I met an English couple on a ferry in the San Francisco bay Sunday who were intent on catching a glimpse of Alcatraz, the rocky island with a checkered past. They had just finished taking a picture of the eerie island that housed the nation’s most notorious criminals when I asked them if they’d like to partake in a blind tasting.
Nick Shelbourne said “I like wine, so yeah.” Fellow traveler Eloise Minshull was also game, seeing as she wasn’t responsible for steering the vessel. So I prepped the bagged bottles, uncorking the wines as the ferry gave us a sweeping view of the 22-acre island named Isla de los Alcatraces (Island of the Pelicans) for the colony of pelicans that roosted there. It became a federal penitentiary in 1934. “It’s kind of strange,” Minshull said. “You see Alcatraz in the movies. To be here is an experience.”
The couple didn’t seem to mind sipping pinot while the guide talked about how the inhabitants of Alcatraz were “public enemies” like Al “Scarface” Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly. There were three pinots in the line-up, with the couple’s favorite #3, the Siduri, 2007 Hirch Vineyard. “It’s the smoothest,” Shelbourne said. “It would be great with something char-grilled.” Minshull added, “It reminds me of a summer barbecue – I imagine it would also be good with dark chocolate.” The other contenders were #1 Sequana, 2007 Dutton Ranch, Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and #2 Foursight, 2007 Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.
Minshull said they drink wine every night in Warwickshire, England and “we drink a lot of California wine.” Shelbourne said he noticed that they can buy California wine in England for much less than they can in the U.S. “We could buy a Ravenswood zinfandel in England for about seven pounds or about $10 or $11 dollars, about half the price than the bottling is sold for here,” he said. “The supermarkets in the UK have some great deals because they’re bulk buyers.”
As we headed back to dock at the San Francisco pier, a deck hand came over to have a word with me. Was he upset about the impromptu tasting? (Or more likely, upset that I didn’t offer him a pour?) But Bruce McBride didn’t have any complaints. He just wanted to share some Alcatraz trivia. Say, did you know that the lighthouse on Alcatraz is the only one ships aim towards? “Most lighthouses you aim away from but on Alcatraz you aim towards it and that’s how you get through the gate,” he said.