Archive for November, 2011

Turkey Wine Time

November 23, 2011

I’m on a red wine kick for the holidays and have picked out an interesting Napa blend to pair with a big roasted bird on a holiday plate.

Turkey with a variety of side dishes presents a moving target that’s hard to hit with any single wine — red, white or rose.

My wife and I are dining out with neighbors on Thanksgiving at the Buckeye Roadhouse in Mill Valley and I picked an interesting bottle from my cellar to mark the occasion.

The wine is called Chaos Theory and it’s a proprietary blend from Brown Estate

A visit to Brown’s off-the-beaten-path Chiles Valley property — where they excel at zinfandel — is a treat. It’s also hard to arrange unless you’re a wine club member (which I used to be).

I picked the 2007 Chaos Theory for several reasons. I’ve enjoyed the wine in the past; the name always inspires discussion; and I want to see how a little time in the cellar has affected the flavors.

The wine is a blend of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Brown Estate vineyards. The current vintage, 2009, retails for $40.

The zin-cab combo is not something you see every day, but it works great at Brown. There’s just enough of the brambly zin features that I like to go with a moderating influence of the cabernet that smooths things out.

And, besides, the oddball name will give us something to talk about in between bites of turkey with all the fixings.

Siblings Deneen, Coral and David Brown from Brown Estate


High-Flying Wine Dispute

November 16, 2011

You’re  not going to find anything except French wines  to drink on Air France. If you fly Alitalia, you’ll surely be drinking Italian onboard.

National pride shows up at 30,000 feet.

So what kind of wine does US Airways pour for its coach passengers?


That’s right. Nothing from Napa or Sonoma — or anyplace else in California — made the cut.

What gives?

US Air chose to offer a trio of Chilean wines, at $7/glass, on a recent flight to Florida.

I’m sure they got a good deal on the South American juice — a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay — but why not put something on the list with a red-white-and-blue background ?

I bet I could pick dozens of California wines that would deliver the same or better quality at a comparable  price of the Chilean wine, which retails for less than $12/bottle.

Unexpected Domestic Offering

On another leg of my trip, this time flying Air Tran, I ran into a Cresta Blanca Chardonnay.

The name seemed vaguely familiar, but I had to look it up.

Cresta Blanca was one of the first wineries established in the Livermore Valley back in1882.

The winery did not survive Prohibition, but the label was resurrected and went through other owners who couldn’t keep it afloat.

The land was purchased by Wente Vineyards back in 1981. Today, the historic old winery is part of the Wente sparkling wine complex and Cresta Blanca is a value-priced label in the Wente line-up.

The Cresta Blanca is a moderate-weight wine with a nice fullness in the mouth. It didn’t show much on the nose, but there was nice citrus streak alongside the chardonnay fruit that lingered pleasantly on the palate.

You can buy the Cresta Blanca at BevMo stores for $10-$12/bottle.

I wonder how it would taste on a US Airways flight?

Buehler: Best Buy on Napa Cab

November 8, 2011

I don’t usually jump up and shout when I find a good wine to write about, but that’s just what I did after trying the 2008 Buehler Vineyards Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, a great-tasting bargain at less than $20 per bottle.

Buehler has been growing grapes for 36 years  in the hills below Howell Mountain (near St. Helena) and began producing red wines in 1978 when about 700 cases were made.

Production took off after the Buehler family hired now-famous winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett to add a professional touch to the process.

Barrett left in 1988 and was the celebrated winemaker for another Napa project, Screaming Eagle, which has since become one of the leading ultra-premium labels in the country commanding four-digit prices. She was part of the vanguard of ground-breaking female winemakers who blazed a trail through California’s mostly male-dominated  wine industry.

Buehler’s current winemaker, David Cronin, worked at several premium wineries in Napa (Far Niente and Joseph Phelps) before bringing his talents to Buehler in 1993.

I have been drinking Buehler’s cabernet and zinfandel since the 1980s and found the wines to good quality and fine values over the years.

The 2008 rises to another level that stands out from the crowd of great Napa cabs.

I didn’t fully realize what all the fuss was about until I got an e-mail from a wine retailer, The Wine Mine in Oakland, where the Buehler cab was selling at a ridiculously low price of $16 a bottle.Robert Parker, the dean of American wine writers, had given the wine his seal of approval with a 90-point rating, and that apparently ignited a firestorm of interest.

By the time I strolled into the Wine Mine for a tasting on Saturday, they’d sold all 60 cases that were available. In one week!

The winery has also sold out of this wine, but it is in distribution nationally and available at some retail locations around the state, including a rumored 20 or more cases at Adronico’s. No word yet on what the price will be, since Andronico’s hasn’t begun selling its cache yet.

When this blog was published, there were supplies available at K&L Wines in San Francisco and online at — at prices below $20.

The wine is medium to full-bodied with a touch of cassis, finely integrated tannins and a sense of gravitas or weight that marks it as a serious wine.  It is a silky smooth red wine that would show well against Napa cabs that retail for triple its price, and I believe it could really give many more that go for $100 a run for their money.

It’s ready to drink now, but could use a bit of decanting. A taste from a bottle that had been open for three days revealed extraordinary flavors and freshness, so it should improve with age, if you can resist drinking it now.

This wine would make a great match for a holiday feast or as a holiday gift for someone special. Just be sure to keep a few bottles for yourself and let me know what you think of it.

Beer Bliss

November 1, 2011

A funny thing happened on my way to Oregon wine country. I ran into beervana.

I spent the last week in and around Portland on vacation with every intention of making a pilgrimage to the famed Willamette Valley, home to some of the country’s greatest pinot noir wines.

Tasting, Full Sail Brewery

Beer, however, got in the way.

The Portland area is home to a mix of more than 40 commercial breweries, craft brewers and brewpubs. It’s a heavenly spot for the hops and barley crowd.

Rest Stop, Redding

We got a foretaste of what was to come when we stopped in Redding for lunch. My wife, Anne, found the Moonrise Bistro on Google.

Redding isn’t normally a stop on the fine dining trail, but you wouldn’t know it from a visit to the Moonstone Bistro. This gem of a restaurant, tucked into a shopping mall, featured a locally sourced and mostly organic menu of tasty food.

Fish Tacos, Moonstone Bistro

We enjoyed a deconstructed fish taco (pan-seared basa with cabbage and red onion slaw, chipotle painted tortillas, fresh cilantro and a dash of lime) and a bowl of heavenly pumpkin soup spiked with lemon, pepper and toasted pumpkins seeds with a wedge of fried Manchego cheese in the middle.

We spent our first night in Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and one of our favorite brewpubs — Standing Stone Brewery. We enjoyed two meals there, with the homemade chicken soup featuring homemade rosemary noodles and a dish of perfectly cooked sweet potato fries as two of our favorite items.

The beers are fresh — they are made on the open second floor above the pub — and the atmosphere is super  friendly. Plus, it’s only a block from the theater where we saw a magnificent production of August, Osage County (a comic tragedy that won the Pulitzer Prize) plus a compelling version of Shakespeare’s  Julius Caesar, with a woman (Vilma Silva) playing the lead role.

Next stop, Portland

We rented a home in Portland’s Irvington District, one of the many dozens of distinct neighborhoods that provide a sort of village feel to the area.

Best Breakfast, La Petite Provence

We explored the Hawthorne neighborhood (with lots of shopping choices) and got a glimpse of the Alberta Arts District through the windows of La Petite Provence, a comfortable little restaurant that puts out a spectacular breakfast spread with a French accent.

The poached eggs served with a red wine reduction sauce over sautéed bacon, mushrooms and carmelized onions and crowned with a fresh-baked croissant was beyond great. It may have been the best breakfast I’ve ever tasted.

One reason for this trip was to see the collection of Japanese block prints on display at the Portland Museum of Art (fantastic) and to see a production of  Oklahoma at the Portland Center Stage that featured an all Africa- American cast.


Oregon Beer Trail

We sampled beers from several of the big producers, starting with the Roseburg outpost of the McMenamins chain of dozens of brewpubs and restaurants that seem to populate just about every area we visited.

Their take on a pulled pork sandwich was heavenly, and that’s high praise coming from me, a diehard Memphis barbecue aficionado. The freshly hopped IPA didn’t hurt the tastebuds, either.

Brewing Vessels, Widmer Brothers Brewery

We also enjoyed a nightcap in Portland at the McMeniman’s White Eagle, one of the city’s oldest bars in the industrial district on the north side of town.

With live music nightly, this place attracted a crowd of swaying dancers and drinkers that was fun to watch. If you have a little too much fun — or drink — there’s a hotel upstairs for overnight guests.

We had a light dinner one night at the Widmer Brothers Brewery restaurant just down the street from the White Eagle.

The Widmer brewery sits directly across the street from the Gasthaus Pub where you can enjoy a pint (or two) and  a meal in the shadow of the giant copper brewing vessels where the beer is created.

Food Truck Delight

EuroTrash Owner/Chef Charles Thomas

A visit to one of the biggest gathering of food trucks near downtown was our first foray into the city’s celebrated mobile dining scene.

The trucks ringed a city block, encircling a parking lot between SW 9th and SW 11th avenues. There was a cornucopia of selections with an international array of food offerings from Europe, Asia, Mexico and points beyond.

I opted for the most decadent choice available — freshly seared foie gras atop a mound of fried potato chips doused with spicy aioli from EuroTrash.

Who knew something this good could come out of a mobile kitchen that was little bigger than a good-sized closet! And, at $13, it was a bargain compared to anything similar served at a restaurant with walls and tables.

We also stopped by another food truck pod at SE 43rd and Belmont near the trendy Hawthorne District, where I thoroughly enjoyed an over-sized scoop of Hawaiian barbecued pork atop a mound of steamed rice.

Multnomah Falls

The Gorgeous Gorge

There’s so much to do and see and drink and eat in Portland that you might not have time to leave the city at all, but we made time for a sidetrip to the Columbia Gorge, a glacier-created natural wonder about an hour east of town.

The Columbia River runs through the glacier-cut track framed by waterfalls and majestic cliffs. In the distance sits majestic Mt. Hood, which is capped by snow year-round

We squeezed in a visit to the Full Sail Brewery in Hood River, which sits overlooking a tributary that is home to world-class kite-boarding.

The beer is fresh and well-made. I tried a sampler that included just about everything they brew here and it was hard to pick a favorite, although the India Pale Ale, with a generous dose of hops, did stand out just a bit from the pack.

A week gave us only enough time to barely scratch the surface of what was available to do and see in the Portland area. Next time, I’ll focus on wine.