WEN AT 20, Thoughts on food and wine

“The tourist is led; the traveler seeks” Todd Kliman, food critic

We have lived in the West End long enough to try and restrain an eye roll when we hear “we just moved here because it’s a cool little foodie city”, or my personal favorite “Portland just needs a (fill in the blank) new style restaurant, and we were thinking of starting it”.

The story of our arrival was that I promised Judy, my eternally patient wife, 20 years ago, with a vow to move back to the place of her birth; a little like the salmon returning upstream. As to the cost savings from our last home in Richmond, Virginia you need just pull up your smart phone to compare to see that we got whacked. EVERYTHING here is more expensive. So, is that why they become snowbirds?

The big bonus was that I finally got to settle down after 30 plus years of buying, selling, teaching, writing, creating and moving from place to place in the Wine Biz. We are pleased to call this place home.

Despite these little details, we love the West End, and Portland, and do not envision moving any time soon. Somebody must write irreverent stuff about food and wine. Our earliest discoveries in Portland were serendipitous. These are our early favorites:

Those were the days! Our favorite seat at the bar of The Merry Table

THE MERRY TABLE (discovered in 2005, permanently closed), formerly 43 Wharf St.

The one word that described this little unpretentious bistro on the cobblestones of Wharf Street was authenticity. Savoring the food and washing it down with a bottle of Louis Jadot Macon or Clos Siguier Cahors (malbec) French wine are magical moments during a Sunday lunch when you were transported to a small town in France. Jean Claude, proprietor and chef excelled in the bistro classics while Myriam, manager and front of the house hostess exuded French charm. If you stumbled in a little tipsy during the non-English speaking “French Night” you really thought you were in Lyon. After your boeuf bourguignon, cassoulet, glasses of house Cotes du Rhone, and a refreshing St. Germaine martini you could travel mere steps next door to the Rogues Gallery store (permanently closed) and catch yourself inside the replicated version of an 18th century captain’s cabin of a pirate ship. Articles of clothing bearing their unique designs do show up.

Sportin’ one of my favorite Rogue’s Gallery T-shirts

Wharf Street has not been the same since.

Wharf Street circa 2012. Loved the cobblestone patio for brunch.

MIYAKE FOOD FACTORY (discovered in 2005, permanently closed), formerly 129 Spring St.

I never quite understood how a place with a handful of bar seats, six communal tables, and a single chef, could be called a “food factory”, but a coveted seat at the bar was one of my fondest ever, in many decades of sushi experiences. Those who discovered it loved it. The fact that they were a BYOB without an alcohol license meant a world of adventure. The West End Deli next door suddenly had a remarkable collection of sake. Our favorite to this day remains Karatomba. Our most memorable evening occurred while slurping and digging out little bits of uni from urchin shells; the door burst open and a diminutive Japanese fisherman appeared with a small box of his most recent catch. Out tumbled dozens of lively tiny crabs. Masa Miyake scooped them up, threw them in hot oil and passed them around. Freshness is all. Such are the moments that great sushi restaurants are made of.

Masa went on to open two grander, highly rated restaurants in Portland. For us, the Food Factory was the classic in discovery and spontaneity.

PORT CITY BLUE (discovered in 2006, local music shows currently on Zoom), 650 A Congress St.

More than Bar b Que, Hoppin’ John’ or grits, the first thing that we actively sought after moving from Richmond, VA was real blues. Live music was an integral part of our cultural life for which there could be no compromise. Enter BLUE, our local sanctuary for American blues, jazz and roots music. Meantone, AKA, Graveyard Blues, AKA, Fat Knuckle Freddy was our first find, followed by gritty bluesman Samuel James, Frank Fotusky, Matt Meyer and the Gumption Junction, Okbari, Dark Hollow Bottling Company, Gunther Brown and an abundance of talented musicians of local and national renown. Look at their Facebook page- the acts are endless. It has been our home away from home for 15 years.

Little known perhaps, is that Terez, the owner, has long been into discovering exciting, scarcely seen wines sourced from the world: Mencia, primitivo, monastrell, picpoul, grillo, and many more grapes, have all made guest appearances at reasonable prices.

On February 2019 I was invited to do an onstage event with wine. An audition. When asked, I referred to it as a “gig”. Reppen’ is when someone tries to sell you something. A gig is an improvised event. The key is to try wines on the spot-taste unknown- and weave them around a lifetime of stories. This month marks the 20th gig at Blue, albeit now on Zoom. That stage is as remarkable to me in its own way as was the Kennedy Center when I was awarded The Master Knight of the Vine.

Yours truly on his favorite stage

CLOAK AND DAGGER DINNER CLUB (discovered in 2013, permanently relocated to Brooklyn), formerly 24 State Street Apt. #3

Erika Joyce, a Waynfleet alum, conducted a series of improv pop-ups in her apartment years before we became an acclaimed foodie destination. This is a partial menu from January 28th, 2013.

Cloak and Dagger does: Iconic dishes (the wines were all BYOB brought by guests)

Char cornets- French Laundry – Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay

Truffled Eggs- Chez Panisse- Cotes du Rhone Blanc

Vegetable Field with malt soil- Noma- Arwen sauvignon blanc from Denmark.

Momofuko pork buns- David Chang- Larmandier – Bernier Grand Cru Champagne

Gourmet Pizza- Wolfgang Puck- We passed around and shared two wines with this dish. Valdiplatta Vino Nobile de Montepulciano and Weinbach Pinot Noir.

White chocolate and caviar with scallop mouse- The Fat Duck- Weinbach Pinot Gris

Parisienne macaron- Pierre Herme- Elk Cove Ultima late harvest Riesling.

Glasses of Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet- peerless White Burgundy.

This article shows several things. First: the food scene was a tad bit earlier than our new arrivals realize. Second: I never throw away anything, even stashing old menus and wine lists; this can be both good and bad, especially when your filing system is called “just digging around”. Third: I never hesitate to bring out one-of-a-kind wines, the last two were our contribution. We have been searching diligently for Ramonet White Burgundy wines ever since. No one seems to know how to bring them into this market. Maybe I will just have to look Ms. Joyce up in Brooklyn and see what she is up to these days.

Portrait of Pierre Romanet from the Feb 1985 issues of Connoisseur. I never throw anything away!

Layne has been a professional in the wine business for many decades as a teacher, importer, writer, competition judge, and winery CEO. He was awarded the Master Knight of the Vine for his pioneering work in the Oregon wine industry. He can be reached ty lvwitherell@gmail.com. His website is https://winemaniacs.wordpress.com.

NEW FARM TO TABLE

Just stepping inside the new Batson River Brewing and Distilling on 82 Hanover St. in Portland is a total revelation in what we know of as New Farm to Table. I had not even looked up yet, just down. Under my feet was a 19th century Ersari Tribe Tekke Turkoman rug, a prize possession in any 1880’s New England home. That said, the creators of this restaurant were obsessed from your first step to the last detail-even the ones the average diner would not know.

A wonderful space at Batson River’s Bayside locale

Then, you look up. “We designed this space to feel like a grand, established home that had welcomed many visitors, hosted many gatherings, and whose walls could tell endless stories of adventure”. Ah, the moose head, circular chandelier and fireplace, the mood is perfect. Wonderful by day, magical at night.  Restaurants are all about the integration of food, beverages, ambiance and service, all combined to provide a great dining experience.

So…where does the “new” part begin. It begins with the concise mission statement on their menu. They grow their own hops and botanicals as well as crafting their own beer and spirits. In Batson River, you are in their world- totally. Somewhere in the middle of drinking their Batson Black “warming dark lager” it dawned on me that I was in the farm to table version of Henry Ford’s famous quote “you can have any color of my car as long as it’s black”. I suddenly felt boxed in, albeit in splendid surroundings.

Despite the quality of their beers, as we moved along to their Batson School Days Coffee Porter, I was yearning for a Mast Landing Gunners Daughter to compare, or a Maine Beer Company Mean Old Tom to start seriously thinking about malts.

Batson River’s delightful salad and satisfying poutine

We calmed down a bit when we hit the Poutine, a beer braised short rib with roasted jalapeno, onion strings and cheese curds. My wife Judy is the poutine expert in the family and made a spot-on analysis. “They usually use too much salt; this perfect.” I asked our server about a wine list and he replied that they had Sutter House (actually, Sutter Home) on tap, and that together with a prosecco was it. There is no room to be a wine snob while dining out in a world surrounded by extraordinary local beer. Three trips later they had changed up their two wine offerings four times, once in the middle of our glass of chardonnay (but the new glass of Dry Creek Dry Chenin Blanc was comped). In a place this cool, the two wines by the glass could be better than to resemble a try out for a sports team. You could also be offered something a tad bit better than what you stock for the kiddos when they descend on your house from college. I drank my Truth or Consequences Cabernet while wishfully thinking about a recent glass of Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel that would emulate the ambiance. Just charge more- you can get it.

Their Pear and Apple Salad of fennel, arugula, bleu cheese, pecan, cider-molasses vinaigrette is sharable and delicious with balance and harmony. A Bissell Brothers Substance or a glass of Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc would have been perfection. The New Farm to Table is interesting but the old model of introducing a nice beer tap takeover, with the opportunity to compare old favorites with new finds will keep a loyal audience interested and returning much more frequently. The current business model of grow it, distribute it and sell it yourself is admirable and will no doubt add to the acquisition of a lot more Tekke rugs.

VINLAND (now deceased) 593 Congress St.

The space is vacant and rentable at $19.46 per square foot (1,720 square feet). Per square foot Vinland represented, in its short time (2013-2020) a major New Farm to Table movement as a revolutionary force. The movement standing on its head. First, there was the manifesto; a lengthy screed aimed directly at the heart of consumer culture that sought to make the place resemble a metaphysical tourists Adventureland. Only using locally grown Maine ingredients must have been excruciatingly tough to be inside David Levi’s head, much less a segment of our allergy centric food obsessed public.

We knew before going that you could leave your food preferences at the door. No problem. You did not get to make the choice, the chef did. There were some spectacular dishes. The oat cakes! Oh, the oat cakes! “The reviews were mixed and passionate” New York Times. They were. David was a tightrope walker at every dinner service for years. The thing that I really miss most was the check at the end of the evening. Not the price, that was always painful, but the format. It was presented inside a book written by a 50’s beat poet; not a famous one like Ginsburg, but one that you had to search to remember like Gary Snyder.

I do not write this as an obit, but as a path forward to the best of New Farm to Table. Vinland could be resurrected as the newest, greatest, hippest food truck ever. The iconic birch sides would remind you of the restaurant, and when combined with gleaming solar panels as a roof the effect would be both esthetically and ecologically stunning. David in the small kitchen with his signature Karate Kid bandana and dark long sleeve shirt would conjure up nostalgic memories. A small five item menu could change daily, and be expensive, reflecting the ingredients.

An ideal brunch would be to pull up a retractable beach chair with a view of the Vinland Food Truck and the Western Prom, order up some glorious oat cakes, text either car hop or door dash for a can of Austin Street 6 Grain Milk Stout, or a bottle of The Oddity, a dry wine from the Royal Tokay winery, growers of ultra-late harvest wines that have a legendary history of keeping dying popes alive. The ferment grape in this case is bone dry, a perfect pairing with David’s oat cakes or his many mushroom dishes. It offers up “the familiar taste of something very different” Welcome to Vinland reimagined.

A sad sight

NEW FARM TO TABLE WINE:

As you know by now, I choose my wines based purely upon tens of thousands of wine and food memories, several hundred wine books and decades of scribbled notes.  Lamoresca Rosato came from a case of wines purchased from Cocktail Mary on 229 Congress St., all gloriously mixed up.  The question of the evening was what accompanies El Corazon takeout Mexican food? Lamoresca Rosato is from a small farm in the middle of nowhere in Sicily, made with the famed nero d’avola grape featuring little technical intervention. As a light, fizzy low alcohol wine with strawberry notes it was an unexpectedly perfect pairing with pico de gallo, chile relleno and guacamole.  Now, that’s new farm to table adventure.     

 BLUE VIRTUAL EVENT:

We will be returning on Friday, February the 19th at 5:30 P.M. for a ZOOM and Facebook live event winetasting, with all donations going to support Blue. You can reach them at portcityblue.com, 207-774-4111 or on their Facebook page. Wines are available at Ohno Café 87 Brackett St. Portland 774-0773. Sign up and participate to have some fun.     

FLYING UNDER THE RADAR

Our oddest Sunday brunch experience ever (and we go out almost weekly) occurred a few years ago when we decided at the last minute to try to book a table at Piccolo, usually an impossibility on short notice as it was one of Portland’s finest dining experiences. We not only got the hallowed window seat, but the place was hauntingly empty for such a great local restaurant. The three of us, me, my wife Judy, and our waitperson looked down Middle Street and there was a block long wait for the hot little hipster place of the moment.    

There are days when I think that there are a small group of restaurant reviewers who land here for a few days and make nice-nice with about five establishments and head back to their “big cities”, content with having bestowed their blessing. Today we will do a little flying under the radar and see what they have missed in our fair “little city”. Sadly, the deliciously great Piccolo is no more. We gladly would have waited in a long line.

CBG 617 Congress St., Portland

In the day. The problem is when you hear the phrase, “in the day” that it harkens to a place that favored the renewed participation of a small group of older males in their worn Carhartts, sitting at the bar, nursing their lukewarm PBR’S for hours on end, while mumbling to themselves.

Another problem is that the Congress Bar and Grill has turned into a virtually indiscernible acronym.  CBG is the brainchild of the team which brought us the Roma Café and Bramhall Pub, bestowing on it a much-needed breath of new life.  In addition to transporting their swanky lounge chairs to the sidewalk of Congress Street and creating a comfy vibe, they have added delicious food, welcoming service and a coolness way beyond lukewarm PBR’S.  The food menu is updated frequently, featuring satisfying familiar favorites with a fresh twist.  The extensive drink menu is a cornucopia of classic and modern cocktails as well as well thoughtful beer and wine selections.

Outside: nothing beats a lounge chair, their mushroom risotto, a glass of their unexpectantly lovely little German sauvignon blanc, and getting to be a witness to the ongoing pageantry that is Congress St.

Plungerhead zinfandel and prosciutto benedict at CBG

Inside: The repurposed décor of your grandparent’s basement den combined with an iconic mural from The Great Lebowski lend a sense of rustic elegance to contemplate over one several of their cocktails. Then you can proceed to genuflect over their Duck Hash with root vegetables, duck confit and potato rosti, accompanied with the perfect Sunday morning beverage-a glass of their well-chosen Cotes du Rhone. Or try the eggs benedict with a little 15% alcohol, 4th generation hipster Sebastiani family, Lodi old vine zinfandel Plungerhead for a wallop of raspberries and roses in a glass.

To end your meal, ask Michael to suggest a tasty Amaro, you will not be disappointed in his expertise.

Classic White Russian and Mimosa from a recent CBG brunch

Their brunch menu is up and running alongside the big screen T.V. featuring muted classics like Airplane with a soundtrack chosen by Pandora herself, a little Bob Dylan, or a jam band. Call ahead for days and hours as things change but currently 11am-9pm daily.

LOCAL 188, 685 Congress St.

Yeah, I know, they have been serving up fine Spanish victuals longer than the Carhartt people were sucking up their PBR’s just down the street. Added to that, they have included a handy repertoire of provisions such as toilet paper and groceries to go. You must admit that their Gazpacho is authentic and is perfect when paired with the Allagash 16 Counties Ale at a comforting 7.5% alcohol. Their main event is the paella, a dish perfected by them for decades. Try a bottle of Torii Mor pinot noir from Oregon to round out the lusciousness of it all.

This brings me to the real reason that I am writing this. Unfortunately, when Portland was dubbed “the loveliest small city in the foodie universe”- that not only paved the way for a small group of die-hard aficionados to anoint and pass judgment on their chosen few, but they did not bother to look around to discover a world of the arts and music that exist here as well. Local 188 is ground zero for the beginning of such a quest. This place is loaded with the work of Pat Corrigan, a satiric and brilliant local artist, commissioned by the owner Jay Villani to work his magic. There are no Instagram lighthouse or paella photos (you can find those elsewhere), but these two of Pats pieces from our collection of local art pretty much sum up the brilliance of what is in store for you if you just care to look past your plate. Welcome to Portland.

The flying under the radar wine champion for 2020 goes to Pampaneo Airen, Castilla, La Mancha, 2018. $13.99 retail. A white wine that is unfined, unfiltered, spontaneously fermented and strange beyond belief. This is a “natural” winemaker’s dream come true. The airen grape isn’t planted outside the vast La Mancha region (500,000 acres of it, this is not a typo) because it has found a comfortable home being transformed into local brandy. The Spaniards love their brandy. It is not at all strange that this totally undistinguished grape is made into a “natural” wine: land is cheap, the grape plentiful in yield and there is an audience for a reasonably priced wine that is “natural” because the audience is there for adventure not uniformity.

A pleasant surprise, Pampaneo Airen after a few days in the fringe paired with some local oysters

The real reason that I was intrigued and gave it the flying under the radar status is how it tasted initially. It was God awful. I decided to take the opened bottle and stick it in the fridge for a few days before dumping it down the drain. Then, a miracle happened. It emerged as a miraculous metamorphosis. Time to hit the books. The magic wine making word was reductive. It just needed some air to come alive and come alive it did. We immediately ran out, got some oysters, pulled out the engraved glasses and enjoyed. You never know. It isn’t over till the fat lady sings.

BLUE VIRTUAL EVENT:

We well be returning on Friday, January 8th at 7:00 P.M. for a ZOOM and Facebook live event winetasting to support BLUE. You can reach them at portcityblue.com, 207-774-411, or their Facebook page. The wines will be available at Blue by special order:

Reds:

Foris Fly Over Red, (merlot, cab, cab franc), Rogue Valley, Oregon

Marionette (monastrell and syrah), Jumilla Spanish red

Whites:

Cotes de Roussillon Blanc, Chapoutier, France

“Sincerete” (sauvignon blanc), Joseph Mellot, Loire Valley, France

Wines available through Blue at 650 Congress St. A, Portland, Maine. All proceeds from this event go to Blue. Donate, and donate generously.    

      

BEST OF 2020

I admit, it has been less than a banner year. But we can still present awards and have a tiny socially distanced gathering in my cluttered basement. This list presents my highlights of both giving, living and reading in 2020.

THE “SAY IT AIN’T SO AWARD”

The first award, of course, goes to our own iconic Maine beverage (actually made in Massachusetts), Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy for falling off the #1 top drinks pedestal it has occupied for centuries(?) in Maine to be replaced by a cinnamon thing called Fireball . Now, when you go to your favorite watering hole it is not impolite to ask, “I’ll have a # 2 please”. This colorful holiday decanter should be a gift that every aficionado of our own “fat ass in a glass” will treasure for a lifetime. Milk in its own container sold separately.

#2 in an iconic decanter

SUSTAINABILITY AWARD:

The Illahe Winery in Oregon wins this one hands down. “Percheron draft horses deliver grapes to the winery, the wine is taken by stagecoach to the nearby river on which it is transported by canoe and eventually delivered locally by bicycle.” Eat your heart out Maine, we are cool, but not that cool. The quote is by Jancis Robinson London Financial Times, 2020.

BEST NEW RESTAURANT TUCKED INSIDE AN OLD DINER 2020: (formerly Uncle Andy’s Diner)

JUDY GIBSON 171 Ocean St., South Portland, Me.

 Here are my criteria. We have dined out every week, covering in total, as many local restaurants as exist in Portland during the past 14 years. The West End News has an independent ad sales rep. It is important to maintain your own independence in both food and wine.  I have three criteria: the food, of course. Please, no YELP reviews but I do read Andrew Ross and Pete Wells for style and content. We eat everything if it is fresh and well prepared. The wine list: I don’t care how long or short, just don’t rip me off. Food and wine have been an integral professional experience in my life for over 40 years. Service: We caught up with Moses from Hot Suppa in New Orleans and he and his local pals filled us in to the difficulties of keeping staff.

Judy Gibson is a rock star for all three. Give a couple of friends a gift certificate to this place this holiday season- it’s worth it. Remember, they probably won’t have the same dish twice. In several visits, we felt comfortable with the chef being in charge. Some highlights:

Smoked Bangs Island Mussels Escabeche reminded us of Medjoll dates made of succulent meat. It was shocking in a good way.      It makes guest appearances as a dish.

Roasted Duck maple braised radicchio, farro and spicy prunes. Rare duck with a sweetness of the maple and fruitiness of the prunes. It all works together.   

  The wine list is small at 16 items and like the menu everything changes. They include both the things you know and the far out, but you have options: glass, 11oz carafe, 17 oz carafe and bottle. A model for restaurants.

Rkatsiteli, Kakheti, Georgia. Light, medium bodied white with a hint of pepper. 17 oz carafe at $32.00. The grape traveled from Crimea Georgia to Russia, to Concannon in California and Horton in Virginia.  

Cahors, Chateau La Grave, 2017, The original old school French home of the malbec grape. Perfection with the duck dish.

Be still my heart: 86ed is FRICO, the magical Lambrusco concoction. Save the Frico.

Hours and menu vary with COVID restrictions. Go to their website judygibsonrestaurant.com for weekly updated menus and takeout.  

 Hopefully soon you can bring your gift certificate and put yourself in Stephanie’s hands for pairing recommendations. Fine dining in a diner that is not afraid to be edgy.

WAITPERSON OF THE YEAR  2020

Scott C. of the BLACK POINT INN, Prouts Neck. A hotel done in a classic Down East nautical boardroom style with a zillion dollar view. Not only did the waitstaff push our Mini Cooper S up the hill when we ran out of gas, but our waiter Scott remarked “what an excellent choice” when I ordered the Terradora Felanghina (an obscure ancient Roman grape) along with the fish tacos. No body orders those two things together. I asked him if he was an actor. “No, I just love what I do” (even during a pandemic!). And he meant it. I have thoughts about our restaurants in Maine. Because of the magnet of tourism and both scenic and architectural adorableness, you don’t have to be that good. Some places just choose to be. The ambiance of The Black Point Inn itself is great, but that fish taco and glass of Falanghina just taste better when people care. Thanks for treating unknown little us like rock stars.  Congrats Scott.

EXQUISITE CURBSIDE DRINKS AWARD 2020

COCKTAIL MARY, 229 Congress St.

Sure, it is a couple of wooden benches barely hanging onto Congress St. but the cocktail menu at 21 items strong and the craft beer and cider list weighing in at 12 to 14 are both well selected. There is something for everyone here from a House Cocktail the Scurvy Snack made of Plantation 3 Star Rum, pineapple gum syrup, lime, and caraway to the exotic and whimsical.

Tucked amidst the small wine list was their single item sake category. We asked Isaac, the proprietor “what is this Bushido sake, anyway?” It was a deal that he got from the local distributor who has little in the way of local Japanese restaurant business now. If only this could happen to all wines. It was served chilled in a wine glass accompanied by a tiny carafe to pour the remainder. The sake tastes like drinking a cloud, remember it is an 18% alcohol cloud. So that is why Congress St. looked so good at our curbside bench. Actually, Isaac simply knows his stuff. You are in the hands of a pro.

THE ULTIMATE BOOK LOVERS AND SEEKER INTO THE FUTURE GIFT AWARD 2020

From Rabelais Rare Books in Biddeford, Maine. Kizzie Everhart Smith’s immortal classic What Does Your Cup Reveal, San Pedro, Calif. 1948. FIRST EDITION of an indispensable guide to reading leaves in a teacup. Illustrated with 15 images photographed from above, surrounded by text with author’s interpretation”. Included is a glossary of interpretations. The best little 32 pages that money can buy. $120.00. This fits both the 2020 prophesy category and the support your local business category. info@rabelaisbooks.com. There are many more juicy morsels on their web site.

Be safe out there. And remember to support the local businesses. Check with the Ohno Café and Blue for a December Layne’s Wine Gig.

VIRTUAL THANKSGIVING

Today we will honor all our relatives who are either penned up in their tiny houses or are luxuriating in their “camps” with sweeping, glorious views of a lake or nearby ocean. Since we can’t all get together to eat, drink, gossip, football it up and generally revel in this day of rejoicing, I thought that I would look at some of the people who are celebrating their lifestyles with their individual dishes and beverages for our amusement and interesting  Zoomable alternatives. This is virtual Thanksgiving, doing your own thing.

For cousin Jake and his brood up north, sorry they had to cancel the in person Common Ground Fair this year. It is not the same without the smell of patchouli and incense. Maybe dressing up in your favorite Basque outfit will help. Their ideal meal, of course, would be a steaming platter of Tofurkey. The original plant-based protein is celebrating its 35th birthday. It is not only vegetarian and vegan but has its own donation website. There, of course, must be a healthy side of kale and sprouts on the table.

 Ideally, they can go to their local natural foods retailer and find a bottle of Saline 2017 Hondarrabi Zuri Txakolina, $17.00 bottle. Hondarrabi Zuri is the local Basque grape. It is dry, low in alcohol, slightly fizzy and can be poured into their porron (a traditional decanter with a spout) as a drinking vessel. The tradition is to pour the wine from several feet high, making for an exciting event, especially while wearing a beret, and holiday red sash, imparting local color to the zoom event.

By itself, your relatives celebrating in Cumberland county with their quarter of a mile sized lawn is pretty much of a yawner. But this year is different. They, along with the kids, can climb aboard their Toro 74090 Z Master 7500 96 inch zero turn 38 horse power mower that costs about $20,000 more than your tiny house, while driving, zooming, and holding aloft a turkey leg and a glass of Domaine Les Fines Graves Moulin a Vent by Jacky Janodet, $23.00 bottle, a full rich, bright gamay from a top village in Beaujolais. That $10.00 bottle of Georges Dubeouf Nouveau can be a substitute if this was not a strong tax return year. With the Beaujolais Nouveau as the traditional symbol of a great vintage year, hopefully everyone on this miniature parade route through the yard will be applauding. I would recommend opening that wine cave and digging out some choice bottles of those precious 2007 vintage Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, using some large glasses, and bowing their heads in real thankfulness; followed by a toast in reverence to Napa Valley and their 2020 loss of five hundred million dollars of vineyards and wine and wineries to the recent fires.  

A million miles away on a planet known as Washington Ave. our newly arrived couple from Brooklyn are settled in to their cozy apartment, kind of thrilled to be away from “the folks” so that they can enjoy both the vibe, food and beverages of their chosen lifestyle. They can exclaim “if they ever refer to it as “cooking Sherry” again I am never showing up for Thanksgiving”. Authentic Spanish Sherry is both a beverage and lifestyle rallying cry for the Brooklyn set. To the uninitiated, it is as far removed from the comfort of a cold, soothing innocuous glass of pinot grigio as can be imagined.

A great Amontillado Sherry resembles in its own way the edgy acidic bitterness of a profoundly serious double IPA, EXCEPT it weighs in at 18-20% alcohol. Also, the best ones have serious barrel age of up to 20 plus years making a saline power statement that will leave most of the world’s wines in the dust. You do not cook with this stuff-you worship it. The food accompaniments are almonds, young Manchego cheese and Serrano ham, and a whole bunch of local oysters. Available locally is the very saline, delicious, you must have it with food (no turkey leg here), Yuste Arora Amontillado Sherry, 500 ml. $20.00 bottle. The Yuste Manzanilla, 500 ml. $20.00 with its salty sea air tang is one of the great oysters treats of all time. Small glasses- serve with a slight chill and tiny tastes, or you will have a fast Thanksgiving with a long nap.

The best part is being your own sommelier at your zoom event instead of having the relatives yell “sit down, we’re trying to watch the game”. The sad part is your ongoing attempt to rescue Sherry from the bottom of a saucepan, and sadly, our Brooklyn couple haven’t been around here long enough to have seen the departure from this market of La Garrocha Amontillado from Bodega Grant, one of the greats of all Sherry.

As for us, since we will not be traveling to see the kiddos in Virginia. I am thinking of a rollicking dinner via zoom. Yardy Ting, the fantastic Jamaican restaurant on Monument Square features up some curried goat and oxtails every Friday. I guess we can celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday this year? This is the real deal for the food adventurer (hate the word “foodie”- reserve it for Instagram amateurs). Wash down the oxtails and goat with a bottle of Chateau Tayac, Margaux, Bordeaux, 2018, $29.99 bottle. Open it up 1-2 hours in advance. This is the wine equivalent of the oxtails and goat! From a big, bold vintage worthy of cellaring or a long Thanksgiving decant, it is the essence of cabernet, blended with a splash of merlot and the influence of those ancient vineyards.

If you are getting together with “the folks”, a nice soothing Provence Rose, Lodi Zinfandel, Nouveau Beaujolais, or a boring Riesling will do the trick for one and all. This IS a different year. Be safe.

We will be doing a book release event of the new edition of my memoir Wine Maniacs: Life in the Wine Biz 2020 in conjunction with Print-A Bookstore and the Portland Public Library on November 12th at 7:00 p.m. Check with them for details. It is funny, irreverent, raucous and flies in much of the current propaganda on wine.   

READ-TRAVEL-EAT-DRINK

Every morning I awaken to my favorite cup of coffee and sit down for writing inspiration with a book by one of my beloved writers, the late, great Tom Wolfe. I taught a Contemporary Culture class in the early 70’s at my alma mater San Francisco State University using the masters works as a text. He summed us all up beautifully “They dressed righteous and “with the people”. They would have on guerilla gear that was so righteous that Che Guevara would have had to turn in his beret and get bucked down to company chaplain if he had come up against it”. HEY! That is me you were talking about. We ate at the funky ethnic restaurants in North Beach in San Francisco (rabbit special on Friday) with the gallon of a no name Sonoma red wine on the floor and a piece of chalk to mark what you drank. Frankly, I enjoyed being an explorer of the local authentic restaurants and wineries totally devoid of stretch limos and quasi- hysterical bridesmaids. Their wine lists today feature Cline Zinfandel, a terrific $10.00 red at retail for $78.00 a bottle. Now, that’s gentrification.

The reason that I mention all of this is that it fits perfectly with this month’s theme column. We were reading, traveling, eating, drinking and writing while working on my college thesis on early California wine for my history degree. Wine in California: An Introduction.  Reading, traveling, eating and drinking are vital to complement your wine enjoyment.

In my 45 years in the wine biz lots, a whole lot of things, have happened. Some you expect, and some get dropped on you like a swarm of seagulls devouring your freshly purchased lobster roll. Recently, I had the opportunity to stay at home, work on an updated edition of my book and write for four months. We left a New Orleans vacation in February just before the world went south. The picture seems like a thousand years ago. The Krewe of Cork local wine pros marching parade at Mardi Gras with your author next to a Charles K. Smith lookalike drinking one of his wines. Our scene is just feet from our table at the Royal House, home of remarkable local eating and drinking: gumbo, jambalaya, fried alligator, crawfish etouffee,  and fat, delicious char grilled oysters, all washed down with a couple of bottles of Charles K. Smith wines.

The Grand Marshall of the parade, Charles K. Smith, renowned Washington State winemaker, and former rock and roll promoter, simply personifies our hopeful next step into a real culture with wine. His Kung Foo Girl Riesling $12.00 retail, The Velvet Devil Merlot $12.00-$15.00 retail, You can bring the beads, phone photos, find the flavor proximity of NOLA foods in Portland, places like Hot Suppa with their fried green tomato BLT, shrimp, corn and andouille chowder and Eaux with their gumbo that your spoon can stand at attention to;  you can find the wines here as well. You should be able to replicate everything except the crazed parade. A fruity, refreshing little Velvet Devil Merlot with gumbo or to wash down that andouille chowder.

The if you are fortunate part has to do with many of the great wines, we both saw and enjoyed while in New Orleans: wines that simply do not make it to Maine. In my 45 years in the wine biz I have done a whole lot of stuff (actually, a different thing every 5 years or so). Winery CEO, Importer, retail wine store owner and buyer, small distributor manager and large distributor manager, radio talk show host, journalist, educator and wine competition judge. Also, we go out to dinner a lot, thinking and reflecting on the food and wines.

Enjoying the Krewe of Cork parade with a CKS look-a-like on the right

This brings me to my book Wine Maniacs: Life in the Wine Biz 2020 revised edition. There have been so many changes in the wine world since the last edition, I decided to take a closer look at the natural wine movement, generational changes, books on sommeliers and women in the wine industry. Since this is a Kitchen Confidential style memoir, it is bound to create some chatter. There are two chapters that I think about often and are applicable to our trip to New Orleans, as well as a variety of other places. They have to do with how you and I purchase our wines.

The Gigantic Wine Distributor

I worked in the inner circle of management for a large wine distributor in Virginia, like Maine, a wine franchise state. A what? America is divided 50×50 franchise to non-franchise states. In a non-franchise state, the winery has control of the brand. Having a bad hair day? Just yank the brand and go appoint their competition. In a franchise state you are in a “till death do us part” legal relationship. Brands can be swapped like trading cards between distributors. “Hey, I’ll trade you a Mickey Mantle for a Willie Mays”, but they are strictly off limits to the bad hair day people. This is a chapter to sink your teeth into. It is my unconsummated relationship with the wines we saw in New Orleans. I spent years in the “room where it happened” and the account is that of a particularly good note taker, viewing the political machinations that occur regarding how and what we get for wine. I referred to it in my book as “the best democracy that money can buy”. Sorry, you don’t get to vote on this one.

To Ship or Not to Ship

This is the second of “how we get our wine” chapters. There is simply the “Dating Game” between wineries and distributors. My favorite three examples are Silver Oak, Adelsheim Vineyards and Swedenburg Winery. Each offers up their own sets of pros and cons for the marketplace. Salability, amount of work involved and sexiness of the wine versus time spent to polish it to a high gloss of excitement, is what entices an importer or distributor.

Sadly, some regions of the wine producing United States (read: about 47 states) will not make it to where you shop. Too much work for a distributor to produce a less than highly polished gloss. Also, their production is small, and prices can be high compared to their competition. You need a good wine with a better story. Today, stories really sell. That brings us to the bigger question- shipping. I have yet to try out the direct shipping to my “wink, wink” door. The entire chapter ponders the question, as well it should. A trusted local wine merchant is worth their weight in golden algorithms. These are strange and different times. Will wine drop down like those seagulls? Stay tuned.

WINE MANIACS: LIFE IN THE WINE BIZ, 2020 Revised Edition is available now at PRINT: A BOOKSTORE. 273 Congress St. Portland, ME. 04101. Call them at (207) 536-4778.  $20.00, 250 pages, paperback. WE WILL BE DOING A VIRTUAL KICKOFF AND WINE TASTING WITH PRINT AND THE PORTLAND PUBLIC LIBRARY ON THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 12th at 7:00 P.M. CALL PRINT FOR DETAILS. 

 lvwitherell@gmail.com for one on one tours and private tastings.

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PET NATS AND OTHERS

No, a pet nat isn’t one of those tiny winged creatures flying around your kitchen this time of the year. It is a wine that is either very ancient in origin or as modern as a hipster beanie. Its place of birth was France as the original sparkler created in the Languedoc region of the far south of France, in an area called Blanquette de Limoux, originally made by the monks at the abbey of Saint Hilaire in 1535 from the rustic local grape called mauzac. Its official name is petillant naturel. The wine is fermented and sealed with cloudiness, some residual sweetness with low alcohol content. It does not go through the entire second fermentation in the bottle like Champagne. It can be a fascinating and funky drink, rustic simplicity, as opposed to the grandeur and elegance of Champagne (usually running $40.00 a bottle). St.Hilaire Blanquet de Limoux is $14.00 bottle retail. Oh, by the way, that label looks like an expensive bottle of Champagne. Veuve Cliquot anyone? Want to fake out your friends? Good thought, until they look it up.

That is the 3X5 card textbook definition. Now, on to the ground. I traveled throughout the Languedoc for a decade searching for, making and experiencing the regions wines.” Mausac is rather rustic, but all the more tasty for that” Jancis Robinson. Methode Ancesteral as it is called refers to the style of the good old rustic wines and early days in the Languedoc. The locals of course want to become modern and experiment with that elegant international darling the chardonnay grape. The hipsters are born again rustic and adore the funk, cloudiness and unpredictability of original pet nat. The big difference is that most wine articles that are written off 3X5 card research don’t say the most important part of the wine- land cost.0821201253

Read those wine labels (both front and back) at your favorite hip restaurant or bar. The words Napa or Champagne usually won’t appear on the label because land costs run from $300,000 to $600, 000 an acre in these hallowed spots. You can’t be a pet nat hipster in Napa or Champagne unless your family just handed you off a whole lot of Berkshire Hathaway stock. Try Mendocino because grapes are taxed lower than pot, or Beaujolais – welcome to pet nat cheap land paradise ($5,000 acre), which brings us back to where we started- the Languedoc. Still cheap land, still 700,000 acres of vines. Go to town, get funky.

Oyster River “Morphos”, 2019, $17.00 btl. 10% alc. Pet Nat, Warren, Maine

If you want to see what the 60’s was like or get a serious flashback, go there. The décor, early barnwood shabby chic, and vibe matches the wines perfectly. Also, this is what a serious, hard core pet nat is supposed to taste like. “Bottled during the end of active fermentation, cloudy, yeasty, toasty and fresh”. And, it happens to be great with oysters. The beauty of artisanal pet nat is that you don’t have to mention grape varieties- perfect for Maine as there are lots of off the wall varieties that ripen well here. Don’t forget the tie dye or flannels. It was one of two wines featured as a weekend special for sale at The Shop at 123 Washington Avenue, Portland. One of the things that struck me with pet nats is that they still require some hand selling. Their funky, spritzy character is frankly unpredictable from bottle to bottle, and there are some people who just like consistency. Read…the general wine drinking public. The greatest fear among the pet nat people is that they will become Taylor Swift mainstream popular; imagine a hipster “Skinny Girl” label.0726201838_burst01

Ada’s Kitchen Dining Alfresco on Congress St.

642 Congress St.

Portland, Maine 04101

Menu and hours on their website.

When I asked Sid, chef, chief cook and bottle washer at Ada’s” what should I be drinking this evening ?” he reaches into the cooler past the first half dozen bottles and says “I only get one case of this and I think you will like it”. “Spuma” by Denny Bini, Emilia Romagna Frizzante, nv, $23.00 btl.,450 cases produced on 16 tiny acres in the North of Italy. This reinforces my thoughts that they are for you, the lucky, the chosen few, an ethos that pervades pet nats.    It is orange, fizzy, totally refreshing and a further dream introduction to the pet nat world, made from the famed Lambrusco di Sorbara grape.  Especially refreshing in those little less than formal fun flutes. The world is a great place while smiling at Judy, my wife.

This is far from a shabby spot for alfresco. Congress St. dining rocks. Our favorite dishes are always the tuna crudo special, a take on a Northern Italian Poke dish with fresh local tuna, adorned with a touch of aoili chili oil. The Gemelli Pasta with Sicilian pesto is a masterful combination of cheese, basil and pine nuts to match the acid tartness and touch of sweetness of the wine. Gemelli with its twists and swirls is a perfect vehicle for holding pesto. With over 500 shapes, you could spend a lifetime studying pasta.

A word about the kitchen. To paraphrase the late, great Anthony Bourdain in his masterpiece memoir Kitchen Confidential … when I need a favor, shoulder to cry on or to make bail, I don’t call a fellow writer, I call my sous-chef. Or in our case, when we order gemelli with pesto and Chelsea the sous chef at Ada’s gives us the thumbs up, we know it will be perfect.

The Others Part: You will notice a different Layne’s Wine Gig ad. I adore Blue and can’t wait to return on stage when they reopen. In the meantime, during my four months at home, I decided to update a project (read obsession) that I have been working on for ten years: Wine Maniacs: Life in the Wine Biz, in a new 2020 revised edition. It is my memoir of this “long, strange trip” in the wine biz with thoughts of where we are in this most historically revisionist era known as 2020. Next month I will share some thoughts and moments of this irreverent, funny and provocative book. It will be available shortly at Print A Bookstore at 273 Congress St. in Portland. (207) 536-4778.

CONTACT LAYNE AT lvwitherell@gmail.com for private tours, tastings and events.

https://winemaniacs.wordpress.com.0725201826

SUMMER READING

This marks my 400th published wine column with many more to come. The key is to constantly taste a wide variety of wines and especially, to read a wide variety of wine books and articles. You never know when the inspiration will appear. Also, carry a notebook to write down thoughts. I stick a ton of major wine writers’ columns in the several hundred wine books sprawling around the house. Inspiration is everything.

I mention all of this because there is an unending source of ideas. Today we will look at two wine writers, both totally different.

Evan Goldstein Perfect Pairings and Daring Pairings. Both of his books are readily available to order on the internet at around $10.00 each. They are great books from a brilliant wine person, loaded with pairings, recipes and wine ideas from the simple to the sublime. The subject in question was duck since recipes and wine pairings are his specialty. His thoughts ran to duck with orange sauce paired alongside a glass of gewürztraminer. Sheer brilliance. With that in mind, we were heading to The Village Inn and Tavern in Belgrade, Maine (AKA “duck central”) to try out some new ideas.

Almond crusted duck tenders. We decided to do two sauces and a different wine with each sauce, while looking at the splendid lake and the live ducks. Lemongrass dipping sauce with Giesen Marlborough N. Z. Sauvignon Blanc ($9.00 glass). New Zealand sauvignon blanc is a flavor combo of lime, melon and grapefruit. It was an o.k. pairing while doing not much of anything exciting with the dish or the wine.  The unexpected knockout was a roasted garlic aioli and Marinara sauce alongside a glass of Zenato Valpolicella from the corvina grape from Northern Italy ($9.50 glass). Duck, and duck with dipping sauce were both unexpected and thrilling. The wine has a luscious red cherry freshness that speaks to both the duck and the sauce. Great pairings elevate both the dish and the wine. Do try this at home. Moral of the story: we do not eat enough duck or drink enough Valpolicella.

My second writer for today is pure serendipity. I was reading an article on Pouilly Fuisse, the famous region in Southern Burgundy in France, home of our friend the chardonnay grape. Their thought was to elevate the area from a regular AOC Appellation Controlee to a Premier Cru. That does not sound like much, but having been an importer, distributor and retailer in prior lives I could sniff out a $25.00 bottle becoming a $35.00 bottle on the shelf. Then, they mentioned this guy that I had not heard of in ages as the originator of the idea. Andre Jullien (1766-1832). He was a distributor and importer in France and at the age of 45 began to write a book; a revolutionary book where he ranks and categorizes all the vineyards in France, and a huge variety of the world, with his thoughts of their glory, hierarchy and misgivings. I have discovered the first modern wine critic. He saw it all.

The Topography of all the Known Vineyards Containing a Description of the Kind and Quality of their Products and a Classification, London, G.&W.B. Whittaker, 1824. The first problem is finding it in English- lots of French editions. Also finding, a decent copy at a reasonable price, if you are going to take the deep plunge into this thing. Enter the Facsimile Publisher. With a little searching, I located a newly printed, English edition quarter bound in leather for $30.00, resembling a bound journal.

His thoughts applicable to today:

The vendor can be peddling stuff just to peddle it.

A connoisseur can be duped.

Wine regions will make inferior wines to sell to tourists.

He was there when Champagne was in its infancy. 20 bottles in 100 exploded. Look closely at the vineyards, not just the brands.

The world was awash with “small wines”.

Wine is good for you.

There was a lot of spurious mixing and game playing going on.

Regions and producers need to be constantly reevaluated.

French Burgundy: “In good seasons these wines unite all the qualities of perfect wine- they want no mixture or preparation to reach the highest degree of perfection”.  Our second serendipitous find (in a wine store in Rockland, Maine) was a French classic.  Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Beaune Domaine Billard Pere et Fils, 2018, $32.00 btl. Like our favorite locally hand-crafted Ben Coombs glasses, the wine offers up a special artisan produced treat from first sip to lingering farewell. Andre Jullien would be proud.

We are bombarded today with tasting notes. This book is way beyond that. Andre Jullien deserves a place in the pantheon of explorers, thinkers, and tasters of the world’s most revered beverage- wine.

CONTACT HIM AT

lvwitherell@gmail.com FOR EVENTS, ONE ON ONE TOURS AND PRIVATE TASTINGS

 

summer reading pic

BOHO VINTAGE

Good news for staying at home is that you do manage to save money as there is nowhere to spend it, other that freaking out online. Best to practice some restraint. Upon the easing of restrictions, the first purchase wasn’t really a purchase. Judy, my long-suffering wife has been wanting me to get a bicycle for years to accompany her to the Western Prom, and to paraphrase her “get your sorry self out of the house”. In addition, I have envisioned a cool funky ride with a wooden wine box on the back to search out some new, interesting wines, and to assemble a picnic.

She is a canny shopper of “Nextdoor” and there it was- a free bicycle on a person’s yard in North Deering. Quick, off the couch and go check it out. The photo is my ancient 1960’s Peugeot ten speed bike rescued from that yard: it is both a bike and a piece of classic outsider art, a “Boho Vintage”. The good folks at Allspeed on Marginal Way put together all the inner parts. They liked the funk, while I liked the price of only $180.00 to make it into a ride instead of a backyard ornament. Thank you. More to spend on wine.

Word of caution: they used to ship wine in wooden wine crates like we do cardboard egg crates today. They do not appear very often. Befriend your local wine merchant or develop a taste for Bordeaux- the last wooden box refuge.

PICNIC WINES:

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Italy, Pianoro, 2019, $15.00.

The regular trebbiano grape is the fodder of choice for brandy and barely makes it up to picnic quality. A lot of it is grown. Drink it fast, drink it cold. The Abruzzo variety is of unknown origin and vastly better in flavor than the regular grape. Love those unknown origin grapes. There is a dry light almond character here that would be perfect with a cold chicken or a dish with nutty flavors like a Waldorf salad, or a young pecorino Italian cheese.  Look for a recent vintage, you don’t age this one. Total picnic cost $20.00.

Gruner Veltliner, Austria, Anton Bauer,2019, $12.00 liter bottle.

Back in the 90’s when all the junior sommeliers were cutting their teeth on new wines, it became fashionable to disrespect chardonnay and “replace it with the “It” girl just off the plane from Vienna” (thank you, Evan Goldstein). It has stuck around due to its versatility. With 42,000 acres planted in Austria and the luxury of high yields, you won’t be running out of this grape any time soon. The best news is not only its saline aromatic, apple sauvignon blanc like character but, and this is the big bonus, it pairs with foods that many wines do not. Bring the asparagus and artichokes, herbed dishes and Wiener schnitzel. It has less weight in flavor than chardonnay and no oak aging. Total picnic cost around $20.00

Savennieres, Loire Valley, France, D’Epire, 2018, $17.00.

This is the last wine that you search for to throw into your picnic wine box bicycle rack. First, it is a miracle that the lengthy name even fits on the label, second it is a strange lengthy name and one that is not awfully familiar. The place is Anjou in the Loire valley in France (as in the pear). The grape (not listed) is the chenin blanc, referred to locally as pineau. It is not the chenin blanc we know and love, that slightly sweet, juicy grape that tastes like a ripe apricot. No, this wine is raised in slate. “If Vouvray has the chalk, Savennieres provides the blackboard” (thank you, Kermit Lynch). It is elegant, mineral, steely with finesse and depth. And, it is dry. Go big or go home. Lobster salad is perfection with this taste quenching mate. Total picnic cost $80.00.

ULTIMATE PICNIC:

No one hypes their wine more than Bordeaux (Napa tries, and the natural wine people have developed a chorus). Recently the “vintage of the century sale begathon” is all about the unproven and un road-tested 2019’s. Saving up means that I can indulge myself in a bottle of true picnic greatness. Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse, Pauillac, 2016, 5th Classified Growth, $44.99. Even though the chateaus are ancient, the winemaking is not. Discarding lesser grapes, lower yields, and creating a 2nd label results in a wine that is both fun to drink, that is silky and fresh, yet classic in quality. Moderate cheese, duck liver pate, and rare roast beef are picnic perfection with this cabernet/merlot blend. Total picnic cost- name a price.

BEER PEEPS:

Shipyard Smashed Blueberry. $16.00 4 pack. A 12 oz. can that thunders old school Scotch ale and Porter. 9% alc.

CONTACT HIM AT

lvwitherell.gmail.com FOR EVENTS, ONE ON ONE TOURS AND PRIVATE TASTINGS.

Photo by Judy Witherell0622201922

PANDEMIC PERKS

I am not sure if the words pandemic and perks should take a rightful place as the title of this month’s wine column.

But, after giving it some thought, it is a celebration of those on the front lines and those who support them. Also, wine in general, like the rest of us, is going a bit wacko these days. We have a strong tendency toward lethargy while stranded at home. In the case of wine, especially when great deals appear, some are too great and need a closer lens while others do not even make the cut from afar.

The good news is that we can purchase take out wine, local beer and cocktails to go from our favorite restaurants. This may not seem like a big deal, but when I was General Manager of Maine Beverage in charge of all distribution of spirits in the state if someone would have proposed the idea, my jaw would have dropped. Such is the revolutionary nature of that as a reality. It takes a pandemic. When scouring the restaurant wine lists it pays to research the actual retail price on your phone and compare the two.

Wine Prices:

This is the moment for getting out your smartphone and doing some homework part of the story. Wine in the world is going through a strange time. That 25% tariff panic that we both experienced and read about, little did we realize it could become old news so quickly. Well, there is a lot of wine on the planet aching for a home right now. Some thoughts:

The Pricy Stuff:

A delicious piece recently appeared in the New York Times titled “The Grapelord of Napa Faces a threat worse than Plague” May 9, 2020. Seems like the “millenniums”( his word) just aren’t doing their part in buying, swirling and swishing those expensive Napa Valley Cabernets according to Andy Beckstoffer, owner of many of Napa’s choicest parcels. We toured his To Kalon vineyard atop a tractor while drinking the rare Mondavi I Block Fume blanc, made from those grapes, and he has a point- Hey, you kids can come back and play on my lawn. Seems like the allure of a several hundred-dollar bottle of Napa Cab has slowed down dramatically.  Despite drought, wildfires, etc. there are lots of high-quality grapes recently put in bottles seeking homes.

Intriguing greatness is still available in the remaining 2016 Napa Cabernets as well as the sensational 2016 Bordeaux.

The on-line stuff:

There is so much in the way of ship to your door wine that it boggles the mind. All the way from Sotheby’s $10,000 bottle of Chateau Petrus and assorted high-end e-mail collectable options to Splash Wines, a subscription service featuring “auto enrollment” and “curated cases”, together with “founder reward options”. My latest find is Vin Connect. It has the feel of a bespoke dating app.  And you thought that going to a store was tough? Be careful out there.

Deals:

Best deal of the season was a two day “let’s give you all a break sale” from the Cellar Door Winery in Lincolnville, Maine. Just a one-time deal with no club to join, and a long waiting line of cars. Their grapes are sourced from premium locations in Washington and California and crafted here. “American” will appear on the front label as a sign that the grapes came from outside Maine. “Produced and bottled” on the back label means that they made the wines themselves.

Cellar Door Merlot, 2014, ($24.00 bottle reg.) $5.00 btl. By the case. This is not a typo! Washington State fruit aged in new American oak barrels. A splash of mocha, plums and blueberries.

Monti al Mare, 2014, ($25.00 bottle reg.) $5.00 btl. By the case. A Super Tuscan style red made with Sangiovese and Syrah grapes. Dusty and elegant like a polished high-powered Chianti.

Petite Verdot, 2014, ($25.00 bottle reg.) $5.00 btl. By the case. An infrequently grown grape, as it ripens late. When the harvest ends, the winemaker is drinking their second beer, is tired, and does not care to deal with picking, then its ready. A blockbuster with strong cheese and a braised beef short rib. These are older vintages-hence the sale. Keep your eyes peeled here. Things do pop up.

FOOD AND LIBATIONS TO GO:

The Roma Café featured a weekly deal for every meal sold being matched with a meal delivered to the Maine Medical Center staff. I love their chicken parm entrée at $24.00. Wash it down with their Lone Wolf Cocktail: Makers, Carpano, black tea, rosemary, $10.00.

BEER PEEPS:  The big beer peep of the month award goes to Allagash Brewing for donating 11,400 cans of their great beer to medical responders. (full disclosure: my wife works at Maine Med.).

Stay safe out there.headshot