Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I Detour For Wine

The sun was shining, summer was in full swing and I absolutely made a U-turn on US 97 between Wenatachee and Okanogan to head over to Tsillan Cellars to pick up a couple of bottles.

The winery (pronounced Chelan) opened its doors in 2004 with one of the most breathtaking views you've probably ever seen from a winery, anywhere.   We're used to looking off decks and seeing rows of perfect vineyards but here you see the vines and the blue waters of Lake Chelan (though on the day I was there things were a little hazy because of recent wildfires).

It was HOT that day in Chelan and despite it being a weekday, I was surprised when I walked into the climate controlled tasting room that there were only a few groups at the bar.  Sarah quickly welcomed me and offered me a look at the tasting list.  Rather than have a set list, Tsillan lets you pick what you want from a variety of wines listed in a leather bound book that rests on the marble slab bar.  I asked Sarah to take me through her recommendations, though looking back, I wish I has just done a white tasting that day (I blame the heat for my lack of interest in the reds).  Her first pour ended up being my favorite.

It was a 2011 Pinot Grigo that I liked enough to take home two bottles.  It's an estate varietal - Tsillan is actually working toward solely producing estate wine (according to tasting room staff).  The description of this wine was pretty much exactly what I noted, both on the nose and palate:  

"Bright and shimmering gold and green straw in color this wine has an abundance of aromatic complexities. The bouquet has traditional South Shore Pinot Grigio qualities of peach, pear, lemons and granny smith apples as well as some floral notes. On the palate you will taste some tart lemon-lime character as well as dried apricots, blood oranges and white peaches."

I have yet to pop the corks on the bottles I brought home, and since it isn't nearly as warm on the west side of the state, I hope I enjoy them as much as I did that day.  From prior experience tasting Tsillan wines though I'm sure I won't be disappointed.

I'm sure this won't be my only detour for wine and I strongly encourage you to make one this summer too!  Your taste buds and your wine rack will appreciate it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Finland: A Tale of Cans and Bears

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It seems that the trend this Summer has been for West Toast writers to travel to Europe.  And why not?  We certainly wouldn't have the amazing beer, wine, and spirits we all love on the west coast if it weren't for innovation in Europe.  But while some have enjoyed the phenomenal wines of France, a Czech Pilsner in the alps, or a English brown ale in a tavern older than the US, I took a slightly different route.  I traveled to Finland; a country whose spirits are so bad that they are easier to joke about than drink.

I suppose the first question to answer would be why I decided to visit Finland in the first place.  When I was in college, I studied abroad in a completely unrelated nation and met a good friend who happened to be from Finland.  He came out here a few years ago for my sister's wedding and I wasn't able to reciprocate until now.  With years of research and waiting piling up, I was finally able to both afford the trip and take the time off.

Beyond being the home of indestructable Nokia phones and Santa Claus, Finland largely stays off of most people's radars. That's not entirely fair, though.  Helsinki (Finland's capital) is renown for its current fashion trend of wearing transparent white shirts.

Now that you know everything there is to know about Finland, let's get to drinking.  As hinted at before, Finland isn't exactly known for its own beverages.  In fact, it pretty much only has one; koskenkorva, which was described to me as "vodka made with the leftover crap from the first stage of distilling regular vodka."  With the bar set so high, let's see how their regional offerings hold up to my sophisticated palate.  

Karhu III
The first thing you'll notice about Karhu is that there's a bear on the can, which is important because this is also your first foray into the Finnish language.  Literally meaning "bear," my initial assumption was that this is a beer so ferocious that my insides would be sprawled across the ground much like a reindeer's after a run-in with the bear on the label.  My second assumption is that it is made with chopped up bits of real bear.

That, however, isn't the case.  You see, in Finland, the government ranks beer on a 1-5 scale.  The III after Karhu indicates that it is a third-tier beer, meaning it cannot supersede an alcohol percentage beyond 4.6%.  3 is the highest rating that can be sold at a typical grocery store and anything beyond that can only be purchased at a government-ran liquor store.  Likewise, 1 is non-alcoholic, 2 is "the piss we sell to Sweden" AKA Utah beer, 4 is 5.6% abv, and 5 is 8% abv.  So how's it taste?  Pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a 4.6% abv pale lager.  Not big on flavor, but it's light enough to actually be somewhat refreshing.

Karjala (pronounced ka-rill-ee-ya) is my favorite of the group.  While pretty much identical to Karhu in every way, there's a novelty to this brew that adds a little extra panache with each watery swig.  Not just a brand, Karjala is also a long-disputed region currently divided among Russia and Finland.  In the 1960s, the Karjala beer brand was about to go under until the Soviet Union ambassador to Finland publicly stated his distaste for the beer's label.  Because Finns are awesome, that acted as the best advertising ever and revived the brand.  It is said that if one drinks enough of it, you'll want to invade Russia and liberate the remainder of Karjala.  Did I ever invade Russia?  No, but many cans of Karjala were had over sausage and moose meat.

Gin Long Drink
Finland's version of alco-pop is a bit different than ours.  Instead of malt beverages, the popular strategy is to can pre-mixed gin and soda concoctions.  Of the ones I had, the generic Gin Long Drink was by far the most popular (especially with the ladies).  Think of it as a Fresca pre-mixed with very mild, non-sprucy gin. While I don't think I could ever have more than two of these at a time, they're pretty tasty on a hot day.

Salmiakki kokenkorva
You already know what koskenkorva is, so you're probably wondering how this magnificent liquid could get even better.  The answer is it can actually get worse.  One of the most popular candies in Finland is salmiakki, which is is essentially salted black licorice.  Clearly these two substances are a match made in heaven.  Exactly as it sounds, salmiakki koskenkorva is koskenkorva infused with salted black licorice. Think of the taste as Jagermeister, but slightly lighter and then shot with a salt-rimmed glass.  Even the locals hate this stuff, so I'm not entirely sure why it exists.

While the majority of this post was written in jest, Finland is a beautiful country with gorgeous scenery, incredibly nice people, and awesome Summer night life with 22 hours of daylight.  The beer and spirits aren't exactly great, but the company and surroundings more than make up for that.  I'd like to thank my good friend Matti for hosting me during my stay and to everybody else who made the trip a great success.  When you all visit Portland, be prepare to put your drinking pants on because you're in for a treat.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Crush Me...Dreaming Tree

You might call me a Dave Matthews fanboy, and in fact, friends have. Despite Rick making fun of my affinity for often mellow...soooothing...style of rock music, I wouldn't trade some of the experiences I've had at the Gorge Amphitheater with DMB for 2 cases of Leinenkugel's. And Dave is practically my neighbor here in Seattle, so yea.

You're probably wondering when I'm going to get to wine. Patience.

When Andrea and I participated in a dinner with staff from Hogue Cellars and Simi Winery earlier in the summer, we had a chance encounter with Dave at the restaurant as he happened to be dining at Flying Fish that evening and knew our Simi representative, Tom, very well.

Turns out, Dave has had a passion for winemaking nearly as long as he has been a musician. I knew he had a winery in Virginia, but a key fact that had escaped me until that very moment was that Dave had recently formed a collaborative effort with Steve Reeder of Simi and together they were creating wine under the Dreaming Tree label.

Dave? Wine? All of a sudden, the lyrics from Crush were all the more meaningful:

Lovely lady
I am at your feet
God I want you so badly
And I wonder this
Could tomorrow be
So wondrous as you there sleeping
Let's go drive 'till morning comes
And watch the sunrise and fill our souls up
Drink some wine 'till we get drunk

I had to try it. Perhaps, drink some wine 'till I got drunk. Thanks to the kind folks at Dreaming Tree, I didn't have to want for too long.

Dreaming Tree makes three wines: Crush, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I sampled the reds in two different sittings with two different audiences. You know, for science.

2009 Dreaming Tree North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

According to winemaker Dave Matthews, "If it tastes good to you then it's good wine."

I'd have to agree with Dave on this one, and the Cab tasted good to me. Upon sampling with some steak and my friends Rob and Erin, we noted that this wine met the description of "easy drinking with lots of character" perfectly.

Erin loved the label; it reminded her of Shel Silverstein. Classy journalists we are. Rob's commentary consisted of, "hmmm, a little spicy." I found a ton of dark fruit and cherry on the nose.

Upon sipping, the wine was spicy and bold out of the gate with currant and blackberry prevalent throughout. It was a bit lighter than some of the stuff we're used to from Eastern Washington, but still proof that California makes a damn good cabernet. It was awesome with the steak.

The best part? $15.00 per bottle.

2009 Dreaming Tree North Coast Crush

Dave's comments on the tasting notes for Crush couldn't be more accurate, "I swallowed it before I put the glass down. There wasn't any opportunity to spit."

I hate it when that happens.

A blend of 67% Merlot and 33% Zinfandel, Andrea and I drank this bottle with a big ass pizza from another Seattle legend, Ethan Stowell's new Ballard Pizza Kitchen. Andrea noted this was a bottle that you could open up and drink right away. It tasted a bit tight right off the bat, but was perfect with our pizza.

According to Andrea, the wine was like Dave...good and solid. You can always depend on it to put on a good show. And it did, with our big ass pizza with locally foraged mushrooms. Also priced at $15.00, this is a great value.

By the way, Andrea was wearing DMB socks...I think she has a little fangirl in her as well.

So all in all, a pleasant surprise to find that one of my favorite musicians is also a very proficient winemaker. And yes, he is relatively actively involved in the winemaking process.

Next time you're in the store and see a bottle that looks like Shel Silverstein designed it, grab it. At $15, you'll want another. Perhaps enough to drink...until you get drunk.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Finnegan Cider

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I got the opportunity to try this lovely cider while picking up some supplies for my France trip. I took a breather in my chicken-with-head-cut-off day to sip and enjoy something brilliant and unique.

I developed a taste for good cider when I lived abroad in England for a while. Most pubs worth their salt had at least one good strong one on tap. Sadly I find that when I locate a cider on tap here in the states it tastes more like alcoholic tart soda or apple juice than something I can really get behind. Since my arrival in the Pacific Northwest I am slowly becoming a believer in US ciders. Finnegan Cider is most certainly a front runner for me in this category.

Let's start with powerful. If you are one who likes those alco-pops to which I earlier referred, stay away. Even the semi-dry version (pictured above) is intense and only slightly sweet. If I had not had the dry cider to compare it to I would simply call it dry and leave it at that. Both ciders were bold with flavors that went beyond apple - tannic, and, in the semi-dry, a hint of golden honey. These ciders also boast a higher alcohol content (9-11%) which packs on an extra punch. These ciders are meaty and stand well alone, but could easily be paired with strong-flavored foods. I plan on sipping the semi-dry with some barbecue this summer.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Eatin' (and drinkin') Amer'can

It was hot out - well, OK, it was like 68 degrees. Hey, I've been living in Oregon for a year and a half now...back off.

Greg and I were discussing whether or not there are any truly American foods that are not overly-processed crap, or fast food (which, generally, is overly-processed crap). We came up with a short list that included one of my favorites - barbecue. If someone out there has a historical reference that points to another country for the origins of this Southern specialty please let me know.  I will be applying for a visa ASAP.

We are lucky enough here in Corvallis to have a really delicious and affordable BBQ place - Brew BQ. One of the things I actually like about this place (besides the fact that they sell massive hunks of smoked meat), is that they do not make claims to be BBQ from anywhere other than the Pacific Northwest. This allows them to be original and put their own twist on a great food genre. I particularly enjoy (aside, of course, from the massive hunks of smoked meat) their braised local greens with wild mushrooms.

I picked up some Brew BQ for Greg and I the day after our American food conversation (fortunately for us had the conversation been about Canadian food there is a place in town that sells poutine). Sadly I was unable to pick up a bottle there, so I had to hit the grocery store on the way home.  I was quite pleased with the selection - Elysian Brewery's Men's Room Red.

When I drink beer I usually go for either significantly sour or significantly hoppy. I have not really spent time drinking malty beers since I graduated from college and no longer lived off of $2 solo cups full of Killians' Irish Red. That said, this beer opened with a light hoppy taste that moved gracefully into a malty finish. It held up well to the powerful flavors in our BBQ sauce, and complimented the smokiness of the meat. I found the red-orange color to be beautiful and clear, and thoroughly enjoyed the drinkability and crisp smoothness of the mouth feel. This beer was wonderful with food, but I would certainly recommend it for a cold pint on a hot day (maybe hotter than 68 even)!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fuled By Fine Wine Pt I

While I have been running, distance running, for more than half my life, I don't know that I ever really considered myself a "runner."  I have never been consistent enough with it for long enough to have or maintain a runner's physique.  However, I do love the runner's high that you get.  I hit the wall pretty consistently somewhere between miles 6.5 - 9 and breaking through it is among the most exhilarating feelings that one can describe.  On bad days I make myself go for fast and long runs to help clear my mind, and I always feel so much better when I am done, and I know I have pushed myself just to go another (half) mile just a little faster than the previous ones.  All of those things yet I don't consider myself a "runner."

I've always thought that a half marathon was the right amount of a distant that people should run on a somewhat regular basis.  A marathon was just too ungodly long, and need I remind you of what happened to the very first "marathon runner"- he collapsed and died after yelling that final word..."Nike."  So for me, a half marathon was just long enough without pushing myself to the brink of death.  In 2011, I was running pretty regularly - like 5 days a week doing at least 5 miles a day pretty consistently.

Scott, one of the trainers at my gym, planted the first seed saying, "You should do this half marathon in October!"  I went back and forth, but in the end decided I would do it.  October 2012, brought my first half marathon (Run Like Hell, Portland), and I have to say that since then...I AM HOOKED!!!

I think it was sometime after my third half that Josh sent me some information and said, "You HAVE to do this!"  The "this" he was referring to was the Third Annual Fueled by Fine Wine Half Marathon.  The funny thing is, Josh was not telling me that I needed to do this half for the sake of posting about it, but rather, because it is a run that takes the participants through vineyards, not just around them!  So when I mentioned making posts about it as well, imagine my shock when his response was something to the effect of "Oh yeah, you can write about it too!"

I did a little bit of research because I thought it would be really cool to write a bit about the run and the history of it before the run itself.  Part II will be a reflection of the run and experience of the afterparty.

I spent some time a couple of weeks ago interviewing Chris Negy, who is the main organizer and founder of Fueled by Fine Wine.

Chris, who is a runner herself, has been in the wine industry for four years.  She came up with Fueled by Fine Wine via a dream - literally she had a dream one night that gave birth to the event.  I asked her about why a run through the vineyards and she said, "I wanted to bring something different to half marathons.  I want people to run, and see views that will take their breath away!"

I thought it would be difficult to get runners to be able to run through the vineyards, but Negy says that the wineries are "great to work with," and that she has a "great volunteers to help all long the way."

The 2012 run is the 3rd year of the run and I asked Chris about how long it takes and if the course changes every year.  She responded with "I am always planning ahead.  I start about 8 months in advance and like to have the course set 2-3 months in advance so that people will have an idea of where they will be running."  She went on further to say that, "So far the course has changed every year.  There are a few spots that might be the same, but I want to highlight different vineyards and wineries."

I asked about the size of the half marathon and if Nagy wanted it to grow.  She told me the story of how in the first year there were about 1100 participants.  For last year and this year, it is capped at about 1200 participants.  Nagy likes it small and intimate, " I wanted to create a niche run.  I don't really want it to get too big, but rather stay more like a 'boutique' half marathon."

In talking about my excitement for the half Nagy did impart some very wise words for me, "This is a very humbling run.  Even very seasoned runners will find themselves walking up some of the hills.  There aren't really going to be an PRs (personal records) because it isn't created that way."

Words cannot describe how excited I am to be doing the run this year.  I think there are a few more spots open, so if you are thinking about participating, don't be shy, and register.  I hope to see as many of our regular readers out there as possible on July 15, 2012.

Wish me luck!

Until next time...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Absorbing Other Cultures...or, What I Drank in France

Greetings to you all out there in West Toast Land! I have been on a cycle tour in France for the better part of June, and am happy to be back in the states if for no other reason than to find a good hoppy IPA.  Despite the lack of bitter in my beer, I had a wonderful time sipping in the Rhone-Alps, and, if you will permit me the indulgence, have decided to post a photo journal of sorts...

We climbed at minimum a col (mountain pass) a day, meaning we earned our drinks!!!

At the top of the Col of Aravis (39-times on the route of Le Tour) we had our first beer

Much of the time you get wine on tap

In Chamonix we drank the local wine while looking at Mont Blanc

 These were great little numbers to take on hiking trips. Screw top and green plastic!

 Best wine we had the whole trip - paired with mushroom risotto and Italian sausages

The spoils of happy hour

Rose wine is very popular

Lunch wine - nomnomnom

Beer for strength after the Col du Corbier

My attempt at being artsy turned into a Swiss Army Knife ad - then again we had ridden over the pass to Switzerland for lunch...

Best beer we had - veeery fruity