Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wineaux: Getting away from it all (but wine)


From page A11 | February 21, 2013 | Leave Comment

Newsletter finished, wine column written, beets pickled, I decided to take a day off from all things home, including computer time, cello practice and puttering about in the kitchen. There’s only one way to do this effectively: get out of town.

Friday dawned warm and sunny. Even my half-hour walk to the train station at 7:30 a.m. didn’t require more outerwear than a scarf and sweater. Off the train at Richmond, I took BART to downtown Berkeley and was on my walking way.

First stop: the Cheese Board for a cup of tea and a “chocolate thingie” (yes, that’s what they call their chocolate chunk-studded breakfast roll — and chocolate in the morning is among my favorite indulgences). And as long as I was in the “gourmet ghetto,” I couldn’t resist a stop at Vintage Berkeley, a delightful wine shop housed in an old cottage across the street from the original Peet’s.

Much to my surprise, the first bottle I noticed was Marr Cellars Petit Syrah Cuvée Patrick. Bob Marr’s a fellow Davisite and wonderful winemaker, and this particular wine never fails to delight when I pour it at local wine tastings (you can buy a bottle at the Davis Food Co-op or order it by the glass at Monticello Seasonal Cuisine). Brent at Vintage Berkeley is a Marr fan, too.

He also pointed out several other wines he’s currently excited about, including a Broc Cellars Cabernet Franc, which I’m eager to try; I so liked the Broc Valdiguie (grapes from Solano County) I tasted last fall at Vini that I brought it to the family Thanksgiving dinner — to much acclaim.

Chris Brockway, Broc owner and vintner, was named a “winemaker to watch” by the San Francisco Chronicle and is known for his interesting, low-alcohol, food-friendly wines. The grapes in this cab franc come from Santa Ynez, though Broc itself lives much closer to home — Berkeley.

Another wine Brent especially recommended was Bebame Red, also primarily cab franc (with a little gamay noir added for fun). It comes from Fair Play (El Dorado County) winemaker Steve Edmunds — another close-to-home offering. One reviewer said this wine is a good example of “why the wines that stand out in tasting rooms and the wines that do best at the dinner table are often not the same.” It was only with her dinner that it “popped” — so often the case with lower-alcohol wines — this one only 12 percent!

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’ve been saying this for years, but it’s always encouraging to have confirmation of one’s prejudices. Here’s Edmunds putting it well: “While there is a school of thought that says new world wine has to be richer, higher in alcohol and riper, we don’t buy it. We believe that if the grapes are planted on cool, appropriate sites, and are well-farmed and picked ripe at reasonable sugar levels, and truly minimally handled in the cellar, then we can make just such wines (French, Italian) without compromise in the new world.”

The Broc and the Bebame cost $25 and $20, respectively, definitely splurge wines for me, but splurge opportunities come up often when you love wine. St. Patrick’s Day? The end of Lent? Needless to say, I’m not giving up wine for that penitential season.

Fast-forward: A few days later I discovered the Bebame — a new arrival — at the Co-op, on sale for $18. Surely, I thought, tonight must be a special occasion of some sort. And it was! Ash Wednesday. I unfairly paired it with some pretty Lenten fare: sweet and sour Italian cabbage and roasted cauliflower. Poor little wine. But it came through with flying colors (and a very nice color it is — much darker than you would expect for a light-to-medium-bodied red). The taste matches the color — dark cherry, plum, a hint of orange zest. And then, underneath, the woods  — earth, new-growth evergreens, a few mushrooms. And then, a long finish. I love it.

The next stop on my route was Kermit Lynch. How could I not stop at Kermit Lynch? This time, though, I knew exactly what I was looking for. I browsed, of course, but I ended up in the Italian aisle, in search of a brand new KL release, a wine blended by Kermit himself of grapes called brachetto and croatina (neither of which I’d ever heard of until last week). The wine has its own name: Il Goccetto. While most brachetto is made into a sweet, sparkling wine, this one is dry, light, aromatic and refreshing — with plenty of personality. At least that’s what I was promised in the Kermit Lynch newsletter.

But the real reason I went straight to that bottle: the price. A Kermit Lynch blend for under $10! Since I was on foot and with a small pack, I had room for only one wine, and this was it. So I’ll digress from my route down Cedar Street and fast-forward, again, to dinner — Friday night pizza and Il Goccetto. Both my partner and I loved this little nip (the translation of Il Goccetto), probably the best $10 wine I’ve ever had.

The KL folks recommend a chill, and I can see it served almost as a rosé, but for myself, I think just under room temperature (which is probably room temperature in Northern Italy where it comes from) allows the lively berries and spices and violet to come through. The wine’s light, yes, but so alive and flavorful and rustic — in the sense of something served with great pride at a tiny trattoria — that I was plotting a case even before the bottle was empty. I’m calling it my “spring red.”

(The next day, John at Valley Wine Company promised to order some up. Should be there by the time you read this.)

I continued down Cedar, the bottle comfortably resting on my back, and made my way to Fourth Street, which is not only great fun for exploring (I especially love the Pasta Shop) but also leads right to the Berkeley Amtrak station, so convenient for returning home. In the same plaza as the Pasta Shop is Vino!, another small delightful Berkeley wine source.

“What are you excited about?” I asked the manager, a man by the name of Arthur. He took me straight to the 2010 Velenosi Lacrima de Morro ($15) from the Marche region of Italy. Since I had recently written about a lovely lacrima I tasted at Vini, I was most happy to have this recommendation. Vino! claims that this wine is “so fragrant, you almost don’t need to taste it, but once you do you’ll be hooked.” Lavender, violets and blueberries are the promised flavors, so I was sorry indeed that I didn’t have room for it.

I guess I’ll just have to get out of town again soon.

— Reach Susan Leonardi at Comment on this column at

Susan Leonardi


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