Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cocktail gets crafty ... and frisky

Mark w book.JPGThe cocktail shelf is getting crowded! We wrote last month about two Negroni books; we've got books galore about seasonal cocktails lying around from national stars like Katie Loeb and local cocktail mavens like Maggie Savarino. There isn't a self-respecting saloon in Seattle that doesn't have a "Craft Cocktail" list to upsell from a vodka-tonic to some lavender-infused concoction that takes ten minutes to prepare.

Then you've got all the producers of specialty liqueurs (St. Germain, to name just one) with recipe books of their own. A home bartender can get seriously ivolved with do-it-yourself bitters, homemade syrups and pickled garnishes. And the mixologists! A regiment of "behind-the-bartists" eager to show off their inventiveness.

Here's one of the best: Mark Sexauer, an award-wnning professional bartender, Seattle-based brand ambassador for Bacardi, who has turned a hundred or so original drink recipes into a handsome hardcover book titled Aphrodisiacs With a Twist. The book's premise is the well-known observation that alcohol is a social lubricant that can "elicit and heighten the sexual experience."

For example, Sexauer's take on the classic Manhattan, which he calls "Tastes Better in Bed," substitutes a homemade reduction of red wine and lime leaves for the traditional vermouth, then adds a splash of orange cordial and a dash of chocolate bitters. Then there's the "Bastadro," which takes four ingredients, including a sweeter red wine syrup, a vermouth called Cocchi Americano and tequila.

Nothing particularly aphorodisiac there? Try this: the Roy and Gouda.

Many cheeses, Sexauer points out, "can resemble the scent of a woman and can be stimulating for both sexes." The active ingredient is phenlethylamine (also found in chocolate, by the way), which is related to the release of endorphins. Here's where it gets all Modernist: Sexauer makes a foam with smoked gouda, olive oil and heavy cream, pours the mix into a nitrous oxide canister to freeze it, then squirts fanciful shapes onto a baking sheet. As you drink the cocktail (a scotch & vermouth concoction resembling a Rusty Nail), the cheese begins to thaw. "It should be the last thing you taste."

The photographs, by Charity Lynn Burgraaf, (styled by Kimberly Swidelius) do a great job of highlighting the color or key ingredients of the cocktails.

Aphrodisiacs with a Twist, 256 pages, $24.95

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Your place or mine?

Sangiovese vineyards outside Panzano-in-Chianti, Tuscany

On Facebook this morning I noted that an American wine writer named Tom Wark seemed to have trouble understanding: that PLACE was more important than grape variety or producer. (Here's a link to the article that caught my attention.) Why is that so hard to understand?

To which this reply, not from the author, by the way:
I'll tell you why it's so hard to understand: if there was a farm that raised three kinds of fowl, duck, chicken and goose...and then said farm went to market with a meat product called "Judy Farms Yummy Feathered Food" people would want to know what kind of "feathers" they're eating. But Judy would say "all the birds ate from the same terroir so it doesn't matter" and most people would say back "it matters to me! I like chicken but not duck!" In America we're very consumer first... We think knowing the ingredients in things comes right after "freedom of speech" in the constitution. That said, I think this 'controversy' will make this winemaker get a lot of press and conversations going.
Well, to continue that example -- there's nothing to prevent Judy Farms from selling both "Duck" and "Chicken" if they want to. Wine, on the other hand, isn't "feathered food." It's "grape food," which, unlike poultry, can be blended from different varieties. And poultry doesn't depend on soil, climate and yeast to taste like poultry. (It just tastes like chicken.)

As it happens, I've just spent five days in the zone of Tuscany that produces Chianti Classico wines from sangiovese grapes. If you add more than 10 percent of anything else, you can no longer call the wine Chianti Classico. If you grow the same grapes outside the zone, you can't call it Chianti Classico. The whole point of an appellation is to wear a name tag: Hi, I'm Ronald from Seattle. The guy over there kind of looks like me, and he's from Seattle, but that doesn't make him Ronald. That other Ronald, over there, he's from Bellevue. Close to Seattle, but not the same thing.

Now, that said, and with all due respect to the participants in the exercise, the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico sponsored a tasting of sangiovese wines from two neighboring zones, Radda-in-Chianti and Montalcino (home of the great Brunello di Montalcino). I wrote about it over on my blog, Cornichon, because I was surprised that the differences were subtle, even indistinguishable by the enologists and wine makers in attendance.

We think we want to know. We think that wine education will set us free. But it's not always true. Sometimes all we want to do is love the wine we're with.