It happened again yesterday evening. La Copine and I had a couple sips of the Priorat, the fruit of ridiculously low yielding hillside vineyards, resplendent in its raiment of polished tannins and adornment of spendy French oak. Proceeded to dump our glasses in prder to refill ‘em with the sample bottle of eleven dollar Carinena, straightforward, unadorned, and as amiable as some character down at the corner tavern. You know, wine that’s just wine. Wine that has the local accent of its birthplace. Wine that’s not self-conscious, wine that’s made for people to drink, inconspicuously, just because it tastes good and goes with food and friends. Just a beverage.
It’s gotten to be damned near a habit, this business of dumping out the fancy – pants, big points, high dollar, rock-star-enologist bottle in favor of drinking the modestly priced vino from some hard working grower who toils in relative anonymity. Last week it was a bottle of Rosso from one of Friuli’s most revered estates, where the wines are spendy, practically impossible to get, and whose owner routinely blows off appointments with the likes of Robert Parker (a practice we applaud). Same story, the wine was technically correct, with all the parts executing their roles at virtuoso level. But there just wasn’t any “there” there. No soul, no character. And interestingly enough, the estate is farmed biodynamically, producing lovely, lovely fruit—grapes that should express their terroir with profound focus and depth.
So what’s the deal? Where did all that goodness go? I lay it at the feet of the idolatrous idea that anyone can make wine. Take great fruit and try to craft it to hit some sort of paparazzi-pleasing, points-garnering, popular “profile” –and the result is character turned to soulless, buffed-up, innocuous product. (Think Coltrane, teamed up with Kenny G’s producer. ).
And so it goes. La Copine and I have the fortune to both work “in the biz”, hence exposure and the opportunity to taste lots of wines. It's astonishing how, given all those choices, how often we find ourselves loving the unheralded, un-ranked wine made by blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth farmer types. In the end, not only do we get a heckuva lot more pleasure from the deal, we save a few ducats – and those ducats get to support families, rather than big egos.
More on this topic later. Meanwhile, open your bottles--they're for drinking, not saving.
We're off to a strong start in our efforts to get I-522, the GMO foods labeling initiatve, placed on the November 2013 ballot in Washington. Here's a quick update on where we stand, by the numbers:
- 150 plus = The number of PCC partners, including creameries, organic bakeries, restaurants, health and body care producers, chocolatiers, pasta makers, dairies, coffee roasters and so many more who have endorsed I-522 and support the labeling of genetically engineered foods. See them all here.
- 241,153 = The number of valid signatures backers of I-522 (hopefully, including you!) must submit to get the initiative on the November 2013 ballot.
- 50,000 = The number of signatures PCC wants to collect, with your help, in the month of October.
- $100,000 = The sum PCC contributed to the signature-collecting effort.
- 70 = Percentage of non-organic, processed foods that already contain some, or several, genetically engineered ingredients.
Learn more about I-522 and why we support it here. Want to sign a petition? Check this map for locations around Washington state or visit any PCC store. Want to get involved? Email us: GMOvolunteers <at> pccsea.com
We know it's an uphill battle to collect more than 240,000 valid signatures by year's end to put I-522, the GMO foods labeling initiative, on Washington's November 2013 ballot.
But it's worth it.
I-522 would require producers to tell us whether any food we buy from stores was created via genetic engineering. We already know knowledge is power: think how much better we understand what we eat since 1990, when calorie and nutritional information was required on labels, and since 2002, when country-of-origin labeling was required.
PCC has pledged $100,000 toward the signature-gathering effort and has petitions available to sign at all nine of its stores and at its University District headquarters in Seattle. If you'd like to help gather signatures (and we'd love your help!) email GMOvolunteers <at>
If it were a car, it’d be a Rolls Royce. No, make that a Bentley. Every bit the luxury ticket, but a bit more eclectic still. Just off the sleepy two lane highway that winds through vines and farmland at siesta in the baking heat, a simple, but all-business gate is the looking glass to one of the wine world’s wonderlands.
Vega Sicilia. Big ticket stuff. One of Spain’s most prestigious, expensive and generally unavailable wines. As Hugh Johnson once noted, if Marques de Riscal and Marques de Murietta are the Lafite and Mouton of Spain, then Vega Sicilia is the Latour, albeit from a “vintage that has rasined the grapes and fried the picking crew.” A beverage for those don’t have to ask the (considerable) price.
Heady stuff. They’re mighty proud of it, too -- as well they oughtta be. Behind the unassuming gate is a campus devoted to the study and creation of luxury. Manicured lawns, gardens, gleaming state-of-the-state-of-the-art crush facilities, fermenters and cellars that are part shrine, part museum.
The wine is everything it’s touted to be. Lavish, focused, precise, polished. You can damned near taste all that attention to detail and every ducat of the expense that wasn’t spared. It’s wine that studiously extracts any hint of the ordinary. Imperfection? Not a word that’s uttered in those hallowed halls.
Which is perhaps why this wine just ain’t got no soul. It’s like seeing a virtuoso singer, violinist, or pianist perform—countless yours of practice make for flawless technique, with years of study providing a researched interpretation of the work. But often the pursuit of technique and perfection elide passion right along with technical shortcomings.
I guess I just don't get it. Maybe I’m a hayseed, or a tariff well beyond my everyday means gives me a case of sour grapes (pun intended), but I’ll take passion over perfection, any day. While I can't deny that this is mighty impressive hooch, it nonetheless fails to make my heart sing. Give me soul, give me warmth, give me imperfection. Give me a bottle of wine made with humility, with a story to tell – and with a price tag that’ll let a mere proletarian drink daily.
Alright then. It’s Ontañon Crianza. Sould, pleasure and damned good wine, to boot. Plenty good for me.
It's green. It's wacky. And for math fans, it's even a fractal!
Mmm... Delicious logarithmic spirals...
It's romanesco broccoli, an especially eye-catching member of the brassica family, and when you spot it in the produce department on occasion throughout fall, you don't want to miss your chance to enjoy its slightly sweet, earthy flavor with your pasta, in your stir-fry, or alongside other roast vegetables.
Bacon is on our minds often here at PCC, especially now that stew and chili season has just about arrived.
Here are more than a dozen delightful PCC recipes that call for bacon, including Fresh White Corn, Bacon and Cheddar Popovers and Pan Seared Brussels Sprouts With Red Pears, Bacon and Cranberries.
Here's my favorite chili recipe of all time (Smoky Beef-and-Bacon Chili, from Sunset Magazine).
Here are five great picks from our bacon selection. Did you know all bacon sold at PCC must meet the same high standards as the rest of our meat department? That means bacon from animals not treated with antiobiotics or added hormones and preserved with naturally derived nitrates. More on that.
And now for that Bacon Number. Perhaps you've played the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the goal of which is to discover the shortest path between any Hollywood type and veteran actor Kevin Bacon, who has appeared in films across a startling array of genres. Google recently made this game even simpler: type "Bacon Number" into the search engine, followed by the name of any actor, and it will reveal their connection.
What are your favorite ways to enjoy bacon? One suggestion: sprinkle bacon bits atop this Maple-glazed Popcorn.
As PCC shoppers, we're famous for wanting to know exactly what we're eating, from the berries that top our oatmeal to the salmon that sizzles atop our grills.
Now we have a chance to require producers to tell us whether any food we buy from stores was created via genetic engineering: Initiative 522.
Through December, you can sign this petition in any of our stores to help get I-522 on the state ballot. Or, download the petition (see below for link) and help gather signatures in your community.
Our director of public affairs, Trudy Bialic, sums it up nicely:
>> "The People's Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," I-522, is simple. It would require food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if produced through genetic engineering. Calorie and nutritional information was not required on labels until 1990. Country-of-origin labeling wasn't required until 2002. The trans fat content of foods didn't have to be labeled until 2006. These labels are accepted now as important, and consumers use their information every day.
Since the Food and Drug Administration says we must know if our orange juice is fresh or from concentrate, doesn't it make sense that foods engineered with foreign bacteria, viruses, insect, plant or animal genes should be labeled, too?<<
Visit this page to learn how you can help, whether it's with a donation, gathering signatures, or sharing this information with your community so that like-minded friends can help the cause and get I-522 on the November 2013 ballot.
Montana got nothin’ on this sky. You know you’re in a big, wide open place when the earth tips up and you climb a few thousand feet without the slightest sensation of having gained a single meter. It’s a sky so big that the mountains seem like little more than gentle rollers, the highway signs warning of winter snow the only obvious clue that you’re ascending.
Over yet another scarcely perceptible pass the horizon falls away a few degrees and the Citroën Steed gallops downward* through a broad swath of those cool – looking pines that you never see in our neck of the nuevo mondo. At Aranda de Duero, we take 90 degree left and head west, through what could easily pass for the high desert agricultural land of Eastern Oregon or Washington on a sultry hot summer day. Sort of.
Just a few kilometers further the road bends a few degrees further left and another subtle transformation takes place. We pass from flat, high desert farmland into a broad bottom land, soft shoulders at the sides of the draw showing the imprint of millennia of water. This is it, the storied Duero, that further on up the road goes all chameleon, slips into Portuguese and calls itself the Douro. Heading west, we’re literally listing to Port.
Mere instants later, around another bend, we pass vines. I can smell them. Jon scoffs, says that I’m hallucinating (although he doesn’t phrase it nearly so kindly). It occurs to me that Jon looks a lot like the cartoon character, Butthead (this explains a lot). In any case, my eyes confirm what my nose knows -- vines, baby, vines. We’ve entered Ribera de Duero, among the viticultural world’s more storied rising stars. Refreshingly, there’s not a faux castello or high-end SUV in sight. Jon sums it up perfectly, in words any adolescent could grasp -- Spain is cool.
Soon, the highway dovetails with the river, cloaked in lush greenery that stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding, dun-colored, parched hills. We roll west, through a nearly deserted river bottom strangely reminiscent of Texas. Nothing stirs, the entire landscape is in a torpor, baking in the mid-day heat.
Soon, we’re passing wineries. Interestingly, they bear no resemblance whatever to the Old World knock-offs that line such storied thoroughfares as Highway 29 or Silverado Trail back home. Makes sense. After all, this is the old world (been there, done that, invented it a few centuries back, moved on). These aren’t cover tunes, they’re originals, architectural statements (occasionally a little grandiose, but don’t tell me that Napa or Walla Walla’s most grandiose edifices aren’t built on ego, more often than not without an original thought to stand on).
Whatever. Any similarity to the American Southwest or the New World (period) vanishes as canter into Peñafiel. Hi-ho Silver, forget the Alamo, this sure don’t look like Texas, amigas y amigos. This is the madre of real deals. We have an hour to kill before we’re due at Vega Sicilia, so we head on up the hill to the castle, to have a look around…
*Conrado, despite his avowed disdain for anything French, drives the Citroën stagecoach like John Wayne. Perhaps it’s an Iberian thing, a way with horses, or maybe Conrado would say that the Spanish were meant to master the French, who knows…
Who can argue with two mornings in one day? Particularly when the first is one of those incomparable Seattle summer mornings that nearly defy description – and the second dawns on you in someplace you’ve never been. A little bleary, a little worse for the wear and the tear, sure. But I get my second (third? fourth?) wind when Conrado, Laine and Jon(athan) are there to meet my new amigas, the dynamic duo of Portlandians Annie and Toni, and me.
In mere moments we’ve mounted our Citroën steed and accelerated onto the autopista, leaving Madrid and a cloud of metaphoric dust in the rearview. All we lack now is sustenance… but we’re not lacking for long, as Jon, ever the prepared Boy Scout soon provideth. Jamon and Sherry, baby. Does it get any better? (Perhaps, but if it does, this’ll do just fine until better gets here.) Sure, prosciutto is pretty fine stuff, but when it comes to ham, jamon is the goods, the acme, the ne plus ultra. Add a glass (or two) of Manzanilla Amontillado, bewitching, yeasty, slightly nutty, a dry hint of sea salt, marine and arid all at once. As close to heaven as you can ask for, on a Tuesday morning. I renew my new year’s vow to drink more sherry.
Until now, my impressions of Spain are a collage of scraps from a few history books, a Hemingway novel or two, synopsis and a few tunes from Carmen, and an old movie version of Man of La Mancha (don’t even ask which one). Pretty standard stuff for an Americano – and quickly re-filed in the fiction stacks of my cabeza as the real thing unfolds in front of my sunglasses.
Think arid, high desert – sort of. It’s hard to say whether it’s more verdant with an arid accent or more arid with strong notes of greenery. Whatever, while it’s essentially a vast mesa, it’s a mesa that’s liberally punctuated with undulations, folds, creases, river valleys and a relief of mountain ranges, sudden, looming granite fortresses. Part Okanagan, part Palouse, part high desert, eastern slope of the Cascades, part Yakima Valley. All stitched together into an expansive, intricate tapestry of terra firma.
Real-time, in-person geography has a way of making you mighty hungry and thirsty. Lucky for us, there are tortillas de patatas¸ that oh-so-satisfying alliance of eggs, olive oil and potatoe-y goodness, that’s as ubiquitous as jamon. And zumo de naranja—the most delicious orange juice I’ve ever had. Anita Bryant eat your heart out. This ain’t the Texaco off the interstate, and we’re sure as heck not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Café all around and we’re good to go. The morning is still young, and the day’s vino is still down the road a stretch. Onward!
We travel for romance, we travel for architecture, and we travel to be lost.
Travel. There are as many reasons to budge from home and hearth as there are means of conveyance and places to go. But the accumulated miles in my rearview have led me to the notion that travel is best when the magic carpet yanks the proverbial rug from under your world, sets you adrift, throws open the doors and windows in your brain and leaves you more than a little bit lost, bewildered and flying by the seat of your intellectual and emotional pants. It should leave you speechless, lacking appropriate, adequate or accurate adjectives to begin to seize even a drop of the flood that breaches your mental seawall.
Spain… Miles Davis did “Sketches of Spain” -- not essays, not pictures, documentaries nor anything finished or in at all definitive. Sketches. Ideas, notions, impressions. If it worked for Miles, damned if it doesn’t work for me.
Iberia… It’s Europe, but just barely. The Pyrenees throw down a gauntlet at the peninsula’s point of attachment to the continent --a dramatic geographic, cultural and linguistic barrier. At the edge of the Old World, romance language wears a sultry, syncopated rhythm, shedding latin formality like a veil, while the dancer weaves between the Old World’s cold reason and the hot breath of Africa.
Wine… when you have to stick close to home base, choose well and it’s travel in a glass. When you’re travelling, it’s the extra dimension, high harmony, subtlety of texture and richness of color that tells the rest of the story.
Yep, just back from a week of being thoroughly enchanted in Rioja, Ribera del Duero and a tease of the Basque country. (And I do mean enchanted, in the most awe-struck, blown-away, bewitched sense of the word). And after all, as a writer, Quixotic tilting at wordmills is what it’s all about -- the part where the rubber meets the road, that speechless, no-words-to-describe-it place where you stare at the blank page and find a way. Onward, then. Stay tuned…