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!