America’s Finest Beer Festival has been cancelled!

This just in!  After months of advertising and promotion, America’s Finest Beer Festival that was scheduled for this Friday, Saturday, & Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium has been cancelled, and tickets are refundable.  Apparently the organization that was putting everything together just didn’t have the funds to make it happen.

I was hoping to hook up with some of you at this event, but I can’t blame anyone for not fronting a fairly steep ticket price of $50 general admission ($175 “VIP” ticket, what’s up with that???!!)…..this was supposed to be more of a “Street Scene” of beer fests, with multiple stages hosting several of San Diego’s top music acts, including Pinback, the Greyboy All-Stars, Sprung Monkey, Buck-O-Nine, and several more.  Ever since the long-running San Diego Street Scene went under, there’s been a real vacuum in our fair city for a big outdoor music festival.  Of course, back in the day before Street Scene went all-ages, it was par for the course to saunter from stage to stage with a beer in hand.  America’s Finest Beer Festival was going to be an opportunity to enjoy live music and good beer in proximity with each other (i.e., not having to be corralled in a beer garden 50 yards away from the stage….Adams Ave. Street Fair, I’m looking at you!)

So anyway, there’s at least one other beer event going on this Saturday, and that’s the “Pints For Pups” event happening at 4 PM at Mission Brewery’s new digs downtown (the old Wonder Bread building at 1441 L Street).   Dog-lovers can head over there with companions on leash and grab some of the most exciting beers happening right now in San Diego (can you say Shipwrecked?!), and proceeds go to benefit the Coastal German Shepherd Rescue.


Back to the old school: my starter brews

Tonight, I’m having a Red Trolley Ale from Karl Strauss brewery, the first of the several dozen breweries now populating the San Diego area.  Takes me back….this was one of the first craft beers that caught my attention back in the mid-’90s.  Here are the initial culprits behind my beer fandom:

1. Karl Strauss Red Trolley Ale (nice caramel finish, a medium-bodied red ale that’s been around a long time now but just starting to win some big-time awards).

2. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (once and always, a consistently great beer and a standard-bearer for all American pale ales.  I expect to hear a lot of people give a shout out to this classic from Chico, CA).

3. Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale (another medium-bodied ale, British style, the initial flagship offering from the Firestone guys back when they were still quasi-affiliated with their dad’s winery in Santa Barbara County.  I  think they’ve now moved the entire operation to Paso Robles).                          

Anyway….there ya go.  Don’t blame me, blame these guys for packing some actual flavor and depth into something I used to think was just carbonated bottlings from the urinalysis lab!  I try all kinds of beers nowadays, and I’ve kind of gravitated toward West Coast IPAs heavy on the IBUs (International Bitterness Units), and slowly getting into the Belgian and Cali-Belgian stuff. 

But the question I have for my fellow quality beer drinking enthusiasts, hopheads, and pint glass collecting nerds is this: 

I wanna know what craft beers (or even imports) got you interested in beer in the first place?

Keepin’ it real on a Monday night: Cline Oakley Five Reds

Uncorked this inexpensive red blend for dinner tonight (veggie pizza & samosas from Trader Joe’s). Picked this up at Cline Cellars in the Carneros region just outside of the town of Sonoma (where I’ve been a wine club member since 2008), but the grapes all come from the Oakley area in Contra Costa County, where the Cline family has been producing wine grapes for years, including many of their near-famous old vine Zinfandels.


This is probably the least expensive wine in their catalogue, an everyday table wine blended from Merlot, Syrah, Barbera, Petite Sirah, and Alicante Bouschet. The color is a deep dark red, owing much of its depth to the Alicante Bouschet, a grape varietal you don’t hear much about but was widely planted in this part of California during Prohibition years, when its tough skins and high wine yields made it a popular grape for exporting to the east coast (it was legal for each household to produce up to 200 gallons of wine per year for their own consumption).

I find this wine to be a very good buy for a table wine blend. It’s got notes of blackberries and plums, with a peppery finish and just a slight tannic bite. If you like a bold Syrah or medium-bodied Zinfandel you will probably like this wine for its value. Unlike a lot of inexpensive red blends out there, this one has very little vegetal character and the tannins are fairly balanced with the fruit, for some nice casual drinking. Under $10, find it at Cost Plus World Market.

What’s up with the BevMo 5 cent wine sale?!

I love Beverages & More, I really do. Where else can you find such an awesome variety of beer, wine, liquor, and accompanying snacks and party ideas under one roof? I went there yesterday to pick up a bottle of rum and browse the wine shelves for a Hahn Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir that I’m just itching to add to my collection. Well, they didn’t have the bottle of Hahn, but I did bring home a 12-pack of Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA for the nice price of $13.99 (BevMo member price), the first of which I am enjoying as I type this.

  A lot of customers in the BevMo store I went to were there for the semi-regular 5-cent wine   sale,  where you buy one bottle and get another of the same bottle for a nickel.  In times past, I would have gone bonkers for the wine sale and loaded up a basket with 6 or 8 bottles. But this time I barely looked at what was featured. There are a few reasons why I’m not so big on the 5-cent wine sale anymore, and I’ll lay them out.

First, most of the wines in the 5-cent wine sale have been featured many times in the past. The selection really does seem to be a constant repeat of whatever they had from the last 5-cent wine sale, and the one before that. A lot of these wine producers partner with BevMo to promote and sell these wines off in bulk quantities. When you see the same wines at a different store, an individual bottle is usually a few bucks less than the BevMo “regular” price. So it seems a lot of these bottles are being marked up before you get your second bottle for 5 cents.

Second, I just haven’t been impressed with very many of the wines I’ve bought in the 5 cent sale in the past. Sure, there have been some intriguing finds, and some very drinkable stuff for the value. But more often than not, mehhh. At this point, I have a lot of very good wines at home and I don’t have the space to fill up on more bottles that, chances are, will just disappoint my palate and make my drinking feel more like an act of work than pleasure.

Third, has anybody noticed just how MUCH of the wine featured in the 5-cent sale is given rave reviews and outstanding ratings? Seriously, go there and take a look around. “93 Points, Wilfred Wong” is about as common a tag line on every price sheet as “That’s All, Folks!” is to the ending of a Looney Tunes feature short. I didn’t know who Wilfred Wong was, so I looked into it. Turns out he is a taster in the employment of…you guessed it!…Beverages & More. Now he’s got some cred in the wine world, to boot, and probably a keener set of sniffers than myself…but when I want to know what a critic thinks about a movie I haven’t seen, I don’t go to the website for the movie or the theater chain. The 100-point rating system is not science, and everybody has their own taste. Is it too much to ask for a little independence in the ratings being used to market wine to the masses?

That said–I want your take on this! Have you picked up any really good finds in the BevMo 5-cent wine sale, and what were they? I want to know about your scores, and I want to know about that basement swill you ended up pouring down the drain! And if you have any tips about other places where you like to pick up some really good wine values, I’d sure like to know about that as well.



Welcome to Vines & Steins!

In a flash of hops-induced inspiration, this is my new blog! For those who know me, I’ve become quite the enthusiast of craft beer and wine, and I also love to write. Vines & Steins started as a short-lived column that I produced as a freelance writer for a local online magazine a few years back, but I felt limited by that publication’s focus on one geographic area for its coverage. With this blog, I’ll be covering beer and wine from all over, but certainly very California-centric and San Diego-centric (gotta support my peeps and write about what I know!)

Why beer AND wine?

The easy answer is I don’t discriminate! Sometimes I’m in the mood for a hoppy hand-crafted brew, and other times I crave a glass of really killer wine to arouse my senses. And sometimes both in the same sitting! I’ve been a passionate follower of the craft beer scene for 16 years now, and started exploring wine with an equal passion about 14 years ago. My hope is to create a unique forum where we can share our interests and latest finds, and compare our tastes. Let’s keep it fun, lighthearted, and opinionated! I want to know what you’re a fan of, and why!

So uncork that bottle, pop that cap! We’ve got a whole world of tasting to blabber on about…