Thank goodness for the amazing Ceri Smith @biondivino SF

Thank goodness for the amazing Ceri Smith (above), owner of one of my favorite wine shops in the world, Biondivino in San Francisco, and soon-to-be proprietor of Et Al., a “wine salon” around the corner from her (literally) wonderful store.

Goodness because her wines are so thoughtfully chosen and reflect an aesthetic that so many of us embrace and aspire to; goodness because her store and her soon-to-be-opened wine salon are friendly havens and refuge for those fleeing the Babylon of America’s consumerist hegemony; and goodness because she is one of only a handful of American wineshop owners who have remained true to their mission of sharing unadulterated passion for wine (while others are trying to be “as big as U.S. steel” and “are opening soon in Vegas and Hong Kong”).

In this series of posts devoted to my trip to the Bay Area (Eric Lecours in Redwood City; Shelley Lindgren at A16 SF; and David Lynch at St. Vincent SF), I’ve tried to feature the superb and impeccable professionalism of the restaurateurs and wine professionals who populate our nation’s leading food and wine community (stay tuned for the last post tomorrow, btw, on the food and wine punk rock scene in SF).

Ceri is the embodiment of that unwavering commitment to excellence, that unflagging collegiality, and that unflinching spirit.

As we sat and chatted in the space that is to become her new “wine salon” dubbed Et Al. (above), we talked about her Annie Liebovitz-inspired campaign to combat the Italian government’s campaign to censor the expression “natural wine” (she plans to ask Alice Feiring and Lou Amdur to pose nude with a sign reading, “I drink wines naturally”); we traded notes on our favorite bottlings of Aglianico; and she told me she will be serving Georgian wines by the glass in traditional earthenware cups in her new wine salon.

Beyond the work ethic and the sensibility, the thing that unites all of professionals I’ve profiled in recent days is their unbridled curiosity. And I can’t think of any wineshop in the U.S. where boundless inquisitiveness and commercial success align so seamlessly. The thing that impresses me so much about Ceri and her shop and her new restaurant is how she has managed to expand her business in a time of financial challenges and restraint, all the while staying true to her mission, her passion, and her personal interests. Thank goodness for that.

Ceri will ship nearly anywhere in the U.S. When the weather cools down (and allows for wine shipping), give her a budget to work with and let her know what you like/need to drink. Every year, Tracie P and I get a mixed case from her and we’re always thrilled and informed by her selections. You won’t be disappointed.

grazie @biondivino @zanottocolfondo #IHeartSF

Thanks to everyone who came out to the amazing Ceri Smith’s Biondivino last night for our Zanotto Col Fondo tasting.

It was a blast and your support means the world to me… I love the wines and I love my friend Riccardo and I’m thrilled to see them in California (in part because Tracie P and I want to drink them!).

But a special thanks to the Pasternak family and Marisa Ellero (in the photo above) who drove in from Reno for the tasting.

What is Prosecco Col Fondo (Colfòndo) @biondivino?

We’ll be tasting Riccardo Zanotto’s Prosecco Colfondo in San Francisco on Friday, August 17 at the amazing Ceri Smith’s Biondivino from 6-8 p.m.

The following post was originally published in March 2011 and provides some background on what exactly Prosecco Col Fondo is…

I’ll be at Sotto in Los Angeles tomorrow and Wednesday nights (August 14-15). Hope to see you in SF or LA! Thanks for reading…

Above: Until the 1970s, before pressurized “autoclave” tanks were introduced into the appellation, most Prosecco was double-fermented in bottle “on its lees.” The resulting wine was gently sparkling, cloudy, and still had the “fondo” (sediment) in the bottom of the bottle. Even when I lived and worked in the Veneto in the 1990s, it was a lot easier to find Prosecco “col fondo” (with sediment) than it is today. The traditional glass for Prosecco is the one pictured above.

Tracie P and I got to experience so many great tastings on our recent trip to Italy but none was more thrilling than our appointment with the Colfondisti, a loosely gathered group of Prosecco producers who have returned to the fondo (i.e., the bottom, pun intended) of their tradition, producing bottle-fermented, lees-aged Prosecco — the way their grandfathers did it and the salty, crunchy, utterly delicious way that Tracie P and I like it. The event was organized by an old friend of mine and colfondo bottler, Riccardo Zanotto (who knows me from my coverband days, when I spent three summers playing 6 nights a week in a zone that some call the “Sinistra Piave,” the left bank of the Piave river).

Above: The village of Rolle (not Passo Rolle, the mountain pass, btw) lies at the epicenter of the Prosecco appellation. Nearly equidistant from Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Most locals would argue that Conegliano is where Prosecco was born as an appellation, even though Valdobbiadene has eclipsed its sister village. Our tasting was held in a home in the center of the village.

We tasted five bottlings of sparkling Prosecco, from different vintages. And then we tasted the new Prosecco (still), by one of the producers, from the 2010 vintage — in other words, wine that had yet to be double-fermented.

Bele Casel 2009 Prosecco

Luca Ferraro’s wine is made in Asolo (a more recently authorized Prosecco appellation, not far from the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene series of valleys). Among the colfondisti, some serve their wines torbido (literally, turbid or cloudy), while others serve theirs limpido (limpid or clear). Luca is a torbidista, who prefers the sediment in the wine. Very fresh nose, clean, and with some savory notes. Some yeasty notes in the mouth, dominated by good white fruit. Balanced acidity. (Luca is extremely active in social media, he speaks English well, and his wines are present in the U.S. market.)

Cantina Gatti 2009 Prosecco

Carolina Gatti’s wine was the one that reminded me the most of the Prosecco I used to drink in the late 80s and early 90s: it was super salty and crunchy. Some citrus notes and lots of savory on the rich nose. Lighter in the mouth with salty and strong citrus notes. Bright, bright acidity the way I like it! Carolina is also very active in social media and she authors a wonderful blog called Rabosando.

Above: “Zuel” denotes “sella” or “saddle” in local dialectal inflection and it is a topographic designation that applies to the many “saddles” or gentle hills that shape the appellation. In case you were confused, there’s a saddle “di qua” (over here) and another saddle “di là” (over there).

Costadilà 2008 Prosecco

Ernesto Cattel is perhaps the most savvy marketer of the colfondisti and his wine has good representation in some of the bigger U.S. markets. He is of the limpido persuasion (although we always mix up his wines when we drink them at home). If you follow along here, you’ve seen his wine on my blog before. His wine was perhaps the most balanced, very clean on the nose and the mouth, good acidity and good saltiness balanced by honest fruit. He’s done a lot to document the origins of Prosecco Colfòndo but unfortunately his work is not available online. According to Ernesto, it was the legendary Venetian oste (tavern-keeper) Mauro Lorenzon who popularized the term colfòndo (with sediment), giving producers their battle cry in the face of the industrial and commercial autoclave production that now dominates the appellation and brand. Ernesto will be releasing an orange-wine, skin-contact Prosecco from the 2009 vintage.

La Basseta Casa Belfi 2009 Prosecco

Maurizio Donadi is a locally based enologist who makes Prosecco Colfòndo as a labor amoris. He currently experimenting with Effective Microorganism ceramic chips (above) as a means of controlling unwanted aromas and flavors in unsulfured wines. I liked his wine a lot but it may not be for everyone (you have to be careful not to ingest the chip!). Very nice citrus and white fruit nose and mouth. Very clean and with good acidity. Very interesting to talk to Maurizio and taste his wines with him. As you can see above, he is of the torbido persuasion.

Zanotto 2009 Prosecco

I’m so glad to have reconnected with Riccardo and I love his wines. A highly successful businessman (in the furniture business), he makes this wine out of passion and he’s just one of those folks whose generosity of heart and happy spirit can’t help but rub off on you. He bottles wine that his uncle grows in family-owned vineyards and his wine — served limpido — was probably the most elegant of all the wines we tasted. Beautiful nose, very fresh and very clean, fantastic balance of white fruit and savory notes. I could drink this wine every day.

And the still 2010 Prosecco, you ask?

You’ll just have to be like Tracie P and me and go to Rolle to taste it!

Special thanks to Enrico who hosted the tasting in his home in Rolle.

A great SF wine store, Georgian wine, and some interesting posts

Above: the inimitable Ceri Smith, owner and creator of Biondivino, named San Francisco’s “best wine shop” by the San Francisco Gate the very day I visited her, and Chris Terrell, importer of intriguing Georgian wines.

When I was in San Francisco last week, I had the great pleasure to meet Ceri Smith, owner and creator of Biondivino and one of the top Italian wine experts in our country. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Italian wine simply blew me away and her store — however small — is one of the most delightful places on earth. She specializes in Italian wine but carries a few French, Slovenian, and Georgian labels. Her collection of Italian sparkling wine is probably the best in the country and she sells a few Champagnes as well. She was gracious enough to share a coveted bottle of Valentini 2001 Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo with me, one of her favorites, she said. A fantastic wine…

Above: I really liked Vinoterra’s Kisi, which should cost around $20 retail. Look at the beautiful color on that wine. Really great, oxidized, tasty, stinky stuff — the way I like it. It’s high time to take Georgian wine seriously.

We were also joined by importer Chris Terrell who specializes in Georgian wines. He had contacted me after he read my post on the war in Georgia. Chris first fell in love with Georgian wine when he biked through the Caucusus and tasted these amazing bottlings. We tasted through eight Georgian wines by two producers, each unique, surprising, and intriguing. I particularly liked the Kisi (an indigenous Georgian grape) by Vinoterra, aged in amphora. Vinoterra served as inspiration and model for the extreme wines of Gravner, which he began to age in amphora some years ago after he visited Vinoterra.

In other news…

Here are some top bloggers in my Google reader and some interesting posts I’ve read by them recently. As the saying goes, ubi major, minor cessat…

My good friend Alice Feiring just launched this New York Times blog about her experience making wine for the first time. I’m one of her biggest fans.

Dr. Vino by Tyler Colman is one of the most popular wine blogs in the U.S. and a leading resource for tasting notes, wine news and trivia. Tyler’s pièce de résistance is his research on the carbon footprint of wine. I was particularly impressed by this post in which he debunks the myth of Beaujolais Nouveau, “Boycott Beaujolais Nouveau”. It’s hard-hitting stuff and a must read.

Italian Wine Guy aka Alfonso Cevola, another good friend of mine, is hands-down the top Italian wine blogger in the U.S. This guy knows his stuff and his blog is a daily read for me. I love the way that Alfonso bends our genre, always pushing the envelope in ways that surprise and entertain me. His recent post on Luca Zaia’s “mommy blog” is one of his most daring and politically charged. Chapeau, Alfonso!