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What’s old is new

NPA Chardonnay ©DPaul Brown

Just after Christmas, thanks to a windfall of Williams-Sonoma gift cards, we purchased a Soda Club Penguin Soda Maker. We really enjoy sparkling water, but more or less stopped buying it out of guilt for the amount of bottle waste involved. That, and our preferred brand is Gerolsteiner, out of Germany, and we just couldn't justify consuming such an absurd amount of food miles for something as pedestrian as water, when we live in a society where what comes out of the tap is more than adequate.

Now, with the Penguin, we have four one-liter carafes that we reuse to carbonate our Hetch Hetchy. The carafe goes into the device, the top is lowered, and you press down on a lever, which releases CO2 into the water. It makes a series of amusing sounds, starting with a gurgling that escalates to a high-pitched whine, and then a satisfying PFFFF as you release the pressure. And voilà, sparkling water.

Shortly after we became Penguin addicts, I jokingly mused that they should also make a device that turns water into wine. They could call it the JesusTM. After all, we face the same issues of bottle waste and food miles with wine (though we do drink a lot of locally-sourced wines), and there's not really an alternative.

Or is there?

I recently made the acquaintance of a certain Hardy Wallace. Anyone who dabbles in the intersection of social media and food/wine may find that name familiar. Last year, Murphy-Goode winery held a contest to hire a social media "lifestyle correspondent." Out of 10 finalists, Hardy, who writes the blog Dirty South Wine, was selected, this kicking off a six-month gig as blogger, vlogger and all-around evangelist for the brand. At the end of that six months, Hardy opted to take things a different direction.

Among the many people Hardy befriended in his tenure was Kevin Kelley of Lioco and his own label, Salinia. Kelley was in the throes of starting up a new wine product, called The Natural Process Alliance, a.k.a., The NPA. Hardy found something he could be passionate about.

The NPA's manifesto goes beyond the garden-variety green practices that –thankfully! — are infiltrating the wine industry today. Sure, the grapes are organic at least in practice if not always certification, but that's just one piece of the puzzle. Kelley is taking winemaking back to its roots, if you'll pardon the expression.

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Taste-off: Carneros rosés


Ah, summer. Long, lazy days basking in the sun … oh, who am I kidding. At best it gets to 70ºF here. But there’s one summer treat I do like to indulge in regardless: Pink wines.

Now, I’m not talking about your sticky-sweet White Zinfandel [shudder], though some would argue that a glass of that, over ice on a blazing hot day is not unwelcome. But again, see above about the weather.

No, rather, I am referring to the pretty, pert and sometimes petulant rosé wines so popular in Europe yet all too often overlooked stateside. The French and Spanish are particularly fond of these wines, especially as a complement to summer lunches. I remember steaming-hot days in Barcelona, sipping rosato wines, almost unbelievably dry and crisp and redolent of ripe strawberries and pears.

Clearly, I’m not the only one with an appreciation for these lovelies. Paul at Champion Wine speaks directly from my own heart:

"…The word hedonist is often used to describe red wines that taste more
like pancake syrup than wine. In my world, rosé is the definition of
hedonistic – crisp, refreshing, light and lively. The kind of wine that
sings – an echo of the setting sun, an instant reminder of warm weather
and days outdoors…."

Did someone say hedonistic?

And so, after a recent trip up to wineries up in Carneros, we came back with a carful of gem-like pink bottles, just dying to be sipped. But though Paul states that pink wines are meant to be enjoyed and not analyzed, I couldn’t resist staging a little taste-off with a few good friends.

Carneros, for those not local, is the region spanning the southern reaches of both Sonoma and Napa counties, hugging the northern boundary of San Francisco Bay. Because of its proximity to the water, it enjoys a cooler, foggier climate, and so is ideal for grapes that require less intense conditions. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the primary crops here.

A word about the tasters:

Donna and Dennis have a penchant for northern Italian wines, particularly those of the Piemonte region, having spent a fair amount of time in that area. Jim would step over his own grandmother for a good Barolo. Matthew isn’t partial to any one region of varietal, though I would venture to say his is the most sensitive schnozz among us. DPaul, historically, had a thing for big zins, but lately has turned to lighter wines. And me, I’ve long been a pinot-holic (well before that movie), and have only in the last few years introduced whites, much less pinks, into my repertory.

I would categorize us all squarely in the camp of wine consumers rather than wine afficionados. Still, we know what we like. And so, armed with three chilled bottles, some crudely scribbled-upon paper bags and a scoring sheet lifted from a website, I coerced my friends into some comparative analysis of three rosés, all produced within a few miles of each other.

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Bottles for bloggers

I am by no means a wine afficionado; no sommelier am I. But I do like to think of myself as a rather avid appreciator, an enthusiast even. I have a moderately sharp palate, far from perfect. More than anything,…

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New favorite restaurant: Acquerello

I’m in love. Giddy as a schoolgirl. It’s been a long time since a restaurant has utterly swept me off my feet, maded me wrinkle my brow in wonder and then smile uncontrollably. Last night, I fell in love with Acquerello.

I’ve been eager to go to Acquerello for some time now. Many people have raved about it, especially the foodies and italophiles. Qualified praise, that. So I was thrilled when our friends Nick and Russ invited us to join them for dinner there with their friends Seth and Shadi. Apart from Nick, all of us were Acquerello virgins.

I’ll aspire to describe the evening as best as possible. I did not take any photos, despite recent guidance on how best to do so. I also wish I had gotten a rundown of the wines. Nick worked with the sommelier on the selections, and so I only know what we drank in broad strokes. But they were phenomal wines all.

Acquerello’s dining room is reminiscent of a Tuscan farmhouse or perhaps even a Romanesque chapel, with ochre- and siena-tinted walls and a vaulted ceiling of dark wood with a panted floral pattern. A large fresco on the far wall and numerous watercolor paintings (hence the name: "acquerello" means watercolor in Italian) round out the design. The overall effect is transportive, just edging on over-the-top yet still distinctly bearing the stamp of Italian aesthetic. Its warm and comforting atmosphere balances the formality of the place.

Notes on the dishes, wines and (perhaps most importantly) service after the jump.

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No, not television reruns, though they are of course also afoot. It's just that, in the past few days, I just don't have anything new and exciting to report. Yesterday we returned to Bouchaine, and today I had to grab…

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Bouchaine winery


Ah, Memorial Day. A day to reflect on heroes past and present, to honor them by visiting their graves and saluting the flag.

Or, as is closer to reality at least in this part of the world, to hop in the car and head to a) the beach, b) Lake Tahoe or c) the Wine Country. We opted for the latter. So we landed ourselves a lengthy reservation via City CarShare, using the new Prius in the neighborhood, and headed north. (Can I tell you how cool this car is? It's like driving the not-too-distant future.)

Now, we are no strangers to the Wine Country. In general, we prefer Sonoma County to Napa, and within Sonoma we love both the Russian River and Dry Creek Valley appellations. But they are a tad on the far side, especially when you're paying by the mile, so we opted to explore the Carneros region, which straddles the border of Sonoma and Napa counties along the northern shores of San Pablo Bay.

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