Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Food & Wine Paring Class

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

We at the SF Wine Center love a good food and wine pairing, and our event with Chef Alejandra and Master Sommelier Gillian Ballance did not disappoint!  Four courses with two wine pairings each led us down an adventurous path.

Highlights included:


Starting with the 2005 Mumm DVX – aged on the lys for 6-7 years: the weight, acidity and creaminess of this sparkling wine paired beautifully with the leek and smoked salmon mini quiche.

The spice of the Camarones al Fuego with Spanish Chorizo and piperade (pimento) was subtly cooled by the surprising strawberry spiciness of the 2012 Raventos i Blanc de Nit Rose Cava. That Chorizo spice increased noticeably with the Luigi Boasca La Linda Lujan de Cuyo 2009 Estate Tempranillo.


 A treat for all California Chardonnay fans came in the 2009 Hyde de Villaine Hyde Vineyards Carneros Chardonnay. Paired with a rosemary flatbread covered in a wild mushroom and caramelized onion sauté, this medium-bodied, lightly buttery Chardonnay kept everyone’s mouth watering.




For the final course, Chef Alejandra treated us to duck breast in freshly zested orange confit reduction.  Offsetting this rich, but bright dish, the 2012 Domaine Gilles Robin Crozes Hermitage Blanc Cuvee Les Marelles showed a delicate blend of Marsanne/Rousanne that was elegant and unique.

With this lineup, no one left hungry or thirsty!






Semillon Horizontals and Verticals

Saturday, 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

Saturday, 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

Thursday, 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

Monday, 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

Friday, 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)

Madeira Master Class – October 10

Monday, October 13th, 2014

We were thrilled to host this Madeira Master Class at SFWC, led by professionals from The Madeira Wine Institute – the governing body of winemaking on the island of Madeira, Portugal. Madeira is a fortified wine known for its longevity – but did you know the best Madeira can last 300 years? Rui Falcao, our instructor, told us about the oldest Madeira he’s tried, which was from 1715. It was not only good, but very good – nowhere near tired or gone. How does this tiny, mountainous island whose subtropical climate is always 70 degrees produce one of the world’s most indestructible wines? Acidity! Like Champagne, Madeira’s wine grapes produce extremely acidic wines that are undrinkable in their normal, vinified state. But this acidity provides the backbone of a wine balanced by natural sugar levels and the addition of neutral spirit to raise the alcohol from about 9% to 18%. With the right amount of aging, a beautiful, complex wine emerges.

Madeira is always a single varietal wine. The 5 main permitted varietals vary in natural sweetness, so their wines will usually follow suit. Sercial is a always a dry wine; Verdelho – medium dry; Boal/Bual – medium sweet; Malvasia/Malmsey – sweet/rich; Tinta Negra is the only red varietal, vinified as a white, and it can be any level of sweetness. Though it accounts for 82% of Madeira production, it used to not be talked about, but as recently as the day of this class it had been recognized as a Noble grape varietal and will be included on the label going forward.

Madeira has a total of just 900 acres of vines. Vineyards are managed separately from the wineries, and there are only 8 Madeira wineries in existence. One of these opened 3 years ago and it was the first new winery in 60 years. Clearly, Madeira winemaking is a very old tradition. (Fun fact: the fathers of the U.S. Constitution toasted its signing with Madeira!) The Madeira Wine Institute does all of the analytics on each wine and tastes them before bottling to make sure the wine matches its proposed labeling criteria. After a blind tasting, an approval allows the winery to bottle and sell the wine. Madeira wines are either a blended style (meaning a blend of different years, not grapes); a Colheita single harvest – also known as a “baby vintage” that must be aged for a minimum of 5 years to be labeled as such; or a Frasqueira/Vintage – which must be aged for a minimum of 20 years to be labeled with that vintage.

The tasting included a wonderful sampling across these grape varietals and aging categories. We learned that Madeira should be served cold, and one shouldn’t try to follow it with any other wine – the finish is long and lingering.  Despite the “sweet” character of many Madeiras, the bracing acidity actually balances that sweetness, making it a friendly wine on its own or with food.

Typical Madeira aromas include toasted almond, caramel, molasses and raisin. My favorite was the Colheita 1996, with its honey and orange blossom character; the finish went on forever. The Malvasia 1989 was also a treat, with burnt orange peel and caramel.

Wine List:

  1. H&H Sercial 10 Años
  2. The Rare Wine Co. Savannah Verdelho
  3. Broadbent Malvasia 10 Años
  4. Blandy’s Colheita 1996
  5. D’Oliveiras 1989 Malvasia

Thank you to Rui and the Madeira Wine Institute for choosing SFWC to host this informative and delicious tasting!

-Melanie Solomon

The Three Big B’s of Italy with Mauro Cirilli – September 30

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Last week in wine school we were educated about the subtle but significant differences between the 3 Big B’s of Italy: Barolo, Brunello & Barbaresco.  Mauro Cirilli, Italy’s top Sommelier, returned to SFWC for another round of his Italian wine series.  These 3 wines (named for their regions) are known for their longevity, structure, acidity and food friendliness.

Barolo and Barbaresco wines are both made 100% with the Nebbiolo grape. These northern Italian regions of Piedmont have a cooler climate, and the food of the region tends to be rich, so Nebbiolo pairs well with the cuisine. Minimum aging requirements for Barbaresco include 26 months in oak for regular wines and 50 months for Riserva wines. In Barolo, minimum aging for regular wines if 38 months and 62 months for Riserva. These two regions are a bit like Burgundy in that all wines are single vineyard designated. Despite their proximity, these two regions vary in climate and style due to Barbaresco’s closeness to the Tanaro River, which provides a maritime influence that helps Nebbiolo ripen a bit earlier than in Barolo. This results in earlier fermentation and less maceration, so the tannins in a young Barbaresco are not as tough as in Barolo, hence the reduced aging requirement.  Barbaresco is more approachable than Barolo earlier, but it won’t age as long. Barolo is one of the greatest wines of Italy, with its trademark calcareous soils and vineyard slopes contributing to the complex aromas of tar and roses and extremely long cellar life.

Brunello – short for Brunello di Montalcino – is in the region of Tuscany, known for olive oil and lighter foods, and the 100% Sangiovese wines complement this cuisine perfectly. Montalcino has one of the warmest and driest climates in Tuscany, and this particular clone of Sangiovese is unique to the region – it ripens more fully and consistently here than anywhere else in Tuscany, contributing to the body, color, extract and tannins commonly associated with Brunello di Montalcino. Sangio in Italian means blood, but in contrast to the Sangiovese in Chianti, Brunello is described as “fleshier.” Minimum aging for these wines is 48 months or 60 for Riserva.

Traditional wineries use large oak vats while modern wineries may used smaller French barriques. All 3 of these wines are lightly pigmented and tend to have a garnet color, with high tannin, high acidity, and medium to full body.

We tasted Barbaresco first, enjoying the licorice, spice, dried fruit flavors. My favorite was the 1990 Ceretto, from Bricco Asili. It took a while to open up but once it did I loved the roses and that smooth finish.


2007 Produttori del Barbaresco, Riserva, Montestefano (in Barbaresco)

2007 Gaja (in Barbaresco)

1999 Scarpa, Tettineive (in Neive)

1990 Ceretto, Bricco Asili (in Barbaresco)

Next, the Barolos. Meaty, savory, rich with sweet spices, violets and roses, rhubarb, licorice and fennel. The 2001 even had an interesting combination of mint crème and butter toffee along with tar and dried flowers. It was tough to pick a favorite in this group but all of them could definitely age much longer.


2010 Andrea Oberto, Rocche (in La Morra)

2006 Boroli, Villero (in Castiglione Falletto)

2001 Giuseppe Mascarello, Monprivato (in Castiglione Falletto)

The Brunellos were more approachable, with juicy ripe fruit and savory herbs and earth.  My favorite was the 2004 Casanova di Neri, which also showed dark violet, prune and sweet licorice in beautiful balance.

Brunello di Montalcino:

2006 Gianni Brunelli

2006 Gaja, Pieve di Santa Restituta

2004 Casanova di Neri, Cerretalto

All of these wines had amazing acidity and structure and could age even longer. They would be fabulous with a meal but we did fine with a delicious assortment of Italian cheeses.

Next up with Mauro: Indigenous varieties of Italy on Nov 4. I can’t wait for this class – join us!

-Melanie Solomon

Wines of the Anderson Valley and Mendocino County

Monday, 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

Pinot Days

Sunday, 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