24 September, 2008

Rave Wine and Food Pairing of the Week - Le Colonial, San Francisco

While some of my colleagues were drowning in a River of Skulls last Saturday, I was dragged totally against my will to Le Colonial, San Francisco. NOT! I actually went there willingly with my companion Sherman because the food there is always good and because I knew there would be pork on the menu. Right away Sherman spotted the Thit Kho Chien also known as braised pork belly. Check out this description: “Braised Niman Ranch pork belly roulade with a savory caramel sauce, white truffle oil, hosui pear, pickled bok choy and a quail egg.” Sweet, savory, tangy, fatty with a little crunch all rolled into one mouth-watering delicacy. What wine would you choose to accompany this? The only grape in my mind was Merlot. Alas, they did not have one by the glass so I chose the next best thing: a 2005 Bordeaux blend from the Craggy Range winery of Hawkes Bay, NZ. Little did I know of the alchemical perfection I was about to experience. But first the wine: The 2005 Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernet Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels Vineyard. Yes, the restaurant was dark but so was this wine. It showed a medium to deep carmine color. A profound nose of plums and cassis. Medium + tannins with hints of oak gave a fine structure to the berry richness of this elegant yet restrained Bordeaux Blend. I was not sure how good of a food wine this would be but I had to let go and just trust the Sommelier’s picks. Good thing too!
The medium high acidity of this wine totally supported the sweet/savory sauce keeping the sweetness and acidity in a fine balance. The sweet/savory flavors also brought out a bit of sweetness in the wine which was actually a welcome addition. The tannins also matched the fattiness of the pork belly and the richness of the white truffle oil. This pork belly almost melted in my mouth and the flavors and textures made my palate sing. So, when are we going back???

22 September, 2008

Update from Liza-land

Must...dry...out! While DSL is down (many thanks AT&T!, she said facetiously, typing like an animal tethered to an ethernet cable) notes are piling up! Tune in later for updates on:
New Adventures in Murphys!
The joys of Viader!
Waterbar...Is the Snark an endangered fish?
New love of my life---THE SPANIARD!!! (Molly---you in danger, girl!) Hahahaha!

17 September, 2008

WBW #49 - What will I drink to toast out George W?

I love this topic! But how to narrow down my selection for toasting. Well, if it's a happy toast and I fervently hope it will be, nothing will do like a nice sparkler---of which there is no shortage at Chez Liza. Now, to be fair, I will pull out the Dommy P if in fact my man Obama knocks out Caribou Barbie, but to lift such an anticipatory toast seems overconfident. Rifling through the back of the fridge where the champers hides out, I pawed through several Shramsbergs, however given the whole Nixon-China-Calistoga connection, Shramsberg drinks too much like an RNC libation, so I skipped that. The "Il" a lovely blush Prosecco from the Veneto goes too far the other way being way too much of a blue state treat (and with it';s $9.99 price tag, there is some pricier beer)Whew! Who knew this selection would be so tough? Finally I found it, in the crisper. A Perrier Jouet non vintage Grand Brut of indeterminate provenance. It's shrouded in mystery, like the current administrations---so many unanswered questions, so many bottled up regrets. In fact, I can't even remember which of my ex boyfriends this wine came from, because I really don't remember buying it. With so much uncertainty---will it be corked? where did it come from? will it be bitter? Sweet? bittersweet? I grabbed the bottle by its delicate French neck and hauled it over to Luscious Lush Thea's house for our WBW exercise. Like a true pro, Thea twisted wrenched and popped the cork with barely a hiss of mist. Gingerly I sipped. Wow! This stuff is good. Complex with a palette full of flavors, toasty, fruity, crisp and well integrated, I observed the bubbles and drank deeply. Big bubbles, big trouble I quote my champagne source. It's been in my refrigerator too long, like our current administration. There's no shortage of bitterness, when I pull it out, however it drank sweetly like the promise of a yellow diamond future.

15 September, 2008

Wines from the Midwest - It's just a big party

Finally, I am taking a short respite from my busy life to visit my parents in Chicago and I find out the Windy City Wine Festival (sponsored by Binny’s Beverage Depot) is happening at the same time. Quelle coincidence! So I walk down Michigan Avenue to the stunning Millenium Park, walk past the “Bean” (the coolest piece of large public sculpture I have ever seen) and by myself a ticket. I peruse the program and see that most wines are from California and France and I have tasted many of them. My eyes eventually spy an interesting entry: Easley Winery from Indianapolis. They make wine in Indianapolis? So I scurry over to booth 54 and start up a conversation with the hungover vendor (the festivities had started the night before.) They were featuring Reggae Red, Reggae Blush, and Reggae White each bottle decorated with the requisite dread-locked Rasta Mon on the label. These wines are made for good times. They are highly sweet, easily drinkable, and have a higher alcohol content than beer (approximately 10.5%)!! I also tried a Cabernet Sauvignon blend made with a French hybrid red grape called “Chancellor”. They could not remember the names of the grapes but according to the American Appellation website the parentage of the grape is a cross of two French grapes with the name of Seibel (named after the chemist who created them.) This grape does well in the extreme cold and heat of the Midwest. This Cabernet blend had a little more acidity and tannin (but not much) with a hint of black cherry on the nose.

Mr. Easley then reported that there are approximately 25 wineries in Indiana, over 100 wineries in Ohio and over a 100 wineries in Missouri. What California wine lover/snob/aficionado would know that? Certainly not I!

Mr. Easely then sent me over to the St. James Winery from St. James, MO located in the Ozark Highlands. OHMIGOD, they make fruit wines! Strawberry, blackberry, cherry and Concord Grape! All with at least 6% residual sugar. I tried the Concord Grape wine called "Red Velvet." Honestly, it is way too sweet for my palate but the intoxicating aroma of black cherry and cinnamon were lovely. Then the vendor introduced me to the Friendship School Red and Friendship School White which I gladly tasted. This fruity Schoolhouse Red is made of a hybrid grape called “Rougeon.” No one seems to know the exact parentage of this French red grape but again it is made to withstand the extremes in weather. Very sweet but these had a little acidity in them to keep my interest…I wonder why these wines are not marketed in Northern CA . The Friendship School White actually won a Bronze medal in the 2008 San Francisco Wine Competition. I guess we Californians take our wines so seriously…It is our heritage, after all. And do they make “serious” wines with acidity, more tannins, more structure in IN, OH, MO, MI.? I have a lot more research to do here…

Every wine has its own time and place from the big, oaky, fruitbombs of CA to the aromatic, tannic Merlots of St. Emilion to the cloying fruit wines of Missouri. I can totally see myself at a BBQ back home with a group of girlfriends chugging down the Reggae Red just as easily as I see myself savoring the goodness of my favorite Hope and Grace Pinot Noir.

14 September, 2008

South brings us Country Vintner and tastes of all things good Down under

If you haven;t been to South Food +Wine on Townsend near 4th in San Francisco,you simply must go! Their food, wine program and service is awesome and never, never gives me anything to snark about---and people you know i would! Today was no exception. Country Vintner put together a super line up of Australian and New Zealand wines. Serious yummy! Accompanied by Luscious Lush Thea, who as a true wine professional imposes order on the headlong careening that passes for wine tasting in my book, I felt I benefited from an orderly approach. We started with the whites and proceeded in an orderly (well, it ends ups sounding orderly on paper anyway) Here are my standouts:

Lawson's Dry Hills 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Lovely citrine color with blasts of tropical fruit including top notes of passionfruit along with balanced acidity

Longview Vineyard 2006 Shiraz "Yakko" 12 months in French Oak give this ruby beauty its fruity yet balanced character of all things good about Shiraz

Loose End 2005 GSM This stellar blend from the Barossa Valley produced a striking combo: floral fruitiness from the Grenache, muscle from the Shiraz and a dark blackberry finish like an over the top train on an Academy awards gown from my personal hero, Mourvedre brought everything to bear on this luscious wine. At $16.99- literally a bargain at twice the price! It's not that we had to dance to get more wine from wine maker Rob Dawson, its that the delightful GSM and Shiraz made us want to shake our groove things! These wines rocked!

2005 Picardy Chardonnay - Heat of southernnmost Pemberrton made a custardy rich Chardo

2004 Picardy Shiraz Made in the Rhone style, this light peppery Shiraz went down easily

Vinaceous - EVERYTHING !!!

Divine light - Verdelho

Raconteur - Cabernet

Red Right Hand - Blend

Snake Charmer - Shiraz

Mesmerizing labels like vintage circus posters, the only thing freakish about these wines is how tasty they all were!

2007 West Cape Howe Chardonnay "Unwooded" Delightful grapefruit finish with exotic citrus like whispers in a back room. Nick Stacy charmed us as much as his wine did!

I hope the Country Vintner Winemaker tour comes around again and again!

13 September, 2008

Donkey, Goat, Eno, & Broc

Weekends in the East Bay. Yay! Perfect temperature, dry with plentiful parking, wine and snacks! Whoo hoo! So first stop with barely enough time to snarf up breakfast and complete chores. I drove past the famous Wine.com (when are they doing their sale again?) ignored the pull of the Fourth Street merchandising to show up at the Donkey and Goat/Department C tasting. Located in sunny Berkeley, we had the best time, tasting a plethora of good wine, grooving to some good music and eating some seriously tasty snacks, including Humboldt Fog, St. Andres, and Point Reyes Blue (and that was just the cheese) There were also very tasty asian spice infused pulled pork sandwiches as well as smoked ham. First stop on the tasting route, at the suggestion of Luscious Lush Thea, was the Department C offering. Starting with a beautiful '07 Sins of Addition Vin Gris, this Central Coast Pinot Noir contributed to a robust structured white. Refreshing. Department C was also pouring 2 other Pinots, a lovely '07 Sant lucia Highlands Old Vine Pinot Noir which was delicious with a textbook pinot lusciousness of red stone fruit and complex tastes along with an '07 Santa Cruz Pinot Noir that was redolent with the taste of smoked meat---perfect to match with the aromatic herbaceous sopressata they were serving up. Donkey and Goat, home of some of my favorite roses, did not disappoint with their other wines,. Except for the delightful Tamarindo Rousanne, which was a stand out at tasting, but alas is not commercially available. Still, there was lots to please with the 2006 Fenaughty Viognier Shiraz blend---mostly Shiraz with 3% co-fermented Viognier which lent the robsut red a florally complex something special to the nose. Standout for me was their 2006 Three Thirteen A delicious Eldorado GSM with a sweet nose, but exceptionally food friendly in practice. As well, we checked in the 2006 The Recluse. Made in the french style, also included mostly Syrah with about 3%co femented Viognier, which lightens the richness of the wine and provides a lively floral quality to its aromas. Very good! We were also able to drive the short distance to Broc Cellars, where Eno and Broc were pouring more deliciousness than time allowed. I remember a stellar rose poured by Broc. Everyone everywhere should stock up on this as wine lovers or those with indifferent palates will appreciate it's dry yet fruity flavors and aromas, lovely color and standout label! Also of note: Eno Syrah. Though we all ate an indecent amount of the custom grilled pizzas, after they started flashing the lights we realized we still had tiome to hot foot it to Lost Canyon before last pour,. How glad am I that we did! I tried some standout Pinots including 2006 Russian River Valley Pinto Noir, Widdoes Vineyard after a full day of wine tasting, this still stood out as a flavorful, balanced and complex Pinot with a rush of red stone fruit and lovely flavors. You have to go! http://www.lostcanyonwinery.com/about_tasting_room.htm By the time we got the tour and finshed the tasting program here, we were all, if you can believe it, hungry again and looking for wine! So we caravanned it to the Franklin Street Wine Bar. Because I have been disappointed by them several time s in the past, I called first. With so much gfoing on in the sunny Bay Area, we had this place pretty much to ourselves. Most of us ordered the "White Collar Pinot" Flight, which included 2006 Brewer Clifton "Cargasachii Vineyeard" from the Santa Rita Hills. Delicious with lots of red fruit and a little spice, this wine was food friendly. Also a French offering , less successful snuck in from 2006 Le Pimentiers Pinot Noir Spare and minerally, this tasted disappointing especially with my Le Demon du Midi cheese and bresaola with arugula salad and cornichon. The White Corn chowder was especially delightful! with its cross hatches of creme fraiche and delightful hints o f pepper, it went well with 2006 Sierra Madre Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley. We ordered 2 desserts for 5 people and so got down "Lord of the Flies" style on a yummy espresso creme brulee and nectarine frangipane. What an awesome day!

11 September, 2008

Wine + Chocolate = good!

Maybe it's not as obvious a combination as wine and cheese, but the appeal of wine and chocolate was more than enough to draw me in. Plus, I had long been curious about Crushpad http://www.crushpadwine.com/, which is an amazing facility located in Dogpatch. Basically, it is a DIY boutique for all things wine making whether you are a hobbyist or looking to create your own label, they take the garagiste philosophy and provide all the bells and whistles to come out of the process with an extremely drinkable result. It definitely called to Anni and me! But this evening was all about chocolate. Due to unforeseen circumstances (week from hell, muscle spasm in back and resultant vicodin/generic relaxant cocktail), I was a teensy bit late, but still found my people. Brian H., Tom J., Kristy and Anni were hard at work collecting chocolate. I grabbed a glass of rose and got started. We were all assigned a sheet of chocolatiers and instructed to collect samples from each.
Amano Artisan - Dark, flavorful. They made it simple to grab nice chocolate meant to go with wine.
Coco Delice - Edited selection of beautiful handmade chocolate. I particularly enjoyed cognac trruffle and salty caramel
Jade Chocolates - Standout for me was Salty Caramel bon bo
Newtree Chocolate - Many exotic flavors matched to mood:Cherry, Cassis, stood out and paired well
Saratoga Chocolates - a Busby Berkley musical of delights! Shapes! Colors! Flavors! Beautiful decorated chocolates: Pomegranate, Black and Tan, Raspberry, Salty Caramel, Garden Hearts, etc...
Schoggi - Shiny rich dark chocolate also truffle
Tcho- Matched well with wine My favorite had floral notes of Ylang Ylang
The Tea Room - Many exotic treats including Mata, salty caramel bar, Earl Grey
The premise of the evening was to select some chocolate, taste and then taste with a selection of wines to see which the group felt was the best match for chocolate. Not sure how scientific it was, but definitely fun. The first wine poured from barrel samples was an Alder Springs Merlot. The wine had a jammy nose that was so full of blackberry goodness it could carry a Smucker's label. While the color was lovely and the wine drank well (for a Merlot), it was a little thin. But I did find three parings in the Coco Delice, Tcho and Tea Room. Next came a delicious Zinfandel. I drifted of on a cloud of bliss matching chocolate after chocolate to this delicious Grist Zinfandel, with its beautiful nose of fruit and spice. It had an almost continental complexity, but its feet firmly in California fruit forward tastiness. I waited, saving most of my chocolate for my expected favorite pairing, the Cabernet, which was a Vineyard X Cab Sauv from Beckstoffer. I'm not sure if my palate was fatigued, I had crossed the line from tipsy to sloshed or I was approaching sugar overload,, but I missed the tannic grip I would have loved. The wine tasted spritzy with a Kool-Aid-y presence and no finish to speak of. We felt this was a wine that would be ready to drink soon and didn't seem to have lasting power. I liked it with the simplicity of th edark, rich Amano, as well as the exotic tea flavors of the Tea Room. But I was not pleased by the combinations of the truffles and bon bon types, although to be fair, those would be very tough to pair. However, on their own, they went down exceptionally easily! I think the non-scientific straw poll of the crowded room was the Cabernet. What were those people thinking???To be fair to the Cab, Tom had held back a little of the Zin and later after so much chocolaty goodness, it did not taste as delightful as initially. When the Crushpad folks flashed the lights, we took the hint and staggered off to the Dogpatch Saloon for some dog watching, local consorting and a glass of Guinness to top off the evening of chocolaty goodness!

04 September, 2008

Auntsfield: Tonic for a heatwave

There's a reason I love the pinot noir grape so much. Besides the fact that it's delicious, it's fractious, mercurial and loving of cool breezes and shade---all emotions I can second. So, with the recent heat wave, I've been wishing someone would put me under a canopy! And I've been craving the white wines! So when Luscious Lush Thea sent over the invite for a free wine tasting of New Zealand wines I was all in (even though it meant literally speeding back to the east bay from a short exile in Cupertino!) Dreaming of crisp Sauvvy Blancs and interesting Chardos, I was not disappointed. Luc Crowley from Auntsfield Estates was pouring a refreshing 2007 Auntsfield "Long Cow" Sauvignon Blanc ($21). The wine was a pale, clear yellow and lush with fruit flavors more peachy than tropical, which I found delightful. Only slightly darker in color was the 2006 Auntsfield "Cob Cottage" Chardonnay ($26). This wine spends 10 months in French Oak and then goes to stainless steel tanks giving it luscious stone fruit flavors with balanced acidity to make it an easy drinking wine with none of the things that can so annoy about Chardonnay. The standout of the evening was the 2006 Auntsfield "Hawk Hill" Pinot Noir. Its intense mocha cherry aromas wafted over on the warm air as it was being poured. The flavors were bold with hints of brown spice, cassis, and beautiful stone fruit. Excellently balanced for acidity, this wine has a dark, intense vibrancy to the color and a silky richness to its texture. The finish was amazing! Luc Crowley the winemaker was charming and very informative and provided great information on everything we asked from how the wine was made to how New Zealand Wine Industry handles issues of sustainability. Thankfully he did not volunteer to guess our age or weight as was threatened in the invite from Solano Cellars. In gratitude, I made no references to Hobbits, Hobbit Caves or hobbitry of any kind

01 September, 2008

Lodi Rules!

Before you think all of yesterday's White Zin went to my head permanently, let me tell you Lodi Rules is a certification process that the growers of Lodi have put together to drive sustainable wine growing. I, myself, love Lodi wines and was thrilled to see that even though my bad planning left me shut out of every Slow Food Tasting Pavilion, I could still get a ticket to sip.

This class put together a lot of information in a short time and combined it with some fun tasting. Plus, it cleared up some misconceptions I had about how far away Lodi is (everyone I know in Sacramento assures me it's more than an hour away---it's really about 35 minutes! I have GOT to go!).

Since Lodi growers get about $500 a ton for their grapes when Napa growers get closer to $4000/ton, this program is working to differentiate Lodi and elevate its profile. In creating a comprehensive set of rules to drive towards sustainable growing, Lodi is putting itself at the forefront of a burgeoning movement to look not just at the environmental issues of sustainability, but also to create a tripod of balance around issues of economic viability and add to it something the 1920's founders of organic did not think of: Social Equity. Lodi's focus on the health of the community as a whole was interesting.

There's a cacophony in the marketplace: Bio dynamic? Organic? Sustainable? To sulfite or not to sulfite? To quell our inherent fear of "chemicals", the presenter pointed out, water is a chemical. In addition to the complicated alchemy of wine creation, guidelines to help navigate issues of how much power is used, quantifying human/social costs, etc are laid out in a handbook to provide Lodi growers with a blueprint for sustainability. As well, they view the topic of sustainability as a continuum to strive for instead of a Utopian end point past diminishing returns. The topics raised were interesting, however, the tasting was what we were all waiting for.

2007 Bokisch Vineyards Albarino: This was a stunning wine with a variety of rich fruity aromas. The notes described them as " Bosc pear, Fuji apple and mandarin rind" which seemed accurate for the melange of fruit. The flavor had a tropical presence with dried pineapple the most pronounced. Medium bodied, it had a lovely mouthfeel holding to the just the brink of

creamy. Delicious.

2006 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha: Typical grenache has more of a delicacy of fruit that it contributes to blends or displays on its own, however, you could almost feel the heat of the Lodi sun blasting a rich volcanic clay loam to produce a heavier fruit presence. This wine initially had aromas of geranium and strawberry and then opened up to a nose of red fruit and a slight taste of tar on the mid palate underneath a plethora of berry, fruity tastes without being sweet.

2006 St. Amant Lodi Mohr-Fry Ranches Old Vine Zinfandel: I'm a girl who like her Zins in all their possible incarnations. This wine was a delicious surprise. Immediately opening up to pleasant aromas of vanilla and raspberry, they give credit to the Delta Breeze, that cool marine layer that wafts in from the San Francisco Bay, turning right toward Napa, but also blanketing Lodi with exactly what they need to produce delicious Zins. Slightly grippy, this was a wine that could match with a variety of foods easily. Delightful!

2006 Delicato 337 Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine was a last minute substitution for something lost in transit. It definitely would have benefited from some more attention. It needed time to open up and breathe. Initially the nose was all vinegar, but at the end of the class after a little more than an hour it had opened up to tasty licorice and Christmas spice. Beautiful dark color, but definitely did not drink like a Napa cab. Still, for such a young wine, it was delightful.

So, we have to go! Visit http://www.lodiwine.com/ to plan your visit. Guess what? The tasting rooms are still free!

Wine Wobbling Stay-cation

Okay, so I completely blocked the end of summer and forgot about Labor Day, so ended up deciding to stay local for the duration. And where else to start with the Bay Area's best value than the Wine Mine http://www.winemineco.com/ . For only $1.00, we tried 5 Pink wines. I love anything with that seductive blush hue. These wines ranged. My favorite, which I bought, was the pink Il, a charming pink prosecco from the Veneto region. I was particularly charmed by the way they got us to try the White Zin. As they poured the second choice, the server engaged us in a guessing game. So convinced was I that it would be Pinot Noir, I could actually smell the champagne bubbles. Then, he told me I was cold. But it was a Russian River varietal? We sipped, we swished we guessed---wrong. And then when we finally realized it had to be Zinfandel, white zinfandel we were so delighted with ourselves for guessing, it was fully five minutes before we realized. Hey, it wouldn't be the last of the White Zin for me, but then, I have a fondness for the 80's in general (is that VH1 classic marathon still going on?).

The convenience of the stay cation is that I could go home to drop off my purchases and avoid any risk of baking my wine, which I did on the way to the Art and Soul festival in Oakland.

This three day extravaganza hosts several stages of dance, blues, latin etc. And vendors galore purveying all manner of inappropriate food choices. So we wandered sampling sausages, snacks, Ethiopian honey wine observing the crowd, the booths and even spent some time watching the acts. But what I was really after was Barbecue. Xandria remembered a visit past and the best barbecue from some random place in Hayward. Of course at the end of out walk, adjacent to the blues stage we found a barbecue place with the only detail she could remember: Hayward. We got a plate of tri-tip and a plate of ribs and created a DIY combo. Xandria selected a Merlot. Inspired by my visit to the Wine Mine, I selected the Vendange White Zinfandel. Cool and slightly sweet, it stood up to the rich barbecue with a sauce redolent of smoky spices and slinky with honey, the meat perfectly cooked to a toothsome tenderness. After taking advantage of the washing up stations, we tried to go to the Franklin SquareWine bar http://www.fswinebar.com/, but alas, like last visit when they forgot about us and we huffed off to Sea Salt, we arrived too early and never made it back. I saw the Grayson cheese plate in the window, too. It would have been fun. Maybe later. Because the downtown was so crazy with Art and Soul folks, we opted for Lakeshore. And headed for the Vine Wine bar: 3343 Lakeshore Ave (between Lake Park Ave & Trestle Glen Rd)Oakland, CA 94610 (510) 444-8463 ww.vinewinebar.net It's a cute place and has those weird ATM style dispensers. I was pleased to see two varietals that have heretofore eluded me in my Century club quest: Arneis and Lagrein. However, they were having some challenges with the machines and some of the wines came out with an inappropriate and pronounced appley aroma and flavor. When the third pour we tried was "Calvados-like" we knew we had a problem. I tried the:

Jacuzzi Arneis

Lagrein (producer NA)

Ridge Chardonnay

Pahlmeyer Merlot

ZaZin! Old Vine Zinfandel

PlumpJack '04 Reserve Cab Sauv <----This wine was the standout of the day fully deserving of its WS 94 points. A great high point to end our day! This photo is Special to the Chronicle by Kat Wade. NOTE: If you are visiting this spot please resist the urge to douse your entire party in Victoria Secret Body butter. When we were there, we ended up upwind of a party of party people who resembled in an olfactory sense human Bath and Body shops. Nobody needs that much cheap perfume people!