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.

 

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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.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

NEW ORLEANS

How do you go for the first time to the joie de vivre colossus that is “The Big Easy”? We lucked out. Our friend, and swampiest blues musician ever, Eric Green, offered us a weeklong tour and look through his eyes at his favorite haunts. You can’t say no to that. He took us on the tour we couldn’t have done ourselves, visiting places that were both funky, fun and totally local haunts.

Little Gem Saloon: Where Jazz began. The home to early Louis Armstrong, morphing in the 1950’s into the Blue Heaven lounge (the name says it all), and today a great restoration for authentic music and good food (not to forget the bottomless mimosa for $12.00). Little Freddie King, snappiest blues musician ever in his red suit and red Gibson guitar tore it up with some John Lee Hooker. Billed as “ His Royal Highness”, Little Freddie is the real deal.

Port of Call: A small restaurant on Esplanade that serves up a remarkable burger or steak. The wait is an hour outside. The reason I mention this is that it is the easiest wait ever. They offer a $12.00 32 ounce plastic cup “Hurricane” with 151 proof rum. By the time you walk inside, you are all chill.

Jacque-Imo’s: No, we didn’t forget to eat some Cajun. Classic Creole cuisine with lots of alligator- an archetype, the alligator sausage cheesecake. Before we break into the typical tourist whine “sorry we can’t get that here refrain” just go to Hot Suppa on Congress St. in Portland for the real thing and shut up. Moses does his food homework. The book to carry on the plane is Gumbo Tales by Sarah Roahen.

Maple Leaf Bar: Next door to Jacque-Imo’s and as unassuming as it gets. The place is a hangout for great local musicians, a bar where music rules. They greeted Eric like the return of the Ninja.

WWOZ:  Eric, together with Matt Hodge, played a live show on the famed station for Blues and Jazz. It is at http://www.wwoz.org/listen/archive/show.php?date=2018-04-07&time=12AM

Thanks to Jennifer Brady for letting me sit in!

Ms Maes: Want to see a dive bar complete with “Goodfellows” on the tv and a bottle of Korova Milk Bar Peanut Butter Milk Stout in front of you? In case you have forgotten, that is THE Korova Milk Bar from A Clockwork Orange. Talk about social media, even they have a web site!

Antoines: Let’s get uptown. This is 1840’s New Orleans the moment you step into the door. The setting, ambiance, and food are pure 1840. Do cancel your YELP subscription (is there one?) in that you must take this place as it is. There is no Bali street food aesthetic, no nod to modernity. Our 3 course lunch of char broiled oysters, fried drum (or seafood and grits) and pecan bread pudding washed down with little lemonade martini for 25 cents for $20.18 per person (with several extra glasses of wine, a great Emmolo Merlot and William Fevre Chablis at $15.00 a glass ) was about the tariff of a usual Sunday brunch. It is a privilege to have places like this on the planet, much less a stone’s throw from the 24/7 lunacy of Bourbon Street. Take your choice.

Brand Art Gallery: Contemporary and local. Great spot for art.

Pascale Manale Restaurant: Local oysters as big as your fist and old school Italian in menu and décor, complete with paper bibs for the bar b que shrimp- the world’s sloppiest shrimp.

Peche: A famed James Beard winner seafood restaurant that was recommended by Jennifer from WWOZ. You just ask the wait person what they would have (local fish, hello!) and stand back for greatness. What struck me during a deep look into the wine list and questions with the wine person about their philosophy was that It wasn’t the tourist trophy hunter list, heavy with expensive Caymus, Stag’s Leap and the Wine Spectator flavor of the month wines, nor was it the hipster’s biodynamic dude- making wines in a giant concrete cave from obscure grapes. This was a connoisseurs list. The more you looked and knew the better it got both in quality and price. Prices averaged from $45.00-$100.00 a bottle with a few absolute ringers thrown in. Sadly, it isn’t on line, so here are some faves.

Chardonnay, Macon-Fuisse “old vines” Vincent Girardin, 2015 $11.00 glass or $55.00 bottle. Excellent house wine pick.

Grenache Blanc Blend, Chateauneuf du Pape, Clos St. Jean, 2015, $90.00. You don’t see these often.

Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Alexana 2015 $9.00 glass $45.00 bottle. A great restaurant deal.

Trousseau, Russian River Valley, Wind Gap $50.00. French grape made in Calif.

Chardonnay, Saint-Romaine, Alain Gras, 2014 $105.00. An off the beaten path Burgundy.

If price were no object, there are two wines on the list that are masterpieces: The bucket list wines.

Chardonnay, Meursault 1st Cru “Clos des Boucheres Monopole ” Dom. Roulot, 2013 $580.00 bottle.

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Valentini 2012, Abruzzo $290.00

We saw 22 spots in 5 days; this is a 24/7 city. Next week part 2 of New Orleans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BORDEAUX, WOO,WOO

BORDEAUX, WOO, WOO

The nattily attired businessman in London and New York had the same feeling in the 1980’s about the great vintages of the wines of Bordeaux that the Aztec emperor Ahuitzotl felt while drinking sacred cocoa in 1487 while standing atop the Great Temple Pyramid of Tenochtitlan. Pure elation. Nothing for the bespoke business moguls quite beats pouring and genuflecting over bottles of famed chateaus like La Mission Haut Brion ( 1982 at $1,259 or the 1955 at $2,495 per bottle), while the crowd below bursts into applause.

By the year 2000 the New York somms had pretty much replaced Bordeaux (nick named Bore-dough) with sexy newly discovered, barely pronounceable, new grapes like treixudura , nero mascalese and trousseau, to name but a few. Somewhere in the middle of this tale lies the true reality.

Bordeaux in South West France is comprised of over 200,000 acres of vineyard, mostly cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc grapes. Their claim to fame are red wines from over 7,000 chateau- some grand, many not so much. Eighty percent of Bordeaux ranges from $10.00-$35.00 per bottle. Vintages are a reality based on climate at harvest and the juggling of three grapes at different ripening times. And…Bordeaux is, and always has been, even back to 1487, a commercial place that sells wine. The words “vintage of the century” spill from the mouths of the locals as you empty your wallet.

“The cycle goes something like this. A reasonable harvest follows a poor year in Bordeaux. One or two not disinterested parties tell a few gullible journalists that it is the vintage of the decade. Excitement mounts. The next year becomes the vintage of the century and demand goes mad. Prices double.” Simon Loftus. Always be wary if you are prepared to spend the big bucks and decide to become a collector. Hint: the 2010 and 2015 vintages are the view from the temple.

Then there is food:  Burgers and fries, tacos with some fresh made chips and high quality ground beef, don’t forget the salsa . Or, if you are a vegetarian, you can grill up some veggies like kale or zucchini and the wine will be just fine. The basic Bordeaux is a great place to start. Beginners Bordeaux: Chateau de Seguin, Bordeaux Superieur, 2015, $12.00-$15.00. Wines with higher tannin in the grape skins (think tea) equals pondering and aging. In this case there is that famous hint of cedar. Open it, pour it, enjoy it. A bit less fruity than a California red, but that is what Bordeaux is. It should taste like a place.

Ch. Roudier, Montagne St. Emilion, 2012, $15.00. We move to Bordeaux merlot land with this wine. It is delicious. Merlot based wines are perfect with Asian dishes and sauces. These wines always need a little air to open up. No pretension here, just pour it into a pitcher and serve at cool room temperature. No  special glasses needed. Buy two bottles.

There are 23,000 acres of these delicious wines from this part of Bordeaux, many are priced at below $20.00.

Chateau Tayac, Margaux, 2015 $25.00. We are moving up a zip code in quality. Like buying a house Bordeaux is location, location, location and you get to pay for it. This is bold and tannic. Buy a decanter, or aerator if you are going to get into these wines. Also, a cellar. Go out and buy a cellar right now. No, wait, there are these wine fridges that do all of that for you. You will see with the Chateau Tayac why people do all of these crazy wine gyrations, and you are only out $25.00 bucks. This is bold rib eye material, as well as lamb, pheasant and duck. Open for an hour.

Just down the street is this awesome house that has a better view, address, bedrooms and more square feet. This is Chateau Brane Cantenac, Margaux, 2014, $50.00. Want to see why things are priced the way they are- put them side by side. No, wait. This one needs to be opened for from 2 to 3 hours to strut it’s stuff. This is why you spent the extra money on the new house. For all that cedar and graphite covering the walls (of your mouth). The new house simply has more elegance and character. The more flavor that you buy in the glass, the better quality of the food. Quality food, quality wine. You can rest this one for from 10-15 years.

Take the plunge, Bordeaux is experiencing an exciting time of its life on all levels. Global competition is peeking into their window, looking at how they do things, their tech. and plantings. They are getting better. This is not your grandmother’s wine- it is getting closer to that view from the top of the Great Temple Pyramid of Tenochtitlan- woo woo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIRTHDAY BOY

BIRTHDAY BOY

This year, Birthday Boy decided to stay close to home, in the comfort of his zip code, and do a 3 day Birthday Boy Wine and Food Romp.

FRIDAY EVENING: Limbering up the taste buds with some wonderful charcuterie washed down with glasses of happy hour grillo at Lazzari (618 Congress St., Portland, Me.). Poor grillo was the grape singled out to make Marsala in Sicily. Not much of a fate. Today it is a pale, light, refreshingly crisp, $5.00  glass  for happy hour. Yeah, grillo.

SATURDAY EVENING: After the limbering exercise, it is time to get down to business. Birthday Boy chose sushi at home due to avoiding the madness of St.Patty’s day .A wise choice. So many sushi platters, so little time. Birthday Boy is ready to dig in. Two great French wines will accompany the sushi.

Chablis, Premier Cru, Domaine Gautheron, 2015, $30.00. Chablis is a tiny bit of a town in Northern France whose winemaking dates to the 1100’s. They have a unique granite and schist soil and a problem- the name Chablis is easy to pronounce and spell and stick onto an inferior wine from far, far away.

Birthday Boy remembers a tour from a famous grower that ended in his tasting room filled with empty bottles of all the phonies- think pink or ruby Chablis. “This wasn’t my fault” Birthday Boy kept saying. To no avail. The real stuff can be had for from $15.00 to over $100.00 a bottle. The flavor is like the world’s finest lemon squeezed to it’s essence. What guided Birthday Boy was the ever present slice of lemon on a sushi platter. Is this for real or for show? The wine followed each sushi bite along through it’s path of varied and exciting fish and lemon flavors.

Meursault “Les Chavalieres”, 2015, Thierry Matrot, $67.00.  Both of these wines are made from chardonnay grapes, but they write in their own language. While we were merrily throwing down the grillo on Friday night , and next evening drinking the Chablis, Birthday Boy was savoring and thinking about the Meursault and sushi. “If gold were a flavor it would taste like Meursault”( Matt Kramer). Actually, it is more like the greatest toasted hazelnut in the world wrapped in gold. It changes in the glass, revealing tautness and tension; with the salmon and eel it knocks you off your feet. Great wines were never meant to be “tasted”- a 2oz. pour shows you nothing. You need to follow their ebbs and flows in a glass or two.

SUNDAY BRUNCH: Central Provisions (414 Fore Street, Portland, Maine). Birthday Boy chose this place not just because it is celebrated and famous but because it was the day after St Patty’s Day and the hipsters would be slow out of the gate to show up for their 2 hour wait at the door. Actually, Birthday Boy had an ulterior motive- a wine listed on their website. Sources of wine info. are tricky nowadays with an overabundance of wannaby experts in training . Who do you believe? I believe, among a small handful of others, the New York Times. Mostly, they get it.

New York Times, August 10, 2017 “White Rioja Bends the Summer Standard”.  This is an article you put in the box “save for later”.  To be a diligent Birthday Boy you must occasionally wait. They reviewed white wines from the Rioja region of Spain, but one thing stood out- there was a FOUR STAR rating given to one wine. I have NEVER seen them give a four star rating. Viura Vina Gravona, Lopez de Heredia, 2006, white Rioja, $70.00.

Birthday Boy digs in. First dish Tuna Crudo (radish, mustard, sesame, shallot) A very light and elegant raw tuna dish . The first ounce pour out of the bottle is totally oxidized like a Sherry stored too long in the barrel. Slosh the glass around and do a little Birthday Boy prayer. The second course of Bone Marrow toast is good for opening up the senses.  The second pour of 2 ounces is weighty, not light but the oxidation is now blown off. Whew. The third pour opens up a tanginess and delectable quality . The third course of Sri Lanka coconut pancake with egg, cilantro and spices adds a complexity of flavors and a little heat from the spices . By now the food and wine are dancing and the place is filled to overflowing. The forth course of Seared Foie Gras (raspberry, granola, Buddha’s Hand, Whey) is the essence of extremely rich and buttery  . The wine has completely opened up and is “pulsing with energy with a coiled core of minerals.” N.Y.Times. By this time, Birthday Boy knows he is in the presence of greatness. Birthday Boy is very happy.

 

 

 

TURNING GREEN

TURNING GREEN

Wines for St.Patrick’s Day was a piece that I published in the Portland Phoenix on March 17, 2006. It is fun for two reasons: finding it in a box of assorted papers, and that it has held up for lo these years. Several wines have fallen off the planet from the original article.  Here goes.

We are usually forced to endure either beer-specific or wine-specific holidays, with no opportunity for change. But now, for one day only, St. Patty’s Day will be a wine feast.

First, boil up some cabbage. The accompanying wine is the little known and rarely seen Vinho Verde, Casal Garcia $7-8.00. ( NOTE: tastes have changed, and it is wildly popular today). This Portuguese white is actually known as “the green wine”. It is not quite as green as the propylparaben in the food coloring you have been pouring to make your green beer. Vinho Verde tastes like mouth puckering nettles, but when chilled, really chilled, it takes on this cool, edgy, spritzy character. A softer form of nettles.

When you remove the cabbage, throw on a little butter, make that quite a bit. Then marvel at the unlikely flavor combination: the iced and acidic wine with the meltingly hot cabbage are true undiscovered soul mates of St. Patty’s Day. The starter course for a corned beef and cabbage extravaganza.

Corned beef is one of my favorite dishes although I have a difficult time getting past the phosphorescent diesel spill on water look that coats the exterior. And what, after all, is any new wine event without merlot? Or, as Milo, the Paul Giamatti character in the movie Sideways loudly exclaimed “If anyone orders any merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any **** merlot. “(NOTE: merlot, too has changed,  gotten better, and isn’t dissed quite as much. The following wine has not changed in price in 12 years ).

For our little event, we have just the wine. There is no better pedigree than the Concannon Central Coast Merlot, 2015, $10.00. James Concannon, the clan’s paterfamilias, moved the family from Ireland to the Livermore Valley in California in 1883. He was a century early for everything, so he made wine. His claims to fame were the petite syrah grape (which we will cover someday), the making of altar wine during prohibition to keep the winery going, sending a barrel of wine to the pope every five years. Now, that is Irish.

The single best word to describe this wine is fleshy. You could put on weight just by looking at this stuff. The corned beef and the wine wash down, each inviting a bite or sip of the other. This is a good benchmark for a $10.00 merlot.

If we are doing wine on a beer holiday, maybe we can think healthy for a moment. Our find is Bourgogne Cote Chalonnaise ,pinot noir,  by Guy Chauvent 2003, $13.00. I feel healthier just reading the label. It is organic, biodynamic, and Ecocert certified. It should counteract the diesel phosphorescence and give the holiday that fresh health-club workout feeling. (NOTE: I couldn’t find a listing of this winemaker from the original article. I included it because of the rise of the cult of biodynamic- they aren’t $13.00 anymore!).

This dinner is shaping up better than my usual glass of green PBR. But something is missing. When your lower lip begins to uncontrollably quiver, it’s Guinness deprivation syndrome. We need to find a Guinness wine look alike and taste alike. There is this guy in Walla Walla, Washington who puts out a very bold and primitive label with thick black bold words that say “House Wine” together with a simple little house drawing. The Magnificent Wine Company’s gift to St. Patrick’s Day is a mouth filling, ultra-dark yet velvety beast of a wine that can make the uncontrollable quiver stop.

At $10.00 a bottle, filled with 70% Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon, winery founder Charles Smith has created something even the world’s cheapest wine snob will be hovering over in disbelief.

NOTE & NOTE: I have done some editing. One wine from the original article, Fish Eye Cabernet from Australia took a downward spiral from a 750ml bottle on the shelf to a bag in the box. I am not sure what it is like today, or even if it is still around. Charles Smith, my little find from 12 years ago just sold his company for two hundred million dollars, and his prices haven’t changed…yet.

Happy St. Patty’s Day

 

 

RESTAURANT WEEK

Maine Restaurant week is in their 10th year.  For us, every week is restaurant week, not just the anointed time during that first bit of March. My little leather notebook contains the list of 25 (no, make that 26, after last night) restaurants in Portland that we regularly attend and pay homage to. This piece, as they all are, is about wine as a co-equal partner with the food- a lifelong habit. After reviewing every menu from every restaurant we reached the same conclusion: almost all are repackaged menus. Their stated goal is to attract an offseason crowd, as witnessed by the prominent hotel ad placement atop each restaurant listing in the Restaurant Week website. I believe the audience of today is us -the locals. We know this stuff. Changing it up is a necessity we hope they will work on for next year. Ten years ago we couldn’t have imagined a flock of people eagerly settling here from places like San Francisco, Brooklyn and Boston. Hell, they couldn’t either, as many were only 13 at the time this event was conceived. These new transplants know their stuff.

TWO PLACES NOT ON THE LIST OF RESTAURANT WEEK:

LOLITA Vinoteca + Asador  90 Congress Portland

Just breeze in for little bites of their fabulous steak tartare, smoked eggplant, and almonds with sea salt. The wine by the glass selection is good. Too good. You wind up craving a full bottle as their bottle prices are ridiculously reasonably based on today’s usual painful markups in restaurants. You can pleasurably wash down the little nibbles with a bottle of Damilano Barbara d’Asti, 2014, Piedmont, $36.00 bottle. This young, fresh, silky smooth wine is a mere $7.50 a glass, as you do the math.

If you want to pay your respects to a recently departed (too soon) great American winemaker order a bottle of Patricia Green Cellars Reserve Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2015, $50.00. She was a dear friend, great soul, and a great grower and wine crafter. This is what wine is all about, no games or pretention, just sheer love combined with talent.

CONG TU BOT- Washington Ave., Portland. A James Beard nominee for 2018. While not appearing on the Maine Restaurant Week list, you will be lucky to get into this place until the “Beard Mania” settles down. Sit at the bar and observe the precision of the chef’s assembling your dish. This should be an Olympic event. The curry noodle, mushrooms and sauce are a total sensual experience. Their two offered house wines, Morphos, a “pet nat” American hybrid white from Oyster River Winery in Maine, and an Italian Rosso are both perfect wines to have while lounging on your deck and watering the plants, as they don’t lend a whole lot more than refreshment to the food. I will order this sublime dish “to go” and pair it at home with an Alsatian gewürztraminer, a full bodied , oily, lychee scented wine that is ideal with peanuts and curry sauce,  and create the culinary energy that the dish deserves.

LOCAL 188-  685 Congress St., Portland. The true star of creativity and imagination for the week. A Night in Peru ($55.00). 5 courses with accompanying beverages.

Grilled Beef Heart served with a glass of Chicha Morada, a nonalcoholic drink made from purple corn, pineapple, cinnamon, clove and sugar.

Ceviche served with Pisco Punch. The dish is the classic raw Peruvian fish dish, the sushi of Peru. Pisco Punch is powerful, delicious and the lime juice addition perfectly accompanies the ceviche. Rudyard Kipling summed up the drink as “compounded of the shavings of cherubs wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters.” You can’t improve on that.

Empanada de Pollo served with a Peruvian Ginger Sour. The doughy little chicken filled dish is “hot” right now. Everyone wants to try their hand at making one. The Peruvian Ginger sour amps up in flavor from the Pisco punch with an addition of key lime and bitters. I have always admired the bartenders at local 188 from the early days of their award winning Golden Lotus cocktail.

Bistec Especial with Biutiful Malbec (Argentina).  You can see the rare steak from 20 feet away. Beautiful. And, speaking of beautiful, the Biutiful Malbec blows away my preconceived notions of malbec as a third rate, crappy wine by the glass grape . This one is fruity, nonoaked and dances alongside the rare cut of beef in a delirious sauce. Go out and find a bottle of this wine to try at home.

Dessert is a little sandwich cookie accompanied by a shot of espresso (with or without sambuca).

Do go out and participate in Restaurant Week, but it pays to do your homework first.