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.


Big Bottles


What can I say? I’m a bit of a size-queen when it comes to magnums (or bigger) of wine.

Large-format bottles age better than 750s, the greater volume making for subtle and slow aging thanks in part to a low ratio of oxygen to wine. Perhaps hindering the desire to age your magnum is the fact that big bottles just look more enticing: Nothing quite says “party” like 1.5- or 3-liters of wine.

Found myself at NOPA this past Sunday where a friend had gathered a group of survivors from the annual Rhône Rangers tasting here in the city. I skipped the tasting myself, shackled as it were to several deadlines that needed immediate attention. Pity, as there were some lovely wines to be tried. (Check out Jon Bonné’s write up here.)

But that’s not to say I wasn’t feeling Rhônish, so I brought along the above magnum of 1999 Clos de Cuminaille Saint-Joseph from Pierre Gaillard to share. I picked this wine up years ago over in the East Bay at North Berkeley Imports, and it’s been stashed away since. Anyway, it tasted great, starting off minty but closed and then loosening up with some partial decanting. It grew more aromatic with air, and after a couple hours showed fresh pepper, dried rose, cranberries and a slightly meaty funk. A minerally beast too, as the vines are planted in decomposed granite soils. Aging beautifully, with several more years ahead of it. Mmm, Syrah.

We raided NOPA’s magnum list for the rest of dinner, starting off with Gaston Chiquet’s 1998 Club Millésimé a.k.a. Special Club (okay, we ordered two 750ml-sized bottles of that because it’s freaking awesome); then the 2005 Privat Riesling from Nigl (precise and focused, even for such a warm year; still a baby); and the 2001 Riserva Montestefano Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco (pictured above, really aromatic and floral at this point in its life, elegant and silky and then quite gripping on the finish; another baby).

* The dinner menu at Nopa is quite good right now (rockin’ cod: thanks Richie!)

Delfina’s Craig Stoll Gives the Finger to Fox News


Apparently Craig Stoll of the James Beard Awarded Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco was scheduled to appear on the Fox News morning show but walked out after hearing what the hosts – presumably quoting disgruntled Yelpers – had to say about his pizza. As reported earlier this month by local magazine 7×7, Stoll & Co. recently made t-shirts quoting negative Yelp reviews, and then gave them to staff to wear during service.

Here’s one of the shirts (via 7×7):


And now to do something I never thought I’d do: Post a clip from Fox News!

Wine Rumors: SF Restaurants Going Retail

Well, not exactly, but in the course of doing a little field research last night I learned that a hot, newish SF restaurant is planning to develop a wine program where all of their pricing is retail. Yep, retail… no 10% nor even 5% markup, but straight up retail. Signs of the times to be sure, but also a populist approach to restaurant wine pricing that I hope catches on.

In other news…


One of my favorite East Bay haunts for South Indian food, Vik’s, is moving next month. The new location is just around the corner from the original, and rumor is that it won’t change all that much. I wonder, though, if the move will increase or decrease the competition for street parking with the patrons of nearby Steamworks?

Value For Winegeeks: Restaurant Edition

Who needs a prix-fixe horror show when there’s Friday the 13th?

We decided to bag the traditional Valentine’s Day shitshow celebration this past weekend in favor of the far more interesting (and sinister?) night before, Friday the 13th. There was also a break in northern California’s recent rainy weather, so it seemed like a good idea to walk the length of Valencia Street to one of San Francisco’s better neighborhood eateries, Blue Plate.

Blue Plate was popping, and for a brief second it seemed inconceivable that restaurants in the Bay Area and beyond are suffering so much now, but then again it was the Friday night of Presidents’ Day weekend, with Valentine’s Day thrown in for good measure.  Casual, simple in concept and with a menu that’s easy to execute, not to mention a long track record and loyal clientele, Blue Plate — and others like it — are likely to survive the economic downtown.

That seems more evident with a quick glance at the wine list: Et violà!, it’s Marc Ollivier’s Côt “La Pépiè”.

cotOllivier is sort of the master of Muscadet and this feisty, juicy wine sort of behaves like a red Muscadet might, with cheerful fruit and refreshing acidity. I easily finished the first glass before the first course, and was ready for more. And I know that malbec — aka côt in the Loire Valley — is, like, totally popular these days but this version is hardly the jampot that seems common to Argentina and, increasingly, California. While no secret among winegeeks, La Pépiè — like much of the Louis/Dressner portfolio — seems to hit a magic price point ($14-$16 retail; $28-$30 restaurant list) that makes it sort of the vinous equivalent of a restaurant like Blue Plate: Delicious, affordable and, most importantly, friendly and honest. Qualities to look for no matter what’s going on with the economy.

Happily, too, the label is irresistibly cute.

Super Bowls and Birthdays

Busy with multiple deadlines at the moment so this one’s quick…


Above: Football? What football? Super Bowl Sunday at the Hog Island oyster farm in Tomales Bay. Taken as things were winding down. FYI – If you fancy oysters in January or February — both ‘r’ months — then skip out on the Super Bowl and head up to Hog Island. We practically had the place to ourselves.


Above: Diner at NOPA for my birthday, where we drank U Baccan, a single-vineyard pigato from Ligurian producer Bruna. One of my favorite white wines from Italy, and certainly one my two favorite pigatos (the other being Bruna’s Le Russeghine vineyard). It’s incredibly complex, with a powerfully deep mineral expression. It also has that groovy little neolithic man on the label, which just seals the deal.


Above: the prep area at the wood oven station at NOPA. I think I took this picture because I spent the entire night seated on the opposite side of the glass from that bin full of delicious pancetta. It ain’t a birthday without pancetta!

Eating & Drinking on the Barbary Coast Trail

barbary-coast2A few Sundays back – before this freakishly warm weather dropped in to send everyone to the beach – we decided to follow the Barbary Coast Trail, developed and maintained by the San Francisco Historical Society.

The trail starts at the Old Mint down on 5th and Mission and then meanders through Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach and Telegraph Hill, before dropping down to the Bayfront wharfs and eventually Ghirardelli Square.

From there you can wait in line for the Hyde Street cable car and admire the view while playing a game of matching country (or state) to the accent of your fellow line-waiters. Or you can say fuck it and walk the two blocks to catch the 47 Van Ness.

The Historical Society has a handy map (available here) that can be printed beforehand; there are also markers embedded in the cement indicating direction. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to explain the significance or various landmarks along the way (the marker in front of the Old Mint is the only one we found). There are tags on the map, but it shouldn’t hurt to produce some sort of podcast to accompany the route. Historical Society?

But the Barbary Coast Trail is also lacking something else, notably where to eat and drink. As an itinerary, the Trail wanders through some of San Francisco’s best neighborhoods for memorable food and drink. (Well, things get a little dodgy after North Beach…) Without putting too much thought into it, I made this shortlist. And there’s an accompanying Google Map (my stab at such a map anyway). Take a look, and feel free to add to this list or directly to the map — it should be public.

(More after the jump…)

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