Feb 28, 2012

Livermore Valley pairings shine at winemaker dinner

My favorite pairing of the evening: Mesquite-Grilled Flat Iron and 2008 Nth Degree Syrah
Last Friday night I attended Livermore Valley's "Taste of the Best Winemaker Dinner," featuring medal winners from the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (I was covering the dinner for Tasting Panel magazine).

The event was held at Wente Vineyards, where Catering Executive Chef Jeff Farlow created very successful pairings (see below).

I've included each wine's SFChron Competition award in the lineup:

2009 Cuda Ridge Wines Merlot, Livermore Valley
Best of Class
Ahi Tuna Carpaccio
Black Olives, Pickled Red Onions, Fried Caperberries,
Micro Greens, Herb Oil
2009 Bent Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley
Best of Class
Creamy Herbed Polenta
Wild Mushroom-Oven Dried Tomato Ragout,
Charred Red Peppers, Focaccia Crisp
2008 McGrail Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Livermore Valley
Red Sweepstake Winner
Smoked Grimaud Farms Guinea Hen Confit
Braised White Beans, Radicchio, Bacon Broth
2008 Nth Degree Syrah, Livermore Valley
Best of Class
Mesquite Grilled Flat Iron
Carrot Puree, Roasted Cipollini, Salsa Verde

Another commitment forced me to leave before the dessert reception. Held in a separate room, the desserts were paired with a specially selected wine from each winery.

 BTW, my favorite pairing was the last--the Syrah with the mesquite-grilled flat iron steak. Each component was perfect on its own, but melded together in a way that transported me heavenward. Yummy!

The richness of the Ahi Tuna Carpaccio was refined by a surprising (and appealing) tart-salt edge, all of it mellowed and coming together beautifully with a sip of Cuda Ridge Wines Merlot.

Feb 21, 2012

Wine tip for Oscar night

Wondering what wine to serve at your Academy Awards party on Sunday? Here's a perfect--and perfectly appropriate--choice: the Director's Collection of wines from the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, owned by the legendary filmaker.

The winery knows it's on to a good thing with Awards night, too. One of the ideas they've had fun dreaming up is a $65 "Oscar Gift Set," which includes one bottle each of the Director's Cabernet Sauvignon and Director's Chardonnay; Fleur de Sel caramel popcorn; black truffle and cheddar popcorn; red wine snaps; white wine snaps; and Francis Coppola Winery chocolate.

You can also buy the $80 Director's Four Pack (Director's Cut Pinot Noir 2010, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Chardonnay 2009, and Merlot 2008). Or you can buy just one in the cast of Director's Cut characters: Cab Sauv (about $21), Chard ($17), Merlot ($21) or Pinot Noir ($21).

And someone at Coppola had a good time coming up with this passage: "The Director's wines are made of grapes carefully sourced from various plots of land throughout the Sonoma Valley. The result is a complex finished production with the style to match the greatest cinematic achievements of the year."

For more info or to purchase, visit

Feb 16, 2012

Free until Saturday: Top 10 San Francisco travel apps

Today and tomorrow you can download my top-rated travel app, San Francisco Waterfront, along with 9 other top-rated apps covering the San Francisco Bay Area. For free!

Why? Most of us app authors have known each other a long time through various travel writer organizations, and we've decided to collaborate on this giveaway. Many thanks to Karen  Misuraca, author of many print guidebooks and the wonderful travel app, California Coast North, for spearheading this project.

To download the apps, go to this page on Karen's site.You'll see all the apps listed and you can choose which ones to download. Ignore the prices you see: when you get to the iTunes store, the apps will be shown to be free. 

Download the apps and then come visit and leave your heart in San Francisco!

U.S. wine exports reach new $1.4 billion high

Click to enlarge. To convert liters to gallons, multiply liters by .26418. To convert liters to cases, divide liters by 9.
The Wine Institute sent news via press release early this morning that U. S. wine exports increased 21.7% in 2011 over the previous year, for a record high of $1.39 billion. Ninety percent of the nation's wine exports are from California.

Here's the entire release:


SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. wine exports, 90% from California, reached a new record of $1.39 billion in winery revenues in 2011, an increase of 21.7% compared to 2010. Volume shipments were up 5.8% to 455.7 million liters or 50.6 million nine-liter cases. 

“The quality, diversity and value of California wines have propelled us to another record year for wine exports,” said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, Wine Institute President and CEO.  “Our success in removing trade barriers and opening new markets as well as significant marketing investments by our wineries will allow us to reach our goal of $2 billion in exports by 2020.”

“Our global Discover California Wines campaign with its link to California’s iconic and aspirational lifestyle resonates with consumers, media and trade throughout the world,” said Linsey Gallagher, Wine Institute’s International Marketing Director.  “We have significantly increased our focus on and investment in the China market over the past year in this top priority market.  Our goal is to connect the lifestyle that is associated with our state with the understanding of California as a world class wine producing region.”

“Wine Institute’s work with the U.S. government and key international organizations such as the World Wine Trade Group, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and FIVS continues to have a valuable impact in facilitating trade.  Export growth in 2011, however, reinforces the need to continue eliminating unreasonable trade barriers, particularly in the Pacific Rim where wineries are burdened by protectionist tariffs and duplicative regulations costing Asia-Pacific economies close to $1 billion per year,” said Wine Institute’s International Trade Policy Director Tom LaFaille.

Thirty-four percent of U.S. wine exports by value were shipped to the 27-member countries of the European Union, accounting for $478 million of the revenues, up 10% from 2010.  Volume shipments to the EU reached 28 million cases in 2011, edging up 1.4% from the previous year.  Other top markets were: Canada, $379 million, up 23%; Hong Kong, $163 million, up 39%; Japan, $105 million, up 39%; and China, $62 million, up 42%.

“California wines continue to grow in popularity with both trade and consumers in the Canadian market,” according to Rick Slomka, Wine Institute Trade Director for Canada.  “Some of the recent growth comes from new brands with eye-catching labels and clever names.  Also contributing to this growth is the ongoing strength of the Canadian dollar which has made California wines more competitive compared to wines from other major wine regions.  Our continued success with premium wines in the Quebec market and in LCBO VINTAGES, indicates that Canadian consumers see good value in California at all price points,” said Slomka.

“In a challenging economy, the UK wine market does not stand still, and new sectors and opportunities have arisen.  California has been responsive to these, and has built on the bedrock of its major branded wines with successes in the independent retail sector and on-trade outlets.  Growth in these areas introduces our wines to new audiences, and enables California to demonstrate its diversity at higher price points.  This growth is by no means exhausted, and augurs well for the future here,” said John McLaren, Wine Institute Trade Director for the United Kingdom. 

"California wines fared well in most European countries.  In Sweden for instance, sales growth of California wines were the highest of all wine supplying countries in Sweden.  The story was similar in Germany, where California again experienced the highest growth rate of all wine exporting countries.  However, a significant portion of California wine imported into Germany is re-exported and actually sold in other European markets.  Additionally, as a word of caution, the 10% change in the Euro/Dollar exchange rate of the past few months may have an effect on exports to Europe in early 2012,” said Paul Molleman, Wine Institute’s Trade Director for Continental Europe.

“The outlook in the world’s emerging wine markets remains positive as most markets continued to post strong gains in 2011.  Hong Kong remained California’s third largest export market by value, although growth slowed to 39% from 150% in 2010 compared to 2009.  China’s growth remained buoyant at 42% compared to 2010 and is now the fifth largest export market by value, up two places from last year.  Vietnam posted the strongest year-over-year gains (+266%) among the top 25 markets.  Elsewhere, there is significant optimism in South Korea due to the recent ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and in Mexico where the 20% import tax on California wines was repealed in late October 2011," commented Eric Pope, Wine Institute’s Regional Director, Emerging Markets. 

“U.S. bulk wine exports to Japan have been growing as major Japanese importers are now importing popular-priced California wine brands in bulk and bottling in Japan.  This reduces the burdensome import duty to a certain extent and makes inventory control easier.  As per bottled U.S. wine, Japan is now importing more expensive California wines than in the past.  Unlike other new world wine exporting countries, California wine is well represented at high-end restaurants because of our successful annual restaurant promotion,” reported Wine Institute Trade Director in Japan, Ken-ichi Hori. 

Since 1985, Wine Institute has served as the administrator of the Market Access Program, an export promotion program managed by the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.  For more information, see:

Feb 8, 2012

Win a Charles Krug t-shirt

Here's something fun.

Founded in 1861, Charles Krug Winery is the oldest winery in Napa Valley. Krug pre-dates a lot of devices that have been around forever, and which we take for granted -- like lightbulbs, airplanes and the telephone.

The winery's longevity gave its marketing department an idea: they would show just how very old Krug is by pairing the invention of ancient devices with Krug's existence. As an example, take a look at that photo of the Wright Brothers at the top. They invented powered flight in 1903, but Charles Krug had already been around for 42 years at that point, which leads to the photo's quote: "Charles Krug, always the right wine, quite possibly a Wright wine."

About that t-shirt...

Go on over to Krug's Facebook page and see if you can come up with a clever caption for the Statue of Liberty photo you find there (she didn't arrive in the US until 1886, 5 years after Krug had been founded). If you can dream up a winning quote for the photo, you will win what has been described to me as "a very special t-shirt" and get Krug bragging rights in the bargain.

Good luck!

Feb 7, 2012

Maybe lard's not so bad after all...?

There’s been a lard conversation going on lately, one which seems to be re-thinking the artery-clogging dangers of lard (rendered pig fat). I hadn't really paid much attention until a short audio article entitled “Who Killed Lard?” was broadcast on NPR’s “Planet Money.”

Apparently there is some evidence that lard has gotten the kind of bad rap that's not entirely deserved.

A century ago, lard was used in every kitchen in America. It was the #1 cooking fat, used by everyone. But when lard fell from grace, it was a quick and steep plunge.

Author Robert Smith traces that fall from grace: “Lard didn’t just fall out of favor,” he writes. “It was pushed. It was a casualty of a battle between giant business and corporate interests.”

Smith refers to the old-time, big-money lard business as the “lard-industrial complex.” It’s an amusing, and at times fascinating, tale. You can read the audio text or listen to the audio here.

Feb 2, 2012

5 Food trends for Super Bowl Sunday

The National Restaurant Association estimates that 48 million Americans will order takeout/delivery food while watching the Super Bowl this Sunday, February 5.

The five most popular food items of the day: salsa/dips/spreads (69% of survey respondents), chicken wings (63%), pizza (61%), desserts (50%), and healthful food items (42%).

In addition, 12 million people are expected to visit a restaurant or bar to watch the big game. Younger adults 18-34 years old constitute 52% of this group. The next highest percentage is people with children, at 40%.

People on the West Coast are nearly twice as likely to watch the game at a restaurant or bar as people on the east coast (9% in the west, 4% in the east). This is probably due to the earlier kick-off time in the west.

Feb 1, 2012

Best glasses to savor single malt and other whiskeys

Single Malt and other fine whiskey fans know that the shape of a glass can maximize enjoyment of its contents. Part of this has to do with aesthetics—the simple pleasure of holding and admiring a beautifully-designed glass. But equally important is that a glass with the right size and shape enhances aromatics, and thus taste.

Back in 1992, in a quest to develop the ultimate whiskey glass, famed Austrian glassmaker Riedel brought together a panel of Scotch whiskey experts to test nineteen different glass shapes. Later, with the help of master distillers in Scotland, the company continued making refinements.

The result? The perfect glass for any fine whiskey. Shaped like an elongated thistle on a truncated stem, the Riedel whiskey glass possesses a slightly outturned lip. This long glass, warmed by the  hand, permits the release of aromatics perceived by the nose in a slowly-unfolding, multi-layered sequence of discovery. And that’s even before the shaped lip directs the whiskey to the tip of the tongue, from where it expands into the mouth for that first velvet feel.

Experts consider Riedel’s line of glasses to be the finest for wines and sprits. Robert Parker, writing in The Wine Advocate, stated that “the finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel.”

Riedel makes two versions of its whiskey glass. I don’t recommend the expensive, hand-blown Riedel Sommeliers Series Single Malt Whiskey Glass, which cost about $55 each. They’re extremely thin and--a major drawback for me!--they break easily.

However, the machine-made, reasonably-priced Riedel Vinum Single Malt Whiskey Glasses offer beauty, utility, and value: a set of two costs $47. The glasses are beautiful and thin (but not so thin that they break if you look at them the wrong way). They possess no “machine” seams, and the Riedel name is etched on the base. They stand 4.5” high and hold 7 ounces. Although they’re dishwasher-safe, hand-washing is recommended.

And if you want to learn more about single malt scotch, you can't do better than British writer Michael Jackson's classic Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch. It's the 2015 updated edition.