Monday, December 24, 2012

Local Wines for the Holidays

This is my December column from the Marinscope Newspapers

When you are enjoying the holidays with your friends and family try pairing these wonderful local wines with your meals.

Point Reyes Vineyard's non-vintage blanc de blanc ($29) is grown sustainably just north of Point Reyes Station along highway 1. It is a wonderful sparkling wine with citrus, pear and a slight yeastiness on the nose. Upon the palate the citrus refines itself into lemon, the yeast becomes baked bread and there is a floral note reminiscent of orange blossoms. This is tart and crisp and would pair wonderfully with shellfish.

Pey-Marin's 2009 "Trois Filles" pinot noir ($39) is grown at several vineyards in West Marin with the majority hailing from the dry farmed and organically grown, Corda Vineyard. The wine was aged for 14 months on French oak barrels with 25% new oak. The long extraction period with a moderate percentage of new barrels balances the aromas of the fruit and the bouquet from the oak. The wine is a dark garnet color. On the nose there are layers of earth and spice with notes of sour cherry, raspberry, cinnamon, clove, and forest floor. On my tongue I tasted rich earthiness, bright cherry, raspberry, and cloves as well as some dark fruits and slight fresh leather notes. This is an old world style pinot that is more bouquet driven than fruit forward with a soft front to mid palate mouthfeel and bright acidity. This pinot noir will pair nicely with turkey.

Pacheco Ranch Winery's 2005 cabernet sauvignon ($25) is grown in Novato on an East facing hillside along highway 101. The nose is earthy with notes of eucalyptus and bell pepper. The earthiness carried through to the palate where I noticed dark cherry, cranberry, cloves, and rich tobacco. The tannins yield a gravely, astringent mouthfeel. The bold tannins will enable it to pair nicely with beef as tannins bind with the meat's proteins in your mouth making the meat more tender and juicy. This wine would also be great for making mulled wine.

Mulled wine reminds me of visiting my dad in Berlin and going to the Christmas markets where it is called glühwein. It is pretty easy to make, all you need is a decent bold red wine, a pot to heat it up in, spices, 1/3 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of brandy and an orange or a lemon, peeled and sliced (keep the peels for adding zest). The spices vary on individual tastes and traditions, but they all have cloves and cinnamon sticks at the center with other spices including ginger, allspice, cardamon, peppercorns, vanilla beans, and nutmeg. You put all of the ingredients into a pot and heat them up together for 30-60 minutes making sure not to let it boil. Play with the proportions to taste. Strain the mulled wine into mugs and serve warm to hot.

For dessert I recommend Charbay's pomegranate dessert wine ($45) made with 100% organic, tree-ripened pomegranates from the Central Valley. It exhibits intense pomegranate flavors with a slight minerality. The wine is sweet but not too sweet and is great when served chilled. I find fresh orange peel makes it even more festive or a splash of orange bitters will give it a bit of a kick. It goes great with roasted chestnuts or chocolate.

Point Reyes Vineyards is located at 12700 Hwy 1 in Point Reyes Station and is open for drop-ins Saturday and Sunday from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. For more information, call (415) 663-1011 or visit

Pey-Marin can be found at Insalata's, Il Fornaio, Marin Beverage, Whole Foods, Mill Valley Market, Ludwigs, and many other fine wine shops throughout Marin. For more information on Pey-Marin, call 455-9463 or visit

Pacheco Ranch Winery is located at 235 Alameda Del Prado Road in Novato, Ca 94949. For appointments call 883-5583. For more information visit

Charbay is available at The Buckeye Restaurant, Mill Valley Market, Rick's Wine Cellar, and other establishments throughout Marin. The tasting room is located at 4001 Spring Mountain Rd in St. Helena, California.. For more information, call (707) 963-9327 or visit

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Great Gift Idea - review

A while back I received a free sample from (They currently have a buy 3 for the price of 2 special going on right now!  Guaranteed to ship by Christmas if you order by the 20th.)  What sets apart from all the other online wine stores is they sell sample packs of the wine in 50ml or 100ml bottles so you get the "try before you buy" experience like you would in a real tasting room without the costs of traveling to wine country.  Depending on the pack that you order you get 4 to 6 small bottles of wine per pack and then you can buy the wines you like.  All the wines of this particular sample pack range in price from $15-20 per standard 750ml bottle.  The price of the 50ml sample packs range from $20-50 with the majority being $20-33.  The 100ml samples range widely from $4-18 dollars for a single small bottle.  The wineries range from ones I've never heard of to heavy hitters like LaetitiaSilver Oak, and Duckhorn.

I received the "A Taste Adventure: Food Friendly Wines" sample pack ($30).  This consists of six 50ml bottles of wine.  Three whites and three reds, the line up was: 2011 Lake Chalice Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand; 2008 Chardonnay by Urraca from Mendoza, Argentina; 2009 Lucas & Lewellen Chenin Blanc from Santa Barbara County; 2010 Il Cuore "The Heart" Barbera from Mendocino County; 2009 Stickybeak Syrah from California; 2009 Penley Estate "Condor" Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Down Under.  

A bit of a warning for anytime you have having wine shipped to you.  First and foremost, if you can have it shipped to your work do that!  Someone 21+ will have to sign for it so they can't just leave it on your door step.  UPS is a pain in the butt to try and track what time something will be delivered.  If you are receiving from UPS and you cannot get deliveries at work and don't want to feel trapped at home all day waiting for a delivery, then you need to set up an account online with UPS (or possibly call them up) and then you can have the package delivered to the store and you can simply pick it up during normal business hours.

Now for the reviews:

2009 Lucas & Lewellen Chenin Blanc from Santa Barbara, CA is a tasty pale greenish-yellow wine with scents of green apple, pear, and tropical notes.  The wine is crisp and refreshing making it a very good summer white wine.  Pair it with raw oysters, tilapia, or other subtle fish dishes.

2011 Lake Chalice Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand is lacking the usual strong green/vegetative flavors that I have come to expect from an NZ Sauv.  This wine features tropical notes and hints of grapefruit and herbs on the nose. On the palate there are more tropical notes as well as lemon, lime, and slight herb notes as well.  Not the overpowering asparagus and such that we have come to expect from NZ.  The wine is has racing acidity and saying it is crisp is an understatement.  It is a little bizarre to have that much acidity without many green flavors, but as I'm not a fan of vegetative flavors (unless it pares with whatever I'm eating e.g. herbs in a Cab F. with an herb-encrusted roast) I liked it.

2008 Urraca Chardonnay from Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina:  I very rarely review Chardonnays, this is no exception.

2009 Stickybeak Syrah is made with grapes from three counties in California: Monterrey (57%), Napa (25%), and Sonoma (18%).  Monterrey and Sonoma are known for making great Syrahs and Napa is known for great Bordeaux varietals so I figured it would be pretty good and true to form which it is.  The wine has a lovely dark ruby color and the bouquet has heavy oak, cedar, and dark cigar notes with aromas of black fruits.  On the palate there is black plum, black pepper, vanilla, blackberry, concord grape, and a slight savory herbal element.  There is a lovely little coffee nuance on the finish.  The tannins are nice and round, but the acidity is a little high so it would be better with food than without.

2010 Il Cuore Barbera from Mendocino County, CA is very oaky and smokey with notes of concord grapes, sour cherry, and savory hints.  The acidity is bright as one should expect from a Barbera.

2009 Penley Estates "Condor" is a blend of 52% Shiraz and 48% Cab hailing from the Coonawarra region of Australia.  This is my favorite red of the group.  It was dark purple with a dark ruby rim.  The wine exploded  from the glass with jam, white peppercorns, and a little smokiness.  On my palate the jam and white pepper continued and were joined by fresh dark berries with herbal notes.  The tannins were soft and sultry with a little gravely astringency.  The wine is ready now and it will continue being wonderful for a few years to come.

So in conclusion this is a great way to try wines that you won't normally come across and if you aren't blessed with living near wine country then this is a much less expensive way to taste great wines than traveling to wine country.  Of course, traveling and experiencing is far more enjoyable for most people, but this is a great substitute.  This is also a great gift idea if you have a picky wine drinker (like me) on your Secret Santa list..

Santa Con - Beer and Bars in SF review

Union Square shot by Jess Maron
December 15th was Santa Con, which is my favorite event of the year.  Last year was my first Santa Con and I had an amazing time.  This year was even better.  For those that don't know, Santa Con is a spreading of joy and merriment.  Thousands of people flock to a designated area of the city around noon (last year was the Civic Center and this year it was Union Square) dressed as Santa Claus and other holiday characters and objects such as menorahs.  Some people stay at the gathering place but most drift off down the pre-planned routes which start the pub crawl aspect of the day.  The rules can be found here, but basically they state that Santas are always nice, to especially to kids, and Santas are respectful to businesses whether they are patrons or Santa-haters. The more fun rules are:
  1. You MUST address everyone as "Santa."
  2. You SHOULD "ho-ho-ho" like Santa.
  3. You OUGHT to give out gifts like Santa.
  4. You MIGHT want to drink like Santa.
Cloudy skies above Union Square shot by Jess Maron
The highlights for me were giving candy canes to kids, seeing children's eyes light up, the myriad of costumes, seeing my friend Jess who just got back from India on Thursday, beautiful women, and of course delicious beer!

The worst part was traffic and parking which was to be expected.

We took the China Town / North Beach route.  The first couple of bars were packed so we continued onward.  A few Santas and Mrs. Claus had bells on that make the most delightful sound track on our jaunt through China Town.

Fun with Mirror
Eventually we made it to O'Reilly's Pub where we had planned on having lunch.  It was packed, but luckily there was space at a table with a couple of girls who had also just arrived.  So we made a foursome, had some delicious food, and shared some stories.  I had the corned beef sandwich which was tender, juicy, and delicious.  It came with thick cut fries which I like much more than thin cut.  It was a smaller portion than I usually like to eat, but just the right amount to leave room for all of the beer I was consuming and planning on consuming.  Speaking of which, I had a pint of Lagunitas' IPA which is my go to beer.  I love this stuff.  Hoppy, but not over hopped with some nice malt notes.  It didn't seem like the bar was ready for this many Santas.  When we sat down there was only one waitress (a pretty, tall blonde) and she was amazing.  There were about 10 tables lined with people and she was friendly and courteous as she weaved her way through the crowd to each table.  The food came out within 10-15 min far quicker than any of us were expecting.  Everyone enjoyed their food, Jess had a burger, Shala had a lamb burger and Anchor Steam, and the other girl who's name is escaping me had some sort of scrambled eggs with spinach and country fried potatoes and a Stella Artois.
The restaurant area.  The bar area was completely packed.

When Jess took off, to get some sleep since he had been up since 4am because he was still adjusting from India time, I stood up and joined the crowd.
Jess and I at O'Reilly's Pub

I realized that I should follow my Irish heritage while I'm in an Irish pub so I got a Jameson on the rocks.  While standing by the bar a lovely, buxom lass (Katie) in a red and white corset and white fishnets bought me an Irish Car Bomb (Guinness and a drop shot of Bailey's Irish Cream) which tastes and has the texture of a mocha milkshake.  She was doing a Bingo scavenger hunt and I fit the "Santa with a real beard" box.  We hung out with her friends for a while before leaving together to find a cocktail made with eggnog for the Bingo.

After walking past a couple of packed bars, we saw Rogue Ales Public House.  We both like stouts and porter so we tried to go in, but they were enforcing a no Santas Allowed policy.  We found this rather annoying, but giving that some people act like douches when they are drinking all day I have no ill will towards Rogue (especially because their beer is delicious!).

Then we went to a little bar/restaurant called Bottle Cap.  It was lack luster: there was about half a dozen Santa's and it was much too quiet.  The bartender wasn't very helpful with cocktail advice and referred us to a menu with cocktails with any questions we had.  If he was busy then that would have been fine, but it was ssssslllllloooowwww.  I had a beer that wasn't particularly memorable and Katie had a honey infused cocktail that she liked.

We left Bottle Cap and found a liquor store (Colt Liquors) that had an awesome, but small beer selection.  The store really focused on wine and liquor.  While there a couple of Indian guys were having a hard time deciding what they wanted.  Katie mentioned my blog so after hearing what they were looking for, I recommended a Pale Ale to one and a bottle of Roederer for the other.  For the $15-20 price range Roederer can't be beat.  I chose Stone Brewing Company's Smoked Porter for us to share.  We briefly went to a house party before heading back on the town.

We walked around and found a table and chairs to sit at in front of Bottle Cap.  We shared stories and interests as we enjoyed the chocolate and coffee notes of the porter.  Katie mentioned a hard cider bar somewhere in the city.  Cider is not really my thing, but I do like new experiences so I'll have to check out Upcider at some point.

 Before I gave my beard to Jess
More Santa Con Pics by Jess Maron!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

As seen in the Marinscope Newspapers: Pey-Marin a Primo Pinot Producer

Jonathan Pey in one of his blocks of Pinot at Corda Vineyard

I met with Jonathan Pey in the budding Marin wine growing region of Chileno Valley at Corda Vineyards where Pey-Marin sources their riesling and some of their pinot noir. The vineyard is 22 years old; 15 to 40 years old is ideal for most varietals. Pey-Marin has been managing their grapes from Corda for the past 12 years using organic methods such as compost, cover crops, and dynamic pest management including the use of beneficial insects such as lady bugs to fight pests.

Hand Picked Pinot in the Rolling Hills of West Marin, CA

The coolest part of the vineyard, for an environmentally conscious wine connoisseur like me, is it's organically, dry farmed.  The vineyard has drip irrigation lines, but not the permit to use them. The advantage of successful dry farming is putting the vines under lots of stress to reach their tap roots down towards the water table helps produce more complex wines. The downside of dry farming for a grape grower is the yields are lower which means they have less tonnage to sell than their counterparts who are using drip irrigation. Corda Vineyard averages about 2 tons/acre while many other pinot vineyards fall in the 3 to 5 tons/acre range.

Jonathan is a friendly and talkative winemaker who uses his 35 years of French vineyard management and winemaking expertise to craft wonderful wines with a touch of old world style. His wife Susan has dedicated her life to the wine industry as well as a wine writer for Bon Appetite and is currently a sommelier for Il Fornaio. In 1999 they started Pey-Marin together.

Riesling Grapes in the Morning Sun
Pey-Marin's 2011 "Shell Mound" riesling ($29) is grown entirely at Corda Vineyard using the rare neustadt clone. This dry, aromatic wine features scents of nectarine, citrus, orange blossom, and other floral notes. On the palate, I got more floral notes, nectarine, lemon, and a hint of minerals. This wine goes great with spicy foods as the high level of acidity, that rieslings are known for, will cut right through the spice and bring relief to a burning tongue while delivering refreshing flavors.

Pey-Marin's 2009 "Trois Filles" pinot noir ($39) is grown at several vineyards in West Marin with the majority hailing from Corda Vineyard. The wine was aged for 14 months on French oak barrels with 25% new oak. The long extraction period with a moderate percentage of new barrels balances the aromas of the fruit and the bouquet from the oak. The wine is a dark garnet color. On the nose there are layers of earth and spice with notes of sour cherry, raspberry, cinnamon, clove, and forest floor. On my tongue I tasted rich earthiness, bright cherry, raspberry, and cloves as well as some dark fruits and slight fresh leather notes. This is an old world style pinot that is more bouquet driven than fruit forward with a soft front to mid palate mouthfeel and bright acidity. This wine is ready to drink now, but will also age beautifully for several years.

Tight Bunches of Pinot Noir
Both of these wines encapsulate why Marin County is a wonderful place to grow cool climate wines. They also showcase what can be done with organic vineyard practices, dry farmed vineyards, and stellar winemaking.

Although they live in San Anselmo, their winery is located in Napa, but is too small to offer tastings or tours. Pey-Marin can be found at Insalata's, Il Fornaio, Marin Beverage, Whole Foods, Mill Valley Market, Ludwigs, and many other fine wine shops throughout Marin. They also have three other labels (Textbook, Forager, and Spicerack) that source their fruit from Napa and Sonoma counties.

For more information on Pey-Marin, cal455-9463 or visit 

Sunrise over the Chileno Valley, Marin County, CA

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Heretics in Martinez

Earlier this week I had a great first date at the Creek Monkey Tap House in Martinez.  The menu consisted of basic bar foods (like wings), salads, and sandwiches/burgers.   Meghan had the Pulled Pork sandwich which was quite tasty and I had a bacon mushroom burger. It wasn't the best of burgers, but I've been spoiled lately by Lincoln Park's Wagyu Slider and M&G's 1/2lb organic burger in Fairfax.  The patty didn't live up to my expectations, but the mushrooms and bacon on the burger were fabulous.  Ugh, I'm becoming a food snob in addition to a wine snob.  I miss the days when everything tasted great.  I went from super picky as a kid to eating everything in my 20s and now edging back towards picky again.  I guess the difference is now I'm trying things before I decide that I don't care for it.

While the food was ok, the beer selection was phenomenal with 19 craft beers on tap and one cider.  Most of the brews are from Nor Cal.  There is a wide variety of beer styles from light to dark, but I didn't see any sours.  Meghan recommended the Heretic Gramarye (4.4%) which is a spicy yet smooth rye beer.  I loved it.  I really should have started with a pale ale and then gone to the Gramarye later as the spiciness of the rye overpowered the Grand Tetons Sweetgrass (6%) that I tried to have for my second beer.  I have enjoyed Grand Tetons beer before, but I'm never had the Pale Ale.  Luckily they will give you a sip of the beer before you buy it.  So after trying several lighter beers I tried another Heretic beer, the Evil Twin (6.8%) which is a hoppy red ale.  I liked it, but it still wasn't quite what I was looking for so I made my own blend with the bit of Gramarye still in my glass and it was awesome.  So I asked the very nice waitress if I could have it half and half.  (I wonder how brewers feel about people blending their beer.  Any brewers feel free to leave a comment.)  It was awesome.  So not only is the beer selection great, but the waitress was super patient, friendly, and happy to help me find the right beer.  (Tasting notes are limited because I wasn't planning on writing it up.)

I'm sure we will be back there soonish to take pictures and review more things like the stout float which is reminiscent of Doc's beer milkshake from Steinbeck's Cannery Row.  I tried making a beer milkshake many years ago and it was kind of foul, but I probably used IPA and vanilla ice cream.  So hopefully the CMTH can do it better.

So in conclusion if you love craft beers and/or you could use a bite to eat then check out Creek Monkey Tap House.  Also if you find Heretic pick up a bottle.  I've never seen it before so good luck!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Awesome Wine Bar in San Anselmo

Published in the Marinscope Newspapers on 9/12 in section B1.  Something happened with uploading to the net, link will be posted at some point.

The newest wine bar in Marin is located less than a block from the hub in San Anselmo, Lincoln Park was opened on August 12th by renowned local chef Stephen Simmons. Much of the produce comes from Skywalker Ranch where Simmons has been the executive chef since closing the doors at Bubba's Diner in San Anselmo and working at a long list of other fine establishments over the past 30 years. Simmons describes himself as an old hand in the restaurant business and considers Lincoln Park a place to have fun with his creative side.

The white wines are arranged from floral to full-figured and the reds are listed from fruit forward to fat. There were five whites, five reds, a sparkling wine, two cold sakes, and 10 beers to choose from. The wines ranged in price from $6 to $11 for a 4 oz pour and $10 to $17 dollars for a small carafe. These are exceedingly great prices for a wine bar, let alone a wine bar in Marin. For $16 you can get three wines paired with little nibbles of almonds, cheese, and fruit. The wines and beers fit a variety of palates and come from small cult wineries and breweries. Six out of the ten wines and nine out of the ten beers are from Northern California which fits their buy locally philosophy.

I accidentally went for the two most expensive wines on the menu because I love viogniers and I wanted to try the Marin wine. Cowhorn's 2011 viognier/roussanne/marsanne blend from Oregon had aromas of honey, lemon, and citrus blossoms. On the palate, there were notes of lemon, mineral, pear, and slight hints of lychee. Kendric's 2008 pinot noir from Marin is a bright, fruit-forward wine with aromas of cherry, vanilla, earth, cinnamon, and hints of mocha. The pinot exhibited both stewed and sour cherries, dry earth, white pepper, and dark plum with hints of tar on the palate.

The food is fresh, lively, and intricate. The ingredients are nearly 100% local and organic. The wagyu slider was sourced from Skywalker Ranch and the chicken from Marin Sun Farms. I had the wagyu slider and the steamed mussels with fennel. The slider was one of the best I've ever had. The meat was tender, juicy, lightly seasoned with black pepper, and topped with white cheddar on a ciabatta bun. The mussels were amazing as well. The menu which consists of appetizers and desserts ($6-$12) changes often and is written on a large blackboard in each room. A picture of the menu is posted on their Facebook page almost every day.  (Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures when I was there the first time so I don't have any pics of the food.)

The space is divided into two rooms. One room has a marble bar top with shelves of reclaimed wood, an old typewriter, and early 20th century radio for decorations. The other room has high backed leather booths with tables. Classic relaxing jazz was playing lightly in the rooms while the patrons sipped their wine and gossiped. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable. Both rooms were pretty full, on the Tuesday evening that I dropped in, with mostly women in their 30s and 40s and a few couples. Everyone left with a smile on their face; I overheard many well deserved complements to the staff and the chef.

I highly recommend Lincoln Park for the food, wine, and atmosphere.

Lincoln Park is located at l98 Sir Francis Drake in San Anselmo and is open Sunday - Wednesday: 4:30 pm - 10:00 pm and Thursday - Saturday: 4:30 pm - 12:00 am . For more information, call 453-9898 or visit

Question for the readers:  What is your favorite wine bar and what makes it special?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Getting this started again with a kick: Ginger Kombucha Beer

Unity Vibration's Kombucha Beer - Ginger

This is kind of like the hippy version of a vodka Red Bull.  It has alcohol and caffeine (at lower levels than a vrb) and it also has nutritional aspects from the kombucha.

Unity Vibration makes two flavors of kombucha beer: ginger and raspberry.  I tried their ginger beer.  It tastes like a natural ginger ale with a slight twinge of funk/sourness, but hardly noticeable.  It had more sweetness than I was expecting, but not as much as a soda.  I was expecting it to be a sour beer.  Their beer doesn't taste like any kombucha I've ever had.  The ginger wasn't as spicy as a Bundaburg or Stewarts ginger beer (non-alcoholic, used for ginger flavor comparison only), but definitely more flavorful than a mainstream ginger ale.  It was more like a candied ginger than a spicy ginger.  If I hadn't read the label, I would have had no idea it was 8.0% alc./vol.  The beer tastes and has a mouth-feel more like a lambic or a cider than a typical beer.  This is probably because of the addition of ginger, residual sugar, and the open top fermentation in oak barrels.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Link to August Marinscope column and a quick update

Wow I can't believe it has been a month since I last posted.  It has been a tough, beautiful, rewarding month that has included a temporary change in my work schedule, my birthday, and the one year anniversary of my dad passing away from cancer.

I'm planning on writing more this weekend, but here is a little teaser.  I reworked a previous blog entry into a Marin County focused intro to winery tasting rooms column in the Marinscope Newspapers.  So here is the link:

I have some free samples to taste and post as well as some tasting notes that I haven't gotten around to typing up so that should be coming soon.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Stubbs Vineyard - Organic Grapes At Their Best

In April (this took awhile to finish and still feels unfinished), I had the opportunity to have a glass of wine and chat with Mary Stubbs of Stubbs Vineyard at her home far above the vineyard.  Mary is a friendly, intelligent, lively Marinite with passions for the organic movement, the environment, wine, art, and her family. Mary is steeped in knowledge from her winemaker, Don Goldfield, and her former vineyard manager Mark Pasternak.

She grew up in Mill Valley and graduated from Tam High. After working in San Francisco and falling in love, Mary and her husband bought this ranch in West Marin in the 1980s. They have two sons and a daughter. In 1996, after taking some courses on vineyards and figuring out which clones would be best for their soil and microclimate, Tom and Mary planted 6.4 acres of Pinot Noir and 4.6 acres of Chardonnay.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Symphony of the Soil

Symphony of the Soil is a very informative documentary by Deborah Koons Garcia (producer and director of The Future of Food).  It features breathtaking cinematography and lots of information.  The film teaches us about soil.  It tells us of the dire state of farms across our nation and the world as well as the history of how they got into this mess.  The documentary then informs us of ways to restore the soil.  What I really like is the uplifting message of how easy it is to reverse the trends.  By using compost to build the soil and other cost effective methods it is possible to create sustainable agriculture relatively quickly in both community gardens and large scale farms.  There are numerous cases featured in the doc.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Benefits of Dry Farming a Vineyard Organically

I recently watched Portrait of a Winemaker featuring John Williams of Frog's Leap Winery in Napa Valley. This is part of Sonatas of the Soil Volume One which is directed by Deborah Koons Garcia. Deborah directed the widely acclaimed The Future of Food which focuses on genetically modified foods. Her latest documentary, Symphony of the Soil, premiered last weekend.  I'll have a much shorter post about it in a couple of days since it isn't directly related to beer, wine, and/or spirits.

Having talked to many winemakers and vineyard managers while working in the industry, having family in the industry, being a wine writer, and going wine tasting, I can safely tell you that every winemaker/grape grower can talk about their product well and why their method is better than the rest. With that being said I think John Williams is a straight shooter and they have put forth a solid segment with strong historical, viticultural, and visual reasoning.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Apparently June is Wine Tasting Month in Marin

This month there are four amazing wine tasting events in Marin County.  It's too bad they didn't space them out over the summer.  I'm highly jealous of anyone who can make it to all of these great events.  There are two this weekend and another pair two weeks later.  So it is possible to make it to all of them.

Good Earth California Pale Ale

After years of IPAs and powerhouse stouts, I'm finding myself branching out into more and more styles of beer.  As IPAs get hoppier and harsher I find myself reverting towards smoother beers.  In the winter I mostly imbibed porters, softer stouts, and brown ales.  Now that it is getting warmer I'm trying out the pale ales.

Yesterday I went for a ride on my new Globe Daily 02  over the golden hills and through redwood groves with a meandering creek and vibrant green ferns.  On the way back I stopped at Good Earth (yes this is my new favorite store) for some groceries.  Since nothing goes with biking quite like a good beer, I picked up a 22oz bottle of their California Pale Ale ($4).  The beer is made across the street at Iron Springs Pub and Brewery.  For my non-local readers, I highly doubt this is sold anywhere else.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Climbing Higher with Clif Family Winery's Sauv. Blanc

A little while back I went to Good Earth in Fairfax, CA and found out that they have a small, but pretty amazing collection of wine.  The amazing part was that in discussing with their wine dude, who was right on the scene to help with any questions customers have, I found out that all of their wines are either, organic, biodynamic, or at a minimum sustainable.

I picked up a bottle of  the 2010 "The Climber" Sauvignon Blanc from Clif Family Winery ($14).  This is a blend of 80% Sauv. Blanc, 12% Riesling, 7% Viognier, and 1% Muscat Blanc.  Before you ask, yes this is from the company that created delicious Clif bars (which I love when I'm biking or for a snack.)  According to their website they contracted the grapes from mostly sustainable and organic vineyards.  Which in my mind extends this wine from a fair to a good qpr.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mill Valley Market's Meet the Winemakers

Photograph courtesy of Brett Gulash
Last week, I had the pleasure of being invited by Shannon Burke to attend one of Mill Valley Market's "Meet The Winemakers" events on the evening of May 3rd. Shannon is a wine broker for the five wineries attending the event. They had large platters of various cheeses (drunken goat and brie were our favorites), breads, crackers, and fruits to pair with the fabulous wines. There were about six people around each table and the winemakers stayed at each table for about 20 minutes.  We tasted 20+ wines from five up-and-coming boutique wineries along the Central Coast. It was divine.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A link to my first Marinscope column.

I've started a monthly column in the Marinscope collection of newspapers.  These are hyper local Marin County newspapers so all the content in these columns will be Marin County orientated.  My first column published about a month ago.  Here is the link: A wonderful winery in Marin County's backyard.

My next column should go to print and their website soon.  I'll post the link when that happens.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Taste of Stubbs Vineyard - Organic Grapes At Their Best

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of having a glass of wine and a chat with Mary Stubbs of Stubbs Vineyard.  The write-up of our conversation is taking on a life of its own as it spirals into the struggles of organic vineyards (both physical and perceptions) and a couple of other topics.  I decided to post my tasting notes of the Pinot Noir while I try to figure out where I'm going with the rest of it.

Mary poured me a glass of her 2004 Pinot Noir from Marin County ($44). The wine exhibited scents of sour cherry, earth, cinnamon, ginger, lavendar, and licorice. On my palate the sour cherries and cinnamon continued while the ginger became spicier and the earth tones became darker and were joined by hints of black pepper and cloves. The tannins were silky and the finish lingered. The wine had a good level of acidity which enables it to age very well.  This is truly a wonderful Pinot Noir of the Burgundian style by which I mean it depends more on its structure and bouquet than bright fruit aromas. 

I am looking forward to tasting more of their wine at the 8th Annual Marin County Wine Celebration on June 23rd.

Photograph courtesy of Sanae Burries.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Elk Cove Vineyards 2008 Pinot Noir Review

The other day I opened a bottle of 2008 Pinot Noir by Elk Cove Vineyards from the Willamette Valley. I had bought this on sale at Safeway a while back for about $25, but it retails for $30. This wine took a while to open. Even after a day (with a closure) it still tastes a little closed. Or maybe it is simpler than I think it should be. At first, I gave it about 20 min to open by pouring a little into my glass, giving it a few swirls, and watching some Futurama. I gave it a sniff and it exhibited sour cherry and volatile acidity (mostly ethyl aldehyde, but a little acetic acid as well). Luckily with more patience and impatient swirling the VA wafted away.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sorry for the Delay

Sorry for the delay in posting.  I have been working on an essay for the Bike Locally Challenge from the Marin County Bike Coalition.  Now that it is done I can get back to wine writing right after I run some errands...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rock Wall - A whole day's worth of tasting in one place (Part 2)

Since there are so many wines I had to split this post in two. The first half was the wineries that rent space from Rock Wall. The first half of the selected tasting notes from my delightful experience are located here.  About half way down you will find the tasting notes and recommendations for Rock Wall Wine Company. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Rock Wall - A whole day's worth of tasting in one place (Part 1)

Rock Wall is on Alameda Island next to Oakland, CA is located on the defunct naval air base. Rock Wall is a winery and a winery collective. The tasting room houses 7 wineries with 18+ wines to try. All the whites were $18-25 and the reds were $24-36. There were many wines with excellent quality to price ratios. The wines are broken down into three flights ranging in price from $5 to $15 dollars which is waived with a purchase of $20 or more. In addition to the flights, you can also purchase wines by the glass. In addition to the wine, there is also a wonderful restaurant with appetizers and entrees; I had a bacon grilled cheese sandwich and a salad which were both delicious and the salad must have come out of the garden because it was so fresh. The food was served outside on the patio with a view of the San Francisco skyline in the distance.

Friday, March 30, 2012

St. George Spirits - Home of the Firebirds

Welcome From The Firebirds
St. George Spirits is located in an old naval hangar on the island of Alameda. The hangar was the home of a reserve attack squadron called the Firebirds. They really play off the armed forces theme. A tasting is called basic training and costs $15. A tour, tasting, and special treat is $20 and is called spec ops training. Both options come with dog tags. 

The tasting room reminded me of something between the movie Top Gun and punk rock. The tasting room on the website is far more inviting and high class than the one I went to. I think that is the private one upstairs. If you are more in the wine tasting crowd than the punk rock show, then don't be intimidated; all the people behind the bar are super nice, passionate, and informative folks. Paul was an amazing host and all the other customers looked like they were in good hands as well. We had a killer time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Glossary - updated 04/06/12

For those that are newer to wine terminology I decided to write a glossary for some common terms in wine tasting. Some of these words have many definitions (especially aroma and bouquet), but this is how I learned them over the years from various classes and books.

Feel free to ask about any other terms you come across in the comments section. As I know this is far from complete.  I will update it whenever I have of things to add.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kastania Vineyards - Wine Blog Wednesday #75

My post today happens to align with the theme of Wine Blog Wednesday #75: Single's night.  All of Kastania's wines are made on the same parcel of 5.3 acres.  So I think they are all single vineyard wines even if they don't have the label designation and inflated price.

Like most people driving through the Novato Narrows, I usually drive by Kastania Vineyards on the way to visit family or friends with every intention of stopping one day, when I'm not in a hurry, to try their wine. The funny thing about waiting until you have spare time to do something is, simply that, spare time doesn't really exist. So, I finally made the time and I'm so glad I did.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Peju - Open Late

Photo by Sanae Burries
After Terra Valentine, Sanae and I headed back along Hwy 29 towards Napa and my car. We stopped at Peju a winery in the Rutherford AVA. We stopped at Peju for three reasons: we wanted to go to another winery, I had always meant to stop there but never had, and it is open until 6pm. The last one was key as I think we got there at about 4:30pm and most tasting rooms close between 4pm and 5pm.

The grounds are beautiful with well groomed hedges, statues, and fountains.  Peju is an art focused winery by which I mean the aesthetics are well thought out.  There is a lobby sort of area where we were asked what we wanted to do. Which seemed like a strange question at the time and still does. (Apparently there are many kinds of tastings and cooking classes which can be found on their website. The standard tasting fee is $15 per person which is waived with a purchase of $30 or more. There are more expensive options on the weekends with reserve wines.) The lobby has tons of books, mustard, t-shirts, chocolates, and other wine/Napa related souvenirs.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Terra Valentine - Castle in the Clouds

Stained Glass Window (photo by Sanae Burries)
Terra Valentine offers a truly exquisite tasting experience. The wine is phenomenal, the building is amazing, the view is spectacular, the people including the guests were delightful and lively, and the hostess, Lindsay, is chock full of information.

The tasting and tour costs $30 per person and is waived with the purchase of two bottles. Other tasting experiences can be found on their website. Reservations are required and I recommend making them a couple days ahead for week days or as soon as you book your trip for weekends.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

For those looking for Peju and Terra Valentine

Hello Good Readers,

My latest postings have been delayed because I've been spending my writing time reworking a previous post for a possible venture into a newspaper.  I'll let you all know when and if it gets published.  Also, well its quite gorgeous outside and I'd rather be hiking or mountain biking than looking longingly out of my window at the dappled light on my neighbor's yard while I attempt to write.  Sorry for the delay.  I should get some time to write tomorrow morning.  I don't know if it will be enough, but we shall see.



Friday, March 2, 2012

Charbay - Revamped Tasting Room

Sniffy Relaxing
Miles and Susan Karakasevic started Charbay in 1983.  Miles (winemaker and grandmaster distiller) stepped back a couple years ago to let his son Marko (master distiller) take over.  Susan still handles much of the business side with her team including Marko's wife Jenni.  This is a very family orientated company with about half of the staff being family.

The last time I was in the Charbay tasting room it seemed like the tasting room was an afterthought to the dimly lit barrel room with a small tasting counter and cash register in the cramped barrel room.  Now the lighting is better, many of the barrels have been moved out and replaced with well crafted product displays, a table with chairs in addition to a counter with stools, and much more space.  I didn't really notice anything wrong before, but I really like the new version.  There are still picnic tables outside which I recommend taking advantage of.  There are also two sweet old dogs that roam the property.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Merkin Vineyards - Wine Review

Merkin Vineyards is a winery from Maynard James Keenan who is the lead singer of Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, and a few other bands.  If you are wondering about the label merkin is a term that originated in the 1600s for a pubic wig.

I'm a big fan of his music so I really wanted to love the wine, but it is made from grapes with the general term of California which usually means Central Valley so I wasn't expecting much.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ruthless - First beer review

I'm usually not a big fan of Sierra Nevada, but their Ruthless Rye IPA is amazing.  It tastes a little weedy without being skunky.  The high hop load imparts a nice pine and grapefruit flavors.  The rye imparts some different flavors and a delightful thick dirtiness versus the average IPA that is crisp and clean kind of like a burlesque dancer compared with a model.  Between the hops and the 6.6% alc by vol, it doesn't take more than one after a 12 hour work day to put me to bed.  So if you like IPAs and bold flavors you need to try this delicious brew.

P.S. For as refined as my wine palate is, my beer palate isn't.  Even though I've had far more beer (mostly microbrews) than wine, I seem to usually just enjoy beer versus dissecting wine.  Maybe if I had worked in a brewery it would be the opposite.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Swill From a Great Producer

Usually Stags' Leap makes amazing wines, but their 2007 Petite Syrah [sic] from Napa Valley is far less than amazing.  It started off well with a dark inky purple color.  The nose exhibited dark chocolate, licorice, and slightly vegetative flavors most notably asparagus.  On the palate the first thing I noticed was the alcohol which isn't very high at 14.3%, but it shows far too much.  The wine is also slightly astringent with green flavors as well as bitter-sweet chocolate.  The high acidity and alcohol bite the tongue.  I was very disappointed by this overpriced wine ($35).

If you don't know Stags' Leap, don't take this as indicative of their winemaking skills.  They usually make outstanding Cabs and Merlots.  Liza at Brix Chicks had the 2008 Petite Sirah and loved it.  So hopefully the 2007 was just an off year.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Stop at Wine? A review of Maven in the Lower Haight

I went to Maven the other night in the Lower Haight, San Francisco.  Maven serves microbrews, wine, cocktails, and small appetizers.  All the selections looked adventurous, interesting, and/or delicious.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

14 Wineries around Sonoma Square

I know we need the rain and the Sierras need the snow, but I'm really enjoying the sunshine even if its a bit brisk out. So I went wine tasting at Sonoma Square on one of those beautiful sunny January days. When I lived in Sonoma back in 2008 there was only one winery on the square and several in biking/short driving distance. Now there are 13 tasting rooms on the square, one a block away and two coming soon. Also on the tasting circuit with free samples there's The Sonoma Cheese Factory and a chocolate shop. Both are pretty tasty!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Awesome Tasting Room on Sonoma Square

The tasting room at Adobe Road on Sonoma Square is very spacious and has bar seating and table seating as well as a private room in the back for special events. The light yellow walls are adorned with Porsche racing memorabilia and awards, photos of Yosemite, and paintings of vineyards. Its a really well designed tasting room. The staff were very knowledgeable, friendly, and they clearly loved their job which always translates into great customer service.  

You get to taste 4 wines for $5 or $10 for the reserves. The tasting fee, like many of the tasting rooms on the square, is waived with the purchase of a bottle. And like any good tasting room there is always the possibility of extra tastes especially for paying customers.

Goofy Tasting Room @ Sonoma Square

GlenLyon Vineyards and Winery and Two Amigos are two labels from the same winery as far as I can tell. They share the same tasting room and their websites are very similar. They take the seriousness out of wine and have the goofy wine labels to match their view. The tasting room attendant was a jovial man who was very knowledgeable about the wine and the winery. They have a big screen TV that is playing video blogs of the winemakers wearing the classic gag glasses with fake nose and bushy brows. The tasting room is very spacious and is just off of Sonoma Square and one door from Haywood Estate.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Haywood Estate

The second winery we went to on Sonoma Square was Haywood Estate. The tasting room was a little on the dark side. The lady behind the large wooden counter was quite friendly. The tasting bar can comfortably stand about 6 people without squishing or standing two rows deep. When we went in we were the only ones in and just as we were leaving a group of six came in. Perfect timing :)

Since my friend that I went with only drinks whites and they only offer a Chardonnay we didn't do the full line up.  I only tasted the 2008 Primitivo ($35) from Sonoma Valley which was quite excellent. For those that don't know, Primitivo is very similar to Zinfandel in flavor and appearance. The most noticeable difference is the grape cluster of Primitivo is one long shaft where as the Zin has three clusters with two small wings and a long cluster in the middle.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Point Reyes Vineyards

On our drive up the coast to Bodega Head we stopped at the small winery, Point Reyes Vineyards. It sits on a low rolling hill right off of Hwy 1 just outside Point Reyes Station. The gracious tasting room hostess, Anne, told us that they source most of their grapes from Marin and the vines outside the tasting room are for sparkling production. The tasting room is a large spacious room with a fireplace. They served delicious cheese from a local Creamery in addition to their wines. There are a few cheese companies (some have tasting rooms) in the area along the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail. The winery also runs an inn on the premise.