Noe Valley Voice December-January 2006

Wine Makes Good Cheer

By Erin O'Briant

In a neighborhood with two thriving wine shops, numerous bars, and restaurants boasting impressive wine lists, the population obviously includes a lot of enthusiastic imbibers. Now, a group of Noe Valleyans has formed an organization to celebrate the tradition. For about a year, the members of the Noe Valley Drinking Club have met monthly to try the libations of bars in and around the neighborhood.

"It's mostly a social club," explains event coordinator Julie Crosby, "but sometimes the type of bar dictates the type of drink." The meetings, she says, are very informal, and attendance usually ranges from six to 20 people. The group has already convened at favorite Noe Valley haunts such as The Dubliner and Bliss Bar, both on 24th Street. In December, the meeting will happen at Noe's Bar at 24th and Church streets, with holiday cocktails and pizza from Cybelle's.

Of course, bars aren't the only place to find delicious drinks. Now that the social season is upon us--holiday parties, Christmas feasts, and New Year's Eve celebrations--it is the perfect time to discover new wines and spirits.

Winter Warmers

"Port sales double or even triple during the cooler months," says Drew Spaulding, general manager of the wine store PlumpJack on 24th Street near Sanchez Street. As an everyday option, he says, customers enjoy the Smith-Woodhouse Lodge Reserve, which sells for $18 per bottle. The Graham's 1996 Malvedos Vintage Port ($46) and Dow's 1982 Colheita Tawny Port ($58) are his picks for special occasions.

Crosby of the Noe Valley Drinking Club suggests spirits for a cold-weather warmup. She recommends mixing up a Smuggler, made of hot chocolate, peppermint schnapps, and whipped cream, or the classic hot toddy with hot tea, two shots of brandy, honey, and lemon.

Scotch, Spaulding notes, is another popular winter drink. He says the bestseller at PlumpJack right now is a new line of blended malts from Jon, Mark & Robbo's Easy Drinking Whisky Company, which Spaulding says has "tremendous depth and character." They retail for about $30 per bottle.

Fit for a Feast

What wines go well with Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa dinner? "Holiday wine pairings are always tricky, because so many of our traditional holiday feasts include a huge array of flavors," says Spaulding. "As a general rule, we suggest wines that have a lot of fruit and very little oak, whether red or white." Drew recommends the A to Z Pinot Noir ($18), or a "fruity, off-dry white" such as a Riesling or Gewürztraminer with a turkey feast.

Longtime Chattanooga Street resident Rita Abraldes loves traditional Cuban holiday foods. The co-founder of the popular restaurant Charanga at Mission and 20th streets, Abraldes says her menu might include tamales navideños, Cuban roast pork with black beans and yucca, and Spanish paella. She recommends a Navarro Gewürztraminer (about $27) or Crios de Susana Balbo, Torrontés, Mendoza, Argentina (about $13), with lighter entrees and shellfish-based dishes. For a holiday meal that includes roasted and grilled meats, Abraldes prefers a structured Syrah such as Domaine des Girasols Rhône 2001 from Rasteau in Côtes du Rhône, France (about $13).

Walid Masoud, manager of Urban Cellars at 3821 24th Street near Church Street, recommends some favorite reds for drinking throughout the holiday season: Napa Valley's Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon ($9); the Trapiche Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina ($9); and Kent Rasmussen Pinot Noir ($31), which is grown in Carneros. Urban Cellars' wine importer Jim Wadsworth suggests starting a meal with a white, such as the Humbrecht Tokay Pinot Gris ($20), which he says is "on the sweeter side" and works well with a cheese or salad course.

A Sparkling New Year

Bubbly wines are a time-honored favorite for ringing in a new year, and Noe Valley's wine lovers have several sparkling suggestions. Bonny Doon's Moscato d'Asti ($15), a sweet sparkling wine made from Muscat grapes, is "a great choice for a party because it's fun to drink and has a lower alcohol content than most wines," says Abraldes. Masoud suggests Roederer Estate ($23), a California sparkling wine, or Henriot Champagne ($40) for New Year's Eve. For a large group, Spaulding likes Domaine J. Laurens Cremant de Limoux, France, for $11; or Gruet Blanc-de-Noirs from Albuquerque, New Mexico, for $12 per bottle. French Champagnes at PlumpJack begin at around $30 per bottle and top out at $225 for the 1990 Krug Champagne.

Now that you know what to drink, find people with whom to share the fun by logging on to the Noe Valley Drinking Club web site at