SF Wine Blog

Exploring wine in and around San Francisco.

Leave a comment

Wine Events: Week of May 23

I’ve been dying to tell you about a mind-blowing food and wine pairing from the Kabaj wine dinner at Oakland’s À Côté restaurant. Imagine a huge cut of porchetta with plenty of flavor (i.e., fat) and a layer of perfectly cooked, crispy skin. (Drooling yet?). Most of you are probably thinking, “Oh, I bet he needed a big red wine to wash down that bad boy.” But you’d be wrong. Jeff Berlin, the restaurant’s wine director, paired this with the 2008 Kabaj Rebula, a white wine from Slovenia that has developed some serious body and tannins from extended skin contact. A stroke of genius — the wine really livened up the dish, made my head spin, and helped fuel a lively night out in the East Bay.

After my À Côté experience, I was so excited by the Kabaj wines that I dragged a friend of mine out on Friday to another Kabaj tasting at Biondivino. And man, the wines were singing even without a big serving of pork!  [BTW – I’ll be saying more about Biondivino in a future write up on my favorite wine shops in SF, but I really encourage you to check this place out.  What a gem of a store — beautifully appointed, great service, and –oh yeah– killer wine selection].

Tomo (L) and Jean-Michel (R) - Kabaj Winery

I also had a chance to catch up with Kabaj’s winemaker Jean-Michel Morel, who had spent the day in Sonoma visiting Wind Gap and The NPA. Jean-Michel had effusive praise for the wines, in particular the Pinot Gris being made by both these wineries, and the Ribolla Gialla from Ryme Cellars (which Jean-Michel “re-branded” as Rebula). In addition, Jean-Michel was struck by the creative spirit and sense of community he felt during his short time in Sonoma. Kudos to Blue Danube for putting together this tour, and to Pax Mahle, Kevin Kelley, and their respective teams at Wind Gap and The NPA for being such great hosts. Y’all done California proud!

Now on to this week’s events.

[Photo credit – the pictures above were taken by Eric Danch of Blue Danube Wines and are used here with his permission.  Also in the interest of disclosure, I was invited to the dinner by Blue Danube Wines.]


Mon., May 23: SPQR hosts Fulvio Bressan (Pacific Heights)

1911 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA

I never turn down an opportunity to attend a winemaker tasting pulled together by Shelly Lindgren, wine director at SPQR and A16. This week, SPQR is hosting Fulvio Bressan of Friuli’s Azienda Agricola Bressan. Four wines being offered by the taste, glass, or carafe – 2006 Verduzzo, 2004 Schioppettino, 1999 Pignolo, and 2003 Pinot Noir. Time to explore some new varietals!


Mon., May 23: Wine & Oyster Pairing w/ Randall Grahm (SoMa)

The Secret Wine Shop
1097 Howard Street, #209
San Francisco, CA

6:00pm – 8:00pm – $40 (tix here)

The always insightful and entertaining Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard will be at The Secret Wine Shop in SoMa for an oyster and wine pairing event, featuring 6 different types of oysters and 6 different wines (including thee from Bonny Doon: 2008 Le Cigare Blanc, 2010, Vin Gris de Cigare, and the 2009 Ca’ del Solo Estate Albariño). Bonus: all wines will be for sale at the event, along with signed copies of Randall’s book, Been Doon So Long. There are only 35 tickets for this event, so don’t dawdle.


Wed. – Thurs., May 25-26: Batič Winery Tasting Events (multiple locations)

Talk about old school: Slovenia’s Batič winery was founded in 1592. Winemaker Miha Batič is not quite that old, so he decided to fly in for a couple of tastings at Terroir and The Punchdown.

Wednesday, 6:00pm – 9:00pm: The Punchdown, 2212 Broadway, Oakland. $30.

Thursday, 4:00pm – 7:00pm: Terroir, 1116 Folsom Street, San Francisco. $25. And it looks like Terroir will be pouring the Batič all night.


Wed., May 25: Broc Cellars Dinner at Local Mission Eatery (Mission)

Local Mission Eatery
3111 24th Street
San Francisco, CA

$48 – three course dinner and wine pairing.

There are a number of young, talented winemakers in California, and at least one — Chris Brocway — resides in the Tenderloin. Enjoy three wines from Chris’s Broc Cellars (including his new 2009 skin contact Roussanne) along with a three-course dinner at Local Mission Eatery this Wednesday. Full menu here.


Thurs., May 26: Selection Massale Tasting at Arlequin (Hayes Valley)

Arlequin Wine Merchants
384 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA

6:00pm – 8:00pm – $15

Cory Cartwright and Guilhaume Gerard, the mad geniuses behind import company Selection Massale, have built up an enticing portfolio of small production wines and are taking the SF wine market by storm. I’ve turned multiple friends into serious acid junkies by introducing them to a couple different Selection Massale wines: the appropriately named “Mineral +” and the Vouvray from Frantz Saumon (one was consumed at Heart Wine Bar, the other at Terroir). On Thursday, you can taste through Cory & Guilhaume’s wines and meet these young importers.

[BTW – here’s a little more about Selection Massale from the company’s website: “Selection Massale sells wines we truly believe in. We do not sell wines based on points, scores, blog hype or anything else besides what Guilhaume and Cory like. We sell wines that we drink from producers we stand behind and nothing else. These are wines made from smaller independent winemakers, many of whom haven’t been represented in the states before. These are wines that go with food, lighter wines made for drinking, not showing off. We will work to sell you these wines at the best possible price we can. These are things we can promise you.” Well said.]

UPDATE – Here’s the line up.  If you like your Chinon dirty (oh, and I do!) then’ you’ll dig the Lenoir Les Roches!

NV Un Saumon dans la Loire ‘La Petite Gaule du Matin’ Vouvray
2009 Un Saumon dans la Loire Menu Pineau
Un Saumon dans la Loire ‘Mineral +’ Montlouis-sur-Loire
2009 Un Saumon dans la Loire
 Gamay Moelleux
2001 Alain et Jerome Lenoir ‘Les Roches’ Chinon
2002 Alain et Jerome Lenoir ‘Les Roches’ Chinon (from magnum) 

Oh, and block out next Thursday from 6-8pm. Arlequin will be hosting an Arnot Roberts tasting.



Planning a post-Memorial Day Weekend Wine Country visit?  Then consider setting aside June 4 for an event up in Healdsburg.

Saturday, June 4:  Russian River Valley Single Vineyard Night (Healdsburg)

Thomas George Estates
Healdsburg, CA

6:30pm – 10:00pm – $45 in advance, $80 at the door

There’s something special about single vineyard wines.  Something kind of romantic about the idea of a wine coming from one small parcel of land, and that speaks to the character of that unique piece of earth.  On June 4th, 30 different winemakers and grower partners (including Williams Selyem, Merry Edwards, and Siduri) will be presenting their single vineyard wine.  Plenty to nosh on too.



Rhone Rangers Recap

The Rhone Rangers rode into town a few weeks ago, bringing all sorts of goodies with them.  Even though I missed the winemaker’s dinner, I enjoyed the seminar I attended and the Grand Tasting in Fort Mason.  While this venue can at times feel too big, too crowded, and too cold for an intimate wine tasting event, the Rangers were able to strike the right balance, giving people a chance to actually learn about the wines that were being poured, and chat with the winemakers.

Instead of providing a full blow-by-blow recap of the event, I’ve jotted down the three things that stood out for me.

Top Tier Producers Continue to Experiment

It’s sometimes tempting at large tastings to focus on the newest, latest, hippest producers on the scene, and ignore the well recognized labels.  But if you didn’t stop by the Tablas Creek Vineyard, Qupé Winery, Ridge Vineyards, Bonny Doon, and Arnot-Roberts tables at Rhone Rangers, you missed out.  These wineries still have a bunch of tricks up their sleeves.  Tablas Creek has launched a new white wine blend (Patelin de Tablas Blanc) at $20, and is perfectly priced to be poured by the glass at your favorite restaurant.  In 2005, Bob Lindquist over at Qupé planted the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard and has farmed it using biodynamic practices.  It is now the source of some promising wines, including the unfiltered “Sonnie’s” Syrah (sourced from one block of the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard).  And Arnot Roberts has a Clary Ranch (Sonoma Coast) Syrah that clocks in at about 11% abv — relatively unheard of in today’s world of 15%+ wines.  It’s a good reminder that no one stays ahead by standing still.

Sierra Foothills:  An AVA on the Rise

There’s been a lot of talk about up-and-coming wine regions in California:  Lodi for Zin lovers, Lake County for Cabernet Sauvignon at sub-Napa prices.  For Syrah fans, the latest “hot” AVA may be the Sierra Foothills.  The Foothills were on my radar screen before Rhone Rangers because of some fantastic Syrah I’ve had from La Clarine Farms.  And I was happy to try wines from Bill Easton of Terre Rouge winery and Gideon Beinstock of Clos Saron at Rhone Rangers.  [BTW – YumSugar recently gave a shout out to the Clos Saron Cinsault/Syrah blend called Out of the Blue, which also happened to be one of my favorites.]  Many wines from this region display a mineral edge that gives them structure and depth.  Because people are just starting to pick up on the Foothills as a great source of wine, these labels may have limited distribution.  You can seek them out through the wineries’ mailing lists.

Evolving Palates:   The Wind Gap Story

I’ve had a problem recently:  some of the wines I stocked up on a few years ago now feel too big, too jammy, and (in some cases) utterly undrinkable.  I was a bit embarrassed about this fact until I heard that some professional winemakers faced a similar dilemma.  Take Pax Mahle, for example.  He started making Syrah under the eponymous Pax Wines label, and many of these wines were known for being rich, concentrated, and high in alcohol (creeping up to 16%).  But at some point, according to a recent article in Wine & Spirits Magazine, Mahle “stopped drinking his own wine altogether.”

Now, under his new Wind Gap label, Mahle is going after something completely different:  wines with more elegance and less power, more vibrancy and less shock value.  But don’t take that to mean that these wines are weak or thin:  all of the Wind Gap wines I’ve tried (including the Pinot Noir) have backbone and structure, and seamlessly weave together earth and fruit notes.  Wind Gap poured four wines at Rhone Rangers:  2009 Orra (Grenache, Mourvédre, Counoise); 2008 Rana (Grenache, Mourvédre, Syrah); and two Syrahs (2009 Sonoma Coast and 2009 Griffins Lair Vineyard – Sonoma Coast).  It was a great tasting line-up, but what I enjoyed most about these wines was knowing that someone could put aside past formulas for success, go in a completely different direction, and still excel.

NOTE:  Derek volunteered at a panel where Pax poured his Agharta Wines, a red blend that is aged in French oak barrels for 50+ months.  Let’s just say that Pax likes to walk on the wild side.


Barbara, the winner of our Rhone Rangers Ticket Contest, also had a great time.  The Grand Tasting gave her the chance to try wines from non-California producers, such as Oregon’s Cliff Creek Cellars (the Marsanne / Roussane blend stood out for her) and Virginia’s Tarara Winery.  She also had praise for Rock Wren Vineyards — a new winery in Green Valley, as they share a similar story to Barbara’s own Inspiration Vineyards.  Overall, she gave the event a thumbs up:  the crowds were manageable, and the food was stellar (props to the Girl & the Fig for their cassoulet).

Well, I hope this has given you some things to think about, and I hope to see you next year for Rhone Rangers weekend.

Jon Bonne / Randall Grahm at RRSF Panel

NOTE:  The Rhone Rangers were kind enough to provide us with a pair of tickets to give away to our readers, and we were provided with media passes for the Grand Tasting.

Leave a comment

Wine Events: Week of July 5

Hope everyone had a great holiday weekend!  I was back in Mendocino / Anderson Valley for a wedding, and picked up another bottle of Drew Pinot (this time their Gatekeeper Pinot).  It didn’t make it back to SF b/c I have absolutely no will power, and opened it up to sip &  share around the fire pit on the 4th of July.

Anyhow, this week features two East Bay wineries — a great chance to check out some of my favorite local small producers.  I’ll keep an eye out for additional events during the week, and if you’d like updates, please sign up for my twitter feed:  sfwineblog@twitter.



Thurs., July 8:  Donkey and Goat Winery @ Arlequin Wine (Hayes Valley)
Arlequin Wine Merchants
284 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA

Time: 6pm – 8pm – $15

Named by the New York Times‘ Eric Asimov as one of the top California Syrah producers, the husband-wife team behind A Donkey And Goat are no longer one of Berkeley’s best kept secrets.  I love the style – restrained, elegant, earthy syrah; some cool and refreshing whites; and one of my favorite rosés.  If you missed them at the SF Natural Wine Alliance tasting a few weeks ago, this is your chance!


K&L Wine Merchants

Sat. July 10: Wines of Argentina and Chile @ K&L Wine (SoMA)

K&L Wine Merchants
638 4th Street

Time:  noon-3:00pm – price TBD

Neither Argentina or Chile made it into the semifinals of the World Cup, but man do these countries pump out some good wines at reasonable prices.  Come check out K&L’s faves from the southern hemisphere.


Broc Cellars

Sun. July 11:  Broc-tacular Food & Wine Event @ Broc Cellars (Berkeley)

Broc Cellars
805 Camelia St
Berkeley, CA

Time:  1:00-5:00pm – $20

I have been looking forward to this event fo months.  Back in December, the boy-wonders behind SF’s Naked Lunch (which recently got a shout out from Travel & Leisure Magazine) and Berkeley’s Broc Cellars teamed up to host a food and wine pairing event.  And it was good.  It was oh so good:  I’ve had dreams about the Grenache / Pork Belly combo.  (Pls excuse as I wipe drool off the keyboard).  Seriously, this was one of the most memorable food-and-wine experiences I’ve ever had and a bargain for the price.  So brave the trip across the bridge, and pick up what I’m sure will become one of your favorite bbq wines:  Broc’s recently released Carignane.


Winery Profile: Drew Family Wines

Drew Family Wines

Drew Wines Tasting Room
9000 Highway 128
Philo, California

Hours:  Thursday – Monday, 11am – 5pm

Back in December, the SF Chronicle’s Jon Bonné wrote a glowing story of a small Anderson Valley winery,  Drew Family Wines, making well-structured, cool climate pinot noirs and syrahs.  I’ve had a print out of that article on my coffee table ever since, hoping to find an opportunity to try these wines.  Luckily, that day came over Memorial Day weekend, and the wines did more than just live up to the hype — they were the highlight of a day of tasting in Anderson Valley.

Drew Family Wines is run by Jason Drew and his wife Molly, natives of Los Altos, California. Having worked in Napa and Anderson Valley wineries, Jason left for Australia to continue studying winemaking.   After returning to the U.S., Jason began working for Babcock Winery & Vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills as their associate winemaker.  In 2000, he started producing wines under his own label, too, sourcing mainly from the surrounding areas.

But Jason and Molly wanted to go in another direction, and they started exploring sites in Northern California for a winery and a vineyard.  Jason had previously worked with Navarro Vineyards in the Anderson Valley, so the Mendocino area became part of that search.  In 2004, the Drews found their ideal location:  they purchased an old apple orchard in Elk, just south of Mendocino Village, and close to the coast.  This rugged terrain became their new home, and they’ve planted some pinot which will someday become part of an estate-bottled wine.  You can sense the excitement from Jason as he talks about this venture, and I’m sure that first vintage will be very special for both Jason and Molly.

The move north has resulted in many accolades for Drew Family Wines and their Mendocino / Anderson Valley sourced pinot noirs and syrahs.  In 2009, Drew was named a “winery of the year” by Wine and Spirits Magazine.  And as I mentioned earlier, that same year the San Francisco Chronicle identified Jason as a “winemaker to watch” and PinotFile called him “A star in the making.”

Drew Tasting Room

Now, consumers can taste these wines on their way through Anderson Valley.  In mid-May 2010, Drew opened a small tasting room space just past Goldeneye Winery.  They’ve decorated the space with great pictures of their wine adventures, including a priceless shot of their son taking a “swim” in a fermenting bin.  This is not an elaborate tasting room, and the soft pink, mission-style building seems a bit disconnected from the character of the wines.  These earthy pinot noirs and syrahs would probably be more at home in a weathered, dark-wood barn looking out over rolling hills.  [Yes, I know it may be an odd to think about the type of “house” a wine would buy if it were in need of a residence, but these wines have serious character.]  But putting architectural aesthetics aside — the quality of wines makes this tasting room a required stop during any trip to Anderson Valley.  And given the small production, a visit to Drew is your best bet for finding (and securing) a few bottles of these exceptional wines.

I’m a big fan of what Jason and Molly are doing.  They’ve got a clear vision of the types of wines they want to make, have taken some risks along the way, and are executing their plan flawlessly.  Please do stop by their tasting room when you’re up in the Anderson Valley — you won’t be disappointed.

WHAT I BOUGHT: Always a tough decision on how much wines to bring back, but I demonstrated tremendous restraint and limited myself to four bottles.  I have a return trip to the area in July, and am likely to pick up a few extra bottles during that excursion.

  1. 2008 Drew Valenti Vineyards Pinot Noir (Mendocino Ridge) – $36 (362 Cases):  A really fresh and tasty pinot noir, but a lot more restrained than the ripe pinots from the Russian River Valley.  This wine has great style, with enough tannins to make it a food-friendly wine, but not so much as to keep you from enjoying the balanced cherry-and-earth flavors (though note that the winery recommends cellaring or decanting).
  2. 2007 Drew Valenti Vineyards Syrah (Anderson Valley) – $30 (100 Cases):  Ridiculously small production from a difficult vineyard site, but wow was it worth it.  This is a mouth-wateringly good syrah that sent me into wine-tasting nirvana.  One sip of this wild, lively, structured wine conjured up images of a hearty lamb shank dinner.  I couldn’t believe the price point, and took home two bottles.  The other folks in the tasting room also picked up a bottle of this wine after tasting it, with no hard sell by either me or Jason — this wine just sells itself.
  3. 2006 Drew Broken Leg Vineyards Syrah (Anderson Valley) – $35 (115 cases) :  I tried the Drew 2007 Broken Leg Syrah, which was delicious, but needed some time to settle down.  Having had great experience with this vineyard before (A Donkey and Goat Winery also makes a fantastic syrah from this vineyard), I took Jason’s recommendation, and brought  home a bottle of the ’06 vintage.  I’m looking forward to opening this up at a later date, and will update this post when I do.  For now, here’s what the winery say about this bottle:

“The nose is generous with aromas of violets, white chocolate and blueberries. The flavors have seductive and wild fruits with the aromas with black cherries and raspberries. The structure is aligned and very cellar worthy.”
[please excuse me as I wipe the drool off my chin].

WHERE TO FIND IN SF: Drew seems to have limited distribution in SF retail stores, but much wider restaurant distribution.  Here are some place to try these wines in the city (and the quality of the restaurants below should probably tip you off that this is some seriously good juice):

  • Bacar
  • Epic Roasthouse
  • Foreign Cinema
  • Gary Danko (!!!)
  • Range