Semillon Horizontals and Verticals

November 14th, 2015

Recently SF Wine Center hosted a private Australian wine seminar focused on Semillon. This grape is traditionally found in Bordeaux, blended with the dominant Sauvignon Blanc, but Australia has established Semillon as an interesting varietal wine that is bright and ageable.


With producers like Tyrrell’s, Thomas Wines and Audrey Wilkinson, we sampled Semillon from 2015, 2009, 2005 and some older. The 2015’s, from the vintage down under earlier this year, were super fresh with a lot of lime, some tropical notes and ample acidity. The acidity was the most surprising element as I tasted through the older wines, permeating each wine and contributing to their freshness and longevity. The Audrey Wilkinson line-up was most impressive to me, with the freshness of the 2015 transitioning to the funky petrol and barnyard nose of the 2009 Reserve. I had forgotten that aged Semillon took on a petrol quality like Riesling; there was even some sherbet and talc on this one. The 2005 was toasty and complex, and the 2001 still had good acid and petrol, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the 2005.


Most of these wines are not widely available in the U.S., but if I happen to see an older Semillon on a wine list or in a wine shop I will be sure to give it a try.


– Melanie Solomon

The Art of Food & Wine Pairing

November 14th, 2015


Recently we held our first Wine & Food pairing class in a long time, led by Master Sommelier Gillian Ballance with food prepared by chef Alejandra Espinoza. Before diving into the pairings we learned some basic “rules,” the first being that food changes wine but not the other way around – wine will not make a food better or worse, but food can do one or the other for wine. The second was that like flavors play well together, like fruity with fruity, earthy with earthy, sweet with sweet, but not too sweet – the food should not be sweeter than the wine; this is why (dry) red wine and chocolate is often a failed pairing. Gillian shared some of her experience working at Windows on the World in the former World Trade Center, where she and her fellow employees would spend hours working on the perfect food and wine combinations. An art more than a science, trial and error is the best way to find the best matches. Students brought their thirst and appetite to this class, and the best pairing of the night was the Oregon Pinot and the mushroom flatbread – an example of earthy + earthy. This class also reinforced my opinion that Champagne and Riesling are the most food-friendly wines around; their acidity makes them pair well with both fresh and rich dishes.


The food:
1. Tuna Tataki, Ginger-lime Vinaigrette or Black Sesame Crusted Cayenne Aioli
2. Mini Quiche, Broccoli, Feta Cheese
3. Flatbread, Wild Mushrooms, Gruyere, Truffle oil
4. Angus Beef Burgers, Onion Compote, Black Pepper Sauce

The wine:
1. Larmandier-Bernier Lattitude Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs NV – Champagne, FR ($48)
2. Gritsch Mauritiushof Gruner Veltliner Loibenberg Smaragd Wachau 2011 – Austria ($40)
3. Domaines Leflaive Macon Verze 2013 – Burgundy, France ($42)
4. Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2011 – Mosel Valley, GER ($30)
5. JK Carriere Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2002 – Oregon ($65)
6. Giovanni Rosso Barbera d’Alba 2013 – Piedmont, Italy ($25)
7. Sierra Cantabria Finca El Bosque Rioja 2008 – Rioja, Spain ($170)
8. Rudd Estate Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 – Napa Valley, CA ($120)


-Melanie Solomon

Taste Like a Pro with Mauro Cirilli – October 13

October 22nd, 2015


Last week we introduced a new blind tasting class with Mauro Cirilli – Taste Like a Pro! With the wines in brown bags so we couldn’t see the grape, producer, origin or year, we forced ourselves to evaluate each wine’s color, smell, flavor, sugar, acidity, alcohol, tannin, body and finish in order to guess the specifics that were hidden behind the bag. As Mauro said, a long finish is a sign of a high quality wine that you should be happy with… who doesn’t love when the wine lingers on your tongue long after it’s gone? Color tells us about the wine’s age; for white wines, a green hue indicates youth, while it becomes more golden with age; reds start out more purple and turn to red and orange with age. And the legs… don’t tell us much, other than the fact that the wine has alcohol. The tasting included 6 different classic grape varieties from various regions all over the world including 1 sparkling, 2 whites, 2 reds and 1 sweet.

The sparkling wine had fine, smooth bubbles, a rich, nutty character and a long finish. Yes, this was most certainly Champagne! Champagne sets the standard for all sparkling wines with creamy bubbles and a rich, textured body.

The first white had a green hue; it was lean and zesty with good acid, briny with ocean air. It was a Loire Valley Muscadet from France – not an easy guess!

Next was a more typical white with a golden hue, aromas of limestone, nutmeg, stone fruit and vanilla. Creamy texture with lemon curd flavor. A white Burgundy? Actually it was a Russian River Chardonnay from here in California. Impressive!

The first red had ripe fruit and some earthiness. It was high in acid (for a red) and low in tannin with a persistent earthy, flowery quality. Not a Pinot… this was a Grand Cru Beaujolais, made from the Gamay grape in the area south of Burgundy, France.

The second red brought me right back to my honeymoon in Rioja, so I knew it was Tempranillo. Earthy, brambly fruit, vanilla and dill. This was Rioja Alta.

For the grand finale, a dessert wine with orange zest, tropical fruit, white flowers… it was an ice wine from Dr. Loosen in Germany.

A varied and educational tasting with wines representing San Francisco Wine Center and Mauro’s menu at Press Club.

Wine List:

1. Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs NV ($48)

2. Claude Branger Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Terroir Les Gras Moutons 2013, Loire Val, FR($13)

3. Suacci Carciere Heintz Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma, CA ($40)

4. Jean-Paul Brun Fleurie Terres Dorées 2013, Beaujolais, France ($22)

5. Vina Alberdi, Reserva, La Rioja Alta 2008, Rioja, Spain ($20)

6. Dr. Ernst Loosen Eiswein 2008, Mosel Valley, Germany ($45)



– Melanie Solomon

New World vs. Old World with Mary Burnham – September 29

October 5th, 2015


In our second intro class, New World versus Old World, we compare wines from Europe to those from “newer” wine making areas like South Africa, America, New Zealand, and Australia. The trick is to guess between two similar wines of mostly the same varietal and determine which is from the New World and which is from the Old World. Mary Burnham, wine writer, explained that, in general, New World wines tend to be more fruity and oaky with higher alcohol compared to Old World wines, which tend to be more earthy, savory, acidic and minerally. However, the line between Old and New has been blurring, with some NW producers going back to the old style and some OW taking a more modern approach. For this reason the Pinot Noir comparison totally stumped the group, since the Oregon version was quite savory and the Burgundy version was more of a NW style.  Two more interesting but difficult pairs to discern in this group were a Chenin Blanc duo from France and South Africa and a Tempranillo duo from Spain and Washington State. As slightly lesser known varietals, we really had to put our wine thinking caps on to try and determine what made these wines different and how those differences were attributable to their places of origin. The other challenge with these two pairs was that the wines really needed food to show at their best. Some cheese helped.

The only certainty tonight was that the majority of the class preferred the New World selections!

Wine List:

1. Wolf Blass Dry Riesling 2009 – South Australia ($12)

2. Metternich & Salomon Kremstal dae Reserve Pfaffenberg Riesling 2009 – Austria ($30)

3. Domaine Laffourcade Savennieres 2010 – Loire Valley FR ($25)

4. Mulderbosch Western Cape Chenin Blanc 2010 – South Africa ($14)

5. Amisfield Central Otago Pinot Noir 2005 – South Island of New Zealand ($32)

6. Vincent Girardin Vosne-Romanee Vieilles Vignes 2005 – Cote de Nuits, Burgundy, FR ($52)

7. Pesquera Ribera del Duero 2009 – Spain ($38)

8. Gramercy Cellars Tempranillo Inigo Montoya 2009 – Walla Walla, WA ($53)


– Melanie Solomon

Torbreck Tasting – September 22

October 2nd, 2015

The Torbreck tasting on September 22 was an outstanding celebration of Australian Rhone varieties from one of the classic producers of collectible wine in the Barossa Valley.  Torbreck Vice President – Americas Matt Lane opened the festivities with some classic down home Aussie humor and interesting factoids. We discussed the dynamic and complex history of wine in Australia, with a special focus on the ancient soils (oldest in the world) and ancient fruit, as well as the recent challenges the industry has faced in the world wine market. Matt by the way makes no apologies and well he shouldn’t as Torbreck showed us again how great these wines can be at their pinnacle. Winemaker Scott McDonald took us through a truly spectacular tasting of many of Torbreck’s red wines, including the much-acclaimed 2012 Pict Mataro and the 2012 Run Rug Shiraz.  The unique and evolving aromas and flavors of each wine kept our guests on their toes as the wines gained complexity and expanded across our palates with a wonderfully silky weight combined with undeniable balance.  To insure the tasting was truly unforgettable, Matt and Scott ended the night with two unexpected treats – magnums of the 2006 Les Amis Grenache and the 2006 Struie Shiraz.  Each of these wines exhibited a subtlety and depth of fruit that had everyone asking for more.  We are putting together our post class order as we speak so friends of SF Wine Center can purchase Torbreck’s wonderful wines by emailing  A complete list of the wines we tasted is below:

2013 Cuvee Juveniles
2011 The Steading Grenache Shiraz Mataro (Mourvedre)
2012 The Pict Mataro
2012 Descendant Shiraz Viognier
2012 The Factor Shiraz
2012 Run Rig Shiraz
2006 Les Amis Grenache (magnum)
2006 The Struie Shiraz (magnum)

Introduction to Wine with Jordan Mackay – September 15

September 21st, 2015

class 9.15

We kicked off Fall Wine School @ San Francisco Wine Center with our Introduction to Wine class, led by wine writer Jordan Mackay.  This class provides an overview of the top wine-making grapes and where they are grown around the world, from the classic regions to the up-and-coming. We discussed how soil and climate have dictated which grapes grow best in the classic regions and how other countries have adopted their own style of these wines, and we noted how blending and labeling vary by country.  In Europe, the location of the grapes is most important, so most wines are labeled by the vineyard or the region, not the grape. Outside of Europe, wines tend to be labeled with the dominant varietal in the wine, though a particular vineyard may also be named. California was largely responsible for varietal labeling as a marketing tactic when American wine-making was starting to gain traction in the 1960s.

Students enjoyed describing the wines in the glass and learning what potential foods might go with them, a nice preview to a future wine and food pairing class. Join us for Wine School this season!

Wine list:

1. Hunters Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012– New Zealand ($18)

2. Pascal Clement Bourgogne Chardonnay 2013 – Burgundy, France ($25)

3. Ansgar Clusserath Steinreich Riesling Trocken 2010 – Mosel Valley, GER ($35)

4. La Bête Croft Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2007 –Oregon ($30)

5. Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale 2007– Tuscany, Italy ($25)

6. Plantagenet Omrah Shiraz 2007 – Western Australia ($20)

7. Bodega Jean-Louis Raffy Tupungato Valley Malbec Réserve 2010 – Mendoza, ARG ($25)

8. Chateau Puy-Blanquet Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2008 – Bordeaux, France ($25)


— Melanie Solomon

Introduction to Wine: Tasting and Describing with Jordan Mackay – January 27

February 3rd, 2015

We kicked off the new session at the Wine School @ San Francisco Wine Center in style with our ever-popular Intro Class, Tasting and Describing. James Beard Award-winning wine author Jordan Mackay led a record sized Intro class of 24 guests through a blind tasting of popular varietals in classic styles made around the wine world. From color, aromas and flavors to acidity, tannin and alcohol, this class serves as an important foundation in recognizing the attributes of wine and pinpointing them to certain grapes and countries. As guests focused in on training their senses like professional sommeliers, Jordan also dropped a heavy dose of knowledge on them from the basics of winemaking to a summary of the most important wine growing regions of the world.

For the white wines, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc displayed the bright, zesty, citrus flavors typical of this wine; a Chardonnay from Chablis showed the crisp apple, blazing minerality and subtle creaminess of this grape’s motherland; a German Riesling added a little touch of mid-palate sweetness to the flight.

For the red wines, Oregon Pinot Noir warmed our palates with cherry, spice and soft tannins. Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero was punchier with added weight and an earthy element. Sangiovese from Chianti made mouths water for red sauce and pasta, and bold Shiraz from Australia introduced a meatier element that segued nicely into the grand finale, a juicy and bold Napa Cab from the highly respected 2001 vintage.

Thanks to Jordan and SF Wine Center Owner, Brian McGonigle, for a great line-up of wines and a fun introduction to the world of wine! If you’re in the Bay Area this Spring, come join us for other exciting tasting classes including Pinot Noir Shoot Out, Three Big B’s of Italy, New World versus Old World, Indigenous Varieties of Spain, and many, many more! Visit for more information. Cheers!

Wine List:

1.   Hunters Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012– New Zealand ($17)

2.    Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Vau de Vey 2011 – Chablis, FR ($28)

3.   Max Ferdinand Richter Graacher Dompropst Riesling Kabinett 2004 – Mosel Valley GE ($26)

4.   Archery Summit Premier Cuvee Pinot Noir 2009 – Dundee Hills WV OR ($100 mag)

5.   Dominio de Atauta Ribera del Duero 2000  – Ribera del Duero SP ($60)

6.   Castello di Ama ‘San Lorenzo’ Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010 – Tuscany IT ($50 & Wine Spectator Top 100)

7.   Schild Estate Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005  – South Australia ($30 & Wine Spectator Top 100)

8.   Tor Kenward Clone 4 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 – Napa Valley, CA ($80)

– Melanie Solomon

Champagne Master Class – December 2

December 7th, 2014

Ahh, Champagne. Around the holidays Americans always drink more bubbly – it’s a festive time of year, and people view Champagne (or any sparkling wine) as a celebratory drink. Personally, my favorite kind of wine is the kind that bubbles, and I find any excuse I can to drink it.  Mauro Cirilli, instructor for our Holiday Champagne Master Class at San Francisco Wine Center, said he needs to have a glass of Champagne every day, and he suggests we do too. Well, you don’t need to tell me twice.

Why is Champagne so special? It’s the magical second fermentation in the bottle that produces the bubbles, but it’s also the harsh growing conditions in the region of Champagne, France, that contributes to the high acidity of these wines. Champagne only averages about 1650 hours of sunlight per year, versus over 2000 for Bordeaux. This results in very acidic and unripe grapes. Through the Champagne method of winemaking, that acidity combined with extended aging on the yeast cells and just the right amount of added sugar result in complex, bright, toasty, creamy flavors that delicately dance on the tongue.

Tonight’s line up featured non-vintage (blends from different years to produce a consistent style) and vintage (from a single year) wines from grower houses and well-known luxury brands. Champagne can range in price from $40 to $400, and we tried a full range. Unfortunately, 2 bottles of Dom Perignon were faulty so I can’t say my first Dom experience was life changing. But among the rest there was beauty all around and I had a hard time choosing a favorite.

Champagne List:

  1. Doyard Cuvée Vendémiaire Brut NV ($40)
  2. Vilmart Cuvée Grand Cellier NV ($75)
  3. Larmandier-Bernier Vieilles Vignes de Cramant Grand Cru Extra Brut 2007 ($75)
  4. Gaston Chiquet Brut Cart d’Or 2002 ($70)
  5. Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil 1999 ($275)
  6. Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchhill 1999 ($195)
  7. Dom Perignon 1999 ($165)
  8. Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV ($70)

For comparison, we also tried sparkling wines from Spain and California. These were very elegant and enjoyable, and for $20-30 you could easily justify opening one of these any night of the week and any month of the year.

Not Champagne:

  1. Raventos i Blanc de Nit Rosé 2011 ($22)
  2. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2006 ($30)

Happy Holidays from San Francisco Wine Center! If you need some bubbly for your holidays please let us know.

– Melanie Solomon

Burgundy: Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-Saint-Georges – November 19

November 24th, 2014

Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-Saint-Georges are two of the most famous and well-regarded communes in Burgundy for Pinot Noir. As part of the Cote de Nuits wine region in the Northern part of the Cote d’Or, limestone and clay soils create the perfect environment for complex Pinot Noir. Of course, Burgundy is known for its varied and coveted terroir within each sub-region’s individual vineyards, so full-bodied Gevrey-Chambertin wines are often designated Grand Cru, while many wines from Nuits-Saint-Georges receive Premier Cru distinction. During this class, James Beard award-winning author and resident Pinot Noir expert, Jordan Mackay, took us through a flight of beautiful red Burgundy from these two regions.

The first four wines came from Nuits-Saint-Georges; three of these were Premier Cru. I particularly enjoyed the 1995 Robert Chevillon, with its floral but rustic perfumed nose that smelled like autumn in a glass. Super smooth on the palate, the velvety body was balanced by a nice acid profile.  The 2001 Dominique Laurent smelled like pickles at first, which I didn’t mind, but as it opened up I enjoyed the violets and roses on the nose and the lingering finish.

The next four wines from Gevrey-Chambertin were a bit more complex and earthy. My favorite, the 1998 Domaine des Chezeaux Grand Cru, had a funky, earthy nose with spice, fruit and flower on the elegant palate; this wine had great texture.

Many of the wines kept changing in the glasses as we tasted them, reminding us that wine is a living thing that constantly evolves in its various environments.

Jordan had some suggestions for wine touring in Burgundy, which is a great way to learn about the terroir. From CDG in Paris it’s about a 3-hour train ride into Beaune, the town he recommended staying in; from there you can drive around the region or bike around the vineyards. That is a trip I would love to make.

Wine List:

  1. Emmanuel Rouget Nuits-St-Georges 2009 – $110
  2. Robert Chevillon Nuits-St-Georges Les Pruliers 1er Cru 1995 – $225
  3. Perrot-Minot Nuits-St-Georges “La Richemone” ULTRA VV 1er Cru 2007 – $220
  4. Dominique Laurent Nuits-St-Georges Les Vaucrains 1er  Cru 2001 – $65
  5. Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2006 – $100
  6. Dujac Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Combottes 1er Cru 2011 – $175
  7. Frederic Esmonin Mazy Chambertin Grand Cru 1996 – $200
  8. Domaine des Chezeaux Griottes-Chambertin Grand Cru 1998 – $200

As we approach the holidays, all this Pinot Noir that we’ve been enjoying in the last couple wine classes has primed our palates for turkey and all the fixings. If you need some wines for your holidays, let us know. Happy Thanksgiving from San Francisco Wine Center!

-Melanie Solomon

Pinot Noir Around the World with Gillian Ballance – November 11

November 17th, 2014

The world of Pinot Noir stretches way beyond Burgundy – though each new world version is compared to the French mother lode. Known the world over as a finicky grape, Pinot Noir is difficult to maintain since it ripens so early and is prone to rot due to its thin skin. Genetically unstable, many different clones exist and can have marked differences. In this wine class, Gillian Ballance, Master Sommelier and former wine director of Plumpjack Hotel & Restaurant Group, describes Pinot Noir as “charming – exhibiting grace as well as power.” She took us through a varied flight of Pinot Noir from places like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, in addition to Burgundy, Oregon and California.

We started the evening off right with a well-aged Pinot from Central Coast: Calera Mt Harlan Jensen Vineyard 1999, grown on one of the few limestone vineyards in California, which was planted in 1974. It was very much alive, with balsamic, stewed fruit and good tannin.

Further north in Willamette Valley, Oregon, J.K. Carriere held tonight’s crowd favorite with the 2005 Shea Vineyard – a little funky on the nose but very Burgundian, with nice spice and good acidity.

Over on the other side of the world, South African Pinot showed its funky side with some rubber, pine and earthiness that was quite interesting and unique.

Finally, we went down under to Australia’s Yarra Yarra valley, in the Victoria district, a cooler area on the southern coast of the country. This wine was beautiful with pomegranate, cranberry and great acidity. It brought me back to a trip I took to this area in 2009, when I sampled my first Aussie Pinot and took a $25 bottle back home with me, halfway around the world to New York, where I lived at the time. This 2004 is a steal at $20! Then, from neighboring New Zealand, a Marlborough version also showed really well, with pretty fruit, leather, good acidity and a long finish. While I’m partial to Burgundy, I found these two wines to be the most exciting of the night (and the most affordable).

But speaking of which, the Burgundy of the evening, a 2008 Premier Cru from Cote de Nuits, showed refined fruit, floral and herbal qualities with elegant structure and a long finish. I can’t help it – this was my favorite.

Most of these wines are available for purchase at the San Francisco Wine Center – contact us if you are interested!

Wine List:

1. Calera Mt Harlan Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir 1999 – Central Coast ($140)

2. Labyrinth Yarra Valley Viggers Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 – Australia ($20)

3. JK Carriere Shea Vineyard 2005 – Willamette Valley, Oregon ($60)

4. Patrice Rion Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes 1er Cru 2008– Cote de Nuits, Burg, FR ($99)

5. Cobb Joy Road Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2009 – Sonoma ($65)

6. Seresin Marlborough Pinot Noir “Leah” 2009 – New Zealand ($40)

7. Copain Anderson Valley Monument Tree Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2012 – Mendocino ($70)

8. En Route Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Les Pommiers 2010 – Sonoma ($65)

9. Paul Hobbs Hyde Vineyards 2012 – Napa, Carneros ($69)

10. Hamilton Russell Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pinot Noir 2012 – South Africa ($39)

Bonus Wines!

  1. Alois Lageder Tenutae Lageder “Krafuss” Pinot Noir 2007 – Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy ($45)
  2. Foxtrot Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir 2009 – British Columbia, CAN ($56)
  3. Domaine Michel Gros Chambolle-Musigny 2012 – Cote du Nuits, Burgundy, FR($72)

– Melanie Solomon