Fall Wine School Kick-off: Tasting & Describing Wine with Mary Burnham – September 23

September 29th, 2014

We launched our Fall Wine School with the first class in our Intro Series: Tasting & Describing Wine. Mary Burnham is a freelance writer and author of Food and Wine Magazine’s Wine Guide.

Our Tasting & Describing Wine class focuses on blind tasting and interpreting our senses. We observe the smells, sensations, and flavors of the wine and draw conclusions as to grape varietal and place of origin. For beginners, it is a really helpful class in learning how to recognize certain characteristics and match them with a particular wine. Mary did a superb job of taking us through the components of the wine, from flavors to acidity to body to tannin, and helping the students determine the wine in each glass.

We enjoyed an interesting progression of white wines from zesty Champagne and Sauvignon Blanc to creamy Chardonnay and slightly-sweet Riesling. For reds we went from Pinot to Syrah with some typical favorites in between, ending with a 1992 Napa Cab. Thanks again to Mary for a great class and to the students who attended – we hope to see you again this fall! Let us know what you thought.

Wine List

1. Champagne Collet Brut Grand Art NV – Champagne, France

2. Maimai Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

3. Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Valmur Grand Cru 2010 – (Chardonnay) Chablis, FR

4. Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay 2008 – Napa Valley, CA

5. Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2011 – Mosel Valley, GER

6. JK Carriere Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2002 – Willamette Valley, OR

7. Felsina Chianti Classico Berardenga 2008 – (Sangiovese) Tuscany, Italy

8. Scherrer Vineyards Alexander Valley Zinfandel 2005 – Sonoma County, CA

9. Domaine George Vernay Cote Rotie La Blonde du Seigneur 2010 – Northern Rhone, FR

10. BV George de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 – Napa Valley, CA

- Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

School is in Session!

September 18th, 2014

Please join us for our upcoming classes here at The Wine School @ San Francisco Wine Center. The first four classes are posted, including our two Intro Series classes with Mary Burnham and two Italian focus classes with Mauro Cirilli.

Click on on the Classes portion of the website or go here to see the schedule and sign up: http://www.sfwinecenter.com/classes.php

We’ll be posting additional classes soon for dates in October, November and December covering Burgundy, Champagne and more so check back frequently to the ‘Classes’ calendar on our site.

See you in school!

  • Share/Bookmark

Wines of the Anderson Valley and Mendocino County

June 30th, 2014

After a successful “Pinot Days Night” tasting at the San Francisco Wine Center on June 17 and the actual Pinot Days event at the Metreon on June 21, we continued the Pinot Noir theme at SFWC with wines from Mendocino County, including the Anderson Valley. Representatives from Waits-Mast and Alder Springs poured their wines for a group of wine collectors, and we threw in some Copain Wines from Anderson Valley as a bonus.

Alder Springs is located in northern Mendocino County, 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, on an old ranch property. The hilly landscape reaches 4,000 feet and boasts bright sun, cool nights and low-vigor soils. 140 acres of grapes are planted at elevations ranging from 1,700 to 2,700 feet. Alder Springs makes Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Rhone varietals with a focus on clonal selection, state of the art rootstock and superior trellising. The property is beautiful, and Marsella poured their full range of wines, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Counois called ‘Kinesis’ – this was my favorite for its meaty, spicy character that kept changing in the glass.

Waits-Mast Family Cellars is a husband and wife team from San Francisco who make their wine in the city, sourcing their fruit from vineyards in Mendocino County, Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley and Sta. Rita Hills. Focusing only on Pinot Noir, these wines are beautifully spicy and complex, with balance and grace. My favorite was their 2012 Deer Meadows Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, which smelled like a cinnamon bun and continued on the palate with exotic spice and fruit.

Copain Wines, located in Healdsburg, Russian River Valley, sources fruit from there as well as Anderson Valley and Mendocino County for their Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay. We poured their “Tous Ensemble” Anderson Valley Chardonnay alongside 3 Pinot Noirs from Anderson Valley. “Les Voisons,” or “the neighbors,” is a Pinot Noir blended from a cluster of neighboring Pinot Noir vineyards in the Deep End of Anderson Valley. This was the crowd favorite, with its smooth spice and fruit.

Funny enough, Waits-Mast and Copain both had a Wentzel Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, so the comparison was interesting: Waits-Mast was more fruit forward leading to spice, while Copain had a clove spice nose that was integrated with the fruit throughout.

Thanks to Marsella, Jennifer and Brian for sharing your wines on this pleasant evening!

Wine List:

Alder Springs

  1. 2009 Chardonnay
  2. 2010 Chardonnay
  3. 2012 Pinot Noir
  4. 2012 Kinesis
  5. 2009 Syrah
  6. 2012 Syrah


  1. 2012 Chardonnay “Tous Ensemble” Anderson Valley
  2. 2010 Pinot Noir Kiser “En-Haut” Anderson Valley
  3. 2011 Pinot Noir “Les Voisins” Anderson Valley
  4. 2011 Pinot Noir Wentzel Anderson Valley


  1. 2012 Pinot Noir, Deer Meadows Vineyard, Anderson Valley
  2. 2011 Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley
  3. 2010 Pinot Noir, Londer Vineyard, Anderson Valley

-Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

Pinot Days

June 22nd, 2014

This year SF Wine Center partnered with Pinot Days and hosted a booth at the event on Saturday, June 21. It was a great opportunity to mingle with fellow wine lovers and collectors, sharing the merits of wine storage. American Pinot Noir dominated the event with a couple Kiwi representations, but SFWC was the only table pouring Burgundy:

If you were lucky enough to taste this elegant, silky wine with subtle fruit and good acidity, then we hope to see you again soon at SFWC!

-Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

GLG Wine Labs at SF Wine Center

June 20th, 2014

What happens when a bunch of scientists get together for some wine education? Last week San Francisco Wine Center found out as we hosted “GLG Wine Labs,” a private wine tasting event for Gerson Lehrman Group, which is a membership network for one-on-one professional learning comprised of thought leaders and practitioners. In attendance were 15 senior life science executives plus SFWC instructor Jordan Mackay. The tasting featured four old and new world wine comparisons, with the goal being to educate the group on the differences between the wines and the factors that cause those differences, including climate, elevation, soil, grape varietal, barrel selection and aging.

The first comparison involved Rose – one from Loire, France and the other from Sonoma, California. The French rose was a lighter, more salmon color, with good minerality and acidity and lower alcohol. The American rose was more fruit forward and oaky, with higher alcohol and a more pronounced pink color. Jordan explained the three main methods used for making rose wine – one being to pick the grapes early when their acidity is high to create a light, crisp pink wine, another being to bleed off some juice from fermenting red wine to further concentrate that wine and create a rose wine as a byproduct, and the third being to mix red and white wine (this is not done often). In the old world producers tend to make rose by the first method, whereas in the new world rose wine is often made by the second.

The second comparison – Riesling – introduced another aspect of wine: bottle variation. On the Oregon Riesling, the first bottle was corked, so we got a lot of sneaker funk and wet cardboard. On the fresh bottle we got more typical new world Riesling aromas of rubber and lime. The German Riesling was markedly different, with a deep golden color and an oxidized/developed nose of caramel, raisin, honey and apricot. The second bottle was fresher, with peach, celery, toasted corn and honey developing on the palate.

The third comparison was a beautiful exercise in well-made Pinot Noir – one from Burgundy and one from the Anderson Valley in Northern California. The Burgundy had a perfumed nose with delicate red fruit, warm spice and nice acidity. The Anderson Pinot had an herbaceous nose with ripe fruit and oak spice.

Finally, the fourth set – Syrah – showed a nice contrast between Rhone and California, with the former being a very typical representation of the grape with black pepper and gamey meat qualities, while the California was more fruit forward.

Overall, the event played well to this scientific crowd who was able to let their inner wine geek shine. Cheers, GLG!

Wine List*:

  1. Domaine Laporte le Bouquet Loire Valley Rose de Pinot Noir 2012 (France)
  2. Reuling Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Rose 2012 (California)
  3. Max Ferdinand Richter Graacher Domprost Mosel Valley Riesling Kabinett 2004 (Germany)
  4. J Christopher Willamette Valley Riesling 2004 (Oregon)
  5. Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret Savigny-les-Beaune Les Narbantons 1er Cru 2011 (Burgundy, France)
  6. Copain “Les Voisins” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2011 (California)
  7. Saint Cosme Saint Joseph 2010 (Northern Rhone Valley, France)
  8. Alban Vineyards “Patrina” Central Coast Estate Syrah 2010 (California)

*These wines are available for purchase through SFWC – contact us if interested!

- Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

Sharing Pinot with the Corkdork

June 5th, 2014

This week, storage member John (aka The Corkdork) shared a bottle of Pinot Noir with us in The City Room at SFWC. It was produced by winemaker Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr, a sommelier who oversees the wine program of the Michael Mina restaurant group and is involved in various wine making projects. Raj is also a wine educator and writer of the book Secrets of the Sommeliers, co-authored with Jordan Mackay, a frequent SFWC educator.  As the label shows, the  fruit for this wine came from the warm Sta. Rita Hills Appellation of Santa Barbara county, which is not only the location of the movie Sideways but a region some believe to be the best place in the New World to grow Pinot Noir, due to its cool Pacific marine layer. While enjoying this easy-sipping Pinot on a pleasant afternoon, we noticed blackberry jam and delicate spice on the palate. Thanks, John and Rajat!

- Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

Wine and Watches

June 1st, 2014

Last month the San Francisco Wine Center sponsored a tasting at Ben Shemano Jewelry, a beautiful second-floor showroom in Union Square that specializes in antique and custom jewelry. For collectors of the finer things in life, the focus of the evening was on fine wristwatches from designers including Rolex, Patek Phillipe and Audemars Piguet. For the group of about 30 people we poured an array of wines from around the world and shared stories about winemaking and travel. We even learned that the late owner of Pride Mountain Vineyards in Napa Valley was a former dentist. Wonder what toothpaste he’d recommend for wine stains? He actually wasn’t a practicing dentist but a consultant who advised other dentists on how to optimize their office layouts.

From the white wine drinkers we found many Sancerre lovers and even converted some to Riesling fans. It was a warm evening in San Francisco and many opted for the cold ones. We encountered those who thought Riesling was always sweet, so we educated them on the various styles of Riesling and the labeling term used to denote ‘dry’ in German, which is ‘trocken.’

Red wine fans enjoyed classic west coast examples of Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel, plus a Chilean blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. A couple of magnums dared to impress bold palates and showed how the right amount of air can make a wine open up.

Inevitably, with an even number of wines it’s easy to find yourself comparing. 2 whites, 2 reds, 2 magnums. The Sancerre had a flowery nose and a rich palate. The Riesling had the distinct petrol nose that developed into stone fruit, followed by beautiful citrus and orange blossom on the palate. The Oregon Pinot Noir was earthy and leathery, while the Napa Petite Sirah had a flowery but smoky nose with spice, lead pencil and roses on the palate. The two magnums couldn’t be more different; the Brown Zinfandel was immediately rich, fruity and lush, while the Chilean blend was super tight, smoky and herbal at first, eventually opening up to reveal warm spice, red fruit, and an herbal forest. I found this one to be the most interesting, particularly as it evolved over the course of the evening.

Wine List

1. Gitton Sancerre 2012 – France
2. Peter Jakob Kuhn Riesling Trocken 2010 – Germany
3. Provocateur Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2003 – Oregon
4. Pride Petite Sirah Napa Valley 2003 – California
5. Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley 2006 – California (Magnum)
6. Primus The Blend Colchagua Valley 2008 – Chile (Magnum)

Bites from The City Kitchen complimented the wines and provided a wonderful appetizer to later dinner plans. For some, the jewelry was dessert.

- Melanie Solomon

  • Share/Bookmark

Cote de Beaune Red Burgundy Class

March 24th, 2014

Last Thursday, March 11th, the San Francisco Wine Center (SFWC) crew, along with a class full of wine enthusiasts and SFWC’s members, kick started the La Paulée Burgundy celebration week with an awesome night of Burgundy Pinot Noirs. Jordan Mackay, our instructor, shared fascinating tales of Burgundy as we sipped through 9 hand-selected reds from the Cote de Beaune. Brian, the SFWC’s owner, personally hand selected those wines for the night.

We had several wines from the great 2010 vintage (known to be the last great vintage of Burgundy). We learned a Burgundy red could be “honest” – that’s how Jordan described the Paul Pernot Pommard Les Noizons 1999. We also swirled and swirled the Domain Bruno Clavelier Corton Le Rognet Grand Cru 2010 and debated “to de-stem or not to de-stem” which is often the key question among Burgundy’s legendary wine makers in a particular vintage.

We started the night with Masion Leroy Cote de Beaune 1990. The Cote de Beaune appellation covers the red wines from a smaller subset of the vineyards around Beaune than the more traditional Cote de Beane Village designation. Leave it to the legendary Leroy to make even their Cote de Beaune so special and age worthy! With aromas of red fruits and ripe cherries, it was truly a humble yet inspiring start for the night.

Then we moved to Jean-Claude Boisset Santenay Clos Rousseau 1er Cru 2006. The Santenay appellation is located to the south of the legendary Chassagne-Montrachet on the southern slopes of the Cote D’Or. The wine had silky and round tannins. Jordan told us that they let the wine macerate for 3 weeks which makes the tannins so soft and velvety.

The 3rd wine of the night was Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret Savigny-les-Beaune Les Narbantons 1er Cru 2011. The moment you smell this one, you’re enveloped in the spicy aromas of red current and earth, which are the signature of Savigny style wines. Here one of the class participants suggested going back to the first 2 wines and smelling them one after another followed by the Savigny wine. And oh it was worth it! The spicy aromas caused by not de-stemming the grapes were so dominant that I don’t think anyone in the class will ever forget the sensation.

The fourth wine that Brian selected was Paul Pernot Pommard Les Noizons 1999. This was interestingly smoky and irony. The mineral smell of the soil came through beautifully and on the palate it was robust and still alive with tannins. Jordan paused, and with a big smile on his face, called it a great example of the honest wines of Pommard and more clear evidence that even the more humble wines can age beautifully for many years.
Nicolas Rossignol Pommard Les Fremier 1er Cru 2009 was the next glass we tasted, a wine we all agreed was very well made and more the “glossy” feel of a Pommard wine.

So now behold…the next two wines deserve the drum roll please. I personally plan to order a case or two of these wines, store them, and once they age for couple of years I will pour them at a dinner party of my closest friends (only they deserve this ) and surprise them with those complex aromas that no one will expect from such light colored red wines. I guess by now you can tell that I loved the next two wines: Domain Vincent Girardin Volnay Les Santenots 1er Cru 2010 and Domaine Michel Lafarage Volnay Clos du Chateau des Ducs 1er Cru 1997. Greg our beloved storage member and wine collector suggested we try the wine with the two truffle cheeses that our dear Milena, the SFWC manager, selected for the evening. We all loved it! The next day I actually went and bought that cheese so that I could serve it with those lovely, lush Volnay wines at my dinner party.

We then wrapped up the class in style with two Grand Cru Cortons, the Domain Chandon de Briailles Corton Bressandes 2007 and Domain Bruno Clavelier Corton Le Rognet 2010. The 2007 was classic Corton but accessible and elegant, while the 2010 was traditional and expectedly tough as nails, even with time in the glass. Did you know Bruno Clavelier was a professional rugby player who then moved to the world of wine, producing highly sought after old-style red burgundy? His story is a true tale of wine fascination to which I can certainly relate. Can’t you?

Once the class was over we had the unique opportunity to taste some more amazing wines handpicked by Brian from his personal cellar as well as by our long-time Storage Members and Burgundy collectors; Greg and his lovely wife Julie. These two true burgundy experts (they were married in the Clos Vougeot!) chose several amazing wines to share from their own personal storage space at the SFWC. It was truly a night to remember. We tasted beautiful wines from 1985 and 1999 vintages. Days later, I for one could still feel the long and perfectly balanced finish of the 1985 Chambertin, if not on my palate certainly in my memories.


  • Share/Bookmark

A Thin Line Between OW and NW

October 14th, 2013

Three weeks into our fall wine school season here at the SF Wine Center and I must say that one thing has already stood out to me. Within these first few classes we’ve done several side by side blind tastings of grape varieties in both their Old World and New World forms. Some found it relatively easy to decipher which was which while many were left giving the top of their heads a nice little scratch. So I began to wonder, why are wine styles that have historically been considered ‘night and day’ from each other nowadays blurring the lines? The answer to that is complicatedly simple. When it comes to producing wines that compare in style and quality to their Old World counterparts, these days New World producers are pinning the tail closer to the donkey’s…well, you know. They are doing so by investing more time, money, and attention into mimicking the ways of the Old World. The overall picture is based on less interference with the wines and allowing them to express their natural character and terroir. In the vineyard they are putting more focus on site selection and meticulous viticulture methods while in the winery they are investing in better equipment to create more hygienic and delicate winemaking conditions. Another key factor is that they are finding ways to less abrasively impart oak to the wines by paying the extra dollars for French oak, using more neutral oak, and sometimes skipping oak all together. Okay, okay, so now let’s have a taste of what this all means…

The first example I’ll use is a Sauvignon Blanc that we tasted. It was crisp with aromas of green apple, grapefruit, elderflower, bay laurels, and a hint of smoky minerality. Perhaps a wine from Sancerre? Nope. Instead, this refreshing wine hails from Casablanca, Chile. Example number two is a Riesling that expressed aromas of ripe pear, melon, jasmine, and developing hints of kerosene and eucalyptus. This could have very well passed for a German Trocken wine that was grown near a patch of gum trees, but naturally it is from none other than the Barossa Valley of Australia. On to example number three, this wine had soft-tannin and a masculine complexity that presented nuances of red cherry, smoked meat, leather, and forest floor. All of the right pieces were there to be on par with a Gevrey-Chambertin with a bit more backbone, but instead this Pinot Noir came from Willamette Valley, Oregon. Our last example is a deep colored Nebbiolo with high acidity and powdery tannin with flavors of black cherry, plum, rose, and earthiness. Less reflective of Barolo and more similar to a Valtellina Nebbiolo, this wine is from Paso Robles, California and is but one of many examples of Italian varietals showing some great potential here in the Golden State. So with all of these examples, we can all agree that New World producers have been stepping up their game to continue giving Old World wines a run for their money. But hey, Old World producers can’t be too upset about it… Imitation IS the best form of flattery.

-Julie Albin

  • Share/Bookmark

Old World VS New World – And a Few Shades of Grey

August 5th, 2013

It’s no secret that people define wines by which side of the tracks they came from. Not always rightfully so, but this dividing line between wines of the Old World and wines of the New World has been an everlasting regularity for decades upon decades. This juxtapose of styles has influenced many people’s opinions to the point where wines might as well be from two different planets. So what is it that spells out Old World versus New World? Grown and produced throughout Europe, Old World wines tend to bear characteristics of fresh fruit, acidity, minerality, oak spices, and maintain a more modest austerity and alcohol level. On the other hand, New World wines typically express riper fruit, vanilla and coconut flavors, lower acidity, somewhat astringent tannin, higher viscosity, and ultimately higher levels of alcohol. Sounds easily definable right? Well, unfortunately there is often a lot of crossover which makes for many shades of grey. Food and Wine Magazine Guide to Wine author Mary Burnham recently popped into the SF Wine Center to help puzzled students put some of the pieces in the right places. Blindly tasting several sets of wines, students were put to the test to see if they could figure out which wines were Old World and New Old. Here’s a taste of what we figured out…

Let’s start with a quick comparison of two of the wines we tasted. Wine #1 was a lemon-colored and light bodied wine with zesty acidity and hints of green apple, lime juice, and flinty minerality. Wine #2 was slightly golden in color and had more weight in the mouth, a creamier texture, and notes of ripe peach, melon, and vanilla oil. So which is which? You guessed it. Wine #1 is a Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2010 exemplifying the Old World while wine #2 is a 2009 Mayacamas Chardonnay from the Napa Valley. And now that we know that, what is it that creates this often inarguable diversity between OW and NW? Climate is a rather crucial aspect as some OW regions struggle to have enough sunshine and heat to reach full ripeness while most New World regions have too much of a good thing and often end up overripe because of it. What happens in the vineyard can also affect the wine styles as many OW producers practice manual harvesting and most NW producers take advantage of mechanization. Legal matters in the vineyard can also influence the wines; an example being that irrigation is not permitted in many OW countries so the vineyards are left to fend for themselves in the pursuit of water. And certainly not least is the impact of aging methods. OW producers aging their wines in French oak barrels will impart hints of oak spices, smokiness, and leather. Many NW producers using American oak barrels will grant their wines more buttery notes alongside vanilla and coconut. So all in all, it would seem that easy to tell the difference, right? Mother Nature has other plans and is presenting them by way of global climate change which is affecting European wine regions as we speak. And as if that wasn’t adding enough confusion to the pile, more and more California producers are switching to French oak while some Tuscan producers have recently started to experiment with American oak. So what it comes down to is that all of these grey areas start to raise the question of the century– is NW and OW simply black and white or is there currently a changing of the tides?

-Julie Albin

  • Share/Bookmark