Seattle Refined

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Over the past few months, I’ve been writing for a new lifestyle site called Seattle Refined. It’s in partnership with KOMO, the Seattle ABC affiliate, and the focus for Seattle Refined is on all the great things that Seattle has to offer. As the tagline says ‘Life is different here.’ And I concur. I’m fortunate to be on a roster with other great writers, like the vivacious GastroGnome. My beat has been mostly about wine and the culture of wine. But there have been some random posts too. Like ‘Where would Aziz Ansari eat in Seattle?‘ Or my farewell to Madison Park Conservatory. So far, so good. Come check me out over there and enjoy the ride. Cheers.

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Garagiste’s Lair

Photo by Garagiste

Want to get a special bottle of wine for a gift for this weekend’s dinner party? How about wanting to try a new wine from a region you’ve been curious about? How about a bottle of utterly unique wine from one of the very best wine purveyors in the nation? At killer prices? Look no further, Garagiste has opened up a pop-up shop for the holidays.

If you’re not familiar with Garagiste and you love wine, you really should. Started by Jon Rimmerman and based in a nondescript warehouse in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood, Garagiste is sort of a like a flash sale site but more carefully curated and under the watchful palate of Mr. Rimmerman. Jon writes this lush and rich descriptions of each wine in an email newsletter that goes out a few times a week and you’ll want to order almost every wine. His taste is renowned and his business model is very unique, so much so that The New York Times took notice. You should really sign up for the email list. Some of the wines are out of reach or a bit esoteric, but they are all very interesting and you’ll learn something in each email.

Here is where it gets better; this holiday season, Garagiste has opened a pop-up shop in their warehouse called the ‘Garagiste Lair’. I went on opening day and had to be sensible and not go overboard with buying as much as possible. The wines are segmented in pricing tiers; $5, $10, $15, $20, $25, and so on. At each level there are sure to be interesting wines. I partook in some Morgon for $5 and some Prosecco for $20. Was also able to scoop up some Quilceda Creek for $40. Yup, forty bucks. Some Touraine. A bottle from Mencia. But I look forward to going back to see what else is new. The inventory will be rotated and that is part of the fun about this pop-up; finding treasures amongst the stacks and bottles of wine.

If you’re in the Seattle area, love wine, or know someone that does, a visit to Garagiste’s Lair is in order. Their hours are Tuesday-Friday 11am-6pm and Saturday from 10am-5pm at the Garagiste Wine warehouse at 707 S. Lander St, Seattle 98134. But hurry up and head there soon, the pop-up is only open through the holidays.

When to Drink at Seattle’s Tasting Rooms

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We like wine. Using the royal ‘We’, America’s wine consumption is growing by the year.  Join in the imbibing with these Seattle-area wine purveyors. Support local! Here is a quick rundown of area tasting rooms, shops, and retailers and the days where they do some pourings. Cheers.

Bin 41
-Friday 6-7:30pm

DeLaurenti
-Saturday 2-4pm

Esquin
-Frequent tastings throughout the week, check website

Greenlake Wines
-Thursday 5-7pm

McCarthy & Schiering
-Every Saturday 11-5pm (both locations)

Pike & Western
-Wednesday 4-6pm, $5
-Friday 3-6pm, complimentary

Portalis
-Tue & Wed 3-9pm

Sixth Avenue Wine Seller
-Thursday 3-7pm, $10

The Tasting Room
-During business hours $2-5pm

Vino Verite
-Thursday 5-8pm

West Seattle Wine Cellars
-Thursday 5:30-8pm, complimentary

Wine World & Spirits
-Every weekday 6-8pm
-Every weekend 2-5pm

The price points of wine

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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.

Porcine Party – Cochon 555 returns to Seattle

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Imagine a party. With a decadent and debaucherous vibe. A lively hum of conversation. All sorts of interesting people. Plenty of food and booze to revel with. And amongst the food, a focus on pork. And the people cooking are some of the best in the biz. The pigs they’re using to cook with are prized for unique fat and flavor. The booze has a local slant of buzzy wineries and distilleries that are so hot right now. Have that picture in your mind? Good. Because it’s real. And it is awesome. Cochon 555 makes its return to Seattle after a hiatus in 2012. The food lovers of Seattle couldn’t be happier.

We last touched on Cochon 555 in 2011. At that Cochon, the focus had the ‘555’ format; five chefs, five types of pork, and five wineries. I remember Ethan Stowell’s pork zeppole, Holly Smith’s maltagliatti, and John Sundstrom’s pork belly. And strips of bacon stuffed into Mason jars dotting every table as a snack. There were epic lines to each of the chef’s table. It was like Disneyland, but instead of waiting for Space Mountain, you waited for the swoon of pork fat. It was awesome and the Prince of Porc in 2011 was Chef John Sundstrom. And I couldn’t wait to the next Cochon 555.

Alas, it wasn’t to be as Cochon didn’t swing through Seattle in 2012. But the porky people at Cochon are returning to Seattle this weekend and they’re turning up the volume. They are referring to this year’s event as the 5th Anniversary Tour (pdf). This time there will be even more chefs featured; instead of the five of years past, there are no eight that’ll do their thing. They are:

A highlight of Cochon 555’s is to see what the chefs will do with their pigs. Be assured that each dish is unique from one another and taking it further; because of the various breeds of pigs, the flavor and texture will be different from one to the next. To get a gauge of the types of pork you’ll taste, check out what each chef is making and be mindful of the fat levels and richness from each one. Some pork will have a real milky fat, while others are very full and rich. God, I love pork.

Here is the breakdown of the event; it’s this Sunday, March 17th, with VIP starting at 4pm, and general admission at 5pm. The host for this pork gitdown is the Cedarbrook Lodge in South Seattle near Sea-Tac Airport. This page will give you all of the information you’ll need. And if pork isn’t your thing (impossible), there are a bunch of other things going on: butcher demo, bourbon tasting, mezcal tasting, a ton of wine, lots of beer, and so much more fun to celebrate with pork. In fact, if I was a playwright, I’d write a sequel to Die Fledermaus where pork is the source of all the fun.

Look forward to seeing you around the table, I’ll be the guy stuffing my face with crispy skin, pork fat, and trotters. Oh yeah.

Another Round at Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen

Another Round is a series of posts that take a look at the wine and drink lists of area restaurants. The series will consider the story that the restaurant will have in the curation of their beverage list. Ballard’s Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen is in the crosshairs this week.

When Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen, it opened up with much fanfare. From the guys that brought the Matador restaurants throughout the Northwest, they’ve opened up the sprawling Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen off of Shilshole Ave. in Ballard. Much of the local media has covered the restaurant and the food experience, but their wine and drink list has yet to receive much review.

With a name that includes the word ‘Whiskey’ in it, know that you’re in good hands with brown liquor. The drink list is broken down into ‘Libations‘ (wine, beer, house cocktails, etc) and ‘Whiskey + Spirits‘ (whiskey and spirits, natch); both lists are robust. As befits a restaurant whose food menu leans heavily towards barbecue and items imbued with smoke and comfort, the drinks are lined up to balance with those flavors. You want a beverage with a to match that heft. Expect power, strength, and richness with the wine list. And a lot of brown liquor. Here are some highlights:

  • Bottles of white wine range from $24-100; mostly domestic
  • Bottles of red wine range from $27-220
  • By the glass program – white wines $8-10; red wines $8-17
  • They have a house bottle called ‘Kickin’ Boot Syrah’ made by Darcie Kent Vineyards; a winery in California.
  • Cocktail list is whiskey-prevalent

The decor of Kickin’ Boot reminds me of Back to the Future Part 3; it’s a bit of the Old West, but with an element of frivolity. High ceilings, windows, aplenty, and TVs everywhere, one could find themselves amongst many a bro. Not that it’s a bad thing, Kickin’ Boot clearly has a formula and they’ll do quite well with it. Heck, the restaurateurs have a formula with Matador that is rolling like gangbusters. I’d imagine that Kickin’ Boot will be packin’ ’em in and servin’ ’em up like crazy.

 
Kickin' Boot Whiskey Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Another Round at Lecosho

Another Round is a series of posts that takes a look at the wine and drink lists of area restaurants. The series will consider the story that the restaurant will have in the curation of their beverage list. Though the sightglass this week is Seattle’s Lecosho.

Located on the Harbor Steps up from Seattle’s waterfront, Lecosho has been open since September of 2010. With a name that is Chinook for ‘pig’, one would think that it would be a porcine mecca. One would be wrong. While pork is featured, it’s not exactly the driving force. You could say the same for the wine list. It’s not featured on their website and the list itself feels small with only a few dozen bottles in total. Not small, but not large either. But their porchetta is the star of the show and the wine follows in line.

Here is what I gathered from the wine list:

  • White wines range in price from $39-90 a bottle. French and Washington wines dominate the list. Thoughout the list are unique varietals with a hallmark of acidity (always good to balance rich dishes).
  • Red wines are between $35-98 for a bottle. Wines from the Northwest and Italy are prevalent with acidity and fruit-forward flavor profiles as the name of the game.
  • The wine-by-the-glass program has less well known varietals and white wines are priced between $7-10, with reds between $8-13.
  • Sparkling wines are between $47 (for a a half bottle) to $112.

The drink list is also not on their website, but they do feature the Martinez; an under-rated cocktail that is purported to be the precursor the Martini. And it was an excellent cocktail; the balance of the gin with the sweet vermouth offers a beguiling tone.

What the wine list is telling me is that the wines are intended to have acidity and fruit to balance the perceived richness that the menu entails. The goal of any restaurant is to have a pairing between food and wine balance, and that is what Lecosho is trying to do. It’s not exactly an exciting list, but you go to Lecosho for the notion of pork, not for wine.
Lecosho on Urbanspoon

Wine tasting with Stephen Tanzer – 2012 edition

I’ve had the good fortune of attending the annual wine tasting with the wine reviewer, Stephen Tanzer (of International Wine Cellar and Winophilia). This is the fifth year running where David Hamilton organizes the event, curates the wine with Steve, and invites us wine nerds to a decadent and entertaining night of drinking the best that our region offers. Every year, I have an idea of what to expect, and every year, I come away with something unexpected. The 2012 edition was no different.

What was once a small intimate gathering of like-minded wine drinkers has now opened up to include winemakers and a few more guests. Thankfully, it’s as intimate as a whisper, but as fun as a party. The attendance of winemakers over the years has made for an interesting dynamic; on one hand, you get insight into the style of wine and how they arrive at their bottle destination. On the other hand, there can be some awkwardness when their wine is voted on by those in the room as the most and least favorite. Even in ultra-polite Seattle, sometimes a local winemaker gets some tough love. But what’s great about having the winemakers attend is that you can speak to them as fellow wine drinkers, chat about what excites them, and hear inside information you wouldn’t get from visiting their tasting rooms or reading about their wines. We were fortunate to sit with Sean Boyd of Woodinville Wine Cellars and had a blast while talking about wine, eating good food from the Tom Douglas Restaurant team at the Palace Ballroom, and soaking in the conversation in the room that typifies this annual event. Continue reading

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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