Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Overproof's whiskey cocktail food-pairing experience: a review

Overproof is beyond the swinging doors; ABV is downstairs
It's not quite dinner, but it's not just drinks: the high-concept Overproof bar-inside-a-bar is a new hybrid on the San Francisco food scene.

The idea is this: you buy a ticket (transferable but not refundable) for a 5-drink, 5-dish theme cocktail experience. The dishes are meant to be shared and are not huge, but we did not leave hungry. The cocktails are also a little smaller than the normal size, but we did not leave sober either. For fine-dining value it can't be beat: $60 a person, plus tax, ticket fees and tip.

Overproof is inside ABV, already one of the country's best cocktail bars, both for its fine cocktails and its elevated bar food. You can and should just walk into ABV and have a drink and some grilled octopus and fries. Overproof, on the other hand, is booked out weeks in advance. We were invited by a PR firm but they didn't have an opening for nearly two weeks, and we ended up with a 9 pm seating.

Pro tip: the 9 pm show has the advantage that you are not rushed to leave. Our tablemates had come to Overproof before at a 7 pm seating and mildly complained that they were hurried out the door. That said, they bought tickets for the second iteration of Overproof as soon as they went on sale.

The first iteration of Overproof offered rum-based drinks. Currently, it's all about whiskey, with 5 whiskey-based drinks and an interior theme that is meant to look like a cozy Tokyo izakaya. We sat under a samurai sword (real metal, but we didn't test the sharpness) and perhaps its implicit threat worked to keep anyone from chugging a shot of some of the Pappy Van Winkle on the library-like shelves.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Interesting views of the USA from an Italian vigneron

"In USA to sell a wine you have to tell a story. That has spread everywhere. Now everybody wants to tell a story about the wine. Why don't we just have the wine? Just let the wine speak for itself."

Lorenzo Marotti Campi runs a winery in Italy, Marotti Campi, with his father, but his hobby is taking pictures in the U.S. He likes landscapes, so he likes the west, especially the entire Rocky Mountain range from New Mexico to British Columbia in Canada.

I sat across from Marotti Campi randomly at a lunch held as part of Northern Lands, the terrific Canada-wide wine festival in Edmonton. This was very unlike most wine media lunches, where a PR person tries to keep the winemaker on point ("tell him about the exclusive sourcing of this Chardonnay"). We were just talking. Or rather, he was just talking, and showing some of his amazing photos, and I was learning what the rural U.S. looks like to an Italian these days. Spoiler alert: It is pretty, even when it isn't.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Making French-style Italian wine from France for a Dutchman

Dominique Génot on the Caiarossa estate
Is a French winemaker necessary for making elegant wines? Dominique Génot was hired for a Tuscan winery, Caiarossa, owned by a Dutch supermarket magnate for that express purpose, but he says that it may not be necessary anymore.

"That's something that's probably changed in the last 10 years," Génot told me. "When I first started in 2006, the idea was to look for elegance in the wine. Finesse. Not trying to make any blockbusters. They were a little bit afraid of working with someone more local. It was mainly this search for elegance and finesse that led them to choose a French winemaker. In the last 10 years, the style of a lot of Tuscan wines, they have been changing a lot. I'm not sure it's so important today to have  French winemaker."

That said, Génot has, if anything, become even more French. In 2015 he and his wife moved to Perpignan in the south of France, but he travels to Tuscany once a month to oversee Caiarossa.

Caiarossa is an interesting property.

Monday, May 1, 2017

"Reserve" marijuana shows weed is already using some wine-style marketing

The label was torn; sorry. But note the higher THC.
When marijuana is fully legal, how will it be marketed? For many years people assumed tobacco companies would swoop in, but so far that doesn't appear to be the case.

Instead, marijuana merchants are, for now, taking some cues from their neighbors in the wine industry.

Take a look at the labels to the right. First, there was Black Lime, the marketing name for a strain of marijuana. Now, there's Black Lime Reserve -- it costs more and is more powerful. That's right out of wine's marketing playbook.

This is an outlier. So far it seems that most legal marijuana merchants use marketing techniques more common with spirits than wine: brand recognition of names like OG Kush or Blue Dream.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Champagne Collet: Big yet little-known co-op aims for subtlety

Sébastien Walasiak
When you ask a winemaker what he's trying to achieve with his top-end wine, the answers are usually similar. Thus my ears prick up when somebody has a different goal.

"Usually in a special bottle you have very powerful flavors, a lot of character," Sébastien Walasiak told me. "We don't want powerful. We want a long mouth, but not too powerful, not too much character."

This for a $100 bottle. Tell me more.

He did, and the story ended up reminding me less of winemaking than of some of the sakes I most like now, but that also took me years to appreciate.

Champagne Collet is the oldest co-op in Champagne, founded in 1921 by growers upset over grapes from North Africa winding up in Champagne. There was a riot and an arson fire over the issue, showing that wine politics haven't changed in France in nearly a century.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Idaho makes its best wines yet

Melanie Krause, owner/winemaker, Cinder
Idaho wine contines to be a fixation for me. The promise of the state seems immense, thanks in part to global warming, which has reduced the risk of vine-killing frost. Terroir-wise, it's not very different from eastern Washington; it's just a matter of updating the farming and winemaking culture, and that's happening.

I love it when -- apparently every other year -- I get a box of Idaho wine samples. This year I tasted the two best wines I've ever had from Idaho. I also will recommend 8 of the 12 wines I tried, a higher percentage than ever, and on par with what I might recommend from a box of random wine samples from any region in California.

There is no "Idaho taste profile," just as there really isn't a Washington taste profile. Idaho was known for Riesling for a long time mainly because of its frost resistance. But when the vines can survive the winter, there's enough summer sun in the best-regarded Sunnyslope region (an unofficial subsection of the Snake River Valley AVA) to ripen red grapes.

Without further ado, here are the recommendations.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Three days in LA: Food finds on a non-foodie trip

A very LA breakfast at Sqirl
Last week my wife and I went to enjoy the World Baseball Classic final round in the City of Angels. The trip was defined by night baseball games, and thus not restaurant visits. Nonetheless we managed to enjoy some uniquely LA food experiences that I recommend for out-of-towners.

Sqirl: My veganish friend Michelle vetoed my suggestion of Langer's for lunch and insisted on meeting us at Sqirl, the spelling of which really threw Siri for a loop when trying to get directions. Sqirl was THE most LA place we visited, and we liked it so much we went back for breakfast on our way out of town.

Why is it so LA? Where else do Americans eat salad for breakfast? (Not to mention lacto-fermented hot sauce and Turmeric Tonic.) It's a great success story: a Brandeis graduate started by making preserves and now has a full-service all-day breakfast place.

The first item on the menu, the Sorrel Pesto Rice Bowl ($8.25) is perfect for LA: it's delicious and healthy enough to allow me to keep my girlish figure. (Walda Frey: also a girl). To be honest, I didn't notice the namesake sorrel pesto but I have no complaints. It's a small treasure hunt of tidbits. Slivers of preserved Meyer lemon pop into almost every bite, making it the rare bowl of breakfast one could call "refreshing," and giving nice contrast to the sheep feta. You don't see the lacto-fermented hot sauce and you're not always aware it's there, but it leaves a nice buzz on your lips as you finish.

In-house baked goods are excellent, and I would be ashamed to list every one the three of us tried. Let's just say the blueberry mint scone was good and leave it there. But we weren't going to be veganish for our whole trip so ...