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Swish Wine Tasting & Class – Serious Wines with a Sense of Humor

Krys | Feb 24, 200502:30 AM

I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun, laughed as hard or learned so much about winemakers, wineries, and wines right down to who designed the label and the amusing things you can find on those labels.

Swish is a wine boutique …. wait … in this case that is a good thing. On Wednesdays there is a wine class and tasting.

This week’s class, Serious Wines with a Sense of Humor, was taught by Chris Baral. Baral, who has over 17 years of wine sales experience, currently produces her own wine label, Fresh Oyster, which is bottled by Husch Vineyards.

I won’t bore you with my impressions of these wines, but I will share the interesting things I learned tonight about these wines and the people who make them.

The wines sampled in the range of $11 – 23 per bottle were:

Fresh Oyster Sauvignon Blanc
Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc
Bonny Doon Vin Gris De Cigare
Fresh Oyster Rock Shrimp Red
Roshambo (Rock, Paper, Scissors) Merlot
Roshambo Zinfandel
Frog’s Leap Zinfandel
Bonny Doon Il Circo

Links to these wineries are at the end. Baral suggested looking at some of these wineries amusing and informative websites. She also said they were fun wineries to visit.

Tasting was done using Riedel O series of stemless wine tumblers. These dishwasher safe, stackable tumblers have the Vinum line’s bowl shapes, but without the stem. I don’t like them. I wish I knew I could have asked for a regular Riedel glass. When I asked about the glasses, someone said originally these glasses were used for single malt scotch but somehow became trendy and were expanded to include the Vinum bowl shapes.

Fresh Oyster Sauvignon Blanc

This was Baral’s first wine which was influenced by New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, which she said have no oak or wood. She said she wanted a clean, bright, fresh wine with citrus. Baral said she wanted the type of wine that she drank at East Coast clam shacks. A summer wine that was easy to enjoy. I think she achieved that.

Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc

First of all, all of Frog’s Leap wines are organic, but they don’t advertise that fact (unless you check out the website). They didn’t want their wine buried in the organic wine section.

The original winery was on an old farm that provided frog’s legs to San Francisco restaurants. The first wine was produced at the FROG farm using ‘borrowed’ grapes from Stags LEAP wine cellar … and the name Frog’s Leap jumped into their minds.

When you see TFWYHF on the label it is the winery’s motto. "Time's Fun When You're Having Flies”. Chuck House, now a well know wine label designer was working at the Calistoga 7-11 when he was approached to design Frog’s Leap first label for a few hundred bucks and a couple of cases of wine.

The Frog’s Leap FAQ section on the website says “That same year, the label was awarded the Design of Excellence Award from the American Institute of Graphic Designers. The label was further honored with its inclusion in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute.”

With so many warnings and requirements for wine label bottles, Frog’s Leap has a warning at the bottom of the bottle that says “Open on the other end”. I’m going to start paying more attention to wine labels.

One of the founders, John Williams, originally wanted to open a cheese shop called Cheeses of Nazareth (say it out loud). Drinking wine must give you a sense of humor.

Bonny Doon Vin Gris De Cigare

While I won’t go into details, Randal Graham, the owner of Bonny Doon, is to put it mildly eccentric. I hope it’s not in bad taste to say this, but he is described as the Hunter S. Thomson of the wine world.

Graham found out that there was a law prohibiting UFO’s from landing in vineyards … and thus the De Cigare wines were born (UFO’s are shaped like flying cigars). There is a picture of an alien face on the top of each bottle.

Supposedly Graham created a very funny National Enquirer for wine and it was recommended to sign up for his amusing newsletters. When Bonny Doon started to use screw tops, Graham had a funeral for corks.

The Vin Gris is bled off from the red flagship wine. I don’t have the whole story, but supposedly by removing some of the juice, it gives the red a more intense flavor which is my understanding. It is a combination of syrah, ganache and mourvedre which was described as having green tea and strawberry flavors.

Fresh Oyster Rock Shrimp Red

Baral, who was primarily a red wine drinker, wanted to create a red wine to go with fresh oysters. She says it also goes great with gumbo.

She uses a pinot blend because she wanted the wine to be affordable. She says that pinot noir grapes have a fragile thin skin. They are more susceptible to problems and are especially heat sensitive. Sometimes they are harvested in the cooler night. The extra handling causes these grapes to be more pricey.

Roshambo (Rock, Paper, Scissors) Merlot
Roshambo Zinfandel

The winery was named as tribute to the grandparents who settled their differences by playing rock, paper, scissors which is popular in Japan as it is elsewhere in the world. The grandmother was Japanese and the grandfather a Californian. They used an old Californian slang term for the game – Roshambo.

This winery seems to have a laid back approach to wine. The label says “Don’t over intellectualize wine. Pour, Drink, Repeat” Naomi Brilliant, the fourth generation of the Johnson winemaking family, heads the winery and because of her interest in art , there is a gallery and art events at the winery. If you visit, the winery is dog friendly, so you don’t need to worry about leaving fido in a hot car. There is also a dog friendly hotel in town.

Frog’s Leap Zinfandel

Baral described this wine as a true zin with good spice. She called it the quintensial American wine that pairs well with quintensial American food.

Bonny Doon Il Circo

Il Circo ("The Circus") is, as the review below says a “series of modest Italian wines packaged primarily for U.S. consumption”

This only SOME of what I learned in the too short hour and a half. It was one of the few times that some of the wine terms didn’t sound silly and made sense to me. I enjoyed the tastes of all the above wines and felt my $10 was well spent for the hour and half class.

The shop which is sleek and modern is the first place I’ve seen that I feel looks like it belongs in the new millennium. The 20 or so people who attended ranged in age from twenty somethings to way over sixty somethings. There was a nice mix of ages and the class felt like attending a sophisticated party. The staff is very friendly and helpful.

Swish is planning to add food on the weekends. Pictures and more information in the Swish are on the website. The link is at the bottom. .

Swish Wine Room
2401 San Pablo Avenue Suite B
Pinole, California 94564

Phone Numbers:
510-741-wine (9463)
1-866-88SWISH (1-866-887-9474)

Tuesday- Saturday 2pm-10pm

Bonny Doon Winery – Play the UFO game (beam up the monkey).Very funny site.


Bonny Doon Il Circo


Fresh Oyster Wines

Frog’s Leap Winery – Really funny and amusing website. The only splash page I have ever liked. Play catches the fly. A less fun HTML version is an option.


Roshambo Winery – You can play Rock, paper, scissors on the website


Riedel O series of stemless wine tumblers



Link: http://www.swishwineroom.com/

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