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Cochon 555 Seattle: Wine and Pork Galore

Buty and Bacon

What can I say about Cochon 555 in Seattle? A lot. But I’ll let the photos do most of the talking. Not only was there Buty and bacon, but also delicious wines from K Vintners, Domaine Serene, and Syncline:

Cochon 555 Wines

Charles Smith of K Vintners was on hand to pour the Phil Lane Syrah:

cochon 555 032

The hacksaw came out for a butchering demo courtesy of Tracy Smaciarz from Heritage Meats:

cochon 555 084

The menu of Spinasse and Chef Jason Stratton plating:

Spinasse at Cochon 555 Seattle

Here’s the skin and ear salad with cherry bomb chiles:

cochon 555 157

The trio of offerings from Lark:

Lark Trio of Pork

And here’s what they looked like. Are you hungry yet?

Lark

There was palate-cleansing beer courtesy of Charles Finkel from Pike Brewing. (Where do I get one of those beer-dispensing backpacks?)

cochon 555 137

Cafe Juanita had a menu both instructive and delicious:

Cafe Juanita

Of course there was dessert:

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How did Ethan Stowell color his ravioli dough? The secret was pig blood.

Ethan Stowell Ravioli

Joule had wonderful sauces to accompany their roasted pork. I had the one on the left with serrano chiles and fish sauce. (At least that’s what I thought it was. Regardless, it was fantastic.)

Array of Sauces by Joule/Revel

Thanks for being awesome, Cochon 555. See you next year?

Cuts of Pork

Full disclosure: Cochon 555 provided me with a ticket to this event.

Still Life With Rosé

Seattle Restaurant Sitka & Spruce in Capitol Hill

Ah Seattle, such a bizarre day from you Wednesday. A sunny afternoon, bright light streaming through the windows of Sitka & Spruce. Then I return to Esquin and barely escape a torrential downpour. No matter, I’m still glowing from a lovely lunch with fantastic French wines from importer Kermit Lynch.

The pictured rosé, the 2010 Domaine Fontsainte Gris de Gris, was actually a tank sample, thus the DIY vintage labeling. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it’s ready to go. Looking forward to the arrival of this rosé in about a month or so. I also really enjoyed the red wines Fontsainte produces in the Corbieres region of France. What was most interesting about these wines is that they go through a process called carbonic maceration. I know, it sounds a little…unsettling. But without getting bogged down in details, it’s a process most widely used in Beaujolais that helps produce very fresh, fruity, and lively reds. Do not fear the carbonic maceration!

Speaking of Beaujolais, we also sampled a few offerings from Domaine Dupeuble. Like the Fontsainte rosé, we tasted a few 2010 wines that were samples yet to be officially bottled. I had a similar reaction: “These are tank samples?!?” Could have fooled me. The 2010 Blanc, made of Chardonnay, was lively and bracing like a good Chablis; the Gamay, ready for a slight chill and to be passed around the table.

So are you ready for rosé yet?

Thank you to Kermit Lynch, Domaine Fontsainte, Domaine Dupeuble, and Cavatappi for providing lunch and the wines.

Mark Ryan Winery: Black and White Photo Love

1928 Indian Scout

While Mark and I sure had fun eating pizza, drinking beer, and talking wine at Big Mario’s, there was a lack of tasting wine. So on a recent trip out to Woodinville I was determined to rectify that situation.

First, a little bad news:

Last Vintage

Noooooooooo! I knew this was coming, but seeing that 2009 will be the last vintage of Chardonnay was a serious bummer; it was probably my favorite from Washington. I loved how the oak provided richness and structure, without turning the wine into a liquid 2×4.

Tasting at Mark Ryan

Rolled through an impressive lineup post-Chardonnay trauma. I have a similar, though not as fan-boy, fondness for the Viognier for the relatively light-handed style of production. (Brief rant: too much domestic Viognier just tastes like oaked-up, super-heavy, oily Chardonnay. And nothing stateside comes close to Condrieu, the supreme ruler of aromatically sumptuous Viognier.) My favorite reds were the accesible-now 2008 Dissident (a Columbia Valley Cab/Syrah/Merlot blend) and the 2007 Water Witch (a Klipsun Vineyard Cab/Merlot blend).

Dead Horse Club

I was then unfairly teased by these wooden six-packs containing wines only for the lucky few members of the Dead Horse Club. (Sounds like a biker gang name or something.) Contact the winery if you want to get on the waiting list.

1928 Indian Scout

And here’s a ubiquitous shot of me posing in front of this ultra-cool 1928 Indian Scout. Don’t worry Mark, I didn’t touch it. Nor did I spill any wine on it. (None that didn’t wipe up pretty easily.)

Special thanks to Joan for being a lovely and gracious host at the tasting room.

Woodinville Wine Tasting: Pictures of Ross Andrew (and Bud Light)

Ross Andrew Lineup

What a pleasure to taste through a lineup of very understated* wines from Ross Andrew Mickel. Though only slightly visible on the left in the above photo, I have designated porch-pounding status upon the 2009 Pinot Gris. More Pinot Grigio (light, fresh, gulpable) than Pinot Gris (oily, heavy), it’s a Washington wine that should be on hand, and well-chilled, in your residence at all times.

Other charming touches at Ross Andrew? I enjoy the unwavering enthusiasm for the consumption of large bottles, especially when full of the excellent 2008 Boushey Syrah. There is a great program in place to encourage drinking those big bottles rather than tucking them away in some deep, dark cellar never to see the light of day or to fill a glass:

Ross Andrew Growler

Oh, and maybe you would be concerned how to safely pour such a giant bottle? On display is a custom-made (though not for sale) apparatus of a certain genius. Not only an engineering feat, and an example of DIY ingenuity, this invention uses leftover wine barrel parts for its construction. You can see how the wine seeps into the staves: functional and educational!

Ross Andrew Wooden Pourer

Wait, I haven’t explained the Bud Light! If you recall a scorcher of a summer a few years back, a birthday party for one of Ross’s friends not only demanded well-chilled Meadow, but light beer as well. And, naturally, like all winemakers, Ross realizes that it takes a lot of beer to make good wine. Therefore, a photograph to immortalize that event and a reminder to all who pass through the door that the people who make and drink wine don’t have to be so serious.

How To Stay Cool In Woodinville

So now that I’ve crossed Ross Andrew off my list, where next in Woodinville?

*I must give credit to Kirsten at the tasting room for providing me with the one word that I though perfectly and thoughtfully summed up the wines.

Curious About Portuguese Wine

Encosta dos Curiosos Portugal WineI’ll admit for quite a while I was only familiar with two wines coming out of Portugal: Port (duh) and Vinho Verde. But there is a whole host of new and exciting Portuguese wines that need to get their due. Like the Encosta dos Curiosos, which I am now decreeing as My Official House Wine.

What do I love about the Encosta dos Curiosos (EC)? Well, it satisfies my penchant for the obscure and unusual. I can’t say that I’ve had a wine that was a blend of these four grapes:

  • Castelao
  • Tinta Miuda
  • Alicante Bouschet
  • Aragones

The EC also defied my shopworn stereotype of Portuguese reds. I always found them to be rustic, and I’m using rustic as a euphemism for hard-as-nails, tannic, and barnyard-y. (Clearly I was a Portuguese wine dilettante.) But the Encosta was light, refreshing, and gulpable. At only 12.5% alcohol, the EC’s easy-going personality can play nice with a variety of everyday foods from burgers to pasta. And possibly a steak, especially if it was in taco form. Wash down some carne asada with a slightly chilled bottle of EC!

And with so much to love about the EC, what was the clincher to making it my house red? The astoundingly low price: 6 bucks. Take a flier on a bottle and come back for a case. (Before I buy it all myself.)

So what is your house wine?

2008 Bordeaux: We Do The Hard Work

bordeaux wine 2008Not to be outdone by my tasting in an ornate hotel ballroom, our Arnie Millan recently attended a whirlwind tasting of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage. Here is his report:

I flew into San Francisco last for an intensive tasting of top Bordeaux from the 2008 vintage. The Union of Grand Cru de Bordeaux put on this tasting of 100 top estates. It’s almost easier to list who wasn’t there: all the five First Growths (Mouton, Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Haut Brion), Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Petrus and other high priced exotica of that ilk.

Alas, we were to taste only the other remaining top classified, or otherwise renowned, estates and have the rare opportunity to meet the Chateaux’s owners; people whom we only heretofore knew by name, mentioned in print in somewhat hushed tones. How cool is that? And they were all pleasant and unpretentious.

Overall, this is an excellent vintage which favored the Right Bank (Pomerol, then Saint-Emilion) and the estates of the Médoc, particularly Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Margaux. These wines are drinking well now and I think they’ll show even better with age.

The biggest disappointment was the wines of Graves and Pessac-Léognan. They did not show well at this tasting. I hope age will be kind to them. This was the only region from which we tasted dry whites. The superior white was from Château Pape-Clément followed by Domaine Chevalier. One of my favorite estates there is Smith Haut Lafitte but the wines were disappointing, especially after tasting Pape-Clément immediately beforehand. On the plus side, I was able to meet and chat with the charming proprietress Florence Cathiard and her husband.

My list of the top wines of the tasting must start with Pomerol’s Château La Conseillante and Pauillac’s 2nd Growth Pichon Baron (de Longueville). They were extraordinary and smoked the rest of the pack. They were both distinguished by a vibrancy, a depth and complexity of flavor which was transparent and fresh. Amazing.

Other top wines were Les Ormes de Pez, a Saint-Estephe I tasted with Sylvie Cazes whose family owns this estate along with Lynch-Bages (tasted but not as good) and whose brother is the famed Jean-Michel Cazes. What a lovely, unassuming person!

bordeaux wine 2008Also, I enjoyed Saint-Émilion’s Pavie Maquin with owner Nicolas Thienpont (right), whose family also owns Pomerol’s elite Le Pin. Canon La Gaffelière was delicious, represented by the irrepressible and perpetually grinning Count Stephan von Niepperg (see below, dressed in amazing style).

bordeaux wine 2008A surprise was the Médoc’s Chateau La Tour de By. This is an obscure small estate whose inexpensive wine was first-rate. Here are the others I enjoyed, not already mentioned:

Saint-Julien

Léoville-Poyferré, Léoville-Barton, Talbot, Branaire-Ducru, Lagrange, Beychevelle, Gruaud-Larose and Saint-Pierre

Pauillac

D’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon, Grand Puy-Ducasse, Haut-Bages Libéral, Pichon-Lalande

Margaux
Rauzan-Segla, Brane-Catenac, Giscours, Kirwan, Lascombes

Pomerol

Clinet, Gazin

Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Angelus, Canon, Clos Fourtet, Figeac, Larcis Ducasse, Troplong Mondot

So those are Arnie’s thoughts on the 08 vintage. Do you have any questions for Arnie about Bordeaux?

VINO 2011: The Grand Tasting

VINO 2011 Grand Tasting

It’s here: the big finish to the three-day Italian wine extravaganza that is VINO 2011. A tasting of wines so deep, so enormous, and so loaded with every type of wine imaginable (reds, whites, rosés, sparklers, dessert) that I desperately needed this map:

VINO 2011 Grand Tasting Map

Once again, navigating your way through an event like this requires strategic planning. My first order of business was to hustle to the Allegrini table to see my friend Robin.

Robin Shay of Allegrini

Not only is he a dapper and charming fellow, he happens to represent two of my favorite Italian wines. Pictured is the Amarone, which for a wine of such concentration, richness, and strength somehow finishes with an elegance belying its brawny profile. And I wouldn’t dare step away from the table without trying what I consider to be an iconic wine of the Veneto: La Poja. It’s a single-vineyard, 100% Corvina that you need to get into your glass ASAP. (I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention that Robin knows where the best pizza in New York is: Kesté. Check out this review with great photos from one of my absolute favorite food blogs, John and Elana Talk About Food. But I digress….)

So where did I go from here? I decided that I just was going to try totally unfamiliar wines. Like this late-harvest Primitivo from Cignomoro. It was a sweet, but not cloying, red wine that I would love with some fromage blanc cheesecake or blue cheese. (I dig the labels, too.)

Primitivo Dolce

Or how about a Passerina from the Marche? Made by Domodimonti, it’s a crisp and dry white. And I really liked their Pecorino (not the cheese, the grape) which had a nice richness from oak aging and would be great with heartier seafood dishes.

The Wines of Domodimonti

Needing a break from wine, I wandered over to the area of the tasting I call “Aperitif Alley.” (Or possibly more accurate, the “Digestive Detour.”) Loveliest was a beautiful anise liqueur from Varnelli, pictured on the left. I adore the flavor of black licorice, especially in clear alcoholic form.

Digestives

This post was composed in the VINO 2011 Press Room, and greatly aided by the genius-in-a-pouch combo of espresso, sugar, and Varnelli over ice.

Genius in a Pouch

Full disclosure: The Italian Trade Commission has provided my transportation and accommodations.

VINO 2011: Italian Wine Discoveries

vino 2011 day 1 002
Greetings from VINO 2011 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, a wine conference sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission. How do you navigate a wine tasting with over 80 producers, each pouring multiple wines? Do you try them all? Although tempting (purely in the interest of seeking more wine knowledge, ahem), the answer is no. I did a quick survey of the room and honed in on one target: bubbles. I’ve always loved the wines of Northern Italy for their freshness and purity so it was no surprise that I flipped for the sparkling wines of Maso Martis from the Trento region. Pure, elegant, and crisp, I found a lot to love from the Brut, Brut Rosé, and the Brut Riserva.

Maso Martis
The sparkling wines of Maso Martis and Alessandra Caroni, Export Manager.

Another highlight was a red wine from Talis in Friuli, the Purpureo. It’s a Bordeaux-style bend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve been recently exposed to a ton of red wine that has been lavishly slathered with oak, so it was a great change of pace to drink a red that tasted of fruit and varietal character(s) rather than oak. I guessed that the Purpureo was unoaked, but it turns out it gets a brief stay in the barrel. But don’t confuse unoaked with wimpy; it had plenty of tannin to balance the fruit. I wish I just could have walked off with the bottle, headed to the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria, and curled up in a big chair with only a good book to accompany my wine. (I guess it wouldn’t of hurt to ask if I could have done so, no?)

Mauro Cencig of Talis Wine
Mauro Cencig of Talis Wine shows off the delicious Purpureo.

So what are some of your recent wine discoveries?

Full disclosure: The Italian Trade Commission has provided my transportation and accommodations.

Hunting for Hunter Semillon: Tyrrell’s Vat 1

Tyrrell's Vat 1 Semillon
A legendary white wine from Australia.

For better or worse, in the mind of many wine-drinkers, Australia=Shiraz. Couldn’t blame you for thinking that way; a decade-plus ago, when I was first introduced to Aussie wine, I was guzzling oceans of Shiraz and little else from Down Under. Hell, I didn’t even know there was any wine besides Shiraz. My willful ignorance was cured when I discovered a world of wonderful dry Rieslings (criminally underrated) and great Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends reminiscent of good white Bordeaux. But the real gem, and one of the more collectible and age-worthy whites in the world, is Hunter Valley Semillon, particularly Tyrrell’s Vat 1.

Through a bit of providence I was able to get my hands on some of the 1999 vintage. And then, even better, got to drink some. I knew I was in for something good when I first poured the Vat 1, as aged Semillon takes on a hue that seemingly comes from the touch of King Midas. But what really blew me away was the freshness of this wine. An 12 year-old dry white wine has no business being so lively and exciting, but this Semillon was a smooth, delicious white reminiscent of a top quality dry Riesling. I had expected it to have developed some secondary characteristics, like a bit of nuttiness, but it was still quite primary. So it’s no shrinking violet; you could tuck it away in your cellar for years to come. (Though I’m not sure I could keep my hands off it, it’s so tasty right now.)

But don’t just take my word for it. One of my favorite wine writers (and customers), WINEcouver, had quite the experience with a bottle of the 1998. (Way to make me blush.)

http://twitter.com/#!/WINEcouver/status/21689785399648256

What regions or countries do you think have wines that aren’t getting their due or are a bit lost in the shuffle?

1999 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Semillon $40 (limited)

Pizza, Beer, and Mark Ryan Winery

Mark McNeilly at Big Mario's
Mark McNeilly at Big Mario's. He's smiling because the pizza was so good.

I sat down with Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery at Big Mario’s Pizza to ask him how he went from making wine in a garage in Greenwood to half of his parent’s two-car garage to having his own winery in Woodinville. (And frankly, we’re always–always–looking for an excuse to go to Big Mario’s. And Mark’s conference room in the winery was already booked.)

Rather than going the UC-Davis enology route to winemaking (though he did eventually take a class at the famed school), Mark’s wine education began in restaurants. “Waiting tables led me to be exposed to wine. I got into selling wine because I wanted to make it.” With no experience at all, Mark picked up a kit and took a stab at making a white wine. The next thing he knew, through connections, chance, and fate, he had two tons of Ciel du Cheval fruit to work with. Able to rely on relationships with winemakers cultivated through working for a local distributor, and with Jim Holmes (vineyard owner) on speed dial, Mark made his first vintage. There is a lot of self-deprecation going on as Mark describes the entire process, but, on the serious side, what I gleaned from his story is that sometimes you have to learn by doing and not be afraid to make mistakes (on the small scale). It helped that Mark “read a lot and asked questions.”

Like many Washington winemakers, he started out making exclusively reds and later added whites to his roster. I asked him what the challenges of making whites versus reds were, and he told me that “making wines at other people’s places make me realize I needed my own equipment.” Whites require “more control” as people expect them to be “aesthetically perfect” in appearance, aroma, and flavor. In other words, people are less forgiving of whites. He also gave credit to the work of Enologist Erica Orr in making his whites especially successful. (The 2009 Chardonnay is an Esquin staff favorite and, trust me, we don’t often agree on wines.)

I wanted to know more about the idea behind the Board Track Racer The Vincent, a 2008 Columbia Valley Cab/Syrah blend. Mark told me that wines like his have become “special occasion wines” and he wanted to be able to offer something in a price range that could be enjoyed on a more regular basis. (It’s around twenty bucks. And look for a Board Track Racer white, a Chardonnay/Viognier blend, coming in the future.)

Probably my favorite of his reds, the Crazy Mary, is made from Mourvedre so I thought I would ask if he’s playing around with any other grapes that aren’t among the heavy-hitters in Washington. While no new single-varietal wines are on the current docket of releases, Mark added some Malbec to the new vintage of Dead Horse. It “enhanced the non-fruit side” of the wine, which he thinks is a great attribute. The structure it adds prevents his reds from becoming what he calls “fruit cocktail wines.” (I am going to adopt this phrase to describe all syrupy reds that are overly sweet with oak; I love it.)

Big Mario's Pizza
Sausage, Pepperoni, and Mushrooms please.

Oh, and one last important question. Which of his wines would go best with our pepperoni, sausage, and mushroom pizza? The 2008 Lost Soul Syrah, because, like our pizza, it’s “meaty.”

It’s hard not to root for a guy like Mark who not only makes great wines but also is genuine, funny, and enjoys reminiscing about the late 80’s and early 90’s (my salad days as well) while the music of the era streams over Big Mario’s sound system.  (So it’s not surprising he named a wine after the Afghan Whigs album, Black Love. Dude, you’ve got to send Greg Dulli a bottle!)

Follow Esquin on Twitter

Full disclosure: Mark picked up the tab for lunch.

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