Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mendo a go-go

Twisty roads full of "kiss-your-butt" turns, various brilliant shades of green moss, heavy gray skies, an inn with a cozy wood-paneled library (and a rumored ghost), and divine wine (hello, my newfound love for Alsatian varietals!). Ahhhh, Mendocino County, what has taken me so long to find you?

B & I headed down to Mendocino County a couple days after Christmas, shooting down I-5 then over to Hwy 20 under a sky threatening snow on a windy road that led us to Clear Lake, where we stopped at Shannon Ridge and Steele wineries. In a school house more than a century old, we tasted Shannon Ridge's wines (and were the only customers most of the time), and were impressed by the Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Syrah. However the whites were far too cold, but the tasting rooms attendants were more than happy to chat while we waited for the pours to warm up so we could get a better sense of their flavors. On a side note, I just don't get why so many tasting rooms can't seem to serve whites at a proper temperature -- more often than not they're either too cold or too warm. If I was working in/managing a tasting room I would surely want to present the product in the best possible manner!

From there we headed to Kelseyville, home of Steele, which we discovered through a knock-out Zin at District, the SOMA wine bar on 3rd & Townsend in SF. While we weren't thrilled with the wines on the tasting menu, the winery is quite prolific, offering a bevy of varietals under 4 labels. So we blindly purchased bottles that included the Steele DuPratt Zin, the Writer's Block Grenache, Santa Barbara Pinto Noir, Shooting Star Barbera (on recommendation from a wine club member in the tasting room; we had it later that night in our quaint hotel and it was a fruit-forward, full mouthfeel treat), and a Sauvignon Blanc (after all, Lake County is known for that varietal, one of our favs).

We made Hopland our base, although we didn't see much of it except for the Hopland Inn, a 19-century hotel built for SF's high-society. It had a terrific restaurant & bistro and the decadent library was the favorite gathering spot for visitors. My only complaint was we didn't sleep all that well despite a comfy bed -- I'm going to blame it on the ghost that supposedly haunts the place (although we didn't hear any spooky noises). There are at least 5 wineries within walking distance of the inn, but we departed the next morning for a full day in the Anderson Valley.

Heading past countless sheep, cows, and moss-covered trees and fences, we started at Handley, where we gawked at the winemaker's amazing art collection that spanned the globe and is reflected by the tribal patterns on the delicious bottles of Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Mendocino Ridge Zin we picked up there. We stopped by Husch, and while we were charmed by the tiny, rose-bush laden tasting room, we weren't blown away by the wines.

Our experience at Lazy Creek was better -- after driving along a road lined with ferns and moss-covered rocks and trees, we came to the farmstead where the family lived and worked. Early mini daffodils contrasted brightly against the dormant vines and one of the owners/mom directed us to the extremely low-key tasting room manned by the vineyard manager Jaime. The Gew├╝rztraminer was crisp & refreshing, leading us to anticipate taking a bottle with us to the next Asian meal we have out, but the "sparkling" Gewurtz was to die for, exploding in our mouths despite the visual lack of bubbles.

Navarro was another highlight, as we liked almost everything they had on the tasting menu and joined the excellent-value wine club (~$95 for two, SIX TO EIGHT bottle shipments 2x year!). The winery has lovely grounds and a view that will be even better in nicer weather. We also stopped in at Breggo, a new winery that is yet to have its own vineyards but has bought some lovely Sauv Blanc & Pinot Noir, and Rett there insisted we visit Esterlina, which was two miles up the hill from Handley. So we trekked back up that way and had a great time sitting down with "Pinot Patty" and working our way through a variety of whites & reds, including lovely Pinot Gris, Riesling, and a red blend. We munched on huge sandwiches from Lemon's deli in Philo and admired what we could of the fogged-in view in a place that felt like a friend's attic hideaway.

While Mendo was just my speed for a leisurely post-Christmas jaunt, it's on to NYE tomorrow night and the techno gods must be appeased! We're off to the blasthaus party in SF, where French dj & vocalist Miss Kittin is the featured headliner, with support from local favs from Kontrol (Alland Byallo & Nikola Baytala) and Sunset (Solar) among others. The night promises to be a gold-dusted affair, with a balloon drop, champagne (OK, it's likely to be sparkling wine...) toast, and naughty gold-clad revelers reminiscent of LoveFest! I'm ready to pre-party with some Privat Laieta Cava and Scharffenberger Brut, both recommended by the helpful John at Beltramo's in Redwood City. Hello 2008!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

island livin'

Wow, we managed to go out last night for six whole hours and NEVER leave the island of Alameda. That's saying a lot, because, while B & I like the safe & quiet livin' in our little 'burg, we don't usually find ourselves spending an entire Saturday night in it unless we're having people over to our house (for wine & techno, hooray!).

First stop was dinner with Jessica at Bagan, the new venture from the Burma Superstar folks -- but with a much classier and far less crowded environment. I brought a Burgans Albarino for us to drink, and its lemony, mineral acidity was a winning complement to the samosas, tea leaf salad, pumpkin shrimp, catfish curry, basil chicken, and coconut rice that the three of us shared. The restaurant doesn't have an online presence, but you can peep the Burma Superstar menu here, which is very similar to what you can get at Bagan on Park Street without a trek out to SF's Richmond district. And for more info, check out the glowing praise of Yelpers.

We managed to leave room for cocktails at the Fireside Lounge, a recently revamped, former dive bar on Webster Street that Jessica wanted to check out as fodder for her Night Writer column. While I had never been to the bar in its previous incarnation, the old sign and beat-up door give patrons a glimpse to what was a shabby watering hole on the rougher west side of the island (its character was a result of its proximity to the naval air station that closed a decade ago). Inside, however, is a different story. Taupe walls, chocolate wood trim, comfy chairs and couches, a red-felt pool table, a fireplace, and nautical details make the lounge quite inviting. A few details have been overlooked since its July debut (some corners are prohibitively dark, the fireplace area is under-used and crying out for the pool table to be pushed up a bit to make room for a couple chairs...) but it's a darn decent spot. The specialty cocktails are inventive and yummy -- these include the Sazerac, one of the world's oldest cocktails and one that is made with the now-legal absinthe. The anise-flavored drink was very original and surprisingly quaffable. The cinnamon chai martini with cinnamon & nutmeg-infused vodka was tasty as well.

From cocktails we moved on to wine (we can only resist so long!), and once pastry chef-cum-paramedic-cum-bar owner Patrick discovered our affinity for vino, he was bustling about, pouring us tastes and going into the back to retrieve new finds, many from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley (he has a vacation home in Healdsburg). Two standouts were the Lago di Merlo Syrah and the Lockwood Malbec from Monterey (I had no idea Monterey could produce Malbec!).

The drinks were good, but the people were great. Patrick was very personable, attentive, and his enthusiasm for his bar was infectious. Cristi, the cocktail queen, we were surprised to learn, is a journalist that was a foreign correspondent in far-flung (and chaotic) places such as Nepal, Kashmir & East Timor who founded The Press Institute for Women in the Developing World to train local women to be journalists in their communities. Nonprofit funding is tight, so she still freelances and works with Patrick to make ends meet. Not exactly the type of person you'd expect to find behind an Alameda bar. We'll definitely be back for more good libations & conversation.

I don't think Alameda will ever become the place o' choice for the hipster scene, but then again, there WAS a line to get into the local (and reputedly quite authentic) tiki bar, Forbidden Island, two weeks ago!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Tiny bubbles...

Being one of the resident wine geeks in my office, I organized a sparkling wine tasting for my office at our company holiday party last night. The theme was "Guess which one is the real Champagne?" and five people got it right. Our offerings included Prosecco, Cava, sparkling Shiraz, Schramsberg rose (YUM), Gruet and Taittinger and Montaudon for the authentic stuff. My favorites were the two different varities of Segura Viudas -- the low-end Aria, and the oh-so-pretty Heredad Reserva, which comes in a pewter-adorned bottle. In fact, the Spanish category tricked quite a few people who thought the Cava group was the real deal. Understandable, given Heredad Reserva's tiny bubbles and complex flavor of fruits, nuts and minerals with a long, smooth finish. And it was only $16.99 at BevMo!

Another bottle than won some fans was Banfi Rosa Regale, also $16.99 at BevMo, which I was surprised to find I also liked since I'm not a fan of sweet wines. The bottle and the light ruby wine are both quite pretty. This bella signora is entirely made of Brachetto d’Acqui grapes from the Piedmont region of Italy and has sweet, soft flavors of strawberry, raspberry and rose petal.

Tonight I'm going to try Tamarindo, a restaurant in Old Oakland, a lovely little neighborhood that is being revitalized one new restaurant/bar/boutique at a time. Small plate Mexican food -- it bills itself as an antojeria, a "place of little cravings." Other well-regarded restaurants in the area are B's and Levende East, the sister restaurant of the original Levende in San Francisco. I had a fabulous meal here on a warm evening about 6 weeks ago -- sat outside under a full moon peeking out from inbetween the historic buildings and the leafy trees that add to this area's charm. My b/f and I noshed on butternut squash soup, fried cambazola, panzanella and the shrimp and crab cake (my fav). Washed it down with some 2006 Martin Codax Albari├▒o, a lovely white wine that has become my top pick.

Then it's off to Art Murmur, the first Friday of each month when Oakland's art galleries stay open late for the hipsters to peruse, nibble, and sip from one spot to the next. Brian went to the opening of a show by Rachel Dawson, a friend's wife last Friday, but I was home with a cold, so I hope to see her dramatic, large-scale works (including Lyricism, right) tonight at Esteban Sabar Gallery.


Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's about time...

So here I am with my own blog -- finally! A little late to the game, I know, but I really don't need ONE more reason to keep me online. My boyfriend already says he sees my back more than my face! But lord knows I've got a lot to say -- just ask my friends and family! The title of my blog fits me because I love wine and clubbing (I'm also in several wine clubs, including one with friends where we blind taste once a month or so -- you can read about some of those meetings here at the blog of my friend Jessica, who is making quite a name for herself in the wine world).

Right now I'm drinking Domaine Des Tours '04 Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, a red Rhone blend, which was recommended by one of the excellent staff in my neighborhood wine shop Farmstead (danger, danger, Will Robinson -- it's TOO close!). I'm a Rhone girl through and through (Mouvedre, Carignane, Grenache are the words to say to get me hot) but usually prefer Spanish or New World blends. The nose is very earthy, rustic, and a tad barnyardy -- smells like promising stuff to me! The flavor isn't quite as robust as I like (or the nose would suggest), but I do get some pepper, which to me is always a good thing. I think it needs to open up a bit -- hmmm, which chipped decanter should I use (yes, I'm a klutz). At $16.50 it didn't break the bank (but what did was stocking up on all those great $10 Spanish deals -- oh and the$27 Verve '05 Sonoma Coast Pinot -- to DIE for if you can get your hands on any of the few bottles left).

So after I have some wine (and perhaps a nap), I'm off to [Kontrol], a monthly tech-house/minimal house party that, shamefully, I have never gone to, even though I've heard the resident djs at other events. It's held the first Saturdays of the month at the End Up, a notorious/infamous/legendary San Francisco club. Probably most well known for its Sunday morning t-Dance, for which I think the majority of the crowd used to be gay, but it now has diversified to host cracked-out citizens of all creeds, colors & persuasions. Gotta love SF, no? The club -- which is beautiful BTW, not seedy like I had expected it to be the first time I went, and even boasts a large, kick-ass patio area -- is also known for getting a nod in the 2000 rave-culture film "Groove," which captured the innocence and feel-good nature of raving (ironically just at the time when many would say the "bubble" burst and the scene became too commercial and overrun by drug dealers and spun-out kiddies, but hey, it's the year I got into it so it's all relative). It's not seen, just mentioned -- as the place the rockstar, die-hard party kids are heading to after the underground party is done.

Hmm, the wine does seem to have improved. Ciao!