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The World's Your Oyster

Puget Sound. No place like it on earth, especially when the sun shines, right? OK, true enough, but really, there’s actually nothing quite like all that rain we’re so (in)famous for. And really, when you slow your scurry between car and cover, when you un-hunch your shoulders, when you just walk, amble even, and breathe in all that cold, damp, rain – laden air…it’s damned fine. Nothing quite like this green, clean sliver between the vast, cold Pacific and the cloud-shrouded mountains, all wrapped in our inclement blanket.

And there’s nothing that sums it any better than an oyster – a Washington oyster, that is (although Vancouver Island will do, too). One small slurp of creamy, briny, meaty, delicate goodness. A morsel that tells the tale of an entire ocean, neatly encased in its barnacled package, the labor of shucking serving as a toll for the reward within. A bivalve code for the place between the expanse of an ocean and a sliver of beach. The place where tide meets river, salt meets sweet.

Late Spring and early Summer are the domain of Apollo and  the fruits of the sun, while the harvest of Poseidon’s fields are at their briny best in late Autumn and early Winter. Ocean confit. Ripe little berries bearing the essence of the cold, salty, churning, mystery of the sea. What could be better than being inside, safe, warm, surrounded by friends, feasting on little nuggets of the treacherous cold deep? Mighty fine. And all the better, of course, with a fine bottle of Muscadet, sleek, lean, saline yet sweet as meadow grass and a kiss of clover honey. Or think Chablis, or Picpoul, Txakolina perhaps. Champagne (or a nice, crisp Blanquette de Limoux) will do nicely, too.

Take your pick… The world IS your oyster – all you need is an oyster knife (and a corkscrew).

More about: Muscadet, Osyters, wine

Thanks!

While gratitude is, of course, a practice that’s best done on a daily basis, the Thanksgiving holiday seems like a fine time to share a few wine guy reasons to be thankful. Voilà –just a teeny, tiny few seasonally appropriate things that make me glad…

Beaujolais -- real Beaujolais. There’s nothing like it. Fresh, vibrant, nearly pulsing with exuberance, the essence of sun become sweet fruit, wrapped around a core of cool granite. An old friend who always forgives me for running off to hang out with other wines, and welcomes me back with a glass way more than half full.

Winegrowers. As in farmers, or wine people who think like farmers. Modest, down-to-earth, ordinary human types who have calluses and dirt on their hands. People like Jean-Pierre Vanel, Kay Simon and Clay Mackey, James and Poppie Mantone, the Pouillons, Herb Quady, Keith Pilgrim, Remi Pouizin, Bill Powers, Robert, Corrine and Barbara Gross at Cooper Mountain, John Morgan, Barbara House and Liam Doyle at Lost River, Tony Dollar, Phil Cline, The Gilbert Family… and a whole bunch who I’ll catch the next time around.

“Everyday” wine. These are wines that are what they are, that taste like where they came from, that aren’t all fancied up to be some sort of luxury item. Because wine is something ordinary people should do, just about every ordinary day, and it’s less expensive to make (and has more character anyway), when it doesn’t try to be some fancy pants thing for fancy people.

My nose. An essential, of course, but I’m amazed at how much it teaches me as I learn to notice more and more smells, not just in wine, but out there in the world at large. The key to all sorts of Proustian magic. The world is your oyster—and your madeleine, too.

Friends. Because, nothing tastes as good solo as it does when you share it with your peeps.

Food. Italians have this nailed. Wine needs food to really sing the high notes—and food needs wine to truly nourish our souls.

And lots of other stuff. Stay tuned, more later.

Buona festa, bonne fête, happy holidays. Amen.

 

More about: French wine, Northwest Wine, Oregon wine, Washington wine, wine

Reality Check

Sometimes, the nuts and bolts of take over. The day-to-day, devil-in-the-details side of things becomes everything. The means turn into the end and the raison d’être vanishes in an ocean of work that feels like…work. Lost in the changes, as jazz folks say.

And then, unannounced, with no gift wrap (don’t the best things always come unadorned, anyway?)…a reality check. One of the good guys comes calling, bag packed with bottles of goodness: character, soul, passion and inspiration. Glasses gets swirled, releasing wafts of far-away places, seasons composed of days, nights, sun rain, wind and the hard work that turns them into liquid goodness. It’s an epiphany, an old friend, a favorite teacher with a remedial class in the finer points of the bigger picture—(that particular bigger picture being among the more rewarding reasons I get up in the morning and march off to work ...hi - ho!).

Today’s lesson is in the alchemy of syrah, grenache, carignan and mourvèdre, the blood of the Languedoc, the translators of its inimitable terroir. Two wines in particular grab my attention, both grown by rock solid, inspired, brilliant men – two humans as different as the astonishingly singular terres  they farm.

Artisan – vigneron Jean-Pierre Vanel is a man of letters with the soul of a poet, or a pianist. His aim is to “make his terroir speak, accompanying it, without leading it.” His biodynamic – farmed vineyards are in the Pézenas appellation, where the rolling hills of the Mediterranean plain meet the foothills of the Cévennes, in the decaying basalt lavas of ancient volcanoes. Jean-Pierre’s grenache-based “Fine Amor” is a lovely case in point for his view of grenache as the pinot of the south, a crystalline, pure expression of cool raspberry and cherry fruit wrapped around brooding, introspective tones. It’s a wine that offers the pristine tones of an aria sung by in alto voice, with a dark funk of earthy decadence. It’s gorgeous, a wine that begs contemplation, and sip after sip.

100 clicks west by southwest, in the heart of Minervois, the tiny village of Félines smells like nowhere on earth. A heady mélange of typically Languedocien garrigues attains an incredible intensity. Wild rosemary, thyme, truffle and green oak, cistus and Mediterranean pine, with a streak of schist that rises from the ground to add its earthy voice to the mix. Michel Escande, sorcerer to Jean-Pierre’s poet, soothsayer of vines, translates the sauvage perfume into his wines. “Esprit d’Automne” is an introductory course in Minervois magic, while “La Féline” steps up to graduate level, all that wildness lacing dark, ultra-dry, pure fruit essence – a marriage of earth, sky, fruit, blood and soul. It’s astounding, the essence of the place and the good earth, only possible when a grower forsakes ego, in favor of the soul of the vineyard. Michel says, echoing Jean-Pierre: “learning to be quiet, that’s a vigneron’s most important job. Learn to be quiet, in order to begin to listen, to try to understand the signs…”

Inspiring, beyond numbers, a challenge for words – and a great reason to “go to the office”!

I love this gig.

 

 

More about: French wine, gatrrigues, Languedoc wine, Minervois, Pezenas, terroir

Things I Like

I Like…

The Accomplice and I like to hang at a cool little place called Bar Avignon in Portland. There’s great food, an inspired wine list, and a chalkboard with a list that bears the simple heading “We Like”. I like that. It’s a list of random things, good things, diverse things, flavors, smells, moments, textures and  of stuff that has a particular flavor. Like good wine, they’re things that are particular, that aren’t at all generic, that reminisce of a feeling, a moment, a taste…

These aren’t quite full – on Marcel Proust Madeleines. No sensory time-tunnels to way back then. More like little tastes of things that you remember both vividly, stuff that’s pretty much a part of your “now” – and others that still linger, albeit with a little more distance, like a street you haven’t taken in a while, a song you haven’t heard since back when you used to play it all the time. You get the idea.

Alora, with apologies to Julie Andrews, a few of my favorite things…

Ponderosa pines, sagebrush, warm, rocky dirt and a river running through it.

The smell of rain.

The smell of rain coming, after a long stretch without.

The first sip of steaming, strong French press on a dark, cold, rainy, morning.

Falanghina. From honey to orange peel to sea salt. Unction with an edge and older than Rome.

Simple, but Sturdy Côtes du Rhône, an eruption of just-ripe raspberry and cherry fruit, with wind blown garrigues and the dust of warm stones.

Guy Clark

Lager. Real lager, all pure malt, clean water and just enough hops to make it all sing. Fresh as a high mountain stream.

The simultaneous “wow” at the first sip of something amazing, shared with a good friend.

Jamon, Manchego and sturdy, earthy tempranillo for breakfast.

There's more (plenty) to come. Stay tuned…

 

 

 

 

More about: beer, flavors, lists, pleasure, wine

Dang Fine Beer!

For aficionados of that wonderful engineering of hops, malt, yeast and water commonly known as beer, the Left Coast is pretty much paradise. An unstoppable tide of creativity, energy and alchemy offers a torrent of brewed pleasure, an embarrassment of fermented riches. The brew wave is a seemingly irresistible force, raising its own hell or high water mark with danged near every keg. Out with the old, in with the brew, what could be better than beervana?

Well, how about old school? An original, back-to-where-we-never-left, rootsy, where-it-all-started, uncompromisingly steadfast, just plain good beer. Not über, not imperial, not over-the-top, not new and improved. Like well-built wingtips, modest lapels and classic cravats, real quality never goes out of style – and beer is no exception.

The Accomplice and I swung by Anchor Brewing for a tasting and tour last week, on one of those incomparably fine autumn days that San Francisco does like nowhere else. A fabulous day, for which Anchor’s line-up provided the perfect exclamation point. We’re talking delicious. Delicious enough to have even my jaded outlook raving long after the two pint buzz was long gone.

Those guys do it right – and have been doing it for a long, long time (they’ve been Anchor since 1896, while the brewery actually dates back to 1851, when Gottlieb Brekle arrived from Germany and hung out a shingle with the family name). Rising like a Phoenix from a major earthquake, several devastating fires, prohibition and various other challenges, Anchor is a force to be reckoned with—not to mention part a serious part of San Francisco’s cultural heritage. And it’s all about the beer. From the original Steam Beer to Old Foghorn Barleywine (first of its kind on the Left Coast) there’s nothing particularly fancy going on – just really, really good beer. You like dry-hopped beer? Liberty Ale was pretty much the west coast’s first IPA, dry-hopped then, dry-hopped now, without making a big fuss about it. Porter (hey porter!), one of the first, still one of the best. For the purist, there’s even lager, (yep,really, really good lager), as pure as the Sierra mountain water from which it’s made.

A friend summed it up best, sipping from a bottle of Steam Beer awhile back: “Mmmmmmm, tastes beer-y! Wow. Damn, that’s good! I could drink that!”

And so could I. Think I will...

 

More about: Anchor Brewing, beer, Microbreweries, Steam Beer

Thinking about harvest...

Headed over the hill last week to taste through and decide on blends for a project we’re doing with Terra Blanca (two very delicious wines that everybody will want to be drinking).

It’s that time again. Wafts of autumn around the corner and the golden, lonesome light of the sun saying “adios” as it rides south serving as a reminder that there were only two more days of summer in the bank. 36 degrees at Snoqualmie pass underscoring that note, then Cle Elum and the Kittitas Valley waking up to one of the finest late summer bluebird days, ever.

Harvest is another one of those delicious paradoxes: a festival of ripeness, of arrival, the sum of a year of rain, wind and sun packed into clusters of possibility awaiting passage from real time to a record of time past. Fruit: ripeness, acidity, brilliance—and vine: fading, leaves the dark, dulling green of late summer, betraying the wear and tear of bearing fruit and a season’s hard work done. Life and its passing having a cocktail as their trains pass in the station. And so on.

For the humans who variously aid and abet the vines or “make” wine from them, it’s show time. There’s an almost palpable adrenaline buz, and a sense of heightened awareness folded right into the general state of being thrashed that comes with long work in short time.

Later, with two mighty danged fine wines finalized, I point my land rocket in the direction of The Gorge, taking the back way over highway 221. Just at the top of the hill, heading out of Prosser, the sky opens up, damned near big enough to go toe-to-toe with Montana’s, and there, all on its lonesome, is a big, fancy-pants sign welcoming me to the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Which is a good thing to know, because that there isn’t a vine in sight—and you can see long, long way in that big, wide open emptiness. Which gets me thinking…

More about: harvest, Washington, wine

Loire-ish, Oregon - ish, De - lish.

As the six or seven of you who read these occasional scribblings are probably aware, I’m solidly on Herb Quady’s bandwagon. Being more than a little jaded, curmudgeonly and generally hard to impress, that’s saying something, (at least in my little universe it is). Herb’s the real deal, an evolving product of his own intellectual curiosity and the desire to always do your best and do better today than you did yesterday. All of which seem to scarcer and scarcer currency these days.

Ergo, I was stoked when The Accomplice signed us up for a winemaker dinner with Herb at Corkscrew in Portland. Herb’s wines, great food, muy bueno. And it got even better. We arrived to find that Quady North wines weren’t soloing, but were sharing the bill with wines from Leah Jørgenson Cellars. Hmmm, something new, with not so much as a scrap of hearsay by way of a clue. And astoundingly, impressively delicious, as it turned out—not to mention a great dance partner for Herb’s wines. A pleasant prospect, quite franc-ly.

First up was a “blanc de franc” – a blanc of cabernet franc, made with grapes from Herb’s vineyard,  a texture of fine silk walking a tight wire of taut acidity, beautifully creamy and bright at once, a beautiful wine – and not the kind that’s made by lucky accident! Next up, Quady North rosé of cabernet franc, picking up a little texture, just a touch of  weight and a hint of glycerine making a perfect foil for bright red fruit. I’m not a fan of hyperbole, but I don’t mind saying that this wine ranks right up there with some of the most delicious-est rosés I’ve had. Ever. You know that life is good when you want to do the first two courses over again…

Then, a thickening of the plot (while the textures continued on precise, crystalline and racy, but no less generous for it). Jørgensen’s “Tour Rain” a gorgeous, “can I have another glass” rendering of Touraine Rouge, blended of cabernet franc, once again from Herb’s vineyards, and Gamay, from a “sworn secret” source. Amazing, pure gamay, pure franc, dancing so seamlessly as to highlight one another, while impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins… What could possibly follow that – but Quady North cabernet franc? This wine is among my favorite renderings of the grape, showing old world style with the élan of State of Jefferson terroir. Think bright red fruit with that cabernet franc edge, that racy je ne sais quoi, notes of mineral, brush and sweet tobacco that swirl into a texture that just keeps evolving in the glass…

Later on, The Accomplice and I exited into the warm, post – deluge Portland night, a few bottles heavier and plenty impressed. It’s always great to drink Quandy North wines, and a bonus to discover a new favorite. Refreshing to note, too, that far away from the world of ratings-driven, demographically engineered, corporate same-old, same-old,  there are plenty of passionate, curious, independent, character driven producers who are making exciting, vibrant, honest wines that truly reflect the character of the Northwest. And we'll drink to that!

More about: cabernet franc, Oregon wine, wine

Fine Amor, Old Friends



It’s always a joy to re-discover a favorite thing, something put aside for a while as you occupied yourself with other things. Like a great book that a whole new realm of truth with the benefit of time and experience, old friends re-encountered offer a fresh epiphany in a familiar wrapping.  Déjà vu, sort of.

 On Tristan Shout’s counsel (“you should taste this amigo”), the Accomplice and I opened a bottle Lacroix Vanel “Fine Amor” 2011 the other night. I love this wine, always have, being the Grenache fiend, Languedoc head that I am. But you know how it goes, there’s always a veritable boatload of other tasty stuff to titillate your senses, and sometimes those favorite things fall by the wayside. But what a treat! As lovely as we remembered it, but even better, more focused, more delicate, more complex, lovely, lovely, lovely.

 Jean-Pierre Vanel thinks that Grenache can sing with that precocious alliance of power and grace that most of us think is the exclusive domain of pinot. Evidently he’s onto something, as this wine shows the beauty and restrained depth of cool, just-ripe, perfectly balanced fruit, yet still carries the terroir nuances of hot climate garrigues and the decayed basalt minerals of the eastern Languedoc. Think cherries, and early morning-picked raspberries, infused with wafts of cistus, wild thyme, juniper…and a hint of dry, late summer grass. Drink it with fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes, grilled coho, savory rice or pasta dishes, mushrooms, salads… and don’t forget that it’s perfectly OK to put a little chill on red wines, especially on warm days!

More about: French wine, Languedoc, wine

Revolutions on the (Wine) Frontier



Truth is a good thing. B.S. isn’t. Ergo, a day that brings illumination is a plus in the ledger. Any day that banishes darkness, shatters a myth or three and outs the fallacy of conventional wisdom with an abundant splash of light is a jackpot. Do all that while discovering amazing new wines is downright transcendent. It’s astonishing how much new stuff there is to be found in the Old World. For example… 

The mention of any part of the former Yugoslavia has always conjured visions of a gray, barren, cold place. Oppression, gloom, poverty, blah, blah, blah. Guess not. In reality, other than an abandoned checkpoint at the border, there’s nothing that distinguishes Slovenia from the lushness of Friuli except perhaps the road signs announcing directions and names of towns in both Italian and Slovenian. If anything, it gets a little more idyllic, while wine-wise, there’s every bit as much Friuli in Slovenia as in Italy. It just happens to be called Brda, and the names of the grapes undergo an orthographic permutation or two.

 Malvasia is a sweet dessert wine from Spain, right? Well, yeah, but it’s also Malvazija, dry, lush, but precise, generous but with the agile tension of that’s typical of white wines from Brda. Brisk acidity makes for tremendously age-worthy wines.

 The word tocai, tokay or tocaj brings visions of empty Gallo Tokay bottles littering back alleys on the wrong side of the tracks in my childhood. Skid Row Bourbon. I know better, love tocai, but will never completely lose the downscale connotation that the brothers Gallo’s misappropriation hat wrought. The point is moot, however, as the Hungarian government has successfully lobbied the European union to ban the use of the word “tocai” in any orthography, arguing that consumers may confuse tocai with Hungary’s famous Tokaji sweet wines. Henceforth, look for “Friulano” in Friuli, pinot gris in Alsace, Sauvignonasse in Brda, and so on.

 Meanwhile, Gallo’s various permutations of Skid Row Bourbon now bear other names.  There are revolutions, there are evolutions…and some things just fade away.

 

More about: dessert wine, Italian wine

Four sweet ways to beat the heat

It's happening, folks: a stretch of hot, sunny Seattle weather that's actually starting *before* the fourth of July. This is a rare event indeed, and calls for celebration on all fronts. We suggest the following fun ways to beat the heat!

1. Make homemade popsicles


My take on peach-raspberry popsicles ready to pop into the freezer!

Wondering what to do with all those strawberries you just picked, the organic blueberries you snagged at PCC, that swiftly ripening pineapple on your kitchen counter? Try these easy recipes from the Sound Consumer and swoon. For those of you who prefer step-by-step instruction, check out my attempt (and victory) here.

2. Make one of these three inventive ice cream sandwiches

Need we say more? Find the recipes here from our July issue of PCC Taste magazine, now available in all PCC locations.

3. Make a giant strawberry ice cream sandwich

Are those dainty ice cream sandwiches just too small for your liking? Try Chef Lynne Vea's easy recipe for a GIANT ice cream sandwich you can share with your neighbors.

4. Make a fresh rhubarb ice cream cake

Savor the last of spring rhubarb and our wonderfully sweet local strawberries with this lovely (and simple) dessert.

No matter what, from all of us at PCC, have fun getting your vitamin D this weekend!

More about: desserts, ice cream, summer

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