Congratulations to vintner Jerold O’Brien, who founded Silver Mountain Vineyards 43 years ago. His wines, organically grown and consistently elegant, keep acquiring awards for their outstanding quality. In this year’s prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Silver Mountain’s 2014 Syrah took Best of Class, while the 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir received a double gold. Tasting is believing, so make sure you stop by the tasting room at 402 Ingalls Street in westside Santa Cruz to sample these wines, as well as Silver Mountain’s other award-winning pinots and chardonnays. Saturday and Sunday, noon-5pm. silvermtn.com.
Recently discovered Bitters & Soda, a dry, aromatic elixir made with gentian tincture from Hella Cocktails. This stuff is the bomb. Part of the expanding wave of alternatives to booze, and/or soft drinks, such as Coke, rootbeer and ginger ale. Seriously compelling, Hella offered a sophisticated blend of sparkling water and bitters (allspice, peppercorns, caraway, cinnamon sticks, cloves, wormwood, rose hips, angelica root, gentian root, star anise, chamomile), plus assorted fruit juices. We found it refreshing all by itself, but we went further, and in our taste test we drank half of the attractive 12 oz. can contents straight. Then we poured a splash of Campari into half of the other half, and Luxardo bitter vermouth into the other half. Both of these alco+ concoctions were terrific. One can only imagine how fab gin would have tasted when mixed with this stuff. They have other flavors, but my money’s on the Bitters & Soda. A 12-pack runs around $38 bucks, or $3 a can. Straight out of the can it’s an all-day tipple.
So we moved on to try another sparkling drink, a Tepache from De La Calle, based on the ubiquitous “pineapple beer” street drinks found widely in Mexico. In a bright green can, picked up at the venerable Food Bin on Mission Street, we found the delightful Tamarind Citrus flavor tepache filled with hints of fermented pineapple, turbinado sugar and the cola perfume of tamarind. Tamarind is one of the great flavors of the natural world, and in this zesty drink it mingles with agave, orange juice, rosemary, cinnamon, black pepper and various probiotic cultures. For $2.99 you’ll be on a total flavor ride. Fabulous with anything—grilled cheese, tacos, left-over steelhead, avocado, pretzels. Great discovery.
Intrigued by the sophisticated possibilities, we moved on to sample the highly touted Seedlip, which turned out to be far less than all the hype. One of the leaders in the non-alcoholic spirits realm, this bland creation delivered nothing, unless you count the gorgeous bottle. Yes, packaging is a plus, but so is flavor. I was game enough to pop for $35 to test drive this product. The “flavor” I purchased was called, poetically enough, Garden. Great to walk in, not so much to drink. If Seedlip is viewed as a mixer—one of several ingredients you add to a cocktail which might also include soda, fruit juices, gin, bitters, herbal purees—that would be one thing. But we tried it in a glass of ice and soda. The flavor was barely detectable and not particularly pleasant. Peas, hay, thyme and spearmint do not a pleasing flavor experience make. Desperate for some flavor, we added a healthy splash of Luxardo Bitters, which clashed unpleasantly with Seedlip’s pea undertone. Maybe a glass of gin with a splash of Seedlip would work, but that utterly defeats the non-alcohol promotion of this fermented beverage. I was disappointed with Seedlip, but the discovery of the bracing and distinctive tasting Hella Bitters & Soda more than made up for it.