Ariane and I recently had our every-other-week wine night at the wine bar “The Hidden Vine,” which is in the FiDi of San Francisco. It had closed for refurbishment or a move or something, but recently reopened (like mid-October) so we ventured forth to check it out.
The space was gorgeous, a lot of wood and cozy seats grouped in intimate corners. Everyone seemed to be on a first date of varying degrees of awkwardness except for me and Ariane, which tends to happen to us a lot on our wine nights.
We were immediately taken by the Hidden Vine’s “versus” list, which pairs two wines in head to head combat on the battlefield of your taste buds. As Ariane said, “I like the conflict!”
I ordered the Pinotage battle, which was a Gainey Pinot Noir versus a Turley Cinsault. Ariane ordered the baby gladiators to be brought forth: Baby Brunello versus Baby Barbaresco.
Shortly after ordering, the sickeningly lovey dovey couple (mazel tov, guys) who had nabbed the awesome seat in front of the fake fire left, so we snagged the best seat in the house and awaited the first battle vino.
In the war of the babies, the brunello was leggy, dry, not fruity, and smelled strongly of gardenias (at least to me). It tasted sweet to Ariane, but I wasn’t picking up a lot of sugar. The Barbaresco was leggy and dry, it smelled and tasted extremely alcoholic to me, and you could taste the grape.
In the epic Pinotage conflict, the Turley Cinsault was not fruity and was very young. The Gainey Pinot Noir was our favorite out of all four wines, although I usually prefer my pinots to be more fruity.
The Hidden Vine was a great spot to visit, had some tasty food — we had a cheese plate, some flat breads, etc — and the waiter/keeper of wine was one of the more charming people I’ve had the fortune to interact with lately. I would definitely recommend it. I hear it’s busy around happy hour, but we were there at 8pm on a Wednesday and it was a mellow crowd and easy seats were to be had. Apparently there may even be a bocce ball court? The last time I played bocce ball it was in a carefully manicured backyard where the owner kept entreating us not to ruin the border plantings, so this would be an infinitely better setting.
Justin had informed me that he was bringing a roast duck as his food offering for our football gathering. The symbolism of this food offering didn’t dawn on me for some time because I love duck and I was just excited he was bringing it — while find it an exceedingly random choice on his part.
Then he said “you are what you eat,” and I realized we were, of course, playing the Oregon Ducks, and this was his way of symbolically devouring the flesh of his enemy prior to battle.
Justin also made tacos in which to wrap the duck. It was brilliant.
Like me, Gretchen had been thrilled to hear that we’d be devouring duck this evening, so she went against the grain and brought a bottle of red wine to the gathering — Francis Coppola’s “Diamond Collection” “Ivory Label” 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was, predictably, quite tasty.
Quotes of the moment:
"Can you pass me that bottle of wine? I want to read it," — Tasha
Discussing the ESPN Magazine’s Boston cover:
"It’s called hubris" —Tasha
"I hubris’d your mom" — Jessica, proud Bostonite
There were a couple reds enjoyed after this, but I was encouraged to stop typing so much and talk to my friends, so sadly the tasting results were lost to posterity.
Also, USC won. And it was glorious.
Thiel Chardonnay 2009 North Coast California
Gretchen and I re-energized a long standing squabble about our high school biology teacher, Mr. Thiel, with this chardonnay. He was one of my favorite teachers, but Gretchen had a rougher time in his class.
Notes on the bottle from the crowd:
“These are just the whites, we have to get to the reds” – Jessica
“Oh my god, we do don’t we. Holy shit.” — Gretchen
“Crisp” -– Catherine
One more bottle of white until we can take a break for half-time before moving on to reds!
Gretchen brought a bottle of Wente’s Riva Ranch Chardonnay, which she and I have been happily guzzling since we turned 21. She felt it was time we featured it on wine-ers, and as usual, was correct.
Wente is a Livermore winery, a home-town hero of sorts, little guy made big.
Wente Riva Ranch Reserve Chardonnay 2010
Jessica: “I’m not a white’s fan. I’m not an acidic type. There’s a little acidity, but it’s not bad.”
Catherine: “It’s creamy”
Gretchen: “As I always do, it’s amazing. Not as crappy as 2007. “ This is an insider’s reference to 2007, which was a ghost town for decent California chardonnays and a sad sad year for me and the G.
Catherine: “It’s buttery.”
Gretchen: “It is buttery, which I tend to stray towards.”
Catherine: “It’s not oaky.”
Gretchen: “It’s a little oaky.”
Justin: “This wine tastes a lot better with a USC touchdown.”
Justin: “It’s actually a pretty good chardonnay!!”
Favorite Wine-er Catherine (who recently provided valuable inspiration in my increasing the regular posting of this blog by dryly observing that I only posted when she was in town, which happens approximately twice a year) was back! And fortuitously enough, she was back in town for a fun filled weekend the very same time that the Oregon Ducks took on our alma mater, USC. A football party was required. As was a great deal of wine.
Cheers to football, ladies!
And a picture of your humble scribe and furry friends.
Details on the bubbly:
I grabbed it at the local market because it was only $8.99, *and* it was pink, *and* it was sparkly. A girl can only take so much before the credit card gets whipped out.
The deets: yellow tail bubbles: Sparkling Rose Wine. It had a fascinating plastic contraption instead of the more traditional cork, which allowed you to reseal the bottle and preserve the sparkles (unless you wanted to use the very brilliant raisin method Marisa recently clued me in on — perhaps both methods in tandem would make the bubbly more sparkling than you originally began with).
The wine was light, bubbly, and pink. I suggested it cried out for a sliced strawberry to brighten it up. The following conversation ensued:
Gretchen: “I would pair it with a pineapple to be honest. Give it a tropical taste. A strawberry would be good, but if you added a citrusy taste to it it would give it a punch. Thoughts?”
Catherine: “A low acidity pineapple. A white pineapple. That would be good.”
Gretchen: “Oh yes. This is more sweet, more of a tropical flavor.”
Catherine: “Indeed. It’s bubbly, but it’s not excessively bubbly.”
Gretchen: “I know I’m drinking champagne, but it’s not too… too.”
In summary: Light, fruity, very sweet – you can taste the sugar – a lot of fruit, no finish. A big bang of flavor and then done. The boys, of course, hated it. Fortunately we had a cornucopia of reds and a heavy beer that was called “Bitch Creek” to cheer them up.
I stop at Merryvale almost every time in Napa, and while the wine there is excellent, the reason for my constancy is purely convenience: Merryvale is across the street from Gott’s Roadside (formerly Taylor’s Refresher), which is an expensive but very delicious burger stand.
So, our pre-lunch stop was Merryvale!
The tasting room at Merryvale is lovely with lots of tempting shopping to do. There is also a huge room, filled with barrels and a banquet sized table, that is available for special events. Like my next birthday? Hope hope?
Justin invested in a $90 cab franc. This is the face of man who loves his cab franc. Note the smug superiority around the lips.
It was totally a good deal though, because buying the cab franc got him comp’ed his $15 tasting fee so it was **only** $75. Sort of.
Merryvale had just run out of some of their more popular reds and were left with some that the employees there admitted were too young and not so tasty. They had some solid chardonnays and the cab franc was a big hit.
We followed up this classiness with big old hamburgers and milkshakes. We couldn’t figure out why we ordered milkshakes when it was freezing outside. But they were delicious to sip as we huddled under a heat lamp. Which is what is happening here:
It was time for a field trip and to introduce many of our wine-ers to the various delights of Napa. Napa is absolutely the Disneyland of wine country — beautiful, over-priced, over-crowded — but if you haven’t been there before, it’s worth a visit, but more low-key and just as delicious wine expeditions can be had in neighboring Sonoma and Livermore.
Our first stop was Domaine Chandon, which has beautiful grounds, and specializes in sparkling wine (California’s version of champagne) but also usually has really excellent wine wine as well.
Being more than a bit jaded by Napa’s prices, I googled around and found some “buy 1 get 1” wine tasting coupons, so we ended up getting one of each wine tasting flight (of which there are 4) and sharing them all (sharing is caring) so everyone got to try everything on offer.
This made for a happy group of wine-ers:
A little bubbly in the morning makes wine-ers bubbly too? :)
It’s pretty much agreed that the main point of Thanksgiving is to watch non-stop football for four days while eating leftovers in the form of turkey sandwiches, turkey stew, and turkey platters. Today was no different.
We had a late lunch to devour more leftovers before returning to the city and getting back to the daily grind of honest (white collar) labor. Said delicious leftovers were paired with a family staple, Fetzer’s Gewurz —
— here you can see my sister’s boyfriend, Greg, with my parents. My sister was in her pjs and did not want to be so immortalized except for while devouring a turkey leg —
— anyways, back to the wine we had with dinner, which was the Fetzer 2009 Gewurztraminer.
Thoughts on the Gewurz (which we drink all the time, and is one of my Dad’s favorite wines):
Tamsen: “I think of it as being between a sauvignon blanc and a Chardonnay —”
Mom and Greg (in unison): “But sweet.”
Mom: “I think this particular wine is sweet, pleasant, and goes very well with turkey. Also, it’s cheap as the dickens. What, like $5, $6 at Costco?”
As per usual, my mom put on a fearsomely feastly repast for the great day of the turkey. I had earlier joked that Thanksgiving Eve was “The day when the great turkey brings bags of prepared gourmet food and leaves them on the table for everyone to eat. No work required,” to which my mom replied, “I think it’s rude of you to call your mother a turkey.”
Thus humbled, I was on my best behavior the following day.
Mom’s friend, Barbara, brought a lovely bottle of chardonnay to supplement the meal.
We showed our gratitude for her gift by dressing said bottle up in a classy ethnic outfit.
The chardonnay was a little sharp, decently tasty, but had a uniquely amazing finish, which I realized when about half an hour after dinner I realized I still had a pleasant chardonnay taste lingering around.
Wine #2 of the evening was the palate cleanser for wine #1. It was a very pleasant cabernet sauvignon from Chile. We had seen this bottle on offer at several places and I was happy to finally get to try it. It had a light tanin, some fruit, was not too sweet, and would go very well with steak (especially a less humble cut than we had on offer). This we enjoyed as the sun set over the ocean and tropical night descended.
It was exciting to get so many decent Chilean wines on this trip, since Regidia, our friend Nisie, and I are planning on a day or two in Santiago towards the beginning of February. I’m sure we’ll get more “wine-ers on the road” blog posts then o_O
Well, we’ll get to that in a moment.
I was extremely excited to find a verified Costa Rican wine at the local supermarket in Samara when Regidia and I went over there to check out what was on offering. We picked up some fish, some steak, a bottle of wine, some plantains, and some chips ahoy. Regidia wanted the normal bag of chips ahoy and I wanted the special “feliz navidad” bag, so we bought both. This was good, since it ended up being pretty much all we ate that evening (until some of our neighbors brought over their own bag of Mrs. Field’s soft baked oatmeal raisin).
What we thought we were going to have for dinner (note that at this point the bottle is already close to done because we’d been fussing with the fire for so long):
What we actually wound up eating for dinner:
It turns out that while Regidia somehow managed to coax an excellent roaring flame out of this (with the invaluable help of another set of next door neighbors, an older Swiss couple, who gave us some sort of fire-starting bricks after the newspaper didn’t work):
…the cuts of meat we had procured by pointing and agreeing with whatever the man behind the counter said in Spanish were HORRIFYING. They were tough and not tasty. The steak we could eat, but the fish ended up going to the stray dog that became my “vacation pet” for the few days we were there (note: the fish did not kill the dog):
So! Back to the Costa Rican wine we were so excited to procure. It was very very sweet, which seems to be in line with the food and beverages we had in Costa Rica. Either they really like sugar and sweet there, or they think tourists do, because everything we were served usually had a lot of sugar in it. It had a unique approach to a cork:
And tasted a lot like communion wine. Sugar and fruit and practically guaranteed hangover in a bottle.
But fear not, dear wine-ers! My decision capabilities diminished by a meal of cookies and sugar wine, I crossed the street to the convenience store and grabbed a couple more bottles of wine to try out.
To be continued…
Marisa’s birthday party happened, and it was 50’s themed! Everyone went more Mad Men rather than poodle skirts, but the dressing up was epic, with men showing up in suits and skinny ties, and the ladies all wearing lovely skirts and pearl earrings.
Marisa is a huge fan of local wine, and the offerings at the party reflected this (excellent) taste. Below we have a North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Sauv also being Marisa’s favorite blend of wine.
Famed Wine-er Gretchen: “Only the best for the best, darling.”
I receive an email from “Thrillist.” I’m not sure how I got on their mailing list, and normally (other than my daily Fashion updates), I would unsubscribe immediately, but they have some fairly interesting articles. The one they sent out on Bluxome Street Winery was not only hilarious (if you read the crossed out parts), it also made me determined to go and visit the winery. As fate would have it, I happened to have a dinner date that very evening with noted Wine-ers Gretchen and Justin, so we made a quick side trip to go and imbibe.
We tried the full wine tasting, splitting one between the three of us. There were two whites, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, and three reds, I believe 2 Pinot Noirs and a Syrah.
Gretchen and I were aux anges over the Sauvignon, which was delicious — I bought a bottle, justifying the $22 expense because I’m on vacation for a week — and we both enjoyed the Chardonnay, Gretchen was not super into it, I liked it, but it failed to have the butter bomb we are both fans of.
Justin, our red connoisseur, enjoyed all the reds but most prefered the Thornridge Pinot Noir. Gretchen and I thought all three were very pleasant and drinkable.
I would totally love to have a party here, when not using the large space behind the tasting room to make wine they rent it out as an event space which, judging from the pictures of the area sans machinery, is gorgeous.
Rushabh and Priyanka decided to have a blind wine tasting at their apartment for a house warming escapade! I’m not sure about the house, but I was definitely quite warm before it was all over.
Here we have our bottles, ready to be tasted, hidden from view:
And here we have them before!! (Which none of saw, of course)
An impressive array, to be sure.
Tamsen considers her latest taste test:
Rushabh and Priyanka took copious notes of our guesses, I’ll have to ask for a copy and tally it up. We guessed on type, region, and (just for fun) year. We were very rarely correct.
Ariane and I have decided to have every other week wine expeditions (we may possibly also expand into the dinner category) after work. She took me to Barrique this week and it was really a lovely spot to sip some vino. It’s in the Financial District, by Pacific and Montgomery, and all the wine is produced under and by the Barrique label. We tried the petit syrah, and it was one of the best reds I’ve had in a while. We also managed to finish three orders of the toast smeared with goat cheese, honey, and a trickle of truffle oil. I’m kind of proud of that.
We will definitely be back. With re-enforcements.