Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gone Eatin' (and drinkin')

I will be taking off for a quick one week trip to Paris and Champagne tomorrow. Guess I'm a sucker for a cheap roundtrip ticket email offers. Speaking of email offers, this little rest will allow me some time to de-compress before helping to source many an email offer of my own at work - beginning April 1st I'll be buying Spanish, Portuguese and South American wines for K&L.

I might update or post a few photo's from France, but no guarantees. I will be sure to write up various parts of the trip after I return, however.

A la prochain....

Monday, March 23, 2009

A grenache hater's tale of one '05 Cotes du Rhone

Grenache is hot. It gets too ripe. It's all fruit, no nuance. It's part of the reason why many well informed, particularly astute and, well, particular wine drinkers have all but abandoned Spanish wines.

Personally I detest most Chateauneuf du Pape. Many Cotes du Rhone strike me as all fruit, no acid, occasionally prematurely oxidizing, boring red wines. Garnacha from Spain is occasionally interesting, but you need to be incredibly selective to find a good one.

Well, leave it up to Terroir to serve up one of the brightest, most delicious and fun to drink bottles of southern Rhone wine I have yet to have, the 2005 Eric Texier St Gervais. Eric Texier gets lots of ink (perhaps I should say 'screen play') on wine blogs. He makes wine sourced from the Maconnais, northern Rhone as well as the southern Rhone. As one would expect for a wine of this quality, the vines are grown naturally, with cover crops between rows and occasional tilling to loosen the soil, which consists of decomposed limestone, clay and gravel. Located on a south facing vineyard in the relatively cooler climate of the Rhone village of St Gervais, vines (predominately grenache) average 80 years of age.

While Texier makes a wide range of wines from a number of different vineyards, the wines are each fermented near their respective source vineyard, and then aged in traditional 228 liter wood barrels and larger demi-muids (450 liters) in his cellar outside of Lyon (Beaujolais).

It's quite unusual for wines from the warmer southern Rhone to go through elevage in Beaujolais, where the cellar temperature is cooler and more steady. Just as I imagine it is unusual to transfer grapes immediately after harvesting to refrigerated trucks and then on to the winery. This attention to detail, combined with the excellent vineyards Texier owns and sources, surely are key factors in producing some of the most lively and unique expressions of grenache based wines in the world. If you haven't already, you should try them sometime.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Released in July 1984 on SST Records, Zen Arcade won instant critical praise for its blend of hardcore, enduring melodies and boundary pushing aesthetic. In other words, this was not your older brother's hardcore - far from it. Easily the most important record from Husker Du, many people rightfully call it a visionary work which would, seven years ahead of its time, lead to the commercial predominance of power pop and so-called alternative music (remember MTV's 120 minutes, then later the more mass marketed 'buzz' video selections?) Between their formation in 1979 and breakup in 1987, Husker Du's work essentially paved the way for everyone that followed, from the Pixies to Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr to the Gin Blossoms.

I'll always look at Husker Du as one of those rare personal discoveries, not something recomended by friends or my musical mentor, older brother extraordinaire Michael Manekin. As I recall, I was thumbing through a copy of Alternative Press, reading a Bob Mould interview as he must have been promoting the debut album from his second band, Sugar. I think I was 13 or so at the time. Shortly thereafter, I purchased a copy of Husker Du's last album, Warehouse: Songs and Stories, and from there would buy each of their other studio records.

Zen Arcade is an important record. Clocking in at over 70 minutes, the double LP is ambitious in length alone, in a time when most albums were significantly shorter than they are now. There are standard two minute hardcore tunes, proto indie rock pop songs, a solo acoutic guitar and vocals song, as well as a whole lot of distorted, fuzzed out guitar, feedback and tape loops. It adds up to quite a powerful listening experience, one where I often times have a tough time sitting still and listening; the record has always caused me to get up and walk around, or in the case of yesterday's listening during Grant Hart's brilliant, intensely melodic 'Somewhere,' literally get up and take a break from listening. The melodies in songs like 'Broken Home, Broken Heart', 'Chartered Trips' and 'Whatever' seem to be hard-wired in my brain and are unforgettable.

A concept album, Zen Arcade touches on themes such as disillusionment, failed relationships and an inability to live a fulfilling, stable life. Though I paid little attention to the lyrics when I first discovered the record (not a huge loss, as one of the album's flaws is the poor, low level recording of vocals). What I was focusing on more was Bob Mould's disturbed growl, Grant Hart's anguished yells, Greg Norton's impressively steady and accurate (even at supercharged tempo) bass playing, and plenty of Mould's punk meets rockabilly guitar heroics. In between there was the high pitched repetitive calls in 'Hare Krishna,' the slow, spooky, churning tape loop driven 'Tooth Fairy & the Princess" as well as the album's closer, the fourteen minute avant jazz inflected opus 'Reoccurring Dreams.' Once again, not just another hardcore record.

Zen Arcade shows what can happen when a talented, dedicated band masters their chosen genre and reaches outside of it, in this case laying the foundation for a completely new style of music to come.

Oh, I highly recommend that you check out long-time Rolling Stone correspondent David Fricke's review from February 1985. He pretty much nails it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hüsker Dü Review for You

It's a double LP, so the review may or may not go up today. Either way, here's a track to get you ready for the post-punk trio with one of the biggest sounds in the past thirty years, and for that matter, ever, in the history of pop music.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Farming Dry

I ended last week reading an interesting article in the SF Chronicle about the emergence in popularity of dry farmed fruit. Not to belabor what may seem an obvious definition, dry farmed means that no watering or in the case of modern, larger scale farming, drip irrigation, is used during the growing season. A few smaller growers in drought prone northern california were profiled, describing how eliminating irrigation resulted in smaller, but more intensely flavored and better quality fruit. I can personally attest to this, having enjoyed dry farmed early girl tomatoes from the Santa Cruz mountains last summer and finding them to be amongst the most flavorful tomatoes I have ever eaten. Of course, besides fruit quality, a primary reason for dry farming would simply be the serious drought in which California finds itself.

As it relates to wine, many regions throughout the world practice drip irrigation. Mendoza, Argentina. The Colchagua Valley in Chile. South Australia. Even Ribera del Duero in Spain. Here in California, irrigation from Mendocino county all the way to the most southerly wine AVA's is the rule rather than the exception. That having been said, I recently tasted a line-up of wines from Qupe with Bob Lindquist. Amongst a strong line-up (if you haven't tasted these wines before, they have good acidity, balance, and true varietal character), one of the most expressive wines was an '05 Bien Nacido Syrah. Though it was a very dry, sunny year (not unusual for Santa Barbara county), apparently it had rained a lot the past few years. As a result, the drip irrigation was hardly implemented, and according to Bob the fruit was among the best quality he had ever seen.

Past rainfall, as well as the existence of a water table at a certain depth below ground, are two critical elements of successful dry farming in dry climates. What I am still grappling with, though, is why more smaller wineries throughout the world are not dry farming. Yes, it's more labor intensive and results in less productive vines, but if you're relatively small and want to produce good wine, then aren't lots of quality time in the vineyard and less productive vines two things that you're already seeking out?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Contigo: Very good Spanish tapas in SF

This past Friday, I had the pleasure of eating at an authentic, Catalan inspired tapas restaurant which recently opened up in Noe Valley. Contigo is the vision of Brett Emerson, who apparently had been in the process of opening his restaurant for the better part of two and a half years (read more about the struggle on his blog here). Yes, between financing, build out, licensing, staffing and many other considerations, opening up a restaurant has the potential of testing even the most patient of business owners. Well I'm glad that Emerson and his business partner (front of house manager and girlfriend Elan Drucker) perservered. The fact that the space is as green as it is, from building materials all the way up to choice of a printer for their business cards, is an added bonus. As far as first rate regional food experiences go, Contigo is a great addition to any San Francisco resident's list of go to places in town. And if you're out of town, on the prowl for tapas, Contigo should be at the top of your short list. For the New York tapas fans, think Casa Mono or Tia Pol. Otherwise, the only other comparisons would be the more contemporary (but not overly so with regard to foams, quotations and precious plating) tapas bars in Spain.

What follows is not a proper restaurant review, but rather some captioned photographs of the food. I'm sure that I'll be back soon to further explore the menu and enjoy more of what's on offer. If you're in the area, I suggest that you do the same. In fact, maybe an SF food and wine blogging (readers and bloggers alike) community dinner is in order.

Fried skate with pan fried baby artichokes

Roasted chicken

Coca (Catalan flatbread) with house made Basque style chorizo and wilted radicchio

Tortilla española with mushrooms

mixed chicory salad

croquetas de buey (deep fried balls of braised brisket, served with arugula and a lemon wedge - great flavor and textures: crisp, juicy, smoky, earthy, bright)

Setas a la plancha (wild mushrooms with parsley pesto)

Iowa's finest: La Querccia prosciutto

Bread served with fruity, mellow, arbequina olive oil

A humble '04 Montsant blend of Garnacha, Cariñena, and one or two international varietals from Celler El Masroig called 'Castell de les Pinyeres.' Sturdy, fruity and well liked by our table.

Friday, March 13, 2009


It's Friday I'm feeling pretty good, so why not run some ATCQ?

Two from the Arbois at Terroir

(fun Dive Bouteille promo image, yes?)

Last night I accomplished what had previously been considered impossible (well, at least by the girlfriend anyway): go to Terroir Natural Wine Merchant and Bar, consume a couple of glasses of wine, and then leave after about an hour and a half. Since I seldom go out drinking, when I do, I usually like to hang out for a while. Last night, however, was a successful experiment in the quick stop-in at Terroir, and since it worked out great I plan on future visits of shorter duration, combined of course with the occasional all nighter.

After being gently chided by Luc for my extended absence from San Francisco's greatest wine bar, coolest low-key hangout, and home of a few champion arbiters of vinous and musical taste, I settled in with a welcome glass (thanks, guys) of Vouvray Petillant from Catherine & Pierre Breton - crisp, appley, with great earthy and mineral Vouvray typicite, while still coming across clean and focused. Next was an '04 Domaine de la Tournelles Poulsard. Bright, red fruits, just a shade animale on the mid-palate and finish. A nice quaff, but enough complexity to make it more than just 'nice.' Sorry, it's clearly a limited vocabulary day here for me. Next, an '04 Savagnin (the Fleur de Savagnin, I believe) from the same domaine, run by Evelyne and Pascal Clairet. Luc told me that the whites are where it's at with these guys. They are more serious, more chiseled, more nervous. Well he didn't say all of those things, but it is what I inferred and he is definitely correct. The wine, especially for a not so pricey ($12 or $13) glass pour, is off the charts, ridiculously good. Lemon oil, green figs, excellent texture and structure on the palate, with just the barest oxidative nuttiness perceptible on the finish.

Now let me pause for the cause here a moment, to quickly editorialize. Savagnin is better chardonnay than chardonnay. Now, I recognize that I'm generally a huge hater of chardonnay, but even white Burgundy fans must admit that good Savagnin can deliver the goods in a way Chardonnay often can't, for much less money.

Let's see...oh I tasted the '06 Binner Pinot Noir (if you're counting, I'm up to two and one half glasses, the Binner was just what my girlfriend was drinking). Very nice. Sort of like a lighter Hautes Cotes de Nuits or Fixin. There was good cherry PN fruit, damp earth, a touch of a floral aspect. Surprisingly good, well actually not so surprising as the other wines I have tried from this Alsace producer have been pretty solid, lively, interesting efforts.

Happy Friday everyone, and thanks Guillhaume and Luc for the continued good times.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Geuze is Good (especially Drie Fonteinen)

A few months ago, I started a Thursday night post work tradition: beer on Caltrain. You see, a few times a week I take the train from San Francisco into work in Redwood City, and towards the end of the week I do enjoy a beer on the train ride home. While I'm generally an equal opportunity imbiber, I occasionally prefer a sour, slightly funky geuze. For a while, I was getting my geuze fix courtesy of Hansen's Oude Geuze, a very tasty brew with good acidic bite and just enough of the characteristic, meaty brett savor you get from 1, 2 and 3 year old spontaneously fermented Belgian lambics blended together. While I'm sure I will come back to Hansen's sooner or later, I recently had a beer that superceded the quality of Hansen's, and in my mind, even Cantillon's geuze.

Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze is a blend of 1, 2 and 3 year old lambics aged in old oak. It is, without a doubt, the finest geuze I have yet to drink. Citric aromas, with a touch of noticeable old barrel spice (think white burgundy with several years of bottle age) lead to a bright, snappy palate of bitter, pithy citrus fruits. There is also a toasted bread and meaty savor from the barrels and use of brettanoymyces in the fermentation, which characterize the brew. The champagne of beers, I definitely recommend that you try a good geuze, especially if you enjoy all things funky and/or slightly tart when it comes to your food and wine/beer consumption. Imported by Shelton Brothers, the boutique beer importers located in the heart of Massachusett's Pioneer Valley, Belchertown. Belchertown,'s more than just growlers of local porter.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Black Uhuru - RED

While Jamaican reggae trio Black Uhuru was primarily the songwriting outlet for singer/songwriter Michael Rose, it also provided the foundation of a most productive career for production team and rhythm section par excellence Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. They were the musical force who helped to formulate the band's sound, engaging Rose's songwriting expertise and propelling the band to international stardom. Of several solid early 1980's albums, Red remains the most impressive and the definitive work, showcasing Sly, Robbie and their expert ensemble of musicians at their tightest, funkiest and most innovative, while also revealing Michael Rose, Duckie Simpson and American Puma Jones' penchant for unique, soulful harmonies. Sinsemilla might have been more classically reggae, Chill Out ushered in a cool synth and syndrum influenced approach, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner contained the classic title track. But none hit with the consistent urgency of Red. Song after song, it's as though you can witness the struggle to make ends meet in Jamaica, sense the desperation in the streets of Brooklyn, and generally observe the difficulty of living life in 1981.

Opening the album, 'Youth of Eglington' represents Rose's plea to put down the pistol, swear off the gangster life and join together for the greater good. Sly and Robbie lay a sparse, simple, uptempo, marching backbeat, strengthened by steady, blues inflected piano (played by Keith Sterling or Robbie Lynn), propelled forward by Sticky Thompson's percussion, and made funky courtesy of some tasefull riffing by Mikey Chung.

'Sponji Reggae' to this day will fill up the dance floor. It's a perfect, Channel One style, cool and deadly riddim. Puma's distinctive falsetto sweetens the chorus, as does some beautifully laid out instrumentation, in particular the glockenspiel which re-inforces Michael Rose's melody. Lyrically another strong tune, Michael Rose outlines his intense desire to succeed as a singer, "My fingers are shaking as the day start breaking/ I could a never keep it no longer/I had to tell it to one another." A scorcher, yes, but clearly a very personal look at one man's refusal to give up his dream of making it in the competitive world of Jamaican music.

Moving on to the B side, 'Utterance' competes with the two tracks above for my favorite song on the record. It boasts some amazing fills on the drums, understated, perfectly phrased bass playing, an infectious, repeating staccato rhythmic guitar phrase, and once again Black Uhuru's signature harmonies.

'Puff She Puff,' another song written by Michael Rose, berates the absentee mother, "So no bother come, gwaan bout you tough/a nuff you nuff.' Translation - you think you're a strong woman, and you're not even around to help raise your kids? Why don't you get lost, I'll take care of things myself.

While the one Duckie Simpson track, 'Journey,' and the two tracks jointly written by Simpson and Rose ('Sistren' and 'Rockstone') still sound good today, adding to the cohesive whole of the album, these songs just aren't quite as memorable as Michael Rose's efforts.

'Red' captures the formidable talents of a band and a production duo at the height of their collaborative powers, creating an LP which would be one of the defining records of reggae's golden era. Today, twenty eight years on, the album sounds as fresh and vital as ever.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Guess the Attendance: Alsace/Loire Valley in-store tasting edition

We probably had one of the more interesting line-ups for a Saturday tasting that we've had in the store for a long while. We were pouring '07 Huet Le Haut Lieu Sec, '07 Gerard Boulay Sancerre Clos de Beaujeu and even an '89 Vouvray demi-sec.

Care to play the good old stadium scoreboard game of 'guess the attendance?'

It may be helpful to know that we average about 30 people for Saturday in-store tastings.

Was the attendance:

A.) 7
B.) 15
C.) 25
D.) 32

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I'm just pleased as punch announce that I will soon be writing album reviews on this site. In keeping with the general theme and aesthetic of Old World Old School, most of these reviews will be for classic records with at least twenty years of age. A notable exception would be hip-hop records, which will likely include reviews of classics from 10 years and older.

It's about time that the music component to this site go beyond re-posting other people's youtube videos. Besides, the old adage that everyone's a critic doesn't just apply to wine, now, does it?

The idea is to post one review a week. Hope that you enjoy them and as always, I encourage you to weigh in with your opinions. Also, feel free to spread the word to any of your music geek friends.

As the inaugural review will be for one of my favorite records of all time, here's one of the tracks off this LP to whet the appetite.

The Whisky Review Vol. II number 2: Glenrothes

Founded in 1879, (exactly a century before the year of my birth), Glenrothes produces some of the finest single malt whiskies around. The distillery is located in the Speyside town of Rothes, which is also home to Glen Grant, Speyburn, Glen Spey and Caperdonich. Long known amongst master distillers as a source of terrific blending whisky, Speyside distilleries eventually struck out on their own and began bottling their own single malts, a trend which Glenrothes would follow and eventually, with some help from famed London wine merchant Berry Brothers & Rudd, further refine by producing vintage dated single malts. Unlike other houses who seek a consistent product for each level of aged single malt (10 year, 15 year, 18 year, etc), Glenrothes chose to highlight the variations which distinguish the best vintages. A master distiller checks the barrels' progress, and when he feels they are ready, they are bottled and then released. As in the case of port and champagne, not every vintage is declared.

Wood plays a pivotal role in producing a single malt's characteristic flavors. Oak is preferred, usually in the form of a used sherry or bourbon cask (it is now popular to use wine barrels from particularly well-known producers, but that is a relatively recent phenomenon). Glenrothes uses mainly oloroso sherry casks. More expensive than Bourbon, but a key element in producing the sort of rich, sweet flavors and velvety mouthfeel you get in the best Highland and Speyside single malts.

Glenrothes Select Reserve Single Malt Whisky

This would be the equivalent of a 10 year. Very classic Glenrothes, with a round texture, fairly rich, malty character on the mid-palate, and a mellow, balanced character. Just a wonderful house single malt, and a terrific introduction to the joys of Speyside whisky.

1985 Glenrothes Distillery Bottle Single Malt Whisky

Of the dozens of whiskies I have tasted over the past year or so, this one stands out and just might be my favorite. Originally release in 1997, this was recently re-released after some additional time in cask. It has the intensity of flavor and presence that only long, careful cask aging lends a spirit. Toffee, candied orange, vanilla, and spices are all there, as well as a gently floral finish and that impeccable Glenrothes balance. I don't use the word value and $100 together often when describing a bottle of anything, but this is absolutely a value and one to contemplate on your own or in the company of a few close friends.

Until the next chapter in dram-ology, be well, and don't forget your single malts!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Robert Camuto Re-cap

You may recall that a few weeks back, I was promoting a book reading and tasting featuring special guest Robert Camuto. He recently wrapped up a promotional book tour for his book Corkscrewed, which is an homage to independent French vignerons who passionately pursue their vision of producing their own wines from vine to bottle. Before discussing the event, I'd like to extend thanks to David McDuff, who first brought the event to my attention. As I am on host venue 18 Reason's email list, I'd have eventually discovered this was going on, but perhaps a bit later than I would have liked. Good looking out, Mr. McDuff.

Addressing the standing room only crowd of thirty or so people, seated shoulder to shoulder at four large communal tables, author Robert Camuto began his talk by commenting on the fairly recent resurgence of small independent vignerons, farming their grapes organically, slowly developing a niche market for their wines domestically and abroad. He then proceeded to describe his four broad requirements for good wine:

1.) Wine should reflect its specific terroir
2.) The production of wine should show respect for the environment
3.) Wine should be made with grapes
4.) Wine should be made mainly by people, and ought to be for sharing and enjoyment with others

Numbers 1 and 2 should make sense. As for number 3, it caused a few chuckles from the crowd; after all, wine by definition is made from fermented grapes, right? Well, some of you can probably see what Camuto was hinting at here. Wine should contain grapes, period (no additives such as wood chips, enzymes, designer yeasts, liquid tannins, etc.) Number four hints at the skyrocketing trend, begun in the 1970's and reaching astronomical heights in the past decade, of wine as valuable commodity, as a liquid investment to be flipped back and forth amongst collectors via the auction market.

After this introduction, Camuto began the tasting portion of the evening, briefly introducing a particular wine, and largely letting the wine do the talking. At times, he would go into more detail about the chapter describing a particular wine and region, as he did with the Robert & Bernard Plageoles 'Loin de l'oeuil' Gaillac Doux Controlee,' a delicious dessert wine from this region known for its bounty of obscure, nearly extinct varietals.

I am about midway through Robert Camuto's book. It is very well-written, in the descriptive, witty, keenly observant voice of a seasoned journalist. At the same time, it retains the author's personal perspective as an American ex-pat, recently introduced to the world of wine while living with his family in the south of France for the past eight years.

If you're interested in learning more about French wine and in reading an engaging, insightful look at wine through the eyes of some of its masterful producers, I would encourage you to purchase a copy of Robert Camuto's book on his website.