I'm always on the lookout for new trends in the world of wine and spirits, and it's always interesting to note a particular zeitgeist, as it may or may not be happening. The latest I've seen concerns wines from France's Languedoc region, specifically the sub-appellation of Minervois. For whatever reason, it's just started showing up everywhere.
Yesterday, Jason Wilson of the Washington Post wrote of his experiences using wine--specifically the Yellowtail wine from Australia that he disdained--in cocktails and finding it pretty darn good. In the article he says our own SF bartender Neyah White of Nopa mixes Croft Pink, a new-styled port wine, "in an ice-filled highball glass with gin and orange bitters, then tops it with ginger beer." Does that sound good to your or bad? Could you imagine using your favorite Napa Cab in a drink or would you just prefer to drink it straight? Wine can be a harmonious blender, but it's definitely less alcohol and concentration than a spirit.
Behind every great bartender, there's probably a great barback. If nothing else, this I have learned in my short, two-year foray into the world behind the bar. At Cantina, I sometimes get to work with a great one: a kid named Anson Stahl. What more could you ask? When he's on his game, he's there handing me glassware and bottles to make a cocktail before the customer's even finished ordering. Ice, replacement bottles, straws, napkins, fresh fruit are never a worry. When I'm in the weeds, he's there pulling beers, pouring shots. The main reason he's not a full-time bartender is that he's too valuable as a bar back. (Sorry Anson!) Good help is hard to find.
These days the Tonga Room—the Fairmont Hotel's thatched-walled, indoor-raining temple of Tiki Kitsch—finds itself in more danger, more often than Elisha Kuthbert’s ever-threatened Kim Bauer on the first season of 24. The current state of the historic bar's impending closure has the Fairmont turning it and the 28 stories above it into condos.
Leblon Cachaca is organizing a march this evening through North Beach to protest what it sees as the discriminatory labeling rules of the US Government. You see, the government demands that Brazil's national spirit have on the label not only the word cachaca, but the phrase, "Brazilian Rum." And cachaca enthusiasts and producers--or at least the people behind Leblon--are incensed at this. They believe that cachaca--evidently the third-most consumed spirit in the world--is unique and worthy of its own category, independent of rum. To that end, you can sign the petition here and join the march at Calzone's at 5 PM or pick it up at Rose Pistola at 6, Mangarosa at 7:30 and 15 Romolo at 9:30.
… Or at least California fine wine, according to this fascinating article from yesterday's Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. The article asserts: "… a powerful shake-up under way in the U.S. wine industry. Consumers, who for decades have been steadily trading up to higher-priced vintages have reversed course, trading down to cheaper wines in search of better values. Some think the reversal will be short-lived; others say something has fundamentally changed in the wine business."
I was sorry to read the note in the Chronicle that the Carnelian Room is closing. More than for its commanding view of the city and its classic menu (think steak Diane), I'll remember it for its incredible wine selection and its sommelier Mike Jabari. Jabari was one of San Francisco's hidden gems—a man who humbly and quietly had one of the longest tenures on the floor of any sommelier in the country, more than 30 years. Jabari also amassed one of the city's deepest and most interesting wine collections. Reading through his list (of which many selections were still great bargains) was often an activity that could satisfyingly eat up the better part of an hour.
I caught up with former sommelier and current SF wine personality Debbie Zachareas to get some quick and easy wine ideas for upcoming Labor Day picnics and gatherings. The idea was to find wines that would work with sunny days like today. Zachareas is also a partner in the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, so I asked for three wines--a white, a rosé, and a red--that are currently available there, so you know they're in stock. Here are her choices and comments.
White: Granbazan Albarino -- "I've been drinking a lot of this lately myself. It's crisp, clean and very mineral. From old vines and one of the oldest, most venerable properties in the Rias Baixas of Spain. Great with vegetables and seafood." $22.00
Given Pisco's long history with SF (since at least the early 19th century), most of us here are familiar with the Pisco Sour, the national cocktail of Peru, which is where Pisco originates. We can get tasty Pisco Sours at many local outlets, from Fresca, Pisco Latin Lounge to Cantina. But La Mar, the SF outpost of one of Peru's most revered ceviche houses, has enjoyed special (and well-deserved) acclaim for its Pisco Sours since it opened last fall.
I was bartending the other night at Cantina and made a round of drinks for a group. When it came time for the second round, one of the guys said he liked the cocktail I made him, but wanted something "stronger." Now I hate it when people ask for "stronger" drinks. Bartenders put the right amount of alcohol in each drink, so don't ask for more. You wouldn't ask for more steak in a restaurant after your first serving, would you? I told him that his last drink had been strong, just balanced so it didn't taste that way.