East Bay Tasting Itinerary With Absinthe

When my friend Suja came to the Bay Area on business, she asked if I would prepare “one of my blog adventures” for us to do on her free day. Well of course. Sticking close to her hotel, here is what we did and I heartily recommend it for an awesome afternoon in the East Bay.

Dashe Cellars

dashe-brand-image-winery-oaklandWe started with a tasting at Dashe Cellars, located a few blocks from Jack London Square. Dashe is Oakland’s largest and only fully functional winery, a fact that was apparent as soon as we stepped inside the expansive space. But like any great host, Limor made us feel warm and cozy and eagerly started us on the flight. It was “Zinfandel Day” so she poured one great Zin after another, while talking about the grapes and their biodynamic beginnings and casually mentioning that she had run 17 miles that day. Wow to everything.

As a wine label designer, I have to mention the winery’s unique brand image—a monkey riding on the back of a fish. The monkey represents founder Michael Dashe who is from Tarzana, CA, and the fish represents Anne, his wife and cofounder who is from a fishing village in France. Together, they are going places and they encourage others to do the same with their monthly Monkey & Fish Photo Challenge.

Nido Kitchen & Bar

Eating is always a good idea after a generous tasting. Fortunately, Nido-oakland-restaurant-wine-design-blogNido Kitchen & Bar is right around the corner from Dashe. Suja was happy to find vegetarian options on the menu, including $3 grilled veggie tacos. Walking into Nido, it’s hard not to feel happy regardless. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to take photos, which we did—my friend here with the agreeable hostess. “Nido” means nest in Spanish, a fitting name for the friendly feel and their farm-to-table Mexican food.

St. George Spirits

StGeorgeSpirits_wine-label-designer-blogNext up, St. George Spirits, a 10 minute drive away. St. George Spirits is in Alameda’s up-and-coming Spirits Alley. Check the website ahead of time to book the 5:30 tour and tasting—a must-do. Our fast-talking tour guide sorted out the entire spirits industry in just one hour! At least it seemed that way. Most interesting is the story she told about absinthe. It’s a sad story about a bad aphid that destroyed the vineyards of France and robbed the Parisian bohemian culture of its beloved wine. Absinthe rose to the occasion and became the new favorite drink. Somehow, absinthe got mixed up with sugar cubes and opium and was eventually banned in Europe and the U.S.

However, what really happened, our guide explained, is that the vineyards started to produce grapes again, but people were too happy with absinthe to want wine. So a plan to ban absinthe was concocted and it worked. Wine was soon back in demand.

Absinthe-alameda-spirits-johnston-design-blogThat was about a hundred years ago and absinthe is now legal. St. George Spirits was actually the first distillery in the United States to commercially produce it again. This photo shows the three mandatory ingredients for the spirit: Star Anise, Fennel, and Wormword. Wormword scares me but I’m told that while it is responsible for the color of the green fairy, it is not a hallucinogen.

The tour ended in the tasting room. Tasting spirits is different than tasting wine. Don’t swirl the glass. Take a sip, taste, and then blow the alcohol off your tongue so the best flavors linger. Sip, taste, blow. That’s the drinking style introduced to us at St. George and I like it, especially with their amazing Nola Coffee Liqueur which was my final taste for the day.

Well, not really. After St. George Spirits, we walked down the “alley” to visit Building 43 Winery where winemaker Tod offered us a taste of his Bomber Red. This area has a lot going for it with stunning views of San Francisco and a surreal feel. I encourage you to check it out—and subscribe to this blog if you’d like other ideas for a good time delivered to your email every now and then.