August 26, 2008
Save Corti Brothers, Group Says

Last night, a stack of petitions materialized on my desk. They bear headlines like "Save Corti Bros." and "It's Not Christmas Without Corti Brothers." There are 91 pages of them, each bearing anywhere from as few as two signatures to as many as 23. The stack is a prelude to a Sept. 3 rally to marshal community support on behalf of Corti Brothers, the 61-year-old grocery company whose future is up in the air because it is being booted from its headquarters to make way for another market.

The effort is being coordinated by principals of the Sacramento public-affairs consulting firm California Strategies LLC. "This is like the Alhambra Theater and other institutions that have passed in Sacramento. We hate to see that happen here," says Devon Ford of California Strategies, referring to the razing of the city's venerable Alhambra Theater to make way for another grocery store.

California Strategies is heading up the preservation effort on a pro-bono basis, Ford notes. "There's so much community sentiment concerning this that it's easy to wrap a harness around it and let it go on its own power," says Ford.

Several of the Sacramento area's high-profile restaurateurs and chefs, including Biba Caggiano, Randall Selland, Wendi Mentink, Rick Mahan and Kurt Spataro, are to gather in chef jackets at 3 p.m. Sept. 3 at Corti Brothers to pledge their allegiance to the grocery store and to argue that it should be retained just as it is at least through the year-end holidays.

The group also just launched a Web site for people to sign on to the petition and to track developments in the issue.

Some of the petitions ask signers to jot down their favorite item that can be found only at Corti Brothers. They range from "salami" and "vino" to "Arrogant Bastard Ale and pickled anchovies." Separately or together?

August 20, 2008
Vidal Statistic: Rare Wine Fills the Governor's Cup

The lineup for today's sweepstakes round of the 2008 New York Wine & Food Classic pretty much backed up a claim often made by the state's vintners: New York makes more kinds of wine than any other state. Fifty wines were up for the competition's highest honor, the Governor's Cup. Many of them were varietals you don't find made in California: traminette, vignoles, cayuga, vergennes and rkatsiteli, to name a few. Ten rieslings were nominated for the Governor's Cup, the biggest contingent in the final series of votes, but they represented four different styles of wine, from bone dry to an "ice wine" with 18 percent residual sugar, further reflecting the wide range of wines made in New York.

Incidentally, not a single gewurztraminer or pinot noir made it to the sweepstakes round, not because the varieties aren't grown in New York but because judges couldn't find any candidates worthy of nominating, a development puzzling to the competition's organizers. Nor was any zinfandel nominated for sweepstakes, which wasn't surprising at all given that the variety doesn't seem to be grown in the state.

The sweepstakes round involved whittling the field down to a handful of wines - best white wine, best dessert wine and so forth. From those last few nominees, the Governor's Cup winner eventually was singled out. This year's winner is the Swedish Hill Winery 2007 Finger Lakes Vidal Blanc, which sells for $11. Vidal blanc is the name of the grape, a French/American hybrid developed in Bordeaux by crossing the obscure variety ugni blanc with the even more obscure variety seibel 4986. A lot of this sort of breeding goes on in New York as vintners try to come up with vines that both yield the kind of fruity flavors people like in wine and possess the strength to survive in a hostile climate - humid in the summer, freezing in the winter. The winning Swedish Hill vidal blanc is a pretty wine, distinctly floral in smell, fruity in flavor and persistent in finish. It has nearly two percent sugar, but it didn't taste that sweet thanks to the crispness of its nicely balancing acidity. It has fruit qualities that invite comparisons with riesling, but its body felt rounder and fleshier than the rieslings. Just a little more than 100 acres of vidal blanc are grown in New York, so whether it ever will become a major player in the state's continuing viticulture development remains uncertain. In the voting for best white wine, which the Swedish Hill had to win to be up for the Governor's Cup, it just barely edged out the Hosmer Winery 2007 Finger Lakes Cayuga Lake Riesling, which sells for $12. Unfortunately for Californians looking for either a new kind of wine to explore or a riesling that delivers plenty of intense flavor at a bargain price, not much of either the Swedish Hill or the Hosmer is going to make it to the West, if at all. The Finger Lakes this time of year, however, is a great place to visit.

August 19, 2008
Ringing In A Novel Take On Judging Wine

IMGP3559.JPGWinemakers enter wine competitions mostly because they know that gold medals sell wine. Beyond that, they see competitions as a way to measure the quality of their wines against releases of similar pedigree. They use the results to learn of their shortcomings and to make adjustments so their wines will be more competitive in both judgings and the marketplace. Most wine competitions focus on the gold-medal aspects rather than the educational side of judging.

For years, however, the New York Wine & Food Classic, a competition that this year drew a record 790 wines, all from the Empire State, has put as much emphasis on the second motivation as the first. It's done it quietly, and with a deviously simple approach, to wit: Several flights of wine include a "ringer," a wine not from New York but from a region widely recognized as doing well by a particular style or varietal. For example, a class of New York sparkling wines might include a Champagne, or a class of New York sauvignon blanc might include a release of the varietal from New Zealand.

Because the wines are judged blind, judges don't know where they are from. The competition's organizers see this approach as a way to let New York winemakers know how their wines measure up to wines that already have developed a following.

Our panel at the New York Wine & Food Classic today judged several classes that included "ringers" from elsewhere. A flight of riesling, for example, included a wine from Germany, we learned afterwards. Germany generally is seen as the region that does best by riesling. However, we gave the German riesling only a silver, while awarding two New York rieslings gold medals. Hooray for New York, which in recent years has gained much respect for its rieslings.

On the other hand, we also judged a class of chardonnay. None of the New York chardonnays won more than a silver medal. The only gold-medal wine in the class was the Simi Winery 2006 Sonoma County Chardonnay, from California. The message? New York vintners, get to work on improving your chardonnay.

We gave the wines fair deliberation, but I wouldn't make too much of these results. While they're intriguing and perhaps instructive, New York vintners shouldn't relax their vigilance in producing noble rieslings any more than they should lose sleep over the showing of their chardonnay.

The competition, by the way, is being held in one of the nation's more grand and celebrated resorts, Mohonk Mountain House, 1200 feet up the Catskills overlooking Hudson River Valley. It's so huge it forms its own ridge of Victorian turrets along one side of a 17-acre lake. Guests have at their disposal all sorts of opportunities for golfing, hiking, swimming, rock climbing or just lounging in rockers on one of the buildings several verandas. The competition's judges, however, barely have enough time to shower and change before dinner, their schedule of wines being so extensive (133 for our panel the first day). Poor judges.

August 18, 2008
Fig Ice Cream? Make It Two Scoops

IMGP3494_edited.JPGJust as every Sacramento neighbohood has a Rite Aid Pharmacy, every New York neighborhood has an ice cream shop. There may be a message there, but short of contacting the Centers for Disease Control for demographic data I'm not about to claim that New Yorkers have fewer health issues than Sacramentans. I'm just going to go on eating ice cream as I roam about New York's Hudson River Valley, where I arrived Sunday for this week's 2008 New York Wine & Food Classic, the state's largest wine competition.

Earlier this year, New York legislators passed a law to allow the state's wineries to make wine ice cream. Haven't had any of that yet, but it sounds like it could be a new class for the competition. In the meantime, I'm stopping at old-fashioned ice cream parlors for a cone here and a cup there.

Last night in Hudson, which dates from 1785 and purportedly is the oldest chartered city in the United States, I dropped into one of the settlement's newer businesses, Lick, where partners Christopher Haupert and Michael Harris have been scooping up ice cream since just before Memorial Day. Their brand of choice is the Hudson Valley's highly regarded Jane's Ice Cream. In addition to the standard vanilla bean and milk chocolate, Lick's lineup includes such novelties as minced ginger, grapefruit sorbet and sublime lime. I went for the fig and sweet cream, which couldn't have been more convincingly true, both gritty and creamy, tasting so much like figs I left convinced it had done me a world of physical good.

Shortly before stopping at Lick, I was told by a Hudson resident that the town is "10 blocks long, 10 blocks wide, a Norman Rockwell painting in motion." The scene in front of Lick was that, all right, with residents taking a break from walking their dogs, children playing hopscotch on a grid chalked on the sidewalk, and grandparents relaxing on white benches. It was hot and it was muggy, which gives New Yorkers two reasons for two scoops.

As to the local angle, Haupert's parents were to arrive today from their home in...Auburn.

August 16, 2008
Dog Day Doggerel

A poet I'm not, but inspired by The Bee's State Fair poetry contest, I went to Cal Expo last night in search of my muse (though tempted, I won't stoop to milking the shallow poet's weakness for limp puns by suggesting I was grasping for moo's).

At the Wine Garden, the most relaxing and convivial place on the fairgrounds, inspiration struck:

Red wine too hot
So white we bought
Silver it got
In State Fair lot

Its place was sought
On label spot
And there learned what
Chile had wrought

Because I'm about to leave for New York's Hudson Valley, I won't immediately have a chance to ask State Fair officials what a Chilean wine was doing in the commercial wine competition, which at least in the past has been limited to California wines. I have a hunch, however, about what happened. This Chilean chardonnay is imported by Don Sebastiani & Sons of Sonoma and is bottled under the brand of Pepperewood Grove, a label long associated with California wine. As I've written in the past, the rising popularity of wine in the United States has prompted many American wineries to look abroad for wine to market here. Sometimes the wine they find is marketed under new brand names, but often it's bottled under an existing label long used for domestic releases. That's what Sebastiani & Sons is doing. There's nothing especially duplicitous about the practice, as long as the source of the grapes is spelled out on the label, however small. The first clue we had that last night's chardonnay wasn't from California was the appellation on the label, Valle Central, which could suggest "Central Valley" of California, only Sebastiani & Sons hasn't begun to sell wines with bilingual labels, as far as I know. More to the point, Valle Central is an appellation long associated with Chile, as finer print on the back label verifies.

As a measure of the wine garden's popularity, incidentally, it's again been enlarged, providing much more seating at tables both to the back and front. The biggest change we experienced, however, was the eager persistence of pourers to give visitors small sample tastes of whatever wines intrigued them before they popped for an entire glass. Given the steep prices of many of the wines at the garden, this generous hospitality is especially welcome.

August 13, 2008
A Vinegar for 'Dinny'


In kitchens about the Sacramento area, the Olive Center at UC Davis is best known for the campus-inspired commercial olive oils it's been releasing over the past couple of years.

Now it's adding the perfect complement to olive oil - vinegar. Made from French Colombard grapes grown on campus, the white-wine vinegar is simply labeled "dinny," in tribute to Dr. A. Dinsmoor "Dinny" Webb. Anyone who ever met the dapper Webb will be struck immediately by the appropriateness of his likeness on the label, from his meticulously groomed mustache to his trademark bow tie. Katie Hetrick, communications director for the building and grounds division on campus, did the portrait.

Why Webb, who retired more than 20 years ago after 40 years as a professor of enology at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology? For one, Webb, who died five years ago, was a highly respected instructor and researcher. For another, he delighted in transforming wine made on campus into vinegar for his colleagues, especially red-wine vinegar from the university's stand of cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley. A "dinny" red-wine vinegar from the same vineyard is to be released in the near future, says Dan Flynn, executive director of the Olive Center.

The vinegars are made by Katz and Company in a 150-year-old stone carriage house in Suison Valley, one of just three facilities in the country to use the "Orleans Method" of vinegar production. This technique requires the vinegar to age for 10 months in small French oak barrels, resulting in a vinegar "bright, smooth and fruity," according to Slow Food USA.

Though the campus bookstore currently is sold out of olive oils, the "dinny" white-wine vinegar is available for $10 per 250-milliliter bottle, either at the store or online.

August 13, 2008
Bigger Bar for Woodland Bistro

Rebecca Reichardt has moved to the back burner her hopes of opening a steakhouse to complement her popular Woodland restaurant Tazzina Bistro.

"I couldn't handle two projects financially," says Reichardt. So instead of the steak place, she's expanding Tazzina Bistro by adding a 600-square-foot lounge. She plans to start construction any day now and have the bar finished for the bistro's fourth anniversary Sept. 27.

In January, Reichardt was one of 10 winners in a national business contest sponsored by American Express. Her proposal for the steakhouse and its potential to morph into a chain won her a $10,000 credit line, $20,000 in improvements, and coaching from established business experts. Still, she figures she'd need $600,000 more to get the concept off the ground. Today's economy isn't conducive to raising that sort of capital, she says, so she's concentrating on improving Tazzina Bistro.

The restaurant's current bar will be retained as a wine bar, while the lounge will focus on "vintage cocktails" and other drinks made with the 15 assorted gins and 28 vodkas she's lined up in anticipation of its completion.

Tazzina Bistro is at 614 Main St., Woodland.

August 7, 2008
A Surprisingly Early Start to Vintage 2008

The wine-grape harvest of 2008 is under way, earlier than usual for still table wines, reports winemaker Mitch Cosentino from Pope Valley on the east side of Napa Valley. While it's not unusual for the picking of grapes for sparkling wine to get under way in early August, a harvest this soon for still wines is unprecedented for Cosentino, who has been pulling grapes from Pope Valley since 1993.

"I was up here last Thursday checking on frost damage, walking the vineyard and tasting fruit from the young vines when I realized it had great intensity and wonderful flavors, so I decided we've got to pick this stuff," said Cosentino this morning as he oversaw the crush at his Pope Valley facility. The juice will go into the 2008 version of his proprietary wine The Novelist, bottled under his brand Cosentino Winery at Yountville. (The 2006 Novelist recently won a gold medal at the California State Fair commercial wine competition.)

"We usually start picking up here at the end of August, so this is three weeks earlier than usual and two weeks earlier than ever," Cosentino said.

This early start to the table-wine harvest is something of a surprise, given that spring was brutally chilly in spots and summer has been relatively benign. A spring frost is expected to reduce the size of Cosentino's harvest of cabernet sauvignon in Pope Valley from its usual 4.5 tons to 1 ton, but the sauvignon blanc looks to have weathered the freeze much better, he says.

In addition to his eponymous winery, Cosentino also markets wine under the brands Crystal Valley Cellars, CE2V (soon to be renamed Secret Clone Estate), Blockheadia Ringnosii, and Legends (a collaboaration with NBA great Larry Bird).

August 5, 2008
Staying, and Opening

A couple of notes from the restaurant front:

- You know these are nervous times for the restaurant trade when a diner e-mails to ask whether the relatively new Greenhouse in Roseville is out of business. His concern was prompted by a sign taped to the door saying the restaurant was "closed for maintenance," a euphemism restaurateurs often use to shut the doors with no real intent to reopen. But not in this instance, says Greenhouse owner Cory Holbrook. A carpet cleaner put up the sign Sunday but forgot to take it down when he left, and there it remained until Monday morning, setting off an alarm for at least one prospective diner. The Greenhouse is Holbrook's locavore- and organic-oriented successor to the Town Lounge, which he originally opened on the site. He says he plans to stick around with Greenhouse, and currently is expanding the restaurant's line of organic beers and ales brewed on the premises.

- Just when I was starting to question whether any new restaurants ever again would debut in Sacramento along comes Ray Smith and Shalawn Smith, who will introduce their Table 260 at 6 p.m. Friday at 826 J St., on the ground floor of a high-rise loft development. It's to be a larger and more upscale version of the original Table 260 in Elk Grove, though the culinary concept, a "fusion of American and soul," will remain the same. In contrast to the Elk Grove site, the downtown Sacramento location will have a full liquor license. The hours also will be extended: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Fridays, 9 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays.

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