Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wining and dining Russian-style at Bistro Gambrinus


Russians are coming! Russians are coming!
Last Friday, my step-dad was celebrating his birthday at a beer-and-grill bistro joint on Masonic and Fulton in San Francisco, called Bistro Gambrinus.

The place that used to be a coffee shop has recently changed hands, and the new owners Sergey and his wife Clara from ex-Soviet Union have completely remodeled and redesigned it, managing to infuse an eastern-European bar/restaurant feel into it, combining European bar food and atmosphere with a Russian style party platters. A real estate agent in his day job, all along Sergey nurtured the idea of one day starting a place unlike any other he had seen in San Francisco - a Euro style bistro. When he met Oleg Popoff, an experienced chef who had run restaurants in Germany and Los Angeles, the two decided to join their visions and forces, and officially opened Bistro Gambrinus in May of 2009. The result? With Oleg in charge of the kitchen and Clara taking care of the guests, the plce is a whole lotta fun!



The seafood platter.


For anyone who thinks that Gary Vaynerchuk's Russian dad is a nice guy, check mine out:

2007 Firriato "Altavilla della Corte" from Sicily is one of the best values I've recently discovered in white wine. Made out of Sicily's Grillo grape, it clean, flavorful, balanced, and a welcome alternative to Pinot Grigio, a perfect pairing for seafood. Sicilian wines are making quite a strong showing in the last year in the US. Grapes like Frappato, Nerello mascalese (used in Etna Rosso), Nero d'Avola, and Grillo are being discovered in this country and are bound to grow in popularity, selling for $10-20/bottle, excellent with food.


Next, the meat-n-potatoes platter.



Pork ribs, lamb chops, chicken kebabs, potatoes topped with mushrooms, and various savories were very good.

These sorts of meats have a slightly sweet charred flavor and go well with wines that have body and ripe fruit. The two wines I picked indeed worked very well, the classic - Las Rocas Garnacha - easily beating out the excellent Napa Valley Cab from Mario Perelli-Minetti ($19) even in the crowd of devout Cabernet drinkers. The Spanish was just more interesting - full-bodied, ripe, fruity, reasonable acidity, and spice which really titillated Russian palates. Hands down winner, the Russians bought out the rest of the Las Rocas inventory at Vineyard Gate, especially sweet since it went for around $10/bottle.

Note: unfortunately they have a very limited selection of desserts, so bring your own if you must have 'em.

Bistro Gambrinus is still relatively unknown in the Russian community, but the word is spreading. For those who want to ease their way into Russian food, this place offers a softer transition (less culture shock) than the more traditional Russian restaurants like Fandorin or Russia House. Gambrinus manages to walk the line between American, European, and Russian, taking beer bar food and atmosphere up a notch - which is just the ticket for my crazy americanized(?) Russian-Jewish mishpocha - oy gevalt!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Local Costco likely to seduce some


The newly opened Costco in Redwood City boasts an impressive collection of top-tier wines that make a wine aristrocat in us salivate, including Chateau Latour, d'Yquem, Mouton, Petrus, Gaja, Grange, etc... The prices are quite attractive, but a savvy wine buyer beware - you can find better prices on wine-searcher.com. But more importantly, 9 out of 10 times your local wine merchants like Beltramo's, K&L, and Vineyard Gate will be able to offer these wines at lower prices, on top of all the attention and special treatment they will shower you with if you buy wines like these, especially in this economy. Do not be seduced by Costco's brand reputation for value pricing, especially as you get into multi-hundred $$ purchases. Remember you can always ask the wine merchant if they can order the wine for you, even if they don't list it in their catalog. (A quick reminder: the 2005 vintage in Bordeaux is legendary, and 2006 is good, especially from top producers.)

Enjoy the photo shoot (click on a photo to see it enlarged for more details):






























Happy shopping!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Donato "ENOTECA 100"


Donato Enoteca hosts "ENOTECA 100" Italian food & wine tasting celebration on November 7.

One of the hottest new Italian restaurants on the peninsula - Donato Enoteca - that often goes by just "Donato", is reminding folks that it's not called "Enoteca" for nothing. For anyone who has been to the restaurant and seen their meticulously arranged list of wines that pair blissfully with the unique Italian cuisine of Donato, it's not a surprise. Eric Lecours, the wine director of Donato Enoteca, and the mastermind of the most intelligent wine program I have seen at any restaurant, takes his job VERY seriously. It doesn't show in Eric's quiet demeanor, but it does in the wines he carries and in the advice he gives with unassuming confidence, be that to a wine newbie or a crusty old wino. Eric firmly believes that wines, even great ones, are not to be put on a pedestal and idolized, just respected and enjoyed. Nor should they be over-analyzed and stack-ranked, as they tend to be in our techno-competitive American culture. Yet, if faced with a wine of stature and pedigree, he will give it undivided attention, white table cloth, no competing flavors, just focus and contemplation. He believes in wines that express the origins of their land and the traditions of their maker. Simple wines can be magnificent. Fancy wines can be "bitches" - he would say - if the winemaker sold out to cater to commercial interests, making generic blockbuster-wanna-be's. Next time you are at Donato Enoteca, take a moment to talk to Eric, and I guarantee you will enjoy your meal so much more, no matter the price.

If you know the man, you know that the inaugural tasting event at Donato Enoteca will be thought out to the last detail and executed with precision and class. And that's more than enough reason for me to be there with my camera, notepad, thirst, and a few more wine questions for Eric!


From the official press release:
WHAT:
Donato Enoteca will be the stage upon which dozens of artisan Italian wine importers will offer tastes of their finest wines at the "Enoteca 100" event on November 7, 2009. Featuring more than 100 wines from all over Italy, including beloved Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello di Montalcino, "Enoteca 100" will be the biggest and best wine event on the Peninsula. Several of the wines featured also hold the prestigious "Tre Bicchieri" (three glasses) distinction of excellence for Italian wines. Regions represented at the event include Valle d'Aosta, Piemonte, Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli, Toscana, Sicilia and Sardegna. Guests will also enjoy hors d'oeuvres from Executive Chef and owner Donato Scotti's menu with specialties to complement the wines such as imported prosciuttos, speck, Grana Padano and Asiago cheeses, along with house-made dishes such as the Wild Boar Bruschetta; House-made Sausage; Risotto Nero with fresh seafood; Porchetta (whole roasted pig); Grilled Wild Prawns; Agnolotti del plin; and Milk Braised Baccala.

WHEN:
Saturday, November 7, 1-4 p.m.
VIP Preview: 12-1 p.m.

WHERE:
Donato Enoteca
1041 Middlefield Road
Redwood City, CA 94063
650-701-1000
Note: Caltrain Redwood City stop is across the street from the restaurant.

COST:
VIP Preview (12-4 pm) - $70
General Admission (1-4 pm) - $55
Early Bird General Admission (1-4 pm, 1st 100 tickets)- $50

TICKETS:
To purchase a ticket, visit www.donatoenoteca.com.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tasting Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Wineries of 2009


San Francisco SoMa district. Wednesday afternoon, October 14. At 4:30 the doors of San Francisco Design Center open to the trade. Normally - designers and architects, but not this night. Most trade tastings are free, yet this event commands a hefty price tag. By 5pm, the cost of entry a non-deterrent, the place is packed with nicely groomed men with pleasant Euro accents, and attractive women - a staple of the wine trade circles. Yours truly, in jeans and t-shirt, and in need of a haircut stands out like a sore thumb, swallowed by the sea of humanity imbibing prized wines and gourmet eats. Thankfully the semi-mysterious Russian-ish accent elevates my image throughout the evening.



From the Wine & Spirits 23rd Annual Buying Guide: "Our Annual Buying Guide reviews not only the best wines of the year, but the best wineries... A great wine should be marked by the character of the place where it was grown, and reveal something about the traditions of the people who made it. Our ratings signify more than just quality. Our 100 Best Wines celebrate the diversity of the world's vineyards... The individual scores are only a gateway to a bigger question: How has a winery performed over time? That's what the Winery of the Year concept is all about. It's the culmination of a year's worth of tastings: from more than 10,200 wines, we've selected the 100 wineries that have earned the highest scores and the highest percentage of wines recommended."



The Wine & Spirits Magazine's Top 100 Wineries of 2009 ia a classy event indeed - all featured wines and all food are nothing to turn away from. Not a bad wine in the line-up, yet only few captivate me. Though irresistible, I find big wine tasting events challenging and somewhat unfair, as I don't get the time to give each wine its proper consideration, rushing from table to table, squeezed in between others' elbows. Flashier wines and flashier people stand out. Many, to my great sorrow, I simply miss. Those I taste but deprive of praise are more a reflection of my personal taste rather than the quality of the wines.



With disclaimers out of the way, of the 50 or so wines I tasted, here are the ones, in no particular order, that I would love to see in my own cellar (based on all-too-quick first impressions):

1. Donnhoff, Schloßböckelheimer Felsenberg Riesling Spätlese, Nahe 2006 (magnum) - perfect Riesling, minerality, fruit, acid, sugar all there in perfect freshness and harmony, poured out of a magnificent magnum bottle. Paired nicely with Heaven's Dog braised pork belly sandwiches in clamshell buns.

"Aren't you that...?" - Donnhoff Jr. serving the outstanding 2006 Nahe's

2. Il Molino di Grace, Chianti Classico Riserva Il Margone 2001 - dark, earthy mushrooms, forest floor, incredibly alluring, may be the most impressive and serious Chianti Classico I've ever had.

A connoisseur's Chianti. American-owned.

3. Louis Jadot, Corton Greves Grand Cru 2006 - plush and classy.


4. E.Guigal, Hermitage blanc 2005 - fabulous depth of flavor. The E.Guigal 2005 CdP was very good too.


5. Poderi Luigi Einaudi, Barolo Nei Cannubi 2004 - sensual and delicious.

Of the three Barolo producers featured at the show, I thought Poderi Luigi Einaudi's from the famous Cannubi vineyard (with vines planted in 1945) was the most alluring at this stage.

6. Ridge Monte Bello 1995 and 2005 - very Bordeaux-like, very good.


7. Marques de Murrieta, Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2000 - quiet royalty, paired perfectly with bacon bonbons (sauteed prunes stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in bacon, anise and cinnamon port sauce).

Presidente Vicente Dalmau Cebrian-Sararriga y Suarez-Llanos, Conde de Creixell


Honorable mentions

1. Faiveley, Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2007 - thick.


2. Bouchard Pere & Fils, Beaune Clos Saint-Landry (Monopole) Premier Cru 2007 - solid.

Luc Bouchard

3. Michel & Stephanie Ogier, L'Ame Soeur "Terres de Viennae" Syrah 2006 - very pure Northern Rhone, fresh meat and pepper.


4. Joseph Drouhin, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru 2007 - plush cherry.


5. Moric, Austria - excellent line-up, interesting grape variety, from lighter and fruitier to more substantial bottlings, excellent matches to the Iberico Ham Crostini with Fig Marmalade served at the adjacent table.

A relative newcomer to the Austrian wine scene, Moric's founder Roland Velich makes all his wines from old-vine Blaufränkisch grapes.

6. Ridge Lytton Springs 2001 (a Zin-based blend) - as good and not over-the-top Zin as I've ever seen.

7. Peay, Sonoma Coast La Bruma Syrah 2006 - excellent balance, nice pepper

Andy Peay

8. Niepoort, 1991 Porto Colheita - classic Tawny port (paired with Brix milk "chocolate for wine").

9. Marcel Deiss, Alsace Grasberg 2004 - great blend of slightly off-dry white varietals.


10. Movia, Veliko 2004 and Lunar 2007 - thought-provoking. The regular Movia (not shown here) and Veliko are age-worthy wines.

Too bad Ales Kristancic had stepped away. His Lunar (the orange wine), a ribolla gialla grape from 65-year-old vines, was harvested by hand, then filled into the barrel, and left alone until spring, when it's drawn off its skins by vacuum, directly into bottle without the use of sulfur dioxide.

11. Cos, Sicilia Nero di Lupo Nero d'Avola 2007 - deliciously fruity, cool bottle.


Behind every wine there is a story. To taste a wine without the story is to miss its soul. Surely, unforgivably, I missed a number of great wines. But afterwards, with interest piqued - I devoured the pages of the Wine & Spirits issue introducing each award-winning wine, winery, and wine-maker. There are awards, and then there are AWARDS. While there are many to go around, the Wine & Spirits Top 100 is the real deal - a classy affair indeed, a celebration of the wonderfully diverse world of wine, an event well worth the price of admission, and my respect!

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