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.

A Wedding Reception, and Everyone’s Invited

I don’t usually post about wine events, but I thought this was pretty cool. Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen here in San Francisco will host a reception beginning at 12 noon tomorrow for all the June 17th newlyweds married at nearby City Hall (map), as well as any well-wisher who wants to stop by and toast to marriage equality.

*The California Supreme Court voted in May to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Today’s Chronicle has a lead story describing the long road to this moment, as well as what lies ahead. Link here.

Tomorrow’s event is co-sponsored by Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Champagne, and Cav will donate 10 percent of all June retail sales of this Champagne to Equality California. Here’s the official announcement from the folks over at Cav:

CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen

Summer of Love Redux Party

Hosted by CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen, Pamela S. Busch, Debbie Chaw, Michael Costa, Rhett Currier, Marla Jurosek and Kirk Salanga

Co-sponsored by Heidsieck & Co Monopole Champagne

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Whether or not you tie the knot, please join our Summer of Love Redux celebrating the first day of legalized same sex marriages in California. Everyone is welcome. The festivities begin at noon, when we will open, and will last throughout the day and into the evening. DJ Kid Gorgeous is going to get the party going at 8 pm. Ten percent of the proceeds from this celebration will go to Equality California,

Need Champagne?

Throughout June, July and August, CAV will donate ten percent of all retail sales of Heidsieck & Co Monopole Blue Top Champagne to Equality California. This is a delicate, delicious Champagne that is especially good during the warm months.
$34 per bottle, $360 case.
To order please email or call (415) 437-1770.

CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen

1666 Market Street (Gough), San Francisco, CA 9410

(415) 437-1770 p, (415) 437-1771 f

Fuso Aereo + Vino = Equilibro (or I *Heart* Firenze)

I should’ve taken the blue pill…

After a long, long day traveling–delays, canceled flights, and being stuck next to a very stinky fellow passenger for 11 hours–I decided to hit the town.

Apart from a few streets around the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio, Florence is refreshingly free of tourists these days. There are some advantages to winter travel, if you don’t mind the cold of course. But back to Florence. Man, this place is filled with memories! I studied here in college (at least I got credit for being here) and so every alleyway and vista brings up a flood of emotion and reflective thought. So with that in mind, I opted for memory-overload and climbed the 414 steps to the top of the Duomo’s campanile, or bell tower.


The massive dome on Florence’s cathedral was completed in 1436; designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, it’s one of the marvels of Renaissance Italy. It’s also huge, easily dwarfing all buildings in the area. Note the shadow of the campanile falling across the dome.


Looking southish over Florence, with the Bargello on the left and Palazzo Vecchio to the right. High in the background to the left is the Piazza Michelangelo, where I saw an epic Radiohead concert in 2003, the first time I’d been back to Florence since studying there in the late 90s.


That’s the church of San Lorenzo in the foreground and the big domed building tacked onto the end is the Medici family tomb. The large building you can see with the metal roof is Florence’s outstanding Mercato Centrale. A must stop on any visit!


A view of Palazzo Vecchio from inside the campanile.


Looking down the inside of the campanile from about half way up.


I grew up near Oxnard, California. How funny to find the city’s name graffitied on the campanile (I believe I took this exact photo while I was studying in Florence oh so long ago).

After climbing down from the tower and indulging an awesome gelato at Perché Non, I headed over to the Zanobini wine shop near the Mercato Centrale. Starting in the afternoon, well, anytime they want to I guess, Mario and Simone Zanobini receive customers directly at their small bar and pour glasses of their own Chianti Classico, as well as other Tuscan wines. Mario suggested that I stay for a few glasses to trying to dodge the fuso aereo (Italian for jet lag).


The small wine bar at Zanobini is filled nightly with regulars rasping away in their fiorentino accents (bascially drop the “c” from any word and you’ve got it; ‘Coca-Cola’ becomes ‘Oha-Ola’, etc.). This evening there was a lot of talk about the upcoming Italian elections in the spring, as well as a controversial proposal for a new tram line in the center of Florence.


Besides a lovely selection of wine, Zanobini has a wall of amari from Italy and beyond. Damn, I wish I’d brought a stryofoam wine shipper on this trip!

Urban Development, Wine Bars and Tiny Buildings

Okay, I’m getting closer to posting the linkfest on a Friday, although you wouldn’t know it with yet another Saturday posting. Anyway, a short one this week, but all good stuff.

San Francisco’s Skyline Fever

If you live in San Francisco or have visited anytime in the past two years, you’ll have noticed the numerous cranes towering over the open spaces where new high rise buildings are going up. For the first time in the memories of most city residents (ie, since the Transamerica building and the Embarcadero Center went up), the downtown (and beyond) skyline is changing. One Rincon–the highest residential tower west of the Mississippi–is the most obvious example, a sleek line of glass blocking the view of the Bay Bridge from the city’s hillsides.

Many of these developments are in formerly dodgy neighborhoods, places where it wasn’t really safe to walk at night, let alone stop off for a glass of wine and dinner, or consider buying real estate. But as this article from the Chronicle reports, the development trend is in full force. And wine bars, it seems, are an integral part of the demographic changes in the city.

And just what does the presence of wine and wine culture do for property values? I think of American Canyon near Napa Valley, or Paso Robles, once a rural town home to California’s Mid-State Fair and now, it seems, the St. Helena of the Central Coast. South of Market, under the freeway, might be up and coming with the city’s next hot spot on the corner, but the neighborhood is two small degrees removed from 1st Street & Crack Central.

I’m all for cleaning up the city–and man do we need new housing solutions. But I also find it interesting (perhaps sickening, too) to see what the forces of development believe necessary to build new neighborhoods and communities.

Tiny Buildings

Speaking of buildings, check out this awesome site where an artist has fashioned miniature buildings from business cards. One of her favorite topics appears to be restaurants, and you’ll find places here like Delfina in San Francisco and Blue Hill in New York (made from their business cards, of course)

(Visit the Tiny Buildings site here)

Stink Be Gone

And lastly, you can’t really have a blog that talks about wine, etc, without touching on new and exciting olfactory experiences. Or in this case, the exact opposite: something that seeks to strip away odoriferous offenses. Not sure how I feel about this–I’m known for appreciating a certain funk in my wines, especially those of the Champagne extraction.

(Go here to rid yourself of certain offensive aromas)

I’ll Pass on the 15% Zinfandel, But Hand Me the Soap

No link for this, but this evening while changing in the locker room at my climbing gym, I overheard two guys complaining about the high alcohol levels of California wines. Now this is something that’s been discussed in the wine trade for several years, but to hear it in the locker room at my gym means that the subject has truly gone mainstream. Gadzooks!

Natural’s Not In It, or, In Search of Clean Wine

Apologies to Gang of Four…

So Monday night found me out on the town with the Third Degree. I was at the magazine until late trying to come up with something timely to say about the American Biodynamic movement, specifically following the Biodynamics Forum held here in San Francisco this past November. I managed about a paragraph before the noisy neighbors, a massive tasting hangover and plain ol’ writer’s block set in. Thankfully my phone rang; Third Degree was outside, and she was surrounded by a crowd of people leaving the AA meeting (yes, among the colorful building mates here at the W&S San Francisco HQ is a AA affiliate club). Locked up and headed downstairs.

We went first to Local (no website yet), which a friend of mine is involved with. Official opening day is today, December 11, although they’ve been soft opening for a couple weeks now. S and I went a couple weeks ago to test the menu–good, simple food, the kind of comfort fare appropriate to a place aiming for a neighborhood vibe. But tonight was more of an opening party, and the place was mobbed. We hung around for a drink watching the crowd and then decided to split.


On a whim I suggested that we check out Terroir, a natural wine store and bar that opened recently over on 7th and Folsom near Julie’s Supper Club. Like a lot of people in the wine biz these days, I’m taken with the concept of ‘natural wine’–which, put most simply, means a wine that’s made with as little intervention on the part of the winemaker as possible, and that respects the traditions of its region. In some ways these are wines that, in theory, could have been made the same way 100 or more years ago. Marcel Lapierre, Josko Gravner, Catherine and Pierre Breton, and basically any wine imported by Louis/Dressner, fall into this category. Apparently natural wine bars are the hip thing in Paris (my friend Peter Liem wrote an excellent article listing some of these watering holes in the December issue of Wine & Spirits).

Natural wine is a vague term that feels simultaneously honest and maybe just a bit romantic. It’s also in danger of becoming another meaningless marketing term in the endless cycle of winespin. Remember ‘organic’, ‘green’ and ‘sustainable‘? But these are superb wines of true character, and I’m hopeful that their greatness can transcend the trend. And in any case, if this is a trend, I’m all for it.

Terroir was empty when we arrived and it pretty much stayed that way all night, save for a guy who came in for a glass and promptly asked why the bar was named terrier. Maybe these guys have their work cut out for them?

Anyway, I counted about 20 wines in the retail shop that I’d love to try, and the list of wines open for tasting (by the glass, carafe or bottle) was fantastic. Started off with a carafe of Domaine Jo Pithon Savennieres, which, as the charming Luc and Guilhaume–two of the three partners in Terroir–pointed out to the Third Degree is a textbook natural wine. Fresh, vibrant and completely engaging chenin blanc, this was the kind of wine Guilhaume meant when he explained that a natural wine for him is really a “clean wine.” I can get that–you feel good after drinking these wines, as if their inherent balance is transferred to those consuming them.

If you want a wine that’s not open for tasting at Terroir, you pop over to the retail part of the store and pick something out (there’s no wine list)–add $12 to the price and you can drink it there. After the Pithon we moved to Italy and had a bottle of the Erbaluna 2004 Langhe Nebbiolo. This was earthy, almost poopy, tar and roses nebbiolo with no taste of oak on it. Yum! I loved it. Third Degree? Well, she came around after a glass. But again, another one of these natural wines–in this case, made with organically grown grapes from the Barolo commune of La Morra. Good shit–literally (some decanting helped that).

So Terroir rocks. In fact, it’s my favorite wine bar in San Francisco–minimal, laidback, and with great wine that’s been chosen with care and passion. Plus the only food is salumi and cheese, none of this faux restaurant-wine bar stuff. Hell yeah, that’s how it should be.


Terroir Natural Wine Merchant, 116 Folsom St, San Francisco; 415-558-9946,