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