Monday, February 27, 2012

21 Cellars in Tacoma

This weekend, enjoying a Groupon my friend Caitlin shared with us, we went wine tasting down the street from our apartment. I don’t normally associate Tacoma with wine-tasting, and until a week ago was in the dark as to any wineries or tasting rooms in the immediate area. However, tucked into a little brick building, down a steep flight of stairs, and located in a tiny basement with exposed concrete and unfinished ceilings is the charming 21Cellars. Marked only by a sign that says “Open” and through a door explaining “Massage Therapy,” this winery fits the “hidden gem” bill. The ceilings were strung with white lights and the room full to bursting with gorgeous wine barrels, stained purple. The entire room smelled of oak and wine. Only open on Saturdays from 12-4 p.m. (or Thursdays by appointment), wine tasting is $5/person. 

The assistant winemaker, Katrina (another Puget Sound grad), led our tasting and we met the winemaker, Philip Coates. 21 Cellars has been around since 2003, but only recently took off after their 2006 Pont21 Cabernet Sauvignon was named one of the Top Ten New Washington Wines. Our tasting consisted of the 2007 Pont21 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19), the 2009 Pont21 Malbec, and the 2008 Promesse 21, a Cab Sauv/Cab Franc blend for $32. I was thoroughly impressed by the Pont21 Cabernet as it was rich, smooth, and very drinkable. It reminded me of some of the Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon - juicy without being jammy, and smooth with fruit without being too overbearing.   The Promesse 21 was also delicious, but a bit over-budget for me (and for this blog). The assistant winemaker suggested that the Pont21 Cab that this wine would only improve with age, up to seven years in the cellar. I found the wine to be perfect as we drank it, as it was smooth, and I found the tannins already smooth and well-developed. I bought a bottle to take home and am happy to hear that it’s sold in some grocery stores in the area as well. I think that this winery will only expand from this point and I highly recommend stopping by to taste some wine. 

We finished our wine tasting afternoon with our usual weekly dinner party. Wine-snob themed, we drank two excellent and inexpensive Bordeauxs with goat cheese, onion, and mushroom tarts, smoked salmon on tuiles, and cheese and wine spreads on crusty sourdough. We finished the evening off with Caitlin’s excellent arrabiata and penne, a  Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, and then had hot pears stuffed with blue cheese, nuts, and raisins for dessert. I’ll write more on the Bordeauxs for another post, so stay tuned.

Ben and I spent the rest of the weekend drying out a bit from the wine festivities by watching Intervention and Addicted on Netflix. If you’re looking for a way to be turned off of alcohol and other substances, watch these shows. There is little that is less appetizing than screaming alcoholics running nude through the streets and washed up basketball players selling their clothes for meth.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dreaming of drinking

I just had my wisdom teeth out – all four, at once – which has severely curbed my culinary pleasures. I spent lunch today thinking about eating and plan on spending dinner drawing pictures of crunchy St. Helens BLT sliders from Maxwell’s and wishing I didn’t have what seems to be an emerging case of dry socket.

 It has been quite the ordeal at our house this week, what with me mewling on the couch, the cat having a nervous breakdown over the appearance of “Red Bug” (or the bug that comes out of the laser pointer when you least expect it), and Ben tending to my insistent cries for “more jello!” or “do you think I’m going to die?” We didn’t get to spend Valentine’s Day with a Joel Gott 815 Cab (like I would have liked), nor did we get to kick off the weekend at our usual Thursday night haunt with a ½ off bottle of wine, maybe a Balboa Merlot or a Sharecroppers Cabernet. Nor did it help that when skyping with my Mom, she poured herself a glass of red to tease me from 2,500 miles away. Instead, I worried near constantly, went through about 90 bags of ice, and now have a messy house and a very very sore mouth.

Needless to say… I’m dying for a glass of wine. Anything really. I’d have a Zinfandel at this point, heck I’d even try a White Zinfandel if it meant that I could sit back and each cheese and crackers and drink something. However, the pain, my insane neuroses, and the jarring mental image (sorry!) of wine filling up my exposed gum holes, only to come swishing back out again and down my throat, has completely turned me off pretty much everything. My diet right now consists of things that don’t make me want to immediately vomit – applesauce and tomato juice. I’m sure that this image has now made you want to vomit and stop eating applesauce and tomato juice, but such is life. Misery loves company. I’m probably making a bigger deal out of this than necessary, but somehow using a syringe to irrigate food particles out of your surgical wounds doesn’t put a skip in my step.

So, instead, I’m thinking about things I’d like to eat as if I was facing my last meal. And, in lieu of writing about anything I’ve discovered recently, I’m going to plan a dream wine menu (feel free to enjoy without me) - 

If I could drink any wine I want right now, I would start with a Prosecco toast among friends. I tried an Adami Prosecco ($14) at a wine tasting the other day and it was so light and so crisp I could see drinking bottles of it and not getting tired of the delicate taste. With the right amount of bright citrus, yet a dry finish, this wine was perfect on its own and I’d recommend it that way. And then, as the bottle ran dry, a Kris Pinot Grigio ($10-12). Clearly, I’d be on a sunny porch in some foreign country, airing out my tanned and impeccably toned legs, and I would be eating caprese, the fresh tomatoes bursting with seeds and red juice. The wine would be cool, clear, and almost sparkling, the pale yellow in the glass picking up the sun. And then, I’d move, as the sun set over a glistening and very warm sea, to a Bethel Heights Pinot Noir ($30). With it I’d nibble on thin slices of raw Ahi, slather some bread with a thick mushroom bruschetta, and spread soft blue cheese on thin baguette slices. And then, as the air got chilly and the breeze picked up a hint of faraway places, and the leaves started to rustle in a natural chorus, I’d open a bottle of Reserve Perrin Cotes du Rhone (you all know that this is my favorite wine), and serve up some mushroom and herb encrusted lamb (in this dream I am no longer a kind-of-vegetarian) with a wilted spinach salad. And for dessert, hours later, into the painted black of nighttime in a quiet place, I'd drink a glass of Warre's Warrior Port ($16) with a tiny bit of Stilton cheese and absolutely die of happiness.

Mm… and now back to my lukewarm applesauce.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ode to Hops

I find myself caught between competing interests when I write this blog and am often hard-pressed to keep the conversation strictly to wine. I drink great beers on a more regular basis than I do wine (you can open beer one without worrying about drinking the rest of the six pack within two days) and find it hard not to write about the latest brew in the fridge. And risking losing my (very) small audience, I’m going to dedicate this blog post to everything-but-wine, get it all out of my system, and return to blogging as normal by the next post.

I think that I mentioned somewhere in the past few posts that I’ve been on an IPA kick of late. Ben and I did not consider ourselves IPA lovers as late as this summer, choosing Ambers, Porters, and Stouts (and even Hefeweizens, uck!) over anything hoppy. Though they weren’t as far down the list as pale ales, we considered IPAs fourth-drink beers – about the point where your taste buds can’t feel or taste a thing. 

We visited the Eugene Ninkasi brewery one day with Ben’s friend Carl and tried a sampler of their beers. They were all, save for one, IPAs. Needless to say, I drank a taster of their delicious Oatmeal Stout and steered clear of the rest. The IPAs were ridiculously hoppy and bitter. And then, one day, it just happened that a Deschutes Brewery Inversion IPA tasted delicious. And then a Stone IPA tasted pretty great. And as all taste changes occur, it caused a snowball effect.

I finally came around to Ninkasi, a brewery that makes, in my newly-assessed opinion, the best IPAs. Based out of Eugene, it’s no wonder I’d initially hate the beer and then come to love it. Eugene was for me, initially repulsive – maybe it is the excessively liberal climate, the lack of any kind of downtown area that isn’t a hippie open air market, and the fact that they call Valley River, their small and completely reasonable mall, “Valley Rip-Off” just because you can’t barter for goods there like you can everywhere else in Eugene. And then, slowly but surely, like a good IPA, my fourth-drink-city became beloved. I found little restaurants tucked away that offered amazing happy hour deals on draft beer. I realized that Eugene’s VooDoo Donut is open 24 hours a day and is next to McMenamin’s, where the tater tots are Cajun-ized and often on Happy Hour. I started to like the smell of the market especially when basil was in season, start to enjoy the weird clay wares for sale, begin to love the wet weather because it meant the freshly planted garden was getting much needed rain… 

But I digress. Back to Ninkasi – Ninkasi is crazy success story of a brewery going viral. It opened in June of 2006 with a Total Domination IPA, their best-selling brew to this day. Their tasting room opened in 2009. Ninkasi, named after the goddess of brewing, has become one of the fastest growing craft breweries in the U.S. It consistently receives high marks for its beers. The Total Domination IPA, probably the least hoppy of their IPAs, is still a beer to try once you’ve already decided you like IPAs as it’s still considered an “aggressive IPA.” Once you do love them, don’t hesitate to try it. Total Dom is a gorgeous light orange and wheat color that smells like fresh hops and packs an alcohol content punch at 6.7%. Their second, and my personal favorite IPA, is the Ninkasi Tricerahops, an epic Double IPA (more malt, more hops, and a higher gravity). At about $5.99 a 22oz. (the Total Dom is about $3-4 a 22oz. or $9.99 a six pack), this beer is a luxury in our house. It’s 8.8% alcohol and, speaking from experience, it will damage you if you drink the entire 22oz. If you’re looking to literally double your IPA tastes, then this is the beer to try.

If you’re not seduced by my Ode to Hops, but still want to try an IPA that’s both more reasonably priced and tastes a little less bitter – check out the spring seasonal release of the Alaskan Black IPA. My good friend Maria recently brought this over to my house as an exchange beer for a bottle of homebrew and it was delicious. This IPA, and other black IPAs, combine the malt of a porter or stout with the bright flavor of an IPA. This beer tastes like an IPA on first sip, but quickly turns into a dark and malty finish. Imagine taking a swig of a Deschutes Inversion IPA and following it with their Black Butte Porter (two of my favorite beers). Alaskan calls this beer “sessionable” and I’m inclined to agree. Not an Alaskan Brewing Co. lover, this beer definitely surprised me.