SWANKSGIVING

I am sitting out here by the fire pit roasting turkey gizzards and throwing crumpled articles that I have written on wines to have for this most predictable of wine holidays. Thanksgiving wine suggestions are “back like vampires at full moon” (thank you, New York Times). Probably the most boring of the lot is Beaujolais Nouveau. If you must serve it, make sure you have your favorite ABBA tunes at the ready to cheer you up as you motor your way through your tofu or turkey. It is time for new thoughts.

Thanksgiving is an event for either the many (I call them “the peeps”), or the few, the swanksgiving people (two to four in number). We will look at wines for each group as they usually differ in style, taste and budget. Food, costume and décor are always optional.

SPARKLING WINE

PEEPS:

Prosecco has become a yawner, switch to a Spanish Cava. It is fun to say and is far more interesting. Segura Viudas Cava, Brut, $10.00-$12.00 bottle. Serve it chilled in a flute or wine glass or add some cranberries, lemon wedges and orange slices for festivity.

SWANKSGIVING:

Hattingley Classic Reserve Brut. $50.00-$60.00 bottle. Tastes like the world’s finest tiny bubbled croissant lightly coated with minerals. It is the classic grape mixture of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. The original people who made wine here around the era of ca. 400’s A.D. had “weirdly tonsured heads (shaven in a band from ear to ear but leaving long flowing hair) and tattooed green eyelids” (thankyou, Monks and Wine by Desmond Seward ). This is a bottle of BRITISH BUBBLES. It is new, hot and awesome- symbolic of the new, young royals, having their own little “royalettes” every 15 minutes or so.  Look out Champagne!

WHITE WINES

PEEPS:

A to Z Wineworks, Newberg, Oregon Pinot Gris, 2016, $15.99 bottle. The operative words here are juicy, aromatic and loaded with flavors of ripe apples. This is a total “peep pleaser”. Everyone will be sloshingly happy. I used to live in this town in the ‘70’s just outside of the other Portland. There were few wineries. I was sales manager of one of them. Lots of filbert nut groves. Things have changed. The filberts are no more.

SWANKSGIVING:

Empire State Dry Riesling, 2016, Finger Lakes, $20.00 bottle. Its flavor is like “Riding along a streamlined river of acidity” (thank you, Wine Enthusiast.). Swanksgiving wines are more to drink and contemplate than the wines for the “peeps”. This is one you think about when you gnaw on your turkey leg and genuflect on just how tough it is to grow grapes in the Eastern U.S. The early guru of New York vines, Dr. Konstantin Frank, once planted vines in places that “where when we spit it froze before it hit the ground”.

RED WINES

PEEPS:

Il Roccolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, $10.00 bottle. It is So Misunderstood. This isn’t Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (different place, different grape, different meal- pass the lasagna). This is the fruity, delicious Montepulciano grape from Abruzzo in Southern Italy that can wash down giblets with the best of them. Only problem here is to pick a producer like Il Roccolo, Cataldi, Valle Reale or Zaccagnini that are simply showcasing this wonderfully drinkable and enjoyably priced wine and not trying to over entertain your taste buds with their cellar full of new oak barrels. It happens.

SWANKSGIVING:

I think that the ultimate swanksgiving wine must coincide not only with the taste of foods but the feeling of the change of the seasons. Having been born and raised in Los Angeles, our only change of seasons was baseball and football surrounded by palm trees. In Portland, Maine the seasons really are seasons. Autumn here is a feeling and a sensation.

After a whole lot of tasting (the tough part), reflecting, and generally looking at brightly colored and changing leaves, one wine best captures this moment: Produttori del Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy, $45.00 bottle. It is a medium bodied red that resembles violets and hints of truffles, and if there is a game bird on the table it reaches perfection.  The Produttori is a co-op whose members own around 40% of the vineyards of the region. There is a longstanding tradition of quality here. The problem is that their native Nebbiolo grape needs bottle age to reach that perfection. Purchase 6 bottles and have one every year with your swanksgiving people.

DESSERT WINES:

PEEPS:

Savory and James NV Deluxe Quality Cream Sherry, Spain, $12.00 bottle. Don’t knock it ‘till you have tried it. Created by Norton Cooper, President of Charles Jacquin Co. in Philadelphia. Mr. Cooper is one of the great tasters and inventors of alcoholic beverages in our time. He created Chambord Liquor! Rich, complex and savory (just like the name).

SWANKSGIVING:

Alvear NV Solera 1927 Pedro Ximenez, Montilla-Moriles, $30.00 half bottle. Unfortunately, some wine writer wag gave this little stupendous under the radar dessert wine a 100-point rating and zippo chango the price roared upwards. It is still one of the world’s great dessert wine deals. The grape Pedro Ximenez is still underrated as is the region in Southern Spain. The wine is essence of Nutella in a glass. A little bit does go a long way. The 1927 refers to a barrel in the solera system but the wine is admirably aged and ancient.

It is time to come in from the fire pit. The turkey gizzards are all reduced to a fine cinder ash as are the older cliched thanksgiving wine and food pairings. Hope all of this helps with your group large (“the peeps”) and small (“the swanksgiving folks”). Have a joyous thanksgiving.

 

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DUCKING UNDER THE RADAR

 

Now that our little Portland, Maine is the food capital of the universe you will have to think and act fast to get wine and food gratification, or in other words, you gotta duck under the radar in this town. Bon Appetit articles energize their chosen small number of favorites resulting in a three hour wait with your smartphone pressed to your face, together with all the buzz and noise that comes with all the hype. There can be a better way. There are two strategies: the “Happening Event”, that is local in nature, loud, raucous and not to be missed. The second is a quiet repast for ducking under the radar; a serene experience. A place that didn’t make the “hallowed list”. Both need to be sought after as the world is being guided willy nilly by media both print splashed and social.

Think fast, act fast: The Roma Café at 767 Congress St. and chef Ron Medlock recently presented “Big Night”, a wine, food and movie event. This was the quintessential insider Portland happening. Tickets went on sale and were gobbled up immediately. The theme was a movie wrapped around copious food and drink. Big Night in the words of film critic Roger Ebert “is one of the great food movies, and yet it is so much more. It is about food not as a subject but as a language-the language by which one can speak to gods, can create, can seduce, can aspire to perfection.”

That glass of Trebbiano D’Abruzzo by Pianoro was an electric, energized white ($7.00 glass) with the prima seafood risotto that took your mind and memory back to Rome with a taste and a bite. The Montepulciano D’Abruzzo by Pietrantonj , a classic of grape and place ($36.00 bottle) allowed your senses to linger and savor the quarto braised pork belly.

The audience was appreciatively wonderful and raucous. Under the radar is where the Portland chefs come to play. The table of sous chefs had enough tattoo ink on their bodies to keep afloat a lobster boat. Chef Ron’s eight course dinner was an admired creation by his peers.

DATE NITE: THE ROMA TUESDAY 7:00p.m. Corner table, candles throughout. Antipasti and two glasses of Verdicchio De Castelli Di Jesi ($8.00 a glass), the flavors of citrus, flowers and herbs, all in a good way.

LIO: 3 Spring St.

Remember when the singer Prince changed his name to a symbol? This is the way that I think of LIO. Just google the word up on your phone- there are dozens of meanings, some of them not so good. We have dined so many times at their sibling outposts (Tao and Bao Bao) that my hands are automatically shaped to properly hold chopsticks. The real name for this spot should be CARA STADLER’S KICKASS WINE BAR, or for short, CSKSWB, a catchy little phrase that you could hum in the shower. This might bring them from under the radar to way over the radar. I asked the hostess what the name Lio meant and she didn’t have a clue.

There is no three hour wait. Just pick your serpentine table spot; kitchen view, street view or the little back room for anonymity. The floor to ceiling glassed in wine cellar is cool- it announces “hey, you’re in a wine bar”. The paintings on the wall have changed and don’t make a lot of sense. I miss the bristly oil portrait bearing a close resemblance to William Tecumseh Sherman (replaced by an innocuous picture of Truman Capote). The famous civil war general aptly summed up the world with his quote “war is hell”. Owning three restaurants, staring at fame past, present and future could resemble a milder form of hell.

Navigating the list. There are three categories to choose from; the 3 ounce taste, the six ounce glass and by the bottle. In addition, the waitstaff will pour you a tiny taste to save you from making a mistake. There aren’t many mistakes on this list. Yeah, o.k., the $18.00 glass of Barbaresco was a dud. Fortunately, it’s gone. There are the highlights that you aren’t apt to stumble on elsewhere every day. The prices on their pours make a lot of sense. They are value and pour calibrated.

The food, of course, is terrific: the tiny grilled Shishito peppers, the aged duck breast, oh so sliced. The Fois Gras, ah, the Fois Gras, appearing moments fresh from the kitchen.

Viognier/Picpoul, St Cosme, “Les Deux Albions”, Southern Rhone, France, 2016. $7.50/$15.00/$60.00.

St. Cosme is a famous Rhone producer known for their reds. Their white blend grown on limestone from famed Viognier vines and the less than famed Picpoul equals an irresistible combination of flint and dried apricot as a luscious dry wine. Not to be missed.

For a seasoned pro, visiting a wine bar, there should always be one wine that causes you to go to google, search in your wine books, or both. This is it.

Petit Rouge, Caves des Onze, Torrette, Vallee d’ Aoste, Italy,2016. $48.00 by the bottle, and worth it.

Petit Rouge is an ancient Roman grape that resembles a redcurrant and spice sandwich. Torrette is the zip code in the smallest Italian region, the Vallee d’ Aoste, a speck of an area above the yowling jaws of the great Piedmont region.

Cabernet Franc, Domaine de Pallus, Chinon, France, 2016. $6.00/$12.00/$48.00. Herbal, say it again, herbal. We don’t drink enough cabernet franc. Chinon is its original home town.

Nebbiolo, Nino Negri, Valtellini, Italy, 2014, $6.00/$12.00/$48.00. The thick skinned, tannic Nebbiolo grape can wring your taste buds out to dry, and, can usually cost you real money. This is a gem.

Provence, Provence, Provence Rose, yeah, I know. Change it up with this masterful Sangiovese/Prugnolo Gentile, Tuscan, Italian rose, 2017, $7.00/$14.00/$56.00.

The Napa Technology wine preservation system used here are four units at five grand each staring you in the face, providing a perfectly proportioned, lively, fresh opened out of the bottle taste every time. The list is very approachable. There are no “Unicorn wines”, the kind of stuff that mortals beg to experience. This can be either good or bad. Good if you are the average or above average wine drinker. Bad If you are searching for the wine adventure of a lifetime. Will this place become the home of the culinary adventurers? The list is a moving target that changes frequently. Time will tell. They are still under the radar.

(EDITORS NOTE: Layne is a professional in the wine business with over 30 years of experience. He can be reached at lvwitherell@gmail.com for talks and consulting. His website is https://winemaniacs.wordpress.com/blog.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

WINES IN A CAN

WINES IN A CAN

The great wine writer Mike Veseth said in the early 1990’s that bottles were “traditional, accepted, inefficient and doomed”. Pretty rough stuff. He was referring to the then emerging phenomenon of the bag in the box. Canned wines were not yet over the horizon. Today they are the future- right now.

BLUE LOBSTER WINE COMPANY

LOCAL URBAN WINERY:

I sat down with Chris Gamble in his local Portland, no frills, just barrels, tanks and canning equipment, (with a couple of tables and chairs) urban winery on Anderson Street to taste and ask. Why cans? What about that tinny taste we expect? We both got eyeball to eyeball peering into the innards of a fresh out of the carton, ready to be filled can. This was not what I expected. There was a lining inside that was very different in look and feel from the aluminum casing outside. Ah, glorious technology. It is a liner with a nitrogen seal. The goal here is freshness and pure taste, without the tininess we associate in our minds with cans.

Chris is the ideal urban winery guy. A jack of all trades, he worked at a winery and saw what was happening in places like San Francisco and Oakland, California. Urban wineries lack the Liberace Candelabra ambiance but choose to provide an unpretentious tasting environment as fresh as the wines themselves.  The concept is simple: source the best wines, taste and continually think about what you are making and where your audience may be headed. And offer value.  The present lineup of cans is 375 ml (half a bottle), priced at $5.99 each, the equivalent of a $12.00 bottle of wine.

Chardonnay (Yakima sourced), This is the definition of light, fresh, crisp, dry, green apple inspired chardonnay in a can. He had no interest in going the oak aged route. “You want Kendall Jackson- head on out and buy some K.J. (in a bottle)”.

Rose (Paso Robles sourced), 100% Grenache. A dry, tasty, fruity rose at 13.4% alcohol. Many roses have some sweetness, his do not. This is ideal picnic with cheese and salami wine. Chilled, sure.

Bayside Blend, (Lodi) a new release of zinfandel, merlot and, the always compatible white, viognier. 14.2% alcohol. A sit on the deck red with freshness of flavor. Or, throw them into a bag and tow them behind your kayak.

Zinfandel (Lodi) Old vine zin in a can! Fire up the grill for this serious 15.5% alcohol, intense, full bodied zin. Not for the faint of heart.

“For the millennials cans are a no brainer. Some of the boomers who come in are a bit taken aback with the idea. Once they taste them, they come around”. These are wines that are jocular in look and pure of taste.

THE NATIONAL BRANDS:

COPPOLA:

Sofia Blanc de Blancs mini, 187 ml with its own straw. $4.79 This was the debut adorable sparkler from the famed Coppola family that hit the U.S. market with a frenzy of refreshing pinkness in an equally adorable can and box. More to come from Francis Ford Coppola in the form of his Diamond Collection Monterey County Pinot Noir at $5.99 a 250ml can.

DARK HORSE:

Rose and Pinot Grigio, $3.49 a can, 375 ml. You know it will be a serious battle when Ernest and Julio Gallo, the world’s largest winery located in Modesto, Calif., enters the ring. Aside from their legendary distribution and merchandizing muscle “put highly advertised bottles at eye level”, from their 300 page in house manual, the bible for their reps selling wine, their real talent is trend spotting and their creation of personas. Enter Beth Liston, “renegade wine maker” with “game changing innovation” and introducing “kickass flavor” (what a great website!).  Or, in other words, Beth is a very attractive blond, heavily tattooed, Instagram photo perfect AND a millennial. She joins that long list of Gallo character ad personalities dating back to Madria Madria Sangria, folksy Carlo Rossi, even folksier Bartles and Jaymes and beyond. Where there is a hot, new trend emerging, you will see it from them in a store-of course at eye level. Her winemaking technical prowess is a perfect match for their marketing prowess.

GETTIN’ JIGGY WIT IT: Local Baroque in a can:

MAINE MEAD WORKS

Mead, the honey-based wine of the gods predates history. Picture some old dude in 7,000 B.C. sitting wrapped in a caftan sucking on a 3foot long reed sticking in a piece of primitive pottery- he is drinking mead. Fast forward about 5,000 years to a group of Vikings hanging in their “Mead Hall” listening to their “skald”, or official poet and story teller relating sea faring, raids, gods and goddesses, women chieftains, etc. Long winters fueled with lots of mead. They did add one major new touch- the Viking drinking horn. Just google up this miraculous drinking vessel. It exists in all sizes and prices, and for a bit extra you can purchase an adjustable belt holster. Norse sagas not included.

Maine Mead Works on Washington Ave., the makers of HoneyMaker mead have brought back this ancient beverage and crafted it in eye popping new forms. They are in an industrial themed space that is a far cry from a “Mead Hall”. The modern drinking horn, of course, is the can. In their case two creative meads are available in cans with, hopefully more coming from Ben Alexander, founder and expert in all things mead.

Iced Tea Mead, 12 oz. $16.00 a 4 pack . “Black tea, fresh squeezed lemons, mint and honey”. It is a far cry from traditional mead. The 6.9% alcohol is just right as a balance to the tea and mint flavors.

Lavender Lemonade Mead , 12 oz. $16.00 a 4 pack , 6.9% alc. In a distinctly psychedelically inspired can. Mead, lemon juice, lavender and mint, this is one of my all-time favorite hot afternoon beverages. The Vikings claimed that mead was the origin of poetry, this is the modern equivalent.

This is a mere sliver of what you will be seeing in the not too distant future in the can world. It is NOW a world.

(EDITORS NOTE: Layne is a professional in the wine business with over 30 years of experience. He can be reached at lvwitherell@gmail.com for talks and consulting. Website https://winemaniacs.wordpress.com/blog.).

BYOB’S

My neighbors are from away. Your neighbors are too. Portland is not only a tourist destination, it is a new living destination. Many of the places the new people to Maine come from allow them to gleefully trot their favorite bottle of wine into a restaurant with no questions asked. Portland, Maine is not one of those places, except if your local restaurant does not have a license to sell alcohol. We will look at several of these places and pair their dishes up with thoughts on the ideal bottle that you can bring in with you. Additionally, there will be thoughts about several places whose minimal wine lists have been eclipsed by their food. If there were a local BYOB Hall of Fame it would feature the long-departed FOOD FACTORY MIYAKE at 129 Spring St., the tiny one man band beginning restaurant of Masa Miyake, the emperor of sushi greatness in Portland. Fishermen rolled in within moments off the boat with catches that you toasted with your best wines. CLASSIC PORTLAND BYOB’s Most will provide glasses and will open your bottle. Make sure you leave a good tip. SAENG THAI HOUSE 921 Congress St. Crispy duck hot basil stir fried with mushrooms in a basil and garlic sauce. You have both basil and duck, two great combos. Bring on a bottle of Cline Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, Calif. ($10.00 retail) or the Ancient Vine Zinfandel, Contra Costa County for more finesse. ($13.00 retail). Crispy garlic soft shell crab. There is a rich sauce here that screams out for a flavorful pinot noir. MacMurray Pinot Noir, Central Coast ($14.00 retail) will both dance with the crab and catch up to the flavors of the sauce. Or, you could blow it out of the water with a bottle of Flowers Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Calif. ($60.00 retail). This is as ethereal as pinot noir gets for under $200.00 a bottle! SCHULTE AND HERR 349 Cumberland Ave. All German, all the time, all homemade. Make a reservation here as they are small and good. Their Spaetzle with caramelized onions as well as their fish gulasche soup with tomato, paprika and onions are both fantastic dishes. Dr. Loosen QBA Riesling, Mosel,( $12.99 retail). His wines are elegant and revered. Can you ask for more? Our hostess and co-owner advised us where to purchase your “adult beverage” nearby. “There is a bodega across the street where you may shop for a Natty Daddy “, she chuckled in perfectly German accented English. We chose to bring an Allagash Triple. A great ale for terrific German food. TU CASA 70 Washington Ave. Down home Salvadoran cooking meets hipster Washington Ave. As you would expect, lotsa rice, lotsa beans. Their Carne Asada steak dish features “a huge portion of rice and beans”. Didn’t I just say that? Cacique Maravilla Pipeno Vino Tinto Pais, Valle Bio Bio, Chile, 1 liter ($17.00 retail). Quick! Pull up this wineries website. The place and the people look like they live in this funky, authentic restaurant. TWO LIGHTS Cape Elizabeth Lobsters and more lobsters, and the billion-dollar view. We brought a bottle of Sonoma- Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, ($20-25 retail). You can bring a $10.00 bottle of chardonnay, but it won’t do this experience justice. Bring glasses, good glasses. I visited Sonoma-Cutrer in 1981, the year they opened, to see and taste what all the fuss was about. “Fanatical” was the word that came to mind. They are still a benchmark for elegant refined chardonnay. This is summer – enjoy it while you can. SUSAN’S FISH -n- CHIPS 1135 Forest Ave. Here is where you get your fry on. Clams, calamari, shrimp, scallops, and even fried lobster tail on a stick. It is also a wonderland of lobster gear, memorabilia, photos, and lobstering artifacts covering floor to ceiling. THIS is as old school as Portland can get. Reasonable dinners featuring all of God’s little oceanic creatures with some good pasta and slaw sides. If they ever go out of business the Maine Historical Society needs to use this place as a diorama of a lobster fishing village. For BYOB head to the grocery store and get a cheap “California” Champagne (Andre is super old school) together with a quart of orange juice (they don’t have any) and do not forget the 32ounce Hurricane cups as theirs are small and don’t do your mimosa justice. DO NOT bring Prosecco. If I were them, I would throw you out, for Prosecco is a way too fashionably modern touch. Enjoy. THEY SHOULD BE BYOB: When the food jets past the wines it is either food take out time or “give up the license time”. HUONGS 267 St. John St. They have eggroll. They have pho. But their masterpiece is their whole lobster in ginger and garlic sauce. I would crawl across smarmy St. Johns Street for this dish. The problem is that their cheesy $6.00 glass of house wine sucks. Try having this dish next to Firesteed Willamette Valley, Oregon Pinot Gris ($10.00-$12.00 retail). The Pinot Gris grape is aromatic with the light peach and pear flavors that are perfection with this cacophony of complex flavors. The Shop 123 Washington Ave. I keep a picture of this never changing little chalk board list on my phone. The oysters and razor clams are first rate but the monotonous “Piu Fizz” Prosecco and Gruner by the glass are both total yawners. They might bring in that wonderful Ch. Moriniere Muscadet ($12.00-$13.00 retail) to create some excitement. The brine of the oysters cancels out the high acidity of this wine creating an unbeatable creamy texture. The beauty of each of these restaurants is that they are each authentic in their own way. Don’t forget to leave a good tip.

Natural Wine

NATURAL WINE

LAYNE’S WINE TIME: NATURAL WINE

To say that the subject of natural wine is provocative is an understatement . While there isn’t an official definition we do know the following about them. They use no commercial yeast, preservatives, chemical additives or Sulphur dioxide, the hallmarks of modern technological winemaking. They are, in a word natural. The grapes are organic or biodynamic with little or no scientific intervention. If that was it, we could stop right there. There have been spirited debates since the Romans on wine quality, vintages, ,etc., but this is different. It is an us vs. them, we are right and you- you commercial wine drinking bozos are wrong in both argument and philosophy.

They are some of the most thrilling and exciting wines made today, or, they can be some of the most amateurishly Godawful swill ever bottled. I have had both and today we will look at some natural wine examples and the forces that drive them. Having run a winery, been a distributor, Importer, and a retailer, I understand the dynamics of the market place . The proponents of natural wine have established a near religious ability to bond winery, Importer, distributor and store/restaurant into the same choir turning a miniscule 2% market share into a virtual symphony of praiseworthiness. We see them in New York, Paris, Rome, Quebec City, Montreal, Boston and even in Portland, Maine. It takes a lot of work to start a new religion.

The biggest problem is that nature if left to her own devices wants to make vinegar, not wine. Modern technology with a bevy of sophisticated equipment has produced an ocean of commercial affordable wines that are very drinkable, reasonable in price and similar in style and taste. You must seek out the gems. Fast forward to now – natural wine is a blow back against all of that. As in any revolution there can be excesses, or in the words of the great French wine writer Michael Bettane they can be a “fantasy of marginal producers”.

The two things we know: they can be pricey and are unpredictable. I have chosen reasonably priced wines for this piece.

L’Enclos des Braves Les Gourmands blanc Sauvignon Blanc, (and a little local Loin de l’Oeil grape believed to be wild vines of the forest), Gaillac region Southwest France. ($18.00 retail bottle). We had this by the glass in a restaurant and the “Enclosure of the brave wines” blew me away. It is not a powerful, alcoholic white but an edgy expression of natural wine growing. The ancient Romans who settled in Bordeaux drank Gaillac wine. The marketing muscle of Bordeaux shoved this region aside and made it a cultural backwater. This is ancient winegrowing in France with a touch of oxidation in the glass to add to the thrill. Life beyond the varietal, a wine to contemplate. I had to order a second glass to confirm that this was real. Worth seeking out.

It’s not all roses out there. We ordered this to accompany a lamb dish at the suggestion of our waitperson in a (recently deceased) local restaurant that had a wine list of natural wines. One of the problems with establishing a new religion is bringing the esoteric knowledge to the ordinary people (ie., the waitstaff).   “L’Echapee Belle”, Le Bout du Monde “The end of the world” is in the tiny village of La Tour de France, not the race.  ($18.00 retail). In the words of their importer it is “a wine of startling finesse and terroir”. The operative word here is “startling”. A red blend of Syrah and Carignan, it moves in two totally different wine tasting directions- the softness of the style of winemaking (carbonic whole grape fermentation) with the minimum amount of sulfur adding a biological kick. This can be a great intro to what I call the “kim chee style of natural wine”. There it is. Real wine: perhaps a bit too real if you have been used to the tame fruity blackberry flavors of the conventional American stuff. It could be a new direction in food as well. Our poor lamb dish was destroyed by the prickly bacterial character of the wine. Let’s bring on some grilled veggies and a splash of balsamic to catch up with this startling new world. The new farm to table culture can, with some practice, catch up with brave new flavors of these wines.

The things to keep an eye out for as the religion moves forward are:

Wine lists that contain not one identifiable wine that you have ever heard of. A great source of pride to the natural wine choir.

Grapes that are so new or ancient, popping up on labels, that only the initiated have the slightest clue of what they are. The latest book (as of last week) is Jason Wilson’s “God Forsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey Through the World of Strange, Obscure and Unappreciated Wine”. Stand back pinot grigio and chardonnay- it’s going to be a rough ride.

Regions that are undergoing a wine cultural makeover. Montilla-Moriles in Southern Spain has produced for centuries a cheap alternative to Sherry. Sherry tanked. The bodega Marenas Cerro Encinas produces a full bodied dry natural red wine from the Monastrell grape ($20.00 bottle retail) that is fantastic, like an old style French Burgundy with the flavors of game, meat and mushrooms at its core.

In a word, your quest for natural wine is similar to a tightrope walk over Niagara Falls without a net. Making it to the other side to much applause or crashing on the rocks, you can still shell out some serious money for the experience.

Enjoy.

(EDITORS NOTE: Layne is a professional in the wine business with over 30 years of experience. He can be reached at lvwitherell@gmail.com for talks and consulting. Website https://winemaniacs.wordpress.com/blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LAYNE’S WINE TIME: Wine myths vs. Reality

For Up Portland:

I am a professional in the wine biz and have been for over 30 years. Retailer (both large and small), wholesaler, importer, winery CEO, wine journalist, teacher and author of the book Wine Maniacs Life in the Wine Biz; I have seen it all and lived to tell the tale. My wife Judy and I have lived in Portland for 13 years.

Wine today has reached unheard of levels of popularity, together with scarcely believable levels of myths vs. reality. In this monthly column I will probe and examine both…and have some fun while doing it. We will delve into your Tues. night wines, your special occasion wines and the wines you might need to pass on to your kiddies.

Josh Cellars Chardonnay, 2016, California, $10.00-$12.00. Josh is the creation of a variety of people in the biz: The Joseph Carr Winery, with label and marketing design by a famous designer named Tom Larson. Very elegant, subdued work.  Get out your phone and do the Vivino app. label picture: WOW, adjectives abound. Wine adjectives add to the mystique. My favorite on this wine is “white fleshy stone fruits” reminding me of Mainers trotting out their freshly hibernated skins to the beach. This is a peck on the cheek oaked Chardonnay for fish and guacamole.

But there is more. When you google up Josh Cellars you get into the why you saw this wine part. The Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits are called a company of “brand building prowess”.  They are the people who brought you Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and Yellow Tail Shiraz. Josh has become “a new growth engine in the California category” selling well over a million cases yearly. Deutsch now owns Josh Cellars with “ongoing opportunities for further expansion”. The wines continue to be good…stay tuned.

The other side of wine is exemplified by the American importer Kermit Lynch. He is a self-proclaimed hippie who traveled to France in the early 70’s and met an amazing set of characters. His book Adventures on the Wine Route is a modern classic. That is a story that has been told often. The other story is about his guru Richard Olney (1927-1999). Olney was a legendary food and wine writer in France, an American ex-pat who knew French food and wines as well as they themselves. “Something can be created by matching food with wine that surpasses either of them standing alone”. This was his lesson. There is nothing like a guru. Kermit wrote me a letter following an article I wrote years ago mentioning his guru “I miss him a lot. I used to catch myself buying for him, in my head, you know. I’d stumble upon something wonderful and say to myself, here’s one to show Richard”.

Kermit’s sales manager recently retired and sent out an e-mail describing his hiring interview held in a Denny’s: “on the back of a bar napkin he sketched out a general diagram (of the position and compensation package)”. Some things don’t change.

Kermit Lynch Selections Cotes du Rhone, 2016, $13.99. The importers name is usually buried on the back label. His are not, they are front and center. With his wines, you are buying his brand for a few more bucks, but you are also buying his extraordinary palate honed over decades. The wine is mostly grenache grapes, juicy and gulp able with a burger and fries and ketchup.

If you are a fan of Cabernet Franc, that illusive grape that usually vanishes in a blend, Charles Jouget Chinon, 2015, $20.00 is a classic of the grape with the flavors of red currants and herbs mingled with bell pepper aromas coming out of your glass. Lynch says it best. “One has the impression that Charles is out there on the edge, willing to take risks and willing to accept losses to make magic”. It is a perfect wine with eggplant dishes, and full-flavored cheese (think goat). Seek it out as it is worth laying down in the recesses of your basement.

There are lots of ways to be led to wine: the big marketing people, the importer who has spent a life traveling the back roads to get their wine into stores and onto wine lists, or just plain stumbling onto something. We adore the stumbling onto something part. On a restaurant list recently- there it was: Sean Thackery’s Pleades XXV Old Vines Table Wine, California, ($50.00 restaurant, $25.00 retail). If Josh is dressed down farmer corporate, and Kermit Lynch is hippie made good, then Sean Thackery is total California Outsider Artist extraordinaire. He happens also to delve into astrology.

What a resume! Reed College, Portland, Oregon dropout (see James Beard and Steve Jobs, both quasi-alums ), art gallery owner and voyager after old vine vineyards that produce seriously interesting grapes.  Pleades XXV is just that. It is a field blend of Sangiovese, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Mourvedre. He hunts among old vineyards and blends what he chooses to be the finest grapes. “It’s like a chef’s special. You trust the chef, so you are prepared to order the dish of the day”. We paired it up with smoked salmon and I wrote on the bar napkin “drinks like a $100.00 Pinot Noir”. They can lead you, you can lead you, or you can just stumble on something extraordinary- it is a great ride.

( EDITOR’S NOTE:  Layne can be reached at lvwitherell@gmail.com for talks and consulting. His blogs are at http:// winemaniacs.wordpress.com/blog.

Next month we will explore the mysterious world of “Natural Wine”. It is a subject that provokes passion on both sides of the wine aisle: from the leading proponents like Alice Fairing “ chemical agriculture is wrong” to its detractors like the wine critic Robert Parker “it is one of the major scams being foisted on the wine consumer”. Or to paraphrase the great wine writer Jancis Robinson: Natural wines are hunting dogs, commercially made wines are lap dogs. Stay tuned.

 

NEW ORLEANS Part 2

NEW ORLEANS Part 2

Palm Court Jazz Café- featuring both a great gumbo as well as traditional jazz in an authentic setting. The Second Line Arts and Antiques is across the street for that authentic funky, local gift.

Bayou Wine Garden- we caught a crawfish boil (you have to have lucky timing) together with a delicious Muscadet on tap. Sitting across from a woman peeling and eating 100 crawfish to my four or so was what is referred to in the sports world as “a clinic”.

Wayward Owl Brewing Co. It is hysterical how EVERYONE takes credit for the creation of intensely hoppy ales. Theirs is just that. Well made, hoppy and local. A place located in an old movie theatre complete with the popcorn vibe and lots of beer pub games.

Café Degas- A Gourmet Magazine rated classic for brunch. Quiche anyone? With an excellent wine list featuring Chanson red Burgundy by the glass. Pure class in a garden setting.

Checkpoint Charlie- On Frenchtown Road. You can rent a party bus, flat car, sidecar, or any motor device to party it up and down this Frat House dream street. Checkpoint Charlie (if you are old enough to know the Viet Nam war reference) is a perfect listening post bar for all the mayhem.

St. Louis Cemetery #1 is a book a reservation tour of New Orleans that you must take. The history, romance, voodoo, a psychedelic scene from the movie Easy Rider, and last, but not least, the monumental pyramid eventual last resting place of the actor Nicolas Cage (complete with female fans lipstick kisses).

Old Absinthe House- a pit stop for your carry in the street absinthe beverage of choice. Don’t smack your head on one of the ancient ceiling hanger football helmets.

Mahoney’s Po Boy- the food is just average, the drinks are good and the beer is cold. The comment that appears on all of the mindless social media sites praises the service. It is great. No, better than great.  I asked if she had a card, of course she does. It reads Normeka Ageous “actress” normekaa@gmail.com. She captivates the tip right out of your wallet with charm and outrageous wit. This place is worth a stop for her alone.

Déjà vu- another little wonderful dive bar in the French Quarter. This is where you go for the strong cup of coffee, a greasy taco and a Bloody Mary. They aim to please.

Napoleon House- First stop, last stop. Authentic muffuletta sandwiches and the original Pimms Cup #1 in an ancient setting that feels like Napoleon just left the building.

Mardi Gras Indians- the highlight of our entire year was the accidental encounter with all of the Mardi Gras Indians in their neighborhood parading for their fans. The official date got rained out and the chief chose another. See my facebook page for the pictures. This is as spectacular as local is allowed to get.

If you don’t luck out and have Eric Green as a guide the Frommer’s New Orleans 2018 is good. Immediately upon our return, I interlibrary loaned a book that I am roaring through: Kingdom of Congo to Congo Square by Jeroen Dewulf, a brilliant study on the African origins of the traditions of the Wardi Gras Indians. Can’t wait to go back.