New Book: “Unique Eats & Eateries – San Francisco”

I thought this book would be of interest only for Bay Area foodies, but as one of my wine club members explained “all paths lead to San Francisco eventually“.  So I post this review for perusal by all who want to be prepared for that next trip to San Francisco, even if that trip is yet to be planned!

Local author, Kimberly Lovato, was kind enough to attend a wine tasting I organized, and discussed her latest project. You’ll find it refreshingly unique among restaurant books in that it doesn’t provide reviews or ratings. Instead, its objective is to illuminate interesting restaurant history, local foodways, and tidbits unique to the city’s food scene.

It makes no attempt to document the city’s thousands of restaurants, or even to isolate its handful of “best”. To earn its way into this book, a food establishment had to be sufficiently unique and interesting to stand out from the crowd in one way or another – like the donut shop featuring a donut as big as your head.  Good ol’ “Bob’s“. Or the oldest continuously operating restaurant in California – the Tadich Grill – who doesn’t take reservations and whose white-coated staff proudly turns away the world’s rich and beautiful alike if they are unwilling to wait their turn.

These and many more discoveries await in this new book from Lovato. Crack the cover of “Unique Eats & Eateries” and you’ll find your brief perusal has quickly turned into many minutes spent flipping from one interesting feature to the next.


Guest Post: An Ode To Prosecco

By Catie Costa, author of “Love on the Rocks, A Positano Tale

An Ode to Prosecco

Tiamo Prosecco DOC, $16Oh, Prosecco!

I’ve long thought Prosecco to be the nectar of the gods. I mean, whatever the gods were drinking (at least the Italian gods), it just had to be Prosecco. I can’t think of a tastier drink (next to champagne, which I also adore) that complements so many dishes, yet can also stand alone.

Still, what makes Prosecco so special? What do we really know about Prosecco, you ask?

…Please, let me tell you:

  • Prosecco was not always the name of the beverage. It was the name of the variety of grape. Duh. Ok, I didn’t know that either.
  • The name of the grape variety was changed to “Glera“.
  • In order to be labeled Prosecco, the wine must be made in a region or regions labeled as DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata).
  • DOC regions are in Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Treviso
  • Atop the DOC regions is the epitome of all Prosecco, those from Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore (DOCG).
  • Most Prosecco today is extra dry (DOCG).
  • Asti and Moscato D’Asti should not be mistaken for Prosecco. They are sweeter.
  • The Bellini (Prosecco and pureed peach) originated at Harry’s Bar (an old watering hole of Ernest Hemingway) in Venice.
  • A Rossini is another fruity Prosecco cocktail I think you’ll enjoy. Simply pour Prosecco into a flute with pureed baby strawberries.
  • Other variations: the Puccini – Replace peach puree with mandarin juice. And then there’s the Tintoretto – replace with pomegranate juice. Fancy!
  • Prosecco is a libation that does not age well. So upon opening the bottle, drink at once! 

(Want to try a good Prosecco for a reasonable price?  Dave recommends the Tiamo DOC for less than $20!)

Love on the RocksAbout the author
Catie Costa has traveled all over Western Europe, with repeated trips to Ireland and Italy. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area. She recently published a new fiction novel, “Love on the Rocks: A Positano Tale,” a story of two best friends, Kit and Bridget, who flee their humdrum lives in the States to spend an adventurous summer in Positano, Italy, where Prosecco, Nutella and romance abound.

CorkSharing – Wine App Review


Having learned my lesson the hard way (it’s a long sob story not worth any more pixels), I appreciate good wine apps.  I recently came across Bryan Petro’s “CorkSharing” (wine tourism app for iPhone and Android) and thought it worth sharing.

CorkSharing was designed for those who like to plan their route in advance and who enjoy a little preferential treatment upon arrival.  The app allows users to visually scan a map of a wine region showing an overlay of participating wineries.  Users can then click on a winery’s red dot to review their self-reported details and, if all looks good, to book a tasting appointment. 

From a winery’s perspective, the app automates the reservation process, from booking the appointment to taking payment for the tasting fees (CorkSharing takes a 15% booking fee – there is no other cost to participate).  The company currently has more than 600 participating wineries from around the globe.

To see more on how it works, here’s a helpful video demo:


Winery Sign-Up Process
If you run a winery tasting room and would like to test CorkSharing, sign up for it here.

Tasting Event Promotion
Holding a tasting event you want to publicize? Post it here.


My App Review

My vision for our failed iPhone app was to allow wineries to book reservations, as CorkSharing does, but also to push promotions to users once their device was within a reasonable distance.  Imagine a slow day in your tasting room, and the ability to post an instant promotion of limited duration.  Generating more TR traffic for you, and providing greater value for customers seemed like a great deal.  

CorkSharing gets you much of the way there, and seems a likely candidate among wine apps to go the distance.  However, they desperately need more wineries on board before the app reaches critical mass, and they are constantly working on this.  Unlike other apps, they don’t scrape data from winery websites in order to create the appearance of endless choices (only to disappoint users who click on winery after winery not participating in the booking).  

The app is free and easy to use.  Even at this early stage it’s worth downloading.  Any wine lover planning their next trip will find it useful!

Just DaveCheers!  

11th Release of ‘Coro Mendocino’ – Collaborative Winemaking

We all know the significance of certain dates.  July 4th.  December 25th.  June 28th.

Wait.  June 28th?  

Oh yeah. Big day, historically speaking.  The day TV Evangelist Robert Schuller attacked a flight attendant (1997).  And when Houston Astro’s Craig Biggio got his 3000th hit (2007).  It was also the day the first woman was admitted to the Air Force Academy (1976).  Like I said – a big day.

And it’s about to get bigger.  On June 28th of his year, at Mendocino’s charming Little River Inn, the 11th vintage of “Coro Mendocino” enjoys its coming out party.  Sort of makes all that other stuff pale by comparison.  

Little River Inn
Little River Inn, Mendocino Coast. Location for the 2011 “Coro Mendocino” release party.

Never heard of Little River Inn?  It’s a place worthy of a weekend. Super Wife and I have celebrated a number of anniversaries here, and we can’t recommend it highly enough – Chef Marc Dym earned five stars before settling at this resort hotel on the Mendocino coast, and his food alone is worthy of a full blog post.  But I digress – let’s get back to the wine.

Consider yourself fortunate if you’re familiar with the wine, as not many are.  It’s a cool concept – Old-World meets New-World wine making and marketing.  This year, the Coro label has been granted to eight wines produced by eight different Vintners.  It is also the Spanish/Italian word for Chorus, a community of synchronized voices that is similar to the concept behind Coro Mendocino –  winemakers coming together to set standards for a class of wines to represent their wine region.


Coro 2010 vintage release
Last year’s Coro wines stand at attention during their release party.

Though typical in Europe, in the U.S. such regional restrictions are unique to Coro Mendocino.  Winemakers producing a wine under the “Coro” label must comply with the following requirements, which you’ll likely find evocative of similar requirements in Old World regions such as Rioja, Bordeaux, Champagne or Burgundy:

Coro Mendocino Requirements:

  1. All grapes must be from Mendocino County
  2. Zinfandel, the county’s heritage variety, must make up at least 40% and no more than 70% of the blend.
  3. Nine other types of grapes may be used (a range of Rhone and Italian Varieties)
  4. All wines must age for a minimum of one year in barrel and one year in bottle
  5. All Coro wines must be in the approved bottle, with only the Winegrower’s information to define its birthplace
  6. No wine can be released to the public before all the winemakers in the consortium have deemed each entry as worthy during a blind-tasting.
  7. More fine print essentially insists that the group’s production protocols and bylaws be followed

So June 28th marks the first public tasting of these eight different “Coro” wines.  The entry price tag is steep, but before you move on to the next thing in your inbox, note that the $500 fee includes dinner for two AND a bottle of each of the eight Coro wines.

2011 Coro Mendocino Release Party

WHERE:               Little River Inn — Little River, CA

WHEN:                 Saturday, June 28th, 2014 — 6 p.m.

WHAT:                 Multi-course, progressive dinner for two prepared by Chef Dym using local and seasonal ingredients

PRICE:                   $500 per couple – Ticket info here

WINE:                   Coro Mendocino 2011 vintage collection (and other wines) by

  1. Barra of Mendocino
  2. Brutocao Cellars
  3. Clos du Bois
  4. Golden Vineyards
  5. McFadden Vineyard
  6. Parducci Wine Cellars
  7. Fetzer Vineyards and
  8. Testa Vineyards


Dave ‘the Wine Merchant’

A Fun Winery Tour – For our Northeastern Members!

In this morning’s wine news comes a story of interest to our NYC area wine club members – a winery tour that includes food, two nights at the Caldwell House B&B and a driver, all for less than $900 per couple…

Caldwell HouseSALISBURY MILLS, NY  _ The Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast is offering guests the chance to drink and dine responsibly this Spring with its White Glove Wine Getaway. Now guests traveling in the area for the annual Shawangunk Wine Trail Pasta Primo Vino event may sip and savor regional wines and pasta dishes at up to 14 wineries and leave the driving to their designated chauffeur. Pasta Primo Vino takes place April 12-13, 2014.

“Every year we see a lot of guests excited about Shawangunk Wine Trail but unable to finish their trek,” said Dena Finneran, who co-owns the award-winning country inn with her husband John. “This time we’re creating a getaway for adults who want to sample wine at all the wineries while leaving the driving to someone else.”

Guests who reserve the White Glove Wine Getaway will begin their day shortly after breakfast.  A pre-planned itinerary – chosen to maximize the number of winery visits each day will begin at a nearby winery where they’ll each receive a souvenir wine glass, then they’re off – in groups of eight to 10 people in a limo from winery-to-winery, complete with a cooler stocked with refreshments. Every winery will have sampling of four handcrafted regional wines accompanied by a delicious pasta dish, courtesy of Barilla Pasta.

“Pasta Primo Vino is such a spectacular event,” said Randy Maduras, Executive Director of the Shawangunk Wine Trail. “It’s a special way to usher in the Spring, especially this year after so much snow.”

The wineries participating in the Shawangunk Wine Trail Pasta Primo Vino event include: Adair Vineyards, Applewood Winery, Baldwin Vineyards, Benmarl Winery, Brimstone Hill Winery, Brotherhood Winery, Clearview Vineyards, Demarest Hill Winery, Glorie Farm Winery, Palaia Vineyards, Robibero Winery, Stoutridge Vineyard, Warwick Valley Winery and Whitecliff Vineyard.

The White Glove Wine Getaway (for groups of 8-10 people) includes:
·     2-night stay at the Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast
·     2 -day admission to the Shawangunk Wine Trail Pasta Primo Vino event
·    Complimentary three course gourmet breakfasts
·    Limo fully stocked with revitalizing refreshments
·    Designated chauffeur
·    Free WiFi at the inn so you can share your weekend on social media.  [Or catch up with emails if you’re into the quick buzzkill!]

Package $879 per couple plus tax for a 2-day tour

Optional: 1-day wine tour and all of the above: $759 per couple plus tax

For additional information or larger groups contact the Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast at 1-800-210-5565 or visit

About Caldwell House
The Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast is a multi-award winning member of the prestigious Select Registry and Diamond Collection groups of Inns. Located in the heart of the Hudson Valley– close to the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Storm King Arts Center, Brotherhood Winery (and many of the Shawangunk Wine Trail Wineries), and the Woodbury Premium Outlet Mall. Some of the Hudson Valley’s most beautiful hiking/biking trails are within walking or easy driving distance. Built in 1802, this historic inn is full of many original features, antiques and original paintings, as well as modern amenities. Each guest room includes its own private full bath (several  with Jacuzzi tub for two), smart TVs with Netflix/Hulu, free Wi-Fi Internet access, individual room temperature controls, iPads and more.

The Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast is located at 25 Orrs Mills Road, Salisbury Mills, NY 12577. To make a reservation call 1-800-210-5565 or visit Also at:

Experience the “Insider’s” Napa

Would life be better if you owned a winery?  Would you rock the wine world?  Be the envy of everyone you meet?  Well here’s the next best thing.

Smack dab in the midst of Napa’s 2013 grape harvest, here’s a long weekend you’ll remember for the rest of your life.  Channel your inner Lucy and go knee-deep at the grape stomping competition.  Take home wine you bottled*.  Welcome Napa Winemakers to your table.  Dine by candle light surrounded by century-old barrels.  In short, see Napa like an industry insider.

To make this all possible, the folks at Chicago Magazine and I have developed this “Insider’s Tour” of Napa. If you can join us, here’s what you’re in for… 

"Insider's Napa" Tour - Itinerary Logo

Weekend Itinerary: (Items subject to change)

Friday, Sept. 20th
Arrival, Reception and Dinner

Napa signArrive SFO before 3:00PM Pacific Time.  Hop aboard one of the hourly shuttles to the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa – your home base for this “insider’s” weekend.

6:00 PM — Welcome Reception. Get to know your fellow wine enthusiasts and meet boutique producers you won’t find in wine shops back home. Who knows?  One or two winemakers might even show up, if we can tear them away from their 20-hour days during harvest.

7:00 PM — Garden-to-Table Dinner.  You want Fresh?  You want seasonal??  Join Chef Brian Whitmer in the hotel garden to pick ingredients for your al fresco dinner.  He may fly below your radar, but Chef Whitmer has chops.  His resume includes stints managing culinary operations for the Masters of Food and Wine, working with New York’s Daniel Boulud at Polo Club and Bradley Ogden at San Francisco’s Campton Place before earning Esquire’s “Best Restaurant” nod for his work at Montrio in Monterey.  Brian and I will work together to perfectly pair Napa wines with each of your three courses.

Saturday, Sept 21st
Napa’s Emerging Winemakers

9:00 AM — Enjoy breakfast in the hotel at your convenience.  Or arrange for an early spa treatment.  Or take a lap in the pool.  Just don’t be late, because the bus leaves at 10:50 sharp for your next immersion experience…

11:00 AM — Bottle Your Own Barrel at the Ried Family Vineyards
A wine bottling party - Reid Family VyrdsOwner Kirk Reid leads us through his family’s vineyard, then through the production facility and on to the bottling room where you’ll bottle the barrel of wine purchased for your group – all 24 cases.  As reward for your hard work, you’ll gather around the farmer’s table for lunch overlooking the vineyard.  When you get home and open a wine you bottled, the story pours out with the wine.

Ried Family Vineyards are a boutique winery, crafting a miserly 400 cases each year.  Yes, that’s hundred.  The family ‘s Napa roots date back to the mid 1800’s, though their vines date back to 1992.  Their vineyard provides homes for vines producing choice Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, and Viognier.

3:00 PM — Private Tasting at Kenzo Estate
Kenzo Estate ownerWhat would you do with an extra $100,000,000?  If you’re video game tycoon Kenzo Tsujimoto, you buy 3,800 acres in Napa and build a custom winery to produce world-class wines.  Kenzo Estate produces just 11,000 cases of such wine, most of which is exported to Japan.  But you’ll get to taste Kenzo’s rare wines ($80 – $250 a bottle) in the luxury of their hospitality facility and have the opportunity to purchase them directly from the winery.  (3-minute video – Kenzo Estate in the news)

6:45 PM — Stomp Grapes!  
Entrance to Castello di AmorosaYou’ll eat dinner on Saturday at the “Harvest and Grape Stomp Party” at the beautiful Castello di Amorosa.  Winery owner Darius Sattui built this Italianate castle, complete with dungeon and various hidden chambers, over the course of a decade.  He was inspired to build it during trips to Italy, where he was struck by the celebratory Italian spirit of food and wine, friends and family.  Grape stomping competitionThat was something he wanted to bring home to Napa.  But while you and I might bring home Italian spirit with a painted dish or an airport tchotchke, Darius built a castle.  And it’s here he hosts the annual harvest party you’ll be joining.

What do you wear to a stomp party?  Leave the coat and khakis at the hotel and break out whatever goes with grape juice stains.  (Note, grape stomping is not required.  You’ll still be fed if grape-colored calves aren’t your thing.)  Click the image to view video from last year’s event.

Sunday, Sept 22nd
Napa’s Classic Winemakers

9:00 AM — Breakfast and Bubbles
Breakfast with Bubbles on Mumm's patioAfter a hard night of stomping grapes, you’ll need a breakfast with bubbles to get going.  And there’s no more scenic spot for sipping on bubbly than on Mumm’s patio (weather permitting) or glassed-in dining area.  

One can never tell what September mornings will bring.  But if it’s a clear Sunday you’ll watch hot air balloons as you enjoy breakfast.  Or maybe you’ll just want a cuppa java to get going – take it to go and stroll through Mumm’s famed photo gallery to start your day.  Your continental breakfast will provide just enough to get you off the launch pad – which is perfect, given that your three-course lunch is just a short time away…

11:30 AM — Mondavi Immersion
Our private tasting in Mondavi's barrel roomHow can an “insider’s tour” include wines carried in every wine shop around the world?  Because you’ll see it as no regular tourist does.  And because you’ll want to take home a deeper knowledge of this icon of the wine world to share with as many friends as possible.  Appreciating this winery’s impact on Napa, and the whole Mondo Vino, is your foundation for appreciating today’s entrepreneurs.  

You’ll begin with a vineyard tour hosted by a Mondavi’s historian, who will then guide us through the production facility and a private tasting of their Reserve wines in the breath-taking barrel room (above right). You’ll end your visit with a leisurely three-course lunch (with wine pairing) served in their hospitality facility.

2:30 PM — Restoring Inglenook!
Our private tasting and tour at the re-christened InglenookYou’ll enjoy a private tour and tasting at this facility, until recently known as Niebaum-Coppola/Rubicon Estates. This magnificent estate is home to one of the valley’s finest Bordeaux blends — Rubicon.  Is there a better way to learn how to detect the distinctive “Rutherford Dust” found in Cabernets from this exclusive part of Napa?  The short answer is no.

And the winery’s history is just as intriguing – it was Inglenook’s early history from the mid 1800’s that inspired owner Francis Ford Coppola to abandon plans for a simple “weekend get-away” in favor of re-building Inglenook.  After two decades and countless millions spent acquiring the property’s original vineyards, he’s now completed this Herculean task, and restored the property to its original name – Inglenook.  You’ll be among the early visitors to this re-named property, which never disappoints.

4:30 PM — Return to the hotel and spruce up for your intimate dinner.

6:00 PM – Merryvale by Candlelight
Your final dinner in the Merryvale Barrel RoomYou’ll have just enough time to freshen up and change for your final event in the valley –  your candlelight dinner amid century-old barrels at Merryvale.  You’ll find this the culinary and experiential highlight of your weekend, with a menu designed specifically for Merryvale’s library wines. This is an experience like no other so don’t forget your camera.

Monday, Sept. 23rd 9:00 AM — Swap phone numbers and email addresses with all your new friends of your final breakfast at the Marriott.  10:00 AM — First shuttle departs hotel San Francisco International Airport.

About Your Guide
Your tour guide will be Dave Chambers ( who spent time as a marketing consultant for wineries before launching the “Sideways Wine Club” for Fox Searchlight Pictures. He now curates an ever-evolving portfolio of artisanal wines for his adventurous wine club members and is a regular guest lecturer on California’s wine history for the SFSU Hospitality Management program.  Dave will co-host your weekend with Rich Gamble, the Publisher of Chicago Magazine.

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Dave the Wine Merchant

*Possible only if fully subscribed.

Nude Wine Harvest Demands New Phrase

You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase, “Once in a blue moon“, indicating something that doesn’t happen often.  A “Blue Moon” is the astronomical term for that rare month in which two full moons can be seen (about once every 2-3 years).  Oddly, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual color of the moon.

Nude grape harvest by the full moon?But there’s no phrase that describes the occurrence of two full moons in a single night.  And I think we need one.  At least, we will when Australian winemaker Mike Hayes adopts his latest plans to harvest by the light of the full moon, sans clothing.  And we’re weeks away from harvest in the Southern Hemisphere, so astronomers will have to work quickly.  I implore all such star gazers to put down your pens and the Times Crossword, gather ’round the water cooler and get to work.

Harvesting in the nude by the light of a full moon may seem like a thinly disguised stunt designed to gain visibility for his winery, Symphony Hill (a notion I’ve not yet written off!).  But the winery already enjoys considerable fame without resorting to cheap tricks – they’ve won armloads of gold medals and were recently listed as one of Australia’s 5-star wineries by the nation’s top guru, James Halliday.  Still, un-oaked Chardonnay enjoyed a bump in sales, presumably, after adopting the generic term “naked Chardonnay”, so who’s to deny the path to success?

Hayes says the idea was just part of the knowledge he brought home after studying ancient winemaking techniques while studying on his Churchill Scholarship.  The scholarship funds global travels so Hayes can study old world winemaking techniques and obscure grape varietals.  I want to get me one of them scholarships. 

Hayes says the ancient tradition of nude winemaking made sense.  Clothes made from animal hides were not easily washed, and quickly hosted numerous strains of bacteria.  Many of these microscopic bugs would have no affect on the wine, but a few did, and therefore wine was traditionally crushed by the feet of workers wearing nothing but their birthday suits.  

Odd, that.  I’d have thought the wine’s alcohol would have killed just about any unwanted bacteria.  But hey, who am I to put logic in the path of a good story?

Happy Merchant Cropped for webCheers,
Posted by (a fully clothed) Dave Chambers 


Memory Lane and the Oakville Grocery

Historic Oakville Grocery in Napa Valley wine country
Oakville Grocery reopens May 22nd!

You may have seen the news that the historic Oakville Grocery building, newly renovated, will be re-opening tomorrow.  I couldn’t help but smile at the news, as it brought back memories of my entry into the wine business.

Just across the street from the store, just about where the photo at left was taken, you’ll find the Cellar Door tasting room for participating producers from Napa Wine Company.  I worked there on weekends, under the patient and jovial tutelage of Andy Gridley (now of Gridley Family Cellars).  I spent my weeks working at Charles Schwab’s headquarters, and my weekends in Napa.  I stayed in the guest room of friends in St. Helena, and we spent my few non-working hours enjoying the many sites, sounds and tastes of the valley in the summer time.

Right around noon at the tasting room, Andy would say “I’ll buy if you fly”, and I’d venture out to forage for food at one of the small handful of nearby options.  Oakville Grocery was a favorite spot, full of hand-selected gourmet items targeted to tourists without budget restraints.  They also had a corner on the valley’s beautiful people, who seemed to rotate through their staff with regularity, and all of whom were surprisingly friendly, given the crush of people one encountered during peak hours.

I can’t wait to get to Napa soon, to see what the renovations have meant for this old icon.  Add it to your list as well, for your next trip to Napa wine country.  (and for help with your trip planning, check out the iPhone app – NapaWineries)

How To Not Die While Drinking Chinese Wine

By Jack Turley, Chinese Banquet Survivor

There are many spoken phrases that send shivers through my spine.  Perhaps the most frightening of all, uttered night after night during past business trips to China was “As our honored guest, we have a special surprise for you.  Tonight we are having a traditional Chinese banquet!”

Oh please God no.

how to not die while drinking Chinese wine
Author Jack Turley holding the honorific Chicken Head

I long ago fell in love with China, and it is still my favorite place in the world.  The people are amazing, the culture beyond compare, and the cities and countryside are mesmerizing.  The hospitality that a speaker from the West receives is remarkable. 

The food can be…uh…interesting.

I’m not one to talk trash about the textural subtleties of Duck Tongue, or think disparagingly about Chicken Claws (or even the more rare Chicken Beaks).  You won’t even see me cringe when given the traditional honored guest serving of Fish Eyeballs.  Unusual food aside, it is an incredible place, and I recommend that you put it at the top of your bucket list.

I spent most of my time in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou.  There were regional differences in the food, both subtle and extreme, but the one thing that unifies the palates of this geographically huge and diverse country is their wine.

It is awful.  I mean really awful.

All Chinese banquets have many things in common.  For instance, the tables are big (the smallest ones seat 12), round, and have a lazy Susan in the middle.  Upon those lazy Susans will be placed tons of food, and they will keep bringing more no matter what you say.  If you are foolish enough to clean your plate, (which insults your hosts by showing they did not provide enough food for his guests), people will take food off their plate and put it on yours.

Another commonality to Chinese banquets is that there will be toasts.  Lots of toasts.  And Chinese custom is not to say a quick sentence, tip your glass to the crowd, and have a sip of your drink.  Oh no.  Chinese toasts are only complete when your glass is empty, and as the guest of honor, there is no doubt that your glass will be kept full at all times.

The meal will not be considered a success unless each person at the table has made a toast (NOTE:  always try and sit at the smallest table).  Twelve people at your table means at least twelve toasts.  If you’re lucky, you will be at a very upscale restaurant with Australian, Chilean, or Argentinian wine.  On very rare occasions, you will be served French or American wine.  But most likely, you will be served something from China’s burgeoning wine industry.

Chinese wine is not all that bad.  It has a proven history as an industrial solvent, a bathroom disinfectant, and a valve lubricant.  That the rich, fertile wine regions of China receive their grape-enhancing sunlight through thick, smelly smog-filtered skies can only be seen as a positive.

Hey, they’re trying.  They’re really trying.  And given the resources being applied, it’s only a matter of time before it approaches international quality standards.

But for now, while being served a bottle of “Xanxchao Vineyards ’08 Reddish Grape”, you may wonder if your host is indeed trying to kill you.  Do not worry.  It is simply not so, no matter how much the wine’s afterburn makes you suspicious.

And if you follow my advice, based on my hard-earned experience, there is a way out of this.  My many  trips (and several stomach pumpings) have taught me that your secret weapon is in anticipating the toast.  The best way to do this is to always keep your eyes moving to see if someone is looking at you, about to raise a glass.  If you can see it coming, you have three plays available to you:

  1. Go for your cell phone – right as you see your host go for his glass of grape sludge, pick up your cell phone, look at it, raise your finger toward your host in that silent “so sorry, I have to take this” gesture, and walk away from the table.  With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to time your “call” to last for as many as three more toasts.
  2. Prepare a dash to the bathroom – as in the example above, anticipate and stand, saying in the only really important Chinese word you bothered to memorize, “cèsuǒ” (toilet).  You should be able to stay away from the table for at least six toasts, seven if you come back with your hand over your stomach and a pained expression on your face.
  3. Play the jetlag card – halfway through dinner, confide in your host that the jetlag is overpowering you, and it would bring honor to your family and glory to your company if you could be excused from the festivities early.  Do this even if it is your third week in China.

Someday China will emerge as one of the great wine making countries.  We’ll all be dead by then, but your grandchildren (or perhaps their grandchildren) will in the future enjoy wonderful wine, expertly crafted, and at a cost of only 12 cents a glass.  Until then, cover for me…I think they are about to do another toast.

How to not die while drinking Chinese wine
Jack Turley: Experienced Chinese Banquet Survivor


Pinot and Cannabis? Bloomberg Spills the Beans

dave the wine merchant specializes in pinot noir I know that Elin McCoy, a writer for Bloomberg’s leisure section, had a field day when she visited Peter Knez in Anderson Valley.  Peter is a former financial industry Titan Turned Gentleman Farmer, and he was the subject of Bloomberg’s recent article entitled “Wild West Pinot Draws Banker to Vineyards Among Cannabis Crops“.  

McCoy must have found the beautiful and quirky Anderson Valley to be a pleasant change from news of Occupiers, global financial problems, and Fund Manager indictments.  Best of all, she tasted some killer Pinot, which is always a great way to spend a day.

But it almost felt as if McCoy had asked me to recommend some of my favorite Anderson Valley Pinot growers.  In addition to Knez, – most of the producers she mentions have been included in my rotating portfolio of artisanal producers, which have been given a little additional limelight, below.  

Mythical Anderson VAlley
But first, just where is this mythical valley?  Described as one of the top ten wine getaway destinations, Anderson Valley runs for 15 miles, just about dead-center of Highway 128 as you drive from the ocean at its Northwestern end (just south of Mendocino) to its Southeasterly terminus in Cloverdale (in the Northern tip of Sonoma County).  This is an odd and rare orientation for a valley, as most valleys on the planet run North and South.  

And that’s exactly why this unique little spot is ideal for growing the cool-weather grape variety known as Pinot Noir – with its opening to the Pacific, the valley pulls the cool Pacific air inland to moderate naturally high temperatures, giving Anderson Valley cooler days and chilly nights all summer long.  Pinots from vineyards in this area are typified by aromas of cherry juice, spicy cedar,  and roses, with a leanness born of an acidic structure that makes them sure bets for pairing with a wide range of foods.

Car Trip Trivia
Here’s a little trivia you can share on the 40-minute drive from Cloverdale to Boonville.  When you first get on Highway 128, note that the water in the streams flow inland, into the Russian River watershed.  But once you come to the “town” (five run-down buildings, actually) of Yorkville, there is an undetectable shift in the liquid traffic control that directs water toward the Pacific.  And while you won’t be able to see any obvious division, you will note the change in direction of all the road-side streams.

Looking for the cannabis fields?  Try the same approach the DEA uses and see if you can spot the growing fields here on Google’s Satellite map.  And while the agricultural product of the green leafy variety might be the county’s number one cash crop, there’s no question that Anderson Valley owes its quaintness to the wine industry.

My Favorite Producers
McCoy mentions several of my favorite producers, which I’ve highlighted here:

  • Knez Winery – Peter and Heidi’s affordable 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot ($29) was selected for our most recent wine club shipment.  It is, perhaps, the best value in the valley.  Buy it here.
  • Breggo Cellars – This was the first Anderson Valley pinot that was ever selected for our club members, some three and a half years ago.  Their success has led to price inflation, however, and they are now a bit too rich for most of our selections.  Recently purchased by Cliff Lede, of Napa fame (just one of many recent purchases by big name outsiders)
  • Copain – Wells Guthrie crafts Pinots of great elegance, and his entry-level Anderson Valley wine is fairly affordable.  Try the last few bottles of his 2007 “Tous Ensemble” ($37), built from declassified barrels of his single vineyard Pinots.  Buy it here.
  • Anthill Farms – One of Wine & Spirit’s topp 100 wineries of 2011, this three-man operation has garnered raves from the start, and Winemaker Anthony Filiberti doubles as the craftsman behind the Knez wines as well.  Sadly, I have none of this wine in current inventory, and with more accolades than wine, these prices are not going down anytime soon.
  • Drew Family Cellars – Another long-time favorite of our club members, they recently enjoyed Drew’s 2008 Pinot from Rio Vista ($42).  And while that delicious wine is from the also notable Sta. Rita Hills appellation in the Central Coast, it was selected as a substitute for their Anderson Valley wines, which I thought didn’t quite match this wine.  Some years it excels, but 2008 it was merely good.  Buy it here
Another favorite she missed!
  • Phillips Hill – Any visit to Anderson Valley includes a stop at Libby’s for lunch and/or Lemon’s grocery store for provisions.  Well, Phillips Hill’s tasting room is smack dab between the two, and about as convenient as you can get, with their parking lot being the shoulder of Hwy 128.  And while McCoy didn’t mention them, she should have!  Elegant Pinots (including this 2008 from Comptche Ridge, $40), that are built to age, and surprisingly affordable Gewurztraminer ($18) and Chablis-style Chardonnay ($29).  Artist Toby Hill is the man behind the wine, and their crafty labels and visitors will often find him (or his alluring partner, Natacha) lurking in the office  just behind the tasting bar. 
I must close with a confession that I hesitate to further promote this little slice of heaven, as the Anderson Valley is ill suited to hordes of tourists.  But my job as a curator of wine is to share my discoveries, and to help you find your next favorite.  One of these is a very likely candidate.