Sunday, January 22, 2012

Boozing in Berkeley

Berkeley, Ca. is one of the best dining destinations in the U.S. Alice Waters' restaurant Chez Panisse is still going strong more than 40 years after she founded it. Across the street, the Cheese Board offers delicious, freshly made pizza at $2.50 a slice, though only in one variety per day. Near the Cal campus, Ippuku grills every part of its free-range chickens - I found the heart particularly memorable when I ate there last summer - and for the adventurous, or perhaps foolish, offers a raw chicken dish whose surprisingly appealing texture suggests the quality of the birds with which Ippuku is working: And MFWC makes daily pilgrimages to Ici on College Avenue for candied blood orange ice cream and other such frozen delights.

The options for wine buyers are just as good. Berkeley is most famous as the home of Kermit Lynch, who began importing wines from France in the early 1970s as Waters was launching Chez Panisse. Just as Waters led a movement toward a cuisine based on fresh ingredients rather than intricate preparations, Lynch became a leading importer by championing traditional wines made in what he viewed as an authentic way rather than those designed for an American audience that prefers high alcohol and big flavors - in other words, many of the wines made in Napa Valley. (See "One cagey romantic," Oct. 10.)  The Lynch label on the back of a bottle is always a good sign, but his store next to Waters's bakery Cafe Fannie in Berkeley does not offer a lot of choices for budget wine buyers. Lynch focuses almost exclusively on France and Italy, and his reputation is such that he can easily move cases of expensive wine.

The thrifty wine buyer will do better by going to Vintage Berkeley, which has stores on College Ave. across the street from Ici (they let you bring ice cream into the shop) and on Vine St., around the corner from Chez Panisse and the Cheese Board. VB focusses on wines between $10 and $20 with a few edging over that figure and a small reserve section in their College Ave. store. On the way to meet a group of people who gathered to watch the 49ers game last week (MWFC believes in adapting to the local culture when he travels even though he's rooting for Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, T-Sizzle and the rest of the Ravens to get to Indianapolis), MFWC picked up a 2009 Douro Twisted for $16.50 made by Niepoort, the Portuguese winemakers most famous for their ports. ( It turns out that Niepoort makes a number of other wines, including the Twisted, a robust red that smells of barnyard, tobacco and chocolate with a little fruit and is made from the same varietals that go into port. It's tasty stuff that gives the drinker a sense of the flavors that go into port without clubbing him over the head.

MFWC went back the next day to pick up a few more bottles, including the Occhipinti SP68 2009 white for $22. The wine is a blend of Albanello, a centuries-old Sicilian grape used primarily for blending and almost never encountered in the U.S., and zibibbo, a local name for Muscat that dervies from the Arabic zabib, "dried grape" and is also used to make a wine similar to Marsala in which the grapes are dried and then pressed. Sadly, MFWC came down with a stomach bug that prevented him from sampling the Occhipinti, though the description on the Prune website is appealing:

After picking up the Douro Twisted, MFWC headed to Paul Marcus Wines (no relation to the blogger). PMW is in a small marketplace across the street from the Rockridge BART and ranges broadly in geography and price. Here wine geeks will find Lopez de Heredia, Occhipinti, Jura wines, and rieslings; casual buyers will have a reasonable selection of affordable wines; and the cellaring classes can ask about a reserve list that has some remarkable values from both California and Europe.   

No comments:

Post a Comment