Archive for July, 2011

Flirting on the Feminine Side

July 30, 2011

It’s easy to lump rose wines together in the “feminine” side of the wine world, but the description is apt when it fits like a little pink sun dress on a hot wine country day.

The start of this little adventure began with a meal of takeout chicken teriyaki from one of my favorite Alameda restaurants — Kamakura.

I called in a “to go” order from my car and had 15 minutes to kill before it was ready, so I wandered into the nearby Du Vin Fine Wines shop to find something to drink with dinner.

I’d normally grab a dry riesling or maybe sauvignon blanc, but when I asked the proprietor, Dan Marshall, for a recommendation his response was unexpected.

He thought a rose might be a good choice and  pointed to a $12.99 bottle of pink wine from the Mediterranean coast.

At first, I was doubtful. But my adventurous side took over and I carried the 2010 Cuvee du Golfe de Saint-Tropez by Les Vignerons de Grimaud home for dinner.

It was flirty, fun and fantastic.

The French wine is a light pink color with a mild floral nose. It’s a dry blend of grenache, cinsault and carignane. The grenache fruit comes though, albeit with a whispery light touch.

It was easy to drink and definitely complemented the Japanese chicken dish that included a side of sautéed carrots and steamed rice.

Something Old

When I pulled out a bottle of Thomas Coyne 2004 Vino Tinto Reserva from my cellar the other day, I wasn’t sure what seven years of age had to done to this blend of Portuguese grapes from Lodi.

When I bought the wine several years ago — at a Coyne open house in Livermore — it was fresh, fruity and lip-smacking good. I stuck the bottle in my cellar and completely forgot about it until a few days ago.

I’d made a vegetarian pizza — tomato sauce covered with mozzarella, fresh tomatoes from my garden and some orange bell peppers — and it cried out for a gulpable red wine. The Vino Tinta Rosa fit the bill.

It tasted as fresh as the first taste I’d had years ago, an unexpected pleasure. It felt like I was rediscovering an old friend and made me want to start looking for a taste of the current vintage ($18, available at the winery).

Urban Wineries Pouring in Oakland

The East Bay Vintners Alliance is hosting its annual Urban Wine Experience on the waterfront in Oakland next weekend.

There will be more than 20 wineries pouring dozens of wines on Saturday (Aug. 6) from 2-5 p.m. at the Jack London Pavilion.  There will be 20 different food vendors, paired one-on-one with the wineries. Order online before Aug. 1 and pay $40/ticket. After that, the tab rises to $60.


Wine Flight

July 23, 2011

When you’re up in the air, there’s not a lot of choices for drinking wine.

That fact came home to roost this weekend as I traveled to Tennessee for my nephew’s wedding.

I like to fly, but will admit to being bit nervous on airplanes. A cocktail to calm my nerves is usually a good thing, mostly because the wine served by many airlines is insipid.

Southwest Selection

I flew Southwest from Oakland to Nashville and decided to give the discount airline’s wine list a proper perusal. It didn’t take long.

There were just two selections — red and white.

California Chardonnay

The Coastal Ridge 2009 California chardonnay turned out to be fine. It is moderately dry with a great tart green apple taste.

It reminded me of a crisp chenin blanc, and it turns out there is some chenin blanc juice in the bottle.

There’s 80 percent chardonnay, 10 percent chenin blanc and 10 percent triplett blanc in this wine.

The latter is a hybrid developed by Fay Triplett, a Central Valley grapevine grower and breeder.

The wine ($5/glass) is pale gold/yellow with a mild green apple nose.

There is some grassiness/steminess on the edge, but it wasn’t harsh nor unpleasant.

I detected a bit more sweet fruit when I popped a couple of honey roasted peanuts into my mouth.

The finish was abrupt. Pretty much all of the flavor was gone as soon as the wine was swallowed.

California Merlot

The only red wine on this flight was a Coastal Ridge 2009 California merlot for $5 a glass.

The merlot tasted of plums. It was a deep purple color that came off soft in the mouth with moderate fruit.

There was a mild bell pepper edge to this wine, but it wasn’t annoying or overpowering.

Paired with cheese nips (there’s no food service to speak of on Southwest), I could detect a bit of green wood on the palate.

The wine was pleasant and sometimes pleasant is good enough, especially at 37,000 feet!

Sonoma in the City

July 14, 2011

I found a few familiar faces, some new labels and a handful of very good wines at the Sonoma in San Francisco tasting this week.

On my quest to try more white wines, I tasted a broad range of chardonnay. Many of them left me disappointed  They really didn’t stand out from the crowd and they should for prices that generally pushed up from $25 to $50.

I did find some good Sonoma chardonnay to recommend from the 100s of wines poured at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco Monday (July 11). I also discovered some nice bottles of really fine cabernet-based wines.


The first chardonnay is made by Sbragia Family Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley.  This 2008 is a nicely balanced effort from winemaker Adam Sbragia and his father, Beringer‘s award-winning winemaker Ed Sbragia.

The grapes are from Gamble Ranch in Napa Valley, where the elder Sbragia makes award-winning chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon at his “day job.

This is a big white wine (14.9% alcohol) that’s ready to drink now with seafood or maybe a cream sauced pasta.

“We finish the wine in 100 percent new French oak,” explained the younger Sbragia. “It’s 100 percent malolactic, too, which gives it a creamy, buttery taste, almost butterscotch.”


I was also impressed with the 2008 Alexander Valley Winemaker’s Reserve ($30) from Chateau Souverain.

This wine pretty much hits all the taste targets you’d expect in a high-quality chardonnay.

It tastes of citrus and apples. There are some spicy notes, a buttery creaminess, although it operates at a bit lower intensity level than the Sbragia.

A sample of the same wine from the 2009 vintage (scheduled to be released in about two months) was even better, with a very similar profile.

Souverain has been around for more than six decades of Sonoma County vintages. It is now owned by Beringer.

Robert Young

This $40 wine from Robert Young Estate Winery is good to the core.

It tastes of fresh apples with a round creaminess that pushed the pleasure factor up a notch.

There’s a whiff of tropical fruit as the silky liquid is consumed.  The wine is aged in new and old French oak, which accounts for some of the nutty flavors.

Robert Young, which is family owned, has 130 acres of chardonnay. There’s another 187 acres of merlot along with some cabernet sauvignon vines first planted in 1964.


I was captivated by the 2004 Stryker cabernet sauvignon from the famed Monte Rosso (Red Mountain) vineyard owned by Louis M. Martini Winery, the pioneering Sonoma County brand now owned by Gallo.

I tasted dark fruit and smelled cherries and blackberries.

This wine has a nice fleshy feel, but it’s not flabby. I liked the touch of vanilla and hint of spice on my tongue.

The quality is so high, I’d call this a bargain at $48.

Laurel Glen

The 2007 Counterpoint, from Laurel Glen, is a wine you can buy today and drink tonight. It’s ready whenever you are.

This wine was made before new owners took over the small winery and 11-acre vineyard on Sonoma Mountain earlier this year.

This is the winery’s “second” wine, made from selected barrels with the most fruit forward attributes. It’s made to be consumed early.

I tasted red fruits and light oak. The nose promises baking spices and there’s just enough tannin to keep the structure intact and balanced.


Seghesio Family Vineyards takes a different approach with its cabernet-based 2008 Omaggio.

The wine is deep red and sweet fruit flavors. There are finely integrated tannins, to keep the wine in check

The $40 blend is 60 percent cabernet and 40 percent sangiovese. The cabernet is sourced from the Alexander Valley and also from a mountain vineyard on Mount Veeder in Napa.

The taste of red cherries runs mainstream with a few earthy undertones. The wine is balanced with just enough wood taste from the use of new French oak barrels.

Tied up in a Knot

July 8, 2011

I’m veering off the wine trail this week to take a look at two interesting — and tasty — beverages from Europe that will lend a flair to any mixologist’s repertoire.

I’m not the kind of consumer of liquor that goes for the complicated concoctions that require a science degree to prepare. Most of the hard stuff I drink usually comes with a single mixer — cola, club soda, fruit juice — or on the rocks by itself.

I’ve sampled a wide range of Scotch and tried most of the major American-made whiskeys, but Irish whiskey has never been a major interest.

Sure, I have tried the national brands — Jameson’s and Bushmill’s are decent — but in my limited exposure, I’ve not tasted any other Irish spirit like the Knot, a 100-proof bombshell from the William Grant & Sons distillery, which also produces two legendary Scotch whiskeys — Glenfiddich and Balvenie.

The Knot is delightful. There’s a hint of honey on the nose and on the tongue.

You can taste the whiskey, but it’s smooth. No rough edges and the aftertaste lingers delightfully in the back of my mouth.

The Knot ($28) has a creamy finish. There’s a shot of vanilla, too. That’s probably helped along by aging in wooden barrels or casks.

There’s a series of funny videos, part of an tongue-in-cheek advertising campaign, that guide imbibers on the proper approach to The Knot. Basically, the Knot is meant to be enjoyed straight, from a shot glass without a lot of shenanigans or fanfare.The videos, which may be inappropriate for youngsters, are posted online at youtube. I wouldn’t open them at work.

It may be blasphemy, but I enjoyed the Knot better from a snifter, which helped focus the aroma. And, the whiskey was also quite nice on the rocks with club soda. I bet it would make a killer Irish coffee, too.

From Ireland to Sicily in a Bottle

I learned about the Knot from an acquaintance from the wine industry who had switched jobs and now works in the spirits trade. She also sent me a sample of an Italian blood orange liqueur called Solerno.

The Solerno is dynamite if you like the taste of blood oranges as much as I do.

The bittersweet, red juice of a ripe blood orange is out of this world, to my taste buds. I love the fresh-squeezed juice by itself or in a screwdriver, which would be even better with the addition of some Solerno. A shot in a glass of lemonade or limeade would be interesting, too.

In addition to sanguinello oranges, there are also lemons in the Solerno that give it a nice tang. The scent is heavy with blood orange aromas. You can taste all of the fruit, from the rind and pith to the luscious juice.

Sonoma Comes to SF 

Instead of driving into wine country, check out the Sonoma in the City tasting at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco on Tuesday July 12. More than 100 wineries representing the diversity of Sonoma County will be pouring from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are $55-$100, available online and at the door.