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Exploring wine in and around San Francisco.

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Wine Events: Week of April 30

There are far too many memorable events from last week to recap in full detail.  But I wanted to give a little shout out to Tablehopper Marcia Gagliardi and Michael Mina’s Josiah Baldivino for pulling together Saturday’s Languedoc tasting at Cafe des Amis.

This was my first Tablehopper wine event, and I was impressed.  It was well organized, informative, and fun.  The crowd was full of Tablehopper fans, a good number of whom seem to frequent Marcia’s events (the title “Tablehopper O.G.s” was thrown out there at some point).  And they were energized and engaged, not only posing questions to Josiah, but also talking to their neighbors and exchanging notes on their favorite wines.  While I usually turn to Tablehopper for restaurant advice, I’m going to be keeping an eye out for their wine events from now on out. Oh – and a hint from Marcia re Cafe des Amis Tuesday wine happy hour:  50% all bottles of wine.  The wine list is focused on French wines, and offers a good selection of  Burgundy (Raveneau, Dauvissat, Roulot).  NOTE: Out of the interest of full disclosure, I attended this event as a Tablehopper media guest. 

For those of you picking up wine at Arnot-Roberts in Healdsburg this Saturday — looking forward to seeing you there!


Thurs., May 3:  Corison Winery Tasting @ Arlequin (Hayes Valley)

Arlequin Wine Merchants
384 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA

6:00pm – 8:00pm – $20

I’ve sung the praises of Corison’s elegant Napa Cabernet Sauvignons before, and I was overjoyed to hear her named SF Chronicle’s winemaker of the year back in January.  On Thursday, you can meet Cathy and taste some of her library wines.

(BTW – I cracked open a bottle of that ’01 Napa Cab on New Year’s Eve, and it was gorgeous!)

2006 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
2004 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
2001 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
2003 ‘Kronos’ Cabernet Sauvignon
2002 ‘Kronos’ Cabernet Sauvignon
1998 ‘Kronos’ Cabernet Sauvignon


(c) John Trinidad

Tues., May 8:  White Burgundy Wine Class @ SF Wine Center (SoMa)

SF Wine Center
757 Bryant Street
San Francisco, CA

6:30pm – 8:00pm – $75 (reserve ahead of time)

Jordan Mackay will walk you through the wide variety of Chardonnay hailing from Burgundy next Tuesday.  This is a great opportunity to explore the variety of styles coming from different villages, and get a grasp on how terroir impacts the wine.  I’ve attended Jordan’s classes at the SF Wine Center before, and the wines selected tend to be of extraordinary quality.



Wine Events: Week of April 23

Many, many thanks to those of you who stopped by Arlequin on Thursday night for the Arnot-Roberts tasting.  Although I hadn’t planned on being behind the bar, the tidal wave of AR fans that started showing up at 6:30 made for a lively and busy night of pouring.  So I ended up lending a hand, and I really enjoyed about these wines, reminiscing about my time working harvest, and having the chance to see and hear people’s reactions to the wine.  The 2009 Fellom Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2010 Clary Ranch Syrah in particular seemed to get a lot of praise that night.  The former was restrained and elegant, while the latter was olive tapenade and gamey, whole-cluster goodness.

There were multiple other wine highlights last week, including a Sunday visit to Ridge Vineyard’s Monte Bello estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a remarkable dinner at Aziza in San Francisco.  You really need to go to this place.  Not only is the food incredible, and the wine list is spectacular:  lots of choice from all different price points, and plenty of things for both the novice and the wine enthusiast.  My dinner partner and I had a really tough time making up our minds.  We had to ponder the list individually, talk through the potential options together, and eventually called in the sommelier for some advice — a little like going to therapy.  (She gets credit for that line). Eventually we selected the 2001 Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Blanco and the 2007 Clos Rougeard Saumur Champigny.  I think we done good.

No rest for the weary.  More wine events to explore this week….


Wed., Apr. 25: The Natural Process AllianceDinner at Local Mission Eatery (Mission)

Local Mission Eatery
3111 24th Street
San Francisco, CA

We live in an area that embraces innovation.  And thankfully, that creative spirit is not limited to the tech sector.  Take Kevin Kelley of The Natural Process Alliance — a winemaker who every week delivers fresh, honest wines bottled in reusable Klean Kanteens.  It’s like the old school milk man, but boozier.  (Check out this great article for more info).  Kevin will be pouring his wines at Local Mission Eatery this Wednesday.  Call the restaurant at 415-655-3422 for reservations.


Thurs., Apr. 26:  Rioja Wine Tasting @ Arlequin (Hayes Valley)

Arlequin Wine Merchants
384 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA

6:00pm – 8:00pm – $20

As I mentioned in the intro, that  2001 Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Blanco I had at Aziza was gorgeous.  Great acidity and that classic nutty touch of oxidation.  I haven’t had any Rioja wines other than LdH in quite some time, but I trust the folks at Arlequin to pour a good selection of wines to highlight what’s the haps down in the region.


Thurs., Apr. 26:  Bourdeaux Events Sponsored by K&L Wines (SoMa)

Weinstein Gallery
291 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA

5pm-7pm – $60 (tix here)

The Tour des Deux Rives touches down in San Francisco on Thursday, with a bunch of Bourdeaux peeps in tow, including: Christian Moueix (Hosanna and Certan de May); Veronique Sanders (Haut Bailly); Thomas Duroux (Palmer); Bruno-Eugène Borie (Ducru-Beaucaillou); Sylvie Cazes (Pichon Lalande); and Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy (Mouton Rothschild).  And here are the wines that will be poured: 2005 Château Mouton Rothschild 2004 Château Clerc Milon 2005 Réserve de la Comtesse 2006 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2004 & 2007 Château Bernadotte 2005 Ducru-Beaucaillou 2005 Croix de Beaucaillou 2005 Château Lalande-Borie 2003 Château Haut-Bailly 2007 & 2008 La Parde de Haut-Bailly 1995 Château Palmer 2006 Alter Ego de Palmer 2007 & 2008 Château de Pez 2009 Château Haut-Beauséjour 2004 & 2007 Château Hosanna 2005 & 2008 Château Certan de May 2007 Château Lafleur-Gazin 2009 Château de Sales 2005 Château Magdelaine 2008 Château Puy-Blanquet 1996 & 2004 Château d’Armailhac.

Feeling a bit spendy? There’s a dinner later that night at La Folie for $625 per person.


Sat., Apr. 28:  CA vs. OR Pinot Tasting @ K&L Wines (SoMa)

K&L Wine Merchants
638 4th Street
San Francisco, CA

noon-3pm – $20

Oregon and California winemakers have a friendly rivalry, duking it out for the best domestic Pinot Noir.  Come taste what both states have to offer this Saturday at K&L.  Here’s the lineup:

2010 Trisaetum ” Coast Range Estate” Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir
2009 Hirsch Vineyards “San Andreas Fault” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
2009 Calera “Mills Vineyard” Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir
2009 Patricia Green “Olenik Vineyard” Chehalem Mountain Pinot Noir
2010 Sonria Shea Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
2010 Domaine Eden Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
2009 Domaine Drouhin Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
2009 Paul Mathew Vineyards Russian River Pinot Noir
2010 Ken Wright “Nysa Vineyard” Dundee Hills Pinot Noir
2010 Siduri “Rosella’s Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir


Sat., Apr. 28:  Languedoc Tasting @ Cafe Des Amis (Cow Hollow)

Cafe des Amis
2000 Union Street
San Francisco, CA

2pm-4:30pm – $35

The foremost authority in Bay Area restaurants, Marcia Gagliardi (aka “Tablehopper” and the recently-named food editor of 7×7 Magazine), teams up with Michael Minna’s sommelier Josiah Baldavino for an afternoon tour of Languedoc wines. I’ve met Marcia and Josiah, and I can guarantee that this will be an informative, entertaining, and boozy afternoon.  Here are the featured wines:

  • Antech “Brut Nature” Blanquette de Limoux
  • 2010 Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet
  • 2010 Château de la Negly “La Brise Marine” Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc
  • 2011 Château Viranel “Tradition” Saint Chinian Rosé
  • 2008 Domaine du Trillol Corbières
  • 2009 Château Rigaud Faugères
  • 2009 Domaine Grès St-Paul “Antonin” Coteaux du Languedoc
  • 2010 L’Olivier de la Rèze Minervois
  • Les Petits Grains Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois

If you miss out on this event, there will be plenty of opportunities to taste Languedoc wines in May as part of L’Aventure Languedoc – a series of tastings and dinners sponsored by CIVL (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc).


Sun., Apr. 29:  Twitter Rioja Tasting @ the Internets (WWW)


Ever take part in a Twitter wine tasting?  Basically, you hop online with a bunch of peeps to drink a predetermined type of wine (either wines from the same region or same grape), and exchange notes.

A handful of producers from Spain are taking part in a twitter tasting this Sunday, and the theme is “NextGen Rioja” – a tasting sponsored by the Vibrant Rioja trade organization, to “showcas[e] younger generation winemakers and wineries either following the traditional/classic Rioja style or exploring a more modern approach of winemaking.”  Follow along on Sunday by using the #RiojaBuzz Twitter hashtag, and follow @RiojaWines.  I’ll be tasting the suggested wines and following along, too.

For more information on how to participate, and for a list of the suggested wines, click here.


Sun., Apr. 29:  Joli Vin Imports Tasting @ DigWineSF (Portrero Hill)

1005 Minnesota Street
San Francisco, CA

5:30pm – $40

What a great way to cap off the weekend:  spending time with Wayne of Dig Wine and Nadia of Joli Vin Imports.  Oh, and sipping on everything from grower champagne to Côte Roannaise.  I’ve been to an importer tasting at Dig before, and love the intimate setting (and the plates of food from Piccino to nosh on!).  Here’s what you can expect:

Domaine Marie Courtain Champagne, Résonance, Extra Brut 2008
Domaine de la Tournelle Fleur de Savagnin 2009
Domaine Vincent Gaudry Sancerre L’Espirit de Rudolf 2010
Domaine Robert Sérol Côte Roannaise, Les Vieilles Vignes 2011
Domaine Terres de Velle Auxey-Duresses 2009
Domaine Pas de L’Escalette Les Petits Pas 2010
Domaine Pierre Gonon Saint-Joesph 2010


Mon., Apr. 30:  Juris Winery Dinner @ Bar Tartine (Mission)

Bar Tartine
561 Valencia
San Francisco, CA

7:30pm – $39 per person.  Tickets here.

If you follow along on Twitter, you know that I’ve spent my fair share of time at Bar Tartine.  What’s not to love about well-executed dishes and great service? Shoot, even Michael Bauer is all up in Tartine’s bizness.  Here’s what he said in his recent review:  “Once in a while, a restaurant comes along that is so different and exciting that it becomes my personal benchmark.”

On Monday, Bar Tartine is teaming up with the folks at Blue Danube Wine to host a winemaker dinner with Austria’s Juris Winery.  Juris is found in the Burgenland (near the border with Hungary), and as the name suggests, it’s the home to a fair amount of Pinot Noir and St. Laurent (a variety considered to be in the same family as Pinot Noir).  Proprietors Axel and Herta Stieglmart will be on hand to walk you through the wines.


Note/Disclosure:  I’m excited that I was invited to attend a few of these events (including the Languedoc tasting and the Juris tasting) as a member of the media.  I had been planning on posting these events on the weekly update even before I received the invite.  

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Wine Events: Week of April 16

There’s an interesting trend going on in the local beer and wine scene, with a number of brewers and winemakers making special batches for individual restaurants.  Linden Street Brewery is making beer using Tartine bread yeasts. The NPA has made a special white blend for the new Namu Gaji.  And now Dan Petroski (Massican) has made a special Chardonnay for Acquarello.  I’m excited about this partnership between the beverage and restaurant world, and look forward to tasting the customized brews and juice.

Now — this week’s San Francisco wine events!


Wed., Apr. 18: SPQR hosts winemaker Paolo Vodopivec (Pac Heights)

1911 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA

“The lesson (again) for me is that so much exciting wine can be found outside the realm of the familiar.” – Eric Asimov re Vitovska

Vitovska might not be the best known grape variety, but it has certainly gained the attention of some influential wine writers.

Winemaker Paolo Vodopivec has dedicated himself to making Vitovska, and aging these wines in clay amphorae.   You can meet Paolo and sample his wines by the taste, glass, carafe, or bottle at SPQR on Wednesday.  For more on Vodopivec, please see this excellent write-up by Cory Cartwright.


Wed. Apr. 18:  Esoteric Wine Tasting at William Cross (Russian Hill)

William Cross Wine Merchants
2253 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA

6:00pm – 9:00pm – $15

William Cross is breaking out some odd-ball wines this week.  A good way to expand your palate.

2009 Ferrando La Torrazza Erbaluce di Caluso
2010 Domaine Edond Jacquin & Fils Marestel Roussette de Savoie
2010 Weingut Niklas Schiava Alto Adige
2008 Weingut Binz Dornfelder Nackenheimer
2010 Masseria Li Veli Susumaniello Salento
2007 Alois Trebulanum Campania


Thurs., Apr. 19:  Arnot-Roberts Tasting @ Arlequin (Hayes Valley)

Arlequin Wine Merchants
384 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA

6:00pm – 8:00pm – $20

Y’all know I have a soft spot for Arnot-Roberts.  But can you blame me?  Not only did Nate and Duncan give me the chance to work harvest with them this past year, but the wines are stunning.  Here are some notes re the wines being poured on Thursday night.

2011 Touriga National Rose – “One of the best rosés I’ve tried … perfectly balanced, fresh but complex, low sulfites but still perfectly clean.”

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Fellom’ / 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Bugay’ – “This is far and away the most exciting Cali Cab discovery for me in many years; the Cabs of Arnot-Roberts are delicate, fresh, nuanced, unique… interesting. After tasting at Arnot-Roberts, I left with the overwhelming impression that California Cabernet – one of the most famous categories of wine in the world – could still be sensually exciting, intellectually stimulating and TRUE to terroir, just like any great French Bordeaux.” (re 2008 Cabs)

2010 Syrah ‘Clary Ranch’ – “[T]he best American Syrah I’ve tasted. At 12.2% alcohol and perfectly ripe, this has all the savory flavors of the grape, with great acidity, precision, and clarity for California Syrah.”

2010 Syrah ‘Griffins Lair’“…exceptional energy and minerality… a stunning wine that captures the Arnot-Roberts style at its very best.”


Sun., Apr. 22:  French Wine Tasting @ K&L Wines (SoMa)

K&L Wine Merchants
638 4th Street
San Francisco, CA

2pm-5pm – $75 (tickets here)

No need to cross the Atlantic to enjoy the Tour de France.  K&L will guide you through Champagne, Bourdeaux, Burgundy and many other regions this Sunday.


Harvest in a Bottle

Arnot-Roberts Touriga Nacional Rosé

According to the publisher of a now-defunct wine publication, “The romance in wine is spent.” I beg to differ. While the prominence of the 100-point system and the proliferation of “critter” labels may be disheartening, spending time in a winery during harvest is all I needed to spark a love affair with wine. I was reminded of this recently as I cradled a bottle of the 2011 Arnot-Roberts Touriga Nacional Rosé — one of the wines made during my harvest internship and the first of the lot to be bottled.

Working Harvest

I developed a strong interest in wine ever since moving to the Bay Area a little over five years ago. Ready access to Sonoma and Napa made the agricultural core of winemaking more apparent to me. I was also lucky to meet many people who were willing to talk about the history, science, and craft of winemaking.

Last summer, during a break from my legal career, I decided to continue my wine education by seeking a harvest internship in California. But I didn’t want to work for just any winery. I wanted to find a place that continued to explore the full potential of domestic wines. A place willing to take a gamble on lesser-known grapes and obscure growing regions. After all, the U.S. has a relatively young wine history and part of the excitement about California wine (at least for me) is that there is still plenty of unchartered territory.

That spirit of adventure is what drew me to Duncan Arnot-Meyers and Nathan Roberts, the owners/winemakers at Arnot-Roberts. Duncan and Nathan have made a name for themselves by producing high-quality, balanced Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay. Although they could have relied solely on the popularity of these well known varieties, they started seeking out some odd-ball grapes, including Trousseau Noir (also known as “Bastardo”) and Touriga Nacional, a red grape variety typically used to provide tannin and structure to Port. There are approximately 220 acres of Touriga planted in California — less than 0.5% of total amount of Zinfandel in the state. It takes guts to make wines that people have never heard of much less be able to pronounce. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Duncan and Nathan agreed to bring on board an attorney with minimal winemaking experience for harvest 2011.

Let me dispel any notion that I had traded in the law firm for sun-soaked days traipsing through vineyards. The bulk of harvest consists of manual labor: moving heavy objects, scrubbing down bins, shoveling out tanks. I probably spent more time handling a power hose than I did walking through vineyards. It is exhausting work, and the rewards are not always immediate or obvious.

Harvest Tools: Cleaning the Tank

One of my favorite activities in the winery was the pump over. When red wine grapes arrive at the winery, they are put in large bins. As fermentation begins, the resulting carbon dioxide pushes the grape skins to the top of the tank, creating a cap that sits on top of the juice. In order to ensure a healthy fermentation and promote color and tannin development, the skins and the juice must be kept in contact. One way of accomplishing this is to pump juice from the bottom of the tank and use a hose to spray over the cap.

A friend at a Napa winery told me that all the guys there loved doing pump overs because they feel like firefighters when they get to lug the hoses around the winery. I never thought of it that way. To me, pump overs were about providing basic care and feeding. I felt more like an attentive gardener rather than a swashbuckling firefighter. Each time I got to pump over a bin, I thought about how the color and smell had changed from one day to the next, and contemplated the natural process that allowed these changes to happen. When Duncan first taught me how to do a pump over, he mentioned that he found it to be very meditative. I can see why: there is a certain calm that comes over you as you tend to the needs of the juice and must.

Arnot-Roberts Fellom Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (10/24/2011)

2011: A Challenging Year

In addition to juggling the multiple tasks involved in any harvest season, wineries must also keep a watchful eye on the weather. The combination of cool weather and rain made 2011 particularly challenging for California winemakers. Percipitation that late in the season can lead to rot or mildew. Wineries have to play a delicate game of chicken with Mother Nature, and decide if they should continue to let the grapes hang to ripen and risk potential crop damage, or pick them early, potentially before the berries have reached the desired level of ripeness. According to a local newspaper, “grape growers [were] reporting significant signs of damage to [Sonoma] county’s $400 million crop” as a result of early-October rain storms. Every morning at The Flying Goat, a Healdsburg coffee shop, you would hear multiple people say, “I’ve never seen anything like this in all my years in the industry.” During this stressful time, Nathan and Duncan were in constant contact with the vineyard managers with whom they worked, and scheduled numerous visits to see first hand how the vines were doing in order to determine when to bring in the grapes.

Taking the Touriga Nacional from Grape to Bottle

On October 13, Nathan and Duncan decided to pick the Touriga Nacional from Luchsinger Vineyards in Lake County, an AVA about 1.5 hours northeast of Healdsburg. I eagerly waited for the bins of grapes to arrive, hoping that the higher elevation and lower humidity of Lake County had allowed the grapes to dry out from the rain. Thankfully, the clusters were healthy — ripe berries with good acidity and minimal damage. After we QC’d the lot of them as they rolled by us on the sorting table, we pressed the grapes whole cluster (i.e., stems included), and the resulting juice ended up in a large steel fermentation tank.

10/13 - Sorting Arnot-Roberts Touriga Nacional

We kept an eye on the temperature and the sugar levels as we waited for nature to take its course and for natural yeast fermentation to begin. When it did, it was magical. I was mesmerized by the bubbling cauldron of juice turning into wine, the heat that rose from the surface, the alluring smell of fruit and spice. And the color — a stunning raspberry red — had us wondering if the Rosé might actually turn out to be darker than the Trousseau. This liquid had a palpable personality and life force of its own.

10/22 - Arnot-Roberts Touriga Fermentation

As the sugar levels dropped, we started sampling the goods. It was lively — lots of zip and good structure to boot. Nobody wanted to claim victory quite yet. The winemaking process is long and drawn out, and there is plenty of room for things to go awry. There’s no counting chickens before they’re hatched in this business. We were, however, cautiously optimistic that this had the potential to be the best domestic Touriga Nacional in the history of California wines. [Yes, I know that’s going out on a limb.]

I wrapped up my harvest internship in early November but got periodic updates from Duncan and Nathan. I found myself talking about the different wines as if they were kids. (“Oh how’s Joey? He was always a strong student — is he still getting As in school?”). During a Beaujolais tasting at Arlequin Wine in mid-November, I asked Duncan how the Touriga Nacional was doing. I can’t quite recall what he said (no doubt due to the amount of wine consumed that night). I do, however, remember him raising an eyebrow, nodding his head, and giving a thumbs-up.

Two weeks ago, I had a chance to come back to Healdsburg and was happy to find that Nathan and Duncan (along with help from our friends Pedro Rusk and Hardy Wallace) had bottled the Touriga Nacional.

Giddy. Proud. Awe-struck. It’s hard to pick one word that describes how I felt when I first saw this bottle of wine. I imagine it’s how parents feel when they see their kid graduate from college. You take some pride in thinking that maybe, just maybe, you had a hand in making it possible. But you also realize that there are so many other forces at play — forces that are largely out of your control — and you simply give thanks that you’ve gotten to see this day.

I hardly recognized the wine. The color had softened dramatically and now had a slight salmon pink tinge. How did it taste? Frankly, I was so overcome with harvest memories that I didn’t take the time to jot down aromas or flavors. But that doesn’t bother me. The first sip brought together pleasure, excitement, and experience — something any score, aroma wheel, or tasting note would fail to capture.

There are a number of other wines that will be bottled over the next 12 months, and there will be countless moments of nostalgia for harvest 2011. Indeed, most of my favorite red wines from the 2011 vintage won’t be bottled for quite some time. But you always remember your first, and that’s why this particular wine will always be special to me.

Even in the modern era of commoditized supermarket wines, there is plenty of romance to be found. It is in the appreciation for the agricultural roots of the industry; the sense of exploration, experimentation and discovery of certain California winemakers; and the awe-inspiring transformation of grapes into wine. Even as I write this, I can feel my mind race, my pulse quicken, and a smile creep across my face. If that isn’t romantic, I don’t know what is.

Arnot-Roberts Touriga Nacional Rosé

Arnot-Roberts has an open mailing list, which means you can sign up and buy the Touriga Nacional directly from the winery. Here are the official winery tasting notes:

Our 2011 Rosé is made from 100% Touriga Nacional grapes farmed adjacent to our Trousseau block by the Luchsinger family in Lake County. The fruit was harvested at 21 brix on October 13th and was direct pressed to steel tank for a native yeast fermentation. The pale salmon colored wine has aromatics of blood orange and melons dusted with white sage and sea salt. The wine has some weight from the structure of the Touriga grape but floats delicately to a crisp and fresh finish with great acidity, (12.4% alc). We are very proud of this wine and think it will pair well with shellfish, seafood, game, poultry and even mildly spicy foods.

[Note: picture of the sorting table was taken by Robert Morris of Copain Custom Crush, and is used here with his permission.]