Saturday, April 12, 2008

San Francisco Chronicle: Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc At A Crossroads


When Melissa and I visited wineries in Marlborough, I was struck by the number of winemakers who said something along the lines of “Well, Sauvignon Blanc is kind of boring.” or “Sauvy keeps the accountants happy, I guess.” I was also surprised by the wide array of other grapes that wineries were bottling. Other than the occasional Pinot Noir, we rarely see anything other than Sauvignon Blanc here. It struck me that Marlborough has been so successful with the grape that it’s become difficult to get drinkers to buy anything else.

I wrote about these observations for the lead story in the Chronicle’s Wine section. And while you all may have gotten used to these announcements, this article has a special OWF bonus: Melissa took one of the pictures they used for the piece.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

SF Chronicle: Vineyard Nurseries


If you’ve already seen the lead story in the Chronicle’s Wine section, I know what you must be thinking: “Geez, Derrick, how cliched can you get? A story about vineyard nurseries?”

No, wait. I’m thinking of a different topic. In fact, the small-but-crucial nursery industry rarely gets coverage in the consumer press; I’m not sure how much coverage it gets in the trade press. But just about any vine you see in a vineyard comes from one of the handful of nurseries in the state, and lots of their stock comes from a small department at UC Davis.

I guess I have a thing for geeky wine topics — reverse osmosis, barrel alternatives, heritage cabernet clones — and I eagerly said yes when my editor asked if I wanted to cover this topic. I got a more in-depth look at how vineyards get vines, and I hope I conveyed that to the readers (by the way, be sure to check out the pictures as well). Along the way, I realized, more than ever, that plants are just crazy weird. You lop them into bits, glue them onto some other plant, and they start growing just like normal. Weird.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Beer Glasses (Not Goggles), SF Chronicle


Delve into wine even a little bit, and you'll quickly discover the fetishistic appreciation of glassware. Crystal companies have made serious bank convincing the world that it needs a different wine glass for every style of wine, a marketing message that I find dubious at best, as it often reeks of pseudoscience.

But the wine world has nothing on the beer world, where it sometimes seems like every beer has a unique glass. I dug into that world a little bit for an article in today’s Chronicle. The subject is far richer than anyone can fit into 800 words, but I had a great time researching the history of beer glasses. (And related subjects: I found an interesting journal article arguing that George Ravenscroft at best funded lead crystal and didn’t develop it himself.)

For those who enjoy systems as much as I do, I found a couple of guides to beer glass shapes while working on this: one at and another at, which is also a good retail source for esoteric glassware.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Art of Eating, Number 76


Ed Behr’s quarterly, The Art of Eating, distinguishes itself from other food and wine publications in a number of ways: quality of writing/editing, depth of research, and lack of ads. But perhaps the most unusual aspect is a seeming lack of word count requirements. Ed, like Cheryl at Edible East Bay, feels that stories have a natural length, and he clearly doesn’t want a writer to leave something out because it doesn’t fit in some arbitrary box. I don’t think I’ve ever had Ed tell me anything more than a very rough number, and I ignore, with him, my usual rule of hitting within one percent of a publisher’s word limits. (Though I recognize the value of self-editing a 1,300-word draft down to 800 words.)

As a result of this quirky editorial philosophy, articles in The Art of Eating can sprawl across tens of pages if Ed feels they should. His feature about Beaujolais, which came out about four or five years ago, is a great example. I think I once heard him say that it’s 20,000 words, 7-10 times the size of a standard magazine feature.

I consider myself fairly geeky about wine, but if you had asked me about Aglianico del Vulture, I probably would have guessed that it’s from southern Italy, and I might have remembered that it’s a red. Even in Saveur, the closest glossy mag you can find to AoE, you might — might — find three pages about the wine. Compare that to this issue of AoE, which devotes 24 pages to the area: the wine, the food, the culture, and more.

This is why you should be subscribing to The Art of Eating.

As an aside, I have a small feature in this issue about rabbit. I really came to appreciate this meat as I researched the article. I used to only eat it at restaurants, but now I cook it at home when I can. To accompany the article, Melissa took pictures of Taylor, from Fatted Calf, breaking down a bunny, since few cookbooks show you the process: They just describe it. James MacGuire contributed most of the recipes.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Franconian Beers, San Francisco Chronicle


When I interviewed beer importer Dan Shelton for my Cantillon article, he threw out a tangent about the interesting world of Franconian beers. Franconia, a small region of Bavaria, contains one-fourth of Germany’s breweries, many of which are local pubs that produce just enough beer for the local villagers. I researched it a bit more, and today my article about the region appears in the Chronicle.

On another note, have you signed up for my Berkeley Extension wine class yet? No? Well, you’re in luck: There’s still time. Go sign up now before you forget.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Vinography Book Review: Decantations

| readers may have noticed that Alder has started to run book reviews written by guest contributors. When our mutual friend Tim Patterson, the book review editor, asked if I wanted to contribute, I decided to review the wine book I was reading at that moment. You can read my review of Frank Prial’s Decantations as of today.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Barrel Alternatives In Today's Chronicle


Last week, one of my students asked me about a practice he had heard of where winemakers add chips to wine instead of putting it in barrel. I replied, “I’m pretty sure that the Chronicle will run a lead story about that topic next week.” How did I know? I’m the author. (My original title was “Staving Off Critics And Chipping Away At Costs,” but the silly puns didn’t make it all the way through.) Be sure to check out the photos.

Also, thanks to a tip from Jack, I submitted my first Sipping News piece about an oddly shaped wineglass. It’s not a big deal, but it was fun to do.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Belgian-Style Beers In America


Remember my not-very-subtle comment about a recent tasting of Russian River Brewing’s beers? Read all about them in this week’s Chronicle, where I write about American brewers who are pursuing complex Belgian-style beers.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Clips, Clips, Everywhere Clips


Melissa and I are still traveling, enjoying New Zealand wine and food before heading to Australia, but we're in a hotel with a wireless Internet connection; I've caught up on the Internet. The whole thing.

I've had some articles appear like magic while we've been away. First, my Txakoli article appeared in last Friday's San Francisco Chronicle. I researched how various wine regions are coping with urban sprawl for the current issue of The Wine News. And in the current issue of Edible East Bay, I responded to readers' concerns about the way I glossed over sustainability issues in my Chinatown article from the last issue.

I can't wait to share our gourmet adventures with you, but you'll have to be a bit more patient.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Ripe Time For Fruit Wine, San Francisco Chronicle


When I suggested a piece about fruit wines for the Chronicle, I thought one of the 800-word slots in the section would be a good fit. But Jon came back with, "I think this should be the lead." Who says no to the big spread in the Wine section? So today's Wine section has a big story about fruit wine and my first lead for them (this created a bit of start for me on Wednesday). I've had a minor fascination with these drinks for a long time, probably dating to when I read Joanne Harris' Blackberry Wine and then revived by a piece in Petits Propos Culinaires. Wine snobs tend to sneer at fruit wines, but they have a long legacy in agricultural communities.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Heft A Hefeweizen In The Chronicle


I love it when an editor assigns me a topic I don't know much about and asks me to research it. I like to learn, and that type of piece gives me an excuse to explore something outside my ken. A few weeks ago, if you had asked me about hefeweizen, I would have told you that I like it, and I might have remembered that it's made with wheat. After researching and writing a piece about it for today's Chronicle, I can distinguish between the different styles—turns out I prefer Germans—and display a degree of knowledge on the topic. My favorite in the last couple of weeks comes from Weihenstephan.

The word hefeweizen had some amusing side effects. First, the phonetic wordplay possibilities besieged my idle thoughts. Have, half, huff, wise, wizened, vise, ice. For a few days while I wrote the piece, my AIM status message said, "half of ice inn." I restrained myself in the final draft, but it was a tough battle.

Second, the word threw a hurdle in my writing path. I run Word's readability statistics two or three times near the end of my work on a draft. I'm not dogmatic about it, but I strive for nine or below—easy reading for high school grads—and I'm ecstatic when I get below eight. But you pay a high penalty in those calculations for higher numbers of syllables per word: You can guess what a page of hefeweizens does to the score. (The final text, which is all but the same as my final draft, scores an 8.9.)

But who cares about all that? Go read my piece and pop open a hefeweizen—or a hefeweissbier, or a witbier, or an American wheat beer—to sip in the summer heat. Just think how good one would taste as you wait in line for your iPhone.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Heritage Cabernet, The Wine News, June/July 2007


When my editors at The Wine News asked if I wanted to do a piece about heritage clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, I agreed and then thought, "I wonder what that means." After conversations with UC Davis, Silverado Vineyards, Rubicon, and Mondavi, I learned all about these particular vines—the only heritage Cabernet Sauvignon—that formed a crucial part of Napa Valley's history. UC Davis has transformed them into virus-free clones. Interesting stuff, which you can learn about in the June/July issue.

I haven't received my subscription copy yet, but it may be in stores. The issue focuses on California, as do most of the wine glossies this time of year, when the Napa Valley Auction sits on the horizon and all the publishers make their way to Meadowood. Articles about Monte Rosso, Paso Robles, and Spring Mountain also appear in the issue.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

A Morning Tour Of Chinatown, Edible East Bay, Spring 2007


Ducks hanging at Sun Hing
Photo by Melissa Schneider

I've always been shy about diving into Oakland's Chinatown, even though it's mere blocks from my apartment. But when my Edible East Bay editor wanted to set me up with longtime Chinatown explorers Victor Gee and Rhonda Hirata, I jumped at the chance for a guided tour of the best places to eat and shop. I wrote up our weekday morning stroll, including addresses, for the Spring 2007 issue, which the distibrutor is lugging through Alameda and Contra Costa counties as I write. It is the most blog-post-like of my published pieces.

I know the real reason I walked past the restaurant windows, with mahogany-colored duck and pig carcasses hanging upside down. The shops intimidated me. I've studied European cuisine until it feels familiar. In Chinatown, I had no interior dictionary to connect the food for sale and the food I know. I had no map for the bright-red symbols and strange words painted across pastel menu pages. I had no guide to get me started.

You'll also find articles on morels, Oakland's Food Policy Council, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and more. Keep an eye out for the issue at local farmers' markets, Andronico's, Vintage Berkeley, Bakesale Betty, Market Hall, and other select destinations. You won't have a problem spotting the gorgeous cover, a print by artist Adria Peterson. Don't want to hunt down the magazine? Have it delivered to your door when you subscribe.

As an aside, check out this fantastic interactive map of Downtown Oakland. Melissa discovered it recently.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Cantillon, C'est Bon!


I first learned of Cantillon beer, the most traditional lambic beer in Belgium, through The Art of Eating. Four and a half years ago, I posted about a visit to the Brussels brewery—though I warn you that I squirm and wince when I read my earlier writing. My respect for the van Roy family's commitment to tradition and artisan techniques has only grown in that time. When my editor at the Chronicle suggested I pitch him beer stories, I jumped at the chance to write about this unusual brewery. My article appears today.

If you've never tasted Cantillon, you've probably never tasted real lambic. Cantillon is sour. Its fruit beers are bone-dry. The brewery does not cut corners. Forget Lindeman's or other industrial brews; Cantillon is a beer unlike any other.

This assignment gave me the chance to get to know Cantillon again, and I think I'll be stocking up. If you're in the Bay Area and want to try some, the Toronado has a larger-than-normal selection as part of their Belgian Beer Month.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Fair Savoie


My first significant piece for the Chronicle, about the wines of France's Savoie, appears in today's Wine section. (I also contributed to the holiday gift guide last year.) The piece is part of their new "Essentials" series, educating readers about lesser-sung regions and grapes. I had hoped to follow the Priorat Essentials, so that I could quip that I had written my Savoie piece by filling in the antonyms of key concepts: Alpine climate instead of Mediterranean, mostly white instead of mostly red, inexpensive instead of super pricey, oddball grapes instead of world-famous ones, lean and elegant instead of heavy and powerful, little oak instead of lots. For you web readers, don't miss the tasting notes.

I was also amused to see Michael Bauer's handout for his "How To Pitch" break-out session at the Wine Writers' Symposium; he included my query for this piece as his first example of a good pitch. I don't think he told the participants that I was able to pitch so casually because I had worked with Wine Editor Jon Bonné when he was at MS-NBC.

I'm happy to say that more Chronicle pieces are already in the works.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Edible East Bay, Winter 2007


The latest Edible East Bay is back from the printers; expect to see it within a week at farmers' markets and key stores throughout Alameda County and Contra Costa County—Andronico's, Vintage Berkeley, and Berkeley Bowl, among others.

This season's issue has a profile of the Bittersweet chocolate café (chocolate bar?), written by fellow food blogger Anita Chu, an ode to Monterey Market, and a look at Hearst Ranch's grass-fed beef. Several other quality articles fill the issue.

My editor and I decided to push my major piece to the next issue, but this one has a small blurb by me about the East Bay Vintners' Alliance, the organization of wineries in Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, and Alameda.

Don't feel like hunting down each issue? You can always subscribe.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Cheese Fondue on SFist


Photo by Melissa Schneider.
And what more does one need to say, really? It's the perfect season for warm, liquid cheese, and I decided to sing its praises for my column at SFist. Click through. You know you can't resist.

Winter's deep chill has arrived, and you can expect it to stay here for a few months. Forget salads for dinner; our bodies need food that coats our bellies and warms our hearts. And few dishes heat us like cheese fondue, the perfect dish with which to greet cold friends coming to your home for dinner.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Don't Cry For Me...

Photo by Melissa Schneider.
Because I shed plenty of tears of my own when I wrote about onions for my SFist column.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Vinovation, The Art of Eating, Issue 73-74


When Ed asked me to research Vinovation for The Art of Eating, I went to my first appointment with an already-formed opinion. Clark Smith's wine consulting company provides a host of services to a huge chunk of the California wine industry, but the press knows him best—and demonizes him the most—for reverse osmosis. This process allows New World vintners to push wine against a filter and extract its alcohol and water, which they add back to create a final product with an "adjusted" alcohol level. Nine months ago, I would have agreed with any wine writer who described it as one manipulation too many.

Three appointments, a host of phone calls, and a small storm of emails later, I've changed my attitude. I'm not for excessive manipulation, but Clark is doing interesting work. In fact, I believe that his empirical knowledge will overturn the curriculum of enology schools around the world. Now, when someone points out that reverse osmosis isn't natural, I ask, "What is?" Critics who vilify Vinovation often don't mention or even notice sterile filtration, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, or cultured yeasts, all of which are commonplace and far from a grape's "natural" inclination. My article, along with Melissa's photos of Smith and his company, appears in the latest issue of Ed's top-flight magazine. My subscription copy arrived today, but I haven't yet seen copies in stores.

I often tell you, and anyone who will listen, to subscribe to AoE, which I consider the best informed, most thoughtful food and wine magazine in America. Even more than normal, I urge you to buy this special double issue, a celebration of the magazine's 20th anniversary. Other articles include Ed Behr's interview with himself about AoE and its philosophy, a baguette piece that I have wanted to read ever since Ed mentioned it to me, a large feature on California olive oil, an ode to mead, a look at black and white truffles, and the usual hodgepodge of book reviews, notes and resources, and letters (including ones from Jack and Kevin).


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Risotto on SFist


Photo by Melissa Schneider.
When Melissa and I first started dating, risotto was my main dish. I still make it often, and I decided to write a risotto tutorial for SFist this week. Let me know what you think.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Chronicle Wine Gift Guide


Need a holiday host present or stocking stuffer for the wine lover in your life? The Chronicle has posted a sprawling gift guide to aid your buying decisions. Books, glassware, and, of course, wine all have separate sections.

It won't take long to figure out my favorite item in the guide: my byline as one of the contributors.

Photo by John Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

AoE Mosel Article Online


As Bux mentions in his update on the foie gras debate, The Art of Eating does not publish its articles online.

But I recently noticed that importer Michael Skurnik reprinted my Mosel piece on their site, because of the mentions of Terry Theise (the link is a PDF). They added a giant "the Art of Eating" to each page to properly cite the source. It's not the best reproduction, since it's just a scan, so I hope that any of you who read the article will be inspired to get your own, much prettier, subscription to The Art of Eating, which I maintain is the best food magazine you'll find in English.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Edible East Bay Article: Nowhere Else But Here


Update: This article is now online.

In the beginning, there was Alice Waters. So goes the standard history of the Berkeley food revolution that shapes the modern American culinary scene. But Alice Waters did not beam down from the U.S.S. Enterprise. For my latest Edible East Bay piece (Summer 2006), I wrote about the context that made Berkeley a prime location for the revolution she led. Politics, protests, Hippies, environmentalism, France, money, co-ops, bohemian lifestyles. They provided the canvas for Chez Panisse's art.

Or, as I told my editor, most of these pieces start with Alice Waters, mine ends with her.

I had a lot of fun with this article, and I think it's one of my better features, partly because of my active efforts to improve my writing. I trace my food philosophy and political stance to that point in Berkeley's history, and I loved hearing the stories my interviewees told me.

If you're in the Bay Area, this issue of the magazine should be in East Bay stores and at farmer's markets in the next week or so. Look for the pretty David Lance Goines cover art. Or, you can subscribe and ensure that the magazine arrives on your doorstep with no effort on your part.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Rosenblum Article Sidebar (and Correction)


Photo by Melissa Schneider.

My sidebar didn't make it into my Edible East Bay, Issue 2, article about Rosenblum, so I decided to run the text here. The tasting notes cover wines that stood out as I researched the piece. I've also added the contact info for the wineries that I wrote about, for anyone interested.

Finally, a slight correction for those who have picked up the issue. If you're confused about the transition to the second page of the article, this sentence fragment will help: "Thomas Coyne, one of the best wine makers in the Livermore Valley (see Edible East Bay, issue 1) got his"

Tasting Notes
2002 JC Cellars Ventana Vineyards Syrah, Monterey, $30
A standout wine with beautiful blackberry aromas and an earthy aroma. Pleasant hints of pepper and herbs. Solid cherry flavors and a vanilla finish mingle well with the vibrant acidity and mild tannins. The alcohol gives it a heavy mouthfeel that stands up to rich food like rack of lamb, but it also gives it a hot finish.

2001 Dashe Cellars "Todd Brothers Ranch" Zinfandel, Alexander Valley, $23
This well-balanced wine has bready, earthy aromas and an almost floral flavor. The tannins and acidity assert their presence without overwhelming the wine. Its high alcohol (15%) makes it tough to pair with food, but a fatty steak would certainly stand up to it.

2003 Rosenblum Cellars Napa Valley Zinfandel, Lyons Reserve, $32
"That's mountain fruit for you," said Kent Rosenblum with a shrug when I commented on this lovely wine. Aromas of boysenberry syrup and baking spices with a wonderful acidity. The vines are a century-old-clone of Zinfandel.

Winery Contact Info
Dashe Cellars
55 4th Street
Oakland, CA 94607

JC Cellars
3000 Washington Street
Alameda, CA 94501

Rosenblum Cellars
Tasting room hours: 11am - 6pm
2900 Main Street, Suite 1100
Alameda, CA 94501

Thomas Coyne
51 E. Vallecitos Road
Livermore, CA 94550

Zoom Vineyards
3058 Soscol Avenue
Napa, CA 94558


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Livermore Wine Article Online


I discovered that Edible East Bay has updated its site with content. One of the items on the site is my article about Livermore wine. Take a look. (I added the link to my "Professional Writing" section on the right as well).

But Bay Areans should find a copy of the print magazine for more great articles about the East Bay food community. I've spotted it at Market Hall (the wine shop had a bunch) but supposedly it's at Andronico's, the Kaiser farmer's markets, Whole Foods, the Pasta Shop on Fourth Street, and various other places I mentioned a while back. Let me know if you spot it.

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