The price points of wine

winepricepoints

Imagine this scenario; you’re at the store and want to buy a bottle of wine for dinner at home. You’re having steak and you want a red wine. This is the extent of what you know. There are a ton of varieties, regions, and styles of wine to choose from. And where your head spins are the price points. Is this $12 malbec not as good as that $25 syrah? Why is this cabernet sauvignon $9 while that one is $90? There is some noise to filter when it comes to price points, but here is a guideline of expectations as you go up in pricing tier.

<$10 – The domain of Three Buck Chuck, large volume wine, and hidden gems. The wines at this level are often value-oriented. They can play in this field because the wines can be a bunch of variables that can drive the price down. The wine can come from a winery that has massively huge volumes of wine. Or it comes from regions that can support large scale production. Or the winery owns all their capital goods and can afford a lower margin (often in Europe). At this stage, you can find good wine, but it will be tough to find a great wine. Good, however, is the pricing bar that many want to find in the wine they buy. It’s not too expensive and won’t be a hit on the wallet.

$10-20 – This is a magical level that plenty of consumer wants to play with. But here’s the thing; generally speaking, the quality bar is different at the $15 mark. Below, you’ll find good stuff. Above, you can come across great wines. How so? Because this is the sweetspot that the modern wine consumer wants to play in, so pricing has adapted. In this field you’ll start to find more layers, nuances, and subtleties in a good bottle. You’ll also have the opportunity to discover new regions that you may be unfamiliar. Portugal, Spain, Chile, and Argentina beckon.

$20-30 – This is a level where you can find some really interesting wine. Many in the industry feel it’s a growing category. Great wine can be had. A wine drinker has almost all of the wine regions of the world at their disposal. You’ll be able to get bottles with more aging, single vineyards, more fruit and provocative flavor notes.

$30-50 – We are now getting to the price category where wine nerds start to surface. Take all of the good that was mentioned at the previous tiers and now amplify them. The wine can border on magic. You’ll start to believe that notes of bacon fat or elderflower are present.

$50+ – You really love wine at this point. Or you want to impress someone.

$100+ – You and wine are soulmates. Or you want to impress someone’s parents.

$500+ – You probably read The Robb Report. And you probably have tasted a DRC. Most of us have only read about a DRC. Even more have no idea what a DRC is.

Disclaimer: wine pricing is a fluid and complicated area. Supply and demand is in play. Location has a hand in pricing. Know this; really good wine can be hand at any price point; it just requires a bit of know how to weed through it. And besides, it’s your palate, enjoy drinking with your tongue planted firmly in your cheek.

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The 2013 Piglet: Food 52’s cookbook tournament of champions

piglet

Cookbook nerds. We are everywhere. We frequent bookstores that only carry cookbooks. We think we have enough cookbooks. But we never have enough. We sometimes forget which ones we have and find ourselves doubling up on copies. And we love them. We love our cookbooks. Their stained pages. The stories they can tell. And like sports fans have March Madness, we have our tournament; The Piglet. There is even a bracket (PDF). From the fine folks at Food 52, this is their fourth annual cookbook tournament and it launches later this week. I heart the Piglet. You should too.

I wrote about the Piglet last year and touched on why I loved this series. The varying ‘judges’ that weigh in on the winners. The books that were the ‘competitors.’ Last year was particularly entertaining because of the championship round. On one side was the book of decadent indulgence from the Joe Beef crew from Montreal. On the other side, was the mad scientist baked goods book Momofuku Milk Bar. And it was judged by Alice Waters. Alice Waters. The chef that raised the bar for thoughtful, seasonal, and considered California cookery. The chef whose highbrow nature didn’t exactly jive with the debauchery of Joe Beef or the addled sweet tooth of Momofuku Milk Bar. The chef whose recap of the championship was dripping with disdain for the two books. Can there be a reluctant champion? Because that is the crown that Alice Waters bestowed Joe Beef.

As with any new year, things start anew and we are onto the next Piglet. Of the 16 books in this tournament, I have five of them. Of the judges, I’m only familiar with a handful of them. Which is a big reason why the Piglet showdown is entertaining. Different voices, different books. While I couldn’t fathom the bile Alice Waters had for last year’s finalists, at least she stayed on brand. And I’m curious to see how the judges insert themselves this year.

I’ll be sure to follow the tournament along. In fact, I’m betting on Canal House Cooks Everyday by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer. It was one of my favorite books of the holiday season. We’ve been fans of the Canal House and their thematic food volumes for a few years. We were fortunate to have conversations with Melissa and Christopher on their recent visit to Seattle, where we got to hear their stories and how much fun they had with compiling all of their Canal House lunches. Which is the emphasis of Canal House Cooks Everyday. I particularly enjoyed the weather reports sidelining the recipes. Their writing has a way of welcoming us into their world. And now with the Piglet, cookbook nerds have the chance to feel a little closer to a bunch of new cookbooks, their recipes, and the chefs behind them.

Food 52’s 2012 Piglet

Photo courtesy of food 52

We’re through the first week of the Piglet – Tournament of Cookbooks; Food52’s annual cookbook battle royale. For cookbook nerds like yours truly, the Piglet is great fun. It’s a tournament where the folks at the food community website Food52 take 16 cookbooks published over the last year, pit them against one another bracket-style and have the books judged by various food-loving celebrities. It could be someone like Mario Batali or Nora Ephron weighing in on a winner. Like anything involving a bracket and a chance to place your bets to a winner, The Piglet is a fun read into the biggest, baddest, and boldest cookbook in the land.

This is the third year of the Piglet. The first year’s winner was Seven Fires by Francis Mallman with Peter Kaminsky. I have this book and yes, it is awesome. I particularly like the recipe for cooking an entire cow. But my personal favorite that year was David Chang and Peter Meehan’s Momofuku. Year Two’s winner was Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce with Amy Scattergood. We’re now into the 2012 edition and I’m looking forward to seeing how this Piglet shakes down.

If the first two days of this Piglet is any indication, we’re in for a fun ride. Day One had the domestic goddess Nigella Lawson seducing us with her words. Day two had the delightful Celia Sack of San Francisco’s Omnivore Books weighing in. The third review by James and Caitlin Freemand of SF’s Blue Bottle Coffee, didn’t quite have the lushness of Lawson’s review or the perspective of Sack’s review. Conversely, the Freeman’s felt a bit stilted in my mind, and I couldn’t identify with their viewpoint. Reading these editorials often provides as much perspective about the cookbooks as the critics.

Which is one of the fun things about the Piglet. Because they have reviewers from various disciplines and industries; there will be unique and divergent opinions on cookbooks. Some might love the photographs, some might enjoy the clarity and detail in the recipes. One of my favorite reviews was from the 2010 Piglet when Grant Achatz’ review pitted Canal House Cooking Vol. 1 vs Real Cajun. What I enjoyed about the review was that Chef Achatz’ critiqued two books, each with recipes and styles radically different from his restaurants. His voice made for a great read. I loved it.

There are a few more weeks left in the Piglet, a bunch more reviews, and plenty of opportunities for some upsets. Like the glory of March Madness, we should be in for some surprises. Until then, visit Food52’s Piglet and stock up on those cookbooks. I’m at 336 and I’m getting a bit of an itch to go shopping.

Food Network’s daliance with Seattle

The Best Thing I Ever Ate photo courtesy of Hulu

This post originally appeared on Seattlest

In case you missed it, last Monday featured the Food Network crushing on Fremont’s Revel for the ‘Messy‘ episode of their series, The Best Thing I Ever Ate. The premise of this show is the Food Network featuring various culinary dignitaries waxing poetic on what they think is the best thing they’ve ever ate. And this past Monday was Revel’s turn to be celebrated. But this restaurant gem isn’t the only place in Seattle that they’ve considered for the best thing ever eaten; there are a solid group of restaurants famously noted by people talking about their food, famously talking about our city’s food.

  • Revel’s Asparagus Pistachio Olive Chutney Radicchio Rice Bowl – This Fremont hotspot has packed the house since their opening last winter. That likely won’t change with the New York Times‘ Frank Bruni expressing his love for Revel’s Rice Bowl. If you recall, last summer, Bruni shared his recap of his time in the area and one of those loves was for Revel’s Rice Bowl, so much so, he thinks it’s one of the best things he ever ate.
  • Toulouse Petit’s Cured Pork Cheek Confit Hash – This episode featured Toulouse Petit’s breakfast happy hour by Melissa d’Arabian; Season Five winner of The Next Food Network Star. She particularly likes the ‘Bang for the Buck‘ that one gets from Toulouse Petit’s Pork Cheek Hash.
  • Dahlia Lounge’s Lemon Scallion Dungeness Crab Cakes – Once again, the Food Network gives some love to Tom Douglas for his crab cakes at Dahlia Lounge on the ‘Obsessions‘ episode. Giada De Laurentiis was smitten with these glorious hockey pucks of crab meat created by the TDR group. This Seattlest agrees; these crab cakes are delicious.
  • Cafe Juanita’s Fruit Sorbet – Another Eastside  entrant, this time they give kudos to Chef Holly Smith’s Poco Caretto Fruit Sorbet at Cafe Juanita. In this ‘With Fruit‘ episode, Melissa d’Arabian sings the praises of the Beard award-winning chef’s sorbetto.

Eight different dishes from Seattle-area restaurants that the folks at the Food Network consider some of the best food they’ve ever eaten. Always good for the area to get culinary street cred. Now I’m hungry.

*Note – Give the restaurant a call if you want any of these dishes specifically. Menus are subject to change and just because it was on television doesn’t mean it will be there when you go. 

My Fall 2011 cookbook wish list

Photo: Raphael Brion/Eater NY

The good folks at Eater recently posted a robust list of buzzy cookbooks coming out this fall and holiday season. It’s not just cookbooks; tomes on cocktails, food history, memoirs, miscellany and more dot the field. And this food nerd is particularly excited for most of them. With the rundown of cookbooks, Eater took a wide angle glance at the season’s books that dabble in the world of food and wine. I’m selfishly narrowing the list to the books that I want. Here they are:

Eleven Madison Park the Cookbook by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara

In my trips to the Big Apple, three restaurants stood out to me; Fatty Crab, Le Bernardin, and Eleven Madison Park. Each had a uniquely wonderful experience. Particularly for Eleven Madison Park. Going there, I had high expectations, but I wasn’t prepared to be blown away by our meal. It was amazing. And knowing how Chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Danny Meyer have evolved the restaurant, I’m anxiously awaiting this book.

The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts by David McMillan, Frederic Morin, and Meredith Erickson

When we visited Montreal last year we partook in some great meals. Au Pied du Cochon and Kitchen Galerie amongst those. However, the neglect of going to Joe Beef continues to eat away at me. So this new book from the folks in the Sud Ouest neighborhood will allow me to get a feel for the restaurant. And then I can plan another visit to Montreal to indulge in more of the city’s food. With Joe Beef atop the list.

-The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria by Ferran Adrià

Continuing Adria’s culinary domination is this latest book. Built on the notion of Family Meal; the dinner made by a restaurant’s staff before service starts. And when the inspiration and ideas come from his El Bulli, even more exciting. Another in the line of great Phaidon books that delve into Ferran Adria’s world.

Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi

The march towards Momofuku world dominance continues. This time in the form of Chef Christina Tosi’s irreverent, creative, and tasty sweets and baked goods. If one ever goes to NYC’s Momofuku Milk Bar, one will find things like Crack Pie, Compost Cookies, Cereal Milk Soft Serve Ice Cream; hopefully all of these things make it to the book. I can’t wait to find out.

CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life by Jessie Oleson

Head Spy Jessie Oleson and her valiant Cuppie the Cupcake arrive via book form to share recipes and whimsy in this book. You should dabble into the world of CakeSpy for the subversively light-hearted look at baked goods. Plus, Jessie is rather awesome.

The Seasonal Cocktail Companion: Recipes and Projects for Four Seasons of Drinking by Maggie Savarino

If you’ve had a drink at Madison Park Conservatory or read her column in Seattle Weekly, you know that Maggie Savarino knows her way around liquor and spirits. This book adds a seasonal component to cocktails; taking a look at what’s fresh and applying them to libations.

There you have it; a half-dozen new cookbooks that I’m looking forward to. And if there are some others that make their way to me (Mario Batali’s new book, the cookbook from the Voltaggio brothers, Jacques Pepin’s latest), I won’t say no to them either.

Where should you get these new cookbooks? Amazon is of course the option, but why not support your local independent book store? Even better, go visit Seattle’s own Book Larder when it opens this October. It’ll be Seattle’s first culinary bookstore and all sorts of great events will happen there. See you around the reading room. And then the kitchen.

Washington Wine Tasting with Stephen Tanzer

This post first appeared on Seattlest.

Over the last few summers a wine event in Seattle has flown so far under the radar most wine fans don’t know it happens. And just a few weeks ago, it occurred yet again. Stephen Tanzer is one of the more renowned wine reviewers in the world. His International Wine Cellar newsletter (and Winophilia blog) is required reading for winos. In my opinion, he’s part of the big three with Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker. And he’s part of this wine event that happens the past few summers.

I’ve been fortunate to attend these wine tastings. The first was in 2008 at Art of the Table. The theme that year was the five best Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, in Tanzer’s estimation, that Washington can produce. It was a great event which opened my eyes to the capability of our state’s wines. An added benefit was the opportunity to learn from Tanzer, which has been a bonus to every year’s tasting. In 2009, the event was moved to Tom Douglas’ Palace Ballroom. The theme followed suit, but Tanzer added the wrinkle of one of his favorite Syrahs and Cabs from other parts of the world as points of comparison. 2010 focused all Syrah, showcasing the very best that Washington can produce with this Rhone varietal. In attendance were some of the winemakers whose bottles were being poured that evening. A great night to be a wine nerd.

The theme for the 2011 tasting? To shine the light on 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab blends from Washington. That particular vintage was highlighted because of the class that it showed and also to have some wine with a touch more bottle age. Why Cabernet? To see what this noble grape can do in the vineyards of our state and in the hands of area winemakers. Speaking of those winemakers, they were again in attendance. Always interesting to see the give and take of what Steve tasted, what the winemakers discuss, and how the crowd responds to the wines – all at the same time.

I was familiar with most of the wines; regardless, all of them had me intrigued to see what Steve Tanzer and the event organizer, David Hamilton, had in store for us. What was exciting about the evening was to try all of these wines in an open format with one of the world’s pre-eminent wine critics shepherding us. This was the format of all the past tastings and it made for a rare wine night to learn and try some world class wines.

Here are the wines that were poured in 2011:

The folks that were at the event to represent their wineries were:

  • Bob Betz – Betz Family Winery
  • Chris Upchurch – DeLille Cellars
  • John Abbott – Abeja
  • David Larsen – Soos Creek Wine Cellars
  • Gilles Nicault – Long Shadows
  • Paul Mcbride – Grand Reve Vintners

In going through this horizontal tasting, the first two flights were red blends with a focus on Bordeaux varietals and how they leaned on Cabernet Sauvignon. The last two flights were almost all Cabernet Sauvignon. As we went through the flights we noted that though these wines did have some age, they were still relatively young. One wine in particular was noted as having life through 2030 in its tasting notes. A key to tasting any red wine is to pay attention to the tannins; are they chunky and harsh? Or fine-grained and supple? Tannins are one of the hallmarks of red wine and having a gauge of their context can help in the appreciation of what you’re drinking.

As we went through the flights, I thought back on last year. On Syrah and how this grape shows much promise in Washington. I remembered the high level wine nerd discussion that broke out when the subject of clonal differences came up; how this clone was better than that one. This year, the talk was a bit more straightforward, not quite as geeky, but still plenty nerdy. We discussed the essence of terroir. That magical French notion, where wine exhibits a sense of place and if it exists in Washington. While some of the winemakers say that yes, Washington does have it, but because many of the wines come from grapes across the best vineyards of Eastern Washington, the goal of the best wine is what they aim for.

We also spent time reminiscing on the 2005 vintage. Often considered one of the great recent vintages for Washington, it gave the winemakers grapes to make great wine.  And for most of the winemakers, they spoke fondly as to what Mother Nature gave them and how the conditions were ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon; the Indian summer that year attributed to the structure of the grapes. That 2005 was a vintage where a winemaker could let the grapes shine. One of the things that I consider when tasting wines, can you taste the winemaking? Can you notice the level of oak that went into the wine? As we embarked in tasting, my mind was swimming in how to taste just these components.

Of the wines we had, my personal favorite was the one from Soos Creek Wine Cellars. I didn’t know much about them going into the evening, but it was an elegant and beguiling Bordeaux-style blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, and 18% Cabernet Franc. The tannins were like sand with a mid-palate of dried fruits and a rich and fulfilling finish. This wine was great. Even better was that it was unexpected. I’ll be keeping my eye on Soos Creek and the other offerings from David Larsen.

The other winethat stood out to me (note – all of the wines were very good, some just resonated with me that evening more than others) was the Betz ‘Le Parrain‘. We learned from Bob Betz that ‘Le Parrain’ means Godfather, and they don’t make it that often (once in the last 15 years) and this vintage fit the bill to make it. I also really enjoyed the offerings from Januik, Chateau Rollat and Leonetti Cellar. Who am I kidding? All were good.

One of my favorite moments of these dinners is learning about the up-and-coming wineries in Steve Tanzer’s estimation. It was at the event in 2008 where he told us about Corliss Estates. When he was telling us about Corliss Estates, most in the room never heard about it. Now wine nerds all know about this Walla Walla winery. Here are the wineries that Tanzer was particularly impressed by in his recent visit: Kerloo Cellars, Tulpen Cellars (for their Sangiovese), Saviah Cellars, Sleight of Hand Cellars (although their labels leave a lot to be desired), Den Hoed Wine Estates, Eight Bells Winery (particularly the Syrah), Obelisco Estate, Woodinville Wine Cellars, Efeste (white wines were showing particularly well), and Gorman Winery (their best vintage to date). I wonder what Steve’s thought is of Figgins, the new bottle from Figgins Family Wine?

What was exciting and exasperating about this tasting is the exclusivity and scarcity of these wines. It was an honor to be able to taste the high caliber of wines, and exasperating in that they are all probably impossible to get at retail. We’re probably setting sail into the world of wine auctions and the like on eBay, I have no idea how that will work out. So good luck finding any of these.

Key takeaways from that evening; we drank a lot of great wine. The 2005 vintage provides a barometer for how great Washington wines can be. The 2008 vintage is very exciting and quite good. The price and value of Washington wines is amazing. Soos Creek was my winner for the evening. But all of the wines were very good, and some a part of the status of Washington’s new cult wines. And now I’m looking forward to the 2012 edition of this epic wine tasting.

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How to tick off a wine snob; ice cubes in wine

This post originally appeared on Seattlest

There are a host of faux pas that one can make when it comes to wine. Drinking wine too warm (or too cold). Storing bottles in too warm of a place. Keeping bottles in your car (don’t do this). Confusing your Cabernet Sauvignon from your Sauvignon Blanc. But there is perhaps none worse than putting ice cubes in wine. Or so I thought.

Before we get to the moment where I took pause with putting ice cubes in a glass of wine, let’s delve into why this is bad form.

Would you ever consider putting ice cubes in milk? Beer? Orange juice? Of course not, it’s weird. The additional frozen water just expedites the process of watering down your beverage. And watered down wine isn’t a good thing. It dilutes the flavor and thins out whatever nuance the wine has to begin with. Additionally, it’ll bring down the temperature a bit too quickly. Wine is intended to be served at room temperature, but note that this was room temperature from ancient times. The modern room temperature of 72 degrees is deemed too warm. Wine academics would prefer that wine is served about 12-15 degrees south of that.

But some folks still like putting ice cubes in wine. While there is nothing wrong with it, it’s not exactly suggested practice. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out that superstar chef (and Seattle’s own) Mario Batali adds ice cubes to his wine. But, Le Grande Orange does it a bit differently and he certainly ‘chefs’ it up. According to the folks at Grub Street, he makes a light simple syrup and squeezes some fruit juice in it before freezing the concoction as ice cubes. And then he adds it to Rosé. How about that? While this isn’t exactly an ice cube (it’s more of a light popsicle), it does the same thing as ice; it lowers the temperature and dilutes the wine’s flavor. Mario just does it differently and amps it with fruit juice and simple syrup. His noted celebrity chef status simply makes the whole thing sound plausible, so plausible that I even tried it.

In the end, while I’m not an advocate for ice cubes in wine, you have an option. But please don’t add ice cubes to red wine. If you really want to do that, make sangria.