Friday, October 31, 2008

Terroir Natural Wine Merchant & Catherine Breton's "La Dilettante" 2007

Last night Terroir Natural Wine Merchant and Bar hosted an event for winemakers Catherine Breton, of Domaine Catherine et Pierre Breton, and Jean Montanet, of the Domaine de la Cadette. It was my first trip to Terroir, but certainly not my last. It's the kind of wine bar you just want to hang out in for a long time. Wooden crates of wine are laid out on the floor and the walls, bursting with bottles and straw; a record player fills the room with jazz, as candles and exposed light bulbs illuminate the space just enough. An upstairs lounge area with couches overlooks the bar and shop below.

I counted at least 30 people there last night, and overheard one guy say to his friends: "I've never seen it this packed before..." with another replying "I don't like it like this."

Terroir is out of the way - it's on 1116 Folsom Street off of 7th in San Francisco, so I'm not sure how they do for foot traffic, but I have seen write ups about the bar and shop in several publications, so I'm guessing it's probably building a wine geek following for focusing on organic, biodynamic wines.

The shop had six or seven wines for us to try last night. While al were interesting, I thought it would have been a little awkward to pull out my tasting book in the middle of the crowd and jot down notes. I'm a professional journalist, so this sort of thing shouldn't bother me by now (I've been working in the field for eight years) but my natural inclination is to not stick out or draw attention to myself, and I often have to force myself to get out of my shell and speak to people when I'd feel much more comfortable observing things from a corner.

Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is that I only took notes on the '07 La Dilettante because it's one of the wines that Catherine produced by herself, it was the most interesting of the tasting, I talked to her for a few minutes about how she made it, and it's what I was able to write about in my notebook as BART sped me home that night.

So, onto the notes -

This wine, made with Cabernet Franc grapes, had a dirty funky nose. I got burnt rubber, tar and barnyard scents. These aren't negatives, these can be good things to smell in a wine, if you like that sort of thing. I do, and was surprised by how different the wine tasted on my palate. I call it a "double-take" wine, because while the nose is super funk, the wine itself tasted like rose petals and strawberries. Tannins were light, and this was a very enjoyable easy drinking wine.

Catherine said she used carbonic maceration to make this wine, which is a gentler process of pressing the grapes. Basically the grapes are put in a vat and carbon dioxide is pumped in. The gas spurs fermentation within the grape (as opposed to grapes being crushed) and the weight of the grapes and the pressure from the gas slowly presses the grapes. It leads to wines that are light and fruity with less tannins, which is why it's the method mostly associated with making Beaujolais. (For more on carbonic maceration, there's an interesting wiki page on the subject here.)

The shop was selling this wine for $21 last night, and they might sell it by the glass at the bar as well.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Maipe 2008 Torrontes

Picked up this wine for under $12. It's very light in color, almost completely absent of a hay-like tinge. The nose was a gorgeous combo of peaches and pineapple. On my palate I found wet stone and pink grapefruit flavors.

The wine comes from Mendoza, Argentina. For some nice photos and background about the vineyard, click here.

I've had two torrontes so far and have really liked them. I've only recently begun to expand my white wine drinking, and this grape has already impressed me mightily. The aromatics are so exciting - your nose is filled with massive sweet fruit flavors as if you're sticking your face into a bowl of fruit salad. What's even more exciting is how different it can taste. So far, in my limited experience with the grape, the flavors on my tongue tend to be more toward minerality and stone than the massive fruit I got on the nose (though it's still there on the palate). If you have a chance, pick up a bottle of the stuff and take it for a spin, it's quite a fun ride.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cru 2006 Two Vineyard Pinot Noir

The grapes for this wine come from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, an AVA known for producing high quality, high priced Pinot Noirs. The long, cool 2006 season helped make this into a soft, acid-light wine, according to the Cru Website (looks like Cru is owned by the Mariposa Wine Company).

I tried this wine at a tasting, and found a little funk on the nose, leaning toward veggies/dried herbs. In the glass I got nice, light cherry fruit flavors and a touch of vanilla at the end. An easy drinking wine that for the price is pretty good considering what other Pinot Noirs out there taste like.

I generally avoid buying bottles of Pinot Noir for my everyday drinking because unless you're going to spend $40 or more, there's a good chance you'll be assaulted by a massive, overdone wine with posing as a Pinot. The Cru Two Vineyards is not one of those wines - it is more Burgundian.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Kenya - Kiandu, Muthecka Co-op

Grounds smelled like herbs, roots, maybe fresh cut grass. In the cup, I found a nice balance of acidity and body. Honey, chocolate and melon flavors on the palate. Slight cinnamon finish.

From the Nyeri district of Kenya, which is known for quality coffee. Roasted by Ritual, and provided as a sample. Can't find a link right now on Ritual's Website, so maybe they're sold out.

I found another coffee for sale with this name from Barismo in Arlington, Mass. Interesting description of the flavor they got from the coffee (yams!). See it here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

2006 Luna Beberide Mencia Bierzo, Spain

The wine was dark purple in appearance, with a nose of dried coffee grounds, basil and nutty to boot. In the mouth, I got violets. This wine didn't have strong tannins so it didn't have a big structure. Finishes with a little bit of heat. Overall, a nice sipper, but I didn't think it was anything too exciting. Paid about $13 for it.

The previous vintage received high marks all around from Wine Enthusiast (90 points) and was named a "best buy" by Robert Parker, according to the write up on K&L Wines.

The Bierzo DO is located in the northwest region of Spain, and the grape Mencia was once thought to be related to Cab Franc, but DNA analysis has since ruled that out.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Clover@Starbucks 2

After drinking too much wine Thursday night at a company party, I found myself feeling pretty awful on Friday morning (although I did discover a great Loire Valley Cab Franc, reviewed here.) Had a french pressed Colombian La Esperanza from Terroir Coffee, which I'll review later, but after lunch I was still feeling out of it, so I decided to hit up Starbucks again and try one of their other offerings from the Clover.

Last time I had the Tanzania Blackburn estate (review here) but yesterday I wanted something with a little more citrus, so I went for the Ethiopian Nardos. At first I didn't get much complexity, tasting the roast more than the coffee. As this cooled, though, the lemony flavors started to come out, and this became stronger the cooler it got. At one point I wrote down that I was getting a lemon jolly rancher taste. Sweet nose as well.

I liked this coffee overall, and if I was traveling and couldn't find a specialty shop, would probably get a Clover coffee from Starbucks. Doesn't need milk or sugar to make it drinkable. Still, while these coffees have been interesting so far, the company needs to roast these lighter to take advantage of the wonderful beans they are selling.

Maramonte 2005 Syrage Lot 7

The Syrage I tasted at Farmstead Cheese & Wine at one of their weekend tasting events was a cab/syrah/cab franc blend, retailing for $20. The grapes are from Napa and Sonoma.

The wine was inky dark in appearance, with a nose of strong spices such as cinnamon and cardamon. I was really impressed with how this wine smelt. In the glass I got lots of red fruit leaning on cherries. Overall the wine had a nice structure and seemed like it could age another decade in the bottle. Pretty good value for such a big wine.

The producer, Mara Wine Group, has released the 2006 version of this bottle, and it is a different blend - this time Syrah and Merlot.

I found this description of the wine I tasted from an online shop:

"Maramonte Wines created Syrage Lot 7 to go beyond the one grape/one wine philosophy. This allows our winemaking staff the latitude to build intense wines of balance to meet the consumer’s desires. Syrah is our pedigree, contributing balance with 18 months of oak aging from Sonoma County vineyards. By using the king of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, also from Sonoma County, we added structure, finesse and backbone with the royalty of Bordeaux origins. 20 months in small French barrels. The tight concentration of raspberry, cherry and violets from our North Coast Cabernet Franc gives Syrage our signature balance, as evidenced in our prior releases. 18 months in American and French oak."

Friday, October 24, 2008

2007 Catherine & Pierre Breton Bourgueil "Trinch!"

I discovered a great wine at a company party last night, a cab franc from the Loire valley produced by Catherine and Pierre Breton. The couple is known for their natural, organic wines, and this one had a stunning floral nose. In the glass the wine was light and fruity. In searching for more info about this wine, I read that they age it in steel vats, so this could be why the fruit shown through.

People who want to meet Catherine in person will have a chance next Thursday, Oct. 30 at Terroir Natural Wine Merchant & Bar (1116 Folsom St., San Francisco) from 4pm to 7pm. The event is co-sponsored by importer extraordinaire Kermit Lynch.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2006 Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, “Perbacco” Antica Cantina S. Amico, Le Marche

We celebrated my friend Liz's birthday last night at Eccolo , an Italian restaurant in Berkeley's fancy 4th street section near University Ave. The food was great (I got the spit-roasted Hoffman farm chicken with chanterelle mushroom bread salad for $16.00 off the ``recession specials'' menu - a nice touch given the economy). For wine, I was happy to spy a Lacrima di Morro on the list. I've had wine from this obscure Italian varietal at a couple of Bay Area restaurants, but have had trouble finding it in shops. Even specialty shops that have lots of obscure Italian wine haven't heard of this grape.

What I have liked about it in the past is exactly what I found in this particular bottle, the 2006 Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, “Perbacco” Antica Cantina S. Amico, Le Marche - a really bright nose consisting of grapefruit and blood orange scents. It's pretty profound, and I spent a good part of dinner shoving my glass in front of the noses of others at the party. Almost everyone was able to smell that.

That citrusy flavor was evident in the mouth, although not as prevalent as in the nose. Nice tannins, red berry flavors balance out the wine. Definitely try a Lacrima di Morro if you happen to come across one.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sutton Cellars 2006 Carignane, Piffero Vineyard

I really like finding small production wines that are unique and affordable, and this certainly fit the bill. Purchased at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco for $15.99. Less than 300 cases were made of this grape that hasn't received much attention as a stand alone varietal. It doesn't have a good reputation and is known in France for its quantity and contribution to the country's "wine lake," but efforts recently have sought to bring out the best of this grape, also spelled as Carignan.

I had a bottle of wine from this grape last month (see review here).

This bottle was more complex that that one, and I got floral, sweet tar and violets on the nose. In the mouth, the flavors simplify a bit focusing on violets. It's a light wine, but very nice.

Cool label too - the bottle got recycled before I had a chance to photograph it, but it's a brown paper bag color with a drawing of what I'm guessing is a wine press. Here's the producer's Web site, which looks like it hasn't been updated in a while. Actually it says it was last updated in Autumn 2006.

Here's what the label says on the back of the bottle:

"Always a bridesmaid, never a bride...The often maligned Carignane grape has been planted in California for more than a century and mostly used for blending. When dry farmed and cropped low the grapes produces juicy, quaffable wines with flavors of coca, blueberry, and mulling spices reminiscent of the country wines of Spain and Southern France. This is such a wine... 268 cases made."

I found another bottling of Carignan from the same vineyard in Redwood Valley, Mendocino County, California, by Pellegrini. I'm putting some info here about it because it gives some background on the soil where the grapes were grown and how the vines originated there:

"Located on a rocky, reddish soil bench, the old head pruned vines were planted in 1934 by the grandparents of Ric Piffero. The vineyard is composed mostly of Carignan, but is also interspersed with Zinfandel and Barbera. It is dry farmed and averages a little over two tons per acre."

Friday, October 17, 2008


After reading ManSeekingCoffee's informative and extensive posts (part 1 and part 2) on his experience trying coffee made from the Clover Machine in Starbucks, I decided to head over today during lunch and sample it myself.

Background - the Clover is a super expensive, super precise machine created a few years ago to help better prepare a cup of coffee. Users of the $10,000-$15,000 machine could control the exact brew temperature and the exact time the grounds brewed to make a single cup. The goal was to give baristas total control over the brew process so they could ferret out the best way to exhibit each coffee's characteristics. In comparison, coffee brewed in a big pot that sits on a heater all day long seems barbaric.

Many specialty coffee shops loved the Clover and sang its praises....until Starbucks bought the company, and suddenly the Clover was a hated machine created by capitalist sellouts who used and preyed upon the loyalties of the specialty cafes so they could build up their company to the point where Starbucks had no choice to buy it (if you think I'm being dramatic, you should check out some of the comments on - actually, that comments page is locked now to outsiders. But trust me, some of it was vicious.)

Starbucks recently started selling select coffees from the Clover in some of its shops, and the big question has been whether the company would brew overroasted beans in the machine, thus negating the whole point of a device meant to highlight subtle characteristics of lightly (and freshly) roasted beans.

In terms of style, Starbucks seems to be going in the right direction. Customers order from a menu of limited micro-lot coffees with flavor descriptors. All coffees were the same price, except for one Kenyan that was a dollar more. The Clover device itself (at their cafe on California & Battery) was set off from the rest of the machines with its own grinder.

I ordered the Tanzania Blackburn Estate, which the menu said tasted like currants, cherries, with a citrus sweetness in the finish.

My server seemed to be glancing down at a cheat sheet to operate the Clover, and she was a little sloppy with it - spilling some grounds on top of the device when she went to dump them into the brewing crater. I asked her if she had tried any of the coffees from the device, and she said she had two of the five offered, with the Guatemalan Antigua Medina being her favorite. Looking at the board description, I asked her "So, did you really taste `silky coco and floral' when you drank it?" She looked back at the board, and said, "Um....sure."

I got my coffee (in a mug, to avoid it absorbing any flavors from the paper cup) and sat down on a comfy couch to take it for a test spin.

First impression was that it lacked the bitterness I usually associate with Starbucks coffee. Instead I got...pencil shavings. I've read in other sites that the flavor is an indication of beans that are aging, but there wasn't a roast date anywhere that I could see to check. Currants and cherries? Sort of. Very slight, with the cherries coming through in the after taste. As the coffee cooled, the cherry came through more on the nose.

When the cup was warm (as opposed to hot) this coffee grew more complex, as the acidity was more evident, although the body was much bigger. The cooler the coffee got, the more char I tasted. Not at any level close to their other coffees, but it was still there.

Overall, I thought this was a nice step for Starbucks. The coffee I tried won't blow anyone away, but if you're used to their regular stuff, you might notice some interesting things going on in the cup if you look hard enough. It's certainly the most expressive cup I've had from them.

Got to give the company kudos as well for putting together a nice site specifically for their Clover offerings, which gives some detail about where and how the coffees were grown and processed. Check it out here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Matalapa, La Libertad, El Salvador - Cup of Excellence winner

The Matalapa, from Ritual Coffee Roasters, has wicked acidity, but also has the body to match, so you get a complex but balanced cup. As an espresso, this coffee was incredibly smooth and balanced. No loud notes disrupting the symphony of under-ripe cherries and milk chocolate. But have this without milk, or if you do, then as a macchiato, because the espresso disappears when lots of the white stuff is added.

It's easy to see why this coffee took 10th place in the Cup of Excellence competition this year in the El Salvador contest, with a score of 88.29. The description of the coffee by the international jury that cupped this coffee said it had: chocolate aroma, sweet and bright citrus acidity, caramel, honey, blood orange, tropical fruit, sweet lime, green grapes, almond butter, creamy mouthfeel, elegant.

Three highly regarded roasters bid for this coffee during the online auction -- Intelligentsia, Ritual and Terroir -- and paid $5.55 a pound for it. Ritual is selling it for $27 a pound; Terroir prices it at $22.95 for 12 ounces; and I can't find it for sale on Intelligentsia's site, however, Intelligentsia's Kyle Glanville took first place in this year's U.S. Barista championship with a single origin espresso from this farm.

The region where these coffee beans were grown, the La Cumbre mountain range in the area of Juan Higinio, Department of La Libertad, and its elevation -- 1,250 meters or 4,101 feet above sea level -- account for the massive body and acidity, according to a write up on the farm by the Cup of Excellence, found here. The beans, of the pacas and bourbon varieties, were harvested from part of the farm called Tablon Roblar. The beans were washed, then sun dried on patios.

The grower, Vickie Ann Dalton Lima de Díaz, has really had a hard time the past several years. An earthquake, hurricanes and mudslides have damaged her farm and greatly reduced production since 2000. Many farmers in the area have decided to sell their lots. Vickie kept at it, and with the help of CoE, has established relationships with buyers after finishing 31st in the first El Salvador CoE competition in 2003.

It should be interesting to see what she can do in the next few years with her farm, and if she'll continue to climb the rankings in subsequent CoE competitions.

*note - I received this coffee as a free sample.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rosenblum Cellars

Last weekend I was supposed to take a trip to wine country for the first time in a long time, but my daughter was having a rough morning due to teething, and was screaming bloody murder and I just couldn't leave her home with mom, because I'd feel horribly guilty. Sonoma would have to wait, alas.

But this left me all geared up for tasting some wine with nowhere to go -- or so I thought. I remembered hearing about the "Urban Wine Trail" in the East Bay, and decided to try a tasting closer to home. When the little one went down for her nap, I slipped out for an hour.

Rosenblum Cellars has a winery/tasting room in the far end of Alameda, in a historic rail road building that's in what looks like an industrial park. It's a massive building filled with barrels, with a table set up on the ground floor for tasting, as well as an upper level with a larger bar.

I went upstairs as the bottom tasting area was packed, and found a small space near the end of the bar to try some wines. My server was nice, but when I asked about the wines, he seemed to be reciting something he memorized. He was helping a bunch of people and groups at the same time, so he could have just been busy. The woman who rang me up seemed to have a better idea about the wines in general.

The tasting included three wines for free, and you can try an additional flight of select wines for $8. I just took the free tasting. Here are my notes:

Kathy's Cuvee Viognier, California - 2007, $18
On the nose, I got a fruit bowl with peaches and apricots dominating. In the mouth, it tasted like dried fruits and was a bit chalky. Finished with spices.

Contra Costa County Mourvedre, Appellation Series - 2006
, $18
Lots of cherries on the nose and the mouth. The wine had lots of tannins and structure.

Richard Sauret Vineyard Zinfandel - 2006
, $25
Not sure what's going on with the nose - got a strong anchovies smell, very fishy. In the mouth, I got alcohol soaked fruit, blackberries, black cherries. Heat on the finish.

I ended up buying a wine from the sale biz -- the Anthony's Vineyard Merlot, Napa Valley - 2005, for $9. The person who sold it to me that it's very tannic, and that I should either let it decant for a long time or stock it away for a few years.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

2006 Altano Douro Reserva

This Portuguese wine is from Symington Family Estates, and I tried it at a tasting. I don't have extensive notes, but I wanted to talk about it 1) because of my constant urging for people to try Portuguese wines and 2) I found it to have a really interesting nose. I smelled cotton candy! It had a super sweet nose and it smelled just like cotton candy. In the mouth I got a lot of green veggies, as well as cherries.

The wine clocks in at 13.3 percent alcohol, and 3,000 cases were made. The winemakers were Charles Symington and Pedro Correia. I didn't get the price of this bottle, but I believe it sells for less than $20. For more info about the harvest (early rain, "violent hail" and heat waves) click here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rwanda Cup of Excellence

I had a chance to cup some Rwandan Cup of Excellence competition winners with Ryan Brown at Ritual Coffee Roasters yesterday. We tried most of the top 10, and the coffees were really interesting. There wasn't a wide variation (at least to me) in their aromas and tastes, since they were all of the same Bourbon cultivar.

Overall I found some cups to have really striking acidity, and red berry fruit accents. Ryan got pomegranate and vanilla bean in some cups, and I found others to have nice citrus fruit as well. One was ruined by the potato defect, which is when microorganisms infect the coffee fruit and seed, leading to the beans smelling like potatoes. It's quite amazing to try, actually.

These coffees will be auctioned online on October 20, so keep an eye out for these to hit the shops in a few months.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

2007 Spice Route Viognier

This wine hails from Western Cape, South Africa and sells for about $25. I tried it at a tasting at Farmstead Cheese & Wine in Alameda. The Spice Route website only lists a Shiraz under their wines page, so I don't have too much specific info on this bottle. Charles Back founded the winery in 1997, but is probably better known for his Fairview wines and lower-end Goats do Roam label.

This Viognier had an interesting nose of moss, blue cheese-like mold and fruit. In the mouth I found it to be spicy (maybe white peppercorns) and have an orange-citrus tang to it. Long lasting finish. Nicely made wine, complex and spicy, with a bite to it.

-CORRECTION - the Spice Route wine is listed on the Fairview Website, here. Thanks for the comment letting me know I missed this.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

2007 Shooting Star Blue Franc Lemberger

This is quite the worldly wine. Blue Franc is made from Blaufrankisch grapes, a varietal grown in Austria and Germany. These particular grapes were grown in Washington state, and the wine was made in Lake County, California, so you have quite a globe trotting bottle here. The label is really cool too: it's a reproduction of a French Franc note.

The wine's appearance was dark and murky, with a nose of earth and a slight hint of must (the barnyard/must smell was much stronger in a Blaufrankisch I tried from Austria earlier this summer, and I'll give more details about that wine when I actually pop the cork). In the mouth, I found it to be "fruit on steroids" according to my notes. Since the wine received little oak, the fruit is very prominent on your palate, and isn't weighed down by wood or vanilla. There's some zippy tannins in there as well, and the wine finishes with some heat. It clocks in at 13.5 percent alcohol.

I paid $14.99 for this wine, though I see on the producer's page it can be ordered for $12.50. I think it's a great value and an interesting wine to try if you're looking for something different. Winemaker Jed Steele has been in the business for 40 years, and founded both Edmeades and Kendall-Jackson (perhaps you've heard of them?)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

2007 Santa Julia Organica Torrontes

A few weeks ago I was looking for a last minute white to go with some Chinese food that I had just picked up from the restaurant to bring home. I wandered into Du Vin Fine Wines in Alameda, a great little shop that has more Greek and Portuguese wines than I've seen anywhere else. Both of these areas are getting increasing attention for the quality wines they produce, and They also have bottles from the U.S., France, Italy, Spain and South America.

I asked for a Gewurztraminer or something like it that could go well with a spicy Asian dish. He showed me one in the cooler, then picked out the 2007 Santa Julia Organica Torrontes, a blend from Mendoza, Argentina for about $10.99.

It is a very pale, yellow-tinged color, but has a huge nose of peaches leaning toward peach schnapps. In the mouth, the wine was much more grounded in minerality and slightly effervescent. This is a great value pick and an interesting wine for the price.


Ok, that was a nasty, nasty week. I don't recall another random sickness that made me feel so awful. You know that feeling you get when you're really drunk and the room is spinning, your stomach is turning, and are on the verge of puking? That's how I felt for an ENTIRE day. Gross. I don't recommend it. Thumbs down.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Been sick this week, like haven't felt this bad since I got salmonella after eating undercooked Mexican food in Barbados during a college winter break, so my wine and coffee drinking has been severely curtailed. I usually drink coffee every morning and wine every night, but I've completely lost my appetite and feel sick to my stomach.

I'll resume posting when this passes, hopefully soon.