Friday, December 30, 2011

A Lovely Treasure Island Tasting Room

This is a shared tasting room/winery located on Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA. The third winery sharing the space wasn't pouring any wines when I was there. They are one of four tasting rooms on Treasure Island.

The tasting room is spacious even with all the t-shirts and winery kitsch that is usually saved for the larger winery tasting rooms. The staff was very friendly and the winemaker for Stein Family Wines was pouring as well. The tasting room was busy, but not crowded when we went. They were doing a prawn paella banquet that day so when it was ready the room cleared up a bit and we were able to taste in peace. Even with the place crowded, the acoustics were such that were could hear each other and the winemaker just fine. They charge a small fee to taste up to five wines of the ten plus wines to choose from.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Two Quick Reviews: Sparkling Wine and Sauvignon Blanc

Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2007 Cuvee Berlene ($20)

This French sparkling wine is from outside the Champagne region so even though its French and claims to be one of the oldest sparkling wine houses in the world (1531) it is not Champagne. The nose exhibited lemon and toast while the flavors on the tongue added pineapple to the lemon and brought the toast down to a yeasty bread. This was nicely crisp.

Bartholomew Park Winery 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($22)

The grapes were sourced from Napa and Sonoma counties.This offering was a pale lemon yellow with a slight greenish hue which is indicative of its ripeness. The more golden a white wine the more ripe the berries. This was a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc with loads of guava, hints of passion fruit, and a floral nose. The guava followed through to the palate where it was joined by green apple. It had a lovely crisp finish.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Unoaked Pinot Noir: A Bright New Take On Pinot

Weingut Friedrich Becker Spätburgunder 2008 Pfalz  (15 Euros)

First off Spätburgunder is the German name for Pinot Noir. This is from the Pfalz region of Germany. Pfalz is the second largest wine producing area in Germany. This wine is in the qualitätswein trocken category. Trocken meaning dry and qualitätswein being an indication of wine quality just like it sounds.  Although Deutschland is known for their sweet whites, namely Riesling, the fondness for dry reds is growing and about a third of the grapes grown in Germany are now red. They don't have the climate for the deeper full bodied reds, but they do make some lovely Pinot Noirs. Not as lovely as Burgundy, California, or Oregon, but they are much less expensive (especially in Germany) and its always nice to taste a "new to you" terroir.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Phenomenal White Wine

Pine Ridge 2010 Chenin Blanc + Viognier ($14)

If you didn't get it from the title this wine is quite tasty.  The wine is a pale lemon yellow with high clarity.  When I opened the screw cap (which I prefer for wines to be enjoyed young) my nose was tackled by grapefruit aromas.  In the glass, I experienced grapefruit, lemon, and some other vague citrus notes as well as a hint of minerality and slight floral notes.  The crispness of the Chenin Blanc is balanced by the slight oiliness of the Viognier yielding a light-medium bodied wine that seems slightly off dry.  The intensity of the flavors continues onto the palate where I was greeted with grapefruit, sweet honeydew melons, tropical notes, and a hint of spice possibly white pepper.  As the wine opens up it releases ginger and apple into the mix.  The crisp finish has a lingering white pepper and apple aftertaste that is almost reminiscent of fresh apple cider.  This bottle has a slight effervescence which I can see in the glass and feel on the tip of my tongue which helps bring out the fruit flavors.  I'm not sure if that is true of the whole bottling or just my bottle, I guess I'll just have to buy another bottle or 6 to be sure.

This is the second time I've had a Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend and I think this is my favorite white at the moment.  The first was Vinum which was also quite good.  I've always had a thing for Viognier with its stone fruit and tropical notes and the Chenin Blanc is such a great compliment with its crispness and minerality.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Napa Valley Wine Train

The wine train is a bit of a tourist trap, but can still be quite fun.

I would suggest buying tickets in advance because they do sell out.  There are afternoon and evening trains, we took an afternoon train.  You can purchase packages to get bused to a winery and have a 90 min tour and wine pairing for $120-$160.  (This surprised most people I talked to about the train.  Most people think you stop at wineries on the train ride, but you don't.  The train goes from Napa to St. Helena and back without any disembarking unless you purchase the packages.)  

Friday, July 22, 2011

Quick Update

Sorry I haven't posted in a month.  My computer became infected with a Trojan.  It's finally fixed thanks to my friend Zack.  I'm not sure where it came from, but I figured getting a new more secure router might be a good idea.  Anyway, more wine posts should start flowing soon.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wine Tasting For Beginners: How To Develop Your Wine Palate

The tricks to tasting wine are to start in a room without other odor or scents in it (e.g. no perfume, flowers, food).  If you concentrate better in silence then have the room be silent if you need background sound then do that, but don't try to carry on a conversation and identify flavors/scents at the same time.

Of course, the most important thing is to have a well developed palate and the best way to get that is practice, practice, practice.  You should practice with fresh produce, spices from a spice rack, flowers, and everything you eat.  Try to focus on smells and flavors when you are consuming them.  When the aroma of blossoms on your neighbor's tree wafts by try to retain that scent in your memory.  There are also kits that contain extracts of various scents associated with wine.  These are powerful tools, but very expensive (I've only seen them at colleges).  They really help because its one thing to identify the scents when the object is in front of you, but just having a vial of clear liquid makes your brain focus what the olfactory is picking up.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Robledo is by appointment only. So plan accordingly, except that their tasting room is as big if not larger than the average tasting room. So you could probably call on your way there. I didn't understand why it is by appointment only as there wasn't anything personalized about the tasting. The tasting room is a little nicer than the average bar style tasting room in that they have hand crafted wooden tables and chairs inside (large tables for groups and small tables for couples) as well as a counter. The staff was friendly but busy at 2pm on a Saturday. There are two flights of tastings: $5 for 5 tastes or $10 for 6 tastes of the more expensive wines. Each flight has one white and one Port. We shared one of each, but I didn't end up tasting all of them.

Friday, June 17, 2011


The tasting room is new, quite small, and there isn't a winery attached. We ate a couple sandwiches from Vineburg Deli on their patio which was very windy. The sandos were delicious. When I worked at Sebastiani back in 2008, I ate lunch at that deli two to three times a week. It is still a solid deli.

Anaba has 10 wines to taste and you pay $10 to taste 5 of your choice. The tasting fee is waived if you purchase a bottle. Here are my tasting notes for four of their wines. We also got their rosé, but I didn't try it because the tasting room attendant said it was sweet (the person I was with prefers sweet and off-dry whites). He later said it was dry to the customers that came in after us. I didn't taste it so I don't know, but I really don't like tasting room staff that change their descriptions for different customers.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gloria Ferrer

As we walked up to Gloria Ferrer in their Spanish-styled building nestled into the hill, the wind was gusting. We were welcomed by a friendly staff. They informed us that instead of a normal tasting room experience, they operate like a wine bar. Which is a little unfortunate since I like to try several wines when I go wine tasting. They have their still wines priced for 2 oz tastes, full glass, and bottle. Unfortunately the sparkling wine is by the glass or bottle. I guess with a large enough group and sharing everyone could taste each bubbly without having to buy more than one glass. Judging by all the people there, this strategy has not hurt their business.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wine Tasting for Beginners: Tasting Rooms

For those who haven't been wine tasting, I highly recommend it.

Most wineries will let you taste a selection of their wines in their tasting room. Tasting rooms are usually on site, but some wineries (usually in remote locations) will have tasting rooms in high traffic areas. You usually get to try 4 to 7 wines with prices ranging from free to $20 for the tasting. Some places will waive the tasting fee if you buy a bottle, which I have always felt is the best business policy. A taste is usually around 1.5 oz. some places use automatic pour spouts which limit the pour to a specified amount while others free hand it which usually leaves you with more wine in your glass. So, when you break it down you are usually getting about 2 glasses of wine for $10 which is cheaper than most wine bars.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why I Dislike Numbered Wine Rating Systems

Here is an example of why I dislike numbered rating systems. Here is a description for a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc that was rated 89 which is a great score for a $12 wine:

"Oceanic and mildly green on the nose, with grassy notes and appealing citrusy scents. The palate is juicy, crisp and zesty, with flavors of fresh lettuce, lime and green herbs. Finishes light and pretty." - Wine Enthusiast

Now, if I just saw the score I'd probably pick up the bottle. However there isn't much that is appealing to me in the description. I've never seen oceanic in tasting notes before, but it brings to mind a salty drying seaweed smell which isn't very appetizing to me. I'm also not into grassy, green flavors in my wines, but I do know that some people like them so I can't really fault that. I haven't tasted this so I can't tell you the structure or the finish, but at 89 with those flavors they better be phenomenal!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Leth 2009 Grüner Veltliner Klassik, Austria

Leth 2009 Grüner Veltliner Klassik
from Fels Am Wagram, Austria

I picked this one up on my recent trip to Berlin. It cost about 10 euros. The funniest part about this wine, other than the name, is that when it is a little too cold it smells exactly like Martinelli's apple juice. This wine is in the trocken style which means it is dry. It is a medium tier of quality known as qualitätswein. For Leth, "klassik" seems to have the same connotation "estate" does for Californian wineries.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Southern San Luis Obispo County

San Luis Obispo / Edna Valley / Arroyo Grande can be lumped together as great Pinot Country. Not just Pinot Noir, but also Pinot Blanc and Pinot Grigio. (Note that Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same varietal the former is the Italian name and the latter is French.) There are also tasty Syrahs and other Rhone varietals and everyone should know Edna Valley Chardonnay by now; I see that stuff everywhere. There are also some fantastically floral Austrian-style dry Rieslings and Gewurztraminers at Claiborne and Churchill Winery.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Paso Robles

Note: I will mention Rhone varietals so here is the short list Reds: Syrah (Shiraz in Australia), Petite Sirah, Grenache (Garnacha in Spain), and Mourvedre. The whites are: Marsanne, Rousanne, and Viognier. The long list is somewhere in the high twenties.

What put Paso Robles on the wine map was a group of winemakers who called themselves the Rhone Rangers. They found that Paso was well suited to grow Rhone varietals into amazing wines. Paso also has good Cabs, Merlots, and Zinfandels at lower prices than Napa and Sonoma.

The wineries also make a large amount of Late Harvest Zinfandels. I have never been a big fan of LHZs, mostly because the wineries usually like to call them Ports and they usually aren't either the style of California Ports (e.g. Charbay or Ficklin) or true Portuguese Ports. They are also often too sweet for me, but to each their own.

Trinchero Vista Montone 2006 Napa Valley Pinot Noir

After a long day at work, I decided to open a Trinchero Vista Montone 2006 Napa Valley Pinot Noir. Every Sunday is long, but especially Easter when my family is feasting and drinking great wine and cocktails.

Yeah I now know '06 was a crummy year for California Pinot Noirs. However, I didn't realize that when I bought it. The first thing I noticed was how dark the wine is. A little too dark for a Pinot. High clarity as one would expect from such a large producer. The nose is dominated by cinnamon accented by fresh strawberries and a hint of dark berries. On the palate there is a woodiness almost like redwood accompanied by cherries, dusty earth and a slight under-ripe greeness. The palate is a bit dull at first but with time to mingle with the oxygen in the air it opened up a bit with some coffee on the bouquet and stronger cherries on the palate. The tannins are harsher than they should be both for the price point and for a Pinot Noir. I would have thought with 4 and a half years they would be silky. The wine could be a bit crisper but it is by no means flabby. The 14.5% alcohol is too much for this wine, but I must admit after work its not such a bad thing. I'm glad I didn't save this for a dinner party. It isn't a bad wine, there aren't any defects, but also not a great wine.

Note: Given the year, I wouldn't take this vintage as a representative of the Vista Montone vineyard nor of Trinchero. According to Wine Spectator, "2006 was a cool year with a big crop and uneven ripening [for Pinot Noirs]."

Monday, May 23, 2011

An Introduction to San Luis Obispo County

It recently came to my attention that many people near me who like wine only know about Napa and Sonoma as far as California wine is concerned. Of course Napa is a powerhouse for the most consumed wines in America (Cab Sauv, Merlot, Chardonnay) and Sonoma has amazing Zinfandels, Syrahs, Pinots, and some Cabs in Alexander Valley. So when you live here in the San Francisco Bay Area it is easy to stick with what you know and what is close. So I've decided to dedicate several blogs to San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County. The original plan was one blog entry, but then I typed too much. :)

Part 1: An introduction to San Luis Obispo County

SLO makes great three day weekend trips if you are coming from the SF Bay Area, LA Area or the central valley. If you have the time, a week in summer or fall is wonderful! Beautiful rolling oak and vineyard covered hills, hot springs, great beaches, four wheeling at Oceano Dunes, Hearst Castle, great restaurants, and most importantly enchanting wines. If you visit Hearst Castle I highly recommend stopping at Hoppe's Garden Bistro in the sleepy beach community of Cayucos.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Robert Mondavi Winery 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine shows a deep brilliant red hue in the glass. The initial aromas of blackberry jam and cherries mix well with the bouquet of cinnamon and cloves. Unfortunately, those scents are blanketed by alcohol.

The first thing I noticed when I sipped this wine was the astringency. This was followed by blueberries, blackberries and a hint of herbs. The tannins are so bitter and rough that this wine really needs 5+ years to age and the flavors are very tight so they will also benefit from a few years of aging. Unfortunately from what I've read wines with high percentages of alcohol don't age well.

Whoever made the label was brilliant though. They hid the alcohol percentage in the bottom right corner of the label outside of the border in small skinny  vertical text so you really have to search for it and at 15.5% percent I can't blame them.

I'm really surprised that Robert Mondavi Winery would release such a poor quality wine. 15.5% is a ridiculously high percentage for Cab. If you don't mind high alcohol then this wine will be pretty good when the tannins have softened and the wine has opened up. On the other hand there are certainly much better offerings out there right now. So this is one wine to avoid.  If I had to buy it I'm definitely glad I bought this on sale at Safeway.  If I had payed full price I would be quite upset at myself.  I usually prefer to buy from tasting rooms or buy wines I know just for this reason.  By the way Safeway has been having great sales on wine lately. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

6 Great Sulfite-Free Wines for under $25

Recently I was hired by Fat Grape Winery to write up tasting notes.  I've been friends with Rick Bowen (co-owner) and his dad Pat (winemaker & co-owner) for many, many years. Patrick started as a home winemaker in the late 90s before he delved into the business side in 2008.  He has always made powerful but not overbearing sulfite-free, unfined, unfiltered reds.  If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, I highly recommend you check out this little winery in the old Navy Brig on Treasure Island.  You can either make a quick trip or spend a day on the island as there are 4 other wineries out there and one of the most picturesque views of San Francisco.  When this was written the tasting was free.