Saturday, December 15, 2012

No Yquem for you!

Pouring Chateau d'Yquem for a tasting. 2006 photo.
There will be no 2012 Chateau d'Yquem, says the property's general manager, Pierre Lurton. According to Bordeaux Wine News, the hand was dealt by Mother Nature but it fell to Lurton to make the call. Foregone revenue: 25 million euros.

The last time Yquem failed to release a wine was 20 vintages ago. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tatoosh Bourbon Debuts at F.X. McRory's

Tatoosh founders at F.X. McRory's
F.X. McRory is a saloon well-known to anyone who's ever hoisted a pint or sipped a wee dram in Pioneer Square. The expansive bar features a mural by the late Leroy Neiman (commissioned for $100,000 three decades ago), and over a thousand bottles of booze.

And on 12/12/12, four Seattle guys came in with the first bottles of their new bourbon, named Tatoosh. No, not Paul Allen's mega-yacht. The Tatoosh mountains, the Tatoosh wilderness.

The bourbons and whiskeys are distilled under contract in Bend, Oregon (where there's plenty of golden grain and prisine waters from the Cascades), but it's a departure from the recent explosion of micro-distilleries that have set up shop in and around Seattle. On the other hand, after stocking well over a hundred bourbons, this marks the first time that a bourbon has actually launched at McRory's.

So it was a pleasure for owner Mick McHugh to be on hand as the first bottle of Tatoosh was slotted into its center spot between Tangle Ridge (a rye from Alberta) and Templeton (Prohibition-era rye from Iowa).

The Tatoosh is sweeter than most bourbons, which makes it a natural for the Manhattan (or "Tathattan," as they called it on opening night). 

Tomorrow, the Tatoosh team roll out their brand at a dozen more eating and drinking establishments (Seastar, Sport, Roanoke Inn, 5 Point Cafe) and retailers (Wine World, Emerald City Spirits).

FX McRory's, 419 Occidental Ave. S, Seattle 206-623-4800

Monday, December 10, 2012

Concocting Cocktail Infusions

Mi-Suk Ahn, bar manager at BOKA.Photo courtesy of Hotel 1000.
Gracious and charming, BOKA's bar manager Mi-Suk Ahn reminds the three dozen women (and three gents) attending a class on "Holiday Infusions" at Hotel 1000 that this should be as easy as flipping an egg.

The ingredients are at hand: herbs and flowers (hibiscus, thyme, rosemary, basil); fresh fruit (kumquat, pomegranate), frozen fruit (blueberries), dried fruit (figs); spices (vanilla, cinnamon, cloves). An array of not-quite premium liquor (because it would be a waste to use the very best stuff): vodka, bourbon, gin, rye.

It's not rocket science. Put ingredients in a jar, add booze, stir, cover and wait. How long depends on what's in the jar. Herbs only take a few days. Spices and fruit take longer.

You might need a bit of simple syrup to sweeten things up, a bit of citrus for acidity; that's your personal choice, if you've got the palate. For my palate, the danger was the overpowering flavor of cinnamon.

Can you infuse something that tastes like a Negroni (normally gin + sweet vermouth + Campari)? Mi-Suk says sure: hibiscus, kumquat, figs, and plain Gordon's gin. Wait two weeks. We'll report back.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Drinking Lesson:

Absinthe can get you hammered

Marteau is French for "hammer." It's also Gwydion Stone's brand of Absinthe, Stone being the founding member of an association called the Wormwood Society whose purpose is to educate bartenders and drinkers about the magic green distillate. Not an easy task, since competitors (virtually the entire alcoholic beverage industry, not to mention zealous government bureaucrats) are more than eager to demonize absinthe, ascribing to it every evil and unfortunate medical condition known to the planet.

Never mind that real absinthe, properly made, is a thing of beauty, "like drinking an Alpine meadow," as Stone put it last week to a dozen curious imbibers on the penthouse terrace of the Sorrento Hotel. It was the final session of 2012 for the hotel's popular series of monthly "Drinking Lessons," which resume next year on the second Wednesday of every month with two sessions a night in the hotel's elegant Hunt Club bar. Champagne, rare wines, tequila, rye, even dozen classes for $35 each, which includes an opening lecture, drinks, and Hunt Club bites.

Back to the drinking lesson for a sec. To sweeten the absinthe, drip some icewater through a sugar cube suspended on a slotted spoon above the glass. Don't set fire to the sugar! That's a bar trick from eastern Europe designed to camouflage counterfeit absinthe; the real stuff turns milky when water is added. Absinthe used to be cheaper than wine; that's why it was so popular during the Belle Époque, at the end of the 19th century. In its early years, until craft distilleries were legalized in Washington, Stone's Marteau was distilled under contract in Switzerland. Remember, it's a distillate, not an infusion. Now close your eyes and taste the meadow.

Program details and reservations for 2013 are here.

Sorrento Hotel, 900 Madison St., Seattle, 206-622-6400

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Who's Who in St. Emilion? Shh, it's Classified!

St Emilion rooftops & vyds.JPG

View from the hilltop: vineyards on the limestone slopes produce the best wine.

ST. EMILION, France--This village, 30 miles east of the Bordeaux city limits, encompasses just over 10,000 acres of vineyards (merlot, mostly), where some 70 of the best estates, located on the calcareous plateau overlooking the right bank of the Dordogne River, produce 10 million bottles of wine. It's a tiny part of what is generically called "Bordeaux," in reality a vast region that sends forth 700 million bottles a year, but it's got glamor and history, a couple of super-famous chateaux (Ausone and Cheval Blanc) and this amazing limestone village virtually unchanged since medieval times.

Once a decade, the local growers submit their wines for a ranking. This is virtually unheard of elsewhere in the region; in the Médoc, on the left bank of the river north of Bordeaux, the top châteaux were "classified" in 1855, and that's been that ever since. It was a ranking by market price at the time, and it's held up pretty well, even though it's also something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the vineyard owners of Saint Emilion agreed to put themselves through the wringer. The last time they did this, lawsuits flew in all directions, and it took years for the storm to abate. This time, the ranking was done by an independent panel of outsiders (still, all French), and the results are being met with applause.

Best news is that two excellent estates have been promoted to the very top of the classification (Premier Grand Cru Classé A): Pavie and Angélus.

Newcomers to the next notch down, Premier Grand Cru Classé B, were Canon-La-Gaffelière, La Mondotte, Larcis-Ducasse and Valandraud.

The new classification is a sweet victory for Gerard Perse, a supermarket magnate who bought Pavie in 1998 for $38 million. His predecessor, Jean-Paul Valette, was much admired for his consistent, understated style of wine making; Perse, on the other hand, wanted more concentration. In 2003, the year of the drought in Europe, the difference in style was the flashpoint of a controversy when the British wine writer Jancis Robinson wrote:
"Completely unappetising overripe aromas. Why? Porty sweet. Port is best from the Douro not St.Emilion. Ridiculous wine more reminiscent of a late-harvest Zinfandel than a red Bordeaux..."
Needless to say, Robert Parker loved the wine. Also needless to say, that's what makes horse racing. If we all liked the same thing, we'd only need one thing.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Into your glass

KALAMA, Wash.-- There's a glass factory here, just the sixth on the west coast to manufacture wine bottles, and it's back in business. Goes by the name of Bennu, located in the Port of Kalama. 

"I could stand and watch it all day," Bennu CEO Jerry Lemieux told The Daily News while looking at super-heated (2,700 degree) glass globs.

A Pennsylvania family named Cameron opened the plant in 2008 and used an unproven electric technology to melt the glass. Didn't work. They bailed. 
Bennu bought the plant at auction two years and a half years ago for $65 million, then spent another $35 million to get it working again, this time with a mixture of liquid oxygen and natural gas. Cost of the furnace alone was $13 million.

Bennu plans to produce 100 million bottles a year, more than enough for Washington and Oregon wineries.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Notes from the Don Quixote wine trail

The lady with the red tresses is enologist Rosalia Molina, who, with her husband Manuel, owns a winery that's growing 200 acres of grapes at an elevation of 3,500 feet. (That's higher than any vineyard site in North America.) In the central limestone plateau of Spain, AltoLandon grows French varieties like syrah, malbec, petit manseng and cab franc, alongside garnacha (the French call it grenache), and the widely planted indigenous grape called bobal.

Modern windmills capture nature's energy on the hillcrests beyond the vineyards, where, it's said, Don Quixote once tilted at their predecessors. The ground could be the Rhone Valley of France, strewn with football-size rocks. The denominatin of origin here is Manchuela, part of a grape-growing region, Castilla-La Mancha, that has over one million acres under vine. Warm days, cool nights, and, most important, luminosity: 3,500 hours a year of bright, strong sunlight. The region, outside Madrid, is at 38 degrees N, so it's similar to Sicily and Sacramento in terms of daylight profile, but the high altitude makes all the difference.

Normally, wines from Castilla-La Mancha show more minerality than fruit, but AltoLandon's wines are full of fruit. The wine they call Rayuelo, in particular, explodes with crushed ripe strawberry aromas, wafting from the glass atop a solid base of tobacco earthiness. The bobal grape reaches its best potential in this long growing season, achieving almost unheard of levels of aromatics. AltoLandon's version, blended with fresh, bright malbec, is stunning.

Two more surprising things about this wine. First, if it were available in Washington State, it would cost around $16 (a steal, if you don't mind my saying so). Second, at this writing, at least, it doesn't have an importer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What was in my Met Market wine bag?

The six wines in my Met Market wine bag
The deal was straightforward: I'd get a six-bottle wine bag from Metropolitan Market and a budget of $150 to fill it up. All I had to do was explain the reason for my choices to the cameraman. And yes, they'd let me keep the wine.

So here goes. I pretended I was having friends over for dinner, so I'd want to start with a festive bubbly. Prosecco prices were well under $15, Crémant goes for about $20, but Met Market had its own, private-label Champagne on sale for $25. K-ching.

A bottle of white to accompany a crab appetizer, perhaps? There's an impresive, Rhone-style blend from Hedges Cellars, and moderately priced wines from Barnard Griffin and The Hogue Cellars, but what better representation of eastern Washington whites than Chateau Ste. Michelle's 2011 Sauvgnon Blanc from its Horse Heaven Hills vineyard. Two down.

Now for the reds. Over on the French side of the display at the Mercer Street store, there's a good selection of reasonably priced Bordeaux, but very little classified Burgundy. The better selection of wines, made in the Burgundian style from pinot noir grapes, are over in the Northwest section. Two Oregon classics: the Eyrie Vineyards 2009 and Adelsheim 2010, both in the mid-$20 range. Full of fresh berry flavors, yet lighter in body, these wines are ideal companions to grilled salmon.

Moving on to my imaginary barbecued-beef course, I looked for red blends from eastern Washington. (Could have done French Bordeaux or Rhone wines, obviously. Could have done Italian reds, Chianti Classico or Nebbiolo-based. Saved the Barbaresco Proddutori for another day.) Plenty of big cabs, merlots and syrahs on the Washington shelves, but dollar-for-dollar, I think there's better value in blends.

First, Brian Carter's "magic" wine, Abracadabra, blended from more than half a dozen varieties. Second, an excellent blend from Brennon Leighton at Efeste, his Final-Final (roughly sixty percent cabernet sauvignon, forty percent syrah). Both bottles retail in the high $20s, but the Abracadabra is on sale for $16, $11 off.

All done! Just under $150 with Met Market's 10 percent discount for six bottles. Once they've finished editing the video, look for it on this page.

Yes, it can be frightening to approach a supermarket wine section with hundreds of labels. But Met Market makes it easy; their wine department managers are very well-trained. Second, it helps if you come in with guidelines: a grape variety, a region, a winemaker or winery. But be flexible: the more rigid your requirements, the fewer your choices and the more you'll pay.

Romané-Conti and other grand cru Burgundies are expensive because they're from teensy vineyards that produce limited quantities of exceptional wine and are sought-after by connoisseurs all over the world. There's a lot more First-Growth Bordeaux, but plenty of "collectors" with more money than taste, often buying case lots as "investments." Nah, wine shouldn't be considered an investment in anything but your own pleasure.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Spreading Good with Every Glass

Martin Barrett, founder of Sozo Wines
Wine, nectar of the gods, is what the elites drink, an expensive indulgence for snobs. Martin Barrett has heard it all. He's a wine guy, former owner of Cana's Feast in Oregon, now living in Seattle and running inner-city social welfare programs.

Over a glass of wine one evening with his longtime friend Monte Regier--a human resources manager who'd just returned from a stint on a hospital ship in Liberia--the talk turned to the contrast between Africa's grinding poverty and America's pockets of poverty in a land of abundance. Barrett realized that for a dollar a day he could feed a hungry kid. Not in some distant land but here at home, where he knew well that there are too many hungry kids."This glass of wine," he said, "could feed a kid."

And so was born the concept of Sozo (a Greek word that suggests rescue), a unique project that shares the revenue from wine sales with local food banks.

Barrett understood that Sozo had to start with excellent wines, "but the last thing the industry needs at this point is another new winery." Yet, there's a lot of good juice out there, languishing, begging for a good home. Tasting tank samples around Woodinville that seemed to have some potential, Barrett and Regier discovered the talents of Cheryl Barber Jones, the former wine maker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, now a freelance consultant. She began working her "magic," blending stray lots so that the sum was greater than its parts.

In its first year, Sozo released six or seven wines, whites like riesling and pinot gris; reds like pinot noir, tempranillo, a Rhone blend, a Bordeaux blend, in addition to special bottlings for the Rotary Club. So far, so good. In fact, the Rhone blend was named best of class at the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition last year and the Bordeaux blend won a gold medal; priced at $120, it sold out.

"Cheryl's crafted some amazing wines," Barrett says. So the "cause" is a bonus. There's a number in the lower right hand corner of the wine label, the number of food bank meals that the sale of the bottle will generate. Not a guilt-inducing "instead of" admonition thatyou could have made a donation instead of buying the bottle, but a satisfying "in addition to." Five meals for the riesling, 25 for the Bordeaux.

The biggest supporters have been local restaurants, over 70 at last count, from swanky spots like Canlis to neighborhood eateries like Magnolia's Mondello. There's no mention on the list that there's anything special about the wines, but each restaurant names its own charity (Canlis picked the None Will Perish foundation; Mondello named the Ballard Food Bank). Sozo writes the check, and the restaurant mails it to the beneficiary.

So far, the Sozo project has generated 70,000 meals for hungry kids. "People who work in the private sector think we're crazy to be giving away our profits. Yet the idealists in the non-profit world probably didn't have the discipline and analytical skills to make this happen." Barrett told me this week. "With Sozo, we seem to have created the best of both worlds."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Efeste's Big Papa cab sauv

Thomas Price pours Efeste Big Papa at Met Grill
That's Seattle's newly minted Master Sommelier Thomas Price on the right, pouring us a glass of Efeste's astonishing 2008 vintage Big Papa at Metropolitan Grill this week. The occasion was the launch of the restaurant's new Met Prime program of humanely raised beef from Double R Ranch in the Okanogan Valley of eastern Washington: tender, flavorful cuts from cattle raised on a 60,000-acre spread near the town of Loomis. The Met's beef used to come from Nebraska; sourcing locally reduces the carbon footprint by over 40 percent.

But, hey, this is a post about the wine. Big Papa is one of Brennan Leighton's relatively few single-variety releases; he prefers blends. But the sourcing is diverse: Red Mountain (Kiona and Klipsun vineyards), Columbia Valley (Sagemoor), Wahluke Slope (Weinbau). Efeste (named for its three owners, Mssrs. Ferelli, Smith and Taylor), occupies a production facility in Woodinville where Leighton, a California transplant, has settled in. His approach is non-interventionist, a rarity in a world of ego-driven enologists who think their job is to "craft" a wine, and that success can be measured in "points above 90" on some critic's rating.

The Big Papa (which, for the record, did indeed get above 90 points from everybody) could be the ideal Steak House wine, rich in the mouth (almost 14.5 degrees of alcohol), flavors of blackberries and currants, a bit of spice in the nost as well, with big tannins that do justice to the meat. Vines that have been around for 30 years, so the grapes have none of the unpleasant, green astringency so often shown by younger cabernet. Minimal racking. Mostly new oak barrels. And above all (most important to me, at any rate), a confidence in indigenous yeasts. More than anything, indigenous yeasts are responsible for the concept of terroir, since they spring from the soil itself. You can't buy microbes like that from the corner store. On the other hand, you can buy a bottle of Big Papa for $95, or a glass for $24.

The Metropolitan Grill, 820 Second Avenue, Seattle, (206) 624-3287

Monday, June 4, 2012

Gallo buys Two Washington Wineries

Covey Run's lineup of wines
Gallo, the biggest winery in the United States, has announced it is buying two wineries in Washington: Columbia Winery (which began life as Associated Vintners) and Covey Run (founded as Quail Run).

It's the first foray into Washington for Gallo, which bought the properties from Ascentia Wine Estates. No price was given, but then, Ascentia is broke anyway and hasn't even been in business for the past year.

Gallo will take over the operation of Columbia's Woodinville facility and Covey Run's in Sunnyside.

"We have been watching the Washington wine industry grow for a number of years and consider these wine brands to be a key part of our premium wine strategy," said Roger Nabedian, who runs Gallo's Premium Wine Division.

Well, we've been watching Washington's wine industry ourselves, Mr. Nabedian, wondering how long it would take until the sleeping California giant woke up the fact that our juice is, simply, better. Don't worry about being condescending, though; we're used to being patronized.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dale Chihuly's Urge to Collect Stuff

Dale Chihuly is something of a pack-rat, and now that he's rich and famous he can indulge his inclination. The new Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center, a $20 million project funded by the Space Needle, is a sort of corporate vanity project. They're careful not to call it a museum; it's more like an indoor-outdoor library of Chihuly's Greatest Hits (the chandeliers, ceilings, sunbursts and flowers; the forests, sea creatures, globes and reeds) on the former Funhouse site that's sure to become a treasured tourist destination.

Tucked onto the north end is a moderately priced restaurant called the Collections Cafe, which houses some 28 displays of Chichuly's personal stash of ephemera: ceramic dogs, bottle openers, Mexican ashtrays, pocket knives, inkwells, alarm clocks, vintage plastic radios, kitchen string holders (like Tom Douglas has at Cuoco), cast-iron dogs, fish lures, tin toys, carnival prizes, dollhouse furniture, shaving brushes, Christmas ornaments, and, hanging from the ceiling, a cacaphony of accordions, squeezeboxes, concertinas and stomach Steinways.

No one's pretending that these are carefully curated examples of, say, the perfect cast-iron bouquet doorstop. But isn't this the territory Tom Robbins satirized two decades ago in Another Roadside Attraction? Personally, I'm more impressed with Chihuly's talent as a draughtsman; three dozen of his colorful drawings adorn one of the walls.

No matter! Let's move on to the food and wine: custom bottles of Dunham Cellars chardonnay and syrah labeled Billy O "Mazie" and "Mighty," respectively, named for Chihuly's right-hand man, Billy O'Neill. Craft beers from local brewers. Regional fare designed by Seattle's pre-eminent menu consultant, Jason Wilson, and executed by former Hunt Club exec chef Ivan Szilac under the watchful eye of the Needle's exec chef Jeff Maxfield. For a 50-seat restaurant, the kitchen is way overbuilt; that's because it will also handle catering for the Glasshouse, a spectacular, new 40-foot-tall conservatory appended to the building. There, under a 100-foot vine of red-yellow-orange-amber glass blossoms, Seattle swells will find their new fave gathering spot for prestigious parties.

But watch out! Chihuly's latest purchase, announced to a gathering of writers sampling the Cafe's fare, was described as a warehouse full of milkshake mixers.
Collections Cafe, 305 Harrison, Seattle, 206-753-4940 Collections Cafe  on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 28, 2012

Burgundy's Côte de Beaune at RN74

Loving Burgundy is like having a high-maintenance girlfriend: mercurial, maddeningly fussy, self-absorbed, but ultimately irresistible. So it was with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation to attend a Burgundy seminar at Seattle's RN74, part of their monthly "Saturday with the Somms" series.

I need not have been concerned. Chief Sommelier Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen proved a most able tour guide. First came three whites from Meursault, Puligny and Chassagne; then three reds from Beaune, Pommard and Volnay.

The names mean so much more once you've been to Burgundy, and even then it's confusing. The three white-wine villages south of Beaune have distinct characteristics (Meursault: round and rich; Puligny: elegance and finesse; Chassagne: structure and power) that reward the wine drinker's concentration. Beaune itself has superb premier cru vineyards, and Volnay's best are studded with aromas of mushrooms and berries. But the best wine of the afternoon was a 2002 Pommard "Les Saucilles," which offered a long-lasting bouquet of jammy fruit, tobacco and "forest floor."

The wines were paired with tidbits from the kitchen. "We're fanatical about food and wine pairing," Lindsay-Thorsen said. Seis Kamimura, RN74's new chef (since February), turns out the perfect accompaniment to the Pommard: a beef bourguignon of Painted Hills short ribs.

Next month (June 23rd): Chablis & Champagne. $45.
Chef Kamimura

"Touring" Burgundy
 RN74, 1433 Fourth Avenue, Seattle, 206 456 7474

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bottoms Up for Seattle Wine Society

Dr. Gerry Warren & his wife, Dianne
Founded in 1975, the Enological Society of the Pacific Northwest was the oldest volunteer-organized wine appreciation group in town. Rechristened the Seattle Wine Society in 2004, it continued to sponsor monthly wine dinners and an annual wine judging whose excruciating fairness was better suited to the days when Washington and Oregon combined had fewer than 100 wineries (many owned by paranoid individualists barely on speaking terms). But its leaders recruited international wine authorities as judges, and their influence helped put the Pacific Northwest on the map.

Now it's "Mission Accomplished," for real.

Rather like Willie Keith, "the last captain of the Caine, it fell to international business attorney Mel Simburg, serving a term as president, to decommission the Seattle Wine Society. Thirty-seven years ago, its founding board came straight out of Seattle's Blue Book (Dorothea Checkley, George Taylor, Nancy Davidson Short, Betty Eberharter), with a mission to guide its members "in viticulture, enology, and the appreciation, enjoyment, knowledge and proper usage of wine."

For the next two decades, under the guidance of an early recruit to the cause, Dr. Gerry Warren (a clinical professor of medicine and bioengineering at the University of Washington), it did just that, providing its 3,000 members with monthly educational programs and an annual wine festival, all run by volunteers. Chapters were added in half a dozen outposts, from the Tri-Cities to Spokane. The festival became a focal point for a growing body of wine enthusiasts, not the least of them the internationally renowned judges. Over the years, they included Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux; the Italians Angelo Gaja and Piero Antinori; the American historian Leon Adams; writers Roy Andries de Groot and Gerald Boyd; California wine makers Joe Heitz and Warren Winiarski; UC Davis professors Maynard Amarine, Denny Webb and Ann Noble. Their palates, unfamiliar with the unique wines of the Northwest (especially in the early years) were always impressed by the quality of the top bottles; they were also unafraid to criticize flawed wines.

Today, the number of wineries in Oregon, Washington and Idaho has grown from fewer than 100 to nearly 1,000. The Wine Society's casual, chatty summer festival has morphed into the tony Auction of Northwest Wines, one of the nation's biggest charity auctions. The Washington Wine Commission (which didn't even exist when the Society started) runs a two-day Wine & Food Festival; there's also a privately run Seattle Food & Wine Experience. There are smaller  festivals in every valley and hillside of the wine country, and wine maker dinners at restaurants across the region. And no shortage of independent, benchmark judgings, either, from the Platinum Wine Awards run by Andy Perdue of Wine Press Northwest, to the high-profile Seattle Wine Awads (and its companion, the Oregon Wine Awards) run by Rainier Club sommelier Christopher Chan, who brings in a panel of top-name judges.

John Bell, an engineer who spent his career working at Boeing while he made wine in his Everett garage, is among those who regard the Wine Society's work with fond nostalgia. Now the owner of a successful boutique winery, Willis Hall, he's also a longtime Society board member who appreciates what the Society has done as a catalyst for wine education and appreciation, "to the point where that mission has now been taken up by a plethora of individuals and groups."

"We are proud of our accomplishments," Bell says. "It's the end of an era, but it was truly a bright era, wasn't it?"

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Price is Right!

Master Sommelier Thomas Price
Thomas Price, the lead sommelier at Metropolitan Grill, has been awarded the top rank of Master Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers. He joins Shane Bjornholm and Joseph Linder of Seattle in the elite organization, which counts fewer than 120 members.

Met Grill was named Restaurant of the Year earlier this year by the Washington Wine Commission for its commitment to local wine producers. Price heads a wine team of eight professionals. His cellar of 13,000 bottles (he's the chief buyer, too) includes some 600 different labels. Around 200 of the wines are Italian, there's another 100 Burgundies, as well as all the top Bordeaux. There's even Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling. But Met Grill is a steak house, and his customers drink 500 bottles a week, and even though one can drink riesling with beef, Price admits, "We make out money with cabernet."

Earlier this year, Price had been a candidate for TopSomm, a competition of leading sommeliers. He was eliminated in the semi-finals but called the experience a practice run for the final leg of his certification as a Master Sommelier. He was one of only four successful Master Sommelier candidates nationwide this year.

Metropolitan Grill, 820 Second Avenue, Seattle. 206-624-3287

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Duke's new slant on Happy Hour

Katy's Naughty Lemonade
Classic drinks, highballs to be specific,  served in slanted glasses. That's all there is to it. Seven of them, from a traditional bloody mary to "All the Rootie" (bourbon & root beer). 

Seven new Happy Hour sliders, including a caprese salad of Laura Chenel goat cheese with homemade pesto and a sliced tomato on a mini flour tortilla ($2.50), Bay shrimp slider ($3), Dungeness Crab & avocado slider ($3.90).

Those old-timey plastic animals are supposed to remind you which one's your drink. After the third one, they just got me confoozled.

Can't beat the Lake Union waterfront on a fine afternoon. 

Duke's Chowder House at Chandler's Cove on Lake Union, 901 Fairview Ave. N., Seattle 206-385-9963  Duke's Chowder House (Lake Union) on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Moscato Rosa: Not self-pollinated

The gent holding the bottle is Andi Punter, export manager for Franz Haas, a winery that's been in business since 1881. The Haas family has about 125 acres in a tiny region of northern Italy called Alto Adige, which grows barely one percent of Italy's wine.
The limited supply didn't deter the region's consortium of wine producers from holding a seminar and tasting in Seattle last week, however.

Alto Adige, on Italy's border with Austria, is known also as Süd Tirol; German is one of its official languages. The Adige river forms a deep and wide valley (good land for apple trees), while the surrounding hillsides are covered in steep Alpine forests and about 30,000 acres of vineyards (roughly comparable to Washington State, though at much higher elevations). The altitude guarantees 300 days of warm sunshine, while the northerly latitude produces sharp differences between daytime high temperatures and nighttime lows (again, comparable to Washington).

Annual wine production, by 15 coöps and over 100 independent growers, hovers around 9 million gallons (45 million bottles), a third of which is exported, mostly to neighboring Germany and Switzerland, though the United States does import a goodly amount. The most widely planted white varieties are internationally known standbys pinot grigio, gewurztraminer, chardonnay and pinot blanc; the two leading reds, on the other hand, are indigenous: schiava and lagrein, followed by pinot noir, merlot and cabernet.

Just one third of one percent of the Alto Adige's grapes are a variety called moscato rosa, and that's what's in the Franz Haas bottle. The backstory is fascinating. Vinifera vines are hardy and resourceful plants; their roots will burrow through bedrock to reach moisture, their DNA programs them to produce vast numbers of offspring (the seeds inside the grapes). What we think of as viticulture is basically the grower's attempt to curb and channel the plant's reproductive enthusiasm into a limited number of grapes. First, though, the stamens of the budding fruit must be pollinated. Vinifera plants are normally self-pollinating, but the Alpine winds in the Alto Adige overpower the buds of moscato rosa. Instead, as Andi Punter explained to me, the growers have to wait for bees to visit the vineyards.

Is that why the Franz Haas moscato rosa has aromas of roses? Cloves, too! More so here than elsewhere (Alsace, Portugal, Sicily) where the grape is used to make sparkling pink wines that have a candied flavor. In any event, there's not that much moscato rosa to begin with; yields are very low compared to other varieties. It's not a late harvest or a passito, it's just a remarkable wine. The Franz Haas bottling is regularly awarded the coveted "Tre Bichieri" rating by Italy's benchmark Gambero Rosso wine guide. The half bottle sells for $49

One final note: tourism is a huge draw for this region, which counts 250,000 hotel beds and another 400,000 accommodations in guest houses and the like. People come for the skiing in winter, the hiking in summer, the spectacular scenery year-round. They eat the local speck, they drink the local wine, they go home happy

Monday, April 2, 2012

Will the real Chablis please stand up?

The village of Chablis lies at the foot of its Grand Cru vineyards
Chablis has never been easy. First of all, the real thing is made from chardonnay grapes, not whatever white juice Almaden happens to have on hand. Secondly, it comes in a wide variety of styles, from unoaked to oaky, from fresh to musky. But the very best examples retain a refreshing flintiness that comes from the Kimmeridgean clay soil that erupts around the village of Chablis itself.

A terrific article by Eric Pfanner in the New York Times this morning about two "new" Chablis producers. A terrific line, too, about the insularity of wine growers:"In these parts, even the dogs can pick out Paris license plates."

Chablis is technically part of Burgundy, and its compact vineyards make a great "first stop" on the way from Paris to Beaune.

Domaine Laroche wines in the winery's restaurant.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Widmer's Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout

Widmer Brothers Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout, previewed for Seattle writers earlier this week at The Publican (formerly the Burgundian) in Tangletown. On sale April 9th, about $10 for a 22oz bottle. It's the second release in their "Alchemy Project" series of beers that can be cellared. (The first were a couple of bourbon-barrel brews, very smooth.) The raspberry component here isn't strong; this is no "fruit beer." Rather, the raspberry adds a dark, sweet note to the brew.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hey Toots! Look at Henry & Oscar's!

It's a deliberately retro spot that's been born, after an eight-month buildout, at the corner of Fourth & Vine in Belltown. Mark and Katie Stern, the owners of the Big Picture cinema three blocks down the street, have recreated, at Henry & Oscar's, the atmosphere of a mid-Manhattan lounge.

The bar now takes up what used to be the main room at Shallots, long, narrow, lots of windows. At Shallots, the tiny bar was an afterthought; here, it could be the main event, like the saloons back in Noo Yawk. No accident. Mark Stern's grandfathers, named Henry and Oscar, were in showbiz, and the concept was to emulate Toots Shor's legendary sports and showbiz hangout on West 51st St.

(Those were the days! El Morocco, the Stork Club, the 21 Club! Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra! Toots sold the place at the end of the 1950's, reopened down the street a year later, and eventually got closed down for non-payment of taxes.)

What you don't see from the bar is the rest of the restaurant, down the hall, swanky seating with private booths as well as large tables. One is labelled The Chairman, another The Godfather.

Happy Hour prosecco is five bucks, the fried calamari a notch over six, a colorful Chicago hot dog four. There's a decidedly old-fashioned beef stroganoff on the dinner menu for 18 simoleons, and if you've got a fat roll of bills in your pocket, you might want to go for the filet mignon or the ribeye. The exec chef is Mark Wadhwani, a veteran of Ruth's Chris, the steakhouse chain that's good at relieving diners of their benjamins.

Lots more pictures on Eater.
Henry & Oscar's, 2525 4th Avenue, Seattle, (206) 448-2444

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Evolution of Wine by the Sip

First, a couple of items from the Cornichon archives.

September 2007, this question: finding new ways to sell wine. Howard Goldberg, who once wrote for the New York Times, thinks the answer is for Bordeaux estates to sell shrink-wrapped, powdered wine, which could be reconstituted (with designer water, to be sure) into vino. Great idea, Howard; we'll get back to you.

Meantime, TetraPak (the juice-box people from Sweden) have been hired by a Cordier (a French wine merchant) to "bottle" a line of boxed Bordeaux called Tandem.

It's all about the most elusive of consumers: "the young people." Cordier's regional marketing director for wine told the Wall Street Journal that France needs to change the image of wine. "We have ignored young people and now we are paying the price."

Says The Independent,"The wine trade needs to encourage young people to come into wine and trade up. So long as it's quality wine, selling it in a carton with a straw is one way to encourage newcomers, who may otherwise just drink alcopops, to try wine instead."

A more predictable reaction from the venerable London merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, whose spokesman huffed, "I don't think it is a hugely good idea. It brings wine to the level of fruit juices and you don't want to bring young people into wine in that way." Certainly not. Good lord, no.

September 2008: To counteract bad breath, Keri Glassman (a registered dietician who's paid to dispense her advice on CBS) recommends drinking green tea, eating yogurt and chewing sugar-free gum. To avoid staining your teeth with red wine or coffee, she suggested sipping them through a straw "to be on the safe side."

Which leads us to this morning's inbox and a breathless press release from Wine Straws. For folks who've just undergone the ordeal of teeth-whitening and want to preserve their new-found virginity. Drink red, smile white. And only three bucks for four, seven bucks for a dozen.

I can tell you what I'm going to do, whether from a box or a bottle: practice unsafe drinking.