Where to Find Me These Days…

I’ve got a few posts in the hopper for this site, but for the next couple weeks or so you’ll find me blogging at San Francisco Natural Wine Week, a loosely organized collective tasting bacchanal happening in the would-be Angers-by-the-Bay from August 23-29. Be there or be a lame ass!

Please click here for more information about San Francisco Natural Wine Week, including event information, contact info and various schedules.


Skin-Fermented Fiano from the Volcanic Highlands of Campania

What a week for wine! As indicated earlier, I was in New York for the latter half of last week for VINO 2010, a massive conference of seminars, tastings, meetings, dinners and the like, all celebrating the contemporary world of Italian wine in the US. I’ll get to details of wines tasted at the event, as well as notes from the panel I participated in, later but first a little indulgence.

One of the more notable wines I tasted all week was a fiano from Calitri, in the Irpinia highlands deep in inland Campania. Think the other side of Mount Vesuvius and you’re about right. Head south a little too, through the raw farmland, mountains and ancient Germanic castles on the road to Basilicata.

Don Chisciotte 2006 Fiano Campania IGT is a an unusual take on one of this region’s most promising indigenous white varieties from the father-uncle-son team of Michele, Pierluigi and Guido Zampaglione. Made in a natural style — ie, organically farmed, with no additions of yeast, enzymes, or chemicals; limited use of sulfur — it’s also fermented on its skins, where it acquires a distinctive golden-orange hue.

(Above: Skin-fermented fiano and a bowl of just-fried hushpuppies. Note the similarity in color.)

I met Guido Zampaglione this past year at ViniVeri in Verona where he was pouring wines from Tenuta Grillo, his winery in Monferrato. Don Chisciotte is a project Zampaglione started with his father and uncle at their family’s Il Tufiello estate in Calitri, where they’ve long been growers of organic wheat, oats and sunflowers. Two hectares of fiano vines were planted in 2001, at an altitude of around 800 meters (2,600+ feet). The high-altitude viticulture in this part of Italy is part of what makes the region so thrilling.

This ’06, found at Chambers Street Wines in Manhattan, is an unusual wine — not for everyone, but certainly interesting. and worth checking out. On top of apple/ stone fruit flavors and the gripping texture from the skin fermentation, we noticed a curious spice component, sort of like curry. Pretty groovy stuff.

Production is quite low — apparently there’s around 5,000 bottles produced — but it’s the kind of thing that will attract attention, and apart from Antece from Bruno De Conciliis, it’s the only skin-fermented fiano I know about (though I’m sure there are more).

For more about Il Tufiello and Don Chisciotte, check out the farm’s blog. Also, Jamie Goode weighed in on the 2007 vintage of this wine a couple weeks ago.

Almost 31 Days…

The title could well refer to the fact that I haven’t posted anything new for nearly a month. My apologies but for some reason I’m feeling like a short break from blogging is in order. It’s summer and all that. Besides, I got a new bicycle to replace the one that was stolen in May, and I’d rather be out riding it than tapping on a computer. At least for now.

So you could amuse yourself by trolling through the archives, or better yet, head over Cory Cartwright’s blog Saignée, where he’s had a month long post(ing)-party called 31 Days of Natural Wine to celebrate the one year anniversary of his blog. Jon Bonné and I recently added two co-posts where among other things we considered the virtues (and challenges) of ambient yeasts through pizza dough and wine. Part I is here and Part II is here. And you can follow the progress of all 31 Days here.

Building Community


Above: The new tools of the trade?

One of my favorite aspects about the wine, specialty cocktail and food business is that it builds communities, from casual tasting groups to communal neighborhood gardens. And this is one reason tools like blogging, twitter, Chowhound and (gasp) even Yelp are so well-suited to the food and wine world, or at least to the people who get excited about those worlds. These are the tools that easily bring people together to form new (and hopefully lasting) communities.

A great recent example of creating a food or booze-centric community is San Francisco Cocktail Week, which just wrapped up the other night. I didn’t participate much this year because of deadline pressures, but the event was a success and I’ve heard from many people that this year’s was the best yet. I bring up SF Cocktail Week because in my opinion one of the main reasons San Francisco’s cocktail scene has evolved the way it has is because of the strong community ties among bartenders in this town. As local booze scribe Camper English puts it in his excellent essay, SF Cocktails: A Recent History, published on the SF Cocktail Week website:

What helps San Francisco bartenders stay current and at the top of their game is the fact that most of the top bartenders are members of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, visit each others’ venues, share information, value education, and collaborate on projects. We may see a flavor trend (yuzu, smoke) show up in a variety of bars, as we also see techniques (shrubs, fat washing) used across various types of ingredients. Good ideas don’t last long at a single venue in San Francisco- they spread rather quickly.

Recently I was invited to be on a podcast produced by Richie Nakano, aka linecook415. Richie and his friend and fellow cook Corey Nead (and their friend Amy) record an informative, fun and sometimes raucous podcast mostly about food, always about life in food, and sometimes about crocs. The three are all cooks at Nopa, one of San Francisco’s most popular and successful restaurants. I like the podcast – and Richie’s blog – because it’s not only a glimpse into the food community, it’s an invitation to join in the discussion.

I met Richie through blogging but the idea of doing this podcast came about via conversations on twitter between ourselves and Kevin Kelley of the Natural Process Alliance. And before Kevin or I could say ‘natural yeast’, we were sitting in Richie’s kitchen in front of a microphone talking wine, organics, natural wine and the aforementioned crocs. We covered other topics too, but you can listen for those yourselves. It’s a fairly long (and somewhat rambling) recording, so sit back and pour yourself something nice before digging in.


Above: Action shots!

Click here to listen or download the podcast.

Ramp fever, or some recent blog posts of note

Since we on the West Coast don’t really have ramps, I’ve satisfied my spring ramp fever reading my friend Jonathan Meyer’s delightful food blog, i8ny. After reading his post about making ramp butter, I might just have to smuggle a frozen stick back with me the next time I’m in New York.

And then David McDuff, one of Philly’s resident wine gurus, has a post and recipe up to make pickled ramps. Yum. David has also been consulting with me over buying a new bicycle to replace the one I had stolen recently from my garage. We both agree that it is, in fact, easier to buy Barolo or Burgundy than it is to get a new bike.

*Starting at the end of this week I’ll be traveling to Israel for a friend’s wedding and then New York for Wine & Spirits, so it will be quiet around here. You can always check in with me on twitter.

SF Street Food Meets Terroir

Or, Terroir, welcome to SF street food.


(Above: An empty taco truck lacking signage is parked in front of Chez Spencer)

Via Inside Scoop, one of the bestest, greatest things ever in the San Francisco Chronicle: Looks like plans are in the works for a Chez Spencer taco truck, erm, make that a frog truck, to park itself across the street from Terroir. Which makes sense; after all, two of Terroir’s owners used to work there.

Within a week or two, look for the Spencer on the Go truck across the street from Terroir Natural Wine Merchant & Bar (1116 Folsom St., at Langton) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when visitors can take their plates of skate braised with capers ($8) and frog’s legs with curry ($9) inside the wine bar and order a glass. Katgely aims to keep all prices less than $12 and rotate the menu often.

(Go here for the whole thing)

Exciting news, and just in time for summer too. Sigh, there go my dreams of fitting into my vintage swimsuit…

*Note: If you don’t know Terroir, check out this article I wrote last year for the Chronicle.

(Thanks to Rob for the tip)

Pic Post: VinItaly, ViniVeri & Verona

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or at least a glass or two of wine…

Tuscan pavillion

Above: An aerial shot of the Tuscan pavilion, always one of the most busy — and ostentatious — at VinItaly.

le presi 2009 t shirt

Above: Brunello producer Le Presi makes a new t-shirt each year for the fair. This year, the theme capitalized on Obama’s campaign slogan “Yes, we can!”, modified to reflect the traditionalist approach in Montalcino. Note the card referencing, well, female admirers. It’s common at winery stands during VinItaly to employ models in swimsuits to promote wine; I chose to think of this note as a comment on that behavior at the fair, though for all I knew, these guys were serious.

(Check out last year’s t-shirt here.)


A much needed refreshment following the Vini Veri tasting. Glassware by this point was difficult to come by, but the pinot gris was tasty all the same!


Natural wines: A blurry photo, but two delicious Italian wines not so widely available in the US.


Somehow I got my hands on a magnum of the excellent 2006 Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Cos, which we drank at dinner after a long afternoon at Vini Veri. Delicious!

waiting for campari spritz

Waiting for our round of Campari spritz the morning after several days at VinItaly and Vini Veri. The spritz — usually with Campari or Aperol mixed with soda — was everywhere in Verona this year, and it proved to be a reliable pick-me-up when fatigue set in.

banks of the adige

From the banks of the Adige in Verona: “Irene ti amo”

Whoever she is…

The NPA – Keeping Winedrinkers Safe

I have a post up at Wine & Spirits that talks about the Natural Process Alliance, a new project from Kevin Kelley of Salinia Wine Company. Kelley has made a skin-fermented chardonnay and a pinot gris relying only on indigenous yeasts and without using any added sulfur dioxide. The wines are delicious although quite limited in production. Also cool: They challenge the rules of packaging and are shipped in reusable stainless steel canisters.

(If you’re in San Francisco however, you can get the pinot gris now at NOPA where it’s $8 a glass – yum).

Anyway, to learn more about the Natural Process Alliance, head over to Wine & Spirits.

*Alice Feiring has an account of her visit with Kelley when this wine was in its infancy.
*For more about the usage of sulfur dioxide in contemporary California winemaking, check out this article I wrote last year for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Wino Photos are Fun

I’ve finally got a decent camera in my phone. Not that I’m abandoning my Nikon or anything, but this does mean more spontaneous pics to share. To wit:

Check out those tartrates!

fingernail in a wine bottle

Is it me, or is that a fingernail floating in the neck of this wine? The label *did* say that this wine was bottled unfiltered. Maybe that means the grapes were trod by foot, in which case, well, I’ll let you speculate about that…

Ever wonder what’s in a wino’s recycling bin?

A weekend’s consumption: canellini beans (tossed with tuna and sauteed dandelion greens), Ridge 2001 Buchignani Ranch Zinfandel (with 15% carignan, from 80 year old vines), Movia 2006 Pinot Grigio (natural wine from Slovenia), several cans of Modelo Especiale (class).

Native Yeasts and Reggae

(Above: One of my favorite Barolo producers, Giuseppe Rinaldi. Definitely old world, old school, right down to the groovy label.)

The title of this post refers to Thursday night’s unofficial theme at Terroir (sorry Luc, it was too good of a line not to use!); I had gone there to meet up with Joe Manekin, blogger behind the enjoyable and enthusiastic Old World, Old School, member of the K&L retail staff and all around nice guy. Joe emailed a while back and suggested we get together–this seems to be a bit of a trend among wine bloggers lately (here and here)–and I was all for it. The enjoyment and appreciation of wine, while interesting and maybe even fun to get into online, is something that’s best done in person. Besides, meeting in person is a great way to strenghten the bonds in this viritual community (can I even say that anymore?) of wine geeks. It’s also kind of like going on an internet date; dude, like so 21st century!

Needless to say, we drank some killer wines, including:

Georg Breuer’s 2002 Nonnenberg Riesling – From Bruer’s highest riesling vineyard. Oily, fusel aromas, and lots of verve on the palate. Damn, this was great. I love Rheingau riesling… Worth seeking out.

Georg Breuer’s 2004 Berg Schlossberg Riesling – This is from the vineyard down the hill from Nonnenberg; more forward than the ’02 and definitely richer on the palate–both flavor and texture–also quite tasty but not at the same level of the Nonnenberg. Maybe it was a vintage and or age difference? I’ve had earlier vintages of this and have really liked it.

Kiralyudvar 2006 Tokaji Furmint Demi-Sec — Luc went and got this bottle to share after we polished off the riesling. Huet’s Noel Pinguet lends a hand with the winemaking at Kiralyudvar (the two estate’s share the same American importer), and the stylistic sensibilities between this wine and Huet’s Vouvrays are quite apparent. I thought it was lovely stuff, rich yet as Simon said later, it puts the sec in demi-sec. Quite complex and should age beautifully–much like chenin blanc does in Pinguet’s hands. I urge you to seek this stuff out. Did I mention that it’s from Hungary?

Giuseppe Rinaldi’s 1996 Barlo Brunate – Le Coste (pictured above) – Hot damn, was I excited to see this at Terroir! Rinaldi doesn’t make a lot of wine, but I like to drink them whenever I see them. Traditional style Barolo, Rinaldi’s wines have balance of tannins, acidity and fruit character that begs for long aging. Smelling this ’96 could have kept me at Terroir all night (which it practically did), but tasting it was tough. It needed food, or about 10 more years of age. Still, epic stuff. It still feels young and bound up, so if you’ve got one of these in your stash, or find one at a store or restaurant, decant it the day before you drink it or hang on to it a while longer.

The Stinky Stuff, or More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About SO2

(Above: One of the nifty graphics that designer Michael Austin did to illustrate some of the ways that SO2 is used in winemaking. Overall, I think the Chronicle did a terrific job with the layout–Nice work, guys!)

A bit of shameless self-promotion, but I have a feature in today’s Wine section of the San Francisco Chronicle. A long, lengthy discussion of sulfur dioxide and sulfites in wine in general. And as always, the comment trolls at the SFGate website are out in force. But whatever.

Feel free to hit the comments section here with any questions about the article/subject, or to start up a discussion.

(Go here to read the article)