(note: some photos may click open to larger versions)
Bread Friday (sign up for
Pain Meunier: (“Miller’s Bread”), includes all parts of the wheat kernel, bread flour, whole wheat flour, cracked whole wheat and wheat germ. A great all around bread. – $5/loaf.
Dried Cherry, Walnut & Buckwheat: Bread flour, buckwheat flour, and some whole wheat, packed with dried cherries and walnuts. – $5/loaf.
Chocolate Babkas: Yummy sweet rolls rich with eggs and butter, then rolled out and spread with chocolate before baking. Limited supply, order early! - 2 for $5. .
This weekend we are pouring another wine from Corbières– a red from Cucugnan, from the same winery as last week’s delicious white. So it seems appropriate to explore the region a little further, including of course the Cathars, who some people think were the first to bring Christianity to Europe in general, and to France in particular, as long ago as 50AD, pretty Early in the Christian Game. Supposedly their beliefs and practices were based directly on the original teachings of the historical Jesus.
Interestingly, the Cathars believed that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married, and had come to Narbonne and Corbières while Mary Magdalene was pregnant with Jesus’ baby. No other Christian sects ever espoused this belief, which stemmed from historical accounts that their ancestors had actually met Mary Magdalene and Jesus, in this very region, back in the first century. Though the Cathars themselves didn’t appear in history until about 1000AD, they lived in Languedoc from the time of Jesus himself. Read more here.
Btw, Cucugnan was also the setting for a famous short story (Le Curé de Cucugnan) by the nineteenth century novelist Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897). The Priest has a dream in which he goes to Heaven and finds that “There are no more Cucugnanese here than there are fish-bones in a turkey.” Faced with Eternal Damnation, the Cucugnanese are supposedly compelled to clean up their act. Somehow that is harder to believe than that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were, you know, an Item…an idea that has a certain appeal, n’est-ce pas?
The idea for this paragraph emerged from a light-hearted conversation on yesterday’s dog walk, when this little pun occurred to us: “raisin taxes.” You know, the Tea Party people and the Libertarians and the Republicans and Fox News and the Billionaires are always going on about, you know, “Raisin Taxes.” So we thought we should jump in with our own concerns that sure, today maybe they tax raisins, but hey, we have to be ever vigilant or else pretty soon they will start taxing not just Raisins, but All grapes, and OMD, that could be a Disaster for the entire Wine Industry! Something like that.
So I just searched on “Raisin Taxes,” and as usual Truth is far stranger that anything we can make up. Yes, we all sort of know that historically, agricultural production has been subject to cycles of boom and bust, and that bumper crops can have the paradoxical effect of ruining farmers because the huge supply pushes prices toward zero. So since the ‘thirties, the federal government has had programs in place to support all kinds of crop prices through various techniques to keep prices above some minimum floor.
Therefore it shouldn’t have been a surprise (but it was!) to learn that under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, the government continues to confiscate part of the annual national raisin crop to keep it off the market. A group called the Raisin Administrative Committee (I’m not making this up!) decides each year what portion of the raisin crop it must confiscate in order to keep the raisin market “orderly.” At present one of those raisin farmers (they’re almost all in California) has taken his case (he got into Trouble for not turning in his “excess” raisins for over ten years) to the Supreme Court. See more in this article in The Economist.
All Betz are off!
We are continuing our plan to pour one of our library of Betz wines at each tasting for awhile, and offering compelling incentives for you to take some home; see recent blogs for details. This week we are pouring the 2012 Besoleil. All you need to know is that 2012 was a fantastic vintage for much of Washington State, and as a result this year’s Besoleil earned a score of 94 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, its best score ever. I am a big fan of grenache, the dominant varietal in this blend, and have been a fan of this wine since it first appeared eight or nine years ago. Yes, it’s a little pricey, and yes, the pours will be smaller than usual.
But as always, of course, we will set up the pricing so the more you spend, the more you will be able to save!
See detailed tasting notes below.
This week’s tasting
Chateau Lamothe de Haut Bordeaux Blanc ’12 France $14
Bright and engaging, with fresh grapefruit and Meyer lemon pulp notes backed by a flash of straw on the open-knit finish. Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
Chateau Trillot Rouge ’12 France $16
Intense colour with deep purple highlights; Expressive nose exuding aromas of red fruit, redcurrant, blackcurrant and a hint of oak. Silky, well-structured tannins and great freshness.
Hightower Murray Syrah ’11 Washington $16
From legendary Red Mountain grapes; Ripe, rich and utterly enjoyable; lush red berry fruit followed by a complex, meaty mid-palate and a long finish.
Vignalta Colli Euganei Rosso Riserva ’09 Italy $21
Merlot and cabernet sauvignon from volcanic hills north of Venice. Rosso Riserva is a true and delicious expression of its terroir and a nice balance of fruit and tannins, softened with two years of oak barrel aging.
Betz Besoleil ’12 Washington 94pts $48
50% Grenache, 20% Cinsault, 15% Syrah and 15% Mourvedre aged all in neutral oak. Gorgeous on all accounts, with fantastic density and depth, richness, beautiful freshness and classic aromas and flavors of raspberry, black raspberry, pepper, herbs de Provence and flowers.
No Bread Friday this week
The good news is that Regular Bread Friday will return next week, on March 21! Mark your calendars!
A long time ago (ca. 1970), on a very enjoyable road trip to Nova Scotia, I bought a stained glass schooner that I have kept all these years. It hangs in an eastern-facing window in the bedroom, where it generally goes unnoticed. A few days ago, however, the morning sun caught it in full profile and projected this amazing image onto the folded desktop next to the window. Click on the image for the larger version…quite stunning!
This weekend’s white wine is from the French wine region of Corbieres. We visited there a few years ago, and were amazed by the spacious terrain. It is also the region where over a hundred years or so a splinter group of Christians called Cathars were hunted down and exterminated on orders from the Catholic Pope of the time, who rewarded the worst brutality with titles and riches. This was not all that long after the Church had declared the inhabitants of the New World to be subhuman, unleashing upon them as well centuries of brutality, slavery, and hellish misery.
These people weren’t just killed; they were slaughtered by the thousands at Perpignan under the slogan “let God sort it out (i.e., who were Cathars and who weren’t);” hundreds had their eyes gouged out and lips cut away and sent marching with a one-eyed guide; and many more hundreds were burned at the stake en masse. The brutality is breathtaking.
However, that tragic piece of history doesn’t change the fact that Corbieres has some spectacular terrain, including many of the sites where Cathars retreated to remote mountain-top castles where they could resist sieges for long periods of time. This particular Cathar castle is actually not all that far from where this weekend’s white wine originates, near Queribus, probably somewhere down to the left. Anyway, despite the deeply disturbing history of the area, the wine is great, the region is beautiful, and maybe some day people will not be so stupid and cruel. Judging from the daily news, we still have a way to go.
All Betz are off!
As mentioned last week, Betz wines consistently show great concentration and character, and regularly earn high ratings from critics. However, as they are typically priced a little above the comfort range of most of our members and visitors, we seem to have accumulated a LOT of these wines over the years, and we are continuing a concerted effort to find new homes for these beauties, most of which will cellar well for many years. Over the next few weeks we will be pouring at least one of these library wines at each tasting, and offering compelling incentives for you to take some home. As always, of course, the more you spend, the more you will be able to save! See notes below for this weekend’s Betz Bargain!
This week’s tasting
Chateau Trillot Blanc ’12 France $16
Blend of Roussanne and Maccabeu harvested by hand, resulting in an authentic wine packed with character and a strong sense of place. A very aromatic wine with aromas of white flowers and exotic fruit.
Finca el Tesso Tempranillo Spain $10
100% tempranillo from clay and limestone soil in western Spain at 600 meters above sea level, providing cool nights and long growing season where the wines develop a rich, alluring complexity.
Townshend Red Table Washington $12
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah blend; aromas of black cherry, blackberry, strawberry, cedar and a hint of orange zest fill your senses with lingering pepper & tobacco notes.
Tarima Hill Monastrell ’11 Spain 91pts $13
Complex, perfumed scents of dark berry liqueur, cola, incense and smoky oak spices. Plush and expansive, with sweet cherry compote and blueberry flavors with notes of floral pastille and bitter chocolate. Rich and lively, finishing with excellent power, smooth tannins and a late jolt of allspice.
Betz Besoleil ’09 Washington 91pts $42
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault. Aromas of smoky black tea, resinous green herbs, and earthy salinity, and strawberry jam. Sappy and plush, with an invigorating bitter edge and a fascinating degree of complexity in the lasting finish.
No Bread Friday this week
That’s right, folks, your Friday bread baker (Janice) is also in her tenth year or so as Chef of the Annual Lummi Island Heritage Trust Annual Fundraising Dinner this Saturday night. The good news is that the dinners get better every year…the bad news is that she will not have time to make bread this week, so sorry, NO BREAD FOR SALE THIS FRIDAY at the wine shop– but she WILL bring a loaf of fresh Rye Bread for all to share at the Friday wine tasting!
Regular Bread Friday will return in two weeks, on March 21.
Heritage Trust Annual Dinner…and Dueling Desserts!
For the last few years the LIHT dinner has featured a display of fabulous desserts contributed by Island bakers and confectioners. Before dinner everyone gets a chance to gawk at these mouth-watering tempations. Then as the the dinner nears a close, each table gets to bid for its choice of dessert. Highest bidding table gets first choice, and so on. It’s great fun, and for a good cause. This year Pat has made her Signature Truffles as one of the desserts. Flavors include Caramel Fleur du Sel (dark chocolate ganache), and Gentle Ginger (milk chocolote ganache), both of course enrobed in gorgeous Valrhona Dark Chocolate. There’s a big platter for the winning table to savor on the spot, and a box for each guest at the table to take home.
No doubt there will be lots of other lovely desserts to choose from; but if you are a chocolate lover, Pat’s Famous Artisan Wine Gallery Truffles should definitely be on your Short List!
Signs of Spring
Not too many years ago, daffodils used to bloom sometime in late March. This photo was taken out front over a week ago, in late February. Cherry blossoms and forsythia are also in bloom. It’s not just an early Spring; it’s not even clear that Winter actually happened. Mt. Baker reports the lowest February snowfall ever at 16″ for the month, with a total snowpack (an estimate of how much water is stored in the snow and available as potential runoff) about 20% of normal through much of the Cascades.
So yes, there are long-term worries about climate change, but this past week of brisk, sunny mornings that spread out into bright afternoons with warm sun on the shoulder has been quite delightful.
Oh, and by the way, rumor has it that this weekend we set our clocks ahead for Daylight Savings Time…now THAT is a Sign of Spring!
All Betz are off!
Any business-oriented observers who paid any attention to our wine shop operations over the last ten years (certainly not us!) would have found much to scratch their heads about. Fairly early in the game most people would have figured out what sells and what doesn’t, and stopped carrying the things that don’t sell. However, over the years we have consistently failed to accept that very sound and conventional reasoning. Among our most flagrant examples of this perversity is our long-term attachment to buying wines from Betz Family Vineyards in Woodinville.
As we have mentioned in this blog before, Bob Betz consistently makes wines of great concentration and character. Each year he releases five wines for the retail trade, each modelled after a French regional wine style:
- Besoleil syrah/grenache –> Chateauneuf du Pape
- La Sarenne Syrah –> Southern Rhone Valley
- La Cote Rousse Syrah –> Northern Rhone Valley
- Clos de Betz –> Right Bank (merlot-dominant) Bordeaux style
- Pere de Famille –> Left Bank (cabernet sauvignon- dominant) Bordeaux style
The wines are all terrific, and regularly earn high ratings from critics. However, they are typically priced in the $35- $65 market, out of the comfort range for most of our members and visitors. As a result, we have accumulated a LOT of these wines over the years, and it’s time to begin a concerted effort to find new homes for all these beauties. Over the next few weeks we will be pouring at least one of these library wines at each tasting, and offering compelling incentives for you to take some home. As always, of course, the more you spend, the more you will be able to save!
We will also be posting more details here on the blog in the next few days about how you can capitalize on our flagrant overstocking of these wines. Stay tuned!
This week’s tasting
Schoenheitz Vin D’Alsace Riesling ’13 France-Alsace $15
Bright straw yellow with green reflections. Expressive nose bloomed nicely with lemon and a hint of minerality. A pretty generous fruit supported by fine acidity and elegant with a fresh and invigorating lemony finish.
Comoloco Monastrell ’11 Spain $9
Powerful aromas of blackberry, blueberry, licorice and pungent herbs. Juicy, firm and focused, with a faintly herbaceous touch to its bitter cherry, dark berry and anise flavors. Finishes with gentle tannic grip and good length, leaving a note of cracked pepper behind.
Napa Cellars Merlot ’11 California $14
Aromas of toasty baking spices, vanilla, malt and fresh, ripe plums alongside alluring flavors of warm berry compote, juicy blueberry, blackberry, cherry, and a hint of dark chocolate and toffee.
Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico ’08 Italy $14
Spicy redcurrant, strawberry and herbs on the nose, with tobacco and smoke nuances emerging with air. Pliant red berry and succulent herb flavors show an appealing sweetness, buffered by fresh minerality.
Betz Clos de Betz ’09 Washington 92pts $48**
65% merlot, 29% cab sauv, 6% petit verdot. Good bright red-ruby. Aromas of cassis, licorice, and aromatic oak. Broad, sweet and tactile on entry, with a plump, expressive midpalate that spreads generously across the tongue, offering notes of cherry, cassis, licorice and pepper. Finishes with very suave, fine-grained tannins structured for cellaring.
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Last Bread Friday till March 20!
Get on the pre-order
Berlin Country Bread. Rye sourdough culture with about 70% rye flour and coarse ground fresh milled rye. Hearty and substantial– a couple of slices with cheese will last you all day – $5/loaf.
Hazelnut & Fig Country Bread. A mix of bread flour, whole wheat flour, and a bit of cracked rye, with toasted hazelnuts and dried figs soaked in brandy. What’s not to like – $5/loaf.
Pain aux Raisin. Croissant dough rolled out, spread with pastry cream, and sprinkled with golden raisins and dried cranberries before being rolled up, sliced and baked. Get your order in early as there is a limit on how many I can make. - 2 for $5.
Mencia is a Spanish grape varietal found in the region of Bierzo, in northwest Spain. Like other wine regions, some of the best vineyards in Bierzo are on slate hillsides that produce wines with notable depth and complexity, often showing plum, cherry, tobacco and chocolate notes with notable minerality. Valley floor vineyards, which generally have more quartz and clay, produce wines that can be light, pale, and fragrant, but without the complexity of their hillside neighbors. In general Mencia tends to be fruity and aromatic, with good acidity that makes for versatile food pairing with both meat and fish dishes.
The grape was for a time thought to be related to cab franc, but recent genetic testing has demonstrated that it is in fact identical to a Portuguese varietal found in the Dao region where it is known as Jaen. Some people say it sometimes tastes like cab franc from the Loire region of France, while others think it’s more like pinot noir or gamay noir (you know, beaujolais). You will just have to come by this weekend and find out for yourself about this particular mencia (which I imagine is pronounced “men-thee-ah”…?)
The Blue Grape From France
Around here we know it as lemberger, another lesser known red varietal with flavors that always remind me of ripe thimbleberries– yes, those weeds that line many of the roadsides here on Lummi Island and which usually ripen in mid-Spring (soon!). In Austria lemberger is more commonly known as Blau Frankisch, literally “blue grape from France.” In the past we have found that under either name it goes really well with spicy food, a revelation a few years ago when we were pouring it along with a tasting of jalapeno cheese– one of those Perfect Pairings one occasionally discovers.
Today’s version is from Shooting Star winery of both California and Washington. Because winemakers in Washington love the varietal but universally hate the name (reminds too many people of the famously smelly cheese of similar name), the wine is called Blue Franc, playing on the Austrian name for the varietal. That also led to the choice of an old French Franc bill for the label.
This week’s tasting
Domaine Girard Chardonnay ’13 France $13
Medium to full bodied with fleshy notes of fresh-picked apples and pears; no oak, but spends time on the lees to give it richness; clay soils at a higher elevation impart a delightful freshness.
Agricultura Vinho Tinto ’11 Portugal $11
From Alentejo, on Portugal’s south-eastern border with Spain, comes this eminently quaffable red wine with surprising depth and complexity.
Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec ’13 Argentina 89pts $14
Aromatic and fresh, with notes of violets, ripe plums and a touch of brown sugar, quite showy, with the profile of a cool vintage, the sweet tannins of the Malbec, some sweet spicy flavors, and good length.
Shooting Star Blue Franc ’11 Washington $12
From slate soils; nine months in French oak. Lively and vibrant, with aromas of blueberry and blackberry with touches of cocoa, pepper, and clove. Palate packed with cranberry, blueberry, and blackberry with a bit of cinnamon and licorice on the velvety smooth finish.
Triton Mencia ’11 Spain $12
From slate soils and nine months in French oak prior to bottling. Pungent dark berry and mineral scents show lively character. Firm and juicy, with concentrated blackcurrant and bitter cherry flavors and a hint of allspice.