This years International Food Blogger's Conference was amazing. For three straight days we celebrated food, and quite a bit of wine as well!
Here are the winners, also known as the food and beverages that we at 1000 Corks were most impressed with while at the conference.
The two best dishes of the conference both came from the Volunteer Park Cafe in Seattle, WA.
The first was a Sweet Potato Coconut Curry Bisque. It was a really delicious fall soup. The Bisque had the traditional fall flavor of the sweet potato, with a nice tropical undertone from the coconut and a bit of a peppery kick.
But even better was there was Volunteer Park Cafe's Buratta, an amazing Italian Mozarella with concord grapes, brioche croutons and pancetta. The mozzarella was the creamiest I've ever had, and the texture worked marvelously with the crunchiness of the croutons. This was one of the best things we've ever tasted!
The best dessert goes to Cupcake Royale for their yummy Stumptown coffee and fudge ribbon ice cream.
The best drink of the conference (non-wine category) was a hot dark carmel mixed with Mezcal, from Hot Cakes. This is the most awesome adult hot chocolate alternative I've ever had! It's just the right sweetness, and the Mezcal provides the perfect kick to bring a smile to my face. Luckily, I'll be able to make this at home this winter.
The best wine was the 2012 Chateau Graville-Lacoste from Graves in the Bordeaux. Here are the tasting notes I took: "Now this is an awesome-sauce wine. Great lemon, grapefruit and lots of minerals."
Here at 1000 Corks we’ll do anything for our users. Including exhaustingly visiting the best wine country in the world.
We recently went to Lake Chelan, Washington with a bunch of other wine bloggers. Things started well for us; our first stop was the very cute Rio Vista winery.
The wonderful food I would soon be wearing after I got up in the air.
While at the winery I was given the opportunity to go for a ride in a very unique vintage seaplane. The plane sat five people, and there were five groups. Each group was taken up on a very nice twenty-minute ride to see the lake and surrounding vineyards.
From the moment we started I knew I was in trouble. Luckily, the plane was so loud that no one could her me start to moan as I got more and more motion sick. I tried desperately to remember whether I was better off shutting my eyes, or focusing on a point far away, or something else all together.
Halfway through the ride I was a pile of sweat. I tapped the tour guide on the shoulder and asked her if there was a bag. I was given one, but because it was a self-sealing bag, it was a bit more complex then the simple lined paper bag you find in commercial craft.
So I made the mistake of reading the two sentences of instructions on the bag. Ironically it was this that pushed me over the edge. I suspect if I hadn’t read the instructions nothing that followed would have happened, because reading while moving really makes me nauseous.
I’ll spare you most of the harrowing details, but suffice to say I pretty much filled the bag, and the overflow went on my shirt, pants and camera! Yuck!
After a nap I was back in shape for a lovely dinner at Tsillan Cellars. It’s an absolutely stunning winery. And I got to try Oysters Rockefeller for the first time. The dish was invented in 1899, but to me it seems like something Don Draper would order in a trendy restaurant in Mad Men, so I was happy.
The bright side of having lost my lunch in the seaplane was I had room for two pieces of Tiramisu. Yummy!
The following day we had a very nice brunch at Karma. They are making a Brut de Brut sparkling wine using the same method as Champagne.
We also tried a few other of the regions sparkling wines. My favorite was a very tasty Rose, Hard Row to Hoe's 2011 Good in Bed. It's fantastic and a very lovely color!
Blue Spirits Distilling is the most impressive nano-distillery I've ever seen. Located right on the lake among residential houses, the headquarters is absolutely beautiful. And the combination of passion and science the founder brings to his art is amazing.
I got a chance to try their Mango Rum-Vodka, and their Espresso flavored vodka. They were both smoother and brighter then any flavored spirit I've tried before.
Everyone assumes I moved to Oregon for the wine. That's part of the reason, sure, but using 1000 Corks I can find great Oregon wines almost anywhere in the United States. After all, as long as I'm careful not to place an order during a heat wave, wine travels really well.
The truth is I moved to Oregon for the food! Particularly the restaurants. Food doesn't travel nearly as well as wine, so it's awesome to live in a city with a great culinary scene. And right now, Portland and the surrounding areas have the best restaurants in the United States.
Last week I got to try a Cena. I asked the waiter what the best thing on the menu was and he was emphatic that I had to order the Agnolotti. It was filled with corn and mascarpone, and served with an ample portion of lobster mixed in.
The waiter was right, it was to die for...both figuratively, and perhaps literally. I could swear they must have used half a stick of butter. Still, at least I'll die happy!
A Cena also makes their own limoncello in house. And it was our waiter who made it fresh every few days. As he explained it to me, he uses grain alcohol and lemon zest. It was so good, when I have some time in the next few weeks I think I'll try to make some on my own.
Lastly they had the most amazing sea salt caramel gelato for desert. Don't miss it.
Last week I also had the chance to visit what is fast becoming one of my absolute favorite wineries in Oregon, WillaKenzie Estate.
I'd only had their Pinot Gris before, both the late harvest and the regular. They are both amazing. Today I got to try their wonderfully fruity Pinot Blanc. I also was wowed by their Pinot Noirs (and it takes a lot to wow me with a Pinot Noir). But these did it!
Even their cheapest bottle, the Estate Cuvee was amazingly drinkable, and was clearly better than most of the $50 Pinots I've tried. Even better was the Kiana. But the best was a special bottle that they don't normally pour as part of the tasting, the Terres Bases. If you ask really nicely, maybe they'll give you a taste.
One trend I've noticed is that recommended food pairings are getting more and more generic. It seems like many bottles that I see in the market have tried to grow their market share by being as encompassing as possible. Recommended wine pairings such as "this wine tastes great accompanied, by chicken, steak, pasta, fish, or veggies. Or just enjoy it by itself," seem to be more and more common.
But WillaKenzie Estates is thankfully going the exact opposite way. Here's their recommended pairing for the Kiana: "goat cheese gnochhi or tagliatelli with wild boar bolognese". Now that's a specific pairing! I just need to sharpen my spear and find me a wild boar to get started.
In an interesting coincidence, the chef of a Cena, Gabe Gabreski will be barbecuing May 25 and 26th at WillaKenzie estate. And it's only $20 a person, including the food, the wine tasting, and a Pinot Noir glass. When you figure a meal at A Cena will cost you well over $20 without wine, and the WillaKenzie estate winery normally charges $20 for a wine tasting (without any food), this is an awesome bargain.
It gets even better, in that if you join the WillaKenzie Estate cellar club while you are there, they will give you back your entrance fee. And since they make the most amazing wines, it may be hard for you not to join.
Plus the winery has some awesome steers. How can you not like that?
While you're there make sure you pick up a bottle of the late harvest. It's not sold or available anywhere but at the winery and at my current favorite restaurant, The Painted Lady.
The Painted Lady
I've now eaten at The Painted Lady five times, including three times in the past six weeks. Every time someone asks me where I want to go to dinner the answer is always the same, The Painted Lady. Particularly when someone else is treating!
If I was forced to sum the restaurant up in a sentence, I'd say: "The Painted Lady is 90% as good as the French Laundry at 33% of the price."
That summary, perhaps, isn't fair to either restaurant, but The Painted Lady is absolutely amazing. And it seems that each time I go there, it gets even better.
Last time I was there I ordered the eight course tasting and everything was fantastic, but the absolute best dish was the Agnolotti. (La Cena and The Painted Lady are both featuring Agnolotti...is there a new trend that no one told me about? And isn't Agnolotti just a way of saying ravioli?)
They offer a stinging nettle agnolotti, with amazing prosciutto, wild mushrooms, white italian summer truffles and Oregon truffle foam. It was accompanied by a Walter Scott wine. I hope you get a chance to try it!
We understand it's really hard to choose a wine for Christmas. In fact, it takes us so long each year to decide what to drink for the holidays, we're left with very little time to actually think about anything else. Especially what to buy our loved ones.
So this year, we've rounded up a few ideas.
First up is the Skil iXO Vivo. Of every way to possibly open a bottle of wine, this power corkscrew is perhaps the most masculine I've ever seen. And it's the second most fun!
The most fun is, of course, a saber, but that's not very practical. And you never know when you'll accidentally cut someone's head off! So if you're looking for a fun way to open wines, or you just need a high quality electric screwdriver, buy this.
Now, if for some reason you're a luddite who's resistant to the idea of a powertool to open wines we recommend the Screwpull Pocket Corkscrew.
We've been using the Screwpull for the past few years. It works extremely well. Admittedly, it's a little fragile. We broke ours once, but Le Creuset was nice enough to replace it. And the knife for removing the foil is a bit awkward to use.
It opens wines better than any other non-electric corkscrew we've ever used, so it earns our highest recommendation.
My new obsession this year is honey! I was very excited when I got to eat at the wonderful King Estate restaurant and saw they made their own honey. Unfortunately they were out of honey for the year. But I was told they'd have it again in time for Christmas!
But alas, honey bees everywhere are having a hard time. Therefore King Estate has no honey this year.
But they do have jams! Both Raspberry and Blueberry Pinot Noir Jams. Yummy!
We have three books to recommend this year.
My favorite recent wine read is The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy.
It covers the rise and impact of the most influential critic, Robert Parker. What makes it so fascinating is that Parker is not just the most influential wine critic, he's the most influential critic in any industry ever. His palate and judgments have, for better or worse, changed everything about the wine industry.
The book first came out in 2005, but if anything it's more relevant now. It's impossible to understand the modern wine world without understanding Robert Parker. It's a fascinating read even if you don't like wine.
If you're looking for a book for the total wine geek (and nothing, at least in our opinion, is cooler than being a wine geek...except maybe a handlebar mustache), look no further than the encyclopedic Wines of the Southern Hemisphere. It's a great guide for finding out about the wines and wineries of South America, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.
Our last recommendation is a book to give to any beginner interested in learning about wine, The One Minute Wine Master. It's a cross between a Cosmopolitan quiz and a for-dummies style book. If the person you're giving this book to likes both of those things, it will be a perfect gift.
As a host or hostess, one key beverage is often left out of menu planning and meal pairing - the EANAB, or equally attractive non-alcoholic beverage. For the designated driver or expectant mother, water can get a little boring when everyone else is enjoying a good glass of Riesling.
Navarro Vineyards Grape Juice
One alternative is grape juice crafted from wine grapes, which offers an intriguing, unusual twist for the sophisticated palate. Navarro Vineyards sells three varietals at $11 per bottle. The Verjus, a white grape juice, is both suitable for cooking and also enjoyable as an apertif, and exhibits the sweet and sour flavors found in a green apple. This juice is closest to a dry moscato. It also adds an excellent acidic balance to recipes as an alternative to wine or broth.
The Pinot Noir is a smoother grape juice and more in line with what you would expect from a red grape. While slightly drier than the typical sugar heavy, meant-for-juice grapes, it's rich berry notes get stronger as it opens up. I preferred this balanced juice over the intensity of both the Verjus and the Gewürztraminer.
Finally, out of the three juices the Gewürztraminer had the sweetest notes.
Wine Country Soda Vignette Rose
Vignette soda is 40 to 50% juice, making it one of the healthier beverage alternatives. It also contains no high fructose corn syrup or added color. The rose is a blend of varietals that pours as a vibrant pink and hits just the right level of sweetness, making it my favorite out of these options. A 12 ounce bottle costs $2.50, and can be purchased at the Wine Country Soda Shop.
GuS starts out with purified sparkling water as the first ingredient and cane sugar as the second, so each offering, no matter what the flavor, starts out as natural as possible. I found that the Cranberry Lime and Pomegranate flavors were favored by guests over the Cola and Root Beer, but the key satisfaction factor seemed to be the variety of offerings. At 90 calories per individual bottle, and with most flavors 100% caffeine-free, GuS offers a fun alternative to the mainstream soda and juice brands. GuS is priced at around $1 to $1.50 per 12 ounce bottle.
A final alternative, and the most versatile, is a high-end sparkling water. Pellegrino offers the popular, Italian-sourced sparkling and still water under it's S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna brands. I enjoy sparkling water nearly every day, but it also can be customized for the event or occasion. On its own, sparkling water offers a sophisticated drink alternative, but pair Pellegrino over ice with a range of flavored syrups, and the guest controls both the flavor and the sugar content.
No matter which beverage alternative you choose, guests will be sure to appreciate the options. Share your favorite alternatives in the blog comments!
Today, May 3rd, is Languedoc Day. The previous Languedoc day was in November. This means we get two a year. That's fine with us at 1000 Corks.
We'd prefer two Christmases, or maybe two Thanksgivings a year, but certainly there's room in the calendar for two Languedoc days. Or three!
So it's time to celebrate. Call up your boss and tell him you won't be in until Friday. And then go get yourself a nice bottle, so you can celebrate the third best holiday of the year!
Or as they say in French, join le adventure. At least we're pretty sure that's what they say in French; but we only took two years in high school. And everyone knows how bad public education is in the United States.
We've built a special mobile web site in celebration. If you're on a cell phone in the United States, just click here to find Languedoc wines near you.
And if you aren't on a mobile phone, that same link will take you to our normal site, where you can see Languedoc wines across the United States, or search locally.