. This family-run winery has been going strong since 1964 with Old World balance, one of Napa’s true gems. www.heitzcellar.com

Lucia Vineyards LUCY, Santa Lucia Highlands
Lucia Vineyards’ LUCY ($18) is a a beauty of a rosé boasting zippy acidity pairs well with a wide range of dishes – another Santa Lucia treasure. www.luciavineyards.com

sTatomer Riesling Vandenberg, Santa Barbara
2008 Tatomer Riesling Vandenberg
($24.99), named for the neighboring air force base, is easily one of the best wines in the Santa Barbara region. Maintaining an Old World ethos, dry, crisp, balanced, it still boasts a New World uniqueness. Incredibly balanced, pear and apple skins shine with minerality that’s gorgeous with food. http://tatomerwines.com

Amapola Creek’s 2009 Cuvee Alis, Sonoma Valley
Glen Ellen’s Amapola Creek, from Richard Arrowood (who founded Arrowood Winery), is a small, boutique winery. Cuvee Alis ($48) is named after Richard’s wife, a hand-harvested, unfined and unfiltered blend of 55% Syrah, 45% Grenache, organically grown on a slope of the Mayacamas Mountains on the Arrowood’s 100-acre ranch. The wine gives of a nose of cherry pie, gentle pepper, smoke, tasting of dark berries, spicy meat, with silky tannins and acidic balance. www.amapolacreek.com

EUROPE

Lunch w/ Vidal-Fleury winemaker Guy Sarton du Jonchay

Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva Rosado, Rioja, Spain
One of the best rosés I’ve ever had, 2000 Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva ($30) is not for novices. At 12 years of age, this blend of 60% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo, 10% Viura exhibits a velvety, rosy hue, unfolding with damp, funky, mushroom notes dancing alongside bright blood orange, berries, hazelnuts, rhubarb. It’s so unusual, it pairs beautifully with spicy foods from a range of cuisines. Thanks to sommelier Ted Glennon of Restaurant 1833 in Monterey for introducing me to this stunner, available through K&L Wines. Every time I have it, it’s a pleasure. www.lopezdeheredia.com

Vidal-Fleury Saint Joseph & Muscat, Rhone Valley, France
Vidal-Fleury is produced by winemaker and managing director, Guy Sarton du Jonchay, who understands the balance between New and Old World having made wine in France, Chile, Argentina and Australia. “Old world is terroir… New World is winemakers”, he says, as he pursues a balance of both. Stand-outs are a 2007 Vidal-Fleury Saint Joseph Syrah ($28.99), full, bright, earthy, with dark berry, black tea, pepper, and meaty notes (he only releases best vintages so there will not be a 2008 – 2009 releases next); and 2009 Vidal-Fleury Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise ($18.99), tasting of elderflower, dried apricot, lychee, nuts, with a balanced sweetness and minerality. http://www.vidal-fleury.com

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