Thursday, June 13, 2013

How Often Does a Wine Totally Take You By Surprise?

Maybe I've been spoiled by so much good wine, but these days it takes something really special to sweep me off my feet. One thing that excites me though, is a winery that does something so completely different and totally unexpected, and then does it exceedingly well. Case in point, WillaKenzie Estate.

In Oregon, we're blessed with an abundance of  fantastic Pinot noir and even great Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, but rarely do you find a winery that's stepping completely out of the box and delivering something totally off the beaten path. Yet somehow, I found just the thing.

Last year, with great luck, I stumbled upon WillaKenzie Estate's 2010 Pinot Meunier and boy was I happy I did. Sadly, I only purchased a couple of bottles of this beauty. I was so impressed with this wine, I was saving this last bottle for a special occasion, or at least a special person to share it with. But alas, I decided I was special occasion and special person enough and popped it open last night with dinner. So, in the end, you're actually the lucky one I get to share it with :)

Though this variety actually ripens more consistently and reliably than Pinot noir, for reasons unbeknownst to me, Pinot Meunier is not typically found as a stand-alone red wine and not widely grown in the Willamette Valley. Traditionally, Pinot Meunier is used as one of the three main blending grapes in Champagne (the other two are Pinot noir and Chardonnay). For use in Champagne (insert drool here), the grapes are pressed immediately, it's juice never having contact with their skins to encourage tannin and color development. Meunier means Miller, which is characterized by its leaves that are covered with a white, dusty, powdery substance (almost like flour, and not to be confused with mildew). WillaKenzie harvested their estate-grown grapes and put them in cold storage for a few days before they went through a traditional cold-soak maceration, fermentation and punch-down regime (not unlike their Pinot noir). What was created, was a limited-production wine that shows love, forethought and risk. All the makings of a winner.

WillaKenzie is one of the few wineries (certainly in Oregon anyway), who is producing Pinot Meunier as a single vineyard and varietally-specific wine. It's 100% estate grown, in Yamhill Oregon, and worth the experience. If you're an acid hound, like me, you'll especially love this wine. The high acidity is part of what makes it pair so well with food. The wine is light, yet plush and tart. It's screaming with fresh fruit flavors of sour cherry, cranberry and pucker-power pomegranate, with compliments of white pepper, vanilla and pie spice.

Happy Marriages:
Keep food pairings simple. An absolute pleasure to drink all on its own, the WillaKenzie Pinot Meuneir is ideally suited to lighter foods. Try it with roasted chicken, seared scallops, shrimp on the barbi, savory potatoes and sauteed zucchini.

The 2010 Pinot Meunier is sadly sold out, but the 2011 vintage has just been released and is impressive and oh-so-drinkable now too. Rest assured a few more of those bottles will find their way into my cellar. If you're smart, they'll make their way into yours too.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Aquaman to the Rescue… Cocktail in Hand.

Summer in Portland has come early this year. While most years, June still finds me dressed in my rain jacket and boots, this year I have already shed those garments, trading them in for a sundress and a nice healthy(?) tan. And though I typically don’t have much use for AC in my car, this year I find myself wishing for the refrigerated and re-circulated air to blow me down. Yeah, nothing like black leather in the hot sun with no way of cooling it down other than your own body. Can you say “sticky?" Sit in traffic in a slow moving car for an hour or so and I’m fairly certain you’ll feel something like a rotisserie chicken. When this happens to me, my mind immediately goes to Aquaman. But I’m not talking about being rescued by superheroes, I’m speaking the language of savior cocktails. Do you know of a better language?

Aquaman may have been the most underappreciated Justice League member, who even knows what his superpower was anyway? And, while Aquaman may not have been the coolest or most memorable of superheroes, THE Aquaman is definitely the coolest and most memorable drink you’ll ever come across. It's the king of cocktails. The master of the mixed drink. You might even feel something like a superhero when you drink it (go on, try to communicate with underwater sea-life)… it may not make you swim faster, but at the very least, it will make you forget all about your stifling commute. What more can you really ask for? Come on, did you really think you'd acquire superhuman powers?

The anise and lime flavors of this cocktail are simply perfect for an evening cooling off on your deck, but if you’re thinking dinner, I recommend pairing it with Mexican food. Though Aquavit is traditionally a Scandavian spirit, the sweet and sour components of the cocktail work surprisingly well with salty fish tacos while at the same time rescuing you from the heat of a spicy salsa.

Mix yourself up a tall one, sit back relax, and then let me know how Aquaman saved the world.

Serves 1

Fresh squeezed lime juice
Aquavit (I especially like Krogstad from House Spirits Distillery based in Portland)
Simple Syrup

  1. Add 2 shots each of lime juice, Aquavit and simple syrup into a shaker with ice. 
  2. Shake and pour into a superhero serving glass. 
  3. Garnish with a twist of lime or a float of mint leaves.
  4. Sit back and let your secret identity take shape.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Saké PDX… the Saké Bomb of Events

I sat at my table in awe, mouth hanging open, in surprise and appreciation for what I was witnessing at the table next to me. The server was pouring a glass (choko) of saké, and instead of stopping when the glass was full, he continued to pour and pour, and pour, until the wine had sufficiently overflowed into the box (masu) that the glass sat in, filling both containers. I found the presentation so impressive, I wanted to order my own glass, just so I could watch the process all over again. I couldn't help myself, I felt the words overflowing from my mouth like the saké from the bottle. I said "How cool is that!" and then proceeded to ask the couple at the table next to me if they knew why it was done like that. Their answer was a simple “No, to draw attention to it might make it stop, and we don't complain.” Next, I asked the waiter about the meaning, to which he answered "It’s the traditional way." Unsatisfied with the answers I was getting, I pulled out my trusty phone and turned to Google. Wiki told me that there is in fact a very specific meaning as to why saké is poured this way. It is simply intended to show the restaurant's generosity. I generously shared this information with the couple and the waiter.

I've dined in a lot of sushi restaurants, but I couldn't recall ever experiencing such hospitality before. Though I’d ordered saké numerous times I was never shown such generosity until I ordered a glass of my favorite saké (Yuki no Bosha – Cabin in the Snow) at my favorite sushi restaurant, Bamboo Sushi in Portland. And then it was just as I remembered. The saké was beautifully light and refreshing, with notes of melon and white peaches, and the presentation made it even better. They were so generous! :)

"Generosity is not me giving that which I need more than you do, but is giving me that which you need more than I do." Khalil Gibran

On June 27th, Saké Fest returns to Portland at The Governer Hotel. Attendees will have the opportunity to sample more than 100 different kinds of saké, plum wine and beer from near and afar. With premium and rare saké available to taste, guests can learn about and experience something very unique and very special, this is not your typical wine tasting event. And though the vendors probably won’t be pouring your drink to overflowing, they will be generous with their knowledge and you’re sure to discover a new favorite beverage with incredible versatility and with such a variety of characteristics you never thought possible. You have been warned though, you will likely be converted and walk away from the event a saké snob, never be able to look at someone who orders warm saké the same way again.

Saké Fest PDX is an event like no other. Experience it for yourself on Thursday, June 27th from 6:30-9:00 pm at the Governer Hotel. Expect a memorable evening overflowing with rare Japanese saké, an a little education and delicious food pairings from area restaurants to bring it all together. Get your tickets now, I’ll be there hoping to clink glasses with you, we can talk about saké or what it means to give without expecting anything in return. See you there! Kanpai.