Blog - From the Road

Sitting still thinking of Perbacco

November 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Here and now, in McMinnville Oregon, wineries are in the throes of it.

Harvest. Crush.

Fall flutters through the streets while  forklifts grunt and moan moving fermenters and bins, oblivious to leaves and blowers. I have been watching our gang at the winery, day and night nonstop for the past couple of weeks, getting all the fruit in this year in record time and now getting ready for the hard slog through fermentation and all that goes with it. It seems terribly unfair to even think about the phrase ‘sit still’. However, I am forcing myself to say it, here and now, because I’m going to have to do it – to sit still. The very thought!

It has been a hard year, entirely too many airports and baggage claim areas, a cracked laptop screen going through security last month wasn’t any fun either, figuring out how to use an iPad right afterwards was interesting! Swings and roundabouts, the storm, the calm.

This is the time of year when our distributors are run ragged trying to get holiday sales and events set up, so this is also the time of year when they DON’T want to see winery folks coming into their markets, so we have to literally, stay put.

There are many good things that can come from this. I will have time to write blog posts – at last! I hope  to recall some of the bright spots through the year and share them with you – but where to begin?

Without any hesitation, one of  the brightest (and accidental! always the best) interludes in my year was when a delightful Italian friend in New York sent me to a small East Village (Greenwich) Italian restaurant called  ‘Perbacco’.

I sat into a corner table in the dimly lit restaurant and relaxed into it, it had been a long day getting to the East Village from 5th street in McMinnville.

The interior is small, rustic and intimate meaning yes, I could hear conversation, it was gentle, ambient but dynamic and there was another sort of intimacy around, it seemed like everyone was glad to be there, as if they knew something I didn’t.

My friend Francesca made me promise to try an appetiser she adored, the Parmigian crème brûlée. I checked that it was still on the menu and there it was, so I had somewhere safe to start. For salad, they had on offer a salad of frisée, fried peaches and blue cheese. My waitress insisted I try it, I think she knew she had a foodie on board, and then she suggested I have the risotto special so OK, I did.  Order up.

When the appetiser arrived, it was such a surprise; the texture, the salt level, the sweet-and-sourness from drizzled reduced balsamico. I was rooted to the spot. Of course, I had ordered a glass of wine upon entry, I was enjoying a Falanghina from their BTG list. Nice medium weight, good acidity, pretty stone fruit presence, all just as one would expect. I feared for its integrity though when I realised what was going on with the brûlée. Those of you who know about the ZiNG! thing (the food and wine pairing method we espouse & teach) will understand. I had a lot of salt there (the cheese in the custard) and of course, umami too (in both the aged parmigian and egg) so I had a feeling I was going to need a little more acid power in hand for a ZiNG! to happen. I looked down the list again, enter Orvieto – fabulous! Light, linear, bracingly acidic – it gave the dish a bridge to dance on, it was really wonderful. Hurray for Trebbiano & Grechetto!

OK, now we got to the salad and I already have two wineglasses on the table. My little waitress friend looked at me happily ‘buon appetito!’ again and put down the plate. Beautiful! Wafer thin-ly sliced peaches layered with delicate frisée two or three stories high, in the basement there were gorgonzola crumbles, all around drizzled with more delicious reduced balsamico – and then the whole thing suddenly said ‘sugar’.

Oh no! The lurking sugar thing (for the ZiNG!’ers out there). What was I going to do wine wise? I tried the Falanghina – it was totalled. I tried the Orvieto – it too, totalled. I knew I needed some sugar for balance, what to do? The waitress caught my distress (good eye) and started over to me with the wine list.

As is the case in many, many restaurants, the need for a wine with some residual sugar to use in food & wine situations just like this one, is WAY under emphasised but that’s another discussion and another reason why I love Oregon Pinot gris so much. However, on this night, I suddenly saw my saviour…prosecco! I ordered a glass, triggered a shocked expression in the waitress’s face ‘are you sure? people – um, they order the prosecco at the end?’ I smiled and thanked her but yes, I was sure. It came, it fizzed and it conquered. One more time, thank goodness for a small understanding of chemistry and the inner workings of food and wine togetherness. And then there were three…wineglasses that is, on my little table.

Then came the risotto. It was beautiful, different, served up spooned out flat, about an inch deep, around the plate. I should have noted exactly what the rice was but I didn’t (mea culpa) it was a tawny colour and had small beans cooked throughout, which really added to the texture but oh my goodness, the garni!

There were broken toasted almonds scattered on about one-third of the dish, then toasted crumbs from something that tasted vaguely brioche like, almost sweet, but then, and I was fascinated by this – there were tiny, and I mean tiny like six to eight per fingernail tiny – cubes of balsamic gelée sprinkled like gemstones over the rest. Wow.

I tasted it, the waitress looked at me expectantly, I’m sure wondering where the wine road was going to go at this point, so I asked her if she would ask the young man up front (who appeared to be an owner) what he recommended  with the dish. Soon I had a glass of Roero Arneis ’08 on the table to have with my risotto, and it was an absolute triumph, a ZiNG! if ever there was one! Oh dear – and then there were FOUR  (glasses with wine in them on the table) but who’s counting at this stage?

I have since discovered that the word or phrase ‘perbacco’ means ‘wow’ (or words to that effect) in Italian. Possibly why I am sitting, still, thinking about it.

Have a look : Perbacco

Till next time!

all the best,


p.s. Oh! by the way, we are presenting another ZiNG! workshop on December 4th at our fabulous winebar downtown on 3rd in McMinnville. Please e-mail Maria for a seat if you’d like one to: Numbers are fairly limited, so let us know as soon as you can.

We plan to start around noon.

$35 per person will change your food and wine life forever.

See you there!

making things better

May 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Hello again, from a distance… how are you?

I had my first glass of wine outdoors in 2010 this week, I hope you’ve been luckier. Despite the variety of time-zones and locales year-to-date, seems like I just haven’t had my synchronicity switch tripped. The glass of Gris (I should say glee!) I had in the sunshine did it for me, all is good with the world, summer is coming, hallelujah!

I had, this month, the unexpected pleasure of running into (after too many years not running into, I must add) the coolest of the cool wine guys we have in America, the inimitable Doug Frost MS MW. Doug is one of the wine world’s super geeks, both Master Sommelier and Master of Wine (I think the population of that species numbers three on the entire planet) but he is so much darn fun you tend to forget that! Nothing, not even the guffaw-laden hilarity which tends to happen a lot in his company, will dim the respect I have for this man. It was a huge bonus arriving at the Philbrook Museum (how beautiful a place that is) in Tulsa for their bi-ennial Wine Experience earlier this month, to discover that Doug was replacing the scheduled speaker! Of course, yes, I had to run up, gush, say ‘Hi! it’s been too long!’ The gracious Mr. Frost, a very proud Dad himself, even remembered my daughter from an Oregon trip many moons ago to Pinot Camp! Out-standing cool right there.

The really great thing though, was the cut glass clarity of the discussion he presented to a mostly trade assembly, about selling wine, educating about wine, enlarging our wine culture in these recessionary times. Boy, was he singing from my hymnbook. One line kept recurring.

‘can 40 million white zin fans be wrong?’

Doug challenged everyone there, almost exclusively wine professionals in different guises – distributors, winery principals (guilty), educators (guilty), restaurateurs, retailers… to lose our elitist, specialist hats for a moment and think about that statistic! Can 40 million people be wrong? Why IS white zin so popular, what IS it that has brought it to this position in the wine world?  He then presented some neat statistics for everyone to think about. The fastest growing varietal in the US? Riesling. Fastest growing RED varietal? Pinot Noir. The American wine drinker, as Doug put it, is leaning towards the light – lighter styles, that is. Bigger ain’t better any more y’all.

I then remembered a comment from an event earlier in the same week, coincidentally from another Master Sommelier (these guys are sharp). I had presented one of our zing! food and wine together workshops in Chicago, attended by amongst others Brett Davis MS, from Kentucky. Brett came up to me afterwards and said  ‘I was humbled by the simplicity in this presentation tonight, guys. It reminded me that I had forgotten to think like my customer’. I marvelled in hindsight that the same message was coming from both the experts and 40 million white zin drinkers.

Simplicity is what we’re looking for.

As human beings most people just want their lives to feel – better. And that desire is not confined to an age group, or a social stratum, but it is why 40 million people drink pink. That does NOT mean that simplicity is unsophisticated. Perhaps in fact, an appreciation of simplicity is the key to balancing all that other overly sophisticated and busy stuff.

I got to thinking afterwards, and yes it was over a glass of wine, about what we do, and what it all means to me (Gris does that sometimes, drags out the inner philosopher).  We make quite a few wines, you guys know that, some because they tell us a special secret about where they come from, be it a vineyard or just part of a vineyard, some because Rob just really really wants to make them, like his beloved bubbles and the port-we-can’t-call-port.

But the largest part of what we do is bigfire – pinot noir, pinot gris and rosé. They are the ‘gimme a glass right now, what a day I’ve had’ wines, the ‘this will so work, thank goodness I had a bottle here’ wine when the mother in law or the new neighbour drops in unexpectedly. They are honest, pure, made really (really) well and without artifice. Simply very good. You won’t need to be told why you like this style, they’re just delicious, Oregon wines that simply make life better.

So, although 40 million people currently drink pink for freshness, immediate appeal, broad ability to enjoy with food (that is SUCH a biggie), lots of other people with discerning, educated palates also seek out wines that show strong varietal typicity, distinctive regional identity, a mirror of the maker… and why? Same need, same reason, to make their life better.

When I had that glass of bigfire Gris outside last week, I realised it ticked all of those boxes. Now that is cool, is it not?  Perhaps that’s what Doug was pointing us towards, the sophistication in simplicity.

All right guys, I think I’ve worn this soapbox down today, but I’ve been dying to put all this into words. Till next time, be well and always – make your life better.



Q2, hello!

April 1, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Hello Pinot-people, greetings from Ireland this week and welcome to April. Is it Spring yet? We had snow here yesterday and hail the day before – what is going on?

Welcome to my blog. I have no idea what this will be, but here we are. I am sure it will feel like a travelogue sometimes, a food-a-logue others (is that a new noun?) and I’m sure there will be many times when wine will be all that matters (no surprise there) so hang in, come with, and let’s see what happens.

I’m home for a week or two to re-charge and very importantly, to see my therapist Toddy, who happens to be a 16hh Irish Draught horse.  Here’s how we do it:

He will be working hard this week after the chaotic first quarter of this year (Q1) that we’ve just finished. Wow.  I’m surprised Toddy, the dogs or my husband Tom recognised me, I’ve been away so much. My daughter is back in school in Oregon now, happy days –  but that may be another whole blog on its own, eek. Look out Carlton.

So where have I been?

In January, we were very happy to spend a week in Arizona and open the market there for R. Stuart and Co, hurray!  Rob and Maria came with me on that trip, it was a blast. We had weird weather though. Our distributor partners there from Republic National told us that it rains about 7 days a year in AZ. Guess what? We were there for four of them, in JANUARY – isn’t that wild? I look forward to going back to visit Lorenia and her team there in the fall, hopefully no rain or tornadoes next time.

In February I saw both snow and sun in equal measure. The snow was in one of my favourite places – Chicago!  My kind of town, Chicago is (haha). Our partner Frank lives there, as do many other great friends. I had fabulous food, as always, at Custom House Tavern downtown. I met the new chef Aaron Deal, who coincidentally is from Charleston SC, which has two stops on this February tour. What great value Sue and the gang deliver there – and they love our wines, so they obviously have great taste too, uh-huh. I also had a lovely meal at Nightwood this trip – I’m really looking forward to another visit there for sure. They are yet another Chicago restaurant delivering top tier value and knocking it outta the park – good for all of them.

I then spent the best part of a week driving from Atlanta down through SC. That’s when I saw sun, hurray, the Raybans were out. I was selling wine on the way of course, but also having more great meals (hey, someone’s got to do it).  Greenville was particularly fun, what an interesting food and wine town that has become. A huge thank you to the gang at Soby’s and to Erin Gilreath-Hester for a smashing Wine Dinner. Then, it was south to the Grande Dame of the Carolinas, Charleston.

Charleston is so much fun for a foodie! I have been going to Charleston for … OK, too many years to admit BUT … I am always happy to be there, so many old pals. I still get lost every trip though, those old streets get me every time, but I love them! It doesn’t hurt that our wines, especially the Pinot Gris (OMG have you all had the 2009 bigfire Pinot gris already? speaking of knocking things out of the Park …seeeeyaaaa! It is stunning. I have to stop now) work so incredibly well with Low Country cuisine and shellfish, all of which abound around  Charleston. There are killer restaurants at all levels there, I dare not name one or I will have to name them all! Rob visited Charleston for the first time ever in February, and he too was completely smitten. What’s not to love about Charleston, y’all?

We held a particularly fun Zing! workshop for chefs and sommeliers there in Charleston. Thanks to Speedy at RNDC for inviting us and to our hosts The Maverick Group @ Charleston Cooks! (thanks Patrick! you’re the biz). A particularly spirited (and informed, and smart) group there; it makes it so rewarding for me when everyone is engaged and tackling a novel concept head on! Very cool.

Now where am I? March…

March started again in Charleston with a trade show, then onward north we went, Liz and I (Liz Cooper helps me on the road whenever possible. A very savvy sommelier and all round good egg is our Liz). I went to New York first to visit our partners at Lauber Imports, then Liz and I rendezvoused in another one of my absolute favourite places in America, Boston Massachusetts! I hope I never have to choose between Boston and Chicago, that would be impossible, I think. Amazing people we work with there in Boston, and yes they do talk funny (the pot calling the kettle black here). Horizon Beverage, the one the only, are our pals, partners – we can’t say enough good things about them. We work with Horizon in RI too.

Back down south then, to Atlanta, to our buddies at Georgia Crown, we had another Zing! event, a private one this time, then onward to Florida to see our distributors there Selected Brands (Hi Terri & everyone!) Liz and I had a stunning meal (another one) with Cynthia Betancourt, sommelier par excellence and her team at Azul in The Mandarin Oriental, Miami. Wow. Such fun wines we tried! Cynthia is a great fan of  our Autograph Pinot noir, we love that.

I spent St. Patrick’s Day and that week in Oregon with my beloved Mollie, the centre of the world. My great friend Annette Madrid and her family in Carlton have a huge ‘Patty’s Day’ party each year, what fun! We sang a few songs, actually more than a few, and Mollie showed off her new electric ukelele (who knew?)

We had a great time!

Then I was back to Chicago, did another Zing! event there for trade professionals and our distributor wineDOC, that was great. Thanks so much to Custom House Tavern for being our hosts (Hi guys! you’re all fab) then back south again (!) to Atlanta for The High Museum of Art’s Wine Auction spectacular they do each year, a couple of days of utter indulgence!  There was much craziness and great company at the Two Urban Licks pre-High Rock’n’Roll dinner – the 70’s was the theme this year, too much fun – Todd Rushing sure knows how to throw a party!

The Museum tastings and dinners were all wonderful, so many interested and interesting people, but by Saturday evening, I have to tell you, we were all exhausted. I headed for the airport, got on a plane to Dublin and had no trouble sleeping on that trans-atlantic trip!

Next month, or rather this month, sees me heading for Virginia, Washington DC, Oregon (of course), Chicago again, Oklahoma, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and…

how about I tell you about it next time, in a couple of weeks or so?

Cheers one and all, thank you for coming


Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus  Now is the time to drink, now the time to dance footloose upon the earth –  from The Odes of Horace, don’t you love that?!