Sunday, November 29, 2009

Set A Good Example For Your Children

I just returned from a delicious brunch at an upscale Midtown Memphis restaurant & I just have to blog about it. The food, as always, is fabulous & the service is outstanding. However, the other diners.....not so much. A table of three children & four adults was seated next to us & it didn't take us long to boil over with loathing for them. People should have to take a class before they are allowed to dine out. The parents pulled out a portable DVD player to occupy one of their little demon spawn & the noise from that evil little device was so unbelievably annoying. The other two creatures preceded to squeal the entire brunch. Who in their right mind thinks its ok to disturb other diners with a loud DVD player??? What the hell is wrong with people? That isn't the worst of it. The adults were almost worse. The father rudely demanded chicken fingers for his children to which the server politely responded that they did not have such items. The man became indignant & demanded the wretched little digits saying that whoever he spoke with on the phone said they had them. Then he proceeded to demand(I'm not even kidding, demand...seriously? what an ass!) a grapefruit salad. Again the server apologized & said that they didn't have such a salad. He responded that they did in fact have that salad & it was on their dinner menu. The very patient server responded that this particular salad has not been on their dinner menu for three months. I'm sure these miserable people's children will grow up to be miserable adults if that behavior continues. Why in the world do people think its ok to behave like this in public? They shouldn't be allowed out of their house, seriously.

By the way, the 18 month old child at our table was perfectly well behaved because her mother actually raised her right.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day 4 Washington Wine Road Trip

On day 4 of Road Trip 2009 I got the opportunity to spend the morning with Chris & Kelly Sparkman of Sparkman Cellars. Their facility is in the "winery ghetto" of Woodinville, WA. Small producers call this area home because of lower overhead & the ability to reach the millions of people right next door in Seattle. I was thrilled to be going here not only because Chris is a sommelier turned winemaker but also because both he & Kelly are fellow Tennesseans! Chris is from Knoxville & Kelly is from Germantown.

While at dinner at Chateau Ste Michelle the night before, Chris & I were discussing his Klipsun Vineyard Cabernet. I love love LOVE Klipsun! He was explaining how hard & tough those grape skins are & offered me the chance to punch some down. Well of course I said yes, I mean why the hell would I pass up that chance? So when we entered the back of the winery I saw it. An open top fermenter full of Klipsun...I nearly wet myself. After taking a stab at pigeage I almost just gave up. I couldn't break through the grapes, it was if I was hitting cement they were so damn hard. After a few tries Chris laughed a little & said "I told you they were hard! C'mon over here & I'll give you a chance to redeem yourself.". He took me over to a vat of fermenting malbec from the Double Canyon Vineyard.

This was much easier, but still a workout. I submerged the cap with the plunger over & over again & really got the grapes swirling around like a cauldron. For me, this was just ridiculous fun. To be a part of the process, to help make wine that I'll be sipping on in a few years was almost overwhelming to me.

After I worked up a good sweat & did my part in the making of outstanding wine we adjourned to the barrel room to taste Kelly's sauvignon blanc. One barrel held a sauv blanc that had finished fermentation & one had not finished. The difference was staggering, one was pure pineapple juice while the other was a perfect stylistic blend of Sancerre & South Africa. I had to return to the back room to look at a deeply purple & bubbling vat of fermenting Boushey Vineyard Syrah.

This was an incredibly hands on experience that gave me a peek into how much hard work it is to be a small family winery. Sparkman Cellars' wines are exquisite & I can't wait until they are in the Memphis market. Meanwhile, we will just have to satiate ourselves with the other insanely delicious Washington Wines in the market, such as Nicholas Cole Cellars.....

Monday, November 16, 2009

Art Opening at the Majestic Grille

This Wednesday head down to the Majestic Grille for a new art opening.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saturday Night Dinner Alone

Last night I got off work early & after a long walk with one of the dogs I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner. Kelly was at work so all bets were off. I could cook anything I wanted to! At the local Whole Foods I went straight for the butcher & seafood counter. I always prefer to purchase meat & seafood from Whole Foods because both are at LEAST sustainably farmed or sustainably wild caught. The scallops looked fantastic, not all uniformly colored (to indicate bleaching) & large & plump. The fish guy said that their scallops are not treated or injected with anything & that these particular ones were fresh, not previously frozen. I grabbed three, moved down to the meat & got two slices of applewood smoked bacon & one medium sized lamb chop. Hey it was Saturday & I was treating myself so why not?? I knew I had arborio rice at home so I planned on a risotto. All I needed now was some stock, cream, fennel, garlic & a nice little chocolate bar to nibble on.

Upon arriving home I got the stock warming in a pan, browned some butter, reduced some beef stock with parmiggiano rinds (always helps to save those!) & sauteed the onions & garlic for the risotto. Once the risotto was going I chopped up some fennel & threw it in a hot pan to caramelize. Whoever doesn't like fennel should really try this. It is absolutely delicious & very wine friendly. Next I got a cast iron skillet SCREAMING hot & seared off my lamb chop. As soon as it was nicely browned I transferred it to the oven to stay warm while I turned my attention to the scallops. With the skillet still ragingly hot I added a little more olive oil & dropped in the quivering, pale pieces of heaven. Once crusty & brown I took them out, placed them on a creamy mound of risotto topped with the fennel. I took the rinds out of the reduced stock & whisked in the brown butter & some truffle oil. This was just about the most heavenly meal I had made in a very long time. Paired with a Lachini Ana Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 Dundee Hills, Oregon it just sang. The wine was earthy & laced with bright cherry, mushroom & had a bright elegant acidity.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima Valley

There have been few moments in my life when I have felt as if I'm standing on hallowed, sacred ground. Visiting Mike Sauer's Red Willow Vineyard in western Yakima Valley was one of those very moments. When I stepped off the charter bus a sparse quiet surrounded me. Sunlight was beating down & just a faint breeze was evident. I looked up the steep vine covered hill rising up before me & thought "are we in Hermitage?"

David Lake, the father of the Washington Wine industry, passed away not two days prior to us arriving at this vineyard. This was the vineyard that produced the grapes that he fashioned into world class wine which got the attention of the whole world. At some moments it was difficult to keep the emotions from overwhelming me... but then again whats the point of holding back?

As the story goes, David was explaining to Mike Sauer that Red Willow reminded him of Hermitage. So Mike, being religious, decided to build a Chapel or a "La Chapel" so to speak. The syrah grown here rivals the Northern Rhone yet it doesn't necessarily seek to emulate it so much as build on that foundation & become something different, something distinctive, something varietaly correct of course, & definitively Red Willow.

I couldn't help myself so I hiked up a vine row all the way up to the top where the La Chapel was. It was one of the most difficult hikes I've taken. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to harvest this particular parcel of the vineyard site. But the hike brought me closer to the site itself & made me feel a part of it, an appendage I guess.

Once I made it to the top the quietness was interrupted only by my heaving breath & stronger wind than what I felt on the valley floor. It was overwhelming to experience. I looked down through the rows & tried to imagine how many people have been effected by the wines these vines have produced over their lifetime. How many people had a taste altering experience with a Red Willow Syrah from the very spot I was gazing down upon? The beauty was staggering.

Once I was back down on the valley floor I was greeted with a very special wine indeed.

Columbia Winery Syrah 1988 Red Willow Vineyard La Chapel Block. I was stunned by its elegant beauty; leathery, meaty texture; smoky spice & fine grained tannin. What I didn't realize is that I had an ear to ear toothy grin on my face that just wouldn't go away. Its that smile that had been plastered to my face the entire trip & wouldn't leave until long after returning home.

After sipping some wine a group of us climbed aboard a trailer that was hitched to a farm tractor which was about to carry us up the hill back to the Chapel.

Slowly chugging up the hill we passed by the block of nebbiolo that Peter Dow (winemaker/owner of Cavatappi & former owner of Cafe Juanita) talked Mike Sauer into planting many many years ago. The 2003 Cavatappi Cuvee Madellena Nebbiolo from Red Willow was an absolutely incredible bottle of wine. Very Piedmontese if not for the riper fruit but the texture was what was so beguiling. As we passed by the vine rows I leaped off the tractor & grabbed a handful of nebbiolo grapes then ran back to the tractor. I couldn't NOT taste fresh nebbiolo grapes, are you kidding me??

Being in Red Willow & feeling the same feeling for this site that David Lake felt will be something I shall never forget.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Impromptu Tasting

It was Sunday & I was craving some good wine & good wine-based discussion. So a few texts & phone calls later I gathered Richie, Meagan, Lance & Fiona at our home to pop some bottles, snack & chat. Wine always tastes so much better with good friends around. Unfortunately, I didn't get photos of all the bottles we tasted (& we had quite a few) so what I have here is just a selection.

I'd been hanging on to this Loring Rosella's Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 for 4 years. It was the from the very first order I placed with Loring & something made me hold on to one bottle just to see....what it would do. Upon release it was a big, brawny, mouthfilling pinot noir. Almost...well un-pinot like, I guess. After a few years of age it had settled into a luscious wine with earthy barnyard aromas, dried black cherry, & cola. The texture was gripping but supple & silky.

Up next was an absolute treat from Richie. Thank you thank you thank you!!

Quilceda Creek is not only one of the best wines Washington State produces, I think its one of the best wines PERIOD. There was absolutely no concern about the 11 year bottle age. Knowing what we know about QC, we were all excited to see how it had developed. One whiff of this & I could have sworn we had poured a Bordeaux. Notes of cedar, leather, cigar box, dried currant & wild herbs emanated from the glass. The palate was gripping, leathery, herb laden & had a beam of currant fruit that ran straight down the middle. Thank you to Richie's Uncle for sending this along for him to graciously share with us!!

This bad boy was a hedonistic dark beauty. Garretson has never been one to produce a shrinking violet. It had super rich boysenberry & blackberry fruit with pungent tart acidity & succulent bold texture. I wish we had a flourless chocolate cake. It would've paired perfectly.

Last but not least is Ridge Carignane. I must tip my hat to Richie once again for providing a stupendously good wine. I was shocked at how "old-world" this wine was. I've always had the utmost respect for Ridge but this shined a whole new light on what they can do. Spicy, earthy, gripping, & kinda sexy. I shoved my nose deep down into the glass & inhaled. Gorgeous.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Two Blondes Vineyard

I was so absolutely, unbelievably psyched to find out I was going to Chris Camarda's Two Blondes Vineyard. First of all, because the wines that Chris crafts from this special plot of land are incredible. Second, because my very good friend Elizabeth identified the Andrew Will Two Blondes Vineyard in the blind tasting portion of her Certified Specialist of Wine exam. We arrived at Two Blondes a little early & found Chris & a few of his vineyard workers quite busy. As I stepped out of our charter bus I instantly could tell how different this place was. We were quite high in elevation which made it one of the warmest sites we had been to all week. The wind kept up a fairly consistent pace as it whipped around us. Chris led us through a few different blocks of vines including a parcel that had been destroyed by a sandstorm just a week prior. It was startling to see vines that had been stripped bare of everything but a few grape clusters. An audible gasp escaped my mouth when I first walked into a particularly bare row. Chris described how scary it was to first pull up to the vineyard after the storm. This plot of land has been somewhat of a battle for Chris & his crew. After describing the aftermath of the storm he went on to discuss how he has had to replant Two Blondes TWICE! One time was to re-orient part of it to exacerbate airflow & prevent sunburn. As he was detailing these trials we sipped on the '07 Two Blondes. Knowing all the info that Chris just shared with us I just thought "damn! The good stuff doesn't come easy at all!" Chris could have given up on this plot of land but he truly believed that this place would yield something special. It was shocking to taste how expressive this wine was. Especially given the fact that the vines were so young. I love this wine now but I can't imagine how much better they will continue to get as the vines age.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Check out my latest article on my excursion to Oregon Pinot Camp. Click here.