Pie School and Dessert Wine: A Piecast With Kate Lebo

Posted on: January 5th, 2015 by

kate lebo It’s a bit of a therapy session for the pastry-phobic when I sat down with Kate Lebo to talk about her book, Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour, and Butter on my Wine Without Worry podcast. Not that people are afraid of pastry, but rather making it themselves from scratch. Then filling, topping with crust, and baking. For many, this experience is not “as easy as pie”.

It’s a lot like wine. We enjoy it. And love when someone shows up at our home with it. But when it comes to being confident in our ability to learn about it and share that knowledge, that’s when the anxiety kicks in. Fortunately, Kate is a thoughtful, engaging, and encouraging instructor. Our discussion about pie, wine, and life covers these topics:

  • Pie: The Original Tupperwarepie school kate lebo
  • Cream Pies: Dare I Speak Their Name?
  • Barometric Pressure And You
  • Faith and Dough
  • How to Freak People Out at a Party
  • Dessert Wines and Unctuous Viscosity
  • What Wines Pair With Pie?

The episode was recorded at the charming wine bar in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood: Bottlehouse. I enjoyed a cool glass of bubbles from Oregon’s experimental and creative Minimus Wines (read my take on their Vermentino) while Kate had a white Rioja. The latter being one of the most underrated regions for high quality, reasonably priced white wines. The Tempranillo-based red wines from Rioja get  the lion’s share of attention, so be sure to ask for one the next time you’re at a wine bar and/or shop. Like Bottlehouse.

Here’s the show and don’t forget to listen the end of the for my pie-friendly (and life-friendly) wine pick of the week. It’s indestructible!

Wine and The World of Senses: Remembering Serge Hochar

Posted on: January 2nd, 2015 by

Serge Hochar of Lebanon’s Chateau Musar died while on vacation in Mexico. To call the story of his family’s winery, as well as his wines, astonishing would be an understatement.

I got the chance to meet Hochar over two years ago and it was one of the most memorable encounters I’ve had in my years in wine. He led a seminar where I was one among many eager tasters of older vintages of Chateau Musar reds and whites going all the way back to 1980. As a person and a personality, Hochar was unforgettable. Demonstrative, intellectual, thoughtful, engaging, and also possessed with a great sense of humor.

For Hochar, his wines were a companion to join you, side by side, as life progressed. “They are wines to age with you.” He reasoned, “You are changing, the wines are changing.” What makes a wine memorable? Hochar was not into getting too clinical about what was in the glass, but rather more philosophical: “The way it lingers. A wine that has the ability to stay, to become infinite.”

Just as Hochar was a conduit for Chateau Musar, so were his wines a vehicle for discussing broader feelings and emotions. “I am using wine to talk to you about the world of senses,” Hochar explained. Each vintage of Chateau Musar tasted that day–imbued with Hochar’s words, experiences, and labor–illustrated what he believed made wine transcendent: its ability to ”transform the taste into memory.”

Serge Hochar, the memory of you is infinite.

Alder Yarrow and Jancis Robinson have penned tributes to Hochar, two voices among many remembering him.

You can read a recap of my afternoon with Hochar and his wines on Foodista.

Italian Sparkling Wine: The Rich Tradition of Franciacorta

Posted on: December 31st, 2014 by


Prosecco dominates the conversation when it comes to Italian sparkling wine. But if you’re looking for more complexity, check out Franciacorta. Located in Lombardy, its northernly location puts it in the vicinity of Veneto (home of the aforementioned Prosecco), and Trento, where you’ll find landmark producer Ferrari. (Listen to my podcast with Ferrari’s US Ambassador, Jamie Stewart.)

I was recently sent four bottles of sparkling wine from Franciacorta to sample. The lineup:

  • Contadi Castalida Brut ($23)
  • Antica Fratta “Essence” Rosé 2009 ($35)
  • Monte Rossa Cabochon ($55)
  • Fratelli Berlucchi Azienda Agricola Brut 25 ($NA)

The common thread running through all of these wines can be summed up in one word: richness. These are some seriously hefty sparkling wines. In a good way, not in an excess baggage kind of way. The nice thing about wines with this much power is that their sparkling nature counterbalances that brawn.

My two favorites were the Fratelli Berlucchi (a blend of 85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Bianco) and the very serious Antica Fratta rosé (a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend). The former reminded me of a very fine and substantial Chardonnay from Burgundy: weighty, attention-grabbing, lingering. (Note: a wine-searcher.com query for the Fratelli Berlucchi came up empty. Guessing that’s why the price is not available. Maybe Wine Yelp [Welp?] it and start a five-star movement to get it to the fair shores of America.)

Franciacorta helps paint a complete picture of the rich sparkling wine scene in Northern Italy. It deserves a place at not just your New Year’s Eve celebration, but also at your Tuesday dinner table.

Speaking of the end of the year, thank YOU for reading my blog in 2014. After ten-plus (!) years, I still love doing it. –Jameson

Image courtesy Franciacorta USA Facebook page.

J Vineyards and Winery: Sparkling Wine is Always in Season

Posted on: December 30th, 2014 by

J Brut Rosé The letter I received from California’s J Vineyards and Winery, along with a couple sample bottles of bubbles, mentioned that it’s sparkling wine season. And before I could object to this compartmentalization of my favorite category of wines to an October/November/December troika, this missive finished with a flourish: “We’re certain that once you taste these bubblies, you’ll agree that every season should be sparkling wine season.” You go, J!

Their Brut Rosé (suggested CA retail: $38) is richly textured and finishes with an unabashed salvo of the freshest of red fruit flavors. It’s very fruity, yet extremely dry. Speaking of extremes, it’s extremely easy to drink. I won’t give the back-handed compliment that is a “crowd-pleaser”, as that assumes all your party guests are either overly fussy or unadventurous. I know you, as a host, cater to a much more sophisticated yet less judge-y set. And lest you think the price a bit dear, a quick spin on wine-searcher.com confirms you should be able to find it closer to $30. Which seems about right to me.

The Cuvée 20 Brut (suggested CA retail is $28 but you can find deals leaning towards $20) resembles it’s pink partner in combining elegance and approachability. Both would be brunch-tastic. I’m also fond the the simple “J” on the label rather than something more ostentatious and elaborately adorned. And I’m not just saying that because my name starts with “J”. Well, maybe that plays a small part in shaping my opinion.

For more on the enjoyment of bubbles, listen to my podcast with fellow sparkling rosé fan(atic), the fantastic and talented author, wine educator, and TV host, Leslie Sbrocco:

Enough With The Hating On The Champagne Flute!

Posted on: December 29th, 2014 by

Summerhill Pyramid WineryLovers of the Champagne flute have suffered enough. I, for one, have reached my tippling point.

Witness “The Tragic Flute: Why You’re Drinking Champagne All Wrong“. While I truly appreciate the first part of this post’s punny title (Mozart y’all), it’s the latter portion of the headline that gives me pause. The “Why You’re [Doing Something] All Wrong” construct doesn’t help the cause of making wine–and learning about it–more welcoming.

But back to the flute. I have to cue up decades-old Jethro Tull clips on YouTube to find any love for it on the internet. Hey, I get that Champagne is a fine wine and folks like to put it in a white or red wine glass as an acknowledgement of its stature. Additionally, the bowl-shaped vessel ensures its scent is not stifled by the flute. But something’s being lost. Chiefly, bubbles.

The intense cascade of bubbles you witness in the snug confines of the flute is diminished by pooling out Champagne in the berth of a standard wine glass. (And science, help? Can we consider the cylindrical form a conduit for concentrated and confined carbonation? Spiriting olfactory pleasure akin to a Champagne aroma inhaler?)

Not science, but staring into the depths of of a roiling glass of Champagne is like the 4th of July fireworks of the wine world. (But not those explosions that turn into smiley faces.) It’s the experience of watching a million bright lights racing towards the sky, unfolding in a dazzling crescendo. Dramatic. Intense. And pretty damn sexy.

The sniff and swirl set shan’t stifle sultry sparkling sentiment. The form of the flute is a signal to an occasion, an event that’s all about pleasure and celebration. It can be a crowded and festive moment or something more intimate but no less wild. While Champagne is not lacking in the cerebral department, it’s also something that can be appreciated on a more carnal level. And that’s where the flute suits me just fine. It’s magic.

 In the interest of equal time, here is my interview with David Speer of Ambonnay Bar. He is a strong advocate for the use of a glass suited for Burgundy when it comes to Champagne. Please visit his place in Portland, OR, as it is awesome.

Full disclosure: I titled my 2012 e-mail interview with Speer for Foodista, “I’m Considering Giving Up My Champagne Flute“. So there’s that. But the flute needs a dang advocate; jeez, it’s had a rough couple of years. Oh, and yes, I did mean to say “tippling” rather than “tipping” point. And, hey, thanks for reading all the way to the bottom. xxoo –Jameson

Honey It’s Time For Wine: Bee D’Vine Mead

Posted on: December 21st, 2014 by

Bee D'Vine MeadWhy should grapes get to have all the fun? Let’s talk about mead: wine from honey.

I received a couple sample bottles mead from Bee D’Vine: Brut and Demi Sec. I thought the former was going to be sparkling (which really intrigued me) but the Brut designation here just means dry.

What surprised me about the Brut was how subtle and elegant it was This was no Winnie-the-Pooh-esque honey pot of a mead. It would be a lovely aperitif and I’d be very curious to see what a creative bartender could do with it. Food-wise, I’d treat it like a fino sherry: think almonds, cured ham.

The Demi Sec has some sweetness–but is not cloying–and packs more of the sultry aroma and texture of honey. Stronger or hard cheeses would be a great match.

Winemaker-cum-meadmaker Wayne Donaldson gives some background as to why lover’s of the fermented grape like myself might find Bee D’Vine appealing. From their website:

“When [Bee D'Vine Founder] Ayele Solomon approached me in 2010 about making honey wine, I became interested because, while honey wine had a long history of production, there were none that I knew of that had broad appeal to grape wine enthusiasts.

“So our goal was to reintroduce mead as smooth honey wine that would not only appeal to people who already enjoy t’ej, the traditional Ethiopian honey wine, or regular mead, but also to people who appreciate grape wine. Thus we set out to make a wine with the floral and fragrant qualities of honey while also possessing the balance and complexity of grape wine. Bee d’Vine is the result of years of winery trials employing the latest fermentation science and using fresh, raw, local honey and pure spring water.”

Read “The Economic Power of Honey“. Solomon, a native Ethiopian, hopes to make mead production a vehicle for economic and environmental change in Ethiopia’s Kafa forest.

Image from Bee D’Vine’s Facebook page.

A Guide To Wines For Parties of Any Occasion

Posted on: December 19th, 2014 by

which wines when the bookery cook

Whether it’s a holiday party or gathering at any other time of the year, one thing holds true for me: I’m bringing wine. So what wines do I like to bring to a (potentially) festive occasion? Well I’m glad you asked. I had the rare and distinct pleasure to dispense my thoughts on this topic via a most stupendous blog, The Bookery Cook. If you love the confluence of art, music, and food, this blog from the keen minds of three Australian sisters is for you. And I cannot stress this enough: BUY THEIR BEAUTIFUL COOKBOOK, ART TO EAT. (Details below.)

Situations covered? Wines for:

  • Hanging with your pals.
  • Impressing your boss.
  • Making gloomy family gatherings less grim.
  • Quiet time with your significant other. (Or just you and a burrito.)

Which of these four scenarios elicited this description? “You stroll in cradling 1.5 litres of wine like it was a royal baby, set it on the table, and bask in your awesomeness.” Find out by reading…

Which Wines When?

More from me on The Bookery Cook:

Has Champagne Ever Saved My Life? The Interview

The Bookery Cook Delivers Stimulating Art to Eat (A book that includes naked women atop floating salted caramel pecan bars AND a mustachioed, muscle-bound gent with a bottle of hard cider sticking out of his underwear.)

Thanks to Maxine Thompson for not one but two opportunities to be on the blog. And to Georgie Thompson for the awesome graphic design work. This is going to have to me my Facebook profile image at some point. Also, I never looked better.

Restaurants, Wine, and the Solo Diner: A Talk with Julien Perry

Posted on: December 17th, 2014 by
ono project seattle julien perry

Chef Eric Donnelly and Julien Perry. Photo by Baydra Rutledge

How important is wine to you when it comes to evaluating a restaurant? I chat with Julien Perry on my Wine Without Worry podcast about this subject. She has an astonishing depth and breadth of Seattle restaurant knowledge from writing about them for, to name a few, Seattle Magazine, Eater Seattle, and Seattle Weekly.

What’s great about Julien (well, many things, too numerous to mention here) is that she’s an enthusiastic wine drinker but not a know-it-all when it comes to the subject. It’s refreshing to hear what she expects (and loathes) when it comes to selecting a wine by the glass at a restaurant, rather than from some cork dork pining for a skin-contact Trousseau Gris.

Julien is also the Co-Conspirator of the One Night Only Project, which puts a chef and a drinks expert (like me, ahem) together for a stupendous night of eating and drinking that will never be repeated. Ever. Having worked an ONO dinner and attended one I can vouch for its amazingness.

We also talk about why we love eating at the bar. And not just when we’re alone but also when with a guest. And, hey, why aren’t all single Seattle people having dinner at the bar? Maybe they’re at home watching Pawn Stars and drinking rosé while their Tombstone pizza bakes in the oven. Oh wait, that’s me. And that sounds like an amazing time. But not better than gabbing and drinking wine with Julien. (DUH!)

Finally, my wine pick of the week.  I hop back on the Malbec from Argentina train after after a prolonged break. Check out the Alamos Selección Malbec 2012. It is a rich and pleasurable red that will cure acute Malbec fatigue.

Here’s the show:

For more thoughts on wine and restaurants, check out my conversation with Hanna Raskin, Food Writer and Critic for the Charleston (SC) Post.

Spring Mountain Cabernet from Smith-Madrone: The Perfect Gift

Posted on: December 14th, 2014 by

Smith Madrone Vineyard

There is something special about Spring Mountain. Leaving behind Napa Valley’s floor, you carefully wind your way up to higher altitudes where a new world unfolds. And it’s not just scenery that is transformed; the distinctiveness of the wines bear out that change as well. I was recently sent a trio of samples from Smith-Madrone that exemplify this mountain environment and distinct ethos. My thoughts on each:

  • 2012 Chardonnay ($32)

Pretty dang toasty, but with a very lime-y liveliness in both smell and finish that really balanced it out. A fascinating examples of Napa Chardonnay that keet me guessing (in a good way) with each sip. I imagine this being a nice wine to revisit in a year or two. OAK IS CHARDONNAY’S FRIEND.

  • 2013 Riesling ($27)

Riesling? From Napa Valley? Fascinating! This dry wine had a fine amount of richness along with proud Riesling character. It’s a bit of a survivor, too, showing well even after being open for a week in the harsh, barren clime of my bachelor fridge. (Between the Tapatio and Sriracha, truth be told. Actually, it would be a great wine for spicy food.) Stuart Pigott, author of “Best White Wine on Earth: The Riesling Story” (read my interview with Pigott), calls Smith-Madrone “the unsung heroes of American Riesling” and puts their bottling in his global Top 20 Dry Rieslings list. ATTENTION ALL WINE GEEKS. 

  • 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ($48)

2011 Smith Madrone CabernetI am hard-pressed to think of a better Napa Cab for under 50 bucks. This bottle of Smith-Madrone is a testament to both site and winemaking. And I am quite particular about Cabernet, truth be told. I like it to show true Cabernet character, which I define as having notes of wonderful green things. Like olives, herbs, mint, eucalyptus. Now, I’m not saying it should taste like vegetables, but this is the side of Cabernet that, when leaned towards, gets me excited. This bottle drank wonderfully for three days, was not lacking in richness, and delivered P-L-E-A-S-U-R-E. Stuff this in your stocking or, to be safe, put a case under your tree and enjoy how it develops over the years. On my triple buy scale it gets a BUY BUY BUY.

More Spring Mountain: Cain Vineyard and Winery: Truth in the Vineyards

5 Things You’ll Learn About Wine Tasting from Anthony Giglio

Posted on: December 9th, 2014 by

Anthony Giglio

Instead of focusing on wine tasting as some sort of elaborate, rigid routine fraught with ritual and stern judgement, wouldn’t it be nice if someone could just break it down for you via a few simple rules that maximize pleasure and learning while minimizing angst and consternation? I was witness to just that when, as an invited media guest at the Taste of Tulalip, I attended Anthony Giglio‘s guided seminar on the wines of the Rhone versus the wines of Washington.

This wasn’t a “smackdown” per se. More like, as Tulalip Resort Casino Sommelier Tommy Thompson stated, a “pillow fight“. In other words, no puffing out of the chests, rather an informal, good time. (Pajamas optional.)

I was really impressed with Giglio’s presentation. I met him at a lunch in New York in 2011 but hadn’t had a chance to witness Giglio in front of an audience as an educator. And an entertainer. In fact, the seminar started with some autobiographical material about growing up in a house where three generations of his Italian family lived. (At the same time.)

And at this home, wine was a part of every meal. (Though it was a “red wine with everything” kind of household.) Giglio told tales of the “Spaghetti Spritzer”: red wine and cream soda. Even if you weren’t into wine at all–though it would be weird if you felt that way and attended a wine seminar– you’d probably be highly amused by Giglio’s presentation. But back to the wine tasting. Here’s what I learned:

1) “The first sip never counts.”

Maybe you just had some coffee or a bunch of Oreos, I don’t know. But the first sip of any wine can be jarring. Though the saying goes, ”You never get a second chance to make a first impression”, at a wine tasting you have the luxury of multiple chances with each glass. Along those lines:

2) “Take three sips of wine before you throw it overboard.”

We discussed the first. For sip number two, you’re getting back in there and recalibrating from the shock of the first. The third sip? That’s the one where you can get all judge-y on the wine. But perhaps you are still non-plussed. Time for some food:

3) “The game-changer is fat plus salt.”

A wine (red or white) may just be too aggressive, a bit unbalanced on its own. But something magical can happen when it shares space on your palate with something salty and fatty. Potato chips would be the classic go-to. Or maybe a well-charred and marbled ribeye with some coarse sea salt.

Now let’s shift gears and head to the NHL:

4) “Acid in wine is a Zamboni.”

Like a squeeze of lemon over a piece of fish, acidity in wine is what cleanses and smooths things out a bit, getting you ready for that next wine power play.

5) “If it’s free, you try it.”

PREACH IT! The best way to learn about wine is to try as much of it as possible. Preferably when you don’t have to pay for it. Take every opportunity you have to attend tastings at a local wine shop. Just remember you don’t have to drink everything you try; the spit bucket is your friend.

Taste of Tulalip Wine Tasting


Oh, and about the wines we tasted: Some big-time heavy hitters. I was blown away that we were going to sample Chapoutier’s Hermitage “L’Ermite”. White wines from the Northern Rhone, especially the all-Marsanne versions from Hermitage, are some of the world’s best. This 2007 was still super young and more golden than King Midas.

This wine “pillow fight” was a great opportunity to understand the grapes of the Rhone (both Northern and Southern) and see how they are interpreted in the Old World (France) and the New World (Washington State).

The rest of the activities at the Taste of Tulalip were equally impressive. I was gobsmacked by the two rooms hosting “Magnum Parties”, where wines I never expected to sniff in my life were there for me to savor. (The vast majority poured from magnum.) Back vintages of Red and White Bordeaux, Hermitage Rouge and Blanc, Penfold’s Grange, Opus One, and so much more. Whoa! Even this rare jewel: Krug Clos du Mensil 2000. Aka “Magical Dream-Maker”.

Seriously. #tasteoftulalip

There was also a ginormous room of Washington wines, a wide hallway with international bottles, and a room full of California and Oregon wines. I even got to attend a seminar with famed California Pinot Noir producer Michael Browne of Kosta Browne. He regaled us with tales of being in a youth circus in Eastern Washington (!), which, naturally, led him towards a life in wine. (Huh?)

All of these experiences can be purchased separately. The All-Access Pass is the way to go, though if you just want to spring for the Grand Taste you’d be getting beyond your money’s worth. Either way, I highly recommend you book a room at the hotel or get a designated driver.

As far as the caliber of wines, their rarity and abundance, I was mightily impressed with Taste of Tulalip. Every wine geek should mark their calendars for next year’s event.

Look for me by the Krug.

Top two photos courtesy Taste of Tulalip.

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