Everyone assumes I moved to Oregon for the wine. That's part of the reason, sure, but using 1000 Corks I can find great Oregonian 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 ristorante. 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 marscapone, 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 bar 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 there 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 the 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. But if you ask really nicely, maybe they'll give you a taste anyway.
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.
But 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 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 did 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 is Agnolotti just a way of saying ravioli?)
There's is 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.
I cannot write about the beautiful Colchagua wine region without first mentioning our accommodations. Posada Colchagua is a cozy inn located in the Isla de Yaquil, between the city of Santa Cruz and several large Colchagua wineries, including Montes.
As well as providing a Chilean-style breakfast each morning and a complimentary bottle of wine on our first night, the inn's owner helped plan visits to the local wineries and answered our questions about the area - this is extremely helpful, especially for guests whose Spanish-speaking skills could use some work.
We visited Viña MontGras, which is a winery that works with Carmenere blends as well as stand-alone Reserva varietals. Our host started the tour by showing us a circular stone patio which featured an image of the sun engraved in the center. The sun, he explained, is the winery's symbol because it carries the most responsibility for creating a good grape, and thus, a good wine.
He went on to explain that if you stood on the center of the sun facing towards the overhanging vines, you would hear an echo when you spoke. It was true! Each member of our group was asked to experience it for themselves before we moved on to the tour and tasting.
After touring the MontGras sample vines, we headed into the tasting room for a wine and hors d'oeuvre pairing. The first pour was the 2011 MontGras Reserva Chardonnay paired with cheese on a cracker, drizzled with honey. 40% of the grapes were oaked for 4 months before bottling, while 60% remained in the tank. The wine was a dry white with a strong pineapple flavor.
Next, the 2010 MontGras Reserva Merlot was paired with a bacon-wrapped prune, a sweet and salty combination that complemented the smooth berry notes of the wine. The 2011 Chardonnay and 2010 Merlot are not yet available in the United States but keep checking back - it's worth the wait.
Finally, the varietal Chile is known for was presented in the 2010 MontGras Reserva Carmenere. Our host explained that Carmeneres usually spend less time in oak in order to preserve the unique identity of the varietal. The wine was paired with chorizo, enhancing the already spicy, pepper notes of this particular bottle. This vintage is readily available in the United States, starting around $9.
I've always thought the world needed more holidays! Not surprisingly the citizens of southeast France agree. So they've given us Languedoc Day this Thursday.
We have no photos of Languedoc, so instead we've included a photo of Long Duk.
We're going to take it off as a paid holiday, and we hope you will too. When you get into work on Friday, if anyone asks any questions - just say, "oh, I was celebrating Languedoc day". If they fire you, it just means you were working at the wrong place anyway!
So, if you still need a nice bottle of wine to celebrate, head on over to our search engine, and type in the hashtag: #LanguedocDay.