Northside SF  

October '09

Wine Report from the Fort
Brandy is dandy

By Fred McMillin

Is the world’s best Cognac made in Ukiah?”
– Los Angeles Times

Germain-Robin uses a French copper alambic
similar to this one at La Maison Martell to
make its hand-distilled brandy

In 1981, former French Cognac producer Hubert Germain-Robin and UC Berkeley classics professor Ansley Coale founded the Germain-Robin distillery in Ukiah.

Six years later Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan would sip Germain-Robin alambic brandy at a summit dinner in the White House.

Why the success? First, Germain-Robin brought over a copper pot still or “alambic” from France. William Massee, the late wine writer, wrote that the alambic was responsible for all the great spirits made in Europe even though it is “temperamental, demanding kicks and curses to keep it running” but “still makes all of the great spirits of Europe.”

Second, while Cognac is made from the lowly Ugni Blanc grapes, Germain-Robin uses premium wine grapes like Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

Third, modern wine-making methods and equipment are used in preparing the varietals for distillation.
Here are their two latest brandies just released with tasting comments from my colleague Edgar Vogt:
Craft-method brandy (Lot 26): Includes some 10-year-old French Colombard, some Riesling, and a touch of Zinfandel, $48. “Rich aromas, smooth burn on back of nose, deep cocoa and red berries in the mouth, smooth lingering finish, very well crafted.”

Coast Road reserve brandy: Includes several 13- to 15-year-old Pinot Noirs and French Colombard, and Grenache, $72. “Elegant aromas, delicious baking spices on back of nose, sweet honeyed berry and spice in the mouth, finish has a wonderful glow, truly special.”

Prof. Coale: “We have a creaky website at; reviews and notes are at”Text Box:  

French wine crime
Earlier this year, French winemakers were found guilty of selling mislabeled Pinot Noir to Gallo. Gallo believed the misrepresentation was of the 2006 vintage and prior.

Mystery solved: Gallo Pinot Noirs always score well in our S.F. City College (Fort Mason Campus) classes; however, a 2005 scored 25 percent below normal.

Chilean wines shaken up
“The magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck Chile on Feb. 27 damaged almost a third of the [Chilean Wines Co.] winery’s 70 tanks, spilling out a knee-deep river of wine …”
 – Wall Street Journal

Chile is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of wine. In spite of their loses, we have gotten these two wines for our Fort Mason classes. Both are good values.
• Carmenere Espiritu de Chile Valle Central 2007, $10
• Sauvignon Blanc Espiritu de Chile Valle Central 2008, $10

Text Box:  

The grapes of math
Northside San Francisco reader Christine F. asked which Chardonnays had the highest scores in my recent S.F. City College wine classes at Fort Mason. Here are the top six:

• 85 Foggy Bridge Winery San Francisco Bay 2008
• 85 Monthaven Winery Central Coast 2008
• 86 Forestville Vineyards California 2008
• 86 Glen Ellen Winery California 2008
• 86 Jekel Vineyards Monterey County 2008
• 87 Handley Cellars Dry Creek Valley 2008

Text Box:  

Seating is limited, learning is not
Take a S.F. City College wine class at Fort Mason on these Saturdays at 1 p.m. and taste 20 wines:
• Oct. 9 & Oct. 23: Taste the Terms – Taste wines that illustrate the 100-plus terms used to describe wine. Many people take Taste the Terms over again because the wines and terms different each time.
• Nov. 6: Napa vs. Sonoma – A careful comparison of Napa wines with their Sonoma counterparts.
To enroll or wait-list, phone San Francisco City, College at 415-561-1840, or visit Register one week before classes begin to receive a $10 discount.

Two final wine smiles
Northside San Francisco reader John A., DDS is also a wine and horse fan. He has ridden his horse, Rocky, in the Portland Rose Parade, the Stanford Tally Ho celebration, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, and more. He sent this smile: “Before riding your first horse, you can’t imagine that anything filled with hay can be so hard.”

An affluent vintner’s wife lost her MasterCard. When he was asked by a reporter why he had not stopped payment on the card, he replied, “Whoever found the card spends a whole lot less than my wife did.”

Credits: Edgar Vogt (tastings); Ophelia Mercado and Rubella Dequis (statistics)

Fred McMillin was voted one of the best wine writers in the United States by the Academy of Wine Communications. Phone him with questions at 415-563-5712 or fax him at 415-567-4468.

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