Happy 3rd Birthday Vivi’s!

Well, my blog is growing up so fast…>sniff sniff<…

First, let me apologize for the bit of a hiatus. There’s just alot going on. I have development working on Wine Life Today, working on things with our friends at WineQ, a couple of major intiatives at my day job, construction at our house, and the best news of all…we are expecting another little addition to the family! So as you can imagine, I’ve taken a brief hiatus from my normal blogging but I have a backlog of great wines to review including a wine AND recipe combo from Wolf Blass!!!

So thanks for everyone’s support, well wishes, requests for more posts, and everything else. That past three years have meant alot to me in my wine adventures

and I owe a great deal of that to the community that supports this blog.

Keep the notes coming and as soon as life gives me a chance to take a breather I’ll be back on this microphone tasting, pontificating, and just generally yapping to all the wine lovers out there! Stay tuned!

Blackball Blackwell on Long Island?

Lenn over at LENNDEVOURS has some pretty harsh words for Blackwell’s in eastern Long Island in New York.  The problem he experienced boils down to restaruant managers losing the plot when it comes to running a restaruant, particularly in the wine life.  We live in an “experience” oriented world.  People go out to nice dinners and wine bars in order to create a certain feeling – romantic, celebratory, whatever.  They want to create a sense of “getting away” for a little while.  When managing a place if you don’t act like one bad experience will turn away many people you’re in for a long, tough career.  The rule used to be 1 bad experience loses you 10 customers for life.  With the Internet, wine blogging, food blogging, etc… the damage could be far far worse…

Postino – Scottsdale, AZ – All about the Wine Life

Few things really exemplify the uniqueness of wine like a venue designed to give you a true wine experience. Kelly and I recently visited Scottsdale, AZ for our Valentine weekend. We stumbled across Postino on a recommendation from a poster on the WineTalk.com forum. This place is what “The Wine Life” is really all about. From the eclectic nature, to the friendly staff, to the arrangement of the room and wine racks. Unpretentious and relaxing but with the perfect amount of activity to not be “sleepy”, Postino is highly recommended.

Continue reading “Postino – Scottsdale, AZ – All about the Wine Life”

SF Restuarant Round-up

A Full Belly.com, a site we enjoy reading from time to time, provides this good round up of recent reviews of restaurants in San Francisco. Certainly we’ve been anticipating our chance to hit Tartare and if you’re up for a really grand feast (by “up” we mean “have a wad of money you’re itching to blow on a spectacular dinner”) the Ritz Carlton Dining Room is the place to be.

Vivi’s is a big advocate of cutting through the hype of wine to find true gems among reasonably priced wines. When it comes to restaurants, sometimes a splurge is worth it. One tip to keeping your bill down, check to see if the restaurant has a corkage fee. Then you can bring your own bottle. But, you should know, as a courtesy, you may want to ask the Sommelier if he/she would like to share a glass with you. Its just a polite gesture.

Anyway, on to the review round-up.

Browse A Full Belly.com if you get a chance. Its worth the visit.

SF: Review Roundup
Today’s review roundup includes: Tartare, Ritz-Carlton Dining Room, Olema Inn.

SF Weekly Meredith Brody reviews Tartare (550 Washington; 415-434-3100):

. . . We were led to a table for two along the banquette and began perusing the deceptively short menu. I say “deceptively” because, although there were only 18 dishes with brief descriptions, the imaginary tastings they set off in my brain — the part that decides what I’ll be eating — were complex. The menu has four categories: “raw and rare,” comprising five tartares; “naked and natural,” including two carpaccios, oysters, and a salad; “simply soup,” with four offerings; and “old and new,” five entrees. Classic hand-cut beef tartare — well, the mind thinks it knows what that will be, but even if you’ve had numerous tartares, and I have, I’ve never had one with habanero-infused sesame oil, plums, and mint before. King salmon tartare with house-ground banana curry? Carpaccio of opakapaka with orange oil and toasted cumin? And the “simply soups” weren’t simple at all: How about a garlic parsley bisque with black mussel flan?
Olema Inn makes diners feel that that they’ve enjoyed a reprieve from the rigors of urban life, without sacrificing the quality of food that a city has to offer.
. . . The soup was an ethereal yet deep-flavored cream of corn, with a dusting of smoky paprika and a knot of boned pork sparerib meat, infused with ginger, in its center. The cream of corn was genius on its own, and didn’t quite seem to need the chewy meat, even as an interesting textural contrast.
The tuna tartare was a fresh take on a dish that has become a cliché — heated with peppers, cooled with mint, and sweetened with diced plums. Chester adored it, as he did the ostrich tartare, wittily served in what I thought was an exceptionally thick-walled oval soup bowl, which turned out to be an actual ostrich egg shell. The beefy meat was well served by its chunky Roquefort vinaigrette and cracked pink peppercorns: a crunchy and creamy dish.

SF Examiner Patricia Unterman reviews Ritz-Carlton Dining Room (600 Stockton St.; 415-296-7465):

Traditionally, hotel dining rooms have suffered a bad rap for overpriced, fancy but soulless institutional cooking. The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, however, is one of the best high-end restaurants in The City. Run almost like an independent — except that it’s subsidized by the hotel — the Dining Room offers a $68 three-course menu with lots of choices, augmented by little surprises sent out by the kitchen.
Recently, after seven successful years, Sylvain Portay left the Dining Room and Ron Siegel moved over from Masa’s to succeed him. Siegel became an international celebrity a few years ago by defeating the “Iron Chef” on Japanese, and then American, television. Now he offers Japanese-inspired dishes on the Dining Room menu and weaves Japanese ingredients into non-Asian dishes as well. Though you’ll find plenty of western luxury items like caviar and foie gras, Siegel does some fairly austere presentations featuring Japanese luxury ingredients like coveted matsutake mushrooms and toro, the rich foie gras-like belly meat of the highest-grade yellowfin tuna.

SF Chronicle Michael Bauer revisits the Olema Inn (10000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Olema; 415-663-9559):

Vigil’s food is the star. The chef takes one of West Marin’s most important products — oysters — and spotlights them with eight different toppings ($14 for eight), four raw and four cooked. They’re simply some of the best around, whether you choose the Flying Fish Roe version, with a Sauvignon Blanc mignonette, fresh scallions and tobiko; a la Russe, with caviar and a cool lemon cream fraiche; Royale, with lemon bearnaise and crisp shallots; or Dizzy, with warm bacon, garlic, fennel and the crunch of warm bread crumbs.
His seasonal menu consists of four salads, five appetizers and seven large plates, including a nightly fish special such as Kajiki ($23), a line- caught marlin from Hawaii. The rich meaty medallion sits atop a blend of fresh runner beans and strings of onions, thickened with flakes of crab and surrounded by a ring of pepper sauce with the smoky nuances of a well-made romesco.
. . . Olema Inn makes diners feel that that they’ve enjoyed a reprieve from the rigors of urban life, without sacrificing the quality of food that a city has to offer.

A Wine Shop on The Row

Vintage Wine Merchant is a wine retailer that we thought we’d take a minute to highlight. While it seems every wine merchant coming about it trying to add some sort of value-add to make thier store a notch or two above just a liquor store or market, Vintage has a couple things going for it that we love.

First, location. Its located in the Santana Row shopping complex in Santa Clara, CA. For those not familiar with this shopping center just think Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade meets Boston’s Newbury Street. A high-end shopping experience with top notch restaurants that maintains a local feel by incorporating local retailers. It attracts all sorts of visitors from everywhere in the SF Bay Area. And Vintage was smart enough to pick this location and one can easily grab a nice bottle of wine after shopping so you can take it into a restaurant with you (most of the restaurants have corkage fees but thats a small price to pay for having exactly the wine you want).

Second, price. While Vintage has exceptional wines and very impressive decor the prices of the wines are very competitive for a retail wine shop. Even the most exotic wines are discounted quite a bit. This is from the owners heritage of dirt cheap prices when working and frequenting The Wine Club – a discount wine retailer in CA. The Wine Club, rumored to have suppliers in the “grey market” of wine, is a no-frills retailer that offers killer deals on top wines. All the owners of Vintage either worked at or visited The Wine Club frequently. The pedigree brings a discount business model to an upscale wine retailer resulting in some great values.

So if you’re looking for an upscale wine at a very competitive price should swing by Santana Row’s wine retailer – Vintage.

Vintage, thanks for helping us all Enjoy the Wine Life!

Zagat Survey Announces New 2005 San Francisco Bay Area Restaurant Guide

Zagat Survey Announces New 2005 San Francisco Bay Area Restaurant Guide

Zagat released its 2005 San Francisco Bay Area restaurant guide today giving Gary Danko the #1 Most Popular title replacing Boulevard.

The trend is also showing an increase in “per bottle” dining and a decrease in dollars per meal (from 34.07 to 33.75) while 55% of the Zagat diners reported increasing their spending on restaurants.

While these improvements are good, its basically inline with the improvement in the economy over the last two years. The 9/11 tragedy severly impacted the travel and leisure industry so it is nice to see the restaurants benefitting from the improvements in the economy as well as people’s return to enjoying the wine life.

As far as Gary Danko’s, for locals in the SF area its pretty well known the its a very fine restaurant but there are definitely some lesser known, equally as high quality places in the city. If you really enjoyed Gary Danko’s then take a spin to Michael Mina’s in Union Square, or the Fifth Floor off of Market St. Both are easily as high quality and offer interesting variations to the dining experience. All also have very impressive wine lists. There are few restaurants in the world that have a wine list as extensive as Gary Danko’s but there is more than enough at Michael Mina’s and the Fifth Floor to satisfy (some may even consider Gary Danko’s a bit of overkill).

At any rate, there is no shortage of fine dining in the SF/SJ Bay Area so get out and Enjoy the Wine Life!

Syrah Night in Walnut Creek

Tuesday, September 14th was 2nd Annual Syrah Summit at Prima’s in Walnut Creek. Quite a night really. The night included a three course dinner of solid selections that were not particularly memorable. Good, but not food I would run out to tell my friends about. The highlight of the evening was a selection of 7 Syrah’s of an interesting mix. This was easily the best part of the night as tasting Syrahs side-by-side really gives you an opportunity it understand how the differences in regions, growing conditions, wine makers, etc. can make a wine from the same grape taste very different. If you’re looking for basic knowledge of wines this is easily the best way to get into it – take the same wine from many different places and make note of the variations in flavor, body, and nose. Anyway, on to the best part!

First, a little about Syrah. If you live in Australia you drink Shiraz and if you live in other parts of the world you drink Syrah. Same grape, different name. FYI, Petite Sirah is a completely different grape. In California, the grape grows well in most of the popular growing regions, and in the full spectrum of climatic influence. Of all red wines, Syrah has a comparably broad array of aromas, flavors and textures. The tasting night at Prima’s was a prime demonstration of that…

There were seven Syrah’s that were served but my two favorites I thought would be worth sharing because they are most certainly a part of Enjoying the Wine Life!

2001 Hamel Syrah, Sonoma County
Hamel Wines is a small, Syrah-only winery that has been producing wine for the past 9 years. The 2001 vintage is their 8th and a blend of grapes from Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley.

This Syrah has a fruity, blackberry aroma. When you first taste it, the black berry flavors hit you followed by a little more pepper and herb taste. No taste in it really overwhelms which makes it a good choice to go with food – something with a bit of fat to tame the tannins (pairing note: Fat contained in food reduces the acid and tannin affects of wine. Hence the reason many people pair wine and cheese) but not necessarily too bold of a Overall a good wine with a balance of fruit and spice that pairs pretty well with red pasta sauces or lighter beef dishes.

2001 Livingston-Moffet Syrah, Mitchell Vineyard, Napa Valley
Livingston-Moffet is a relatively small, family owned and operated winery out of Napa that produces premium wine. The 2001 Livingston-Moffet Syrah comes from the Mitchell Wineyard, a four-acre site located mid-valley on alluvial soil(soil that is deposited by river run-off). This Syrah has a very interesting twist – the wine maker blended 5% Viognier into the wine which is apparently a practice taken from Northern Rhone Syrah wineries in France. This gives it a a very interesting fruit quality – almost like a hint of Lychee. Thats a wierd description and until I lived in CA I didn’t even know what a Lychee was. But I still think this is the best description for it.

This Syrah was definitely one of my favorites of the night, though it didn’t pair particularly well with the what was served, I probably would suggest pair with a flavorful chicken dish because it wouldn’t quite stand up well to the stronger tastes that are associated with red meat.

Enjoy the Wine Life!

2001 Livingston Moffett Mitchell Vineyard Napa Valley Syrah

2001 Hamel Syrah

Le Colonial – San Francisco, CA

This weekend we attended a friend’s birthday party at a French colonial Vietnamese restaurant called “Le Colonial” in San Francisco. I didn’t really expect too much, I had heard good and bad things about it. The reality is that this is an excellent dining experience even with a party of 12.

Its not a place for a very casual dinner, the price is on the order of $30 for entrees and $12 for appetizers, but the service is first rate and the food is different yet familiar enough to please even the most particular guests. I suppose thats where the term “California Fusion” comes from.

There was a huge variety of food at the party but I had the Lemongrass-seared halibut with sauteed asparagus. The halibut was cooked perfectly and the taste of lemongrass was really well done. Not too much and not too strong. It came on a bed of thinly sliced asparagus and it was covered with a mild white-wine sauce. Really an amazing dish.

A really remarkable feat was the fact that with 12 people and a wide variety of food, everyone was talking about which plate was the best and there wasn’t any mention of anyone dislinking anything.

Probably the most dissappointing part was the poor customer service from the wine director. It was our friend’s 40th birthday and we brought along three bottles that were special for one reason or another – 1996 Opus One and two bottles of 1999 Silver Oak. The house rules were that there was a limit of 2 corkage bottles and no drinking anything they had on the wine list. Did they have three bottles of wine that were sentimental to my buddy on the wine list? Special to him on his 40th birthday? Of course not. They decided that we were “lucky” (thats a quote) to be able to drink stuff they had on the wine list but he would not relax the three bottle rule. Ever hear of customer service? We are a table of 12 people buy tons of food and this is a crowd of wine drinkers so even three bottles was not going to cover us on this night of celebration. Bad call. So that took some of the polish off the place. If there were two of us on a regular occasion, sure we’d abide by the rules. But to relax the one rule and then limit a table of 12 to two bottles pretty much lost them quite a bit of wine business that night and lost them some return customers (some people were irritated enough to suggest never coming back).

Personally, I thought that was part of the “aura” that wine needs to get away from and that customer satisfaction should be a little higher priority than making an extra $100 on wine.

Anyway, the food was excellent and the wine list was repectable but not earth shattering. I would give this restuarant a 7 out of 10 with points deducted to price and poor customer service from the wine director. But the food was excellent, the wait staff was responsive, and the ambience is really interesting and different.

Enjoy the wine life!