Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Vermouth Tasting Results


Okay, so we’ve compiled the results from our blind tasting and all is noted below.  Our criteria was to select the best tasting vermouth without consideration of how it would taste with different spirits or other ingredients added, simply on its own at that moment.  All wines were served slightly chilled.  After the tasting, we explored making different cocktails and experiments with the vermouths we didn’t rate as high.  As it turns out they made excellent mixers versus standing on their own. The drinks were remarkable and the nuance of adding different vermouth’s makes a big difference!  I’ll compile all the recipes too and send that out in a future post.  Prices listed are suggested retail.

Extra Dry Category
·         Boissiere – France $8.99, voted least favorite.  Overt chemical aromas and flavor profile
·         Montana Perucchi – Spain $18.99, voted 1st place, pleasant oxidized characters and similar to Sherry.  Worked nicely by itself and with food.
·         Vya – California $14.99, voted 2nd place, it was the most unique for scent and flavor.  Strong mulled spices and viscous qualities.

Dry Category
·         Dolin – France $13.99, voted least favorite.  Hot nose and finish coupled with chemical attributes made it unpleasant
·         Noilly Prat – France $9.99, voted 2nd place, strong herbaceous qualities, a bit hot on the nose and palate.
·         Vya – California $14.99, voted 1st place and the clear winner in this category.  Light, crisp, balanced acidity and herbs.

Red Category – There wasn’t a clear winner in this group.  The Dolin and Perucchi tied for first, the Carpano & Cocchi tied for second place. 
·         Carpano Antica Formula – Italy $26.99, came across as medicinal upfront with caramel & fruit tones on the finish
·         Cocchi Storico di Torino – Italy $18.99 voted last place, concentrated root beer flavors without much else
·         Dolin – France $13.99, voted first place.  Most versatile and balance between the sarsaparilla and botanical notes.
·         Montana Perucchi – Spain $18.99, great aromatics and garnet color.  Balanced flavor.  A bit polarizing with perfume-like nose.
·         Vergano Chinato  - Italy $44.99, liked not loved.  Near the bottom but more “safe” than interesting.

Sweet White Category
·         Imbue – Oregon $24.99 voted 2nd place and another crowd pleaser.  Well balanced with strong botanicals, acidity and sweetness coming through.
·         Dolin Blanc – France $13.99, 3rd place overall and left a rather lackluster impression on us, however, as guests arrived I poured this as an aperitif over ice with a twist and it was a huge hit. 
·         Montana Perucchi – Spain $18.99 voted least favorite.  Lacked balance and structure.
·         Vergano Chinato Luli – Italy $44.99 voted 1st place and praise for another outstanding vermouth overall. 

Sweet Red Category
·         Boissiere – France $8.99, well liked by the group (tied for my personal favorite in this category), perfume-like aromas with sweet/caramel flavors.
·         Carpano Punt e Mes – Italy $19.99, voted least favorite.  Too medicinal and overpowering flavors.  Seems more like a traditional Amaro than a vermouth
·         Dolin – France $13.99, rated better than the Carpano but not by a big margin.  Unbalanced, sharp flavors and didn’t invite further sips.
·         Vya – California $14.99, another crowd pleaser (tied with the Boissiere for me), super aromatic and lingering finish.

Americano Category – I borrowed this description from vermouth101.com
There are a number of venerable aperitif wines that aren’t vermouths, but have much in common with vermouth. One group of these wines is known as “quinquina” (kenKEEnah), because historically these wines feature (or at least include) Peruvian chinchona bark (“quina” in the native Quechua tongue, “china” [KEE-nah] in italian, and possibly Anglicized as china [chai-nuh]) amongst their botanicals. Chinchona bark is the primary source of quinine (the pharmaceutical and taste component of Tonic water). Quinine became the wonder drug of the 18th Century when colonizing Europeans realized that it was beneficial in warding off malaria, and for a while, Europeans were adding quinine to anything and everything. A major market for quinquina was France’s protracted campaign in Algeria, which held large numbers of French troops and administrators in tropical peril. Some quinquina was specifically produced with the French foreign legion in mind.
Americano can be looked at as either a sub-class of quinquina or its own style, entirely. Americano refers to the wordamer—bitter—not the New World. Where quinquina’s defining flavor is quinine, Americano’s is gentian and/or wormwood. Vermouth, quinquina, and americano all draw from much the same pool of botanicals, and their classification or style is a question of the intent behind the proprietary formulation. Both Quinquina and Americano can come in various colors, such as deep red, straw or even clear (colorless). Almost all are based on white wine mistelle, although one notable exception is Byrrh, which is based on a red wine mistelle.

Quinquinas and Americano’s serve a similar function to vermouths: they are excellent aperitifs on their own, and they make fine components of mixed drinks.
Cocchi Americano– Italy $18.99, white
Vergano Chinato Americano – Italy $39.99, red

We couldn’t justify voting on them against one another since one was white and the other was red.  They were both AMAZING. The Vergano was voted best in show by most of the group. 

Stay tuned for a list of cocktails that we are inspired by vermouth.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Anxiety, Nerves, & Emotions


No one can prepare you for the range of emotions that go into starting a business.  Sure you can take classes on how to create a business or marketing plan, budgeting 101, bartending,  or human resources, but no training manual is set up to prepare you for the emotional roller coaster.

The encouragement is bleak.  Restaurants are among the ten most risky businesses to start and most of them fail.  The pressure, responsibility and duty to do it right is heavy. 

Do you recall the Tortoise and the Hare fable?  ‘The race is not to the swift'. The obstinate Tortoise continues to the finishing line and is proclaimed the swiftest by his backers. In any case, my natural tendency on projects errs on the side of the hare.  Move swiftly and expedite the processes. However, today, my intuition, business coach, and industry mentor tell me that I need to be patient.  Keep focused.  Do not give up.  Slow and steady is a good thing.  So while my intellect knows that I cannot rush this process, my ego and heart feels harnessed.  

At times I feel discouraged and frustrated.  While the support from my family, friends, and acquaintances is what keeps me going there are times when I have to hide my frustration when there is no news to report as I’m asked for updates. 

There are substantial financial burdens associated with this endeavor that stay on the front burner of my emotions too.  Every penny that I spend out of pocket now, is a penny that I don’t get to spend later on the project.

By nature I am a planner and I have to readjust for next month, or three months from now because I have no idea when the space could come up.  It takes center stage in my life and sometimes that sucks.  I am getting good at responding to requests with “I don’t know right now, I’ll let you know as the date draws near.”

Please note: this post certainly is not intended as a pity party but rather an honest account of the range of emotions associated with this endeavor and I want to truthfully document this progression.  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Penny Profiler #24


Rebecca Gerben & Amit Mehta.  I meet a lot of people over alcohol, it is the nature of my work.  Over the years the quantity vs quality debate has been raised.  I’ll always take the latter (for both friends and alcohol).  These two are charming examples.  Our paths originally crossed professionally while they were planning their nuptials, and as we’ve seen from earlier posts, I’ve been known to blur those lines when it’s worth it.

We have been known to imbibe with worthy cocktails (Amit is a fantastic mixologist btw), beer, vino, vermouth, and I hope this is just the tip of the iceberg.  We swapped pennies while on a cocktail boondoggle visiting east Capitol Hill.  The mere mention of their names conjures the perfect Negroni.  Their zeal for life brings me great joy and I’m lucky to call them friends. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vermouth Revolution


We are now in the midst of a vermouth revolution.  Over the years I have enjoyed my share of well made Martini’s, Manhattan’s, or the occasional Negroni, drinks that are synonymous for their use of vermouth.  For some reason this ingredient in my drink really never made me stop to take stock of how it could make/break the integrity of the cocktail.  After our recent tasting, I am humbled to say the least. 

I really owe my curiosity to Jeffery Bergman.  He and his wife had me over for dinner a few months ago and served me a light amber beverage in a small glass over ice and with a twist.  I loved it and was so intrigued by it. When he told me it was vermouth, I about fell off my chair.  We don’t know, what we don’t know and this was a beautiful illumination.  So I started collecting them with the goal to host a tasting. 

A little background and history about this beverage.  Check out http://vermouth101.com/ for more useful information!

Vermouth is a fortified, aromatized wine: the ingredients are wine, herbs and plants, grape spirit and sugar.  The practice of aromatizing wine dates back to the Ancient Greeks.  This was formerly done to mask poor wine or as later to add extra complexity to something already good.  It also proved to be an effective form of early, homeopathic medicine.   The name was derived from the German “Wermut” or Anglo-Saxon “Wermod” (wormwood), a plant with powerful medicinal and psychoactive properties.

From the time of the Romans and perhaps the Greeks wormwood infusions were used to cure intestinal worms.  Because wormwood is extremely bitter, sugar and spices were added.  In the mid 1700’s, in Northern Italy, such infusions began to be drunk as aperitifs.  The first commercial success in 1786 was credited to Carpano from Turin Italy, who began selling a specially processed infusion (his grandmother’s recipe) as vermouth.  Fourteen years later Joseph Noilly of Lyons France created French dry vermouth based on the delicate dry white of the Herault infused with wormwood and local plants such as lavender.  Right up until the 20th century, doctors regularly prescribed Vermouths and aromatized liqueurs for all manner of illness, and many people continue to take a glass per day for medicinal reasons. 

A dozen of us recently blind tasted 20 different vermouths with the categories of extra dry, dry, red, sweet, and Americano (the latter isn’t technically a vermouth but is used in bars as one) and I am working on the results so stay tuned for a  follow-up post.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Frappato Obsession!


I fall in love easily and my latest crush is an Italian grape variety Frappato.  Sicilian sourced and dismissed in many wine guides.  Obscure and unknown pop up as the adjectives. An Italian study published a few years back using DNA typing showed a close genetic relationship between Sangiovese and ten other Italian grape varieties (slutty Sangio!), including my beloved Frappato.  So it is not a stretch that this little mystery grape did more than kiss its Italian cousin to the north.

I’ve only tried a handful of them myself, not too many seem to exist.  In each case the wines are seductively perfumed and spicy with a bit of a wild streak. 

One of my favorites is made by Arianna Occhipinti, a 20-something winemaker from Vittoria, the south eastern tip of Sicily.  A region often associated with Marsala, Arianna’s wines are non-conformist and a bit irreverent
Run, don’t walk to try and find a bottle for yourself.  Other names include: Frappato di Vittoria, Frappato Nero, Frappato Nero di Vittoria, Frappatu, Frappatu di Vittoria, Nerello, Nerello di Catania, and Nero Capitano.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Penny Profiler #23


Barbara Shotwell.  A spunky, charismatic and oh so effervescent woman that has traveled to more than 100 countries, published two books, fired an interior designer or did the designer fire Barbara for wanting too many colors in her room?  She’s an avid collector of books, musical instruments, and marshmallow peeps.  She attends humor and wine conferences (not together, but that might help).  This is a mere modest glimpse into my dear friend. 

If I had my druthers, our penny swap would have occurred at her lighthouse in Kingston.  It is one of my favorite places on earth.  I’m not alone, it was featured a number of years ago in the Living section of the Seattle Times. (http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20010812&slug=pnwl12)

So instead we met for lunch at a sweet little café in Edmonds on her way to school.  Barbara has returned for continuing education classes in Political Science because she doesn’t have enough on her plate as is.  What an inspiration!  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Penny Profiler #22



Debbie Campbell .  Seattle is a small town.  Social circles collide, paths cross and in many cases keep crossing.  It is no wonder when commonalities such as food, travel, wine and related events keep bringing you together.  Debbie has an amazing design firm emphasizing (but not limited to) those said passions.  Visit her at www.tiptopcreative.com.

Her love of the Pike Place Market, children, helping others, and drinking rosé bring a smile to my face every time.  Our penny exchange was done in style with gourmet vittles and vino in the market.  Her generous donation arrived in the smiley mug pictured above along with a request to have her first beverage at B&H in it.  I better put it in a safe place and one that I won’t forget where it is.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Local Inspirations (Part III)


I’ll pay homage to the local joints that are among my favorites.  Ballard is a special annex of the city and I’m thrilled to call it home.  Here are a few of the gems that lie within the borders of this Scandinavian community…

Café Besalu: I used to live within walking distance and what a blessing and curse!  Now I still work my way over to enjoy their sweet and savory pastries.  The owner is one of the most charming, pleasant and jovial businessmen I’ve ever seen.  He folds the butter dough quietly and methodically with a smile every time.  His pleasant demeanor makes me happy and so does the permeating smell of butter and sugar!

Beloved dish: a slice of quiche
Special detail: Happy owner
Delicious drink: I’m not a big coffee/espresso drinker, but my friends tell me it’s among the best in the city too.

Delancey: I have a soft spot for pizza.  It’s more like a weakness.  Fortunately for Seattleites there are A LOT of options to choose from.  Fortunately for me, the best one in the city is stumbling distance from my home.  Delancey makes gorgeous wood-fired pizzas with quality toppings.  I almost don’t like going by myself because I can only order one pie and I really don’t like to limit myself.  The owners Brandon and Molly have created an oasis on 70th street and have attracted the national press’ attention too.  Molly has a loyal following of her own for the beautifully crafted blog Orangette (http://orangette.blogspot.com)

Beloved dish:  Tie between their regular “White Pie” vs. the seasonal Pedron
Special detail: Walking distance from home and bar addition coming soon!
Delicious drink: I LOVE Lambrusco and pizza!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Penny Profiler #21




Anonymous.  I received a call recently from a favorite 509 friend.  Coincidentally, I was heading east as the pennies made their way west.  The penny exchange would have been sweeter had it been in person.  With the logistical challenge we arranged for me to do a pick up at a Seattle area hotel.  The next scenario was as if it was borrowed from a movie. 

I arrive at the front desk giving my name and indicating that I have a package waiting.  She looks at me suspiciously, sizing me up and down then says “oh, you’re the one with that heavy box in the back.”  I thought to myself, what is the fuss for and how heavy can it be?  Especially when I saw the rather small (about the size of a sheet of paper and as tall as a roll of pennies) box she handed to me.  Then I felt the weight.  Holy cow.  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.  I explained it was a box of pennies.  She didn’t believe me.  I wish that I would have weighed the box, I’d bet anything it was an easy 30 pounds.  The look on her face was priceless. 

Thank you my dear anonymous friend.  I adore you and can’t wait for you to enjoy a pint soon.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Penny Profiler #20


Jamie Peha.  Circa 1997 her title was Marketing Director to the Washington Wine Commission.  Mine, intern.  Back then the office was tiny and mighty – an accurate description of Jamie too!  That job and time with the WWC was pivotal for me and I really fell in love with the local wine industry and the people associated with it.  Jamie was, and still is today, a get-it-done kind of woman that isn’t afraid to get dirty as long as the job is done correctly.  Fast forward to 2008 where our paths reconnect to coordinate the annual Wine Rocks event.  Jamie is without a doubt the best large scale event planner I know.  See for yourself at www.pehapromo.com.   Our recent penny exchange was over a beverage to talk shop at Uptown Espresso.  Jamie and caffeine are a humorous combination.  Her satchel of coins and morning bravado were as expressive as the triple soy extra hot latte ordered at the counter.  I am indebted to her unwavering spirit and fervor.  You are one of a kind JMP!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Local Inspirations (Part II)


I have been very fortunate over the years to dine out around our amazing city.  There is certainly no shortage of quality options and I will continue to chronicle my local inspirations. 

Boat Street Café: Nostalgia, sweet nostalgia.  The sweet destination that used to be by the University of Washington was a staple and today Renee’s Belltown/borderline lower Queen Anne venue is just as quaint and charming.  The lovely atmosphere is paired with an excellent menu (food and wine), not to mention some of the best wait staff in the city.  Always has and always will be a favorite pick.

Beloved dish: House made pate! 
Special detail: The interior is whimsical and romantic!  I want my house to look like this.
Delicious drink: Great French wines!
Favorite server: Shannon

Peyrassol Café:
  Sachia and her husband Scott are at the helm of this south Lake Washington gem.  For decades my parents have left the eastside in search of quality dining options and now a tiny commute yields amazing, had crafted food.  Some of you may have enjoyed Sachia’s cuisine back in the day when the original La Spiga held court in that petite corner on Broadway.  Now her menu inspires gorgeous pastas and other local delights.  I’ll gladly make the drive again and again for the food and wonderful company!
Beloved dish: Beouf Bourguignon or whatever pasta dish is available!

Special detail: A stone’s throw from Lake Washington and Gene Coulon Park
Delicious drink: Great wine list!
Favorite server: Kristi

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Penny Profiler #19



Cheryl and Robert Mauri.  Foodies, diners, drinkers, and hedonists extraordinaire.  I am convinced that if I can eat it, Robert can, or will try, to make it.  I have never met someone quite like him, no fears for cooking, baking, molecular gastronomy, etc.  He’s a modern day Mikey (Remember  Life cereal commercials?).  Give it to Robert, he’ll make it, and he’ll certainly eat it too. 

Cheryl, his lovely wife is my kind of gal, shares an interest in one of my favorite pastimes, being a great diner.  One of my last adventures with them was a dinner they hosted where Robert paid homage to parts of the animal others may be too scared to touch.  Menu highlights:

Sweeter than Bread Raviolio
Poached sweetbread raviolio, taleggio, mushrooms and marsala cream

Cheesesteak
Eye round and tongue cheesesteak, Beecher’s Flagship “Cheese Whiz”, and carmelized onions

Peruvian Style Beef Skewers
Grilled marinated heart and tenderloin skewers, salsa verde

As for the penny exchange, we met at the Dray for a few pints to talk food & beverage and life in general.  I went home with a back pack FULL of pennies.  Can you imagine paying for a pint of beer with pennies?  LOL.  We’d be banned from every establishment. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lessons from the Floor (Part III)


By the time this entry is actually posted, the Gauguin exhibit will be over and my tenure at Taste will have drawn to a close.  During my limited time here, my sections have been filled with really nice people.  Some just stand out more than others.

Table C3, Mr. and Mrs. O’Donnell.  Familiarity was instant although the particulars were never sorted.  We guessed that our eastside roots coupled with my time at the Bellevue Athletic Club during college may have lended to the “hey I know you” feeling.   Bottom line they were a lot of fun.  Proud of themselves for taking public transit from downtown Bellevue and surprised at the ease of being dropped  on the museum's door step for their bout with the Gauguin and cocktails, they were kiddy like school kids on a well deserved date night.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching them interact together, with neighboring tables, and me of course.

Table 34 & 43, Mike and Nancy Oliver.  How busy the restaurant is and the nature of the guest dictates how much or how little I get to interact with people.  The two of them were in town from Virginia to celebrate her son getting married and adopting a baby.  Their first visit was for happy hour and they had so much fun they came back for dinner.  They cajoled, laughed, shared wine with their neighbor, and added a lovely mood to the entire restaurant.  Our paths will likely never cross again and in those parting moments when they left the table I wanted to hug them.  I’m pretty sure they would have gladly obliged.  Instead we shook hands expressing our satisfaction for have spent a few hours together.  And off they went.  

My new assignment is to work at Ray’s Boathouse for the summer.  My commute involves my own two feet this time.  I like the sound of that!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Penny Profiler #18


The Reinys.  My parents are flanked by the most wonderful set of neighbors.  To the south sits Bruno and Lillian Reinys.  Neighbors now for well over 30 years, they have watched each other start families and witness their children starting careers and families of their own.  Lill is a Canadian transplant, avid reader and beloved retired teacher.  Her husband Bruno is from Lithuania, retired from Boeing and an avid cyclist, climber and hiker.  The two of them have contributed immeasurably to the good-vibe nature of Newport Woods.  They raised three amazing kids (Katherine mentioned in an earlier penny post), participated heavily in the community and known to make meals when someone wasn’t feeling well nearby.  If we could all have amazing neighbors like this, the world would be a better place.  On a recent outing to my parents house for dinner a little penny care package was awaiting from Lill & Bruno.  Each of us has a unique history that includes people who come into our lives and have a small or large part.  This penny collection from people who have touched me personally and that being somehow connected to the business I create continues to move and inspire me.  By the nature of busy lives and distance between us, Lill and Bruno are people I do not get to see very often but shared fondness knows no boundaries I suppose.