Lost Abbey Brewery
San Marcos, California
Style: Flanders-style sour
Serving style: 375ml cork-finished bottles and kegs (our sample from keg)
Availability: Year-round in bottles (hard to find) and kegs (harder still).
Appearance: “Brown, but with some dark red in there, too”
Aroma: “Tart cherries apparent, but there is a vanilla and brown spice background, presumably from the barrel fermentation or the oak aging. There's complexity here.”
Taste: “Part brown ale, part sour cherries, which tastes a hell of a lot better than it might sound. It's medium-bodied and the alcohol level isn't too high, but there's plenty of flavor here in a multi-faceted package. A beer that invites slow sipping and contemplation.”
Food Affinity: “The brewery website suggests 'Duck, especially those in reduction sauces with fruit components.' While I couldn't argue with that, I think it might also work with a deeply-flavored pork roast, also involving a fruit sauce and some presence of balsamic vinegar.”
Reviewed by Dan Clarke, who enjoyed this beer and two others (Tart of Darkness by The Bruery and Older Viscosity by Port Brewing) in a pouring of three 4-ounce tastes for $10 on “Rare Beer Night” at The Shack in Sacramento.
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
Columbia Valley (Washington)
Suggested Retail: $10
“Though we're familiar with this Washington winery and have sampled earlier vintages of their Cabernet Sauvignon, today's 'Pick,' the 2011 bottling, was a pleasant surprise when we encountered it last night. Meeting an old friend at Cafe Bernardo in Davis, California, I took his suggestion to try the house wine at happy hour. A glass of wine for three bucks is a rare find these days. You couldn't go wrong on price and Tom said it was a pretty decent pour, too. It was.
"We each had a couple of glasses at happy hour prices and another when the cost went up to the normal $5 afterward. This was not a great Cabernet, but it was a very respectable glass of wine. To find a palatable glass of wine at $5—let alone $3--is rare and Cafe Bernardo deserves a bouquet for providing such. Some traditional Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics of cassis and black cherry were there, but those aromas and flavors seemed muted. Our samples were from both an already-opened bottle and another bottle freshly opened in front of us. Perhaps a little more time exposed to air would have caused the wine to 'open up' and evidence more of those qualities. But sometimes being 'true to type' isn't the most critical consideration. As more than one colleague has said to me, does the wine taste good is the primary question. The Hogue Cabernet contains 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and just 1% Merlot. It's packaged with a screw cap, which may be slightly cheaper than cork. However, that didn't seem to be the primary consideration when I tasted with the winemaker and few wine writers at the Hogue winery in Prosser about three years ago. The winery feels the screw cap gives their consumer a more consistent quality and our collective tasting seemed to support that theory. This is a solid value from a winery that has built a reputation for good wine at fair prices.”
Food Affinity: “My friend and I drank the 2011 Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon with a small pepperoni pizza and two little roast beef sliders—those snacks certainly worked, but they wouldn't be the only possibilities. Could be good with a pastas in Bolognese sauces, grilled calves liver with onions and grilled burgers, topped with a teaspoon of crumbled blue cheese and a thin slice of Torpedo Red onion.”
by Dan Clarke
Sacramento is in the middle of Beer Week. Actually, the week seems to run from February 27th through March 9th, but why limit a good thing to that narrow seven days definition?
California's capital may not have created America's craft beer renaissance, but since hopping on the bandwagon it certainly has helped it grow. The Sacramento News & Review estimates there are now 37 breweries within a 50-mile radius of downtown. More are rumored to be opening in 2014. Hops to Table, a bi-monthly tabloid billing itself as “a magazine dedicated to covering the Greater Sacramento and Chico beer and food scene,” is celebrating it's first anniversary. The current issue contains lots of good editorial and seems to have strong advertising support. May they live long and continue to prosper.
Dan Scott created Sacramento's first Beer Week five years ago. San Francisco had already done such a promotion, so Dan may have been capitalizing on their good idea, but there's no doubt his work has been a major contribution to the phenomenal growth of craft beer in the Central Valley. The local breweries have happily participate in Beer Week, of course, but so have many bars and restaurants. Most have created events of a style that will appeal to their own clientele and even some upscale places known to serve their plates on white tablecloths have put some effort into beer-pairing dinners.
The Shack on Folsom Blvd has the most diverse beer program in town. It doesn't brew its own beer but has frequently-rotated tap handles, exposing its customers to a broad spectrum of quality products. While you can find such esoterica as a Belgian sour or farmhouse ale, most of those handles tend to dispense variations on the West Coast IPA theme. These are big beers, often high in alcohol and high on the IBU (International Bittering Units) scale.
When a customer is unsure whether he's going to like the taste of something new, a server is usually happy to offer a taste. Between the bar taps and bottles in the refrigerated walk-in box, there's ongoing availability of about 100 brews.
Sunday afternoon was the occasion of their annual Shack Fest. For a fixed price ($30 in advance, $35 at the door), beer fans can have access to food, music and unlimited tastings. Though space inside this building that's been serving beer since repeal of Prohibition is limited, there's ample seating and standing room on the patio. In addition, the small parking lot in back is fenced off for the event, giving more room for pouring, tasting and mingling. Thirteen breweries were represented, most of them showcasing multiple offerings. From the Sacramento area were Auburn Alehouse, Berryessa, Bikedog, Device, Loomis Basin, New Glory, Out of Bounds, Track 7 and 2-Rivers Cider. The Brewing Lair from a couple hours north in Plumas County came down and Dustbowl, a similar distance south of here also arrived to pour. Oregon's Beer Valley was here, as were two Colorado entrants, Boulder Beer and Crazy Mountain.
Who knows what weather in early March will be like? Prior editions of this event had been blessed by sunny and spring-like conditions. Not so this time. It was merely overcast when things began at noon, but there was serious, steady rain falling a couple of hours later. While it may have kept away some would-be tasters, the rain didn't dampen spirits of the 200 or more who did show up. In fact, it added a What the hell. We're all in this together—let's have fun! quality to the day. Hunter Merritt and the Schwamigos, abetted by some members of One Eyed Reilly and the occasional talented guest from the audience, played under a small tent, but there was plenty of water near the microphones, cords, amps and speakers, adding potential electrocutions to the scheduled entertainment. Trouper that he is, Hunter played on through the rain and was seen alive and nattily attired at The Shack's Mardi Gras party two days hence.
Editor's note: The Resource Directory of Taste California Travel now includes links to the websites of most of the brewpubs and craft beer purveyors in the entire state.
by Dan Clarke
Saturday I took a drive up to Amador County to check out Behind the Cellar Door, a two-day event that offers more than just the usual wine tasting opportunities. Most of the 39 participating members of Amador Vintners put out some food for this occasion and many have live music. Educational opportunities are offered, too. Visitors can experience unfinished wines poured from the barrel, see how vines are pruned or maybe watch a barrel-making exhibition.
My friend Ray agreed to ride along. He likes Zinfandels, but hasn't spent much time in this nearby area that is known for them. Amador is a big county and there a few scattered wineries elsewhere, but most of the action is in the Shenandoah Valley, just east of the little town of Plymouth. After picking up our wristbands and glasses at the Visitors Center, we continued up Shenandoah Road and made our first stop at Bray Vineyards, where we tasted both wine and “Eric's famous meatballs with raspberry and roasted chipotle sauce with polenta.” It was delightful and the raspberries in the sauce really complemented the flavors of the Zinfandels.
Across the road is the new Turley Wine Cellars tasting room. When old friends Buck and Karly Cobb retired, they sold their winery to Larry Turley, who had created a great reputation at his Napa Valley winery, Frog's Leap. Turley had already been sourcing grapes from Amador County and apparently now has access to the great vineyards that had supplied Karly Wines. We tasted three Zins, two of them composed of fruit from vineyards in diverse parts of the state and one from nearby--the Bell Vineyard. Of these three, both of us preferred the blend referred to as “The Juvenile” by the pourer. At $22 it was also the least expensive of these three. Two other vineyard-designated Zinfandels from this area are to be released soon; one from the Sadie Upton Vineyard, the other from the Cobb Vineyard.
Borjon Winery, just up the road a ways, was our next stop. There we enjoyed tasting some Zinfandel and a few Spanish varieties, bottled under their sister label, Los Portales. There were good Mexican snacks and I was sorry that Mariachi Mi Tierra wasn't scheduled to perform until Sunday. The Barjon family has deep knowledge of the vineyards in the area and has built a handsome winery of their own in recent years.
With just two or three hours available, there certainly wasn't time to visit everybody—half a dozen wineries was about all that would be practical. We took the left turn onto Steiner Road and passed the familiar driveways of Renwood (nee Santino), Shenandoah Vineyards and Amador Foothill Winery, continuing on to Driven Cellars where we enjoyed a couple of tastes of their wine, as well as some small but very tasty roast beef sandwiches-- “sliders” in the current parlance. There was a man playing his gently-amplified 12-string guitar. He was no doubt a very capable musician, but I was hoping for something livelier. I think since leaving Barjon I was lamenting that the mariachis were not playing until Sunday. That and the fact that there didn't seem to be any Tequila to taste.
We exited Driven and made a sharp right turn into the drive to neighboring Dobra Zemlja. I'd met the owner, Milan Matulich, years ago. I liked him and enjoyed hearing his plans for developing his small-production family winery, but at the time found his wines higher in alcohol than suited my taste. Our printed guide to the weekend's event indicated there would be daily seminars on brandy making at this location. That could have been worthwhile, but our visit was brief. We enjoyed our encounter with Dutch Stamppot and grilled sausage and tasted a couple of wines. Bottled in a one liter jug was a blended red wine identified as Milan's Ruz, priced at $20. A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Zinfandel, it was peppery and more complex than I'd have thought, given the price. I loved it. This was my discovery of the day.
For a year or so I've been receiving the newsletter from Il Gioiello Winery and Morse Wines. The concept of this dual operation is intriguing and I enjoy the editorial. At last summer's Barbera festival held at Cooper Vineyards, I met the owner, Robert Morse, and planned to visit his property one day. The map showed it had a Fiddletown address, but was more easterly than these Amador wineries we'd visited thus far. Finding Il Gioiello shouldn't have been a problem. There are many more wineries up here than when I began the Foothill Wine Press 30 years ago, but roads follow the same paths laid out by prospectors in the Gold Rush of 1849. I'd driven many miles in this country, so I shouldn't have had much trouble. And I had a navigator. Ray spent time in the back seat of a Cessna 172 as a forward observer in Viet Nam. Reading maps of Amador County should be a simpler job than that. We headed up the hill from Fiddletown. We saw fewer and fewer vineyards as the land was getting more forested. Our ears began to pop as we continued to climb the winding road. We hadn't yet encountered snow, but Ray began to talk about taking at least one ski trip this season if we got another good storm. When our road came to the intersection with Highway 88, we realized we had bungled things. We could have found the Kirkwood ski area from that point, but not our winery. Chastened, we turned around and headed for the barn.
I was still looking for a winery with lively music, so when we saw that Serra Fina Cellars was featuring Geoff Miller Country Blues, we decided to stop in. It was a few miles west of Plymouth on Latrobe Road and it was on the way home. The music was good, the view better than expected. We sampled several offerings at this relatively new winery. The woman pouring didn't know very much about the Sera Fina wines, nor much about wine in general, but she was pleasant. A Vigonier was palatable, as was a rosé. Unfortunately, several others we tasted were not.
While we encountered a few bad wines on Saturday, we found more good ones. People were cordial and it was good for two old pals to get out of town on this mini road trip. There's unfinished business, though. That visit to Il Gioiello has to be the first stop on my next visit to Amador wine country. If I omit the detour that took us halfway to Nevada, it should be less than an hour's drive from Sacramento.
Editor's note: If you're planning to visit wineries in this beautiful and fast-developing wine region, you should check out the Gold Country listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the wineries throughout the Sierra Foothills, as well as links to the sites of Lodging and Dining options.