Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's not about the bottle

Proletariat wine.JPGHere's an idea you're going to enjoy. Premium wine by the glass, at your favorite restaurant, that costs a lot less because it comes from (wait for it) a keg.

Cheap wine's been sold like this for decades. Premium wine, a different story altogether. (Nor is this supermarket box wine, another category that's also trying to shed its image as bottom-of-the-barrel dregs). It's wine that would retail in the high $20s, but, says Darin Williams, you won't find it on the shelf in a wine store. "It's not about the bottle."

Williams is the founder of Small Lot Co-Op, a wine sales and marketing enterprise in Woodinville that gives his 20 or so clients, all smaller-scale wineries, access to the same services (financial, administrative, merchandising, client service) as bigger outfits when it comes to their prime target: Seattle-area restaurants. 

In January, Williams and Jordan Robinow (Small Lot's operations and account manager) hatched the business plan for Proletariat Wines (they'd already licensed and bonded the name). Then they called on Sean Boyd, the owner of the tiny (1,000-case) Rotie Cellars in Walla Walla, to come up with proprietary wines for their keg program. (It's not just surplus juice, like Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck.) The result, Proletariat--a wine for the people, right?--aims for that sweet spot: a premium by-the-glass pour.

Proletariat logo.jpgAre you a traditionalist who Insists on seeing the bottle before you order a glass? No problem. Proletariat provides restaurants with etched carafes. But that almost misses the point. With the wine in a five-gallon keg (a standard 1/6th barrel size), there's no spoilage, no waste, no barrier between the wine and the cutsomer's glass.

Expect a generous, six-ounce pour of white to cost $10, a glass of red to run $14 or $15.

Proletariat has nine wines at this point, starting with a superb sauvignon blanc from the Wahluke Slope. There's also an excellent pinot noir from Oregon's Archery Summit Vineyard, and a Bordeaux blend from four vineyards in the Walla Walla region. Daniel's Broiler liked the cabernet sauvignon so much they bought the whole lot.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Cocktail Contest, You Say? That's the Spirit!

Lots of new cocktails out there, lots of new cocktail-related concoctions. It's a huge new business, catering to fussy drinkers, bored drinkers, adventurous drinkers. We've got a series of posts about this in the pipeline (as it were). Here's the first, about the most traditional American spirit of all, bourbon.
Metropolitan Grill's head bartender Rob Nokes

Didn't we just do this? (Memory plays tricks on us professional drinkers, ya know.) But yes, we did, last July.

And now a new crop of entrants, and a new, custom-blended bourbon from Woodford Reserve. This year's version is a little less spicy, a bit lighter-bodied, yet still oaky in the nose. The GM of downtown Seattle's prime steakhouse, Josh Anderson, exec chef Eric Hellner, and the Met's sommelier, Thomas Price, headed to Versailles, Kentucky, earlier this season and made the pick at the Woodford distillery.

"Running out of glassware!" calls the creator of Manhattan #1, a 13-year veteran behind the bar named Steve Alexander. His concoction includes Fernet Branca, Peychaud bitters, a splash of Maraschino and an orange zert, kinda like a Negroni with bourbon instead of gin. "The most Manhattan-y," says a nearby discerning journalist. "The least bourbon-y," thinks another blogger.

There's another contender among the traditionalists: head barman Rob Nokes, using the robust Woodford Reserve, Lucid absinthe, Italian vermouth and Fee Brothers Cranberry Bitters. "It's a Sazerac-style drink," says Nokes, who's been taking care of bourbon connoisseurs at The Met for two decades.

And in the end, wouldn't you know it was the most traditional concoction that won. Bravo, Mr. Nokes! Thanks, Met Grill! The Met Manhattan No. 5 will be available for $14 starting this weekend; it's a steal, considering that last year's winner cost $15. ("It's the economy," says GM Anderson.)

Steve Alexander at work

Two final observations before we stumble off into the night. First, three of the five contestants were professional bartenders, and their entries were along classic lines. Two were by Met Grill servers, and they veered severely toward the sweet side. Does this mean that servers think customers want sugary drinks? To be followed up.

Second, there are now 4.7 million bourbon barrels in the state of Kentucky, several hundred thousand more than there are actual residents in the state. The president of the Kentucky Distillers Association says there's "an explosion" of small-batch and single-barrel products. Good to know.

"Bourbon is a great value," says Met Grill GM Anderson. A premium bourbon costs less than half as much as a single-malt Scotch. The winning Manhattan No. 5 goes on sale this weekend for $14, down a buck from last year.

Metropolitan Grill, 820 2nd Ave. Seattle 206 624 3287

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Allegrini's Single-Vineyard Valpollicella

Allegrini's Palazzo della Torre outside Verona

The Allegrini family owns a splendid hilltop property outside of Vernoa, in the Valpolicella region of northern Italy, whose pergola-trained vineyards are planted mostly to Corvina grapes. On the flatlands, Valpolicella wines are light and acceptable for everyday drinking; it's on the hills that they have the potential for more character. Allegrini produces its best wines here: Amarone, using the traditional ripasso method, and a 65-acre, single-vineyard Valpolicella named for the estate's Renaissance villa, Palazzo Della Torre. About a third of the harvest isn't fermented right away but is kept aside until January, when the dried and highly concentrated grapes are added to the new wine and fermented again. The resulting wine is aged for 15 months in small casks.

As it happens, we saw this "passito" technique used in Emilia Romagna  when we visited Italy in the fall of 2008. Here's what the grapes  looked like, on the right.

You could think of the Allegrini wine, which retails for about $20 in Washington, as a "Baby Amarone." But it's a serious bottle on its own, as the winery's Marilisa Allegrini demonstrated at a culinary event this week. It was called "Cookoff for a Cause," and featured three chefs competing for their favorite charity.
  • Sabrina Tinsley of La Spiga (where the event was held) prepared a duck breast stuffed with prosciutto and Parmigianno-Reggiano.
  • Emran Chowdhury of Cantinetta wowed the guests (well, me, especially) with his braised oxtail and ethereal ricotta gnudi (dumplings).
  • Mauirizio Milazzo of Barolo won the top prize ($5,000, for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) with a rabbit meatball braised in red wine.

Chowdhury, Allegrini, Milaszzo, Tinsley

More pictures, including the dishes, in the album. Thanks to Joe Kennedy for the camera!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Croft Pink

Hey, I'm trying to say nice things here. Croft Pink, basically a rosé from the Douro Valley, released by the venerable Port house of Croft and retailing in the mid-teens. I'm drinking it right now, chilled, on a warm afternoon, (yes, with ice cubes).

But tell me, am I the only one who finds these flash sites so annoying? Bad enough they make you fake your birthday, but who's the marketing genius that sells the liquor companies on fancy-dancy screens with techno music?

I like this wine. It's perfect for this moment, with a handful of cashews while my steak and baked potato are making themselves ready. What bothers me is the notion that no one will drink it unless they are pre-seduced by Adobe.

And don't get me started on the music.