29 August, 2008

Labor Day! Gateway to Cheese!

And no, I'm not talking about VH1 Classic 80 Hours of the '80's, although let me tell you, the big haired earnest drama and clumsy special effects call to me with a siren song as strong as the saltiest cave aged Gruyere!
Anyway, the Cheese School in San Francisco's North Beach has been around since 2006. Located in a naturally aged brick walk up, the sunny space host events suitable for the food professional or the merely curious. As the Indian Summer heat waned, Xandria and I hit their Drop in Night. Ukulele music? Not sure about that. However, I was instantly in love with the locations; attention to cheese and wine pairing. They served two wines, a Tocai Friuliano "Vida Rose" from David Noyes and WELLINGTON 2004 GRENACHE "ESTATE VINEYARD" SONOMA VALLEY. These were selected to pair first the white with the softer, floral goat cheeses and the red, with the harder cheeses. In actuality, both went interchangeably. The heat of the day made the Tocai a welcome palate refresher. The grenache was a great wine. With complex chocolate, spice and a hint of licorice at the end. The cheese, as you can imagine, was off the hook.

Tomme - Georgia This cheese was a cow milk variety with Havarti like characteristics

Chapparal - Santa Margarita Valley, CA. Made from a blend of sheep and cow milk, this had a rich, round flavor with a hint of sheep on the finish. Because I'm not the biggest fan of anything gamy (read: all things ovine), I needed bread with this to balance the taste
Ayr - Vermont This cow milk cheese tasted like a creamier cheddar. Hard and salty, it was a masterful pairing with the Grenache. A slight grapey taste rocked alone or with bread. My favorite!

Promontory - Utah Is Promontory Mormon for "velveeta"? This cheese tasted off and kind of processed.

Grayson - Virginia Delightful slightly ( and when I say slightly, the aroma wafted over on the early evening heat the second we crossed the threshold of the place) stinky cheese with brie-like qualities along with a more assertive sharpness and lovely rose colored rind. I'll be looking for this one.

Bellies full of cheese, we wobbled out into the evening prowling for wine. Having never been there and already having parking, we thought we would try to take public transportation to Cellar 360 ://www.cellar360.com/cellar360/index.jsp Of course, you're exactly right...this has trouble written all over it. The public transportation part. We gave up and cabbed it out to their location. And a good thing too, as we were cutting it a little close. But we were able to get a great overview of the interesting classes they offer and are definitely signing up for the Mushroom class. The tasting room is lovely, the staff super friendly and knowledgeable. We had a quick taste of the good things they have to offer: Etude Pinot Noir! Since they had already locked the doors, we reluctantly left this lovely spot and ventured into the fog to trace our way back to the car. Xandria's inappropriate footwear and my latent lazy streak prompted us to dispense with the pretense of public transpo. Grabbing a cab in SF can be like hunting ocelet. Luckily, Ana Mandara is like a watering hole for our elusive quarry, so in seconds (almost like a reward for resisting the pull of cocktails!) a towncar pulled up. We know value when we see it and snagged it. A good time was had by all!

24 August, 2008

It's a Family Affair

400 Wineries gathered in one place to celebrate the rich past, present and future of wine making and provide samples for a thirsty public ---trade/media and otherwise. Entering was a little overwhelming as tables filled the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason all laden with offerings from the dedicated wine professionals who harness their passion and drive to create diverse wines. All things wine A - Z from Abundance Chardonnay to Zenaida Zinfandel. I did not pace myself and instead flung headlong into tasting with no rhyme or reason. However, this was one of those events. where you simply could not go wrong. Except in not reading that there would be no concession area and in skipping lunch. It could have been so very tragic...Except my saviours the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and Columbo Baking Company were there serving up all the cheese you could eat!!! With a deal like that, who needed concessions? Standouts for me:
Twisted Oak Petite Syrah

Ackerman Family Vineyards Cab Sauv (Napa. YUM!)

C.G. di Arie Barbera

Chasseur Pinot Noir (PS: Chasseur = hunter... Chaussure = shoe)

Siduri Pinot Noir

Small Vines Pinot Noir (Delightfully Burgundian!)

Yorkville Cab Sauv

23 August, 2008

Taste of Railroad Square

If there's anything I love, it's boozing and noshing for a worthy cause. It's great to snack for the kids/disease/injustice or in this case to benefit the 6th Street Playhouse, a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization, celebrating its outstanding youth and adult School of Drama education programs and a full season of musicals and plays in the G.K. Hardt Theater and The Studio.6th Street Playhouse is a proud member of the Historic Railroad Square Association.For information about 6th Street Playhouse including show and class schedules visit http://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com/. Yes people, drama is important.

We walked around sampling wine and snacks and getting reintroduced to a very cute area, downtown Santa Rosa. The standouts for me were the Sunce wines at Fabulous finds. I love visiting Sunce for the Russian River Valley events and their wine does not disappoint. Rich, fruit forward Zinfandel and Syrah. Both paired well with the pulled pork sandwiches. The Wine Spectrum Bar and shop had a delightful Willowbrook pinot noir---so delightful, I did not miss the no snack aspect. The place itself is super cute and the staff knowledgeable and fun. I'll definitely be back here! The standout wine for the day for me had to be the Matrix and Mazzocco being poured at Sherrie Blondin's Photography. Besides the fact that "Dr. Sherrie" (she can so fix the look of your abs, nose, significant other! The girl has Talent!) was showcasing her work, the wine was excellent. I particularly enjoyed the Matrix '03 Bordeaux Blend. Composed of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 8% Petit Verdot & 4% Cabernet Franc, I got floral infused notes as well as black currant and a delightfule woodsy aroma underneath. I also like the Mazzocco, but cannot remember which one it was! From a snack perspective, my favorite was the Kobe beef slider served with truffle fries! Kobe beef needs to be properly cooked to maximize its juicy goodness and the folks at Stark's did a great job seasoning, selecting the brioche bun and pairing it with truffle fries, which are quite possibly the world's most perfect food. Paired with a nondescript, but serviceable KJ, one longed for a more inspired match, however, the smoky ambiance more than made up for it. Comfortable leather club chairs and a live band serving up late '70's AOR straight out of the movie "FM" took me back to Marin County. Someone find me a peacock feather! Delightful. By now somewhat tipsy, we somehow found a place serving Fred Flintstone portions of *gasp* Cold Stone Creamery Ice cream cake. Ambrosial delights of ultra creamy strawberry ice cream artfully wrapped around tender yellow cake. A few more stops then I reluctantly parted company with the Luscious Lushes, at Bistro Syrah, I grabbed a bottle of Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc to take to my next stop. Railroad Square definitely left me wanting more! Thanks, Thea!!!

14 August, 2008

Back to my roots

I choose to “retaste” the varietal that first enslaved me to wine.

The David Bruce 2005 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir was a bottle that I just happened to have in my “cellar.” I chose it because Dr. Bruce’s Pinots are the ones that made me the Pinot Noir fan I am today, but it was not the first David Bruce Pinot that I tasted. Here is the story:

Back at the beginning of the 21st century I had an oenophile boyfriend who was submissive. As he wanted to please me he brought me on a little winery tour of the Santa Cruz Mountains which of course included David Bruce. It was there that I realized that Pinot Noir could be heavenly, elegant, and velvety. At that time we were drinking the 1999 and 2000 Pinots from Santa Cruz and Russian River which were so lovely, so well-crafted, so impressive. Submissive Steve was also quite impressive at that time:)

But to this day I wonder if it was the velvet and silk mixed with the cherry and the raspberry, the earth and the vanilla spice that enslaved me? Or was it the foot massages lovingly administered to my aching feet as I sipped the 2000 Santa Cruz Hills Pinot that brought me over the edge Pinot Noir fandom? I continue to ask myself: “Who is the real submissive?” Obviously, I am the slave to the luscious Pinot Noir. Thank you Dr. Bruce for the good memories and the good times… And, oh yeah, the David Bruce 2005 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir was quite good.

13 August, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday # 48 Back to my Roots: Amista Cabernet 2004 Dry Creek Valley

Back to my roots, back to the beginning, seemed like a perfect theme to hop into Wine Blogging Wednesday. Like my fellow Lush Thea, having grown up in Northern California and being of an age to remember when all the tasting was free, I was no stranger to the exceptional QPR of sunny weekend days in the wine country. I remember having the route down pat: Race to Beringer to get the free tour tickets, back to BV, Sutter Home (White Zin: Chicks dig it!) Charles Krug, Inglenook, Louis Martini, and then "drive" gingerly to Sattui to obtain enough snacks so that they didn't get upset when you cracked open a bottle of something else, and drink, nosh and nap until I knew the CHP would not dispute my sobriety. However, the "free" was more the attraction than the wine and I will admit we spent more time thinking about what shoes, what skirts, what hair than what to drink.

To go back to my roots in terms of wine appreciation, I have to skip several checkered episodes involving Almaden French Colombard, Beringer White Cabernet, and house red in a plastic tumbler. Growing up in San Francisco, a lot of my friends were Italian and their dads would always pour dark, tannic red jug wine. But somehow from the allure of underaged drinking, our tender palates were primed to crave big, tannic reds---out of control oak an bonus. It was like a mark of sophistication to crave wine that made you pucker. Affordable cabernet. Of course wine adventures were then, as now, everywhere. And I can identify the event when my tastes took another turn. I'll gloss over the backstory: Crazy friend, her much older-married boyfriend, his Bolinas hideaway, me, innocently along for the ride. Grampa, happy to have two hot 22 year olds to entertain nips down to the cellar for a bottle of the good stuff. In this case, it was a Napa cab that was about 10 years old at the time. Completely wasted on my misguided friend, who practically spit it out and asked instead for some Chateau La Salle. I on the other hand was enraptured. The wine had dark smoothness and delicious complex flavors. It would be years before I met that wine's equal and sadly, I did not have the self possession to write down the name of that elusive treasure. So for wine blogging Wednesday, I grabbed the only Cabernet I could find. Xandria will vouch that for some reason the tide has turned at Chez Liza and all the Napa cabs are gone! So, it was a 2004 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Amista. Slow to open, this wine drank like a Shiraz, so memory primed for big, chewy, grippy tannins, I was a little disappointed. But about an hour later, it had opened up to a more cabernet like blast of berry and chocolate. Almost a nod to my old friend Lolita, there was a definite raspeberry Tootsie Pop flavor along with some licorice, black currant and coffee.

This is a food independent wine. Recommended with lamb and grilled meat, it was fine with assorted cheeses especially the perennially delightful delice de bourgogne and my new favorite cave aged gruyere. Except that is was an artically brisk day summer day in San Francisco, the wine and snacks took me back to where it all began: California cabs----BrixChicks dig those!

12 August, 2008

My Riesling Revelation (or "how to coat the tang")

I am sure that by now you have read Liza’s post in which she waxes rhapsodically about cheese (even the waxy kind.) I, too, was at the Solano Cellars wine/cheese class and all I have to say is that I had a revelation about Riesling. I actually liked it. I used to think Riesling was for little old German ladies and 18 year old college coeds wanting a sweet buzz. I think it still is but now I know that it is the ultimate wine to pair with any tangy, salty cheese. The fizzy, peachy, honeyed elixir performs alchemy on the palate transforming the salty tang of the cheese into creamy goodness. Riesling was even good with the gooey cheeses and the waxy ones. It was all good! Wow!!

So here is the “news you can use”: next time you find yourself needing a wine to go with cheese pick something with a good amount of residual sugar, like a Riesling, Zinfandel or Syrah. Simple but true…

05 August, 2008

Cheese is my Waterloo

Bringing together my mutual passions of wine and cheese, Solano Cellars http://www.solanocellars.com/did a super job of educating, expanding the palate and, most of all, making it fun. Kirsten Jackson and Jason Lefler teamed up to choose and present a series of cheese and wine parings. First of all, Solano Cellars is a great location on Solano Avenue in Albany. Mediterranean architecture, orderly elegance and comfortable bar stools, plus purse hooks: my personal hall mark of thoughtfulness mark this location. Our class was about 8 people and lively. The first pairing was a Chevrot , Loire Valley, France with an 'o7 Domaine de la Charmoise Touraine Loire Valley, France ($18). The wine and the cheese made an easy going duo. The Cheese had a clean, grassy taste with a goat character without being gamy. Unpasteurized and aged for 2-4 weeks prior to transit, this cheese, though low (well, lower) in fat had a fresh , creamy taste with a slight edge of grassiness that paired effortlessly with the sauvingnon blanc based wine. A suggested pairing for red, would be Cab Franc from the Loire as well. This was definitely a case of terroir in food and wine being complementary. The wine actually paired pretty easily with all the cheese, including some Cashel Blue, which some people in the class (not me) actually loved. The second suggested pairing was an Epoisse from Burgundy with an '05 Domaine Chevalier Bourgone, Burgundy ($26). This pairing was poetry in dairy! Epoisse is a rich, creamy cheese that looks like it want s to turn itself into fondue at room temperature. Delightful. The wine had a spicy, complex character that seemed to sketch out fruit more than present any discrete fruitiness of its pinot noir basis. Normally, I will choose California wine over French however in this case, this burgundy epoisse pairing took the prize. The wine was able to hold its own across the cheese spectrum. The next, was a New World smackdown, pairing a '06 Chasseur Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($42) with hometown favorite Redhawk, Tomales Bay cheese. Together, this much lauded Pinot Noir with the local cheese worked well. However, the wine was nasty with the otherwise delectable Epoisse and did not match with anything else particularly well.

After those structured pairings, we started down a more random path of trial and error to see what worked and what we didn't with the rest of the line-up:

'04 Feraud Brunel Cotes du Rhone, France (15.75)
Based on grenache, this wine has a pleasant Black pepper aroma and flavor
'05 Copain L'hiver, Syrah, Mendocino, CA ($20)
Beautiful, subtle oak with blueberries and dark fruit flavors. Weirdest combination was strong taste without sweetness of Kahlua when paired with Carr Valley Benedictine and Gruyere.
'04 Les Hauts Lastours, Quercy France ($10)
If you are putting a wine and cheese plat together, this wine is your friend. At only $10, this blend of Merlot, Gamay and Malbec was a pleasing balanced wine on its own, that paired easily with all the cheese from French goat to Irish blue.
'07 JJ Christoffel Erben "U-W" Rielsing Kabinett, Mosel Germany This cheerful, sweet wine pairs easily with all the cheese. It was meant to pair well with the blues. However, if you know my penchant for Botrytis, this pairing sent me running to Solano Bar and Grill
http://www.solanogrillandbar.com/ for fresh peach ice cream, and the delicious Botrytis infused Semillion.
Cheddar, Safeway If I had more shame, I would not admit that I polished off my waxy, slice of cheese-like product. If you concentrated really hard, you could taste cheese. It made me long for a bean burrito and a microwave ( I didn't have much lunch).
Montgomery's Cheddar, Somerset, English Delightful Enlgish cheddar emanating from the famous Neal's Yard. Salty and delicious. However, caution, easy as it was to pair this delicious cheese, it had a nasty vein of ash that was as shocking and distasteful as kissing a secret smoker.
Carr Valley, Benedictine, Wisconsin A delightful blend of cow-goat-sheep, blending the milks achieved an even, salty taste with lots of dimensions that are sure to please.
Cave Aged Gruyere, Swiss Alps Switzerland Salty, grainy, rich cheesy goodness. This cheese was the standout of the evening. Bring in the Thunderbird! This cheese could make it yummy!
"Danish" Blue - Safeway: As with the cheddar, this product has a pronounced cheese-like taste. Wait a minute! This is supposed to be cheese? Are you sure? Yes, this blue had trouble standing up to the oh so superior examples.
Cashel Blue. Tipperary, Ireland Also from illustrious Neals Yard dairy. Wow! Tart, sharp, creamy blue cheese that was deligtful with many different wines as well as on its own
Ha! Nothing but rind (See "after" photo of cheese plate)
As far as classes go, this rocked!

03 August, 2008


Earlier this year, I had the most fun volunteering at the ZAPfest. More Zinfandels than I could think of drinking and the opportunity to boss others around. I almost feel guilty taking a thank you gift. Almost. As a thank you, the wonderful people at ZAP, offered us hardworking volunteers special access to the Seghesio picnic. New Orleans Jazz, Barbecue from the Salt Lick all the way from Austin, TX. Talk about tender. Mouthwatering brisket with a special sauce that carefully blended secret spices and smoky flavor. Pork ribs that melted off the bone with their own sweet-savory-tart-tangy sauce and more Zinfandel than I could count all waiting to taste. Set in beautiful Healdsburg, the winery grounds are lovely and the day was on the point of being too hot, bit under the sprawling magnolias, we snacked and sipped. Many familar Zins---Manzanita Creek, Matrix, St. Francis, Sausal, Rosenblum, etc. Many winemakers were actually there pouring their wines including Carole Shelton, whose Wild Thing, Maple Zin and Mongo Zin I enjoyed. A standout surprise was a new discovery: Starlite Vineyards http://www.starlitevineyards.com/wine.html I tried a very complex, elegant wine with a ton of raspberry, floral, vanilla notes. A beautiful wine! Bocce ball (watching, not playing) and Flour Chylde's yummy biscuits. All in all the perfect day!