Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Les Clos 2006 Perdus "Prioundo" Corbières


Absolutely beautiful wine. Picked this up from K&L Wines in San Francisco after browsing the shelf talkers. A few facts sold me on this wine, including the fact that it is biodynamic, was the nice description about where the grapes come from:

"Les Clos Perdus is a small winery based in the village of Peyriac de Mer in the Languedoc region of the South of France. Founded by Paul Old and Hugo Stewart, Les Clos Perdus (Lost Vineyards) mission is to discover and nurture select parcels of old vines, scattered throughout the hillsides. Many of these small vineyards had been disregarded by larger producers because of their isolation, their low cropping potential and their inability to be machine worked. Their ultimate goal is to produce distinctive well balanced wines of the very highest quality. Prioundo contains 70% Grenache, 30% Cinsault from select vineyards in the Corbières hills, near the village of Villesèque."

I found a funky, earthy nose, with virant red berry flavors focused on sweet red cherries balanced by smoky tobacco and spice notes on the finish. Wonderful acidity.

While the debate about whether biodynamics has an effect on wine is fierce, I for one certainly think there is. Now, I'm not saying I can spot a wine made biodynamically if tasting blind, but what I do find when I try "BD" wines is that they don't taste too perfect, and this is a good thing.

The more wines I drink, the more I appreciate uniqueness, while earlier I might have settled for sameness in experience. There are some wines that I've drunk recently that I perhaps didn't think tasted so great, but found them fun to drink because they were so different from anything I've ever tried before (a slightly oxidized white wine from Hungary comes to mind, from A Cote).

BD wines, at least the ones I've tried, typically have an earthy note some where in the aroma and beautiful vibrant fruit flavors. I don't get tired fruit notes like other wines. They all seem to have soul, if you will, which can be missing from mass produced wines. I know I'm probably not making much sense here as I'm grasping at the appropriate way to describe what I mean, but try a biodynamic wine and see if you get the same thing. There are many beautifully made wines that seem competent, but they lack the extra "oomph" that pushes them beyond just tasty. The BD wines I've had all seem to have that quality.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ethiopia Mordecofe Natural Process

It seems like Four Barrel is really hitting its stride when it comes to roasting fresh coffee beans. I am currently enjoying their Ethiopia Mordecofe Natural Process and it's showing wonderful blueberry and apricot notes and a striking citrus-like acidity. In the past, their coffees seemed tired and roasted at levels that didn't fully show their best flavors.

Natural process means the coffee cherry fruit was left attached to the bean (as opposed to being removed as is more typical in the washed process) and as a result, the coffee has more funky fruit flavors that might have been gone otherwise. Though interestingly enough, the acidity remains, which tends to be muted when made in this manor.

So far I've prepared this coffee in an inverted aeropress, french press, and in espresso form. My only attempt at pulling this coffee was a failure, I choked my poor Gaggia, requiring 56 seconds to get maybe half the amount of a single shot. So I'll retry that soon and figure out how to properly dial this thing in (still, the espresso I got tasted great with steamed milk - the blueberry flavor shown through like a spotlight in fog). I liked this as a french press, but overall the flavors seemed muted a bit. The inverted aeropress version I'm drinking this morning is the best preparation so far - bright acidity, wonderfully sharp flavors, and a nice clean cup.

Priced at $13, Four Barrel describes this coffee's taste as "Intense strawberry throughout, blueberry and apricot jam, passion fruit, apricot, and vanilla cookie."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Robert Stemmler 2006 Estate Pinot Noir Carnaros


Picked up this wine from Wine.com's shop in Berkeley for $19.99, down from it's original $36. Wasn't entirely certain this would be a good offering given my poor track record with sub-$20 pinots, but the label was
beautiful, the producer was one I thought I'd heard of being good, and the
in-store write up didn't mention "a touch of wood" in the tasting notes like the
other wine I was considering (whenever I see that I shudder because it usually
means the wine is over oaked).

When I got home and looked up what the producer had to say about the 2006 growing season, it bothered the crap out of me. The problems with the season seemed biblical in nature - flooding, "brutal" hot weather, and an overabundant crop that was picked late in the season caused me to think the wine would be thin and taste like raisin-flavored vodka.

Lucky for me, the wine was excellent, displaying an earthy nose with petrol and
cherry notes, which echoed in the glass. There was hints of black liquorish
on the finish. The winery did a good job of "aggressive" green pruning, so that the remaining berries were able to display great flavor and not the watered down taste I expected.

I really liked this wine and think it's a great deal for under $20.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Four Barrel Ethiopia Sidamo Mordecofe

My appreciation for Four Barrel Coffee continues to climb the more I visit their shop on Valencia and 16th St. in San Francisco. Initially wowed by the atmosphere, machinery and great minds behind the shop's concept during my first visit in August 2008, subsequent trips have left me disappointed with the quality of the beans that I bought to brew at home. While the desserts are fantastic (chocolate and salt donut=yum) and in cafe espresso-based drinks are nice, some of the beans just seemed tired, over-roasted or plain boring.

But I'm an optimist. So I went back and picked up a bag of the Ethiopia Sidamo Mordecofe, which was roasted on Nov. 9. The coffee, priced at $12.50, is organic and direct trade. Four Barrel's tasting notes described it as: "A clean tea-like body, with bergamot aroma, notes of raspberry lemonade, and a peachy acidity."

I was really impressed with this bag. Showing best in a pour over, I definitely found it to have a tea-like flavor, followed by blueberries, some floral and earthy components, and a finish that hinted of oranges and a bit of lavender. Wonderful coffee and great price, definitely worth picking up.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Il Barbaresco 1997

This is a weird one. I walked into a small, sort of dingy shop in Oakland where I had heard there were many good microbrews. I was looking to stock up on some odd and unique beers for a pizza and brew night with another couple when I came across a shelf near the register of a wine with a simple red label with white lettering that said "Il Barbaresco."

Didn't see anything else except the DOCG ring on the top of the bottle. On the back is the producer's name, "Tenuta San Mauro," and the year 1997. The price? just $3.99. Yes, that's not $39.99 or $399.99, but a measily four bucks.

"What the deal with this wine?" I asked, incredulously, to the shop keeper.
"Oh yes it's very good," he said. But how did he get it? Was a distributor dumping unsold older wines? Was it a fire sale? Were they actually in a fire? I had tons of questions and no one to really ask, since the clerk didn't seem aware of the wine's history. The shop's wine selection itself was much less impressive than it's amazing beer offerings. Most of the wine bottles were under $10-mass produced picks that you'll find at any corner liquor store. So suddenly out of no where they're pulling out a 1997 Barbaresco? The bottle looked brand new too, and in fact I assumed it was either a non-vintage (which I'm not even sure they make for Barbarescos) or some misprint with the label. Why would the vintage be on the back? And again, how did this little shop get the wine? WTF?

Barbaresco is made from the Nebbiolo grape, the same grape used to make Italy's famed Barolos. Known for it's spiciness and rich cherry flavors, Barbarescos are considered more feminine than Barolos, though they can get expensive, and can age for decades. Just looking at wine searcher, I see about two dozen 1997 Barbarescos priced from $30 to $112.

The Nebbiolo grape can make extremely tannic wines, with high acidity and sour flavors, so if you drink them too young, they can be unappealing. DOCG status means this wine had to see at least two years of aging (at least one year in oak) before being released, and the grapes must come from Italy's northwestern Piedmont region.

Anyway, I jumped at the chance to try a 12-year old Barbaresco for $3.99. If it was horrible, oxidized, or somethinge else, then I'm not losing out that much.

What I got was a mixed bag. When I poured this wine, I saw a pretty brick color, indicating the wine has seen some age. After letting it get some air, I found massive earthy aromatics, with tobacco leaf dominating other aromas of nutmeg and menthol.

"Wonderful nose - could sniff for hours," I wrote in my journal. Got me all hot and bothered for some awesome aged Barbaresco for four freakin' dollars!!!!!!

Yet this where the disappointment set in. The wine itself tasted a lot like the aromas I found in the nose -- tobacco leaf, mixed spices, mentol, but after a strong attack, the wine fell apart on the mid palate, and ended in a mess of sour sour cherry and dry, busted tannins. The end result didn't even taste like it was wine - there was no fruitiness, no freshness or life at all.

Sigh.

Well, I'm not sad I took a chance on this, and I might even buy another bottle to see if the result is any different. The reason why I wrote this as a posting is because despite the bad vino, I love the sense of discovery that you can have with bottles like these. While I can't find any info on the producer at all online, or vintage reports from the most recent books, it's still sort of like opening a time capsule and seeing what has been stored in the bottle for all those years.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cool Way to get Coffee/Wine Gifts.....



I just found the coolest thing today for helping helpless relatives buy me gifts I actually want for Christmas (yes I am that self-centered). Normally I just add stuff to my Amazon.com wish list, and tell all the relatives who want to know what to get me to check out the list. This year it's full of books about wine. Unfortunately my time for actually reading these things has diminished since having my second child in August.

But then I saw a little notice on the site today saying I could have a "add to wish list" button to my browser...oh....my....god.... instead of being limited to only products sold through Amazon, I can now go to any web page, and "add" a product to my wish list.

I've spent the morning using this tool to add bottles of wine from K&L Wines to my wish list, such as the
2007 Mönchhof Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese for $29.99 (normally $45) off of K&L's clearance list. I'm all about sweet German rieslings ever since I wrote about them a month ago.

I have a bevy of coffee sites to check out later today as well for special gifts I want. Wouldn't that be cool? To get a pound of a really sweet coffee or a rare or interesting (yet still affordable) bottle of wine for Christmas? I'm way to excited about this....and probably won't get either. But still! Just the idea of it!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Tale of Two Wines

So I know it's been like a long long long time since my last post, and I'm sorry. I have three excuses that I hope you'll buy.

1) New baby
My son, Rowan, was born three months ago and basically any free time I had before after work to write blog posts has gone out the window. As soon as I walk in the door, I quickly change into shorts and a T-shirt (god I love the weather out here in Oakland) and then am handed a warm, squirmy, drooling infant while Rhonda takes a break. Then I make dinner, give my daughter a bath, put her down, do whatever chores I'm assigned that night, and take the baby back until he needs to feed. And then I burp him. So you see, less free time.

2) Writing about wine for work
For the past few months I've been writing about wine for work, and have been receiving review samples and drinking a lot on the corporate dime, so I can't discuss those things here, unfortunately.

3) I'm lazy/procrastinate

Moving along swiftly to wine reviews....

I headed over to Wine.com's shop in Berkeley a few weeks ago because they had a $50 Cote Rotie for sale, half off. Cote Rotie, which means "roasted slope," (named because of the hills the sun bakes) is located in the northern most portion of France's Rhone region. Wines are primarily made from syrah and can include some viognier, but are known for some of the Rhone's best wines, having a spicy, full berry flavor and can age incredibly well.

The wine in question was the 2004 Domaine Duclaux. Now, I figured it was on sale for a reason - the distributor needed to move bottles being the most common reason today why things go on sale like this. So I took a chance, hoping for a winning lottery ticket. Well like all lottery tickets I buy, I lost. This wine was a poor example of what the syrah grape can produce. On the nose I got currants, steel, and musty cellar. In the glass, I got a cocktail of red berries with a varying degree of ripeness, with an overall sensation of too ripe fruit, bordering on raisiny. The wine was thin on the mid-palate, and finished with a tart acidity.

Checking out what Robert Parker had to say about the vintage explained what went wrong. Apparently 2004 was a very productive year with mixed weather, so chateaux that didn't prune a lot before harvest ended up with too many grapes. This is a problem because the vines spread out it's growing efforts and produce thin tasting fruit. If a grower cuts back the amount of fruit on a vine during the growing season, the vine will concentrate its efforts on the remaining grapes, producing more flavorful fruit. Of course, if you're livelihood depends on selling fruit by the ton, or selling more bottles, cutting back a lot of your fruit can hurt the wallet. So I totally feel for the farmers...

Even at $25, this was overpriced.

But my trip to Wine.com wasn't a total waste. One of the workers there (red hair and beard, very talkative, very knowledgeable about French wines) suggested a 2007 Marcel Lapierre Morgon (gamay) for $25. The producer is biodynamic, and the wine was made with little intervention. Overall I loved this wine - it had an intreguing nose of christmas spice, varnish and black peppercorn. In the mouth I got rose petals, dust, dried cherries and a racy acidity with stealthy tannins that appear at the end without you really noticing at first. This is a nervy wine that would be great for a Thanksgiving meal.

I'm hoping to write more from now on, but as I'm typing this, the baby is crying hysterically and Rhonda is giving me evil eyes...so until next time....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Some coffee notes.....

Been longer than I would have liked between posts, just haven't been able to give this as much time as I've wanted recently. For one, I've been busy at work with some coffee and wine reviews, so I can't really write about the exciting things I've been drinking here until I finish my articles and get them out. Second, I have an infant that doesn't want to be put down at all, ever, so typing with one had and holding a squirmly little boy takes more skill than I currently possess.

Nonetheless, I wanted to put out some coffee tasting notes.

The first is Ritual Roasters' Ndumberi Peaberry (coffee bean variety SL-28). Ritual's notes said this coffee had strawberry shortcake, raspberry and lemon curd in the cup. I got more dried red berry fruits, like raspberries. This coffee had a huge acidity component to it, which I liked.

The second coffee I had was Barefoot Roasters' Guatemalan FVH Edlyna. Purchased at Whole Foods for $11.99, this coffee had a lovely silk body, with subtle berry flavors and some wood and melted butter notes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

2008 Skouras White


I have a fondness for Greek wines, even if I only drink it very rarely. That's because I first started drinking wine on a regular basis when I was studying abroad in Greece during college.

I remember not liking red wine at first, because it was served warm, and I couldn't comprehend drinking a warm, or room temperature beverage with food (that's an American thing, apparently).

Still, the novelty of being able to buy alcohol at will (I was only 20) and the idea of drinking wine with dinner as what sophisticated people did, compelled me to try the various bottles on the shelves.

It wasn't long until I was exploring the wines of Greece, and loving every glass, from Xinomavro wines of Naoussa to Agiorgitiko wines of Nemea, as well as the sweet, dark dessert wine Mavrodaphne to the cheap, available in every bar, pine sol tasting Restina.

After I moved back to the US, I continued drinking wine on a regular basis, but shifted to the cheap wines I found here, which were mainly California plonk.

When I moved to California, and Oakland specifically, I came across a wine shop called Du Vin Fine Wines in Alameda that specialized in Greek wines (they have a good selection of Portuguese and Italian wines as well).

As I'm on an obscure Italian wine kick, I decided to see what they had last weekend. I was able to get a Lacrima di Morro, my current favorite red, and I asked him to suggest an off-beat white wine as well. The main one he wanted to sell me was out, but he suggested instead the 2008 Skouras White, a 60/40 blend of Roditis and Moscofilero, two native Greek grapes. As a bonus, the bottle was only $10.99.

Back home, I found this wine to have an earthy nose with a slight blue cheese mold tint to it. In the mouth, this dry wine had bright acidity and seemed to have a slight effervescence. Steely while cold, flavors of almonds and honey appeared as it warmed.

Overall, and interesting wine for $10.99, but nothing too exciting. I believe the wine the shop owner wanted me to try was a 100 percent Moscofilero, which the site All About Greek Wine describes as "A distinct aromatic grape from within the AOC region of Mantinia, in the Peloponnese, Moschofilero grapes have a gray colored skin and therefore produce a wine that is a blanc de gris. Its crisp character and beautiful floral aroma of roses and violets with hints of spices can be drunk as an aperitif or with food." Sounds good - I'll have to seek something like that out!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

2006 Thomas Coyne Petit Verdot

A few years ago I took some friends of mine to a wine trip to Livermore. They had wanted to visit Napa, but I've spent too much time stuck in traffic waiting to get to packed tasting rooms where the winery charges $10 for three little tastes, then offers you the option of tasting "reserve" wines for $15 more, and a futher "library" tasting for another fee. You can spend $40 in a tasting room trying wine without yet buying a bottle, which are themselves $40 and up. Plus you're fighting crowds.

Livermore has dozens of wineries, many that are smaller operations. Some of these I visited were literally in the garage of the grape grower. While you may not get astounding wines at every stop, you're bound to find a few great ones that won't cost you a ton of money simply because it was made in Napa.

One of the places we visited was Thomas Coyne Winery, a hard to find but worth visiting location in south Livermore. Specializing in Rhone and Bordeaux varietals, winemaker Thomas Coyne (pronounced "Coin") started making wine in 1989. The winery itself is on a hill in the middle of in an 1881 building built by French engineer Alexander Duvall. You can see Mt. Diablo in the background, and overall it's a really pretty place to try some wines.

All of the wines I tried tasted great, and I in particular liked the Petit Verdot. You can get these at Whole Foods as well.

The Petit Verdot, priced at $18, looked as black as night in the glass. On the nose, I found sweet jammy black fruit, and this followed in the mouth, as it presented ripe blackberry jam with a touch of vanilla and heat on the finish. Really thick mouthfeel, with the fruit flavors sparkling as a bright beam.


From the winery: "This little-known Bordeaux Varietal is normally reserved for blending to enhance color and body of the major varietals. The grapes came from a vineyard near Lodi in Northern California. After crush and fermentation, the wine was aged in American and French oak barrels for eighteen months. The wine is full-bodied in character with intense herbal flavors and rich oak finish."

Monday, September 7, 2009

2008 Tiamo Sangiovese



We were having some friends over for dinner last night, with a plan to make pasta and sauce from scratch, so when I was at Whole Foods looking for a wine to match, I naturally gravitated toward the Italian section. I have also been on a huge Italian kick as of late, exploring the country's many indigenous grape varieties.

Sangiovese is one native grape that's used in a variety of wines, including Chianti, Super Tuscans and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This particular bottle, the 2008 Tiamo Sangiovese, was affordable, at $10.99, made with organic grapes(my friends are really into that) and came from the Marche region, an area that I've found to make really good wines.

This bottle, unfortunately, wasn't a good example. I found it to be extremely over oaked, and the signature Sangiovese cherry flavors watered down. If I had to guess, I'd assume the grape grower didn't reduce their yields enough to produce concentrated wines, and then to compound the problem, used barriques (small wooden barrels) which gave this wine ultimately too much woody flavor.

I've been telling anyone who will listen that cheap European wines outshine their American counterparts, though here's a case where that theory didn't hold up.

In general though, a $10 bottle of wine from Europe will likely express more pure fruit and varietal correct flavors than a wine made in the U.S., especially California, where the cheaper wines aim for the supposed mass market desire for vanilla and oak tasting wines.

I think things are changing here, as I've seen more examples of wines made with a light touch, but if I want to play it safe in the wine shop, I'll head toward the Euro section.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bolivia Cup of Excellence #2 - Flor de Mayo

My mom has been getting me gift certificates to Acton, Massachusetts-based Terroir Coffee for my birthday for the past couple years, and I recently cashed in by splurging on several offerings, including the second place winner in last year's Bolivian Cup of Excellence from the Flor de Mayo farm. The coffee cost a stiff $27.95 for 8 ounces, an amount I probably wouldn't spend on my own unless the coffee was crazy good.

As an espresso, the coffee was devoid of bitterness, showing complex, subtle flavors that were hard to pick apart. I think I got some papaya and mango in there.

Prepared via inverted Aeropress, I got wonderful floral aromas of lavender and lilacs, reminding me of an astounding Italian wine called Lacrima di Morro d'Alba. I'm talking huge aromatics here (in both the coffee and wine) that are beautiful to behold. In the cup itself though the flavors aren't as strong, and I got chocolate and hazelnut notes in the finish. As for mouthfeel, this coffee was richer than other Central American coffees I've had, almost feeling a bit like butter but not quite there.

The Cup of Excellence jury awarded the coffee 90.85 points, describing it as "bright, balanced," and added it had flavor-aromas of chocolate, orange, caramel, peach, honeycake, blueberry, green apple, with a "lingering mouthfeel, complex, well balanced, subtle."

I believe I got the last batch from Terroir as I don't see it on their site anymore. If I'm going to spend $30 on 8 ounces of coffee, I'd like something a little more powerful, but overall I enjoyed this, especially since I didn't pay for it myself.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Natural Wine Week




Did you know this week is Natural Wine Week in San Francisco? I didn't - though I wish I had.

"Natural" is a term used to describe wines that fall somewhere between organic and biodynamic practices. Organic will get you so far, while biodynamic incorporates a whole mess of almost religious practices that some growers chaff at. Both aim to encourage grape growing and wine making that allow the end product to truly reflect the spot it's from.

The nuts and bolts of both grape growing and wine making to achieve this process are detailed and controversial, but overall they try to limit outside influences or inputs such as chemicals like fertilizer, or non-native ingredients like lab-created yeasts. Whether these methods do work are fiercely debated. I happen to think they do produce more authentic wines, if you'll allow me to use that term, and are great for the environment.

Every day this week, one location in the city will host a tasting of natural wines. Tonight's event will be held at Biondivino, which will feature wines from Italy, Georgia, Spain and Austria. Importers will be there as well to probe with questions.

Check out Natural Wine Week's Web site for more info on this great idea.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Family Winemakers of California Tasting

Yesterday I had a chance to check out Family Winemakers tasting at Ft. Mason in San Francisco. It's one of those events where hundreds of wineries pour thousands of wines, except the key thing about this is that most are small, family-owned operations.

In the past I've attempted to take tasting notes, but I've found that it's too difficult, especially when you go from table to table quickly sipping and spitting dozens of wines across a variety of varietals. Some people I ran into tasted whites first, then circled back around to the same tables to taste reds, but I mainly stuck to reds and tasted the occasional odd white when it was an intriguing bottling.

I mostly enjoyed the wines I tried, with standouts being a Syrah from Quivira (biodynamic), a trio from Red Car Wine, including a Pinot Noir that just received a high 90s score from Wine Spectator, a Bosche from Freemark Abbey and a Howell Mountain grenache from Outpost .

The quality this year seemed better than last, and better than other events I've attended at this building. One thing that stood out to me at a variety of tables - I was getting a lot of earthy and dirt notes across the board. Not sure if it's just something I happened to notice this year and not last year, but I found myself making the same remark to several people pouring wines. It's a scent I like in wines, and to me, seems to indicate a closer connection to the place where the wines were made. It seemed like the bottles overall were in better balance on the aggregate and I'm excited to see if we're going to be drinking more restrained, complex wines from California in the future that don't all taste like juice made from raisins.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Siete 7




The wine shop's description of this wine really intrigued me. They started off by saying this bottle was killer two vintages ago, flying off the shelves, but the follow year wasn't as great, and no one wanted it. Now, however, the latest vintage (2008) restores the wine's good name. Drink up!

That really puts the buyer in a difficult spot. If, like me, you didn't have the previous two vintages, you don't have any reference point to judge their assessment. Sure, they get points for honesty, but what will next year's pull quote say if this year's doesn't sell well?

But I took a chance on it anyway, the bottle was only $13.50(or around that, I forget if it was a dollar cheaper) plus the label was killer. No bad wine could come out of a bottle with an awesome label, right?

Well turns out the investment was worth it. This blend of garnacha and tempranillo from grapes grown in clay and calcareous soil in northeast Spain's Navarra region was aged in stainless steel and presents a heavy dose of spice to the palate.

In appearance the wine was violet and had purple-tinged edges; the nose was very aromatic, smelling like incense, green bell peppers and other spices. In the mouth I got raspberries, a little burnt rubber, and an earthy finish punctured by cayenne spice that really bit my tongue. After a couple of days, the spiciness subsides some, and the black and blue fruits are more present.

Great value for an interesting wine.

The juice is a blend of Garnacha and

Thursday, August 13, 2009

McDonald's Coffee

I never thought I would be writing about McDonald's coffee on this blog, but I have to hand it to the golden arches - they sure know what they're doing when it comes to iced coffee.

Let me begin by saying I grew up in Massachusetts, and as a small boy was thrilled whenever my parents would let me drink coffee milk - milk with coffee syrup flavoring - for breakfast. You can't find it anywhere else than New England, and even there it's not that well known. It was like heaven in a cup, especially when paired with a big stack of chocolate chip pancakes drizzled in real maple syrup. Yeah, I had lots of sugar-fueled meltdowns as a child.

From there I progressed to my early coffee drinks - I fell in love with Dunkin Donuts Coolattas as a teen. These milky, iced coffee-flavored beverages tasted amazing even if they had like 1,000 calories. I think I had one every day as a 17-year old driving to my lifeguard job at a waterpark on Cape Cod.

I still didn't get the appeal of hot coffee - it tasted awful to me, and couldn't believe people drank it black. Eventually I ventured into iced coffee with loads of cream and sugar, more like coffee-flavored milk with a quarter of the cup filled with undissolved sugar grains. In college I became aware of how horrible having this everyday was for you, and gradually changed my coffee pollution to skim milk and splenda.

Nowadays even on the hottest days I'm making frenched press coffee at work in the morning, since it's AC-ed to the point of being downright chilly. But I still have a strong association of hot summer days and large gallon-like cups of iced coffee, so the other day when we were headed off to see The Fray in concert, we stopped at McDonalds for a quick bite. I was tired and decided to try their iced coffee.

Now, McDonalds has made a huge push the past year or so with their McCafe - espresso-based drinks to order, and have been successful with the product line. The iced coffee I got came with milk and sugar added, without my asking.

I usually don't like more than a few drops of milk or cream in iced coffee, but this was definitely on the light side. Taste-wise, they really nailed what most people are probably looking for from an iced coffee. It tasted sweet, creamy, nutty and coffee-like - more along the lines of coffee milk - than overroasted beans I expected from McDonalds. It really seemed well-balanced altogether between the three flavors. I consider this a dessert drink, but nonetheless it was delicious and I had to restrain myself from downing the entire thing, less I be awake the entire night with caffeine jitters.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's a boy!



My second child was born last week, a boy named Rowan. Everyone is healthy, if not totally exhausted.

While at the hospital for a few days, I found a local wine shop, Vintage Berkeley, that does daily tastings from 4pm to 7pm, and made a visit (to the utter dismay of Rhonda, who was still recovering. I told her I was going out to buy her something special to eat from whole foods, which I did...after the tasting. Am I a bad person?)

Anyway, the wine shop has a cool concept - small production wines all under $25. They have some more expensive ones in the back, but it's more of a side room. An employee, Matt, told me if it was up to him, he'd have a wall of reisling and a wall of cab franc, which sounded good to me, as I love both those varietals. Alas, business sense prevailed, and the long, narrow shop has a good variety of wines from different regions of the world, with no discernible bias(that I could see anyway from a quick walk through).

I'm going to be adding this store to my regular rotation of shops, as I become increasingly price conscious with the new addition to my family, and those diaper bills start to pile up.

Friday, July 31, 2009

2006 Vins de Pays Cotes de Brian Clos du Gravillas "Le Rendez-Vous du Soleil"



This wine came to my attention at K&L in San Francisco last weekend when a friend of mine asked a clerk for something earthy from France. He suggested this bottle, saying it had that dirty taste she was looking for.

Mix of 30 percent each cab, syrah and carignan, with 5 percent each of mourvedre and grenache. Aged 25 months (in what, I wonder? Bottle just says the length of time).

In appearance this wine is dark and murky, with cranberry-tinged edges. The nose has an old, musty earth smell as well as black fruit scents.

In the glass, I got dense currant flavors and blackberry preserve. I wanted to write down jammy because this felt so thick on my tongue, but it wasn't overly sweet, which I typically associate with the "jam" description.

This wine has a rich mouthfeel and was hard to interpret at first. I detected several strains of fruit on my palate, but separating them in my head was difficult because of the weight of the overall wine. Tangy, almost bitter tannins bring the wine to a finish.

This is certainly a beast of a wine, and is a good example of how something can be powerful but not overdone with oak, vanilla, and gooey sweetness. Not bad for $15.99. I have had dirtier wines, but if you're not sure if that's a flavor you're into, this could be a good entry bottle.

Friday, July 24, 2009

2000 Crociani Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG - Reserva



Picked up this 9-year old bottle of wine at the Wine Mine and really enjoyed it. Clocking in at 13.5 percent alcohol, this mixture of Prugnolo Gentile (75 percent), Canaiolo nero (15 percent) and Mammolo (10 percent) is aged for two and a half years in oak barrels and then six months in the bottle before being released.

It's color is a beautiful brick burnt red, most likely due to it's age. Even my non-drinking partner noticed how different in appearance it looked from other wines I've had recently (mostly younger, purplish hued wines).

On the nose I found burnt rubber, dung, and some floral accents, which blossomed into a larger part of the scent after being opened for a few days.

In the mouth, I got a tart but floral taste, favoring violets and ending with a lifesaver cherry component. Very light body. Overall I enjoyed the fruit in this wine, and described it on the whole to a cool breeze in August, compared to much heavier American reds I've been drinking.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines are mostly made with Sangoviese, and shouldn't be confused with the grape varietal Montepulciano.

Tasting notes from the producer: "Ruby red colour with orange hints, delicate and intense bouquet with pronounced notes of violet. Dry, rounded, harmonious, full of fruit with a lovely mouth’filling finish."

Friday, July 10, 2009

K Vintners Syrah flight


I've been waiting for months to attend an event at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant this week to meet Charles Smith of K Vintners, the rock star of Washington winemaking.

I've been able to acquire some of his lower priced wines (see reviews here), and wanted to try the upper echelon and see what all the commotion is about.

The day came for the big event, and I was all ramped up to try the flight of his single vineyard Syrahs and speak to the man himself. Hours before I was about to leave my office, however, I got pulled into a work event for the night. Oh well.

Disappointed that I couldn't meet Smith, I still hoped to try some of his wines, and the next day, I went over to the wine bar to see what was left.

"Do you still have the K Vintners' flight available?" I asked the bartender with all the eagerness of a child asking a Best Buy clerk if some hot video game was still in stock the day after the hordes of other kids waited in lines for hours to buy every copy.

"Hm, let me see," he said, gazing over the bottles that were in front of him. "Yeah, we can do a mini flight."

YES!!!!

The full flight would have consisted of five wines and cost $35. What I got was three generous pours, and probably half an ounce of another one, for $22. I think all of my pours finished off their bottles, so I wasn't expecting much in terms of quality, though with wines purported to be this big, I was thinking a day after opening might do them some good.

I started with the most expensive of the offerings, the 2006 Royal City Syrah, which was selling for $105 for a bottle at the shop (you can get it for $80 from K Vintners's website).

The first thing you notice about the bottle is its kick-ass label. All of Charles Smith's wines employ a striking black and white contrast on their label, with huge letters and a goth-like image. On Royal City, you see a jeweled crown with a skull chopping on two bones on the front of it.

If you look for information about this wine on the K Vintners site, all you get is a blurb review from Paul Gregutt: “100 Point Wine…Rich scents of purple fruit, smoked meat, cedar, lead pencil, moist earth and so on proclaim a wine with genuine gravitas…..the finest syrah I have ever tasted from Washington State, and in fact as good as any young syrah I have ever tasted..." (April 2009). WOW! Best Washington Syrah ever tasted! That's pretty awesome!

Well, what I got wasn't as great. In fact it seemed too huge, too sweet. The wine had a dark ruby red color, and a moderate nose of ripe fruit. It tasted like sugary sweet candy, red and black berries so ripe they're oozing juice. The finish starts to fade after a few seconds, and then BAM! a turbo boosts kicks it into another gear for more what seemed like minutes.

This velvety mouth-coater was definitely the big boy of the tasting, bringing wood and vanilla notes as well. I just don't see it lasting a while (my hopes of getting one of these bottles and socking it away for a couple of decades until my daughter hite 21 were dashed after this tasting).

The bartender agreed with me. "Point chasers," she said, and then professed her love of dirty Rhone Syrahs.

The other wines in the flight seemed smaller in stature to this one. The 2007 "The Deal" Syrah from Wahluke Slope, priced at $37, was almost cartoonishly sweet. On the nose I found red liquorish, charred wood and some green component I couldn't put my finger on; in the glass I described the wine as having Willy Wonka flavors. Just super candish, sweet berries, and some heat on the finish along with a bit of spice.

Since I only tasted about an ounce or two of the Phil Lane Syrah, I'm not going to give it a review here.

The wine I liked the best was the 2007 Morrison Lane, from Walla Walla, priced at $41.

Tasting the "cleanest" of the wines, it had nice blackberries and blueberries, with a juicy center that seems to pop out on your palate. Hints of cranberries and raspberries as well. Medium, dry tannins were balanced against smooth acidity.

Didn't get much of a nose on this one.

Now, Charles Smith has said his K Vintners line up is meant to age, and his Charles Smith wines are for consuming now. Since they're much cheaper and more appealing, I'm probably going to stick with those for the time being, though I still want to try his K Vintner's Ovide, which Gary Vaynerchuk sounded estatic about on the Thunder Show in October.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Old Soul Company (Sacramento)

I was in Sacramento last week for work and while there set about to find some good coffee. Using ManSeekingCoffee as a guide, I ventured into Old Soul Co. located near 17th and L streets and found coffee delight.

The cafe looks like an old warehouse, as it's a huge open space with a Diedrich roasting machine in the corner, a scattering of seats, couches and tables, and the main operation in the middle. Fresh baked items tantalize from their racks behind the counter.

On my first visit, I had a shot of their "sauce" espresso blend, which had light brown crema, with no tiger stripping. Bright nose with grassy notes. In the cup, I found it to be thick an juicy, with tropical fruit notes, and a medium acidity, with no bitterness.

I also had a cup of their Ugandan Mt. Elgan Bugisu drip, but couldn't make out much after the espresso coated my tongue with its richy goodness. Old Soul describes it as "Beautiful subtle fruits with a candied sweetness. Thick and syrupy with a cream-coated softness throughout the cup."

I took a bag of the coffee home to evaluate, and so far, found it to give off a strong black cherry scent all the way through from the beans, in the grinds, and in the fresh brewed coffee. Bright, fresh cherries were persistent in the cup, to the point where I wrote down it was like liquid cherry pie. Initially creamy on the attack, the coffee's acidity picks up through the middle and lingers on the finish. I got an odd chalk dust flavor at the end, but I'm not sure if that was a one time deal or something I'll find again.

As an espresso, this coffee presents milkshake-thick crema, lively acidity and notes of caramel, cherries and layers of other exotic fruits I couldn't quite pick apart.

Old Soul is definitely one of those "third wave" coffee roasters bringing customers medium to light roasted single origin coffees. They seem to really care about what they do, and in my conversations with them, are trying to develop a barista scene and culture of coffee love in Sacramento. If you're up there, check them out.

Monday, June 22, 2009

2006 Poderi San Lazzaro

I've been drinking a Rosenblum Syrah (2006 Snow's Lake Vineyard, Lake County) and have been pondering similes to describe how the wine has opulent fruit flavors that seem obscured by a heavy, thick coat of smoked wood. You know that smell that penetrates your clothes if you sit near a camp fire for any amount of time? Imagine that in your mouth. It's the same after taste you'd get from drinking a single malt scotch aged in toasted barrels for a decade or more (I'm thinking primarily of Laphroaig, one of my favorite go-to single malts).

I say all this because in the midst of my mental exercises trying to figure out an interesting way to breaking down this wine into words, I had a glass of something far superior that threw my thoughts about it into clear relief.

The Rosenblum wine is very "American" - ripe fruit, too much wood. The glass of wine I had, a Montepulciano/Sangiovese from Marche, Italy - the 2006 Poderi San Lazzaro, Rosso Superiore - reminded me why I love good Italian wines.

We had dinner at Pizzaiolo in Oakland, and of the several by the glass offerings, I chose the Montepulciano from Marche because I've had wines from that region and that grape before and really enjoyed it.

Marche is a region in central Italy on the eastern coast.

I got a little rubbery dirt on the nose, and in the glass I tasted violets, black and red fruits and a spicy finish. At $10.75 a glass, it was the most expensive choice on the menu, but it was worth it.

The fruit tasted fresh and pure, without any heavy overlay of wood or vanilla that ruins so many good American wines. I've certainly have had bad Italian wines, but the more I venture out to other countries, the more I understand why many winos prefer cheap foreign wine (cheap meaning less than $20 a bottle) to a comparably priced American bottle.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Four Barrel Duncan Estate Micro Lot #2 (Panama)

Following my recent good experience with Four Barrel's Ethiopian Wondo Harfusa, I went back for something different, something from South America that would be complex and light.

I picked up the Duncan Estate Micro Lot #2 from Panama for $13.50. I was pretty sure I tried coffees from this farm in the past (I think during a trip to Stumptown a few years ago) and remembered liking it very much, so I wanted to give it another go.

Four Barrel describes this organic, direct trade coffee like this: "Linden dominates the overall flavor of the cup from fragrance through finish and is accompanied by notes of kumquat, key lime, strawberry and evergreen."

My initial run at this coffee in a French press was a disaster. Tasted lots of pencil shavings and led, which are signs of old beans (the coffee itself was roasted a few days prior to my brewing it, but they could have still sat around for a long time in jute bags, losing their liveliness). There was some tropical fruit underneath the other layers, but overall it wasn't a pleasant experience.

I next brewed this in an inverted Aeropress, and got the same thing off the bat. "Just tastes old," I wrote in my notes. As the liquid cooled, I found some milk chocolate notes as well as kiwi, and something like a hibiscus tea flavor.

As an espresso, this coffee had a little more life, showing dried fruits, prominently cherries. Still, I'd say pass on this one.

Friday, June 12, 2009

2006 Razor's Edge Shiraz




Back in November I reviewed a 2004 Razor's Edge Shiraz and found it to be a great little affordable bottle of wine, showing sweet tar and honey on the nose, and heavy black plum flavors in the glass, strong tannins and a bit of heat, with some tar and dirt flavors on the finish. While big enough to outweigh most meals, I still thought it would be good to match up against stinky blue cheese, or just on it's own on a cold night.

Well, I've gone and purchased the 2006 vintage of this wine a few weeks ago, and came away with a totally different impression. Priced at $11.99, the nose had black fruit and toasted barrel notes. In the mouth I found blackberries, black currant, more toasted wood flavors and a lot of heat. The finish imploded because of the vodka-like taste at the end.

I was really disappointed - I was hoping this could be a good go-to cheap Shiraz, but now I'm not sure.

The winery's distributor, Joshua Tree Imports, describes the 2004-2006 vintages as such: "The Razor's Edge Shiraz is dark purple in color, yet bright and appealing in its clarity of fruit flavors, persisting on the finish against firm tannins."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Four Barrel Ethiopian Wondo Harfusa

I've been drinking a lot of coffee from Ritual and Barefoot lately, so I decided to switch things up and buy a bag of beans from Four Barrel (although they get their beans from Portland's Stumptown and Sweet Maria's, according to ManSeekingCoffee).

Four Barrel Coffee has been around for almost a year now, and I've visited several times, often during my lunch break, for espressos and the occasional Dynamo donut. You can see my postings about them here.

I was a little hesitant to buy beans from them after reading ManSeekingCoffee's pronouncement in March that their roasting has yet to live up to expectations, and that basically he prefers Stumptown's versions better. Still, it's been a few months and thought I'd play around with a bag for a few weeks and see what I got.

During previous trips, I didn't see roast dates on the bags, but they all have them now, which is an important piece of information for the coffee buyer to know. Freshness is so critical for coffee to be good, and I'm realizing that it's not just about the roast date, but the age of the beans themselves. I've pretty much ended my brief, torrent love affair with Blue Bottle after purchasing numerous bags of beans for home brewing, only to find they've all seemed dead inside. Nothing but stale, pencil shaving flavors. No acidity, no life, despite the fact they they were all roasted within a week of my purchase. I still like to get an occasional shot from their new cafe in the Ferry Building because of their cool lever machine and the convenience factor for me (I work a few blocks away), but I no longer get their beans for home because they don't seem to refresh their stocks enough or keep their green beans fresh.

Anyway, I went to Four Barrel a few weeks ago and wanted something lemony, something powerful. So I picked up their Ethiopian Wondo Harfusa for $12.50. As Four Barrel's website is just a front page right now, I couldn't get any additional info about the beans, but there is info on Stumptown's site.

Here's what Stumptown had to say: "Our lot was traditionally fermented for more than 24 hours, washed and left to dry in the sun on raised beds for more than a week. Wondo Harfusa is pure essence of hibiscus in fragrance followed with ripe red fruit flavors of raspberry, red currant and red cherry that finish in classic Yirgacheffe style with distinct notes of black tea."

I toyed around with different preparations for a week or so and found the inverted Aeropress to extract the best flavors. Very complex coffee, with a nutty, buttery taste to start, developing into jasmine/floral tea and ending with stone fruit flavors. The coffee had a light body and muted acidity. As a pour over, I got more nuts in the finish - hazelnut and macadamia nuts.

If you enjoy tea-like coffees, this is one to try. I haven't had Stumptown's version, so I can't compare it, but overall I liked it and will be exploring some more Four Barrel offerings in the future.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sean Thackery's Pleiades XVII


Wine Maker Sean Thackrey is one of those guys who's limited production bottles can be hard to get a hold of, thanks to high 90s scores by Robert Parker. Thackrey, who claims to own the world's largest collection of ancient writings on wines and reads in seven languages, lives and does his wine making in Bolinas, California, in a Eucalyptus grove. His wines are named after constellations, and he has a Petite Sirah called Sirius; a Rhone-style blend called Orion; a Pinot Noir labeled Andromeda; and the cheapest of his offerings, the field blend called Pleiades.

Pleiades is a non-vintage, which is why it's given Roman numerals. Last year I popped open version XVI for a party with friends and enjoyed its red berry fruit flavors and cool-Eucalyptus finish (read review here).

This year, I spied Pleiades XVII at the Wine Mine in Oakland and purchased a bottle for $21 there (prices can vary depending on where you shop from $19-$26). I drank this bottle over a few days. It's appearance is a black cherry color, complete opaque in the center with some light filtering through the edges, which looked brick red.

On the nose I got Nyquil cherry scents, along with Eucalyptus and bark. These flavors follow in the mouth, to the point where it really has that medicinal cherry taste going on, accented by the cool Eucalyptus that carry throughout the sip.

Grippy tannins on the palate, with an acidic bite on the finish.

As much as I wanted to love this wine, I found the medicinal cherry flavor a bit too overpowering and ultimately this was more of a two-note wine when I expected more. I would certainly call it interesting though, and definitely not a cookie-cutter California wine.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Crazy wine bar

As a wino, I love wine bars. Love them. You get to try a variety of wines you might not find elsewhere or not be able to buy anywhere else. They usually have interesting cheeses and sliced meats and other small plates for munching on. And in general, you feel like an adult in one, which has become a rare commodity for me ever since my daughter was born two years ago (if we do go out to a restaurant as a family, it's usually before 6 p.m. at a "kid-friendly" place - ie - not too slick or expensive, usually with beat up wooden tables and open enough so if she complains or cries people don't get upset. Yes, I'm looking at you Triple Rock, our go-to fam-friendly restaurant with the amazing beer selection.)

But getting back to the matter at hand - when I've been allowed out of the house after dark for a dad's night out or just a drink with a friend, I've been going to Alameda Wine Co. and loving it.

The place is not for everybody. It certainly has its quirks, the main one being the owner, a willow-thin, bald woman who wears droopy sweat pants that expose a thong as she walks around behind the bar. She also seems to have a nervous breakdown every time I'm there, swearing profusely and loudly about ex-customers who didn't pay or someone who pissed her off. I'd imagine it's kind of scary for people who didn't grow up with parents who screamed a lot. (Check out the one-star reviews on yelp for a taste of the offended customers - here).

Ok, on to the positives. The selection is nice and affordable. You can get a small pour or a large pour and pay accordingly. This is super if you're like me and want to try several selections on the menu without committing to an entire glass. The variety of the selection is nice too. When I've been I've found interesting American, Italian, French, Spanish and Argentinian offerings. There's a 1977 port you can try if you want. Last time the bartender popped open a really great madeira (I think it was a Rare Wine Company Historic Series Madeira Boston Boal NV) to show me how good madeira can be - and boy was she right.

The bar is curvy and the seats are leather with backs. You can sit for hours there twirling around, creating mini-flights of wine from the menu, and pick at plates of charcuterie and artisinal cheese. If you liked something you drank, they also have a retail end of the store with well priced wines that are mostly under $20 and include a lot of small production, well made choices.

If you're ever in Alameda, check this place out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Paul Mathew 2008 Knight's Valley Gamay Noir


Another nice find from the Wine Mine in Oakland! The Paul Mathew 2008 Knight's Valley Gamay Noir cost $13.99 (MSRP $16) and clocks in at 13.4% alcohol. It's appearance is a translucent cherry color tending toward purple at the edges. Slight nose, but in the mouth bright cherry notes (reminded me of Hi-C cherry flavored beverages) and a bit gamey. After a few days sitting in my fridge, I finished it off last night and found additional flavors of cinnamon and tobacco, which were kind of bizarre to get from gamay.

This is a great wine for the summer, it's light, fruity, and tastes good chilled. Try it instead of a rose with some lighter fare, as the acidity probably won't be as sharp as a rose.

I also like this wine because it's small production - only 133 cases produced from a 60-year old, two acre plot in Calistoga. The NYT's wine writer, Eric Asimov, had an article today about the difficulty of finding good, cheap and interesting American reds. I especially found myself shaking my head in agreement with this sentence: "In effect, then, California produces a small amount of top-flight wine along with an ocean of generic wine that seeks to imitate the top echelon, often through artifice like oak substitutes and additives. All too often, the choices are expensive cabernet or chardonnay, and imitation expensive cabernet or chardonnay."

Asimov's take mirrors my own opinion and findings as a wine drinker who mainly stays within the $10-$20 a bottle price range. Interesting and unique wines are difficult to find from the U.S. But they can be found, and some, like this gamay, can be utterly enjoyable.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Velvet Hammer



My perusal of Charles Smith wines continues with The Velvet Hammer, a 2007 Merlot from Columbia Valley, Washington. Charles Smith is the crazy-haired guy who used to be a promoter for Danish rock bands, then decided to make wine in Washington State more than a decade ago.

I've tried and reviewed his Kung Fu Girl Riesling and Boom Boom Syrah! so when I saw this on the shelf at Farmstead Cheese and Wine in Alameda, I grabbed a bottle (for $15.99, I think).

Love the name and graphic. Also nice to see, on the back of the bottle, was this motto: "Land to Hand, Vineyard to Bottle," an ode to producing wines that taste like, well, wine, and not toasted oak and vanilla. Or as Smith says on his site: "The intent is to create wines to be enjoyed now, but with typicity with regards to variety—that is merlot that tastes like merlot—and to the vineyard—wine that tastes like where it was grown. The wines are full of flavor, balanced, and true to their place of origin."

I've largely been disappointed with cheaper American wines lately, as they tend to taste over-made. Some people criticize me for criticizing these wines - after all, why pick on a bottle that costs less than $15? Well, for most drinkers who chose to imbibe every night with a meal, this is probably your sweet spot, price wise. So why not ferret out the values, finds and nicely made wines in this price range?

It's not hard to find, if you know what to look for. Loire Valley reds, in my shopping experience, hit the mark. Washington State also seems to put out a good amount of these wines. Wine regions in California far removed from Napa Valley and expectations of being a "big massive trophy bottle" can also surprise.

Some of the things I look for on the bottle is a description of limited interaction between the wine maker and wine. Organic, biodynamic, no filtering or fining, carbonic maceration, etc etc etc. These are a few of many terms you might see on a bottle expressing to you, the buyer, that the liquid held in the bottle in your hand wasn't treated like a commodity beverage.

Now not all these wines are great. In fact they can be hit or miss, and just because the grapes were grown with limited chemicals doesn't mean it wasn't picked too ripe or stored in oak for too long. But with a sea of choices in front of you at the wine store, these are some hints as to what might be an interesting purchase.

Back to the Velvet Hammer. It was a dark burgundy in color, and murky in the glass. Slight nose of spices and dark red berries, and in the mouth showed lovely cloves, nutmeg, wild blackberries and cedar notes. This wine was mostly spice for me - cool spice - not the kind that sear the tongue, but ones that seem to chill the palate.

The winemaker's website says this of the wine: "Balanced, rich and explosive. Think red plums, bittersweet cocoa with hints of smoke and cedar. SO SMOOTH, SO NAUGHTY, AND SO VERY, VERY NICE." (MSRP: $12).

This wasn't an amazing, mind blowing wine. It didn't move me to sing it's praises like some other recent bottles I've had (like this one). But it was a nice wine, and, if you're used to too many overdone American Merlots, is a nice contrast. Plus for $12-$16 a bottle, won't kill the wallet.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ritual Roasters Fazenda Esperança Pulped Natural, Brasil

Pulped naturals are an intriguing halfway point between washed coffees and full naturals (or dried processed). I really like naturals. They give you interesting, murky, maybe even musty sweet fruit flavors with muted acidity. Washed coffees can give you a more complex, subtle cup and lots of acidity. A pulped natural is when the outer layer of the coffee cherry is stripped off, and the coffee bean, embodied in the fruity mucus, is left to dry in the sun.

When I went in to Ritual last weekend looking for something new to try, I originally grabbed a bag of the Fazenda Kaquend, the first place winner in the Brazilian Cup of Excellence contest. It's not often you get to try a CoE #1 coffee. However, I checked out the price and decided $30 was a little rich for me right now. Trying to cut back expenses, given the depression and all...and spending that much for coffee is a little hard to justify.

However, the Fazenda Esperança caught my eye. Also a pulped natural from Brazil, this coffee was a mere $15. Deal!

I had a hard time dialing this coffee in as an espresso. The few times I tried, I got very light colored crema, blonde/tan in color and lasting a medium time before fading. In the small cup, this coffee tasted like dark chocolate and cinnamon. Nice milky mouthfeel. Now that I'm reading Ritual's description, I also recall getting malt chocolate. Whoppers-candy like.

As a French press, this coffee is all hazelnut. Almost like a Dunkin' Donuts flavored coffee. But much better. There was some vanilla notes in there as well, but this was really dominated by the hazelnut taste.

From Ritual's website: "Produced by the Souza family—João and Tiago—in Campos Altos, Brasil, this coffee is a micro-lot from their farm, Fazenda Esperança, located in Brasil’s Cerrado eco-region. These Mundo Novo, Acaia, and Catuai trees were processed in the pulped-natural manner—pulping of the coffee fruit followed by drying with some mucilage, developing natural sweetness with clean, syrupy body. This coffee is clean and syrupy with flavors of malt chocolate, toasted aniseed, and sesame."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Barefoot's "The Boss" Espresso

One of my pet peeves is people who refer to certain coffees as espresso beans, as if beans used for espresso are somehow magically different from other coffee beans. They're not. Espresso is a preparation of coffee. The beans you use to make it can be any particular type. While I wouldn't fault a non-coffee person for not knowing this, I was surprised to see that annoying commentator on Iron Chef referring to some beans during the recent coffee episode as espresso beans, and not just dark roasted beans (in general, beans for espresso tend to be roasted darker than your garden variety beans used for coffee because it mellows bright flavors that can be intense and overpowering in the small cup).

So this little rant brings me back to the original point of my post, which is a description of Barefoot Coffee's "The Boss!" Espresso. I picked this up from their Santa Clara (or is it San Jose? I'm never quite clear on that) cafe earlier this month and have been enjoying it ever since. It's a blend of Brazil Datera Monte Cristo, India Jasmina and Ethiopia Dale.

I found this blend to have a nice presence of blueberries in its aroma and taste. Crema straddles the light-dark brown line, and for me lasted well after the shot was pulled. Can dissipate with a lot of milk, but tasted great as a macchiato.

I have also brewed this blend as a coffee, and am currently sipping the results from a pour over. While lacking a body that lives up to its name, the blueberries are there bright and shiny. Again, the point is, espresso beans can be enjoyed as coffee, and coffee can certainly be pulled as an espresso with great results.

Barefoot, by the way, gives the blend this description: "Dope sweet thickness and chocolate berries con panna. Chocolatey goodness with some sneaked in spice and berry notes. Touch of citrus kiss in the finish. Thick, thick, sticky and gooey. A whole lot of good chocolate and fruit in your cup."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Portable Espresso Makers


I received a press release today from a company called mypressi that makes a handheld espresso maker, called the Twist. From the promo photos, it looks gorgeous. Apparently this device, which can use either pods or grounds, gets 9 bars of pressure, the standard required to officially make espresso. It says it doesn't require external power to work, just hot water and gas cartridges that you can find at kitchen retail stores. Don't see price information, which would be a big factor in how many of these are actually sold. It's biggest claim to fame so far is that it was awarded the "best new consumer product" by the SCAA recently.

While mypressi claims the Twist is the first portable espresso maker, I've certainly seen others advertised elsewhere.

Here's the Handpresso, a device that's currently priced below $90 on amazon.com


Reviewers seem to like it a lot.

I don't personally travel enough for this to be an issue, although when I do travel, I always try to find a third-wave cafe or roaster at my destination so this doesn't become an issue. Of course, if you're camping, then something like this, or the AeroPress is pretty cheap and easy to use.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

CL Wines 2005 Sonoma Coast Syrah

Continuing, but probably getting close to the end of, my Syrah kick now that it's getting warmer out, I picked up this bottle at Farmstead Cheese and Wine in Alameda, a little shop that has some great small production wines, for about $15 (In doing some online searching about it, I see that it can be had for as low as $9.99 elsewhere).

This wine was totally pitch black in color. It had a nose of dried earth and slightly rotting pine needles. In the glass there was definitely some alcoholic heat, along with blackberries and a blue cheese flavor. There's a nice smoked paprika

Couldn't find a website for the winemakers, but did stumble across this description from WineGeeks: David Lattin founded Craven & Lattin in 1998 when he left Acacia Winery in 1998. His wife, Kendra Craven, is a trained enologist and compliments him well on the business side of the wine industry. They produce 150 to 300 cases of each single vineyard wine they make, with a focus on Pinot Noir from various appellations.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Kim Crawford 2008 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc



Kim Crawford's 2008 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
was rated a best buy by Wine Spectator's April 30, 2009 edition, receiving 91 points. I haven't explored New Zealand's SBs, which it's famous for, so when I saw this bottle for $15 on sale at Safeway (normally $19) I quickly picked it up.

What I've read about these wines is the presence of a grassy flavors, which is unique, or at least stronger, than Sauvignon Blancs from other origins.

So what did I find? Well, on the nose, grassy notes and lime leaf. In the glass, I got a nice round mouthfeel, with the acidity picking up half way through and lingers on the finish. Some black liquorish notes are there, as well as pink grapefruit, tropical fruit, but this wine is dominated by lime flavors - what I would describe as lime popsicle. Really strong.

I liked this wine, and can see myself getting again some hot day this summer.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Blue Bottle Ferry Building Update

Had a chance to run over to the Ferry Building during my lunch break to check out the recently opened, third Blue Bottle location. Situated in a corner space, the cafe has two places to buy coffee. On one side, there's a little shop with some beans, machines and cups along with a glass counter containing baked items. There's also sandwiches on the counter for sale.

You can get a pour-over coffee or espresso-based drink from a three head, spring hand pulled lever here, and the baristas were pulling Blue Bottle's Retrofit Espresso blend. In this iteration, I found the scents coming from my mug more exciting than the taste itself.

Pulled slowly from the lever, my shot had nice, light tan-colored crema that didn't dissipate quickly. I found aromas of tropical fruits, chocolate and some muted spice on the nose. In the mouth, however, the espresso was more flat that I expected. It went down without harshness, but did have some flavors of smoked wood.

On the other side of the cafe, you can order espresso drinks from a more traditional La Marzocco. One of the baristas told me they're planning on offering single origin espresso shots at some future date. While some people in the coffee world prefer blends, I personally think having a choice is great because it allows people to truly see the difference growing conditions, country of origin and processed method can have on the end product.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rosenblum 2006 Rockpile Road Zinfandel




This was one of the wines I received in my March club shipment from Rosenblum. Retails for $35, member price is $28. I have to say, I really liked it, and was surprised at the layers of complexity I tasted. Zinfandel is something of a first love for me, as it was the first varietal I latched onto a decade ago when I began drinking wine on a regular basis. It can be fun, cheap, spicy and juicy without being snobby or pretentious. You don't always need to focus on discerning its characteristics, because it's so pleasant and uncomplicated. Maybe that's why I have a hard time spending a lot for a bottle of Zinfandel (and I consider $30 or more expensive for Zinfandels).

My Zin drinking has been limited over the past few years, as there seems to be a trend of producers making their wines bigger and bigger, with high alcohol levels and high prices to match. I haven't enjoyed many Zins I've tried recently as much as I remember enjoying them years ago (this could just be a nostalgic perspective thing, but that's a psychological question I don't feel like exploring here) so I've subsequently stopped buying them.

Rosenblum is known for their Zins, so it was no shocker that I got one in my club shipment. I've been to their tasting room numerous times to taste some of the dozens of bottles they have (free tastings all the time thanks to the membership) but I haven't purchased any additional wines there because while they seem nice, I didn't feel like putting out $30-$40 a bottle for them.

Then I tried the 2006 Rockpile Road Zinfandel, and my opinion on the matter changed.

Here is a lovely wine with a nose of cedar, spice and blue and black fruits. In the mouth, I found an attack of clean tart berry fruit, which gives way to a beautiful blackberry preserve, blueberries, and finishes with vanilla spice and, on one night, seemed to show shades of grape bubblicious gum flavor.

This wine is big, but unlike lesser Zins, it doesn't devolve into a mix of unreal sugary sweet fruit flavors and vodka-like alcohol heat; instead, it ramps up in your mouth without losing its cohesion. I plan on picking up another bottle next time I visit the winery, as this zin is certainly worth the price.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Owen Roe 2007 Abbot's Table




This Owen Roe wine from the Columbia Valley AVA (mostly in Washington and part of Northern Oregon) is truly a field blend - check out the mix: 22% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot, 20% Zinfandel, 15% Cabernet Franc, 7% Grenache, 6% Syrah, 3% Petite Sirah, 3% Cinsault, 3% Malbec, 1% Pinot Noir. Seems like everything is thrown in there, huh?

This light quencher will certainly have mass appeal. On the nose, I found fruity, earthy scents with a dark chocolate component. In the mouth, this wine, which clocked in at 14.6 percent alcohol tasted like strawberries, currants, and other red and black fruits that were difficult to distinguish.

From the winery's web site: "The year was marked with great heat during the summer that was abruptly ended by an unseasonably long and cool fall, leaving us with ripe wines with great acidity. The 2007 Yakima Valley [ed note - Yakima is within the Columbia Valley AVA] wines have big flavors that will cellar well. It has vibrant fruit aromas and delicious flavors, expressing the fruitiness and weight of Sangiovese and Zinfandel- it is such a rich, yet easy drinking wine that it can be paired with the broadest range of foods and also tastes great by itself."

I paid $19.99 for this wine at the Wine Mine in Oakland, pretty good price considering it's more typically priced between $20-$30 at other wine shops. Overall I liked this wine but didn't think it was anything spectacular. Owen Roe, and Abbot's Table has received a lot of praise (check out Good Wines Under $20 review of the 2004 bottle, here). It's certainly an easy drinker, but for $20, I want a little more from my wine.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Picking up beans at Ritual....

My supply of Kenya Kiandu from Ritual ran out this weekend, and I needed to re-up my fix, so I took Bart over to their cafe on Valencia to peruse the goods (I had actually studied what they were selling online first so I didn't feel rushed into making a purchase at the cafe itself because of its typically long lines).

The Brazilian Chapadão de Ferro caught my eye - I thought I read it was a natural processed coffee - meaning the coffee cherry, with the bean inside, is dried in the sun, instead of being washed off. I asked a barista to be sure, but she didn't know, finding someone else instead. She said they didn't have any naturals for sale, except for the Fazenda Esperança Yellow Icatu (also from Brazil), a coffee that is a semi-washed - meaning the cherry is removed but some of the mucus around the bean remains for drying. However, Ritual's website says both are full naturals, and the Brazilian Fazenda do Sertão is a semi-washed.

I'm guessing the website descriptions are correct, and the barista was misinformed, but we'll see if I can tell for sure when I make my first cup. The beans have been sitting in my work bag for the past few hours emanating mouth-watering aromas, so I'm certainly looking forward to pulling, pressing and pouring over this coffee!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chateau de Campuget "1753"




I purchased this beautiful bottle of Syrah at the Wine Mine in Oakland for $12.99, and boy what a bargain it is!

The wine was a pretty ruby color with a silver shimmer on the surface. On the nose I found fresh earthy aromas, sweet blackberry jam and black currants. In the mouth this light (ie - not syrupy like some American Syrahs) wine had bright acidity, fragrant lilacs and was and reminded me of a Cabernet Franc by Catherine Breton that I tasted at Terroir Wine Merchant a few months ago (review of bar and wines here).

The winery labeled it "1753" because a document found on the property from that year mentions its vineyards (for a four page pdf about the winery, click here). From the Costières de Nîmes, Languedoc Roussillon AOC, this is another example of great, cheap wine produced out of Europe that offers a lot of bang - and by bang I mean complexity and intrigue - for the buck. I plan on picking up at least one more bottle for later.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ritual Roasters' Kenya Kiandu

Went to Ritual Roasters a week or two ago to refresh my supply, since the beans I've been buying from Whole Foods haven't been that great to me lately (I typically buy Ritual or Barefoot at the Whole Foods in Oakland). I decided to go to the source directly, since that's where the rarer offerings would be.

I purchased a pound of their Kenya Kiandu, for $15.95 IIRC. In a French press the coffee has a medium body, with flavors of pink grapefruit and chocolate coco powder. Acidity is a bit bigger than the body but overall the cup is balanced. Touch of hazelnut lingers on the tongue in the finish. In a pour over I had today, I got some grassy notes in the finish.

Nice coffee, certainly better than others I've had recently.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Coffee Dinner

Just got word that the Dissident Chef in San Francisco will be having a coffee pairing dinner later this month, with each course paired with a cup of Ritual Roasters coffee. He was inspired by a cupping at Ritual (watch a mildly humorous (at least to me) video of the cupping here).

Tickets are about $100. You can sign up here.

I have never heard of a coffee-pairing dinner. You can get a wine-pairing dinner at any nice restaurant (I still dream of being able to splurge one day for the "Grand Tasting of Fine and Rare Wines," for the eight course chef's tasting menu at Cyrus in Healdsburg that costs $185 in additionto the food).

Less costly, but probably more fun, would be a beer-pairing course at Magnolia Pub & Brewery on Haight street. They have some interesting things brewing over there, including their Oysterhead Stout I tried at one point (Tomales Bay oysters are actually thrown into the tank when they make it, or so I was told).

But a coffee pairing dinner? That's crazy talk! I wonder how long until we see more of this happening in other foodie-centric places with a third wave coffee scene like Seattle, Portland, Chicago (Intelligentsia is a force to be reckoned with) and now New York (check out ManSeekingCoffee's recent round up of the growing specialty coffee movement in Manhattan - it's quite extensive and heartening to hear).

Plus, in these difficult economic times, coffee pairings is an interesting, different thing chefs can do to entice diners to come out for something new without breaking the bank.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blue Bottle Ferry Building Update

Got a cappuccino at Blue Bottle's Ferry Building farmer's market stand today, and asked the barista for an update on when their new cafe would be opening (the sign, posted last year, outside the shuttered shop said it was going to open "this winter"). She said April 4th, or April 9th, or 10th. So sometime early next month. She also said they'd have manual lever machines there pulling espressos, though she blanked on the manufacturer. Blue bottle has a Bosco Napoli two-head manual lever machine at their Mint Plaza location, which pulls quite a nice shot.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

2006 Rosenblum Abba Vineyards Syrah, Lodi


Picked this 2006 Rosenblum Abba Vineyards Syrah from Lodi up last weekend as part of a club shipment (club price: $20, retail:$25).

I picked up wild blackberries and some woody notes on the nose of this thick, dense Syrah. In the mouth I was hit with black cherries, plums, a touch of heat on the finish along with bubblegum sweetness and black pepper spice.

Only 2,550 cases were made. The wine was aged in French (90%) and American (10%) oak from grapes grown by Phil Abba.

Nicely crafted wine, and for $20 not too bad quality price ratio (QPR).

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cafe Grumpy

After my return visit to Gimme! Coffee, I decided to branch out and see one of the other major third wave cafes in New York City, Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea.

I ordered a double espresso of their house blend, called Heartbreaker. It had a strong nose dominated by red berries. In the cup it was very jammy - like reduced blackberry sauce, and thick as oil. It had a long finish.

I also had a cup of Nimac Kapeh, Atitlan, Guatemala Roasted by Barismo. This was one I've tried and reviewed before (see it here.) This time around, with the coffee prepared in a Clover, I found lots of cinnamon and baking chocolate in the cup, a lot different from last time I tried it.

I really liked this cafe. From a coffee geek's perspective, I love the fact that they offer several different coffees from various roasters, prepared in the Clover. They also have a couple of espresso choices as well, including a single origin option (when I went it was a decaf, which is why I didn't try it).

The cafe itself is one of those neighborhood places you can imagine hanging out in for hours reading or writing and just observing the world go. I'm definitely going to make a trip here the next time I'm in NYC.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gimme! Coffee

When I come to NYC, I like to go waaaay out of my way before work and head down to Gimme! Coffee on Mott St. in NoLita. Since my last trip a year ago, several other Third Wave cafes have opened in NYC, but I like Gimme's little shop. It's very narrow, with no room for seats, an L-shaped counter. They roast light and have at least two different coffees on tap. Plus they know their stuff.

When I came in last year, and starting talking shop, I got skeptical looks from the barista. "Who are you again?" he asked, after a brief discussion about natural vs. washed coffees, CoE and vacuum sealing at origin. Perhaps it was because I wasn't spotting hipster clothes and tats (I was wearing a tie and a jacket).

This time I talked to Jenni, and had a great conversation about some of the different beans they were selling. She was raving about their Panama Hartmann Honey, a small lot of mixed varietals that I'll call a field blend. It includes Caturra, Catuai, Tipica, Geisha, San Ramon, Pacamara and Bourbon varietals, and is semi-washed, where the fruit of the coffee cherry is stripped off but the mucus is allowed to remain on the bean while it dries. This imparts more fruit flavors on the bean than if it were totally wet processed.

Unfortunately she didn't have any for me to buy then, but will be receiving some tomorrow and I'll try to make it down to get a bag to bring back to SF.

I did have a nice Rwandan Bourbon Bufcafe that showed light tropical fruit flavors that Jenni pegged as cantaloupe. These were more present as the coffee cooled, then receded somewhat as it grew cold in temp.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Naughty Boy Vineyards

At the Wine Mine in Oakland Saturday, Jim and Emjay Scott from Porter Valley, Mendocino-based Naughty Boy Vineyards were pouring some of their wines, including two Chardonnays, two Pinot Noirs and a Dolcetto. I was really digging the Pinot Noirs - a 2006 and a 2005. The more recent vintage was actually drinking easier than the prior year. The 2006 was almost brick-like in color, with a moderate nose of bright fresh strawberries and grape candy. These were present as flavors in the mouth, and the wine really gave me a pepper zing on the tongue at the finish. It was very approachable.

The 2005 seemed more complex and Old World in style, with earthy notes not present in the 2006 dominating the nose, and more pepper and spice in the mouth. The fresh strawberry component in the 2006 was muted in the 2005, or more like the pepper was kicked up a notch.

According to technical notes on Naught Boy's website, the 2005 Pinot spent 18 months in French oak, with 28% being new barrels (the newer the oak, the more likely you're going to find oak and vanilla flavors in the wine). In fact, I don't think I tasted any oak at all in these wines, showing a nice handling of the barreling, compared to many American Pinot Noir producers who overdo that aspect of aging, leading to woody, heavy wines that aren't that interesting or even resemble Pinot Noir.

These small production wines (less than 1,000 cases produced) are made from organic grapes. I didn't get prices for all of them, but I think I saw the 2005 going for $14 a bottle.

Palate Fatigue?

I haven't posted about coffee in some time because I haven't been that impressed by the coffees I've had during the past month or so. They've included two from Ritual Roasters - a Honduran and a Costa Rican - el Cedral, Terrazu, as well as a pair from Barefoot - their Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Dominion Trading and a Rwandan Ruseyini co-op Kinunu lot. All were pleasant, but I just didn't find myself compelled to write notes about them as the complexity in each one muted.

Makes me start to wonder if I'm not suffering from a little coffee palate fatigue. Most of these I purchased at Whole Foods in Oakland, which means they're not these roasters' primary offerings, and some had signs of aging prior to roasting (pencil shaving/lead flavor), however I have had them before and liked them more than my most recent experiences.

Anyway, I'll be heading to NYC for a week, and am looking forward to hitting up some of the small, third wave roasters popping up. If you have any suggestions, send them my way.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Starbucks making instant?



Starbucks brewing up plans for instant coffee

February 12, 2009

FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK — Starbucks Corp. said Thursday it will unveil a new instant coffee as part of its attempt to turn around sluggish sales and shed its reputation for pricey lattes.

The company has been working on the product for more than 20 years and has a patent pending on the technology that will allow it to "absolutely replicate the taste of Starbucks coffee in an instant form," spokesman Vivek Varma said in an e-mail to employees.

more here....


NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

Not that I drink Starbucks regularly, but they've always held up their ideal of making fresh coffee from quality beans (you can debate the execution of these goals, but the company was responsible for creating the perception in the American consumer mind that coffee is a daily luxury and not some caffeine delivery system to be had for the cheapest price). With a move away from that freshness, we're getting one step closer to falling back into the coffee hell that has gripped this country for the past several decades.