Feb 5,2007 | Monday

I find myself putting together the first entry for my blog beachside in Bucerias, a small fishing village outside of Puerto Vallarta. The weather has been touch and go and the rooster next store has been crowing a lot, but other than that it has been great to be back in Mexico. While I love a beer once in a while and enjoy a well-made Margarita (like Jorqito el Magnifico’s at Tapas del Mondo in downtown Bucerias), what I really continue to want with my meals is a good bottle of wine. Yes, I am one of those people who prefer a spicy Côtes du Rhône with Korean BBQ over beer (particularly that really light OB), so I want nothing more than a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with my snapper Veracruzana or an Argentine Malbec with my enchiladas.

Well there’s a very slim chance of my finding either almost anywhere in this country, outside of Mexico City. That goes for most other Caribbean beach destinations I have visited as well. With the exceptions of resorts like the Four Seasons, where you can get almost anything, and will pay for it dearly, wine remains in a sorry state in most of the Caribbean. Beyond domestic wines (I still haven’t found a decent Mexican producer despite all the ruckus about Baja); mostly what you will find is the occasional cheap Spanish or over-produced Chianti.

The bulk of what is potentially drinkable is mostly from Chile (and occasionally Argentina) down here. Thanks to both countries for being Latin, knowing how to navigate this country and producing solid quantities of well-priced and decent wine. And Thank god more than anything for Concha y Toro. The wine has long been the top Chilean import on the U.S. market and the company has the girth to get into other Latin markets. However my only wish would be a wider selection and more consistent pricing and vintages. Maybe I’ll drop a note to my marketing buddy at Concha y Toro, but in the meantime I will send a mental note to some of my other favorite producers: please come and join us on these sunny shores. It’s a great, captive and wealthy market. We would so welcome your wines with our next tacos. Gracias.

bucerias-2007-002.jpg bucerias-2007-004.jpg

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The Wonderful World of OZ

Mar 29,2008 | Saturday

The View from Down Under

A great shot of a Sydney beach from a helicopter

I just got back from a most amazing trip of Australia. I hadn’t been in four years and I had never spent a serious trip looking at the wines. Don’t let my extraordinary hosts, the folks from Pernod Ricard (they own Jacob’s Creek and Wyndham Estate), know that I hadn’t always been a fan of these wines. But I did gain a better understanding of how to differentiate my palate from others’ and understand what people love and embrace about these wines (and this country).

A Pelican outside of SydneyA lot of the draw with Australia is how much the two countries seem to get on. We speak English. We are straight shooters. Our wine labels are in our native language and focused on grape varieties we know well. And the Aussies are amazing folks (and hosts). And they are admirable drinkers (but that’s part of their charm). And the country is rugged, charming and relatively safe. The biggest risk we came across was the potential vineyard encounter with the poisonous brown snake, and I never saw one.

Ready to Fly Over the HunterSo I learned that simple Australian sparkling wines can be wonderful (stay away from sparkling Shiraz if you don’t want a blast of sugar). Jacob’s Creek non-vintage rose sparkler is a beauty and only costs $12. I also found out that simple Shiraz, for my palate, doesn’t age well so enjoy it young and fruity. I also learned that they are easy-going Cabernet Sauvignons that work well with food. Again Jacob’s Creek 2004 in screw-cap was wonderful.

Wildlife Down UnderIf you can survive the hellish flight (14 direct from San Francisco) there are lots of beautiful things to see in this country (’roos, koalas, dolphins, miles of beaches surrounding Sydney). It’s functional, safe, clean and hospitable. And it has a similiar multiethnic history like our own (and a great immigration museum in Melbourne). Unfortunately traveling in Australia is more expensive than ever, with our dollar trading almost 1 to 1 with theirs.

Ironically quite a few of their high-end wines are actually even more affordable on our market (that’s even another reason to experiment).

G’day Mates,

Liza the Wine Chick

Liza in the Steingarten Vineyard

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Go Wildcats!

Apr 20,2008 | Sunday

Northwestern Alums Gather in SF to Taste and Play with Wine

Ladies Try the Sweet Dry Test

I admit I haven’t been the most active alum. This was probably the first alumni event I have attended since I graduated quite a few years ago. However I made sure it was a lot of fun to make up for all those lost years

Close to fifty Northwestern alums and their guests gathered in Jackson Square’s LeTrianon Gallery for Wine List 101: Tips for Making Friends with the Wine List while Impressing Your Customers. They were welcomed with a little sparkling Gruet from New Mexico and tried their hand at some interactive tastings.

An Argentina Malbec from Alamos was tasted blind (a couple of über palates zeroed in on it right away). Then they moved on to sample a wine some mistook for Champagne or a rosé in an opaque glass. It was the Brampton Sauvignon Blanc. Then they also experimented with tasting fruit candies with their nose closed (a sensory experience I modeled after the Jacob’s Creek researchers in the Barossa). They also had a fun time trying to see if the Zin was totally dry or not (please see the pics).

The hit of the evening was the 2005 Animus from the Douro Valley. A dynamite mix of indigenous Portuguese grapes, the same ones used to make Port, from the hilly and majestic Douro Valley. It has just arrived in the California market for $14.99 and should be available in others shortly.


Liza the Wine Chick

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Hooray for (the other) NRA

May 31,2008 | Saturday

The legendary and mammoth restaurant show at McCormick Place in Chicago launched its first wine, beer and spirits show within the huge restaurant show this May. It was upscale and tranquil, quite exclusive and free from the drunken debauchery that dominates at many other shows in the business.

The concept behind it (small and focused), with both a show floor and educational seminars is new. It’s generally one or the other (think Cheers or Sante versus the Nightclub and Bar Show). And I do believe it could grow to be quite successful.

Wine Flowed and Serious Conversation Ensued at the First Wine and Spirits Show within the NRA Show

You might call me biased, as I spoke on wine trends at the show’s kick-off panel. I do want it to succeed and I think a major wine and spirits show within such a comprehensive restaurant show is way overdue. Chefs, restaurant staff and wine execs need to be working together much more closely than they ever have been. This could be the show that forges that connection.

Feedback was mixed from attendees and exhibitors on the floor. Many loved the exclusive vibe and well-vetted crowd (guaranteeing good conversations and possibly purchases), some found it too limited.

For more on the show see my August column in Wine Business Monthly.



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The New Drinks Examiner

Jun 13,2008 | Friday

Negronis rule!

Yours truly just became the new drinks columnist for the SF Examiner.com! I am thrilled. The new project is being rolled out in approximately 60 cities and we are in the first 10 of the lineup.  Seattle, Denver, Balitomore and Chicago have also just launched.

As the Wine & Spirits Examiner, I am No. 23 for SF and my fabulous new editor George Shirk says he hopes to have hundreds for each city by this time next year. He calls it “a bold and exciting project that gives experts in their fields an increased opportunity to pass their knowledge on to others who are seeking it. ”

I am going to be posting three to four times a week and will be hungry for your news and feedback, so please keep it coming. I will be covering wine and cocktails in other cities as well, always with the goal of bringing it back to our fabulous wine and cocktail town.

I hope to also be impressing you all with my newly gleaned computer and high tech skils. I learned how to post video yesterday. Thanks George!

In Good Spirits,


Liza the Wine Chick

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Great Drinks in My Hometown

Jun 30,2008 | Monday

I was back in NYC for a few days this June and the sweltering heat just called for a couple of refreshing drinks. I stopped in a couple of new places and visited a couple of others I hadn’t had a chance to check out.

Let’s start with the wonderful cocktails devised by Tony Abou-Ganim at Bar Milano. Tony is the mastermind behind the bar program at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and he is now off on his own consulting as the Modern Mixologist. He is basically the guy who turned me onto cocktails a decade ago and introduced me to the Negroni (and it has all been downhill from there).

Bar Milano opened in April and is a joint venture with the Denton Boys (Joe and Justin) and is a rowdy Northern Italian spot on 24th and 3rd. The list features all kinds of esoteric Northern Italian wine offerings as well as fabulous bitter (think Campari) and herb-infused cocktails. I loved Tony’s 323 cocktail with the rosemary-infused Henrick’s gin!

I also had a chance to visit the swank Death & Co on East 6th Street. I hate the name, but love the bar. It’s named in homage to the Volstead Act of 1919 which outlawed alcohol consumption as “to drink alcohol was to live a life shadowed by death.” They are making some wonderful, fresh summer drinks with Sandeman 20-Year-Old Tawny Port. I loved the tall, refreshing Dahlgren, made with Port, Tequila, lime and ginger beer.

Last but not least I had some fabulous Sonnema VodkaHERB cocktails at the little gem of a restaurant Bobo in the West Village. I am not a vodka drinker but love this bitter, balanced herbal vodka out of Holland. It is not yet available all over the U.S. but hopefully it will be. It was just divine in a spicy Bloody Mary.

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Save Miquel: how I came to embrace cork

Sep 28,2008 | Sunday

So I just got back from the cork forest in Portugal. It made a big impression on me. And just so you have full disclosure on this: a cork company paid for me to go. I learned a lot and think they have a very strong case to make about the importance, tradition and history of oak.

Yours truly in the Alentejo with a stand-in for Miquel

Here are a couple of important thing you may not know about cork:

1) The cork harvest doesn’t harm the trees but removes their outer layers (every nine years).
2) Cork forests are good for the environment and prevent arid countries in North Africa from being desserts.
3) Some cork closures can cost less than a screwcap.
4) Cork producers are working very hard, and succeeding per my own experience as well as their research, in reducing cork taint.
5) Wines under screwcap can suffer from “reduction,” i.e. a reduced flavor profile with less fruit and expressivity. I had experienced it but couldn’t wrap my head around an explanation.

Save MiguelSave Miquel is an ad campaign the cork company Amorim launched in Australia to get the folks Down Under to see the light. It features American comedian Rob Schneider in his search to find Miquel the cork tree and save him.

Above you can see the corks that fueled the campaign and yours truly in the Alentejo with a stand-in for Miquel.

My Examiner.com column has gotten quite a bit of response, both pro-cork and otherwise. I intend to follow up on it and welcome your feedback.

Liza the Wine Chick

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Upcoming Drink Trends in SF

Dec 18,2008 | Thursday

I took a minute to chat with a few of our top wine and spirits personalities about what they see on the radar for next year. The difficult economic climate aside, it looks like we may see many more of the same trends.

On the horizon for next year:

“Large servings; ginger; absinthe; specialty bitters; agave; old time liquors (Scotch, Bourbon, etc.); artisan sodas, tonics and vinegars, fresh-pressed citrus cocktails, wine offerings created with a partnered winery; and spiced up fiery drinks.”
Andrew Freeman, president, Andrew Freeman and Co.

“Drink trends have not changed much lately: simple recipes, classic style and fresh….with more and more home made bitters and syrup.”
David Nepove, director of mixology Southern Wine & Spirits (a wine wholesaler) and U.S. Bartenders’ Guild national vice president

“White wine is back and it’s unoaked, crisp, light and fresh. Albariños or Alvarinhos, depending on whether they come from Rias Baixas in Spain or the Minho in Portugal, these are single varietal wines that offer great quality and a touch of acidity standing up well to food…  For reds, Malbec from Argentina follows Merlot in name appeal and continues to increase in popularity….Also gaining in popularity are wines coming from southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. Spanish wines from Toro, La Mancha and other regions of Southern Spain… Following on their coattails just on the other side of what is now a wide open border, are wines from Alentejo, Portugal, often produced with the same grape varieties like Tempranillo known in Alentejo as Aragonez, and other indigenous to Portugal.”
Lou Capitao, managing partner, Touchstone Wines (an importer)

“Pink wines will continue to gain in popularity, and with the economy as it is, high value wines will be increasingly popular.”
Alder Yarrow, founder and editor, Vinography.com

For more interesting local drink trends read my recent SF market profile in Cheers magazine.


Liza the Wine Chick

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Having Fun on View from the Bay

Jan 10,2009 | Saturday

I was on television yesterday and had almost as much fun as I did on Captain Kangaroo when I was a kid. However this time I got to talk about my passion: great wines at advantageous prices. The whole show was value focused yesterday, which is more than welcome in this economy. The SF-based ABC program also hasn’t had a wine segment in some time so I was so pleased to raise a glass in this segment here online.


View from the Bay host Spencer Christian and Liza the Wine Chick at the ABC studios.

I was also thrilled to share tips on how to find great and affordable, everyday wines. This has always been my passion, even when I had an expense account, and seems particularly apropos now. Not only was I able to introduce viewers to a handful of great, value wines, I also shared down-to-earth tips on how to be a savvy shopper. I have always supported shopping in independent wine stores and forging relationships with the passionate folks who work there. Half my selections were from Chile, which even surprised me. However this country continues to emerge as a wine-producing star, even though it has gotten bogged down in a price ghetto. I also shared favorites from Sicily, Australia and South Africa.

Spencer, one of the program’s hosts, is quite a wine geek and his passion made the whole experience even more fun. So here are my under $10 picks, which isn’t an easy category to sort through, even in this economy:

Secreto Sauvignon Blanc 2007                             $8.99
Sebeka Cabernet-Pinotage Blend 2007             $8.99
Viu Manent Malbec 2008                                        $5.99
Feudo Arancio Nero d’Avola 2006                        $8.99
Casillero del Diablo Carmenere 2007                $9.99
Rolling Cabernet-Merlot 2005                               $9.99


My retail partner, the Jug Shop, on Pacific Avenue will be carrying them all for at least the next week in a special “Liza the Wine Chick’s View from the Bay” section. The View from the Bay is also featuring all my savvy wine shopping tips on their site. Please do check them out and let me know if they are of use in your search for great wines.

I will also be speaking tomorrow on the great, local wine and travel show A Matter of Taste tomorrow with the fabulous Rachel and David Cane from 11:45am to noon approximately Pacific Time. We were all recently running around the wilds of Argentina together and will have lots to share about finding great wines.


Liza the Wine Chick

Makeup for View from the Bay by Jenny Zielon and Bare Escentuals. Hair by Gene Hays at Mes Amis.
More great values and insights with Liza the Wine Chick tomorrow Sunday the 11th on A Matter of Taste, online and on the radio, from 11:45am to noon!
More value wines with your favorite Wine Chick! On Friday February 13th I will be speaking at the Commonwealth Club at 6pm. Details on ticket purchase are on the site.
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My First Book!

Jan 22,2009 | Thursday

For someone who has turned out hundreds of magazine articles over the past 15 years, I have never written, or contributed to, a book. Well my baby just hit newsstands, opps bookstores, this week. So I only wrote a chapter, forgive me but I am still excited.

The Business of Wine is composed of more than 140 entries from a multitude of experts of different backgrounds in the wine business. Importers, journalists and educators came together to try to forge the industry’s first serious ode to the business of wine. It has chapters that address hence thus forth infrequently discussed concepts such as the role of importers, distributors and cult wines. It also tackles topics like the trend towards higher alcohol levels in wine and the value of ratings and scores. It was edited by Geralyn and Jack Brostrom and was published by Greenwood Press. Other contributors include educator Doug Frost, Jamie Ritchie of Sotheby’s and winemaker João Portugal Ramos.

These are often topics that remained less than well redefined in the shadows and it’s exciting to see a wine industry book take them all on head on. I wrote the chapter on how to best market to the on-premise sector, which has become somewhat of a specialty of mine over the years. The bulk of the book is well written and focused on really useful information many in the industry will use to better navigate the business. What’s more those who read my blog here and my posts on the Examiner.com readers can get 20 percent off the cover price of $65 by going to this link on the Greenwood site for the next week by using code F238. Happy reading!


Liza the Wine Chick

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