Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wine Tasting in Livermore

S and I went to Livermore to do some wine tasting. Yes, I'm sure it was wine, not bootleg grape juice brewed in the basement of a suburban sprawl home and run across the county line by a soccer mom in her SUV. We got a late start on President's Day so we only made it to three wineries instead of the dozen or so we were hoping for. I made a notebook of these Southbay Wineries. or you can buy my source, The Best of the Wine Country. WARNING: The following contains extreme yuppyism, for I am about to discuss wine. Please resist the urge to punch me in the face after reading this to restore your street cred.

Retzlaff Winery

Because of it's small size and smooth wines, this was a good place to start. When we arrived, the hostess was the only person in the tasting room. After tasting a few wines, I readily admitted that we were fairly new to the wine tasting circuit. This started a pattern that would repeat itself for the rest of the day: the hostess completely opened up, took us on a tour of the aging rooms, and let us sample different vintages, from the casks, for free. It was a great to see the evolution of the wine, starting with an '06 recently picked, to a dark '01. The thing that surprised me most was how much the wine changes in the first year ('06 compared to the '05). It was another example of the last 10% improvement costing the most.

Neither S nor I like Chardonnay, but the version here was very clean and didn't have the dry oaky flavor that normally turns me away. The reds were also clean; too clean actually. I prefer the bolder wines we found later that day.

Concannon Vinyard

Quite a contrast to Retzalff, Concannon had a large storehouse and tasting room. The medium sized parking lot was full, so we were looking forward to a different experience. President's Day weekend the winery opened its reserve wines for tasting, pouring them at different stations complemented by cheese or chocolate. Again I started asking newbie questions at one of the later stages and struck up a conversation with the folks behind the table. Before I knew what was happening, S and I were whisked away and had started a private tour of the winery.

We started outside, looking at the hoppers which separate the grapes from the stems and leaves. Taken through the distillers, mixers, and filters we asked questions and got to poke our heads into some of the empty steel containers. Andrew, our host, gave us a few lessons on how they buy, care for, and use the wine casks. The above picture is one of the original grape presses that was used by the founder, James Concannon.

Jim Concannon is the grandson, and now runs the vineyard. We met him in the storage room, where the casked wine was held at a constant 54 degrees. Jim told us about climbing around the old room when he was young, pointed out the grooves in the floor where the draft horses used to haul full casks in or press grapes, and explained that the winery was only able to stay open during the prohibition thanks to the communion wine needed by the local churches.

Petite Syrah is the Concannon specialty. For me, though, this wine ended very abruptly. The "full" Syrah was more enjoyable and the Merlot was excellent: very bold. They had a new-to-me Spanish style wine, Contenello (?), that was nice and spicy. The whites were disappointing.

Crooked Vine

Crooked had an enlightening barrel tasting scheme: there were three casks, two different types of grapes, and two different types of wood. I was surprised that the type of wood, French Oak versus American, had already altered the taste of the wine. These casks were also '06 wines, so they hadn't been aging long. We talked with the hostess about the job of the head winemaker: how do they know when a wine is done? What are they looking for? How do they blend? The answer to all the questions is basically "whatever feels right to him/her." This drove the personalization of the wine home for me: with so many ways for a grape to interact with its soil and environment, the resulting juice to interact with its cask, the resulting wine to be tweaked and aged by a wine expect, and the end product to interact with the taster, no wonder there are so many variations.

I highly recommend a trip to this area, and you'll be reading about my next one.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

2 Nights in Dublin

B is going to Dublin, Ireland for two nights, so I thought I'd write a schedule. I visited Dublin this last December, sent by work. I had an amazing time and was able to pick up a lot about the city from walking around, talking to people, and visiting the museums.


The main part of the city is quite small, which makes walking around easy. If you have time, you don't really need a schedule since you can just walk to wherever you feel like visiting next. Additionally, walking around makes it easier to find the place you're going. There's approximately 50 million small streets in Dublin, and if that wasn't enough, the main through streets change their name every couple of blocks. I suspect this is why I never found any Mapquest equivalents for Dublin.

I think the best way to enjoy Dublin is to appreciate the contrast the city has. Visit an old museum, then sit in a bar talking to locals. Visit Kilmainham then view some modern art. One of the reasons visiting other counties is so interesting is because that kind of contrast doesn't really exist in America.

OK, I'll stop rambling now. If you're there for two days, here's what I'd pack in.

Day 1 Morning
  • Check into the Paramount
  • Walk through the street market, get some breakfast at the food square at the beginning of Temple Bar district
  • Walk back past Paramount, take tour of Christchurch, including the crypts.
Day 1 Noon

  • Walk to Guinness Storehouse, take the tour, have a pint in the Gravity Bar
  • Look across the street, see the Digital Hub which is where the Amazon office is
  • Have lunch at Nash's, aka DUB0, on Thomas St.; order Guinness' seasonal beer
Day 1 Afternoon
Day 1 Evening
  • Catch last Hop-on-Hop-off bus, get off at Jameson's Whiskey stop
  • Buy tickets for Jameson tour (discount with bus ticket), buy an Irish Coffee while you wait
  • Sit in the front row during Jameson tour movie, immediately raise your hand when guide asks who wants to be a special taster
  • After tour, cross back over the river on Hapenny bridge and eat at Guel
  • Walk to Peter's Pub off Graffton, sit at the bar, talk to people, try Green Spot, drink Guinness
  • After 10:30p, go to O'Donoghue's watch great live music
  • Stumble back to Porterhouse, across the street from Paramount, drink more
  • If you're hungry, eat at Zaytunes
  • Sleep
Day 2 Morning
  • Have an Irish Breakfast
  • Catch Hop-on-Hop-off bus, listen to tour
  • Hop off at Stephen's Green, walk around
  • Buy Green Spot at Celtic Whiskey
  • Walk along Nassau street, buy things
Day 2 Noon
  • Go to Dawson's Lounge, have pint(s) and lunch (if you are hungrier than a sandwich, eat at Kilkenny's cafe)
  • Walk through Trinity College, see Book of Kells
Day 2 AfternoonDay 2 Evening
  • Get fish & chips at Leo Burdock
  • Go to Bar Restaurant on St. George's St., get a Guinness and a brownie at the bar
  • Walk through Temple Bar, get a cocktail at one of the sleek hotel bars
  • Go back to your favorite bar, or for a longer walk, go to Mulligan's
Day 3 Morning
  • Pack and take cab to airport
  • Have pint and go home. Good job!
What did I misss?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

OK, This Is Very Exciting

Sam Adams has developed a new beer glass.

As my beer snobbishness grows, I find myself unable to drink out of plastic cups any longer. I suppose it's not long till I can't drink out of glasses not specifically designed for the type of beer I'm drinking. Frankly, I already have a hard time drinking out of glasses that have a Bud or Coors label on them. As a geek in general, I'm also particularly attracted to using the "do one thing and do it well" philosophy, so specialized glasses appeal to me.

I view Sam Adams as a middling microbrew that hit it big. The beer is still better than the rest in its class, but its class isn't great. I respect them for trying to raise the level of national American beers and maybe serving as a "gateway beer" for many people. Of light beers, Sam Adams is the best (probably because it was developed by the inventor of light beer), but again: not a class of beer I enjoy.

I like seeing companies using their popularity and profits to do interesting things that advance their field. Google is an obvious example. The glasses are on their way to me now, so I'll let you know if Sam Adams is now an example, too.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

"Internet as a Computer"

Along the lines of my "Website as a Language" post, Yahoo! just released something called "Pipes" that promises to bring together websites in an organized way. A syntax, if you will, for whatever types your website uses. I suspect this idea, if not Pipes itself, will be very big this year because it holds the promise of brining together all the cool tools from different sites that people use.

Right now, it is the small minority, even here in the Valley, that use tools like Basecamp, Google Calendar, or PBWiki. I suspect some of this is a barrier that many websites don't consider: just remembering what the address is and what the website can do. My mom doesn't remember YouTube when thinking about Super Bowl commercials, and my dad still uses McNally maps when planning a car trip. With new tools such as Pipes, though, only one site will be needed to combine all of these small applications. Basecamp milestones will show up on your Kiko calendar, and Twitter can track data for your work's status report.

This will likely have two effects: eliminate the advantage that Google has in combining their offerings into suites, and exploding the market that small companies can reach. One of the reasons that Kiko cited for it's collapse was the integration with Gmail that Google Calendar offered. Heck, it's one of the main reasons I use it. Unless Google goes the Microsoft route and starts protecting it's products with proprietary formats, users in the future will be able to integrate their Hotmail addresses with Google Calendar just as easily. The second effect follows from the prediction that it will be easier for "normal" folks to use the small but useful tools scattered about the Internet.

Interestingly, sites are going to have to become more vulnerable in order to take advantage of these effects. If websites can become interchangeable for certain functions, usability and features become more important than stickiness. But if websites take that risk, design themselves to be expanded, enable themselves to be programatically processed, then a whole new market opens up to them.

So far, though, I'm just speaking in hypotheticals. I'll try to send an update when I actually try out Pipes. Very exciting!