Articles in Drinking
He invented the mai tai, popularized the margarita and nachos, and introduced American diners to morel mushrooms, sunflower seeds and green peppercorns before most restaurants included them on the menu.
These culinary accomplishments are credited to Victor Bergeron Jr., born in San Francisco in 1902. He opened his first restaurant, Hinky Dinks, in Oakland in 1934, serving up stiff drinks for 15 cents, accompanied by standard fare — beef, pork or lamb alongside two vegetables, potatoes and two slices of French bread with butter — for 20 cents. Hoping to offer something more exciting, he visited the well-known restaurant Don the Beachcomber to observe its combination of rum drinks, Cantonese foods and South Seas atmosphere. Bergeron immediately recognized a winning formula, which he sought to replicate — and in characteristic fashion, believed he could outdo.
By 1938, Bergeron unveiled his own Polynesian restaurant, Trader Vic’s. With travel to Hawaii, Cuba, Tahiti, Japan, Hong Kong and Mexico, he began a nearly 50-year career in which he evangelized the island lifestyle, reimagined “exotic” cuisines and promoted the rums of the world. By the time of his death in 1984, he had opened well-loved and steadily patronized Trader Vic’s restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles, plus locations as far afield as Tokyo and London, Singapore and Munich.
The Apostle of Rum
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Although Bergeron’s status as inventor of the mai tai is contested by some, journalist and gourmand Lucius Beebe unequivocally christened him “the apostle of rum,” a title well earned by Trader Vic’s extensive drink menus and the contents of his cookbooks. In the first, “Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink,” published in 1946, he writes simply, frankly and with palpable enthusiasm for rum in an opening section casually titled, “About Booze.”
Just as Julia Child taught wine, Bergeron insisted upon only high quality and carefully chosen ingredients, distinguishing rums by country of origin and preferred brands in every recipe. He also playfully recommends a slew of concoctions. “Tall ones,” like the Dr. Funk and Haote Pikia, are “for those who like to sit around and shoot the breeze and sip on a good-tasting drink.” Others are “for good old American guzzling” and getting buzzed in short order, such as the Flamingo, which calls for 1½ ounces Puerto Rican rum, a dash of Angostura bitters, a slice of cucumber rind and enough 7-Up to top off a 12-ounce glass.
In his introductory pages, Bergeron, who eventually took on the persona of Trader Vic himself, posits that rum’s unpopularity, at least relative to other spirits such as gin and scotch, was due to its colorful past in which it was “the favorite libation of pirates, sailors, massacring Indians, beachcombers and loose women.” He assured readers that rum had “risen to the ranks of respectability” and “become the favorite potion of millions of civilized people.” For all his groundbreaking, the Trader’s distinctions between “primitive” and “civilized” people, “native” ingredients and “American tastes” would remain a problematic and recurring theme.
Trader Vic’s ‘American’ Food
While his 1948 “Bartender’s Guide” became a standard mixology reference work, Trader Vic’s mark on American cuisine is less straightforward. Borrowing liberally, he combined ingredients, flavors, techniques and methods to form what one food critic described as “more Trader Vic’s food than anything else.” Bergeron vehemently defended the quality of American ingredients and wine against the supposed status afforded by the likes of Russian caviar and French wine. He at times embraced tradition, preparing a variety of dishes using “Chinese barbecue ovens,” which burned white oak logs, rendering what many diners noted as a mild but memorable smoky flavor.
At the same time, the Trader also embraced ready-prepared foods. While other leaders of the food world bemoaned the de-skilling of the American housewife, Bergeron argued that with the help of convenience food products home cooks were actually developing in the kitchen, becoming more able to prepare simple and delicious food. He confidently predicted that the quality of frozen food would improve, citing a frozen prefab chicken dish he had eaten, stating, “If I was the finest chef in the world I couldn’t do it better.” Furthermore, after tasting “green enchiladas in an out-of-the-way Mexican Village,” prepared with canned soup and canned chiles, he proclaimed, “Without cans you can’t live!”
Trader Vic’s world travels earned him a venerated position as one who brought “exotic” and “foreign” delights stateside. He took pride in modifying dishes so that they were more “sophisticated,” his description for better suited to the American palate. In “Trader Vic’s Pacific Island Cookbook,” published in 1968, he altered dishes from Mexico and Texas, taking out oil that he deemed too fatty and chiles he considered overly spicy. In tacos, he substituted chopped beef for shredded to align it with “American tastes.” He spoke of his gustatory creations not as visionary fusion cuisine or reimagined tradition, but as “American food,” a way of eating that he predicted would eventually lead the world. Sure of American potential, he’s quoted quipping, “Think of all those poor little Italians having to eat Italian food every day of the year.” He even took his dishes to the sky, bringing salads dressed with fruit, good-looking and tasty steaks and handmade mai tais to United Airlines flights in the early 1970s.
Understanding Trader Vic’s
Perhaps Lois Dwan, restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times, understood Victor Bergeron and his food best. In her numerous reviews of Trader Vic’s from the 1960s through the 1980s, she described him as neither snob nor purist, but simply dedicated to quality and a good time. Like others, she mused on what, if anything, was real or authentic about Bergeron’s persona, restaurants, drinks and food. She eventually concluded, “That the design is not particularly true does not matter.” She credited Bergeron’s culinary process, as he focused not on the structure of tradition or recipes, but rather “understanding the principle — the idea — of a flavor or procedure.” Grounded in what she called “understanding without condescension,” Dwan lauds Bergeron’s results as “one of the few original cuisines anywhere.”
In his 1983 review of Trader Vic’s, written to commemorate the restaurant approaching its 50th anniversary, Colman Andrews concurs. He summarizes the Trader Vic’s experience as “imaginative, eclectic, corny, comfortable, expensive, uneven and sometimes downright excellent. It is — always — great fun.”
The Trader Vic’s legacy lives on with U.S. locations in Emeryville, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Atlanta, as well as a number of international locations.
Main photo: Victor Bergeron Jr. may or may not have invented the mai tai, but he popularized tropical rum drinks. Credit: istockphoto.com
When most people think of great Rieslings, their minds wander to Germany’s Mosel, Rheingau or Alsace wine regions. There’s a good reason for that: For centuries, German producers have been making some of the world’s finest white wines from Riesling grapes.
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But did you know that there are also some beautiful Rieslings being made in the United States? Cool-climate wine regions, such as those in New York, Michigan, Washington state and Oregon, are just right for growing Germany’s signature grape.
In Washington, the country’s largest producer of Riesling wines, the grape is grown mainly in the eastern part of the state, in the Columbia Valley appellation. Washington Rieslings are typically ripe and floral, with peachy notes and a touch of sweetness.
Oregon grows far less Riesling than its neighbor to the north — the variety was pushed out when Pinot Noir took center stage in the ’90s — but Riesling is making a comeback in Beaver State vineyards. Most of it is planted on the western side of the Cascades, where there’s plenty of rainfall. Compared with Washington Rieslings, Oregon’s tend to be higher in acidity.
Riesling grapes also thrive in the eastern United States, most notably in New York’s Finger Lakes appellation. That’s largely because the region has a truly cool climate (some would say freezing), and its eponymous lakes keep the vines from freezing in the winter, and prevent them from getting overheated in the summer. The resulting Rieslings have incredibly vibrant acidity that lends itself to both dry and sweet styles.
Although it’s lesser known than the Finger Lakes, northern Michigan is beginning to gather steam as a Riesling region. The best examples come from the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula, which benefit from chilly temperatures and close proximity to Lake Michigan. Michigan Rieslings are clean and crisp, with plenty of acidity to balance any sweetness.
A perfect wine for fall
Although American Rieslings, especially the crisp, drier styles, are wonderful to drink in the warmer months, there’s something about them that’s perfect for fall. This is especially true at the dinner table.
According to restaurateur Amanda Danielson, co-founder of the annual City of Riesling festival in Traverse City, Mich., Riesling is a particularly good match for fall foods. “Riesling’s acidity has a cleansing effect and makes each bite taste like the first,” said Danielson, who owns Trattoria Stella and The Franklin restaurants in Michigan’s Riesling country. “The apple character in many Rieslings evokes memories of fall and, if accompanied by some residual sugar, can pair beautifully with multiple courses. Think butternut squash soup and apple salad with lardons. Many Rieslings will also pair nicely with roasted birds, from chicken to squab.”
With Thanksgiving just over the horizon, what better way to bring local flavor to the table? With styles from bone-dry to lusciously sweet, there’s a great American Riesling to pair with every dish on the table.
Here are six delicious Rieslings to try this fall:
Tierce 2012 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling ($30): This wine is a collaboration between a trio of Finger Lakes winemakers: Peter Bell of Fox Run Vineyards, Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road Winery and David Whiting of Red Newt Cellars. Made in a dry, austere style, the wine has aromas of petrol (a classic Riesling characteristic, and a positive one), citrus and orange blossom. It’s crisp and tangy, with lovely mineral notes.
Blustone Vineyards 2013 Leelanau Peninsula Riesling ($18): This wine is an excellent example of how pretty the Rieslings from Michigan can be. It has an enticing peachy aroma, with just a suggestion of sweetness on the palate. Tanginess, crisp acidity and mineral notes provide perfect counterpoints to the wine’s richer elements.
Chehalem 2012 Chehalem Mountains Riesling, Corral Creek Vineyards ($29): This wine from pioneering Oregon Pinot Noir producer Chehalem needs a little time in the bottle to come out of its shell, but fans of subtlety will enjoy it right this minute. With a slight petrol aroma, it’s crisp and quite dry, with notes of granny smith apples and stone fruits.
Gill’s Pier 2013 Leelanau Peninsula Semi-Dry Riesling ($16.95): Along with a pleasant sweetness and some peachy notes, this Michigan Riesling has plenty of bracing acidity and zesty lemon-lime flavors to balance its residual sugar. The wine finishes with a bright kiss of lime.
EFESTE 2012 Columbia Valley Evergreen Riesling ($20): This especially fine Washington state Riesling has aromas of apples and mineral, along with bright, tangy flavors of citrus fruits and green apples. The wine is crisp and dry, with a lemony finish.
Black Star Farms Arcturos 2012 Old Mission Peninsula Winter Harvest Riesling ($15/375 mL): Although this is not an ice wine — for that, regulations require that the grapes freeze on the vines before picking — this Michigan beauty has similarly luscious characteristics. The wine has wonderful aromas of apricots and honey, with flavors to match. It’s intensely sweet and viscous, yet expertly balanced.
Main photo: Rieslings from Michigan, Oregon and New York are excellent with fall foods. Credit: Tina Caputo
For the British, tea is not just a hot beverage; it is a meal. The most delightful meal of the day, in fact, but the word embraces a wide variety of meals and occasions. It can be served at any time between 3:30 and 6 in the afternoon, around a kitchen table or in a drawing room with elegant chairs. Whether afternoon tea, high tea or some more exotic variant, confusion often arises as to exactly what each involves. The only constant is the tea (to drink).
In the second half of the 20th century, tea, as a meal, declined. This was partly because cakes and other teatime goodies received bad press health wise, and partly because the lives of Britons became more hurried, often to the point where we no longer even stopped for a cup of tea, let alone a proper meal. Recently, this trend has reversed. We are more interested in baking, some healthier ingredients have moved to the fore and the importance of family meals has been widely recognized.
Tea as a drink was fashionable in Britain by the late 17th century, but it did not refer to a meal until 1840 when Anna, the duchess of Bedford, felt a “sinking feeling” and ordered cake to be served with a cup of tea. At this time, a long gap without food occurred between a light lunch and a late dinner. Anna was a close friend of Queen Victoria and influential in aristocratic circles, so tea and cake rapidly became very popular. The queen herself enjoyed a meal at teatime (Victoria sponge, a pound cake sliced in half and filled with jam, cream or both, is named in her honor). It began as a meal of the leisured classes, those with the time and money to be able to sit and relax during the afternoon. It was often called “low” tea, as the participants sat on comfortable low chairs in elegant drawing rooms. With time, the meal developed and sandwiches were included, typically finely sliced cucumber between paper-thin slices of bread. A wide range of dainty cakes and pastries followed. Cream teas with scones, clotted cream and jam originated in Devon and Cornwall, where clotted cream is chiefly made, but are now available countrywide.
The 19th century Industrial Revolution in Britain brought about the rise of “high” tea, spurred by urbanization. Builders and factory workers often worked considerable distances from their homes and returned hungry in the early evening. They fell into the habit of taking a meal at about 6 p.m. sitting around a table, usually in the kitchen. This was a much more substantial affair than the low or afternoon tea of the aristocracy, and it became known in contrast as a high tea. Everything was placed on the table at once, including pies and cold meats, tarts and salads, jam, honey, toasted tea cakes and hearty fruitcakes. The richer the household, the more there typically was. One of the best types of high tea is in a farmhouse kitchen, with homemade bread, newly churned butter, and a feast of fresh and simple food.
An article in the Daily Telegraph of 1893 describes it perfectly: “A well-understood ‘high tea’ should have cold roast beef at the top of the table, a cold Yorkshire pie at the bottom, a mighty ham in the middle. The side dishes will comprise soused mackerel, pickled salmon (in due season), sausages and potatoes etc., etc. Rivers of tea, coffee and ale, with dry and buttered toast, sally-luns, scones, muffins and crumpets, jams and marmalade.” A light supper, such as a sandwich, followed later in the evening.
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High tea is often associated with northern areas of England, where it is called “meat tea,” and Scotland, where it is simply called “tea.” “Tea” meant the same thing in Australia and New Zealand. This could cause misunderstandings when guests were invited to (afternoon) tea but turned up several hours late, expecting a more substantial meal.
A glance at the table will quickly show which type of tea is being served. Even the china is different. Afternoon tea uses fine china cups and saucers, usually filled with fine tea, while high tea uses mugs and a large brown teapot, usually filled with a stronger brew of tea.
Strictly speaking, afternoon tea fills the gap between lunch and dinner, but it’s rarely vital to one’s survival. High tea, on the other hand, is a necessary meal, eaten when typically artisan workers return. Nowadays the divisions are blurred, with food such as scones and sponge cakes appearing at both meals. The very adaptability of tea has caused this confusion, but whatever we call the meal, it is one that we British believe we would be much poorer without.
Main photo: A traditional English high tea consists of hearty rustic fare. Credit: J.M. Hunter
Conversations with more than 50 distillers over the last two years have changed me. No, I haven’t had a liver transplant; I’ve undergone an adjective-ectomy.
I’ve spent most of the last 25 years writing and editing, and a little less of that time drinking, so it’s not surprising that a word has taken on outsized importance. It’s a word I would like to see banished from all discussion of spirits. And that word is … “smooth.”
Hold on one stinkin’ minute, I can hear you thinking, isn’t that the (Johnnie Walker) Gold standard? The sine quaff non of distillers everywhere? As a matter of fact, no. And if you’re looking for smoothness in your glass you’ve been sold a bill of goods.
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By James Rodewald
Before embarking on the research for my recently released book on craft distillers, I would not have questioned the assertion that smooth was the height of perfection. Ah, for a simpler time.
Dan Farber, co-owner of the world-class brandy producer Osocalis, in Soquel, Calif., is one of the best makers and agers of brown spirits in the country. As such he’s at the top of a very small group. It’s a group, just by the way, that does not include very many bourbon producers since most are somewhat indifferent to the making.
The big guys use an industrial process, and what ends up in a $20 bottle may well have started out as the very same liquid as, say, a bottle of one of the delicious but overpriced and impossible to find Pappy Van Winkle bourbons. As for the aging, when you’ve got a seven-story high, football-field size warehouse full of bourbon, odds are that a few of those barrels will be sublime. Small producers do not have these luxuries, so they have to take a more careful, hands-on approach.
Farber characterizes smoothness as a “trivial thing” and “entry-level stuff.” What’s he’s going for — and the proof of his success can be found in everything he makes, but particularly his XO brandy — is brown spirits that have “the flavor of the beast that they came from, yet also have all these new things.”
Those new things come from aging. And while we’re on the subject of banishing words and sloppy thinking from the booze world, if someone says they’re able to speed up aging by using small barrels, run the other way. Sure, you can get more wood character more quickly, but why would you want to?
“Smooth” is not just Distilling 101; it’s also the path away from complexity. Milk is smooth. Aged spirits should be complex.
Are Farber’s brandies harsh? By no means. But when they’re in your mouth, and for many minutes after, nerve cells are firing in all directions. I defy anyone to take a sip of any Osocalis product and have nothing more interesting to say about it than “smooth.”
Jake Norris is an original partner in Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, one of the first and best small, independent American whiskey producers. (He left Stranahan’s shortly after Proximo, the owners of Jose Cuervo and other brands, bought the company.) He’s now at Laws Whiskey House, the most promising new whiskey distillery in the country. The fear Norris expressed to me, about a year into production, was that his whiskey was too smooth.
“The danger might be that it’s almost too balanced. In the beginning,” he said, “it was overly smooth and I was afraid it was going to lose character, so I [adjusted the distillation] so you get that slight astringent suck on the tongue. It’s got a little bit of teeth so it can sit in the barrels longer, meaning two to five years. If all of this is done properly, it can go to possibly six or eight years, maybe more. I don’t know if I would try that.”
Not every small, independent spirits producer (and very few of those who make aged brown spirits) is making stuff as good as Osocalis or Laws. Almost none can afford to use large barrels and wait until time and good wood have worked their magic. What every one of them can do is tell you honestly what they’re trying to do and how they’re going about it.
If they say their whiskey is smooth, however, feel free to explain to them that that’s exactly how you like your shaves, babies’ bottoms and gravy. But not what’s in your glass.
Main photo: “American Spirit” author James Rodewald wants to change how we talk about booze. Credit: Marella Consolini
Sonoma County conjures up pastoral images of California’s bucolic wine region — vineyards and creameries tucked along back-country roads dotted with farm stands and rustic garden shops, cows grazing in pastures, herds of sheep roaming in meadows.
And then there’s the other side of the Sonoma wine region, the rugged, extreme coast that hugs the Pacific Ocean. The newly established Fort Ross Seaview appellation is ensconced in this pocket of the larger Sonoma Coast American Viticulture Area, or AVA.
Perched on mountainous terrain, Fort Ross Seaview’s fog-blanketed vineyards appear to cling to sunny mountain ridges, some as high as 1,800 feet, pushing through the dense fog that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean.
The areas above 900 feet are blessed with a longer duration of sunlight and are in fact warmer than the surrounding land below. This warmth, combined with the tempering effect of a cool maritime influence, creates a perfect growing season for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, varietals widely planted in the region. The grapes enjoy gradual ripening with no dramatic ups and downs, which results in balanced sugar and acidity levels. Although noted for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the region is also planted with Zinfandel, Pinotage and Rhône varietals.
The wines of this extreme coast are low in alcohol and packed with bright fruit flavors, complex minerality and bracing acidity.
Sonoma County AVA the newest in popular wine region
On a recent visit to the Sonoma coast, I trekked out to visit this isolated and challenging site that received its own AVA in 2012. The Sonoma County AVA brings the total for the county to 17 appellations.
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Fort Ross Seaview’s 27,500-acre appellation includes 18 commercial vineyards, and more than 550 acres are planted to vineyards by such noted vintners as Marcassin, Martinelli, Peter Michael and Pahlmeyer. The area has five wine labels, among them the region’s pioneer, Flowers & Winery.
The AVA’s only tasting room open to public is at Fort Ross Vineyards. Coming from Sebastopol, it took us more than an hour to get to Fort Ross Vineyards, the first destination on our trip. The drive along Highway 116 that connects to Highway 1 was spectacular, taking us through the hamlets of Guerneville and Monte Rio along the Russian River. The dramatic coastline winding through the coastal town of Jenner brought us to the Fort Ross tasting room, which is tucked away in the mountainous landscape between the towns of Fort Ross and Cazadero.
San Francisco-based owners Linda and Lester Schwartz purchased the 975-acre Fort Ross property in 1991 and later planted 50 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinotage. With Jeff Pisoni on board as winemaker, they launched their first commercial release in 2000.
The 32 different parcels of small vineyards are perched at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 1,700 feet. The tasting room is enveloped by evergreens in a forest-like environment and sits at an elevation of 1,000 feet.
As we tasted the lineup of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on a mid-August afternoon, the fog hung thick below the tasting room’s terrace. We were clearly above the fog line.
We savored the three different styles of Pinot. The 2012 palate-caressing, drink-now Sea Slopes showed hints of strawberry, while the 2010 signature Fort Ross Pinot reflected the region’s terroir, with layers of complexity, smoky blackberry notes and firm tannins. Lush with cherry notes, the silky-textured 2009 Reserve Pinot was indeed cellar-worthy.
Chardonnay mirrors the coast
The zesty 2012 Chardonnay had bracing acidity and minerality reflective of the extreme coastal terroir. Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, the Schwartz family paid homage to its signature Pinotage grape (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault) and imported the budwood. Grown in the cool, coastal climate, the 2009 Pinotage showed a Pinot Noir body but with rustic brambly notes.
Our next stop was at Flowers Vineyards, renowned for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Walt and Joan Flowers pioneered this rugged area when they planted these two varietals in 1991 at the Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Vineyard, and they released their first commercial vintage in 1994. The winery is now owned by vintner Agustin Huneeus of Napa Valley’s famed Quintessa Winery.
Rising up just 2 miles from the rugged Pacific Ocean cliffs, the Flowers property is breathtaking. The vineyards, heavy with fruit, are spread out on elevations ranging from 1,150 feet to 1,875 feet. Our guide and host Michelle Forry informed us that this mountainous range was at one time a sheep ranch till the coyotes wiped them out.
Flowers follows organic and biodynamic practices on its 80 acres of vineyards, 30 acres on Camp Meeting Ridge and 50 acres on Sea View Ridge. The entire mountaintop ranch totals 648 acres.
The well-known San Andreas fault runs nearby, Forry said, and its geological movement has influenced the Camp Meeting Ridge and Sea View Ridge vineyards. Through time and cataclysmic events, the ancient rocks and weathered marine and volcanic soils have helped control vine vigor, resulting in distinctive coastal minerality with bright fruit, signature characteristics of Flowers wines. And it’s this expression that has made me a longtime fan of Flowers’ wines.
Pinot Noir with a lovely finish
We tasted the 2011 vintages of Pinot Noir from the two estates. The Camp Meeting Ridge Estate Pinot showed bright red fruits accented with acidity and minerality. The Sea View Ridge Vineyard had a deep brick color (due to the volcanic ash in the soil) laced with cherry notes and a lovely lingering finish.
The classic sea-salt minerality of Camp Meeting Ridge vineyard was reflected in the 2011 Chardonnay, layered with cardamom and citrus fruits. The 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay also showed the signature minerality laced with pear and apple.
Because the AVA is just 2 years old, you might not see the Fort Ross-Seaview name on bottle labels yet. In fact, Flowers does not intend to use that appellation name on its labels.
“For us we are Sonoma Coast first,” Forry said.
Main photo: Grapes from the morning pick at Flowers Vineyards. Credit: Courtesy of Flowers Vineyard
Italians like to linger at the table, during and after a meal. Dessert is leisurely. Sweets are served along with a dessert wine or liqueur, not with coffee or tea, as is done in the States.
It’s only after dessert is finished that espresso and a so-called aid to digestion — digestivo — like grappa is served.
Here’s a glossary of Italy’s most popular desserts wines and liqueurs. One of my favorites is limoncello, a versatile liqueur terrific to cook with and drink. I drink it icy cold and always add a splash in fruit salad.
Amaretto, “little bitter,” is a sweet almond-flavored liqueur cordial.
Amaretto is an ingredient in hundreds of dessert recipes and is also paired with all sorts of Italian sweets, especially crunchy amaretti cookies. One of Italy’s best selling brands of amaretto is Disaronno Originale.
Amaro is the term for a general category of bittersweet digestive, after-dinner drinks thought to aid digestion. Amaro, which means “bitter,” is generally made from various spices, herbs, fruits and alcohol. Popular since the Middle Ages, monks originally created these drinks as a medicinal remedy. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of amaro in Italy, with each region, city, and even village claiming its local specialty.
Asti, a sparkling dessert wine, is made with the Moscato Bianco grapes from the Langhe, Monferrato and Roero areas of Piedmont.
In Italy it is served in bowl-shaped glasses, rather than the thinner champagne flutes. The thinking is that the narrow flute exaggerates Asti’s sweetness, concentrating the liquid on the tip of the tongue, where the sweet taste buds are. It’s traditionally paired with yeasty cake like panettone.
A dessert wine made in the Asti region of Piedmont using Moscato grapes. It’s less bubbly than Asti.
An after-dinner digestivo from the Piedmont region, made with Barolo wine that has been steeped with spices such as cinnamon, coriander, mint and vanilla. It is a very smooth, aromatic beverage that pairs beautifully with chocolate.
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Red sparkling dessert wine produced in the Piedmont. It is a blend of Aleatico and Moscato Nero grapes.
Bright yellow liqueur that’s a mix of dozens of herbs and spices. First made in Livorno in 1896 and named for 19th century Italian war hero Giuseppe Galliano. Used in cocktails, and as an after-dinner digestivo, it’s also a terrific flavoring for various dessert recipes.
Grappa is a fragrant spirit, 75 t0 120 proof, made from the grape skins and other solids left over from the wine-making process. The name most likely comes from the Italian for bunch of grapes, grappolo d’uva.
In Italy, grappa is enjoyed after dessert, served in small, tulip-shaped or short grappa glasses. It is also exceptional paired with Italian chocolates. A splash of grappa is often added to espresso to create caffé corretto.
A lemon liqueur from the Amalfi Coast, Calabria and Sicily. Made by steeping lemon peels in alcohol and sugar, it can be enjoyed at room temperature, but I prefer it icy cold. Try adding a little heavy cream for a rich, smooth liquid dessert.
Malvasia delle Lipari
An amber-colored DOC dessert wine from Sicily with an apricot-honey taste and lovely aroma. Starting in the late 1960s in compliance with the European Economic Community, Italian wine was regulated. To earn DOC status (Denomination of Controlled Origin), a wine had to be made from grapes from a particular defined area and pass strict tests for standards in alcohol content, flavor, aroma, color and more. It ensures that the consumer is drinking an authentic wine, not a counterfeit, or adulterated one.
Marsala is a DOC golden-colored fortified wine made with grapes grown in the Marsala region of Sicily. Marsala is made both sweet and dry. The dry is enjoyed chilled as an aperitif, while the sweet is sipped at room temperature as a dessert wine.
Marsala is used extensively in Italian cooking, especially in making sweets such as the classic zabaglione.
Moscadello di Montalcino
A DOC dessert wine from the Montalcino region of Tuscany made with aromatic white Muscat grapes. It is produced in three versions: still, sparkling and late-harvest.
Nocino is a dark colored digestivo, made from unripe green walnuts.
Passito is dessert wine made by pressing partially dried grapes, dried to concentrate their sugar and flavor. One of Italy’s most acclaimed is Passito di Pantelleria from Sicily.
A colorless digestivo liqueur flavored with star anise. Sambuca is splashed in coffee, or served neat and with topped with three toasted espresso beans called con la mosca, “with flies.” Besides giving a little caffeine kick, chewing on the beans highlights Sambuca’s flavor.
Vin Santo, “holy wine,” is a smooth amber-colored wine made from Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes. Although made in many parts of Italy, it is most often associated with Tuscany, where it is often paired with cantucci, the area’s crunchy almond biscotti.
Main photo: Asti is paired with panettone. Credit: Consorzio dell’Asti.
Summer may be on its way out, but autumn weather brings a new promise of leaves to be peeped, apples to be picked and trips to the country in cooler weather. Whether you take to the road in your car, on your bike or on a train, a well-stocked picnic basket or knapsack is an ideal complement to the day.
With less worry about the summer heat and insects ruining your moveable feast, the thought of a cool-weather picnic is made more appealing thanks to the wide variety of single-serve wines built for portability and proportioned serving.
Single-serve wines are not a new phenomenon, per se. Certainly, small bottles, as one might find in a hotel minibar or an airplane, have been around a long time, but those tend to be glass, making them less ideal for on-the-go enjoyment, and they also require bringing along stemware for imbibing.
Novel packaging part of the single-serve wine game
Newer versions of single-serve wines have come to market in a variety of clever forms, leveraging unbreakable packaging materials like plastic and tin in portion sizes of one or two drinks. Often, the uniqueness of the packaging can be the biggest draw, because, with a few exceptions, the wines are mainly serviceable rather than spectacular — and at a price many will find too high given that, as with most mini or single-serve food and drink items, the cost per glass often outstrips the cost of an entire bottle.
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Yet among these offerings there are those that don’t sacrifice taste or quality regardless of the sexy packaging. The versions detailed below represent a variety to choose from, many of them quite good of their own accord.
But first, a tip for buying and storing single serve wines: Non-glass packaging is not conducive to long storage times, as with traditional glass bottles. Tin and plastic can alter the taste of the wines if held long enough, particularly in fluctuating temperatures.
If you prefer to go with a total bottle experience, a variety of portable wine stoppers, such as the multicolored Rabbit Flipper/Pourer, are inexpensive enough to have on hand to re-cork that better bottle. And when you’re done, handy Wine Wipes purport to ensure your pearly whites stay that way, even after a couple of glasses of red (about $8 for a pack of 12).
Sofia Blanc de Blanc Mini: Dry but slightly sweet with good effervescence, each wee scarlet can comes complete with its own matching straw. While convenient to consume like a grown-up soda, the taste is better when decanted into a champagne flute. (187ml, ¾ cup, 6.3 ounces. $18 to $20 per four-pack of single-serve cans).
Baby Voga Italia Sparkling: The chic bottle may call to mind a fancy hand-soap dispenser or bottle of perfume, but the single-serve sparkling wine has a solid, respectable flavor. Great to have on hand for those special occasions that may call for a toast but just a sip will do. (187ml, ¾ cup, 6.3 ounces, $6 to $7)
FlyWine: This line of Sonoma Valley, California, reds and whites under the monikers “The Kitchen Sink” “Fly Your Way” and “The Party Starter” respectively are packaged in glass bottles with a TSA-approved volume of liquid so that it can be purchased for in-flight travel. The wines are solid table wines without fanfare and though pricier than most in-flight options, they’re tastier too. (100ml, 3.3 ounces, $10 to $13)
Stack: So named because its Reidl-esque plastic glasses stack on top of one another, these wines come in Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet and Merlot. The white wines were quite sharp with the taste of alcohol, but the reds were somewhat better. While the glasses are adorable, the foil seal is very close to the top of the liquid so even when removed, there is little chance for the wine to breathe. It’s also a bit difficult to drink toward the bottom of the glass because of the narrowness of the mouth. There are better options at the price point, but those little glasses are cute. (187ml, ¾ cup, 6.3 ounces, $15 per four-pack)
Steelhead Vineyards Wine for One: Available in Merlot and Chardonnay, Steelhead’s single-serve offering is easily the most elegant self-contained wine. The plastic wine glass fits over the plastic bottle, forming a seal that is twisted off, and then the glass is ready to use. Like other offerings, the wines are solid and not harsh — good enough for simple picnic or barbecue fare. (12 pack, 187ml, ¾ cup, 6.3 ounces, $49)
Union Wine Co. Underwood: Equal to two glasses, this slick canned wine is a delightful surprise. Easy to transport and easy to enjoy, this wine is not bubbly but simple, still wine. It must be said that the taste of the can is subtly present in the Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, and while the can is pretty cool, the price might be too much to pay for novelty when for not too much more you can get a pretty good bottle of wine packaged the old-fashioned way. (375ml, 12.6 ounces, 2 servings, $6)
Vini: Cleverly packaged as giant vials bundled together in packs of four to equal one bottle, Vini comes in red and white blended table wine. Single varietals are in the works. As with Fly Wine, this product benefits from being packaged in glass, which doesn’t compromise the wine taste. Certainly drinkable, the real appeal of this product is in the tactile nature of the container, which fits pleasantly in the hand. (187ml, ¾ cup, 6.3 ounces, $9 to $10 per vial)
Zipz: Shaped like a traditional stemmed wine glass, these plastic goblets are available in vintage year Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. The packs can be purchased as single varietals or mixed. Overall the wines were a bit harsh and did not hold up as well as the other single-serve options, but they were the most useful to transport and easy to drink. (187ml, ¾ cup, 6.3 ounces, $40 per 12 pack)
Main photo: Underwood cans of wine from the Union Wine Co. Credit: Union Wine Co.
If you live in Seattle, you summer at Lake Chelan.
It’s a requirement of residency, along with buying your pearl barley at the co-op and stoically facing down nine months of gloom each year. You load up the Subaru Outback and make the 180-mile trek across the Cascade Mountains to a narrow glacier-fed lake that cuts into those peaks for 50-plus miles. There you swim, boat and bake — or burn — for a few of the inland region’s 300 days of sunshine a year.
And increasingly, you travel from winery to winery, tasting local bottlings that are expanding in number and quality.
Wine grapes have been grown on the lakeshore since the late 1800s. But Chelan is still an infant among American wine regions when it comes to commercial production, going back less than two decades. The 24,040-acre Lake Chelan American Viticulture Area — the 11th AVA in Washington state — is only 5 years old. It remains part of the 11-million acre Columbia River AVA, one of the powerhouse regions in a state that ranks 2nd only to California in U.S. wine production.
Lake Chelan Valley’s unique properties — including the lake’s cooling effect that helps counter eastern Washington’s relentless heat — have been attracting winemakers and growers, sandwiched among the area’s traditional apple orchards. From a handful a decade ago, the area now has more than 20 wineries with an upstart temperament and, sometimes, a quirky sense of humor. (The Hard Row to Hoe winery takes its name from an enterprising oarsman who nearly a century ago carried workers across the lake to an equally enterprising brothel.)
The lake’s wineries are bottling a wide range of grapes from Chelan and the broader Columbia River region, from Syrah to the obscure Picpoul.
Charlie and Lacey Lybecker know about both grapes — and about pursuing the dream of making wines on a small scale in a corner of Washington wine country.
The Lybeckers are in their sixth year of producing wines, for the past three years from Cairdeas Winery on Highway 150 near the town of Manson. Their operation says family owned and operated, down to 2-year-old Eugene in his father’s arms as Charlie passed through the tasting shed on a recent afternoon.
Cairdeas, which means friendship, goodwill or alliance in ancient Gaelic, is a dream still in the midst of being fulfilled for Charlie, 34, and Lacey, 31. They produced their first bottles in their home in West Seattle and were looking to relocate to eastern Washington wine country when Lacey came to Chelan on a business trip.
Getting in while Lake Chelan Valley’s young and growing
“As soon as we saw Lake Chelan, it was like there’s no other option,” says Charlie, who studied winemaking at Seattle’s Northwest Wine Academy. “It was really appealing to us to get in while it’s still young and see the valley grow and help it grow.”
Cairdeas reflects their passion for Rhone varietals — Syrahs, Viogniers, Roussanne — with the grapes coming from around the Columbia River AVA, some from Chelan. Their method for sourcing grapes is straightforward: When they taste a great wine from the region that reflects the style they are seeking, they find out where the grapes came from and go knocking at the grower’s door.
By next spring, however, about half of their six acres near the lakeshore will be planted with their own Syrah.
“There are some very high-quality grapes coming out. I think people are really experimenting a lot and seeing what types of grapes grow really well here,” Charlie says. “For my personal taste, I think the Syrah from Lake Chelan is absolutely the best.”
And then there’s Picpoul, an obscure grape that Charlie has used to advantage in his “new favorite white wine right now,” Cairdeas’ Southern White. “It’s an extremely acidic grape by itself but has great flavors and we use it as a blending grape,” he explains. The result: a bright wine with a broad palette of flavors that could work in place of Sauvignon Blanc with a simple grilled chicken.
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The Lybeckers hope to tap in to Lake Chelan’s natural advantages, including as a wine tourist destination. As Lacey notes, the lake comes ready made with tourism infrastructure — lakeshore hotels, golf courses, water sports and winter snow skiing — that some Washington wine regions had to create from scratch.
Their goals are at once ambitious and limited: Having grown from producing 250 cases in 2009 to slightly over 2,000 this year, they figure on topping off at about 4,000 cases. Then build a new tasting room facing the lake. Add a picnic area and a pond. Maybe offer up farm dinners.
“We are always going to be a very small family winery,” Charlie says.
Adds Lacey: “We want to make sure we always have our hands in the process.”
Main photo: Syrah grapes at Lake Chelan Winery’s vineyard near Manson, Wash. Credit: Roger Ainsley