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.


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 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 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'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 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 until next time....