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November 7, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Day of the Dead: a Birthday Wine

Stafford Hill 2009 Pinot Noir

This recently departed November 2nd was several things:

1. The day I returned from a five-month stay in San Francisco/Napa

2. The Missus Cigar’s birthday

3. The Day of The Dead

All of these things combined meant it was necessary to celebrate, life, the past and the convergence of wine-egmatic principles from months of immersion. The only solution: visit my friend Matt Franco of MCF Rare Wine, Ltd and ask for a recommendation.

I charged Matt with the task of providing me with a wine that would compliment all the factors listed above in addition to the “Poularde” and root vegetable dish that I would be preparing for the missus.

Let me say very simply that he hit a home run with: Stafford Hill 2009 Pinot Noir

We loved this wine. This Pinot from Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills was full of dark dark poetry. The nose, a perfume of a mysterious and elegant woman – a woman who lives in a castle upon a mountaintop that never sees the light of day. Her scent is rich and seductive and only gets better over the course of the hours you spend with her. And at around $22, who cannot afford to have that kind of an evening? And with Thanksgiving coming up … this just might be a hell of a wine to bring to the party.

Dig Deeper: Stafford Hill is the second label of Hollaran Vineyards and winemaker Jay Somers makes a few other wines of note.

Thank you Mr. Franco. Until we meet again. Happy Birthday to my lovely wife who drank most of the wine. Until the next bottle, my dear…

October 23, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Burning Man Pre-Decompression Dinner with (San Francisco)

There is a mansion with a gracious lawn, nestled a good distance from the road at the top of Lombard Street in San Francisco’s Russian Hill district. The mansion serves a dual purpose: it is home to “Neal” while the facade presents the perfect backdrop for many a photographic memory; groups of tourists, backpackers, brides-to-be, all gather at the beginning of the brick walkway leading to the house to have their photos etched into “1112” Lombard history.


On the 8th of October in this the 2011th year, Tim West of and I, Jonny Cigar, hosted a “Burning Man Pre-Decompression Dinner” at 1112 Lombard.

A month after Burning Man, residents of the pop-up city all gather in groups to “Decompress” and so in the spirit of Decompression we hosted a pre-decompression party.

Coming off of a week of Harvest work I was exhausted, but truly excited for this event because the small gathering of 25 people brought together some of the bright stars of the culinary and technology industry, from TechCrunch to Google from Facebook to the Hub, Mashable, live-painting by artist Ian Ross and Tim’s group Most everyone had met at Burning Man, by the way. And the conversations throughout the evening were, if I may be candid, some of the best conversations I’ve had since landing on the West Coast back in June. Refreshing is the word I would use and though that’s a touch cliche, it’s simply the truth. I was refreshed by conversation and the energies of the group.

Mr. Tim West cooks with great people at, particularly my new favorite French San Franciscanite: Olivier Pecquenard. Olivier is a chef at Facebook, but beyond Facebook he’s cooked at the best restaurants in the world. He made Oxtail sliders I shall ne’er forget.

The Beginnings of a Pre-Decompression Feast. In the background: red jump suit = Tim West.

I poured wines from Swanson Vineyards (2007 Merl0t, 2006 Sangiovese) and because it was also Yom Kippur we served Covenant Wines 2010 Red C Sauvignon Blanc.  Two superstars of the group, the Grables, entered with much pomp and circumstance and brought their own wine. Mark Snyder of Angels’ Share distributes the Grables tiny, tiny lot of about 47 cases of this and 32 cases of that, etc.

Grable Vineyards, made by Amy Grable. Yes, a rose of Cabernet Sauvignon. Amazing.

Self Appointed MW's choice cocktail: Bud Lite - thanks to Neal!

Dillon's Bruning Man attire.

We drank, we ate and told stories by the fire. Yes, there was a fire pit in the expansive back yard. The wines were a hit and I was glad to introduce everyone to Swanson and Covenant, as none had heard of the two before.

Since I’ve not attended Burning Man I can only imagine that the experiences of the individuals who do go are in many ways life-changing. It’s evident in their conversations and expressions, the things they can and cannot talk about with respect to the experience. Sincere and lasting bonds are formed in the desert – the fact that people of all walks of life come together to build a city in what seems to me to be a valley of ashes, is remarkable. The emotional attachment is strong and Tim was smart to provide an evening of pre-decompression because, it seems they needed it.


October 19, 2011 2 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

30 Minutes with Jacqueline Bahue (Girard Winery)

Jacqueline Bahue in the "Club House" aka Lab

I had the pleasure of spending some time with Jacqueline Bahue, an assistant winemaker at Girard Winery’s winery location in Sonoma. We walked amidst barrels and tanks, along the catwalks, and ended up in the “Club House,” which is really the lab where one may geek out on the science of wine, and is encouraged to do as such.

Girard Winery is known for making Chardonnay and Cabernet-based wines. They are also expanding their focus to Zinfandel and Petite Sirah grown on century-old vines that dot the Napa countryside. Their tasting room is in Yountville a stone’s throw from The French Laundry.

I’m a fan of all their red wines, which for me are bold and possess a generous mouth-feel with a lingering finish. Dark fruit aromatics will hypnotize you and before you can say anything you’re back in the hotel room with three cases by your side — but please wait to drink until you get home because who knows how they got to your hotel room and what kind of bottle shock they went through.

T’was wonderous of Jacqueline to spend time during harvest to talk to me about the finer things in life, so listen, enjoy and be elevated: click here to listen or download.

On July 14th, 2011, The Noble Rot and Stag Dining Group partnered to host the “Anti” Bastille Day Party with Jacqueline as our guest wine-start of honor.

On the Catwalks...

Jacqueline barrel sampled me on every single barrel. Only took us seven hours. (I'm lying, ya know?)

So she actually wrote her name across the barrel with a barrel smith coaching her along the way. #classy.

October 14, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

A Visit to Robert Biale Vineyards

"Watch for Black Chicken" a Biale code-word relic from the days of Prohibition. Photo sourced from Robert Biale Vineyards website.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Bob Biale, Steve Hall (winemaker) and Bob’s mother, Clementina for our second program of Noble Rot Talks. To listen, subscribe to our podcast or download an MP3 to listen at your leisure, click here.

Robert Biale Vineyards is at 4038 Big Ranch Road in Napa, California. The winery is famous for its Zinfandels, and Bob tells a great story about the “Black Chicken” operation his dad was involved in during that ridiculous national experiment of Prohibition. I will say, however that Ken Burns’ first episode shed some interesting light on why we enacted Prohibition — the alcohol abuse was so rampant that many families (many mothers) were in total support. That… I can understand. And our country was much smaller in the earlier part of the 20th century than it is today and that’s a very real factor to consider.

Neverthemore, just as the sun has shone down on this land in previous decades and centuries, the day I interviewed Bob, Steve and Clementina (who was an unexpected but absolutely delightful guest!) the sun was shining bright as you can see here:

Robert Biale Vineyards - tasting patio.

We walked through the crush pad and eventually settled down on a porch overlooking the vineyards. Bob and I chatted about the history of Napa and how at one time Prune trees and Walnut trees could be seen as far as the eye could grasp – not vineyards. We also talked about the labor and incredible struggles many immigrants went through working to build the valley into what it is today. His father, Aldo Biale, is one of those individuals. At age 14, Aldo’s father passed away and he had the responsibility of taking care of a family. Age 14! And Clementina and Bob recount a story in the podcast of how Aldo turned a tough situation into a profitable opportunity. And once you know the story behind the wine, go, good wino and seek out a bottle and think of Aldo and the Biale’s – think of sunny Napa and do it over good Italian cuisine.

Robery Biale Vineyards crushpad - lookee them stainless steel!

Biale Wines! Zinfandel and then two delectable looking wines that the family had opened and drank the night before with dinner. Look at the sediment in the middle bottle! Wild. Clementina said they all tasted, "very nice."

Reverse side of "Bravo Aldo!" talking about Aldo's Vineyard.

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