"Will Date For Food"

Class_prep_2This week’s wine class was the last event to be held at the Reaves Gallery on Market Street.  The gallery is relocating to Gough Street, in the hip-and-booming Hayes Valley.  It is a great location, complete with the lack of parking which seems to be a badge of honor among true hot spots.  I’m looking forward to holding next month’s class in the new location.

I share a similar aesthetic with gallery owner Sharon Reaves.  We both feature products from boutique producers, we personally select each item, we are doing what we love, and we’re figuring out a way to pay the bills as we go.  When asked about the rent on her new space, it was Sharon who said "Who needs to eat?  I can always date for food!"  which we thought would make an interesting sign to put in the gallery window.  Printed in crayon, of course, on a flap torn from a corrugated box.

Class FavoritesCimg1261
The guests began with some exercises to help focus our sense of taste and smell – sensory stretching exercises of a sort – then launched into a blind tasting exercise.  The objective of this friendly competition was to identify each wine’s grape varietal by correctly matching the wine with its printed description.  The six wines we tasted:

1. Beckmen Vineyards, 2006 Sauvignon Blanc.  $16

2. Costa de Oro, 2005 Estate Chardonnay, $21

3. Barham-Mendolsohn, 2004 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $42

4. Benjamin Silver Wines, 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, Casa Blanca Vineyard, $24

5. Andrew Murray, 2005 Grenache, $29 (2006 available here)

6. Barrel 27, 2005 Syrah "Head Honcho", $35

(Shop for these and other wines here)

John_cleese_confused_2Though there were a few "gimmies" in the line-up, for the most part these wines were not easily identified – the pinot showing more barnyard than most domestics, the aged Cabernet expressing unique characteristics of its origin, and the Grenache being almost as big as a light Syrah.  The class did quite well, with four guests tying for first place after reversing just two wines.  Only one guest mis-identified every wine.  He received a consolation prize of the John Cleese educational wine video, after which he reported having had great fun and promised to return next month.

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote
"Real joy comes not from ease, or riches, or the praise of others, but from doing something worthwhile"
Wilfred Grenfell (1865-1940)


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Fallen Angels, Rotten Peaches & Christmas Pageants

A Christmas Story

Rotten_peachImagine you live in the Midwest.  It’s the middle of a cold December, and your two boys are about to leave the house to perform in their school’s Christmas pageant.  They’re choristers, and are reluctantly wearing their white choir robes with a halo fashioned out of coat hangers and tinsel.  Now imagine that this is as close to angelic as your boys have ever been.

On their way out the door you say – "Keep an eye out for us in the audience, and don’t be late – no dawdling on your way to school!"

As they walk to their pageant, they cut through an alley.  It’s their preferred path to school, as it’s the route for the garbage truck, and interesting detritus sometimes rewards the observant pedestrian.

And right there, there in the the alley, they see an impossible site.  Somehow, in the middle of December, there lies a peach.  Partly rotten, for sure, but still whole, and the first peach they’ve seen for seven months.

So, being boys, what do they do?  (If you paused to answer, you’re unfamiliar with the way of young boys.)  They pick it up, and then they throw it.

Fallen_angels_choir_boysThey throw it towards the street at the end of the alley.  Where a car is approaching, unseen, from the left.  A car with its passenger window down a few inches.  The peach and the car, in some bizarre form of pre-destiny, arrive at the same time.  As the peach passes through the open window, most of it comes to rest on the young woman in the passenger seat.  A young woman dressed in her finest date clothes.  Clothes she has specially chosen to wear on her big date with the High School quarterback.  Who is driving the car.  And who expresses his unhappiness in a manner that leaves your boys rather disheveled, wet and battered, with tinsel dangling from their non-circular halos now worn at a rakish angle.

And that’s how you next see them, from your seats in the audience, as the curtain opens and they rush into place just in time to sing the opening notes of the Christmas pageant. 

After the concert, over dinner at home, you hear the repeated proclamation of their innocence.  Of their victimhood.  And being your boys, you aren’t quite sure what to believe.  But you love them anyway, and it becomes one of the first Christmas stories you repeat every year.

Dave_at_champagne_partyHappy Holidays, to all parents of holiday imps and charmers, and to anyone who has ever been one.
Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s posting was largely based on the life of Bill Fritsch who, many years ago, was one of the characters in the story.


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Wines of Persuasion – Our 2007 Olive Harvest

Olive_harvest_3December 1, 2007 
What wines do you use to inveigle?  Although wine’s seductive qualities are well known, I’m speaking of cooperation of a different kind.  In our case, we needed to convince friends to give up a couple valuable weekend days to help with our olive harvest at Lila Farms.

Although we have three olive harvests under our belt, we thought this was our first with sufficient fruit and ripeness to attempt an estate bottling.  Ooops.  This season, our year’s worth of solitary, blister-inducing, back-breaking, sweat stained, knee-cracking labor returned only 351 pounds of olives, or 4.5 gallons of olive oil.  Three gallons less than last year’s crop.

But the "Green Acres" woes of weekend farming don’t tell today’s story.  Today we speak of the harvest party, the food and wine celebration that encourages friends and relatives to return, year after year.  You see, orchards of our size must be harvested by hand, many hands actually, until we are large enough to justify a more efficient means.

Now, for those who’ve never harvested olives, let me assure you that pulling olive after olive off of branch after branch quickly grows mind-numbing.  But this slow, deliberate, berry-by-berry task encourages conversations not possible in, say, the fast-moving environment of the grape harvest, where the fruit grows cooperatively in convenient clusters just waiting to be severed from the vine.  When harvesting olives, people have time to catch up with friends they haven’t seen since last year’s harvest party.  News comes out about job changes, ailing parents, marriages, divorces, raising kids… everything.

Olive_pickers Nick Tucker, one of this weekend’s intrepid volunteers, nicknamed this social aspect "the Talking Trees" after the bits of conversation one overhears while peering out from inside a heavily-laden tree.  Voices without faces reconnecting with equally anonymous listeners somewhere out there beyond the olives in front of you.

Dscn1608_2Tree house fantasies and ATV trailer rides may have provided the memorable highlights for the kids.  For the adults, it was the Talking Trees and the food and (of course) wine, served tree-side on our rolling, ATV-drawn, makeshift bar.

Our olive oil is of excellent quality, with lots of the pepperiness contributed by the valued phenolics and anti-oxidents that make olive oil so healthy.  It’s not a cooking oil, but is excellent as a vinaigrette or when drizzled on top of pizzas, pasta, belly buttons or foot massages.  And to accompany such gastronomic delights, I recommend some great vinous ones.

Which begs the question "what wines would you choose if you had to convince friends to provide free labor on a cold December day?"  Ahhh, we have just the ticket – Pull out a few large format bottles and then throw in some of our "Sideways" favorites, such as…

Amcirclelogo111Andrew Murray Vineyard, 2005 Grenache, $30 (Click to Buy) With its typical flirtatious personality, this Grenache offers enough billowing aromas to double as a pleasant potpourri.  But don’t waste it like that.  Use its charms to lure your friends into your own celebration of harvest, year end, holidays, and family.  And to accompany the spice of the grenache, try it with some nice peppery olive oil drizzled on top of most any meat, particularly anything grilled, such as the carne asada at Saturday’ fete!

Isabelle200 Au Bon Climat, 2005 Pinot Noir "Isabelle", $50 (Click to Buy) – Named after Winemaker Jim Clendenen’s daughter. This wine is blended from the best barrels of ABC’s single-vineyard Pinot Noirs (Bien Nacido, Sanford & Benedict, Talley Rincon, Mt. Carmel…the proportions are a very proprietary secret). It is the winery’s premiere Pinot Noir, and has just been named to the Chronicle’s #1 Pinot Noir in it’s "Top 100 Wines of 2007".  But more importantly, this wine is food friendly, with particular affinities for anything grilled or smoked.  Such as the smoked salmon appetizer on Saturday’s menu.

Uvaggio_arneis_label_ezr L’Uvaggio di Giacomo 2006 Vermentino, $12 (Click to Buy)  “With its natural acidity, moderate alcohol, and herb-and-citrus nuance, this wine is a natural seafood partner.  Dances well with Thai or Vietnamese or other cuisines that deliver a bit of spice.”  We selected this wine specifically because of the spice in one of the dishes we served – the Runaway Chicken Chowder – a recipe contributed by our friend Laura Nagle, and soon to appear in our long-delayed family cook book. 

Get Laura Nagle’s Runaway Chicken Chowder Recipe Here!
(Perfect with the Uvaggio Vermentino, and unsurpassed at inveigling!)


Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant



Today’s Quote:
"Observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew."
Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, AD121-180


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That's it for this week and I am outta here!

Map_france_loire_2This space is going silent for a while.  My family and I are spending some time in the Loire Valley, thanks to Superwife, whose first choice would have been somewhere in Africa or Asia.  You see, before I got married my goal was to spend vacations in one of the globe’s best winegrowing regions.  Immersion in the local food and wine is the best way to expand one’s appreciation and understanding.  And love.

But Superwife made this a conditional concession – we could tour the Loire as long as I was not running off to every internet cafe to post new articles, process orders, manage club members or any of the other duties I take on as Chief Cook and Bottle Washer at SidewaysWineClub.com.  Don’t worry, orders will be filled almost as quickly as we are known for, and I’ll come back home with a plethora of posting possibilities.

I’ll be back in touch later this month, after processing our club orders on the 16th.  Meanwhile – pop the cork on a bottle of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Franc for me, and I’ll raise a toast in your direction.

Swclogogs3x3_2 Cheers,

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant


Today’s Quote is from Oscar Wilde

Too much work, and no vacation,
Deserves at least a small libation.
So hail! my friends, and raise your glasses,
Work’s the curse of the drinking classes.
~ (I wishe he’d known about www.davethewinemerchant.com!)



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I see sheep and dream of lambchops and pinot!

Sheep_dog_trialsThis weekend I was in Anderson Valley, home to some of our state’s best Pinot Noir vineyards as well as our Lila Farms olive ranch.  Sunday morning was spent watching the sheep dog trials at the Boonville fair grounds, part of the Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show. It wa day of rodeo, funnel cakes, carnival rides, produce contests, and, of course, apple pie. But the highlight for me was the sheepdog trials, which I can’t watch without rooting for the dogs. They are entrancing.

Boonville is a throw-back to an America before fast food, chain stores or strip malls.  As Superwife explains "People want to be where nothing is.  It’s kind of ironic, really".  But who would have thought Boonville’s sheepdog event would make the cover story of NYT online today?

I always have wine on my mind.  And I’m always looking for new ideas for this blog.  So as I sat there watching the sheep trials… I started craving a glass of pinot and our favorite recipe for roast lamb.  Whoops, now I’m drooling again, so I’m going to quickly give you the recipe and send you to the pinot section of our online store, then get an early lunch…

The Recipe – "Dead Easy Rosemary Lamb"
Superwife and I have been working for more than 20 months on a cookbook of almost-lost family recipes (it would have been complete long ago if not for the fact we’ve overloaded the capabilities of the software at Booksmart.com, which we do not recommend for serious projects, no matter how enticing their website!!)  Anyway, this recipe is from that effort, and is a contribution from our friend Eileen Loustau (nee Utter).


3 1/2 – 4 lbs. bone-in leg of lamb

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with 1 oz sea salt and 1 Tbsp olive oil

3-5 Rosemary sprigs ~ 6 inches long


Heat oven to 375.  Crush garlic on cutting board, using the oil and salt as grit.  Spread evenly on lamb and rub well.

Place on a wire rack in a roasting pan with an inch of water in the bottom.  Spread Rosemary sprigs around the roast and place in oven.  Calculate timing as follows – 15 minutes per pound plus an extra 15 minutes (for rare). 

Remove from oven and cover with foil.  Let rest for 15 minutes before carving.  Serve with a great pinot, as follows:

Avpn05 See our Pinot Selections Here!

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

Today’s Quote from Dr. Grant Colfax, Boonville native

"Sheepdog trials are a moment where everything seems to be in balance.  It’s what everyone wants America to look like. It’s an illusion we all collectively embrace.” and so do we at www.SidewaysWineClub.com



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The Fine Art of Spitting

Tim McDonald spits at SFIWC
Tim McDonald – an A+ Spitter at the ’09 SFIWC!

Now, in fairness, tasting six or eight 1-ounce wine samples doesn’t exactly strain one’s liver or raise one’s BAC to dangerous levels.  And the lack of spitters at public tastings is not unusual.  In fact, finding a high percentage of spitters at any wine gathering pretty much assures you it’s a trade tasting.  Those in the trade not only spit, we take pride in it.  Competitive pride.

I’d like to tell you I’m the most accurate wine spitter you’ll ever meet.  That’s what I’d like to tell you.  The truth is that in the realm of professional spitters I come in at, oh, maybe a C.

My limited spitting skills became painfully clear some years ago during a barrel tasting at Napa’s Swanson Winery.  Marco Capelli was their winemaker (now a consulting winemaker in Placerville) and our host for the tasting.   He started the tasting by placing a 5-Gallon plastic bucket in the center of the floor before pulling a barrel sample with the wine thief.  He dispensed a small taste into each of our glasses as he told us about the wine.  One by one, each of us sniffed, sipped and then, taking turns at the spit bucket, bowed our head so that spitting was a combination of gravity and our natural-born ability to dribble.

Then Marco stopped talking and took a small sip.  He performed the requisite swirl and swish, considered it for an instant, and then stood where he was as he let fly a solid, cylindrical stream of wine.  It was heard more than seen, hitting the bucket with such authority that not a single drop had enough nerve to defy the boundary of the bucket.  He was standing comfortably upright, a full four feet from the bucket.

Later, when I could pull him aside, I asked about his enviable spitting technique.  As I dabbed errant wine stains off my shirt, he explained the basics of spitting like a pro:

“First”, he said, “to taste a wine adequately you need far less than most would think – half an ounce is more than enough.  This small amount also helps maintain an accurate spit. When ready, simply pucker your lips and tighten your cheeks (note, your mouth cheeks).  Flatten your tongue so it seals up tight against the molars on each side, allowing the wine to collect between your tongue and the roof of your mouth.  Then quickly force your tongue up towards your teeth.”

“After that it’s all about getting the right muscle control and pressure – just practice in the shower until you can maintain a solid stream of water that accurately hits the target.  I use my shower drain for target practice every morning.”

Well, I’ve been following his advice for a dozen years now, and I’m still not a Grade-A spitter.  But I can stand in the cellar with the best of them and issue forth a stream of sufficient force and accuracy so that I can avoid the heave-ho – one must exhibit sufficient spitting prowess to be worthy of tasting next to the winemaker.

And of course, one must also be able to say something insightful and intelligent about the wine.  But that’s a topic for another posting.

(Related reading – Jancis Robinson’s “How To Taste”, where you’ll find a one-page spitting tutorial buried amidst a mountain of other valuable material.)


Dave the Wine Merchant