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October 2010

Figa is Open!

Disclaimer:  I do sell Figa wine, so I do have an interest here, but I wouldn't write a review if I hadn't had a good time and thought it was interesting.  This is not a real judgment as I was there opening night and opening night is not when you really get a feel for a place.  Although everything went very well, it is only opening night and I still believe it is unfair to judge a restaurant this early in the game.  I did not take notes so this is just a general impression.

So tonight, Figa finally opened.  Three years after I started hearing about it the most anticipated restaurant in Portland history is open.  I actually held a candle light vigil for the restaurant last winter!  So I was excited to put on my limited edition Figa T shirt that commemorated the water connection being put in and head over tonight.

I think it's a bad idea to judge a restaurant on opening night, or even opening week, but that said, Figa was great.  I went with my brother and a friend of ours, so between the three of us we samples a lot of the menu.  I started out with an enjoyable shrimp patia appetizer: a shrimp tomato preparation over a pancake thin biscuit that was mildly spiced.  My brother had a wild boar dish that featured meat slow cooked all day in a tomato sauce.  The Boar was still very flavorful but a great texture that came apart easily.  For a second course I had Sev encrusted scallops with a pear and jicama slaw.  I don't know what Sev is, but it was damn tasty!  They were very large meaty scallops cooked perfectly with a sear on the outside but still a clean tender fresh center.  The jicama was a great fresh crunchy counterpoint to the scallops.  We finished dinner with a chicken roulade for me, duck breast with brandied figs (I think) and reduced brandy sauce for my brother and a gilled hangar steak for our friend.  All were very god and well balanced; I was particularly excited by the local asparagus that accompanied my chicken, which was moist, tender and well seasoned.

I didn't take notes and like I said at the start these are really just passing impressions from opening night.  But everything went very smoothly and the food was well prepared and creative.  In everything it's the details that tell the most and it was the details that really impressed here.  The coffee at the end came in a French press and was extremely fresh and smooth, the servers were very friendly and helpful, the bread that was put out was flavored three different ways and made a real accompaniment to the meal. 

Over all I think Figa is a valuable addition to the Portland dining scene.  It's a whole different cuisine, Lee is a talented experienced chef, and the prices were great.  We had multiple courses for three people, dessert, and two bottles of wine for just under $150.  All three of us agreed it was money well spent.  So check it out.  The wait was worth it.









Comprehensive report from Galicia

It's still hard to get my head around my recent trip to Galicia.  At the time it was surreal and now it's acquiring a dream like patina.  I'm not used to being chaperoned around by beautiful women and just wined and dined constantly.  I had no idea what to expect and was ready for anything.  I certainly did not expect to be put up in amazing luxury hotels and be consistently fed amazing food at all the wineries we visited.  And the setting!  Ribeiro is a sequence of gorgeous steep valleys of granite and deep green undergrowth. 

John and Erica at the first wine tasting

The hotel in San Clodio was a beautiful faithfully restored Cistercian Monastery appointed as a luxury hotel.

Cindy and Simon looking out from our rooms in the monastery.


The view from my window over the monastery's garden and a small vineyard.

The Galicians priorities were always in the right place.  First thing we did on arrival at the hotel was eat a large lunch.  Then, after a siesta, we piled back into the van and headed out with the DO's Technical Director to tour the region.

Here is Pablo talking about the extremely high amount of granite in the soil

The chaperons paid for everything and just kept asking if we wanted more food or to go to another bar.  I think I ate cured pork for every single meal while I was there. 

Dinner at a local bar.

 Capping it all off was a big final day.  We toured four smaller wineries that were making a real effort to get their wines out and build a reputation for themselves.  However none seemed that interested in actually selling us wine.  For the entire trip we were scratching our heads trying to figure out why the DO was spending so much money on us!  The only solution we could come up with was that they were trying to promote the DO itself.  Of the group we visited on Wednesday morning one was sold out, another already had an importer and the third was available but the wines weren't particularly great. 

Afterwards we headed over to the Co-op winery for the afternoon.  We had to suffer through hours of technical explanation as they showed off their giant 173,500L tanks (below)


After being subjected to every centrifuge and tank they had for hours we finally got to the moment of truth; tasting the damn wines!  They were surprisingly good!  Nicely aromatic and tropical but drinkable and smooth.  We were impressed; not the royal We, but the group of us.  Instead of telling us what they might cost us though the president of the winery, a Bill Gates look alike, went into an adjoining closet and came back out dressed as a wizard.  Yes, that's right boys and girls, like a wizard.  We were a bit caught off guard.  It turned out they had a whole closet full of medieval dress up clothes and wanted us all to dress up for dinner.  I couldn't help it and grabbed the one red outfit, a bright red womens gown which fit me like a glove.  I posed for a few pictures with the President/wizard and then we all went in to eat our medieval feast by candle light. 

The trip was amazing and I may get some of the wine from the Co-op, it would be the best way to introduce people to Treixadura and then maybe make it easier to bring in the more exciting wines. 

And I do intend to take advantage of my connections to organize a 2-3 day wine tour of the region this coming spring.....updates on that to come.



Your Wine isn't made from Grapes (or Welcome Trader Joe's)

Your wine isn't made from grapes.  It's true.  Or at least it isn't made exclusinvely from grapes if you're drinking industrially produced generic wines.  "Extreme Value" is the official term for these wines that cost under $6 and have names that sound like a suburban sub division.  "Fox Hollow, Heron Creek, Salmon Run" 

Most people have a pretty romantic vision of wine making, and the wine industry usually tries to cultivate that.  After all wine is about enjoyment, taking time to relax, the finer things in life.  But that's not always the case.  The wines I represent and enjoy are produced by families that take pride in their product and have a respect and passion for it, so I will admit I am biased here, but I believe it's important to know about what you consume. 

Bronco 2
This is an industrial winery.  Not a whole lot of art here.

When you pay less for a bottle of wine than you would for a gallon of gas in California, less than a cappucino and muffin, or less than a pint of local beer in a bar, do you really think you're getting a product that was produced with any passion or care?  At those prices you are getting wine that is simply an industrial commodity; the alcoholic grape juice equivalent of individually packaged genric american cheese singles. 

My wines aren't local here, but at least they come from a certain place and taste like it.  Industrial super cheap wines aren't local anywhere.  They're made in massive volumes in wineries that look more like oil refineries from juice that is trucked in from anywhere it can be bought cheaply enough.

The flavors don't come from the sun and the soil composition of the vineyard; they come from chemical aditives in the winery.  If the juice doesn't have enough sugar: add some.  Not enough acidity?  Dump some of that in.  To watery?  That can be fixed with reverse osmosis sucking out moisture as well.  I'm not against technical advancements; they're tools that can be used in many ways.  I just don't personally want to drink wines that are chemical products that are essetially the fast food of the wine world. 

When you pay prices that low for wine, how well do you think the vineyard workers were treated?  Bronco, the company that makes 2 Buck Chuck is still facing a wrongful death suit over a Mexican girl who died of dehydration in their vineyards.  At $4 a bottle for wine some one has to be losing out.

And lastly grapes are one of the top five highest pesticide load agricultural products.  At prices as low as these it's all about bottom line.  The pesticides used end up in the ground water, polluting the surrounding environment, and trace amounts go into your wine.

I don't think it's worth drinking wines that are made this way.  Not when you can get wines for $8-$10 that are made sustainably by people that care about what they're producing.  In the near future look for tasting notes on a bunch of my wines that are made with care and respect and are very affordable.


Economics colides with wine making in Ribeiro

One of the lessons that was driven home to me on this wine trip is how hard it is For a rural area to export wine. Making cool unique wines isn't enough. You have to get out there and promote them. And even then sometimes you have forces outside the wine industry that are beyond your control.

In Ribeiro's case that would be the youth drain from the countryside. I've mentioned how Ribeiro is beautiful in a similarly rocky way to Maine. It's also similar in that there isn't much oppurtunity for young people and not much night life. When I was at the regional co-op winery that works with hundreds of growers in Ribeiro I looked at a picture of all the members. Out of about 200 I counted 6 that looked under 50. That has created a labor shortage and made the wine more expensive to produce. Growing grapes in Ribeiro is already labor intensive because the vines are planted very closely together, making the use of tractors often impossible, and the steep slopes the vineyards are planted on which require a lot of dexterity to navigate.


This is a new Vineyard put in by the Co-Op winery. It's typically steep and sloped but the vines here are set far enough apart for mechanical harvesting. I have mixed feelings about mechanical harvesting, but in this case they don't have much of a choice.

Our whole time in the region the only young people my age I saw were the two women chaperoning us, and they had moved to the city and commuted back for work. It's sad but the regional traditions that have been preserved here are going to come under a lot of pressure in the future as the current generation ages.

This is a problem facing many traditional rural wine regions all over the world. I don't really have a solution. But I am going to enjoy and savor these wines and the ancient cultural traditions they represent while I can.


Here we are doing some serious savoring....


I've been here in the DO of Ribeiro For a couple days now.

(DO means a specific area that is legally recognized by the Spanish government and can only grow specific grapes).

I'm starting to get a deeper understanding of the situation here. This year is, hard to believe, the 75th anniversary of the DO! But no one in America has heard of it because all the wine is consumed in Spain, almost all locally.


This is a pretty typical terraced vineyard in Ribeiro. Very rocky soil and good drainage due to the hill sides. This one is at Vina Mein.
The most common grape: Treixadura, has great flavor. Lots of acidity, some mineral edge from all the granite in the soil, aromatic unctuous tropical fruit..... Based on the 40 odd wines we've tasted so far it seems that the biggest challenge to the wine makers is to balance and control all that intense flavor! Many of the wines are simply to bitter! The beat though have ripe stone fruit, hints of kiwi and lime, tasty mineral mid body, and long meaty finishes. These wines remind me of falaghina, dry vouvray, and even some Alsatian wines in a very good way. Bringing them to market will be an adventure but I think
it is worth it. The wines are very unique, and most importantly taste like this place.


here's a leaf from Treixadura on the left and Godello on the right. The Godello has more defined trefoil shape.

Tomorrow we visit wineries and hopefully I can ferret out a serious red. They grow a bit of Mencia here and also sou-son; both red grapes, but they focus on white and 85% of production is white.

Galician Food

Lunch on arrival in Santiago was classic Galicial Sunday lunch. Course after course paired with lovely aromatic whites with complex mineral notes and good acidity. We started off with local cheese and delicious cured meats; one of which was so soft and floral tasting it reminded me of the taste of a peach! Then we had the most delicate textured tender octopus that must have been finished with boiled creamy potatos that had soaked up load of rich olive oil and paprika. Seriously, you could cut the octopus tentacles with a fork. From there we went on to fried juicey bits of pork served over golden frites that had been cooked in local olive oil. We finishe off with small extremely fatty tender pieces if roast pork served over the same delicious frites. I'll post pictures as soon as I find a way from my iPhone. I wish I could say I had figured out what made the octopus so tender but I have no idea. It must have been soaked ahead of time and was probably really fresh.

Wine reports to come....


here's a blurry picture of the amazing octopus


and some great razor clams. The climate is similar to Maine so a lot of the food was actually kind of familiar.

Arrival to Galicia

So as far as I cam tell the industry in Santiago de Compostela consists of the government and tourism. It makes me rather glad I live in Portland. The city is beautiful though! I have tasted through about 20 wines today; many whites with great complex structures, minerality, and full body. I had a four vintage vertical of treixadura! I am excited to bring some of these back with me and make these unique wines available in ME!


Here is our lovely host Marta during the vertical tasting. She did an amazing job putting up with us.


Here is the front of Santiago de Compostela


Barry explaining something at an outdoor cafe in Santiago.


John helping himself to some amazing cured ham during our first lunch. The little rounds on the right corner of the plate actually tasted like peach! They were so aromatic and tender.

Domaine de Grisy 2008


Background: Grisy is a domaine run by Pascal Sorin and his wife.  He is an 18th generation winemaker.  That boggles my mind.  I don't even know how long 18 generations is, but that must be to nearly the dawn of recorded history; pretty impressive in my opinion.  They cultivate 22 acres outside of Chablis in northern Burgundy.

Varietal: 100% Pinot Noir

Aroma: lovely intense aroma of candied raspberries, strawberry preserve, violet, a hint of lavender.  It's really pretty, but with a richer lush quality lurking under that bright floral overlay. 

Taste:  Bright and extremly vibrant while still smooth at the same time.  In my opinion, Pinot Noir has this unique ability to be bright and super vibrant yet smooth and supple at the same time.  This wine has that in spades!  It's bright and lively fresh raspberry and a hint of crannberry, but the texture is very smooth and polished.  This is a gorgeous wine.  In America the prevailing belief seems to be that wine has to be big and full bodied to be complex and intense; this wine smashes that idea.  It's medium bodied, but full of energy and grabs your energy.  I think this is a great food wine because it won't overwhelm subtle flavours and textures.  This would be great with fish, or pork, or the lentil soup I just had. 

conclusion: I'm really glad this is so good.  I loved the 2007 and was a bit aprehensive of the 2008, but it's a really beautiful wine.  Vibrant, clean, balanced, and integrated.  This is a treat.  It's about $17.99 and available at the Rosemont Markets, Whole Foods, and Provisions in Brunswick.