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.