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John Herbstritt

Where the Buffalo Roam

BiRite-HOLIDAY-2015-Grocery-051The Buffalo Trace Distillery is one of the biggest names in bourbon distilling. The distillery itself has had many names over the years, and records indicate that the site has been used for distilling since 1775, making it one of the oldest continuously operating distilleries in the United States.  Buffalo Trace was also awarded the most innovative American whiskey distillery in the world this year. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? They won for their commitment to experimentation and for their fantastic special releases, which surprise and delight whiskey devotees year after year. The excellence doesn’t stop at the super premium brands. Another fun fact: they only use corn that is GMO-free and they are in the process of becoming completely free of GMOs. One of our favorite tipples is the eponymous entry level Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Bourbon whiskey is a true American invention: the mash bill has to be at least 51% corn (Buffalo Trace uses only non-GMO) and the rest is usually a combination of rye, malted barley, or wheat. After distillation the whiskey is aged in new charred American oak barrels for a number of years. Although Buffalo Trace doesn’t carry an age statement, it is estimated that the average bottle age is at least eight years. Because the whiskeys are aged in barrels that are each slightly different and located in different parts of the rickhouse, they mature differently. In order to achieve the same flavor profile year after year the distillery blends barrels carefully from different parts of the rickhouse. Thus, each batch is a carefully composed constellation of flavor, aroma, and texture created by the blenders.

BiRite-HOLIDAY-2015-Grocery-053It is precisely this tradition of blending that makes the alternate practice of bottling single barrels so special. Distillers taste each barrel often to check in on its development, and when they find a barrel that seems to have a story to tell on its own it is set aside. After tasting through a couple of samples our buyer, Trac, chose two barrels to bottle as our Bi-Rite Single Barrel Buffalo Trace Whiskey ($29.99). Barrel number one is in the store now and barrel number two should hit the shelves in the fall. Make sure to try both to taste the subtle differences!

How do the single barrels differ from the regular bottling of Buffalo Trace? The normal bottling is rounder and softer, more fruit forward and vanilla, while our single barrels are more precise and flavorful. Clove, banana and grain-forward, it is perfect for a Manhattan, but also great as a sipper. Only Trac has tasted barrel number two yet – we’ll make sure to let you know when it hits the shelves so we can celebrate together.

Now, back to the subject of wine, the most exciting time of the year is coming up! That’s right, Wine Blitz! Once again we’ll be offering 20% off the purchase of 12 bottles or more mix and match throughout the selection. The dates areNovember 2-8 for the Fall Blitz and December 7-13 for the Winter Blitz. Start planning now! In this email we’ll be featuring some of our favorite Blitz wines and also telling you about the Blitz preview tastings at 18 Reasons, so be sure to stay tuned!



Enjoying the Peak of Tomato Season

IMG_5651One of the most exciting times of year in the Bay Area is when the local farms start harvesting tomatoes in early June. By the time September rolls around, the local tomato season has hit its peak. All the local farmers from the Pescadero Coast to the Sierra foothills have vine-ripened tomatoes that offer different flavors depending on the growing practices and climate. Throughout September in at both Bi-Rite Markets, we are celebrating the Tomato Triple Play, which highlights three different tomato crops— Heirloom, Cherry, and Dry-Farmed Early Girls. All of the tomatoes we sell during the season come straight off the field to our shelves, allowing our growers to let them stay on the plant a little longer and develop that perfect flavor before picking. Be sure to check out our recommended pairings to make the most of your tomatoes–just visit our store on Instacart.com for a shopping list, and  even order everything you need online for delivery in San Francisco in under an hour!

Heirloom Tomatoes are an open-pollinated variety that have been circulating among farmers and backyard gardeners for more than 50 years—and many of the varieties were introduced before 1940! Heirlooms are not only important because they offer us so many different shapes and sizes to cook with, but they allow us to maintain genetic diversity in the agricultural world. The Cherokee Purple Tomato is one of the most popular. With its thin skin and meaty texture, the juicy, acidic flesh offers a rich, old-fashioned sweet flavor. They take BLTs and Caprese salads to the next level of enjoyment.

Cherokee Purple Heirlooms

Cherokee Purple Heirlooms

We are currently getting Cherokee Purples from Bluehouse Farm in Pescadero and Mariquita Farm in Watsonville. Another popular heirloom is the Brandywine Tomato.  Farmers love them because they get huge on the plants and the meaty flesh doesn’t break down easily when ripe.  Don’t let the large size fool you! These are one of the sweetest tomatoes out there. The Green Zebra Tomato is a small variety that starts out green but turns yellow with green stripes when it’s ripe. The sweet/tart flavor works really well with salsas and salads.

Our guests really get excited about tomatoes when the Dry-farm Early Girls hit our shelves! About 10 years ago we started selling these tomatoes from Two Dog Farm in Davenport. They’re the first farm in Northern California to grow these Early Girls, and over the past 5 years more farms have made the effort. Dry-farming is a farming technique used in a lot of climates where there’s not much rain. The roots of the plants can tap into moisture in the soil and go through the entire growing season with no irrigation. Two Dog Farm grows on the coast, getting moisture from the fog and the high water table in the soil allowing them to never water. The resulting tomatoes are usually smaller and lower in yield, but they pack pleasantly intense flavor and a dense, firm texture. 


Dry-farm Early Girls

Unfortunately, Two Dog Farm lost a majority of its crop this season due to the heat wave that hit the Bay Area. Crops grown on the cool coast can’t handle the heat! But we’ll have plenty of the tasty Dry-farm Early Girls from Live Earth Farm, Bluehouse Farm, and Tomatero Farm for the rest of the season.

When Heirlooms and Dry-farm Tomatoes are in full swing the Cherry Tomato varieties just don’t get the same amount of love. Cherry Tomatoes might be one of the easiest plants to grow, but keeping up with the daily harvesting and their delicate nature can make them a challenging crop for farmers. Similar to Heirlooms, there are a ton of different varieties but only a handful of them make sense for the retail marketplace. The Sweet 100 Tomato is one of the most popular for farmers to grow because they are a classic red tomato, extra sweet, and keep producing large clusters of fruit for most of the season. The Sun Gold Cherry Tomato is the most popular non-red tomato out there, with their sweet-but-tart flavor that explodes in your mouth.

Mixed Cherry Tomatoes

Mixed Cherry Tomatoes

The Yellow Pear Cherry Tomato is a teardrop-shaped tomato with tangy flavor and low acidity. You can get them along with our Sweet 100 and Sun Golds combined in a mixed baskets. Cherry Tomatoes are not only a perfect snack for kids, but they can add a flare to pasta dishes and almost any salad. They’re especially wonderful in cucumber salads!

One of the best parts of having all these local tomatoes at the Bi-Rite is that we get use them throughout the Family of Businesses—from the world-famous Gazpacho in the Deli to the Mozzarella and Cherry Tomato Skewers on the Bi-Rite Catering Summer menu. We also have an endless number of grocery items that enhance the tomato experience like the Public Label Tuscan Style Olive oil, Pt. Reyes Mozzarella, and Josey Baker’s Breads.  Do you know which tomato variety is your favorite? If not, this is the perfect time to swing by one of the Markets and ask for some tomato samples so you’re better prepared for tomato season next year. Enjoy!

John Herbstritt

Gamay? It’s Gamayzing!

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Gamay has a special place on my table, not just because wines made from the grape tend to be food-friendly, refreshing, and juicy, but also because it was one of the first grapes I fell in love with at the beginning of my career in wine. As many wine professionals can attest, there is that one bottle (or in my case many bottles!) that seduces you inexorably into the industry. You pour a glass, almost inattentively. You’re probably talking to your roommate or coworker about something unrelated and boring. You raise the glass to your nose and immediately the world halts. Something is there that you have never smelled before. You raise the glass to your lips. “Wine can taste like this? What were we even talking about? I guess I know what I’m doing with my life now.” Mine was a 2008 Fleurie Gamay from Julien Sunier.


gamazing leaves 2-04For a long time (centuries) Gamay has been a stigmatized member of the vinifera family. In 1395 the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold, issued an edict ordering farmers to uproot all of the Gamay vines in the land. According to him this “evil and disloyal plant” was “injurious to the human creature” and needed to be “extirpated, destroyed and reduced to nothing.” Strong words for our hapless hero. Thanks to Philip, the red wines made in Burgundy today are almost exclusively from the Pinot Noir grape, but Gamay still thrives to the south in the hills north of Lyon. The Beaujolais region has since become the epicenter for Gamay in the world.

Fast-forward to the Beaujolais Nouveau pandemic. Although the celebration of the new wine each year in Beaujolais has been going on for a long time, it wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s that – through the efforts of négociant and Beaujolais booster Georges Duboeuf – it reached a worldwide audience. Wine fresh from the fermenter and overflowing with bright juicy fruit flavors can be pure pleasure to drink, but due to the sheer scale of what was going on, things were bound to get top heavy and fall over. Over-cropped vines produced thinner and meaner juice, while manufactured yeasts made wines that smelled of bananas and nothing else. When the public got tired of this plonk sales suffered, and many farmers who had expanded their productions endlessly to sate the Beaujolais Nouveau palate were left shirtless. In addition, the name “Beaujolais” which had previously been thought of as a perfectly acceptable simple but delicious table wine became a dirty word. The world had turned to the “International Style” which was all about deep dark cabs and lots of new oak.
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But at the same time as the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon was taking hold, a group of tradition-minded and forward-thinking vignerons were in the process of saving their region. Led by visionary négociant Jules Chauvet, they eschewed “modern” viticulture (chemicals) in favor of organic and biodynamic techniques, and learned that they could make better wine by fermenting using natural yeasts. They also lowered or eliminated the use of sulfur in their wines, a practice that to many at the time was pure insanity. Their neighbors laughed at them on the street, but they persevered, and when the Beaujolais Nouveau market collapsed their wines were better than ever – they had unwittingly founded the modern “natural wine” movement in France. Yes, it all began in Beaujolais, the most unlikely of places.

So why is Gamay “Gamayzing”? It’s been through the ringer to be sure, but it’s trending right now and shows no sign of abating. You can even taste Gamay from California and Oregon these days (see below!) Whether it’s in a savory peppery style, soft juicy and fruit-forward, or even aged to perfection, it’s often some of the best food wine there is. Stop by and ask our wine staff about their favorite Gamayzing Gamay!

primary_311441fe-3f46-4e96-83f9-59a3f3ddd50bDomaine Chanrion Cote de Brouilly 2006 | $39.99
When Nicole Chanrion started her career in winemaking in the 1970s, women winemakers were very rare in the vinous world. Through her hard work and talent, Chanrion is now considered as “La Patronne de la Côte” or the Boss of La Côte. Needless to say, we’re so excited to get this older vintage of her wines. The ’06 shows wonderful texture and complexity, with notes of black fruits, tea, and earth.

Chanrion effervescence - CopyDomaine Chanrion Effervescence 2010
| $26.99
A rare blanc de noirs from Beaujolais, as most crémant from this region is made from Chardonnay. Made with Gamay, the sparkling is full in texture with notes of dried herbs and fruits (apricot and melon) with touches of black pepper and a dusty minerality. Although she uses a non-vintage label, all of the fruit for this wine is from the 2010 harvest. Try it for an aperitif with a plate of gougères!

bow and arrowBow & Arrow Gamay Noir 2014
| $22.99
Scott Frank is making some of our favorite wines in Oregon right now. He takes inspiration from the Loire Valley and this Gamay is spot on. It’s dark fruit forward with spicy and peppery notes and a soaring acidity. Perfect for your late Summer/Autumn feasts.

Robert SerolDomaine Robert Sérol Côtes Roannaise Vieilles Vignes 2014
| $19.99
In this oft-forgotten corner of the Loire Valley Gamay rules. This wine is made from a combination of parcels with vines that are an average of 40 years old. Their fruit is concentrated and dark with notes of dried flowers. Roasted herbed chicken with new potatoes?


…And now for Cheese Pairings with our Cheesemonger Rose!

Hello Wine Lovers,RosesCheeseCorner

This is Rose from the 18th Street Cheese Department, with a few tasty pairings to put your way that will onlymake your wine experience even more Gamayzing!

For the 2006 Chanrion, to complement its floral and fruity flavor, I’d highly recommend a cheese likeMothais -Sur-Feuille Dantan. This gorgeous goat cheese from the Poitou-Charentes region of France brings with it tangy, woodsy notes, while being thefluffiest creamy cloud you ever set upon your tastebuds. It will bring the verdant forest to the current and huckleberry within the Chanrion.

Earthy minerality with red fruit flavors are noted in the Bow & Arrow Gamayfrom Oregon, and so it’s only natural one would be drawn to the Pecorino Sardo, a new Sardinian Pecorino in our collection that has been flying into guests’ baskets since it first appeared here. Bright with citrus and salt, semi-firm and great for grating or snacking, this light Italian wedge will be a pleasing pal for your glass of Bow & Arrow.

Thanks for stopping by for Cheese Parings with Rose!


Paellapalooza at the Markets

As the summer grilling season starts to wind down, now is a great opportunity to revisit some of our forgotten seafood favorites.  Paella has always been one of my favorite dishes, as it can really highlight a diverse array of the ocean’s goodies.  I like to think of shrimp, mussels, clams and squid as my flight attendants on my culinary flight to Spain’s Mediterranean coast.Paella

The key to really tasty seafood paella is choosing the best quality seafood that you can find.  At Bi-Rite, not only are our offerings incredibly fresh, they are also impeccably sourced.  For ten years we have partnered with FishWise, a sustainable seafood consultancy that promotes the health and recovery of ocean ecosystems through environmentally responsible practices, which has led us to being much more informed about the sourcing of our offerings.  As much as we like to consider ourselves experts in all aspects of meat and seafood, we realize that we are constantly learning and developing a greater understanding of the ever-evolving world of responsible sourcing and sustainability. Over the last ten years FishWise, in addition to frequent communication with our seafood partners, has been an integral part in advancing our understanding of the seafood industry.  They have also helped us better develop ways to convey the challenges of thoughtfully purchasing seafood to our guests.

This week (September 13 through 20) also happens to be Sustainable Seafood Week- San Francisco, a national program that advances the sustainability conversation in American cities with a rich seafood history.  So visit us at the Markets (or shop our Paella recipe from our online store at Instacart.com) and celebrate some delicious seafood that you can feel good about.  Now is the perfect time for a Paellapalooza!

Paellapalooza recipe card SINGLE-FINAL

John Herbstritt

Staff Wine Picks!

This week for the wine blog I wanted to introduce some new members to our wine team from both stores, and have them share the wines on the shelf that they are excited about. I’ll hand over the keyboard now. Stay tuned next time for “Gamayzing!”


Karine Adolphe“I was born in Bordeaux, reared in Brooklyn, and fell in Love with San Fran 17 years ago. I attended fashion school and worked in that industry until I discovered my passion for wine. My goal is to become first black female Master Sommelier – not an easy task. I really enjoy talking to guests about wine while on the floor at Divis. When someone loves a wine I recommended, it tickles me pink.

I love watching documentaries with a glass of Austrian Riesling in my hand, but as of late I have been drinking more Old World reds. My new favorite wine on the shelf is the “Les Hauts de Valcombe” from Chateau de Valcombe. This is an exciting and enchanting wine from the Southern Rhone. Just east of the famed Châteauneuf du Pape, the Coteaux de Ventoux is a hidden gem. The cuvee is Syrah dominant (rare in the South), but comingles with the Grenache effortlessly. Timid upon opening, the elegant red fruit of Grenache shines through as this wine blossoms. The Syrah gives it a smoky depth and herbaceous structure. Every sip is a joy. This wine makes me go MMMMMMMM.”


Max Wine“I grew up in rural, sleepy western New York – not far from the colorful Walter Taylor’s historic Bully Hill winery – in an old farmhouse with pet goats and rabbits, and a big family vegetable garden. I’ve spent the last 25 years working in restaurants and wine shops in New York City and the Bay Area. I have also spent those years quietly reading, playing the cello, listening to Jazz and shooting pool, but I am happiest cooking, eating, and drinking with friends. For me, each bottle of wine is a fascinating reflection of a particular time and place, a seemingly magical confluence of sun, water, vine, and soil in a constant state of evolution, and the perfect complement for a tasty meal.

I am excited to be living at a time when so much wine is available to us all from all corners of the world, and I am particularly fond of French wines – especially whites and roses. Right now at 18th, I’m happy to be selling and drinking Marc Ollivier’s Domaine de la Pepiere ‘Clos des Briords’ Muscadet – a pure, elegant, and refreshing wine for any occasion. I also strongly recommend the honest and earthy Côtes Catalanes Rouge from Domaine de Majas, as well as the Athénaïs Bourgogne Épineuil ‘Valnoirs’ from Chateau de Béru, a tart, juicy Pinot Noir with a fine mineral finish.”


Tom Folsom“I first moved to San Francisco in December of ’07 for a six-month culinary internship at Farallon Restaurant.  When I returned to CIA I decided to extend my wine knowledge by enrolling in an advanced wines course. It was in this classroom setting that I first realized how much fun wine can be (aside from its intoxicating effects). Its vast range of aromatics, flavors, and textures opened a new world of experiences waiting to be explored. As a chef and food lover, I understood that food and wine become something more when experienced side by side. Since I moved back to San Francisco, I have only fallen deeper into the rabbit hole. To me there is nothing more fun than asking a question and getting to research and dig for an answer. The information found becomes a reward, something you’ve earned. Wine is a never ending quest of learning and the rewards are limitless.

The wine on the shelf I am most excited about right now at Divis is the La Marea Albariño. I love this grape and the wines made from it. For a long time I’ve been looking for a domestic Albariño that I’m happy with. To me, they either have the aromatics but the body and acid aren’t there, or they have no aromatics and the body and acidity are where they should be. I think the reason for this comes down to terroir. There are not a ton of places in the world like the Rias Baixas. But I think the chalky/clay hill above the Salinas River in Monterey County where this Albariño comes from is pretty damn close. It’s minerally and bright, like licking a rock, but in the best sense!”

John HerbstrittLots of new faces in the wine section. Say hi next time you’re in, Dear Reader, and be sure to ask for a recommendation.

Your friendly wine guy,

PS: my current favorite is the Exilé Pétillant Naturel from Lise and Bertrand Jousset. Sparkly, peppery and juicy Gamay from Montlouis. Yes please!

John Herbstritt

Cocktails with St. George

St. George Spirits became famous for their Hangar 1 brand of vodkas, but when they sold the name to Proximo Spirits they had to cool their vodka jets for a while. Now master distiller Lance Winters is back with his own line and they are better than ever!  Although spirits like whiskey are all about demonstrating the depth of flavor that comes from long ageing, highlighting the different grains used, good vodka is all about mastery of the distillation process. Since the spirit comes out of the still at 190 proof or above, only the most skilled distillers using the best raw materials can make great vodka on the first run.

st george bottlesA little about the history of St. George Spirits: it was founded by Jörg Rupf in 1982. Inspired by the high quality fruit grown in California, he emigrated from Germany in order to start making eau-de-vie. These fruit-based spirits are distilled from a mash of thehighest quality fermented fresh fruitand only made seasonally. Jörg’s family had been distillers for generations in the Black Forest of Western Germany. He started on a single, 65-gallon Holstein pot still and the distillates he made were outstanding. At that time there was no craft distilling movement in the United States to speak of, nor was anybody drinking eaux-de-vie, but these still remain central to what St. George Spirits is all about. You might even make the claim that this foundation on eau-de-vie informs everything that St. George does.

Although the vodkas are not eaux-de-vie, the composition and balance of flavors and aroma is decidedly on the same plane. The base spirit itself is luscious and fresh with zero harshness. It has a softness to it that makes you want to sip it like whiskey. It almost feels like heresy to mix it with anything! For the Citrus and Green Chile flavors the distillation team uses a special, smaller still with basket attachment to make a highly aromatic distillate which they blend into the base spirit. The final products are balanced and beautifully aromatic.

We will be offering 10% off all three of the St. George Vodkas Tuesday through Thursday now through September 24 ($27, regualarly $29.99).Come on down and check them out for yourself, or shop the selection on our online store at Instacart.com.
The secret ingredient in the All-Purpose Vodka is actually pears! St. George distills the same delicious Bartlett pears that they use for their pear brandies to 95.1% in order to obtain a spirit with a luscious texture but no overt pear flavor. They then blend it with a GMO-free base spirit. Great for any vodka application: Dry Martini, Moscow Mule, it’s even great sipped on its own – or you can make like James Bond and whip up a Vesper!

The California Citrus Vodka is scented with Bergamot plus Valencia and Seville oranges all sourced locally. First, the distilling team infuses the citrus peels separately in their GMO-free base spirit. They then distill each infusion and blend them together, looking for harmony of flavor and texture. I like a Martini made from the Cali Citrus and Dolin Dry Vermouth, though you can also throwback to the ’90s with this Shameless Cosmo recipe. Ladies night!

This inspired beverage is made with a combination of infusion and distillation techniques as well. Although jalapeño is the main flavor, they also use a combination of other sweet and hot chiles. Be careful not to get to close to the still when it’s processing all those peppers! The end result is a spirit that is subtly spicy and redolent of mouth-watering peppery aromas. The emphasis is not on the spiciness itself, but the complex flavors that these lovely veggies lend to whatever they touch. Bloody Marys, duh!