CLASSIC CHEAPIES

These are the wines that I refer to as my “Wednesday Nite Pizza Pours”. Actually, in this day and age, you can most likely experience good technology, fun flavors and reasonable price, all at the same time. What you will not get is a transformative experience. After all, it is Wednesday nite, and it is an unassuming pizza fresh out of the box paired with simple wines.
Grenache:
In Spain the grape is called Garnacha and it winds up fashionably featured on labels and in blends. It used to be relegated to the anonymous carafe on your table in a local Spanish restaurant. It all changed with Evodia ($8.99), an ancient vine discovery that upped the game and flavors of the grape. Older vines simply translate to more complexity. The search for old vines in Spain continues.
The rest of Spain jumped onto their enthusiastic revival of a neglected grape. Affordable quaffing grenache are readily available.
Monte Ducay, Carinena, $6.99. A high-quality Co-op that wraps its bottles in bright yellow paper. More complexity than you would expect for the money. Bodegas San Valero is famous as a leader in technical modernization. One of the first co-ops to send the kids to winemaking schools in the 40’s and 50’s.
Mariscal El Miracle Old Vine Garnacha Tintorera, Valencia, $6.99. “Old vine” is the operative word. Juicy and delicious. The beauty of the grape is that it tastes of both strawberries, raspberries and a little leather. Do look at the alcohol content on labels as grenache can ripen up to a whooping 16% alcohol. Just eat more pizza and hydrate.
Grenache by another name: Cotes du Rhone
There are tons of pizza worthy Rhone wines out there. Rhone’s are plentiful and reasonable. Guigal. Chapoutier and Perrin are big names in quality basic Rhone, but not for big bucks.
Andre Brunel Rhone, $8.00. Juicy, luscious, hint of blackberry, they are built for the short run. Drink them fresh and young.
Pinot Noir:
Pepperwood Pinot Noir, Chile, $6.99. Usually, it is not a great idea to look for pinot noir for under ten dollars. This is an excellent case in point. It washes down red sauce, if that is your goal.
Tisdale Pinot Noir, California, $5.00. If you are fishing on the bottom shelf, this is a well-made, reasonable find. Tastes like a pinot with a bit of cabernet splash. Back label: Modesto is the home of Ernest and Julio Gallo, the world’s largest wine producer. Lots of their wines out there.
Mark West Pinot Noir, California, $10.00. We were staring at being stranded in New Orleans, sleeping in an airport chair, with all flights to Newark recently canceled. My wife, Judy, got us a flight to Atlanta. To airport celebrate we had lunch at an over priced gate 20 restaurant. The two glasses of Mark West Pinot Noir at $17.50 each were divine. Later in the week at home we had a bottle with homemade fresh tuna poke. The wine was not so much. Wine is as much about the occasion as the quality.
Montepulciano:
Villa Cerena, Montepulciano d ‘Abruzzo, $5.00-7.00. Rich, slurpy, fatness. It can be an intense, cuts through the sauce red, or a splash in the glass. The Cerena is a very drinkable, enjoyable version. Mascarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo at $10.00 is a good pizza wine find. More body than the Cerena. A lovely grape in all areas of the price spectrum.
Different Pizzas:
A topping of sweet peppers and onions are ideal to pair with Oyster Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, $10.00-12.00. The lush grapefruit overtones of the New Zealand sauvignon blanc washes up against the sweetness of the pizza. A Bordeaux Blanc at $10.00 has a soothing effect and calms down the deliciousness on top of the pizza. A good example is Ch. Seguin at $8.00-9.00.
Vegan with crushed cashew nuts instead of cheese. Cocobon Red Blend, California, $7.00. A Nutella like set of flavors. Soft, plumy, with a hint of toffee and cocoa.

New Categories:
There is a new world out there called “The Wine Club”. They come in all prices and shapes. Wineries, wine pros and wine wannabies all participate in this interactive sport. I bring this up because now, more than ever there are new uniformed people getting “into” wine. A classic example is a bottle given to me recently by a knowledgeable friend. He purchased a Karen Birmingham Petite Syrah Reserve Selection, Lodi. Calif. 2017. It was a wine club purchased wine and while well made it tasted like it should be drunk from a sippie cup at a kid’s soccer match. Price? A monthly funding to an emerging wine maker who supplies you with exclusive insider wines at no risk. WOW. Of course, they algorithm your taste buds with orders. Just push the button marked “Sign me up”. Bring your own pizza or have it delivered via drone to the game, your choice.
The problem with cheapie wines is that hopefully you get what you pay for. You should be looking for a wine to wash down your pizza. Want a transcendent experience- open your wallet a little wider.
There is a recent book by Jon Bonne The New Wine Rules that sums it all up.
“First, most wine is very well made-far better than it was twenty-five years ago.”
“Most of all, one key rule: speak up as soon as you think something’s wrong. The customer who tries to bring back or send back a half-finished bottle is the customer who doesn’t get welcomed back”.

(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/)

He will be doing wine events at Port City Blue 650A Congress St. “Layne’s Wine Gig” is a talk and tasting (four pours $12.00) and is a rollicking standup. It is the 2nd Friday of every month from 4:30-5:30. Call them at 774-4111 for info.).

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FAVORITE WINE WRITERS

Since it is a near physical impossibility to either turn off your smart phone or stay away, as it is a wonderland of precious (and some less than precious) wine information. The ratings in the Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator magazines and websites are manna to the wine lover. Equally addictive is Vivino, that obsessive little app that with a single picture of a label tells price, rating and makes you a super trendy consumer. Someday there will be an app that you trot into a restaurant that renders the sommelier a relic.

After 40 plus years in the wine biz (20 plus in writing), the ultimate yawner is reading about that snappy little pinot blanc that accompanies all seafood dishes. I am continually in search of writer’s work that make the subject come alive and create excitement. Here are my favorites:

ERIC ASIMOV: NEW YORK TIMES

This is my Wednesday morning prayer meeting read over a cup of coffee. Sure, you will seldom find any of these wines for sale in your home town wine store, but he empowers them with great stories and conviction-and great writing. Recent articles:

Dec.17, 2019 He pulls retsina (the Greek wine you love to hate) from being a gag reflex to a sought-after dinner companion.

Jan. 10, 2019 “The Supreme Court May Change the Way you Buy Wine”. Will your wine drop out of the sky on a drone? Stay tuned.

Feb. 4th,2019 “Supermarket Wines are Poured and Worlds Collide”. He assigned his readers to try three very popular wines: Apothic, Meiomi and the Prisoner and report back. “Calm understanding was not the order of the day. Instead of a learning exercise, the assignment became a noisy collision of worlds that do not usually meet.” A fascinating look at who we are “revealing insights about the divisions in American wine culture and the powerful emotions they stir up.” You can just substitute “American culture “if you wish . A must read.

JANCIS ROBINSON: LONDON FINANCIAL TIMES

A friend brings me copies of this precious little pink newspaper. While going through my study this morning, I have unearthed hundreds of back issues of her columns. Think Asimov will break you into tears of yearning, wait till you read Jancis. She is a 60’ish Brit who has traveled, tasted and commented on the entire world of wine. And, she is not afraid to speak her mind.

March 11, 2017. “Bordeaux Grows Up”. “The merchants are a curmudgeonly bunch”. A piece on the long overdue modernization of their growing practices and wine flavors, not to mention attitudes and prices.

Sept. 21,2018 “The Truth About Animal Free Wines”. Tips for people who want to get their vegan on.

Oct. 27, 2017 “The Cape of Good Hopes”. The wine industry has mastered and perfected that old timey carnival act called “The Dog and Pony Show”. I have been on all sides of this little wine promotion extravaganza, from the vineyard tractor ride through the ancient and rare “I” block of the Mondavi Winery while drinking a glass of its nectar, to a one on one winemaker tour of Chateau Mouton and Domaine Romanee Conti (fabled estates). I too have conducted these little performances at Monticello in Virginia.

Which brings me to this article. It sums up the entire “Dog and Pony Show “world. She cuts through it like a knife. Why, after visiting and falling in love with your favorite vacation winery discoveries  (in this case South Africa), are there none to be found at your favorite stores? Little promotion money. Too low grape prices, too low labor costs, bulk selling too many wines, too many years on the bottom shelf. The things they don’t tell you in the tasting room or on the tour bus. She does offer hope.

MATT KRAMER ENFANT TERRIBLE

If Jancis Robinson is the Beatles, then Matt is clearly the Rolling Stones. Or, in their rarified circles the Bach Contatas vs. Stravinski. Matt began in the 1970’s as a take no prisoners restaurant critic for a small paper in Portland, Oregon. He quickly honed his wine chops.

For over 25 years he plied his trade as Diogenes in residence for the world’s best-selling wine magazine- the Wine Spectator. While they cultivated glamorous lifestyle wine living Matt burrowed into the deep end and sometimes muddy waters of the subject. He recently either resigned (was fired) or just parted ways causing ripples in the wine writing and blogging world. Had he just run out of gas in that acerbic tank or did the culture of soccer mom/part time real estate franchisees selling wine club memberships like Tupperware exhaust him? We may never know for sure. One thing we will know for sure is that he wrote a handful of books on the subject that will live long after he is gone. Hugh Johnson. The guru of wine gurus called him “an intellectual guerilla among wine writers. The following books are, I believe to be “Matt’s greatest hits”.

Making Sense of Burgundy, Quill, 1990.

This is two books under a single cover. Thinking Burgundy, pages 21-81 and Drinking Burgundy, the other 400 plus pages. He will be remembered for that controversial first part, the chapter “The Notion of Terroir”, the unique place on the planet where man, site and plant meet and commune together producing greatness. His attack on ego driven winemakers is still highly controversial, with metaphysical Matt at his best.

Matt Kramer’s Making Sense of Italian Wine, Running Press, 2006

His chapter on Bella Figura (the beautiful gesture) digs deep into the Italian psyche. After all, that is what Matt Kramer is all about.

You can read them at your leisure, even while enjoying that little pinot blanc that compliments all seafood dishes. There is a whole world out there.

(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/.

He will be doing wine events at Port City Blue 650 A Congress St., Portland “. Layne’s Wine Gig” is a tasting, rollicking standup beginning Feb. 8th from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Every 2nd Friday of the month. There will be merch. Call them at 774-4111 for info.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FEBRUARY

When the month of February comes to mind, we usually think of cold weather, Valentine’s Day, more cold weather and trying to keep up with some of those New Year’s promises we made.

The first promise is that a steaming pot of stew greets us when we get bummed out over the ice, piled on with snow, followed by that, oh so deadly and slick to the touch, top layer of ice. Nice. The wine to have while inhaling the stew and trying to force a smile is Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon from Michael David, 2016, Lodi, $20.00. The label is enough to make you smile by itself. It is a multicolored Sargent Pepperesque carnival complete with strongman and the entire sprawling cast of characters. The flavor of black currants and olives invigorates both you and the stew. This is a wildly flavorful wine. Life just got a little easier. Michael David does a terrific zin as well as a petite syrah, but the cabernet packs the mid-February wallop that you need with your stew.

For promises made, there is always Whispering Angel Rose, 2017, Provence, $20-$25.00. It is onion skin clear, with a delicate fragrance of roses. Close your eyes and it is summer. Rose, once a seasonal treat that vanished the moment after Labor Day, is going to stick around. The 2018’s should be appearing soon. This alerts you that spring isn’t quite so far away, and there is still hope. Lay out some prosciutto and melon on a platter with some grilled shrimp to make it seem a bit like summer. This can be a little intro. to Valentine’s Day dinner. There are tons of delicious roses out there with many more coming in 2019. They are both to drink and easy to love.

If you must have that most dreaded of popular knee jerk attractions- pinot grigio-at least spend some money and get the real thing. Jermann Pinot Grigio, 2016, $20.00. This is the best stuff. It is dry, aromatic and has a zingy freshness that is a serious leap above what you get when you shell out ten bucks a glass in a restaurant for a cheesy no name pinot grigio. Or, you can just flap your arms in your local restaurant and say, “glass of pinot grigio over here”. Your choice.

Silvio Jermann is in far northern Italy, near the Slovenian border north of Venice. He is breathtakingly idiosyncratic. He ups his game when many are comfortable to tag along with the rest of the pack. He blended chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, ribolla gialla, malvasia and picolit, naming it Vintage Tunina (after the poorest of Casanova’s lovers, a housekeeper in Venice). It created a sensation and sold for serious bucks. Not to be content with resting on his laurels, he created barrel aged chardonnays, giving them fanciful names like “Where the Dreams Have No End”. And you just thought that you were going to be happy drinking any old pinot grigio- think again. In the region they accompany the wine with the freshest of fish, crudo or lightly sautéed.

We were out and about in Portland and spied this on a local wine list. Domaine Sambardier Beaujolais Villages “Vielles Vignes”, 2016, $36.00. If you think that I am down on pinot grigio, wait for the Beaujolais attack. The region is Beaujolais in France, the grape is gamay (called locally gamay noir a jus blanc). There is nothing wrong with all of that EXCEPT for the tsunami that erupted in the 1970’s called Beaujolais Nouveau. It is a mid-November release of the freshest, fruitiest little creature right out of the vat to be consumed immediately in copious quantities. It reached the point where the hysteria of the arrival of the fresh fruity wine far outdistanced any interesting flavors in your glass for the money.

Today most of the “hoopla” has subsided and Beaujolais must pick itself back up as a quality wine. There are very few estates that produce the best Beaujolais with most labels in the hands of quality shippers. That is the reason that the Sambardier old vine Beaujolais came as such a shock. It had the color and flavor of bright cherries and raspberries with juicy softness together with depth. It should be served with a slight chill and served with sausage, various charcuterie, mild cheese or fish, especially in a red sauce.

Another reason that Beaujolais is under the radar is the emergence of quality everyday pinot noir from the Central Coast of California, Oregon and New Zealand. They have filled in the $12.00-$15.00 retail slots that Beaujolais had abdicated. With producers like Sambardier appearing it is time to breath a sigh of relief and order the wines again.

But wait: there is another thing out there in the cold knocking at the door to come in. They are the crus. The crus are the individually named villages that are both a step up in quality and price. Just in time for Valentine’s Day is St. Amour, followed by Regnie, Moulin-a-Vent (the full bodied one), Morgon, Julienas, Fleurie, Cote de Brouilly, Chirouble, Chenas, and Brouilly. They range from $15-$30.00 and each have different personalities.

Have a warm, happy February

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

He will be doing wine events at Port City Blue 650A Congress St. “Layne’s Wine Gig” is a talk and tasting with wine, a rollicking standup beginning 8th February from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Every 2nd Friday of the month. There will be merch. Call them at 774-4111 for info.

 

 

 

THE SUNDAY BRUNCH

I am sure that all of you are familiar with that classic country song “I’m so hungover, I think I’m gonna die “ Sunday Brunch can either be a very low rent event with the hope of elevating you to something just a little better, or a glorious celebration of the fact that it is a day that you can do whatever you want.

TOMASSO’S CANTEEN, 18 Hampshire St, Portland, Maine. The real deal locals bar in the age of gentrification. “Compact, down to earth neighborhood bar”. After sliding up to the bar and sitting next to the old timers in their vintage Carhart’s and weathered watch caps, nursing Nasty Gansets and shot glasses filled with unidentifiable brown liquids, your Nor’easter of a hangover hopefully, is beginning to subside. Their hash is a golden grease laden goo of life saving comfort that you can accompany with a glass of Porta 6 red wine right out of the spigot from the 3 Liter box on the bar.

At $5.00 for a large glass, this easy going red from Portugal is nectar beside the hot, steaming hash. You could say “hey, this is a delightful blend of 50% Aragones, 40%Castelao and 10% Touriga National grapes”, but then it wouldn’t be Tomasso’s, now would it? Damn, it tastes just like a French Beaujolais. Could I get a koozie with that?

CHAVAL, 58 Pine Street, Portland, Maine. For hungover Sunday, I enjoy their breakfast buns (or avocado toast for the hipster set). Their beverages of electricity are their superb selection of that forgotten beverage- Spanish Sherry. They are a Spanish restaurant, after all.  When was the last time you had a rare “Palo Cortado” (Gonzalez Byass), $7.00 a glass? “Nobody fully understands its origin” (Sherry Institute). The cellar masters must root through casks to find this rare and delicious sherry. Dry? Sweet? Unctuous? All at the same time. You can sit at their fancy bar, wearing your best flamenco hat, while transporting yourself in your mind to the Plaza de Toro’s in Sevilla. You could bring along that culinary masterpiece Adventures in Taste: The Wines and Folk Foods of Spain by D.E.Pohren, the 1972 edition. Required reading is the Author’s Preface “I must confess that on occasion, one or another of my organs has had cause for open rebellion. Spokesman for the group is my liver, who familiarly calls me “boss” and who is not above the most outspoken criticism when it feels it is being abused.” Cool Sunday.

PETITE JACQUELINE, 46 Market St., Old Port, Portland, Maine. This is where you go after you open your Saturday mail and discover that your 401K just took off in value. It isn’t an expensive place, unless you want it to be, after spending Saturday nite genuflecting over your newfound riches. Traitor’s Eggs (poached eggs, Maine lobster, Hollandaise sauce, spinach on English muffin) $24.00 is my idea for a dish to celebrate the event. Lobster over the top of perfect sauce and gooey eggs deserves special accompaniment. Time for the wine: this is one of the great small French wine list creations you are likely to encounter. It shows care, thought and precision. The hard part is to not get a terrific wine from this list. “The French didn’t invent wine, they just perfected it” (me).

Since you are in a celebratory mood, we can bag the idea of wines by the glass and head directly to bottles (by the way, bring friends).

Nicolas Potel Macon- Villages (chardonnay), 2013, $38.00 bottle. Good introduction to the white wine of the Burgundy region. No oak, light, crisp with a bit of minerals in its flavor. Like a magician showing you a simple magic trick. Good with the dish.

Albert Bichot Montagny (1st Cru) (chardonnay), 2014, $60.00. You have just moved a step up from Macon. The flavors are more defined, the vineyards are better placed. Better with the dish.

Matrot Meursault (chardonnay), 2016, $90.00. Burgundy is defined by place name and producer- paying attention to both won’t save you money (come’on, they are expensive), but if you do your Burgundian due diligence, you can get a much better bottle for the same bucks. The wine brings the flavors of almonds, apples, butter, citrus, hazelnuts, with your lobster and Hollandaise sauce crying all over the plate in a fit of glorious ecstasy. Give it another five years of bottle age and you won’t be able to crawl out of the restaurant due to your wine induced emotional fatigue. (NOTE: I do wish that they would put that astonishing Bourgogne Blanc by Matrot back as a glass pour. Best $11.00 bucks spent. Just saying.)

If your guests want a bit less intense wine brunch experience, you can tone it down a notch.

Eugene Meyer Pinot Blanc, Alsace, 2016, $35.00. Pinot blanc from Alsace is both dry and a little quieter than the Burgundies. They are crisp, delicate and soothing and act as a palate cleanser to both lobster and sauce since there is no Freudian obsession with the flavor of earth here as exists in Burgundy.

Just in case someone wants a duck confit crepe ($13.00), there is the M. Chapoutier Cotes du Rhone by the glass at $9.00. It is mostly grenache grapes and is totally juicy, delicious, cool weather warming wine. The grenache is one of the most user-friendly grapes with duck confit. FYI- they have the iconic IPA Maine Beer Co. Lunch on tap continuously, for the beer geek in your life.

Aside from our 401K thank you brunch, we have attended several of their special regional food and wine pairing dinners. They are awesome.

(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/. He will be doing wine events at Port City Blue 650 A Congress St. “Layne’s Wine Gig” is a tasting, rollicking standup beginning February 8th from 4:30-5:30 P.M. Every 2nd Friday of the month. There will be merch. Call them at 774-4111 for info.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR IN REVIEW: Best wines and dishes of 2018

“Wine snobs will never yield the point, but food-if you get it just right with the wine-is the great leveler”. Red Wine with Fish by David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson is a glorious out of print masterpiece that was written in 1985- fifteen years before Anthony Bourdain’s groundbreaking book Kitchen Confidential. There were no “foodies”, no Instagram pictures, just two guys from New York City discovering what it was like to live like a European in the land of the green bean casserole. I grew up in a family where the corkscrew was unearthed every year to have with our bottle of Blue Nun. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Our 2018 faves represent dishes paired with wines from either home or in local restaurants in our fair city of Portland, Maine. If it’s a fit, lets replace the word “foodie” with “culinary adventurer”.  The wines should be available locally. Just ask.

SMOKED SALMON AND MANCHEGO CHEESE APPETIZER AT HOME:

Domaine Sainte Remy Pinot Noir, 2016, Alsace, $20.99 bottle retail. Yeah, I have drunk better pinot noir in 2018, but this wine exists courtesy of global warming. The equivalent from the hallowed vineyards of Burgundy will set you back-way back- in money. Alsace has always produced steely whites. This is a game bird meets wild mushroom style pinot that excites the senses. A total bargain. Be on the lookout for lighter styled delicious Pinot Noir like this from Alsace and Germany.

RIB EYE DINNER AT HOME SUNDAY NITE

BORDEAUX. The Wine Enthusiast Magazine just named their #1 2018 pick Ch. Lafite Rothschild, 2015, $700.00 bottle retail. “Drink from 2027, but that would be too soon”. For Bordeaux you need either unrivaled patience, a decanter, an aerator, or both, and an hour or so. We are so impatient! Our pick of the year for the money was Ch. Roudier, Montagne St. Emilion, 2014, $15.00 bottle retail. If you choose to dig a bit deeper into your wallet there are, among many others, Chateau Grand Puy Ducasse,2015, Pauillac, (5th growth), $35-$40.00 bottle. This wine announces to you through multi- layers of complexity why you gleefully parted with your money. A wine grown and crafted for food. You can scurry about and purchase lovely 2014’s, 2015’s and 2016 vintage Bordeaux for $20.00 to $40.00 a bottle retail. Just go for it, the rib eye will love you for it as well.

ROMA CAFÉ: ANCIENT ROMAN WINE DINNER: November 1st, 2018.

Whew, if the Braised rabbit with boar shoulder served over fresh pasta paired with Terredora Aglianico (a kick ass red from Campania) doesn’t make you think of that night dining in Rome- nothing will. The city of Pompeii went bye, bye in 79 AD and it wasn’t until the 1940’s that the Mastroberardino family resurrected the long-forgotten grapes. Their entire range of the grapes of the ancient Romans encompasses Fiano di Avellino, Falanghina and the Roman mouthwatering classic Greco di Tufo. Toga optional.

CENTRAL PROVISIONS: Foie Gras Custard

What better way to enter the realm of the far out in dining than a bottle of Vina Gravonia Reserve Blanco, 2005, by R. Lopez de Heredia, Rioja, $60.00 bottle. As the wine slightly warms it tastes of lanolin filtered through the finest Irish butter. A Magical combo. The staff had to crawl around in the basement to locate the bottle (probably the owner’s cache), but they did give me an extra-large portion of Foie Gras custard, it being my birthday and all. In a world where you mostly stick your face in your phone for instant gratification, the R. Lopez de Heredia winery practices patience, old style wine making combined with long bottle age before release.

THE YEAR OF THE OYSTER:

This was their year, because we love them. Unconditionally. Also, you cannot write about 2018 without including a rose. It also provides a perfect segue. Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Rose, 2017, $20.00 bottle retail. Refreshingly ethereal with the wines electrical energy of minerals to accompany the oyster. Sancerre, that flinty Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley in France, is getting blisteringly pricey. This is an ideal way to combine the two.

EMILISTA: Get your Greek on with their Mediterranean octopus starter (drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice and oregano).

Sadly, we are still stuck in Malbec land with an occasional foray into the Primitivo grape, so Chris Ziagos from RSVP brought me up to date about the mysterious world of long-lost Mediterranean grapes. Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko (75%) and Athiri (25%) are a foray into the island of Santorini that for $20.00 retail will “put you in a taverna with a view of the Aegean”. So, you think the Pompeiians had it rough? The Santorinians (I guess they were called that in 1,800 BC), had the top of their volcano blow up leaving them with a virtual moonscape to grow grapes. Today, we worship those volcanic zip codes. The wine has the lemony aromas of the dish with the richness to speak to the octopus.

RABBIT SAUSAGE WITH FENNEL FROM OTHERSIDE DELI

You can also do a sauté of wild mushrooms (make sure you have a relative who is a certified mycologist with you). Ceppaiolo Rosso del Pu, Umbria, 2015, $30.00 retail. There have been lots of prehistoric cave paintings discovered recently and the Pu (excuse me, if I get personal) reminds me of the wine our forebears would have drunk as they gleefully put ochre on their cave walls and themselves. The vineyard consists of 4 rows of ancient vines; no Napa wine train here! I tend to shy away from uber nervy, no Sulphur, biodynamic, high profit margin for all, kinds of trendy little things, but this wine is different. It is rare and authentic.

PIZZA TO GO: YOUR FAVORITE STYLE AND PLACE

After a hard day’s work nothing is better than a piping hot, out of the oven slice. You always need to keep on hand an emergency bottle of pizza friendly wine. Cline Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, California $10.00 retail or Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel, Calif. $10.00 retail (Wine Enthusiast #1 value wine of the year). Chewy, juicy dry plums and raspberries. This is the classic of “food-if you get it just right with the wine- is the great leveler”.

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

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.

 

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.)