The Magnificient Wine Co., Steak House Cabernet, Northwest Wines Under $15

Upshot: Buy as many of these bottles as fast as you can and hide them from others

Talk about under $15! We scored the 2010 Steak House Cabernet for 9 bucks. Its fat-font label already captured my imagination, but a handwritten declaration of love by a QFC* employee sealed the deal. After having drunk it on more than one occasion, I do declare that Steak House deserves that level of devotion.

Bearie on the Bottle, the Usual Story

Bearie on the Bottle, the Usual Story

A robust berry trails the wine from first taste to evaporation– blueberry, raspberry and black currant–they all show their faces in this undeniably drinkable crowd-pleaser of a wine. The slight thorniness that bristles mid-drink is assuaged by the ripeness of the berry and the full finish. Barbecue sauce? Did I get a hint of barbecue sauce? I think so.

Aerated, this might be a total hottie. As is, it’s no joke. Like a porterhouse, this is more than satisfying. You may even need a to-go box.  Or, rather, a to-go case. To take home with you. And stash it. In your temperature controlled basement. With the imp. (Just a note, despite memes that suggest otherwise, Tyrion Lannister is not a pimp. He’s a john. Although who knows what will happen in the next season.)

Best Use: DIY “fancy” steakhouse dinner with yer honey.

Soundtrack:  Sly and the Family Stone or Al Green if you’re getting frisky.

Food Pairing:  Spend the money you save on an overpriced Malbec on free-range grass-fed Western beef, garlic rapini and a goat cheese mash!

*QFC is a grocery store chain on the West Coast.


Hendricks Gin: Cucumber, meet Rose

I think most people who have spent any time at all with a bottle have a particular spiritual nemesis (mine is bourbon, which makes me weep like a baby).  But for some reason, gin has this notoriety of turning Dr. Jekylls everywhere into drunk, venom-spewing Mr. Hydes.  I heard this theory the other night while bartending, that the culprit is a sensitivity to juniper berries, which seems plausible. In its unripened form, the juniper berry is hard and green which lends the tannic bitterness to both the gin and its drinker.

Then there’s the seedy side of gin–the roaring twenties with luscious egg-white thickened cocktails. Of course these fancy cocktails came into existence because of the foul taste of nefariously produced ‘bathtub gin.’ Trust me, no one wants an extra-dry martini with soap scum floating at the top.

But we no longer have to resort to the bathtub as distillery, we can leave it to the professionals.  Hendrick’s, for instance, makes a gin so deliciously pure and clear that you are never in danger of a sudsy aftertaste.  Infused with cucumbers and rose petals, this gin has that classic herbaceous quality characteristic of a high end spirit. Unlike London Dry styled gins, the herbs employed in building its aroma aren’t boiled in the still, rather they are steamed, their vapors lending subtle flavor to the liquor. Although it is herbaceous, Hendricks doesn’t drag your palate through the herb garden as does Herbsaint or Absinthe. It may be a bit frilly for Tanqueray drinkers but it is worth straying from the flock for those with an adventurous spirit. And it led the revolution of apothecary styled liquor bottles.

Fun with Mixology: The Hendricks Rosegarden
2.5 oz Hendricks Gin
1 oz Rosehip Liquor
Splash Pink Grapefruit Juice
Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters
Shake vigorously, strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with rose petals or a cucumber wheel

Columbia Valley: The Jack, A Red Blend under $15


Saviah The Jack Red Blend 2010

Upshot: It’s a brave new world so try something new.

The label sold me on this one. You had me at the $14 buy-in, you one-eyed scamp. Grown and vinted in Walla Walla, Washington, in the Columbia River Valley, The Jack red blend is an elegant,  if not fully realized, expression of the region. But what do you want for under $15?

There is an appropriate dose of Marionberry on the inhale. For those who haven’t been introduced, the  Marionberry is a juiced up blackberry, a heritage blend of the ‘Chehalem‘ and ‘Olallie‘ families. It’s quite good and makes hella jam on toast. The berry splash is followed by an edgy spice, like licking a cinnamon stick that fades into a vanilla bean. Give Jack some time to breathe in order to mellow the overt tannic edge. That said, the dryness could represent the spartan and underrated quality of the Cabernet Franc. It doesn’t make up the lion’s share of the blend but makes its presence known.

Best Use: Girl’s Book Group, pairs well with the new Chuck Palahniuk, sharp and pointed, if a little “voicy.”

Soundtrack: The new Depeche Mode
Food Pairing: Carne Asada tacos with toasted-cumin black beans and ample guacamole.

78% Cabernet Sauvignon
18% Merlot
4% Cabernet Franc

Last Chance Rack — Really Good Wine by Joe: Pinot Noir

Upshot: An unpretentious Pinot Noir from Oregon. Made by Joe, apparently.

Joe’s 2010 Pinot Noir is great drinking, straight from the bottle. Slightly bristly on first intake, the tannins fade quickly and overall the mouthfeel becomes quite mellow. Maybe it could use a little cellering. Just think of August 2015, that dog-days outdoor soiree, this little guy will be all grown up and ready to party. Perhaps it’s not something you would bring stone cold to a fancy dinner party but one you could proudly serve under your own conditions, opened ahead of time and ready to go.

The color is a translucent cranberry or garnet, definitely a medium-light bodied wine. Bright tannins transform into a ripe raspberry that spikes the roof of the mouth. In the middle there’s a light, watery melon– or some might say “watermelon” with a lingering, juicy currant that almost disappears on the tongue.

Having design often dictate my choice in bottle, I love the simplicity of Joe’s label and there’s a sense of humor in the vineyard name that I can appreciate. 13.5% ABV ain’t too bad for a light bodied wine either. Poolside or just chilling and watching an SVU marathon, it’s a solid buy for under $15.

Best Use: Dog-Days Backyard BBQ

Soundtrack: A nostalgic dose of De La Soul.

Food Pairings: Tofu pups if you have to but I’d go for Nathan’s Ballpark Franks. No condiments.

Have you tried this wine? What do you think?

Who Doesn’t Love a Pirate Joke?

So a pirate walks into a bar with a steering wheel attached to his genitalia. The bartender says, “Sir, do you realize you have a steering wheel attached to your genitalia?” The pirate says…

Arrrgh, it’s driving me nuts!”

As a female bartender, making small-talk with the guys is a fairly significant part of the job description. This can lead to trouble whatever your middle name is. I was working the downstairs bar in Bar B. when a guy in his forties, likely a builder of some sort or maybe a dockworker sat in front of the Piraat tap. Piraat is a Belgian IPA weighing in at a hefty 10.5 abv. It is yeasty, hoppy, malty and funky. Not suitable for someone most accustomed to a nice, cold Bud.

My unionized customer cracked a variety of pun-oriented jokes such as the one above as he worked his way through some of the taps. This is a dangerous endeavor in Bar B. which is a Belgian bar. 3-4 drafts could turn a burly working man into a drooling child. He hadn’t reached this point before ordering the Piraat (and thus making the joke) so I humored him. I warned him that while it is considered among the best beer in the world, it’s funky yeast makes it an acquired taste.

Of course he did not heed my warning. Why would he? I was just the bartender. He took a big sip and spit spit it out, cartoon-like. “That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted.” I allowed him to cleanse his delicate palate with a much more accessible Hoegaarden.

Meanwhile he had gone from gleefully tipsy to flirtatious making pointed comments about the cut of my shirt. Again, I humored him. Part of the job description is to humor customers as long as they don’t stray across the line. I joked back with him. That’s my style–teasing and insulting customers while educating them about the finer points of adult beverages. It’s all in good fun.

At this time an angry bleached blonde, also in her forties, walked in.

“You haven’t been answering your phone. I can tell you are ignoring me when it rings twice and goes to voicemail”
“I’ve been drinking a beer, dear,” he said, in a pirate voice, of course.
She glared at him then whipped her head around toward me giving me the once over.
“I this why you’ve been here so long? You’re drunk!” She snatched the beer out of his hand and pushed it across the bar, toward me. She bored her eyeballs into me and said, “he’s drunk, he needs to go home now.”

Part of my job description is NOT to get involved in inter-couple drama. I quietly slipped his (enormous) check in front of him. He was ga-ga-la-la in a sort of Lebowski way, although with-it enough to pull out his credit card and leave me a generous tip. The moral of the story is that it pays to laugh at bad puns but make sure it’s the happy drunk guy and not his angry wife who leaves the tip.

West Coast Wines Under $15 — Introducing Pinot Noir

Sideways ruined Pinot Noir for me the way Swingers ruined second-wave-swing-ska-punk or whatever THAT genre was. OK, that’s an admittedly bad analogy.  Big Bad Voodoo Daddy would never have been my “thing” regardless of the breakaway indie blockbuster. It’s that in-your-face-optimism. Color me Smiths.

Anyway, the east coast girl in me never really got behind the black pinot, partly because of its delicate flower of a back-story and partly because of the spike in price per bottle that accompanied it. Then I moved west and some things changed–like my metrics for pizza, my tolerance for cascade hops and my interest in Pinot Noir…

And that’s all a forward to my current project: West Coast Wines under $15.