SF Wine Blog

Exploring wine in and around San Francisco.

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Wine Events: Week of April 9

I’m always happy to see favorite establishments get recognition from any publication, but I don’t put a lot of stock in “best of” lists.  So when SF Weekly published its “Best Wine Lists of San Francisco” article, and left RN74, Cotogna, Quince, and other well-regarded restaurants off the list, I didn’t protest too much.  I think these types of lists are generally meant to stir debate, and I don’t see the value in raising too much of a huff.  But I will say this:  I am happy to see some of my favorites get a pat on the back, including NOPA, Piccino, and A16.  If there are other restaurant wine lists you think deserve recognition, please let me know so I can check them out!

Now on to SF’s weekly wine events post.


Wed. Apr. 11:  Peay Vineyards Wine Tasting at William Cross (Russian Hill)

William Cross Wine Merchants
2253 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA

6:00pm – 9:00pm – $15

I just got back from a Peay wine dinner at State Bird Provisions, and I’m happy to say the wines were as good as I remember them from last year’s wine club pick-up day.  Both the Pinot and Syrah have refreshing, food-friendly acidity, and the second label Cep Rosé is a real crowd pleaser.  Owner Andy Peay will be on hand to pour the following:

2011 Cep Hopkins Ranch Sauvignon Blanc Russian River
2010 Cep Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
2011 Cep Rose Russian River Valley
2009 Peay Scallop Shelf Estate Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
2010 Peay Les Titans Estate Syrah Sonoma Coast


Thurs., Apr. 12:  Volnay Tasting @ Arlequin (Hayes Valley)

Arlequin Wine Merchants
384 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA

6:00pm – 8:00pm – $20

I have a soft-spot for Volnay.  While maybe less heralded than the wines from the Cote de Nuits, it can still entrance you with its elegance.  Volnay takes center stage at this week’s Thursday night tasting at Arlequin.

2009 Matrot Volnay ‘Santenots’ 1er cru
2008 Chandon de Brialles Volnay ‘Les Caillerets’ 1er cru
2007 Comte Lafon Volnay
2006 d’Angerville Volnay ‘Champans’ 1er cru
2006 Pousse d’Or Volnay ‘Clos d’Audignac’ 1er cru
2005 Girardin Volnay ‘Les Caillerets’ 1er cru


 Sat., Apr. 14:  Weingut J. Hofstätter Tasting @ Arlequin (Hayes Valley)

Arlequin Wine Merchants
384 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA

3:00pm – 6:00pm – $15

Martin Foradori of Weingut J. Hofstätter is in town to pour through Lagrein, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet grown in his family’s Alto Adige estate.  Here’s a video of Martin talking about his family’s estate during last year’s Vinitaly.


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Wine Events: Week of June 6

Every now and then, it’s good to get some validation. A few weeks back, I posited that Cep Rosé (brought to you by the Peay Vineyards team) was the best domestic Rosé on the market. It was my go-to pink last summer, and this year’s release is also stellar. This past Sunday, at Cochon555, two different wine pros who were trying this wine for the first time, came to me afterwards, and said, “Have you tried the Cep Rosé? It’s really good!” That says a lot, especially given the number of great wines being poured at the event. The domestic Rosé market is flooded with wines striving to be nothing more than simple summer sippers. But the Cep has some serious acidity, which allows it to hold up with food. At the $20-odd dollar price point, it’s a must buy. Both Bi-Rite Market and Arlequin Wine in SF have carried this wine in the past.

Before getting to this week’s events, I wanted to alert you to an upcoming case sale at Cheese Plus (2001 Polk Street (at Pacific)). From June 17-19, get 20% off a mixed case of wine from Greg Borden’s hand picked selection, which includes Puzelat, Chidaine, Texier, Selection Massale imports, La Clarine Farms, Hirsch Vineyard’s Bohan Dillon Pinot, and the Occhipinti Frappato (to name a few). Cheese Plus has become one of my favorite places to stock up on wine, and I hope you’ll make it there for this sale. Cheese Plus is also hosting a tasty Artisan Food Festival this Saturday from 10am – 4pm — great way to preview what you may want to add to your case next week!


Tues., June 7: Oddero at Acquarello (Financial District)

2000 Union Street
San Francisco, CA

6:30pm – $170 (not incl. tax and tip)
Call 415.567.5432 to reserve.

Join legendary Barolo producer Oddero and owner Cristina Oddero for a night of the old and new, featuring:

  • 2006 and 1999 Barolo
  • 2006 and 1999 Roche di Castiglione
  • 2004 and 1998 Mondoca di Bussia
  • 1996 Vigna Rionda di Serralunga

(lineup is tentative).


Wed., June 8: Oddero Wine Dinner @ Farina (Mission)

3560 18th Street
San Francisco, CA

5:30 pm – 10:00 pm

Missed Tuesday’s Oderro event? Here’s a second bite at the apple — Farina celebrates its fourth birthday with a special menu and Oddero wine pairing on Wednesday. Full menu and pairing options here.


Thurs., June 9: Burgundy Tasting at Arlequin (Hayes Valley)

Arlequin Wine Merchants
384 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA

6:00pm – 8:00pm – $15

Don’t know what the line-up is just yet. but the past two Burgundy tastings at Arlequin have been total winners. I’ll update the page later in the week with the wines being poured.


Fri., June 10: Kermit Lynch Italian Wine Tasting @ Vintage Berkeley (Berkeley)

Vintage Berkeley
2113 Vine Street
Berkeley, CA

7:00pm – 8:30pm – $5

12 Italian wines for $5. Yup. You heard me right. A dozen pours from small producers mainly from Piedmont, Liguria, Veneto, and Tuscany for less than an In-N-Out double-double. Get some.

  • 2009 Punta Crena Lumassina
  • 2009 Punta Crena Cruvin Rosso
  • 2010 Corte Gardoni Custoza
  • 2010 Corte Gardoni Chiaretto
  • Sommariva Prosecco (from Magnum)
  • 2010 Corte Gardoni Bardolino “Le Fontane”
  • 2009 Corte Gardoni Becco Rosso
  • 2009 La Pergola Monferrato Rosso
  • 2009 Guido Porro Barbera d’Alba
  • 2006 Geggiano Chianti Classico
  • 2008 Sesti Monteleccio
  • 2008 Sesti Rosso di Montalcino


Sat., June 11: Pink Party @ Solano Cellars (East Bay)

Solano Cellars
1580 Solano Avenue
Albany, CA

6:00 pm – 8:00 pm – $20 (tix here)

A full selection of rosés from around the world, selected by the good folks at Solano Cellars. Now that sounds like a worthy way to spend a summer weekend. And here’s an added bonus: people wearing pink will get a $5 credit towards the rosé of their choice (one side note: the event organizers have stated that this is limited to people “wearing pink outer garments,” so save the pink boxers for another occasion).


Mon., June 13: Neyers Vineyard Winemaker Dinner at Cafe des Amis (Cow Hollow)

Cafe Des Amis
2000 Union Street
San Francisco, CA

7:00pm – $110 (not incl. tax and tip)
Call 415.563.7700 to reserve.

Join winemaker Tadeo Borchardt from Neyers Vineyard for a multi-course meal paired with wines. 6 wines / 5 courses. Full menu available here: Neyers and Cafe des Amis winemaker’s dinner.


Mon., June 13: Taste of Mendocino (Ft. Mason)

Fort Mason
San Francisco, CA

5:00pm – 8:00pm – $35 (tix here)

As you may have gathered, I have been a fan of wines from Anderson Valley for some time now. But Mendocino County has a lot more to offer than just great wine. Thankfully for us city folk the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission and Visit Mendocino County are bringing the bounty to SF next monday. Craft brewers, cheese makers, and other food producers from Mendo will round out the 50+ wineries who will be pouring at the event.

Better yet, the organizers have adopted a mobile POS system, allowing attendees to purchase wines on the spot.

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Wine Events: Week of May 2

It’s a tough life being a wine fan in Northern California — every weekend seems to require a trip to wine-related destinations.  This past weekend, I skipped out on a day trip to Tahoe, and headed down to Paso Robles for the annual Hospice du Rhône seminars, tastings, and wine-fueled shenanigans.  Two of the most established domaines in France, Domaine Clape and E. Guigal, were on hand during the grand tasting, pouring some beautifully structured wines.  California was well represented, and the biggest surprise for me came from Paso Robles’ AmByth Estate.  Owned by Mary and Phillip Hart, this biodynamic winery is producing unique, expressive wines with Old World sensibilities.  Keep an eye out for them.  Later that night, the event wrapped up with a barbecue.  I was entirely entertained by seeing winemakers, importers, writers, and other members of the trade kickin’ back some juice, cutting the rug, even playing some craps.  If you like Rhône varietals, you should make some time for Hospice 2012 next year.

I’ll be back on the road this coming Saturday to pick up some wines from Peay Vineyards and Anthill Farms Winery.  Tough life.  If you are planning a road trip this weekend, keep two events in find.  First, for you fans of Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford Passport Weekend takes place this Saturday and Sunday.  Second, for those of you heading to the Sierras, Clos Saron is having an open house, including a paella dinner on Saturday night.  Details here.



Mon., May 2: Passport to Cabernet (Financial District)

The Bentley Reserve
301 Battery Street
San Francisco, CA

3:30pm – 5:30pm ($45)

The California Cabernet Society is hosting its annual barrel sampling tasting in San Francisco today.  Check out the 2010 samples from Napa wineries, including recent releases.  Corison Winery will be pouring, and I highly recommend you stop by the table and say hi to Cathy!


Tues., May 3: A16 Hosts Italian Winemaker Andrea Lonardi (Marina)

2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA

Winemaker Andrea Lonardi will be pouring five wines from southern Italian wineries Castello Monaci and Re Manfredi.  Well worth stopping by for a glass, a carafe, or a bottle (I became a fan of the Re Manfredi Aglianico del Vulure after a dinner at Beretta).


Wed., May 4: Brunello, Barolo, Barbaresco Tasting (Nob Hill)

The Jug Shop
1590 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA

7:00pm – 9:00pm ($20 – register here)

A great way to explore Italian wines on a shoe string budget — $20 gets you a chance to taste a large number of Brunello, Barolo, and Barbaresco this Wednesday at The Jug Shop.  The event is limited to 45 people, so register early!


Wed., May 4: Burgundy 101 (Class #2) @ Solano Cellars (East Bay)

Solano Cellars
1580 Solano Avenue
Albany, CA

6:30pm – 8:00pm ($50 – tix here)

I really enjoyed the first Burgundy 101 held at Solano Cellars a few weeks back, and am looking forward to continuing my educational pursuits this Wednesday.  Class #2 will focus on Premier Cru wines from the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits.  Seriously people, it would cost you an arm and a leg to buy all these bottles and drink them at home, so $50 for this class is a darn good deal.  (NOTE – There’s no need to have attended the first class in order to attend).


Thurs., May 5:  Savoie Tasting at Arlequin (Hayes Valley)

Arlequin Wine Merchants
384 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA

6:00pm – 8:00pm ($15)

The Thursday night tasting series at Arlequin may be the best bang-for-your-buck in the city.  Multiple bottles costing over $70 were opened up during the past few Burgundy tastings.  This week will be a bit more value focused, as Savoie ain’t the Burg, but it’s well worth exploring.


Sat., May 7: Bubble Bash @ Solano Cellars (East Bay)

Solano Cellars
1580 Solano Avenue
Albany, CA

Two sessions:  5pm and 7pm ($25)

Bubbles of all shapes, sizes, and types will be a-flowin’:  Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, Crémants……   Nyum, nyum, nyum.  Kirsten Jackson will be pairing the wines with some creamy cheeses, and if you “dress up,” you get a $5 bottle credit towards a sparkling.  I plan on coming dressed as Mr. Bubble.  Look out East Bay!


On Balance: A Recap of IPOB

To say that California Pinot Noir has suffered an identity crisis as of late would be an understatement. Some winemakers claim that California Pinot should embrace the ripe, rich fruit forward profile that the state’s warm climate makes possible. Others believe this noble varietal is best expressed through a more restrained style, one which reins in the fruit and alcohol levels that have become emblematic of California wines. This debate has been exacerbated by an attempt to meet the market demand for more Pinot after a certain Hollywood movie made Pinot the “it” varietal a few years back. The resulting increase in production quantity, however, did not necessarily coincide with higher quality wines being consumed.

March 28, 2011 IPOB Panel and Tasting

This provides at least some of the backdrop for the recent “In Pursuit if Balance” (“IPOB”) panel and tasting in San Francisco. Organized by one of the country’s best known sommeliers, Raj Parr of RN74 and the Michael Mina Group restaurants, and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, IPOB brought together a group of like-minded producers who strive to create “balanced wines.”

But what does that term mean? As Ray Isle (Wine Editor for Food & Wine Magazine) noted, balance is a concept that, perhaps, falls into the “you know it when you see it” category. Nevertheless, the organizers posited the following description of balance:

“[A] wine is in balance when its diverse components – fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol – coexist in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed. The genius of Pinot Noir is found in subtlety and poise, in its graceful and transparent expression of the soils and climate in which it is grown. Balance in Pinot Noir enables these characteristics to reach their highest expression in a complete wine where no single element dominates the whole.”

If only restrained wine can be balanced (as the organizers suggest by focusing on subtlety and poise), then the richer-style Pinots are necessarily unbalanced. “Balance” has, therefore, become a loaded term in the wine industry, and some have taken offense at the suggestion that their winemaking style inevitably results in unbalanced wines. Indeed, IPOB has had its critics: one Edna Valley enologist derided IPOB as “a cabal of elitists furthering their agenda” even before the event started.

Part of the problem is that balance is hard to define and even more difficult to evaluate objectively in a wine. Moreover, the subjective nature of the term makes it difficult for consumers to effectively use it as a descriptor. If you order a “balanced Pinot” at a restaurant, you may not be happy with the bottle that shows up at your table, as the sommelier’s sense of balance may differ from yours.

Case in point: Even though the IPOB producers were hand picked because of their emphasis on balance, I found some of the wines to be too bold and fruit forward for my personal taste. This is not meant as a slight against the organizers, both of whom have far more experienced palates than mine. Instead, I mean it as a complement — IPOB forced me to consider not only what I was tasting at the moment, but what it is that I ideally want out of a California Pinot Noir.

The event kicked off with a panel discussion featuring winemakers who source from some of the primary Pinot producing regions in California: Vanessa Wong (Peay Vineyards (Sonoma Coast)), Wells Guthrie (Copain (Anderson Valley)), Jeffrey Patterson (Mount Eden Vineyards (Santa Cruz Mountains)), and Sashi Moorman (Evening Land Vineyards (Central Coast)). The panelists discussed their personal winemaking philosophies, which was best summarized by Ms. Wong when she declared, “I’m not into wine that has a lot of shock value.”

Raj Parr and IPOB Panel

Wong was preaching to the choir. The gaggle of professional wine writers in attendance included many who have long derided the rich, opulent, muscular style of Pinot that has become pervasive. As Bloomberg reporter Elin McCoy noted prior to the event:

“I’ve had it with prune-colored California pinots that taste like over-oaked top-heavy syrahs. I give them a sniff, two sips just to be fair, then a groan and a thumbs-down score.”

If IPOB were simply limited to those in the conference room, it would have amounted to nothing more than a navel gazing exercise for industry insiders. Thankfully, one of the core missions of the event was to extend beyond the traditional industry press, and to reach out directly to wine consumers — “to open a dialogue between producers and consumers about the nature of balanced Pinot Noir….” To facilitate that interaction, the panel discussion was broadcast live over the Internet, and viewers had the opportunity to submit questions.

The organizers also invited the general public to attend a tasting later in the day at RN74, and the $45 entry fee was an incredible bargain given the quality and limited production of the wines being poured.

While there was some grumbling at both the trade and public tasting that the event was too crowded, consumers who attended were largely thrilled–even giddy–about IPOB. And for good reason: some of the most sought-after California Pinots were there for the taking (including Littorai, Calera, Peay, and Hirsch Vineyards, for example). As one friend put it: “The real highlight was the sheer awesomeness of the wine quality on the whole.”

IPOB Public Tasting at RN74

Equally as impressive was the number of smaller up-and-coming wineries that shared the stage. These producers held their own standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of California’s most storied wineries. During my post-IPOB dinner with friends who attended the public tasting, we excitedly exchanged notes about our newly discovered favorite winemakers. (See below for a few names to look out for).

I left IPOB with a deeper appreciation for the standard bearers who have consistently championed balanced wines, an excitement about the next generation of winemakers who strive for nuance and complexity, and a renewed interest in California Pinot overall.

Here are some additional thoughts and reflections on IPOB.

Finding Balance at a Reasonable Price

Balanced wines don’t come cheap. Indeed, many of the wines poured at the IPOB tasting carry a $50+ price tag. If the goal is to have consumers’ preference for wines shift from large, overly fruity, bulky Pinots, then more balanced wines need to be offered at a more accessible price point.

Thankfully, some of the wineries in attendance at IPOB have lower cost options. For example, Hirsch makes a $30 wine, The Bohan Dillon, from a blend of Hirsch’s younger vineyards and some non-estate fruit. Cep, a second label from Peay Vineyards, offers great value Sonoma Coast Pinot at around $26 (Cep also makes a great Rosé which you should keep an eye out for with summer right around the corner). And Copain’s entry-level Tous Ensemble line also comes in at a sub-$30 price point.

Now, if any of these producers could find a way to get a wine that can retail for closer to $20, we might see more consumers flocking to balanced Pinot and an end to the “bigger is better” market mentality.

Overcoming the Sideways effect: Central Coast Pinot

I hate Sideways, and think Miles (the movie’s protagonist) may be the biggest douche in film history. [There. I said it. Felt good. A bit cathartic.]. After watching that movie, I wanted nothing to do with him or his favorite wines, so for the longest time I avoided Central Coast wines all together. And I felt vindicated by the fact that the few Central Coast Pinots I tried were overly ripe bruisers.

But to prove that one should approach tastings with an open mind, I came away from IPOB with a much more positive opinion of Pinot coming from our southern neighbors. Josh Jensen of Calera and Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat have been making highly touted Pinot Noir out of California’s Central Coast for many years, and (as discussed below) these two luminaries have been joined by a new crop of very promising winemakers. Indeed, two of my first post-IPOB Pinot purchases were from Santa Maria Valley (both from Chanin Wines). While my heart is still in the extreme Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley, I’m looking forward to continue exploring wines from the Central Coast, thanks in large part to the IPOB tasting.

A Bright Future for Pinot in California

There was a lot of star power at IPOB. Icons like David Hirsch, Clendenen and Jensen were pouring their wines and mingling with guests. But what caught my attention, and the attention of my friends who attended the public tasting, was the new crop of young winemakers ready and able to carry the torch for balanced wines. In addition to Vanessa Wong of Peay and Wells Guthrie of Copain, I was particularly impressed with the wines from Kevin Kelley (LIOCO), Ross Cobb (Cobb Wines and Hirsch Vineyards), Jamie Kutch (Kutch Wines), and Gavin Chanin (Chanin Wine Co.). This well-stocked stable of California winemaking talent bodes well for the future of balanced Pinot.


SHOUT OUTS: Here are some of my favorite wines from the tasting, in no particular order. There were many other wines that I enjoyed at IPOB, but in the interest of brevity, limited this list to a handful of wines.

  • 2008 Chanin Bien Nacido Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley)
  • 2007 Cobb Wines Emmaline Vineyard (Sonoma Coast)
  • 2008 Cobb Wines Diane Cobb: Coastlands Vineyard (Sonoma Coast) [I tasted the Cobb wines again a few weeks later, and they still resonated with me.]
  • 2009 Copain Monument Tree (Anderson Valley)
  • 2009 Hirsch Vineyards Reserve (Sonoma Coast) (barrel sample)
  • 2009 Kutch McDougal Ranch (Sonoma Coast)
  • 2009 LIOCO Hirsch Vineyard (Sonoma Coast)
  • 2007 Littorai Wines Savoy Vineyard (Anderson Valley) [Hard to pick just one of the Littorai wines — all of them were excellent.]
  • 2009 Peay Vineyards Pomarium Estate (Sonoma coast)
  • 2009 Windgap Woodruff Vineyard (Santa Cruz Mountains)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Admittedly, this article is biased because of my own taste preferences, and the wines I’ve listed above may not be to everyone’s liking. To steal a line from Wells Guthrie, I’m looking for a Pinot with “less power,” but “more electricity.”

ADDITIONAL READING: Other posts regarding IPOB:

  • Jon Bonné (SF Chronicle’s Wine Editor) via Inside Scoop SF
  • Alder Yarrow of Vinography
  • Patrick Comiskey (Senior Contributor, Wine & Spirits Magazine) via Zester Daily
  • Also, please see my earlier post regarding In Pursuit of Balance which includes a full list of wineries that attended.