I am a self-proclaimed book-nerd, gym-bum, home-chef, and wannabe wine snob.
I first began cooking and baking for health reasons and to accompany my fitness lifestyle. I found the more I knew about what I was putting in my body the more healthy choices I would make. Researching recipes, experimenting in the kitchen, and playing with different flavor profiles, I learned that I have a very strong palate and a personal passion for making — and eating! — tasty food.
When it comes to dining out, I love eating at local, hidden treasures with menus that challenge my mouth and my mind — and there’s no shortage of those in the SF Bay Area.
Then there’s the wine. I have an insatiable curiosity about wine — from grape to glass, a wine’s life is so complex. It must be the book-nerd in me (or my BA in English Literature) that sips and savors to discover a wine’s story: when I can taste the scenery where the grapes grew, breathe in the character developed from the wine-making process, I truly feel I am reading that story. Of course, I believe stories are meant to be shared, and what better way to share the life of a wine than with a companionate meal.
With so many recipes to create, wine to discover, and an abundance of local produce and cuisine, I finally started my own food blog BriscoeBites. It’s in the fix-it stage, so until then you can follow my foodie adventures on Twitter and see what I’m cooking up on Instagram.
Cin-Cin and Cheers!
Like I said in my preview post, San Francisco is a hub of fresh produce. Better yet, some of the country’s most innovative chefs seem to recognize this, setting up shop all along the peninsula. And with so much good food and so much real talent, it’s hard to taste everything this part of Northern Cali has to offer. Luckily, that’s the whole premise of Eat Drink SF — get the best bites and booze of the Bay in one place so the public can sip and sample the day away.
Now, I’ve struggled with how to describe this event because it’s, in all honesty (and to a writer’s chagrin) hard to capture with words. There’s such a large variety of cuisine and cocktails; it is a bit overwhelming — for the mind as well as the stomach. So I’ve decided the best way to share my experience is with a few photos of my standout samples.
Shrimp Escabeche served with shallots, cilantro, celery, and a coconut foam – The Market
This dish was my first bite of the day. Off to a great start with familiar flavors in a unique combination.
Chilled scallops garnished with a corn puree that tastes like sweet buttercream, blueberries for freshness, need I say more?
Someone recently asked me if I liked caviar. My response was that I hadn’t had it enough to like or dislike it. I’d like to update that answer — love it.
White Sturgeon Mousseline (garnished with caviar) – Michael Mina
I never thought I’d have the chance to eat at Michelin-star restaurant Michael Mina. Well, if this bite is any indication of what their full menu features, I better put my name down now. This sample is truly what food critics mean when they say a dish has “balance of flavor” — sweet, salty, sour, spice, and that elusive umami, all tucked into one delicious mouth-full.
The longest line of the day and I can tell you why. While there were quite a few Asian and Asian-inspired samples out there, this one tops them all. Pork meat that just melts in the mouth, fried rice cake delicately coats the palate with oil, while the Kimchi adds just the right amount of funk. And that seasoned Nori? Well, I could just eat a bag of that like potato chips. Brava Chef Sharon Nahm who was working the booth herself — at lightning speed, I might add, keeping up with all of us greedy customers.
I love me some Wente wine, so I was so pleased to see that their Executive Chef, Chef Mike Ward, was at EDSF representing The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards. And this simple smoked fish garnished with a bit of sweet from the raspberry coulis and a bit of salty with that (oh yes) caviar is the other dish in my two-way tie for the dish of the day.
Chef Mike Ward gets bonus points for posing for a Silly Stacy Selfie. Cheers, friend!
Tasting all this food, yeah you’re going to get thirsty — luckily there was no shortage of craft cocktails, beers, and wines available.
Sipsmith London Dry Gin, Earl Grey Tea, vermouth, citrus, and blackberries make up this funky little cocktail. I loved the addition of the Earl Grey tea, which truly added a woodsy aroma and aftertaste. But my favorite part was that you could taste the gin — and all those other elements just uplifted that classic, pseudo-sweet flavor. Well met, mixologists.
My favorite cocktail of the day goes to the Anchor Distillery’s “Old Tom & The Sea.” Something about the mix of the sweet cherry liquor and the sour lemon juice just felt fun and fresh. And, like the London Punch, there was the right combination of all those other ingredients, and they highlight the purity of the gin. I find so many cocktails work to hide the alcohol, but this one uplifted it and made me appreciate it as a form of produce. Bonus: they gave us the recipe. Adults, try this at home:
A very close second for the cocktail of the day goes to Elisa Gallardo and Carlos Yturria of The Treasury for their gin, kiwi, cucumber and lemon concoction called “Flash.” So refreshing — almost smoothie-esque — this is the drink you’d reach for if you didn’t want to taste the alcohol. There’s enough Gin to add a bit of sweetness to the otherwise sour fruits, but not so much that you felt like you were drinking Gin. So, depending on what you’re looking for in a cocktail, this may be the one for you.
Of course, for those who to prefer to get high on life, there was an abundance of non-alcoholic beverages to sip and savour as well. My personal fav was the make-your-own herbal spritzer booth presented by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). A little bit of sparkling water and a shot of rosemary infused simple syrup, and you’ve got a fun mocktail the whole family can enjoy. I’ll drink to that.
But what about the wine, Stacy??? Yes, Wine Enthusiast did present a few wineries to share their current releases. Admittedly, most were common names you could easily find in stores. And why not? If you try something you like, you’re going to want to be able to buy it. But the real wine party was at the SF Wine School presentation theatre.
There were three different classes to attend, but with so much going on I had to choose just one. And this Cali girl just couldn’t deny the opportunity to learn even more about excellent oaky Chards.
Well, they weren’t all oaky, and they weren’t all California either. In fact, we had the opportunity to taste a Chardonnay from France, one South Africa (that was new to me!), and one from California. We learned that different Chardonnays present in a variety of ways depending on how much and what kinds of oak is used during barrel aging. Our presenter, Chris Gaither, AS, even took us through some wine-nerdom as he explained the role of malolactic fermentation. Honestly, I wish the class could have been longer, but I guess I’ll have to start thinking seriously about the CWS cert from SF Wine School.
Silly Stacy Selfie Featuring: Chris Gaither, AS, Stacy Briscoe, and David Glancy (SF Wine School Founder)
Stacy and David sporting their cute SF Wine School Tatts — Cheers!
For more information about any of the vendors, restaurants, or sponsors, or to learn more about Eat Drink SF, please visit the Eat Drink SF website.
I am way too excited to be attending the 7th Annual GLIDE Legacy Gala at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom this Saturday, August 13. Each year, GLIDE brings together Bay Area young professionals and philanthropists to celebrate the year’s most accomplished entrepreneurs.
GLIDE, a non-profit org located in SF’s Tenderloin, works to serve the homeless, low-income, and disenfranchised by providing helpful programs such as free meals, HIV/Hep C testing and counseling, assisted living, domestic violence counseling and abatement, substance abuse recovery, and even childcare and youth educational programs.
This year, GLIDE recognizes three unique individuals who’ve contributed to breaking social marginalization barriers throughout our Bay Area community.
Van Jones is the President and Co-Founder of Dream Corps, which promotes initiatives that “close prison doors and open doors of opportunity.” Current initiatives include #cut50, decreasing the current prison population; #YesWeCode, assisting under-privileged men and women in finding work in the tech industry; and #GreenForAll, which works to take money from the big market polluters and put it into the hands of those who need it most.
Sarah Shourd is an author and prison rights advocate. After being held in solitary confinement for 410 days in 2009 – 2010 under the Iranian government, she now writes, speaks, and advocates against the use of prolonged solitary confinement in the U.S. You can read her story in The Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran.
Felicia Horowitz, the 2016 Janice Mirikitani Legacy Award recipient, is a human rights advocate dedicated to LGBTQ rights, food justice, harm reduction, and violence prevention. She’s worked with marginalized communities all over the world and seeks to unite people through tech, community, and culture.
But ‘Why So Serious…?’
Yes, these philanthropists may be working to cure very serious social justice issues, but remember this is a celebration of their achievements thus far and encouragement for future movements. The event will also feature live music, DJs, and dancing.
And luckily for foodies like me, there’s a whole host of local vendors to provide tasty treats and winning drinks:
Want to hang out with some of the Bay Area’s most innovative minds and hearts? There are still tickets available for both general admission and VIP access until August 13.
Can’t make it to the event, but want to contribute to a good cause? The GLIDE Legacy Committee will host an online fundraiser. Visit ebay.com/glidesf to bid on music, food, travel, sports, and lifestyle experiences.
I know everyone always claims their hometown food is the best — but when you live where fresh bay water meets sea salt and sand, it’s hard to deny that San Francisco is where it’s at when it comes to fresh produce. Now add the fact that some of our country’s most innovative chefs set up shop all along the peninsula, and us San Fran kids really have something to be proud of. So this year, I’m joining the crowd to celebrate the best of the Bay’s homegrown food, world-class chefs, restaurants, somms, mixologists — and all things to eat and drink in SF — at Eat Drink SF 2016.
About the Eat Drink SF
Each year, Eat Drink SF invites foodies, wine-nerds, culinary enthusiasts, and just plain hungry and thirsty people to meet and greet with top local chefs, bartenders, and sommeliers. The three-day event, running from Thursday, August 26 – 28, will include over 160 restaurants participants who will provide tasty treats, cooking demonstrations, and more.
Those looking for a little more to munch on will certainly be able to find it. Participating restaurants include:
1300 on Fillmore, Alembic, Brasserie S&P, Cafe Claude, Cathead’s BBQ, Chiaroscuro, Cross Hatch Eatery, Delfina Pizzeria, Dragon Beaux, E&O Kitchen and Bar, Gaspar Brasserie, Gitane, Hog & Rocks, Humphry Slocombe, Huxley, Konjoe, Lemonade, Luce, Michael Mina, Precita Park Cafe, Roka Akor, Souvla, Spaghetti Bros., SPIN San Francisco, Terzo, The Keystone, The Market, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, Tratto, Zero Zero
If you’re interested in learning a few kitchen tips and tricks, you’re certainly going to want to check out the Main Stage where lectures, demonstrations, and Q&A with industry experts will be featured all day. Check out the Events Page for details.
And let’s not forget about us drink enthusiasts! This year, Eat Drink SF will feature over 70 bars, distilleries, breweries, and wineries who will provide the events drinks as well as host tastings and seminars. Featured beverages will include:
Bass Note Sangria, Beaujolais Wines, Bodega Norton, Buena Vista Cafe, Ca’ Momi Winery, Carpano Antica Formula, Chateau Gassier, Concannon Vineyard, Fernet Branca, FloWater, Joel Gott Winery, Kikori Whiskey, Korbel California Champagne, Junipero Gin, Mr. Espresso, Provenance Vineyards, Pure Leaf Iced Tea: Tea House Collection, Purity Organics, Robert Mondavi Winery, SIMI Winery, Singani 63, Sipsmith Independent Spirits, San Francisco Brewers Guild, S. PELLEGRINO® Sparkling Natural Mineral Water, Spirit Works Distillery, Stella Artois, Stella Artois Cidre,Templeton Rye, Teeling Whiskey, The Glenlivet, The Hess Collection, Torres Brandy, Trinchero Napa Valley, Trumer Pils, Tullamore D.E.W, Wente Vineyards, Woodford Reserve, Zaya Rum, and Zodiac Vodka.
And just like the culinary kids, pros in the beverage industry will be hosting several educational seminars throughout the day as well in the San Francisco Wine School Beverage Classroom. I’m personally excited for Saturday’s Chardonnay: Burgundy, Butter & Beyond with Chris Gaither, AS.
Oh, but I do hope the SF Wine School brings more cute tattoos…
Hungry for more? Tickets are still available on the Eat Drink SF website. And whether you’re there for just one day or the whole weekend, I guarantee you won’t go thirsty or hungry.
Ok, let’s download for a second and just talk about where Paso Robles is and what that means in regards to wine.
Since most people think of SF and LA when they think of California, we’ll use these two major metropolises as reference points. Paso Robles is South of San Francisco by quite a bit (about 200 miles, or a 4 to 5-hour drive), and North of Los Angeles by about the same distance (around 200 miles, but about a 3 to 4-hour drive).
So the answer to “Where is Paso Robles in Napa Valley” is — it’s not. Napa and Sonoma — the two big names in California wine — are North of SF. Nowhere near Paso.
Ok, so now that we know where we are on the map let’s talk about what that means. The other thing to note is the Paso Robles AVA’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The most Western section of the AVA is just about 6 miles from the water. For the most part, the AVA benefits from two extreme weather conditions: hot days when the ocean air is kept at bay due to the mountainous Santa Lucia Highlands, and cool nights when that warm front sucks in the fog to settle amidst the vineyards (technical term: diurnal fluctuation). This weather is a good thing for grape-growers because while the hotter temps allow for the fruit to ripen with a full body of juice and sugars, the cooler temps help slow that process down so the grapes won’t bud too early (which can lead to overripe, rotten, and often broken grapes). And this is a good thing for winemakers, especially those looking to create Rhone-inspired varietals, as this weather pattern is most akin to that found in the vineyards of Bordeaux.
But remember, Paso Robles is made up of rolling hills and valleys, so those vineyards on the Eastern side will get less of those cool temps and more of that warm weather, yielding different successful grape varietals. In between these two extremities are vast variations in climate, topography, and soils (read: terroir).
The other thing that makes the Paso Robles AVA so unique is its soil: there are over 46 different types of soil throughout the area. The most desirable — and lucky for winemakers on the West side of the AVA, the most dominant — are the calcareous soils which contain higher soil pH values than other California wine regions (layman’s terms: good acidity in the soil = good acidity in the wine). And, because of Paso Robles’ hilly terrain, rainwater can flow, gather, and soak into the soil without any supplemental irrigation systems, so many winemakers can practice dry-farming methods (good for the drought situation).
So there’s a bit of context about how and why Paso Robles is its own unique AVA. And the winemakers in the area not only know this, but they celebrate it in kind of an old-school way. Whether talking to a small-lot producer or a “major chain,” they all seem to take pride in creating a wine that speaks of their particular plot in Paso.
Previous to the Grande Tasting, I attended a seminar (wine-nerds unite!) featuring different wineries representing various areas of Paso, winemaking techniques, and (of course) a glass of wine exemplifying those features. And, I’m going, to be honest, I stopped by Eberle Winery’s table to talk to winemaker Chris Eberle (no relation to the founder) because his wine was — for me — the best of the bunch.
Eberle Winery is situated on the Western side of the Paso Robles AVA, benefitting from those ideally warm days and cool nights, as well as absorbent soils.
2015 Eberle Viognier
About the Wine: With the use of two separate vineyards, Chris was able to create a well-rounded balance of fruit, acid, and minerals in the 2015 Eberle Viognier — wine that truly exemplifies the Paso Robles terroir.
Flavor Profile: Pale yellow in color, this 100% Viognier gives off a sweet aroma of honey and soft fruits (peaches, apricots) that let you know these grapes grew underneath a summer-like sun. Conversely, on the tongue, the wine provides a crisp acidity that opens the palate and gives way to a tarter taste of fresh lemon zest. The finish is long and lingering with a solid amount of minerality that thoroughly cleanses the palate.
Suggested Food Pairing: Fresh salt-water seafood with a cream or butter sauce. The natural salts in the fish will accompany the cleansing minerals of the wine; the Viognier’s strong acidity will cut through the fattier sauce, rounding the meal out nicely.
Eberle 2014 Cotes Du Robles Blanc
About theWine: If you’re in a climate that celebrates French-style winemaking, then why not go all out? That is what Eberle has done with their play-on-words 2014 Cotes-Du-Robles Blanc, a classic Rhone-style blend (Cotes-du-Rhone) of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier.
Flavor Profile: A calm, soothing yellow in the glass, this Rhone-style wine emits soft aromas of white flowers, orange blossoms, and nectarine. On the palate, the wine has a soft, round mouthfeel — one would think “oaky,” although no new oak was used. It’s the Roussanne that gives the wine that glorious texture, the Grenache that yields subtle fruit and floral notes, and that pinch of Viognier that gives the blend just enough acid to cut through any potential sweetness. These grapes were whole-cluster pressed, which gives the wine just a bit more body (almost a tannin-like quality) than many whites.
Suggested Food Pairing: Keep it simple and savor the unique flavors of the wine — a light herb salad, a raw sashimi platter. Better yet, enjoy this on its own with good friends and good times.
After learning from a smaller-production winery, I was curious how one of the “big-names” would stack up. I mean, I live by a J. Lohr tasting room, see their reps at all of the local wine walks, and also frequent Zonattos — a local grocer who has a major thing for J. Lohr. So I’m no stranger to their wines. But what I didn’t realize was that they have vineyards in both Monterey and Paso Robles — two very distinct wine-growing regions.
I also have to give credit to their Senior Manager Mark Hess who, while talking me through their wines, also showed me how much love the company puts into their products — big name or no, J. Lohr also has Paso-pride.
J. Lohr 2015 Viognier
About the Wine: J. Lohr’s Gean Vineyard, where their Viognier grapes are grown, is one of those lucky vineyards that can soak in the rain (when it shows up) and provide itself with a type of natural irrigation system because of its hilly terrain. So, even in a drought year like 2015, J. Lohr was able to have a successful harvest.
Flavor Profile: This pale yellow, white wine gives off very typical Viognier aromas of white blossoms and soft, ripe fruits. On the palate, the dominant flavors are those of peaches, nectarines, maybe a hint of citrus zest. Unlike the Eberle Viognier, the acidity on J. Lohr’s was quite minimal, giving the wine a softer texture on the tongue. However, there is still that distinct note of minerality from those Paso soils of calcareous shale and weathered sandstone, giving this wine a lovely earthy finish.
Suggested Food Pairing: Think island flavors with this wine. A grilled meaty fish like Swordfish or mahi-mahi (or chicken for those not into seafood) accompanied by a mango salsa, coconut rice, and a creamy avocado dressing.
J. Lohr 2013 Merlot
About the Wine: Now here’s a wine I’m sure — even if you’re not in the Bay Area — you’ve seen on the shelves of the local grocery. But, although common, its story certainly is not.
This wine made during the second year of the California drought when grape growers and winemakers were still learning how to deal with the lack-of-water situation. In fact, Mark mentioned that J. Lohr’s Merlot grapes shattered (as in, they literally broke) in some areas, unable to be used at all. But, because of Paso Robles’ France-like terrain, the folks at J. Lohr decided to change the type of Merlot grapes they were growing to those more akin to the grapes grown in France. Makes sense — if the weather and the terroir are similar, why not grow similar grapes? These thicker-skinned Merlot grapes were able to withstand the heat much better and, thus, we have this beautiful 2013 Merlot.
And this Merlot is not all Merlot — it’s 86% Merlot with 14% Malbec — two grapes that play very well together.
Flavor Profile: This Merlot has a beautiful fuschia-red hue in the glass and emits a strong aroma of a pine-esque cologne along with dark fruits like plum. On the palate, the bold fruit is balanced nicely with the addition of the Malbec, which gives the wine an acidic kick and a solid finish filled with baking spices and a hint of mocha.
Suggested Food Pairing: Perfect for an Italian-inspired meal like a pasta bolognese or a meat lasagna.
J. Lohr 2013 Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon
About the Wine: Cab is a varietal that thrives under pressure, so the gravelly terrain and the 100 degree days on the hilltops of Paso are perfect for this thick-skinned grapes.
The 2013 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon is another gorgeous blend: 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, and 1% Verdot.
Flavor Profile: This thick blood-like red wine is fruit-happy on the nose, giving off scents of plums, violets, and a hint of dusty earth. It’s surprisingly (pleasantly so) smooth upon the first sip, with a firm yet round texture on the tongue; this must be due to the 60% new French oak used during barrel aging. Flavors of vibrant red fruits give way to a good amount of tannins — enough to give the wine body and structure without scratching your tongue. The finish is just as smooth as the start, leaving a pleasant aftertaste of a fresh cedar wood forest.
Suggested Food Pairing: Say hello to your inner carnivore and grill up a beef fillet with an earthy au jus.
More Info: For more information about J. Lohr and their wines, please visit their website. Personally, I’m most curious to do a tasting of their Monterey vineyard wines to compare and contrast.
Small producer, large producer, and now something right down the middle with Le Vigne Winery, but their wines are anything but average. I was particularly drawn to the Le Vigne lineup because, as the founding family was straight-off-the-boat Italian and big foodies to boot, the wines are crafted with good meals and good times in mind.
Oh, and according to winemaker Michael Barreto, Le Vigne also has a cheesemaker on staff — so if you’re in the area and want to learn about wine and cheese pairings, this is your stop.
Le Vigne 2015 Sauvignon Blanc
About the Wine: Sauvignon Blanc is another grape varietal that benefits from being plumped to perfection under the heat of the sun. But, as it is a thinner skinned grape, it relies heavily on the moisture brought in from that maritime fog. And Le Vigne’s Sauvignon Blanc exemplifies this perfectly — with a surprisingly full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc.
Flavor Profile: The 2015 Le Vigne Sauvignon Blanc presents very clear in the glass, almost water-like. Made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, the aromas are typical to the varietal — tropical fruits accompanied by a hint of honeysuckle. These aromas come through in the taste as well, but because the Sauvignon Blanc was left on the lees during crush, this wine has an almost creamy texture — a unique quality for the varietal. Furthermore, this gives the wine a bit of body and structure, lending itself more versatile in regards to food pairing.
Suggested Food Pairing: A mixed seafood pasta with Alfredo sauce or lobster with a smooth beurre blanc sauce or bechamel — let those cream-based sauces pull out the round mouth and meatiness hidden within this wine while the fruity components of the Sauvignon Blanc cut through the richness of your meal.
Le Vigne 2013 Merlot
About the Wine: According to Michael, Merlot was a hard sell for a long time, partly because consumers were walking around screaming, “I’m am not drinking Merlot!” like it was their personal, educated opinion. But also because winemakers tend to try too hard when it comes to Merlot, not letting the grape speak for itself. So that’s the tactic Michael took when producing this wine. With 100% Merlot grapes, gently pressed, and aged in neutral American Oak barrels, this is a Merlot that speaks of the vines, the land, and a winemaker’s caring attitude.
Flavor Profile: Straight up, this is a pretty wine in the glass — the ruby red glistens in the light. The smell takes your straight to the farm, emitting intense aromas of herbs and even vegetables. On the palate, this wine is just as clean and as clear as it looks and as earthy as it smells, with low acid and low-medium tannin, you’re able to enjoy every lingering sip without the intrusion of excess.
Suggested Food Pairing: Because of the refreshing quality of this wine, don’t be afraid to pair it with a slow-roasted, hearty dish like a beef stew or cioppino — the wine can handle it and will offer you relief amongst all those strong flavors in the food.
Le Vigne Nikara Red Blend
About the Wine: This Bordeaux-style blend is a signature Le Vigne wine, celebrating the French-like terrain of Paso Robles.
Le Vigne’s Nikiara is 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Merlot.
Flavor Profile: Deep red in the glass, Nikiara presents a strong herbaceousness on the nose along with dark red fruits. On the palate, this red blend is smooth on the palate, yet a bit firmer and fuller than a typical Bordeaux. Black cherries come forward on the palate along with a hint of anise and spice and then slowly make way for those fresh green herbs. The finish is a silky, sensuous one, leaving you wanting another sip more.
Suggested Food Pairing: This French-inspired wine will pair well with a heartier French-inspired fare. Think decadent duck a l’orange, think cassoulet. But honestly, I’d be happy sipping this wine with a simple plate of enjoyably stinky cheeses.
More Info: For more information about Le Vigne and their available wines, please visit their website. And if you’re in the area, definitely do stop in for a wine and cheese tasting!
Fun Fact: The label art is a portrait of the winery’s owner’s father on his farm back in Italy.
I started this post talking about how vast and diverse Paso Robles is and, I realize, I’ve featured wines from generally the same area. Maybe it’s the beach-bum in me — growing up with fog in my lungs and sand between my toes — that I just love the wines that have been impacted by my beloved Pacific. Or maybe it’s the fact that Paso Robles is home to over 200 wineries, and I just couldn’t taste them all in one afternoon.
The point is, I have a new appreciation for Paso Robles wine — the winemakers at this event passed on their passion, and I’m curious and eager to learn more. So…who wants to fund my next road trip???
For more information about the Paso Robles AVA, definitely visit Pasowine.com where you can get a full list of wineries in the area and geek out as much as you’d like about terroir, climate, grapes, and growers — and find out if there are any Paso wine tastings near you.
Oh…and it wouldn’t be a Girls On Food/Stacy On Wine without some Silly Selfies.
Love learning about food and wine pairings? Then you may want to become the newest member of the Tasters Guild International — a nationwide society of foodies/wine lovers who gather together with their local chapters to geek out on all things culinary.
While wine tasting at this year’s SF Pinot Days, I was lucky enough to meet John Engstrom and Jim Lipman of California’s only living Tasters Guild chapter, the Diablo Tasters Guild located in the San Francisco East Bay Area. They were kind enough to invite me to one of their monthly get-togethers where they sync a local restaurant’s venue and cuisine with a California winery. This month the Guild featured food with an Italian flare from Buon Appetito in Fremont alongside some Spanish-inspired wine from Bodegas Paso Robles.
For those who have never attended a food and wine pairing event, it can be a bit overwhelming. Especially when the hosting winery provides not one, but two glasses per course. It can be a lot to take in — both physically and mentally — luckily we had the expert guidance of Heather Gray, General Manager of Bodegas Paso Robles.
About Bodegas Paso Robles
Bodegas Paso Robles is the only California winery that focuses on winemaking utilizing grapes native to Spain and Portugal specifically. The grapes are acquired from several vineyards along the Paso Robles AVA in San Luis Obispo County and include exotic varietals such as Malvasia, Monastrell, and Trousseau as well as more familiar names such as Tempranillo, Albariño, and Garnacha (or Grenache).
Before each course, Heather would stand and talk a little bit about each wine and how and why she felt they would pair well with the accompanying meal. Of course, the fun part is taste-testing ourselves and discussing our experiences and preferences.
Course 1: Carpaccio di Salmone Affumicato (Thinly sliced smoked salmon, topped with fresh Arugula, red onions, and capers)
This was a beautifully cured salmon that came alive with the addition of the fresh vegetables and a creamy mustard-based aioli on top.
However, the dominant flavor in this dish was salt since, as you can see from the photo, the salmon was the star of that plate. One could argue that the dish was too salty, but that’s only the case if eaten alone. Pair this course with either of the two white wines from Bodegas Paso Robles, and you’ll experience an entirely different — more balanced — flavor profile.
The 2015 Galicia is made from 100% Albariño grapes. It’s quite a pale yellow in the glass and emits an intense floral aroma. On the palate, it’s quite dry and a bit spicy — there’s a hint of effervescence that tingles the tongue from start to finish. It’s this quality in the wine that helped cut through the saltiness of the meal as a whole and brought out the meatiness — the umami — of the salmon.
The 2014 Doña Blanca is a 50-50 blend of Garnacha Blanca (more commonly, Grenache Blanc) and Malvasia Blanca (often likened to a Muscat). In the glass, this white wine had a much bolder yellow color, releasing even stronger floral aromas alongside fruits such as apples or pears. To smell it, you’d think the wine would be a sweet one, but it’s not at all. There’s just enough acidity to cut through those perfumey aromas, yet the texture is quite smooth — almost oily — on the palate. That calm and creamy texture, again, helped to bring out the savory flavors along with the natural oils in the salmon, while the floral aromas brought forth the herbaceous qualities from the fresh vegetables. Personally, this wine allowed for the most variety and balance of flavor on my palate, and the one I would recommend to pair with this or any similar dish.
Course 2: Penne al Pomodoro Naturale (Tube pasta with light marinara sauce, fresh chopped tomatoes, basil & garlic).
In all honesty, this dish is very much like something I make at home all the time. It’s penne pasta cooked just over al dente with your basic marinara sauce. No muss no fuss and certainly not fancy. But that’s perfect for an event like this — since the wines are so unique, it’s a great idea to pair them with familiar foods, giving us a chance to explore these Spanish varietals even further (as well as get ideas for pairing wine at home).
The 2010 Garnacha, made from 100% Garanache grapes was a beautiful ruby red in the glass. On the nose, the wine emits intense aromas of green, grassy herbs (I’m thinking dillweed here) and the taste was just as herbalicious. Bodegas Paso Robles uses a combination of Hungarian, American, and new French oak when barrel aging their wines. This particular wine spent 18 months barrel aging, and all I can say is that was just the right amount of time. The wine is oaked enough to create that smooth, round mouthfeel without the overbearing flavor profile of oak — the herbs and bright fruits get to sing.
And what did this do for that run-of-the-mill everyday pasta? Well, it certainly brought out the herbs in the marinara sauce, elevating what could be a mid-week meal into something a bit more special.
The 2010 Vaca Roja, a combination of Garanacha and Monastrell (commonly known as Mourvedre) was significantly darker in the glass than the 100% Garanache. The addition of that Monastrell gave the wine not only a darker hue but a darker aroma and taste as well. On the nose, the 2010 Vaca Roja smelled predominantly of black cherries, deep red grapes, and ripe plums. On the palate, the flavors are even more complex bringing in hints of licorice, spice, and a little smoke along with those fruit flavors.
This wine was pure yum, but did it pair with the dish? Yes and no. What it did was give the pasta a bit of body that it didn’t have before. That lead me to believe that this wine would pair even better had the pasta had a bit of meat in it (such as pasta bolognese, spaghetti and meatballs, or Pasta Pomodoro with a healthy helping of hearty mushrooms).
Course 3: Risotto con Agnello e Funghi (Italian Arborio rice with roasted lamb, mushrooms, grilled fennel, red wine and Parmesan cheese)
I loved that the risotto was the perfectly cooked, completely immersed in parmesan cheese and the beautifully meaty mushrooms mixed in with every mouthful. For those elements alone I would say try this dish, specifically with the next wine pairing.
The Viva Tu Tempranillo, made from 100% Tempranillo grapes and aged in 70% new French oak is my top wine pick from the whole event. Visually, the Viva Tu is a gorgeous dark purple-red in the glass. Initial aromas included black cherries and sweet plums along with some savory scents of black olives and deep forest greenery. On the palate, the wine is so smooth, and those initial fruit and vegetable flavors give way to an almost nutty or caramel-like note. The finish is a long lingering one with just enough tannins to give the wine body and depth.
The calming smoothness of the wine paired beautifully with those mushrooms and the creamy texture of the risotto, while the aromas of the deep forest wildlife pulled out the herbs and fennel that had been hiding deep within the dish.
This is a wine I would happily drink again and again, recommend to a friend, and experiment with different food pairings.
The 2009 Solea is a traditional Rioja blend consisting of 86% Tempranillo and 14% Graciano (a native Spanish grape, high in acid, used predominantly for blending purposes). This blend gave off quite a dark aroma — think raisins, prunes, dried cherries — and there was a definite kick of acidity even on the nose. On the palate, the 2009 Solea is quite dry with flavors including anise, fennel, with a bit of a damp, earthy funk. But just as the tasting concludes, there’s that kick of acid that adds a bit of spice, tickling the tongue well into the aftertaste.
Was this the perfect pairing for the lamb risotto? In theory yes. This wine would best be paired with a meaty stew-like dish. But make sure that your protein — whether lamb, goat, or beef — is packed full of flavor and its natural juices.
Not too much of an explanation needed here. We simply had three different cheese to taste alongside two of the most complex wines of the evening.
Forget the looks; the 2010 Pimentiero is all about its aroma — it smells like you’re walking through someone’s vegetable garden. The strong scents of capsicum and jalepeño peppers are overwhelming — it’s no wonder this wine’s name translates to “pepper pot.” But despite those spicy aromas, the 2010 Pimentiero is surprisingly refreshing. Soft fruits such as cherries and plums are pleasant on the palate, while the acid and tannins are both artistically restrained, allowing for a long, thirst-quenching finish.
It’s interesting how the different cheese brought out different components in the wine. While the soft Manchego cheese brought out the fruit flavors of the Pimentiero, the dry Ricotta revealed a smokiness in the wine, and the hard Parmesan showcased brightness and acidity.
The 2011 Trousseau, made from 100% Trousseau (one of the rarest grapes in the country) has the best aroma of the wines from the event. It was like sniffing one of the finest cigars — fruit meet flowers, flowers meet peppers, peppers meet leather — and they all mingle in this truly unique wine.
Paired with the Manchego, the Trousseau brought out a little extra “stank” we all love a good cheese. The farm-like funk was even more prominent when tasting the Ricotta along with the Trousseau, while the wine brought out the softer, nuttier notes of the hard Parmesan.
Course 5: Souffle al Cioccolato (Chocolate soufflé with crème)
This is the money shot right here.
I’m not going to lie folks — as much of a chocoholic that I claim to be, I’ve never had a chocolate soufflé before, so I was more than pleasantly surprised when I broke into my dessert, and an incredible avalanche of fudge came pouring forth.
The cake, in contrast, was light and fluffy, with a crisp, almost cookie-like outer crust. Amazing. I want to try to make this at home…
I must also admit, as much as I love a good chocolate, I’m not a huge dessert person because I’m highly sensitive to sweets — as in things that are simply sweet are often too sweet for me. This goes double for dessert wines — I’m not a fan of sweet wines almost at all. But I do believe I found my exception to my rule. I think one of my problems was that I’d never had the perfect dessert pairing. Well, it lives — in this dish and this wine.
The 2013 Dulce Dama, made from Tempranillo and fortified brandy (in true Port-style) honestly surprised me. Yes, the initial taste is classic dessert — cocoa, figs, chocolate syrup. But if you let it sit in your mouth for a second, suddenly that flavor melts away, and these beautiful deep fruits come forward — cherries, blueberries, blackberries. Let that settle on the tongue and then the acidity kicks in, ultimately balancing sweet with savory and a bit of sour.
This paired perfectly with the chocolate soufflé. It’s almost like the sweetness of the dessert, and the sweetness of the wine canceled each other out allowing for the bright fruit flavors and the acidity to cut through all of that richness. I would certainly recommend this specific pairing — this wine needs this dessert as much as this dessert needs this wine. This course was by far the best pair of the evening.
Hungry for More?
Of course, this was a study of one dinner and one winery. There’s so much more to learn in the world of food and wine pairing — that must be why the Diablo Tasters taste every month. And with the intimate setting and knowledgeable hosts, guests are guaranteed to learn something at every sitting.
For more information about Diablos Tasters Guild, including how to get on the guest list or how to start your local chapter, contact either Jim or John on the Diablo Tasters Guild website.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Stacy on Wine without a silly Stacy selfie.
There’s this little corner of San Francisco, off of the 101, that’s a bunch of warehouses. I’ve been here to scout for used sports gear, to stop by the flea market, and of course to visit the fishmonger. I didn’t realize there were wineries here…
There are quite a few. In fact, when I came to this part of town to visit Tim and Melissa of Betwixt Wine — who I met during the 2016 Pinot Days — I was surprised to learn they share their little space with several other small, independent wineries (such as August West) as well.
And at this stage of their operation, having only officially been in the winemaking business since 2012, this suits them just fine. It’s an intimate space where they network and swap ideas and inspiration with others in the industry.
About Betwixt Winemaking
Tim Telli, owner and winemaker of Betwixt Wine, gets his grapes from various small lot vineyards along the Northern California coast. He says he lets the grape-growers do what they do best (grow the grapes) because his passion is in the winemaking process — all of which takes place in his downtown SF winery.
Tim’s focus is on, what he calls, “minimalist winemaking,” meaning he takes a hands-off approach when it comes to production. He first puts the grapes through “cold soaking” or “cold maceration” pre-fermentation, which is a natural way to extract color and flavor from grape skins without excess tannins.
The wine then goes through a gentle pressing process and left in the barrels to ferment until ready to bottle.
The barrel-aging process is an aspect of winemaking that may not be given a lot of thought by the daily consumer. Sure, we may know what it will mean for our palate if a bottle says the wine’s spent time in an oak barrel — we expect a particular scent, flavor, and mouthfeel. But those aromas, tastes, and textures — at least in the case of Tim and Betwixt Wines — is carefully crafted by the winemaker.
While visiting Tim and his wife Melissa, I had the opportunity to try their 2015 Pinot Noir — in its separate components. We first had the wine from an aged oak barrel which, because of its age, emits very little “oaky-ness.” This Pinot Noir was quite clear, fruit forward (both on the nose and on the palate), and had a sharp acidic bite to it.
We then tasted the Pinot from the new oak
barrel. Visually, the wine is a much firmer red color; Aromatically, the wine emits a strong scent of fresh cedar or pine wood. The taste was the biggest difference: the mouthfeel was overall softer, rounder, the fruit flavors substantially more mellow, and there was a distinct lack of acidity in comparison to the old barrel batch.
Lastly, we drank from the batch of pressed Pinot Noir. This means, after all, the free-flowing juice from the grapes has been separated, and only the stems and skins are left, Tim gently presses on those remains to squeeze out any residual liquid. As you can imagine, this is where the tannins will come into the final product. I’ve never tasted just the pressed juices of wine before. Although it makes sense logically, I was surprised by how light and cloudy the glass was, and how strong the aroma of “bush” and “weeds” was. On the palate, of course, this was quite dry and tasted very little of fruit.
In its separate parts, we could all taste the potential the 2015 Pinot Noir has. And that’s part of the joy for Tim and Melissa — taste testing and experimenting until a perfect balance is achieved. Once they’ve figured out the right ratio of old oak to new oak to tannin, they can bottle wine they’re happy to drink themselves and, of course, share with others.
Let the blending trials begin!
The Wine: Current Releases
So what about the wine that’s bottled and ready to drink now? Yes, there’s plenty of those. For me, the most notable is their 2014 Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir. It truly exemplifies what Betwixt Wine is all about — a hands-off, natural approach to the growth and fermentation process and their artistic endeavor for the ideal balance of flavor. You can taste the grape from the ground up — the earth the vine was grafted in, the juice of the perfectly plump fruit, and just a hint of the salt sea air from that Santa Cruz coastline. You can taste the love in the wine — the time it took to ferment the grapes just the right amount; the decision to add a certain percentage of new oak barrel aged wine; the attention to detail regarding the right amount of tannins to balance the overall taste and texture. Like a chef plating a well-rounded and balanced dish so is this Pinot Noir.
On the heels of a successful 2013 Grenache from Boer Vineyard, Chalone, Monterey (just recently picked up by the prestigious Frances restaurant in San Francisco), is Betwixt’s 2014 vintage from the same vineyard. This is another great example of Tim’s ability to utilize the best of small lot vineyards and create something truly unique. While many Grenache’s can be heavy and overbearing, Tim’s take on this varietal is quite light and lively, showcasing the ripeness of the fruit alongside the natural minerality of the vineyard’s terrior. This Grenache is quite young but is packed full of flavor — easily enjoyable now yet has the potential to age beautifully for the next several years. I couldn’t help but take a bottle home to share with my family, and write up this glowing review.
Here’s hoping Tim takes Melissa and mine’s advice and enters this wine for an official review.
Betwixt Wines current line-up includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Grenache, as well as a limited release White Wine Blend. Current releases are available for purchase through their site.
To learn more about Tim, Melissa, and Betwixt Wines, please visit their website. If you’d like to taste their wines in person, they’ll be pouring at SF’s Fig & Thistle on July 26, 2016, from 6:30 until 8 pm (See their events page for details).
Just off San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, on the small, industrial Treasure Island are a few small businesses not too many non-SF-natives know about. And even those savvy to the SF scene may not realize that past the first few buildings that house Winery SF, Sol Rouge, and Sottomarino, there is an even smaller, more independent winery stationed in an abandoned school house — Kendric Vineyards.
No, it’s not glamorous — on the inside or the out. Walking through the winery, one will see all the bare-bone necessities needed in the world of wine — from barrels
…with not much room for anything else. But when it comes to the heart and soul of wine, that’s where Kendric’s beauty is bounteous.
About Kendric Vineyards:
Stewart Johnson is the vineyard owner and winemaker of Kendric Vineyards. From planting the grape seeds to bottling the wine itself, Stewart is hands-on during all stages of his vineyard’s production. He specializes in Pinot Noir and Viognier from his private vineyard in Marin as well as Syrah and Sangiovese from his mother’s private vineyard the Shenandoah Valley. With the help of his family, friends, and local volunteers, Stewart can successfully run a — pretty much — one-man wine operation.
There’s a lot of hard labor for Stew, working his vineyard, crushing his grapes, keeping a constant eye on the development of each of his wines. But then there’s the fun part — tasting. How does a winemaker know when the wine is ready to be bottled? How does he decide if a particular varietal will be perfect on its own or will lend itself more successfully as part of a blend? How does he figure out the ratios of those blends? Go straight to the barrels to taste, taste, and taste some more.
The first barrel taste-test for us was his 2014 Sangiovese from his family’s Shenandoah Vineyard. Straight from the barrel and into the glass, this wine had an intense perfume of bright red fruits — think cherries, raspberries, strawberries. Visually stunning, in the glass, the wine has a crystal-ruby quality. And that aromatic and visual brightness carry over into the mouth as well — there’s an underlying tartness that carries through, a hint of acidity, and that lingering fruit on the finish. With a medium tannin level, this is a wine that will certainly age well once bottled, developing further complexities.
Same varietal, same vineyard, different year. And it’s amazing the difference a year makes. This wine is almost the polar opposite of its older sibling. Visually, the wine is quite cloudy. Aromatically, it gives off bigger, bolder, darker aromas. And, because of the higher tannin content, the taste is more intense with a dryer finish. This vintage is what Stew calls “typical of the style,” and, as it is still young in the barrel, he has time to wait, taste again, and decide if he’ll bottle as-is or add something to it himself to round out the flavor profile.
The 2014 Syrah “Experiment.”
Kendric Vineyards’ 2014 Syrah is an excellent example of a wine with a lot of depth and complexity, but not necessarily what one would call a “friendly” drinker. This particular vintage has taken on a lot of the barrel’s oaky-ness and presents with a strong woodsy scent. That oaky-woodsy-ness takes over a lot of the taste as well, hiding any fruit elements the wine may have — it’s not unpleasant, it’s just unbalanced. So how does a winemaker remedy an unbalanced wine? Like a good chef, a good winemaker knows what ingredients he has, how they work together, and is willing to experiment with different ratios of those ingredients until the balance is perfected.
In Stewart’s case, his “other ingredient” is a beautiful 2014 Viognier with a soft, soothing texture, floral aromas, stone fruit flavors, with just a kick of acid in the back of the tongue. If you think about it, these are the perfect elements to work alongside and even uplift the 2015 Syrah: The silkiness of the Viognier will subdue the tannins, the stone fruit, and floral aromas will both calm and complement the oak, while that bit of acid will bring forward those hidden red fruits in the Syrah.
How much to add is, indeed, an experiment. The best way to conduct this experiment is by measuring quantities by the glass and tasting. Once a proper balance is achieved, Stewart will figure out how much he’ll need per barrel and the blending will begin. Of course, it’s important to note that the amount of Viognier added to the barrel is so minute; consumers will not be able to taste the addition of an extra varietal. In fact, the percentage is so small; it won’t even qualify to mark on the final label at all (read: this will not be a blend).
Keep an eye on Kendric Vineyards — with wines that speak of both the land and the man behind the grapes, I know we’re going to see and taste fantastic bottles to come.
Randall has a passion for wines that reflect the time and place from whence they came — vins de terrior — and believes that truly beautiful land will produce truly excellent wines. It is this passion that made Randall fall in love with Old World French Rhones that hail from the bounteous vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux. It is this love that makes Randall feel a responsibility as a New World winemaker to produce equally fruitful vineyards and delicately complex wines that speak of his California terrior.
So has he done it? Has he created that perfect vin de California? Randall admits after over 40 years as Bonny Doon’s owner and operator he has more questions now than he did when he started. He’s always experimenting with different grapes, vineyard locations, and — most importantly — the constant care and health of the actual land, the soil. A true scientist and philosopher, Randall’s always looking to learn from his last growth how to improve the next.
That’s not to say that Randall isn’t happy with all that he’s achieved. Tasting a full line-up of Bonny Doon’s current releases, it’s amazing the broad spectrum of flavor profiles found in California Rhone varietals. There are those that are easy on the palate, produced for mass appeal, and daily drinking. Many of these come from vineyards with average conditions and farming techniques that are “more hands on,” manufactured.
Then there are those with a depth and complexity that give the drinker pause to think. These are the wines produced from grapes that were exposed to ideal conditions, left to enjoy those conditions and truly absorbed the essence of the land. These are the wines that tell a story of time and place.
This wine, Randall believes, best exemplifies what it means to grow a happy grape — a grape in a region with a climate where it can truly flourish. The Bonny Doon Picpoul vineyards sits among the cooling comfort of Carmel Valley sea breezes. The nose on this wine is like a breath of fresh sea salt air, with a strong undercurrent of acidity. Take that undercurrent seriously, because this wine is not for the faint-of-tongued. Picpoul, literally translated, means “lip stinger,” and you’ll know why when sipping on this wine. Sure, there are wonderful stone fruit and wildflower notes with just a slight hint of bitterness that rounds out the overall palate — but it’s the wine’s natural acidity (as Randall says, “no acidification was doon“) that creates interest here. It tickles the tongue from start to finish leaving a lingering sting, as the name implies.
Nero d’Avola, a Sicilian red grape varietal that traditionally yields red wine, in this case, was used to create a unique white wine. The somewhat amusing detail about this particular bottle is that the Tracy vineyard where the grapes were grown was one that didn’t foresee a lot of natural success. So everything from the farming to the winemaking process was quite hands-on.
The red Nero d’Avolo grapes were pressed without skin contact, resulting in a mellow yellow wine that emits a very prominent citrus perfume (like a pomelo or grapefruit). On the tongue, however, the wine still maintains red wine-esque qualities including spice notes, plum flavors, and even a hint of tannins. A truly unique wine that celebrates the unexpected — both in terrior and taste.
Sometimes it’s nature’s imperfections that lend itself to beautiful produce. Such is the case with this particular Grenache. The Bonny Doon team kept a hands-off approach when it came to the vineyard, which during this time meant letting certain viruses affect the grape-growing process — to an extent. An experiment that went quite right.
They kept this hands-off approach during the fermentation process as well, aging the wine in glass with lees, and implementing an oxidative winemaking process. Put together, this was all quite risky.
But because the Doon team let Mother Nature do her thing, the flavors of this wine are naturally well balanced. There are mixed aromas of citrus, nuts, and red fruits. On the palate, the wine is extremely open and airy, smooth from start to finish. This is the kind of wine to pair with a delicate cuisine, so as not to overpower the subtle, natural complexity of the wine.
Vintage: 2014 Varietal: 100% grenache Appellation: Monterey County 14.5% ABV
2011 Cigare Blanc Reserve
This is by far my personal favorite of Bonny Doon’s current releases because, to me, it is the most complex. This Grenache Blanc-Roussanne blend has been bottled without filtration, so is quite cloudy in the glass. The grapes again come from the hills of Arroyo Seco in Carmel Valley and gives off that ocean air on the nose. So without even taking a sip, in sight and smell alone, this wine is speaking of its terrior.
The flavor profile of this wine is other-worldly. Amidst classic stone fruits and a hint of honey, there’s an overlying essence of umami — that illustrious fifth sense of taste — that provides a bit of bitter and a bit of spice. Then there’s the minerality that speaks quietly in the background, just enough to keep things calm and cool on the tongue. The lingering finish leaves soft, peppery, herbal notes on the palate.
This is one of those wines that makes the mind as well as the mouth work — what is that smell; what is that taste; where did this wine come from; where is it going; what’s the story?
The wine at Bonny Doon isn’t all about business, but a bit of wit and whimsy as well. Their flagship (aka starship) wine, Le Cigare Volant, is an homage to French wine folklore.
In 1954 the village council of Chateauneuf-du-Pape truly believed that flying saucers (or literally translated, “flying cigars”), were hovering over their vineyards. The primary concern was that these aliens would land their spacecraft and ruin the vineyards. So, to this day, there is an ordinance that states that any of these “flying cigars” found on the land shall “be removed directly to the pound.”
This stellar achievement is celebrated all over the tasting room — from bottle caps to wall decor.
Whether simple or complex in its nature, each wine tells a story. And if you’re local or in the area, listen to a few stories at Bonny Doon, where the Old World and New World collide, creating a world of its own. Cheers.
For more information about Bonny Doon, their Tasting Room, social events, and to purchase their available wines, please visit their website.
Love Pinot Noir? Then you’ll love Pinot Days, an annual San Francisco festival dedicated to the delicate varietal and the winemakers across the world who craft it. This year, over 100 wineries snuggled into the new Bespoke event space in the SF Westfield to celebrate all things Pinot.
Yes, that’s right, over 100 wineries representing anywhere between 2 and 10 Pinot Noir and Pinot variations each. We tasted wines with all kinds of stories — from Kickstarter funded wineries to those with generations of family history; wines that spoke of seaside terror and those that told of their epic journey of the drought.
So many people to meet, so many wines to taste, so many stories to share. Here are just a few highlights from my experience.
My very first stop was Betwixt Wines, a husband-and-wife team from the heart of San Francisco. Focusing on small lot vineyards and minimalist winemaking techniques, Tim and Melissa pride themselves in letting Mother Nature be the real artist. With the use of native fermentation, gentle grape pressing, and unhindered barrel-aging, Betwixt Wines are unpretentious, approachable and — tasty.
First in the Betwixt lineup, I tried the 2014 Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir. Straight away I could smell the delicate acidity of the Pinot Noir grape. On the palate, the wine has an initial cooling effect on the tongue, opening up to beautifully light fruits reminiscent of strawberries or raspberries. This light to medium-bodied wine closes with just the slightest tannin, balancing the overall tasting experience.
Next, I tried the Pinot Noir produced only one year previous: 2013 Helluva Vineyard Pinot Noir. On the nose I could already tell the difference between these two Pinots — this one had just a nudge more complexity, giving off aromas of dark cherries and wood. And the taste matches those initial expectations: a medium body, slightly darker fruits (black cherries, plums) than the 2014, and more apparent oakiness from the barrel aging process. And yet, there is still that underlying cooling effect from the acidity. I suspect that both of these wines, while completely enjoyable today, will age quite well in the cellar for the next couple of years. There’s a hidden depth to these wines just waiting to come out.
While Betwixt is a young, up-and-coming winery (fully established as of 2012), Ancient Oak Cellars carries on an over 80-year old family farming tradition. Owner and winemaker Ken Mohold-Siebert grew up on his vineyard back when it was his grandfather’s modest sheep farm. Today, Ken, along with his wife Melissa and his vineyard team, have won critical acclaim for their single-vineyard Pinot Noirs.
I had the opportunity to compare and contrast a Pinot Noir from Ancient Oak’s Appellation Series (yielded from grapes from partnering vineyards along the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Sonoma County) and one of their Single-Vineyard wines (yielded from their very own Siebert-Ranch Pinot Noir Vineyard). While the Appellation series contained the beautiful aromas of a classic medium-bodied Pinot (notes of dark cherries, ripe strawberries, hints of baking spice, and a lingering, yet light, tannic finish), the Single-Vineyard Pinot was really quite different — something special. On the nose I could tell it would be much darker, more full-bodied, intense. On the tongue, the wine was a bit dryer (due to a higher tannin content) and brought forth notes of dried cherries and deep purple grapes. But it was the underlying earthiness that sits on the palate from start to finish that truly made this wine unique. It’s as if I could taste the farm the vineyard sits on, the dirt the vines sprang from, and even the sweat from the family whose labor of love went into this wine. A single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Ancient-Oaks tastes like an 80-year old tradition.
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines is what I think of as a friendly winery. Their wines are often readily available at local grocers, and — oh yeah — their tasting room is practically walking distance to my house (no big deal). I’m a huge fan of their Chardonnay, so I had to see what kind of special pours they had for me on Pinot day.
I started with the 2014 Falcon’s Perch Pinot Noir, which is the J. Lohr Pinot you’d find walking into, say, a Safeway or Vons. And it has that kind of everyday, casual attitude in the glass: beautiful purple in color, a deep aroma of grapes coupled with vanilla, and a silky smooth texture on the tongue with obvious oak-age and low acidity. A fine wine for anytime.
Moving on, the 2013 Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir, to me, stood out the most. These grapes are grown along the coast in Arroyo Seco, Monterey. The nose of this wine was fresh with sea air. Breathing it in, I almost felt engulfed by the maritime fog myself. Because of this cool climate, the delicate Pinot grapes can stay on the vines a bit longer, plumping to perfection. The result: a unique essence of seaside terror on the nose and the palate. It’s a lighter bodied Pinot Noir with a medium acidity level that maintains a calming collection of bright, fresh berries coupled with a sandy earthiness from start to finish.
Comparing the Fog’s Reach to the following Pinot, the 2012 Highlands Bench, was quite interesting. While the vineyards of Arroyo Seco are at a low elevation and thus regularly covered in moisture from the bay and ocean, the Escolle Road Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation of Monterey are at a much higher elevation. This means that the grapes only get so much moisture during the morning, but are exposed to higher temperatures throughout the rest of the day, yielding a more concentrated fruit. The resulting flavor profile is as you’d expect: dark, jammy notes coupled with hints of damp soil are dominant in the foretaste, while the acidity comes along at the finish, lingering on the tongue, and teasing you to have one sip more.
Whoa! Who brought Viognier to the Pinot Party??? Well, like winemaker and owner Stewart Johnson said, if it’s good, you gotta share it. And this Viognier wasn’t just good; it was unique in my book. There was an overwhelming essence of fresh green vegetables as I sipped on this wine as if the vineyard sits among a farm of California’s freshest produce. There was also an underlying aroma of seed or nut oil (I’m thinking sesame?) that rounded out that vegetation. On top of all that, Kendric Vineyards was able to infuse a bit of bubbly into this wine. Perfect pairing: Asian stir-fry — the bubbles will cut through the fat and spice while the fresh components will marry well with both veggies and protein.
Back to Pinots, the 2013 vintage from Kendrics was a mildly complex Pinot Noir. Is that an oxymoron? Let me explain. The hue of this wine was a brownish-red, yet you can see right through it. The dominant aroma is of nuts (pecans, hazelnuts), while the flavors consist of bright red fruits, just a hint of oak, and finishing with an open-ended acidity. There are hints of depth and complexity, and yet in its entirety, the wine is cool, calm, and collected. Perfect Pairing: Steak or salmon salad — let a heavier piece of meat bring out some of the wine’s complexity, while a light side as a salad will compliment the delicacy Pinots are known for.
Girls on grills and boys who BBQ will want to get their hands on Kendric Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve. Even in the glass you get an overwhelming smokey aroma, and that essence pulls through during the tasting as well. Cedar and Maplewood linger on the tongue, while other flavors such as cherry, beetroot, and vanilla add a bit of depth and variety. Perfect Pairing: Anything smoked or grilled — seriously.
Smith Story Wine Cellars won my “rosé of the day” at the San Francisco Union Street Festival a couple of weeks ago, so, of course, I had to stop by their table to see what kind of Pinot they brought to the party. I was certainly not disappointed. Besides the fact that co-owner Alison Smith-Story welcomed me with a warm hug, I was also
greeted by an equally friendly Pinot Noir. The 2014 Thorn Ridge Vineyard displays a beautiful ruby red in the glass with a bouquet of fresh red roses overwhelming the nose. For a young wine, this particular Pinot Noir provides a well-balanced combination of flavors often found in older vintages. Almost creamy on the tongue, strong oak walks hand in hand with soft, spreadable red fruits like strawberry compote, plum jam, and even over-ripe tomato. It’s a beautiful Pinot — that’s the best way to describe it. And if it’s this pretty this young, I can’t wait to see how it will evolve within the next five to ten years.
I’m going to get personal for a moment. Many wine lovers are often asked, “What is the bottle that made you fall in love with wine.” Wine lovers, think about it, and I bet you have an answer that’s not just an answer, but a memory, a personal narrative, an event in your life. For me, that bottle was a Patricia Green Pinot Noir I had several years ago. It sparked in me a passion I didn’t know I had.
So, of course, I stopped by Patricia Green’s table where I tried three beautiful Pinot Noirs. But there was one stand out — not just of the table, but of the day. The Pinot Noir of the day (for me) is Patricia Green’s 2014 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Once the wine was poured, I took my initial sniff and was immediately transported to a field of wild flowers. Think daisies, think dandelions, think poppies, think of those flowers most associated with weeds but maintain a certain beauty in their freedom. That’s the nose of this wine. Once I took a sip, I discovered those bushes also yielded blackberries, blueberries, and currants. And as I held the wine on my tongue, I walked further into the field, finding savory herbs lining the perimeter of the all-to-real imaginary place.
Darker, more full-bodied than many Pinots, the 2014 Freedom Hill Pinot Noir has a depth that truly transports you. Co-owner and winemaker Jim Anderson told me about their “hands-off” winemaking approach, letting the natural surroundings of the vineyard do the real work, resulting in wines that tell the true Oregon terror story. In the case of this wine, the location of the vineyard is in a spot with the perfect ratio of warm weather to cool climate; the soil contains a unique blend of ancient lava sediment and old marine sediment; and Freedom Hills itself is well-established, having yielded wine grapes for many generations. Anderson and his team also practice natural fermentation, keeping their wines organic and natural from start to finish — which is quite apparent when drinking their wines.
Of course, I couldn’t taste everything. And there were a few wineries who had so much to offer; I feel like I need to visit them personally to get a better understanding of their wines and stories. I hope to re-connect with all the talented winemakers I met and brought our audience exclusive interviews, tasting notes, and recommendations.
Cheers to the world of wine — it does bring us closer together!
Let’s talk about Rhones. There are over 20 varieties of grapes grown in France’s Rhone Valley. The most popular of which include Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Petite Sirah, Roussanne, and Viognier — all known for creating great wines on their own or as participants in blends, such as GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre). But these grapes aren’t limited to their French heritage. In fact, almost every varietal found in the Rhone Valley can be found here in the States as well.
Rhone Rangers, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to promoting American Rhone-style wines, supporting the winemakers who choose to put a New World spin on Old World wine, and — of course — educating the public about the unique and versatile wines produced from all of this research and labor. During the 2016 Rhone Rangers Seminar and Grande Tasting in San Francisco, I had the privilege to learn directly from local, West Coast winemakers who work to move beyond common “Syrah-stereotypes.”
Local artists, unique products, festive food, and of course craft beer and fine wine — this is what San Francisco is known for. And what better place to celebrate all things SF than on trendy Union Street in the upscale Pacific Heights district? That’s exactly what hundreds of Bay Area folks did this past weekend at the 40th Annual Union Street Festival.
Fremont’s city hub closed it’s street to celebrate local cuisines and California craft brews. For $35, guests were allotted ten 5-ounce tasting pours — that’s 50 ounces of brewski! — and with reps presenting anywhere between 2 to 8 beers each, there was something to please every palate.
The Breweries: Das Brew / Hanger 24 / Speakeasy / Mendocino Brewing Company / Golden Road Brewing / Stone Brewing Co. / Peak Organic / Goose Island / Elysian / 10 Barrel Brewing Co. / Deschutes Brewery / Shock Top / BudLight / Joe IPA
Now, I’m not going to lie to you; I’m a bit of a lightweight when it comes to beers. But, like I said, with so many options at the Brew Fest, I knew I was bound to find something to appease my picky tastebuds. So I got the ball rolling with a few light lagers. Das Brew’s Mean Monkey Hefeweizen (4.5% ABV, 15 IVU), a nice pale wheat-based ale, had enough body to feel like I was drinking a real beer, but the delicious hints of fruit and spice balanced out the yeast perfectly, it was super refreshing for a nice summer day.
Then there was 329 Days of Sun Lager by Golden Road Brewing (4.8% ABV, 25 IBU). This Lager was
probably the lightest of all the beers I tasted, and I’m not complaining. 329’s taste was so subtle and the finish so crisp and clean, it could perfectly pair well with any meal — not just burgers.
But, when you’re at a beer tasting, it would be a waste not to go out of your comfort zone a little. And I couldn’t resist trying a few more unusual offerings. Especially when the rep from Stone Brewing Co. mentioned a “lemon-zesty” beer.
Stone Delicious, an Indian pale ale (7.7% ABV, 75 IBU) is, indeed, a simultaneously citrusy yet bitter beer. The brewery combines Lemondrop and El Dorado hops to add a bit of sweet to the hop spice. A crazy concoction that just actually works — ideal for anyone looking for something outside the box.
Speakeasy’s Prohibition Ale (6.1% ABV, 50 IBU) was probably by far my favorite beer that I tasted that day. With its red-amber coloring, it just looks beautiful. Good news: it tastes beautiful as well. Like I said, I’m not, by any means, a beer aficionado, my palate is more attuned to picking out the flavors in a complex wine. Well, this ale is perfect for anyone like that. Right as it’s poured, you can smell citrus fruits, oak, spice, and a hint of caramel. When I tasted it, I felt like I was drinking a beautiful bouquet of autumn fruits in a pinewood forest.
Sign me up for a refill. I’m taking this beer with me to lunch…
The event provided tons of options from local shops, food trucks, and good old stand-bys like The Counter and Whole Foods.
The Food: Mario’s French Dips / Tacos De Los Altos / Whole Foods / Madam Floodpuppy’s House of Catfish / The Counter / Hungry Kong / Grillaz Gone Wild / Capello’s Barbecue / Arirang Korean Barbecue /
There were also quite a few local vendors providing samples of their sauces, marinades, and BBQ rubs.
Of course, when all is said and done, I couldn’t pass up a good veggie burger for lunch. So I hit up Capello’s Barbecue food truck for a deliciously house-made veg burger. To me, what makes a great meat alternative patty is when you can see the vegetables. Carrots, broccoli, even walnuts — they were all there in this amazingly fresh burger.
The day was a success. I got to try some new brews, get my tongue blasted by hot sauce, and left with a belly full of burger. Thanks, Fremont!