Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fish Wine

Fish on the Funnel, Katmai National Park by Ben Knight

The fishing season is upon us. Whether you are a sportsman or you fish commercially, it is that feverish time of year. Even if you are less likely to go out and get the fish yourself, chances are that you are hearing about seasonal or migratory fish from friends who enjoy the sport, the local grocer or fish market, or, if you are a gourmand, your favorite gourmet magazine or restaurant. The fish that is at the top of my list is salmon, more specifically the King also known as Chinook. There is a marketing phenomenon that has made the King Salmon from one specific river system quite popular indeed. I am speaking of Copper River King Salmon in Prince William Sound and it has gained a following world wide. I remember getting a sense of how popular it had become when I was living in NYC. A shopkeeper next to the shop that I worked at, upon realizing that I was from Alaska, shared with me that she had experienced Copper River King at a friend’s apartment the night before. This was back in 1999 and I was amazed at how widespread the knowledge of this particular fish had become.

Marketing salmon by river seems akin to how wines are marketed by appellation or sometimes even more specifically by vineyard. When I worked on the North Slope of Alaska I had a friend who, in another life prior to his North Slope career, had been a salmon broker and had the privilege of buying fish from all over the state to market in Japan. He shared characteristics about salmon that varied depending upon river of origin for each salmon type. Some examples were how bright and beautiful salmon were from this river or how this river had particularly homely kings, but their flavor was the most sought after and the list went on. Although I am steeped in certain areas of salmon knowledge because I have participated in the commercial setnetting fishery in the Naknek River district of Bristol Bay, my knowledge of salmon in other river systems is fairly limited. To this point I know of no marketing ploys that are employed in the US that advantageously use the river/appellation tactic other than the Copper River branding that has worked so effectively. I would love to see salmon and wine marketed side by side exploiting the parallels between the phenomena of place that is associated with these two fruits of the earth. This notion sort of tips the scales back in favor of the concept of terroir that I have mentioned in earlier posts.

Up until a few years ago my brain was shackled to the concept of red meat-red wine and fish-white wine. Now this is a good broad rule of thumb, but there are some reds that go wonderfully with the full bodied and rich flavors of King Salmon. A big cab would be going too far, but a red burgundy or an American Pinot Noir would work wonderfully. My 40th birthday was spent in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and I had the opportunity to sample some wines that would go quite nicely with King and I love the fact that this part of the country was once teeming with these creatures, so this combination makes sense. A wine from the Dundee District of the Willamette that is readily available, even in Alaska, is Domaine Drouhin’s Pinot Noir. It runs around $35-$40/a bottle and the smoky taste of the American oak complements the deep and oily richness of King. Some others that we were able to try while we were in the area were Domaine Serene, Soter Vineyards, Lemelson Vineyards, and Beaux Freres. I would especially recommend the Lemelson Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir. For warmer days when a lighter wine is desired, I would suggest one Chardonnay in particular. At an open house that was sponsored by the wineries of the Yamhill-Carlton district I had the privilege of tasting Dick Shea’s wines. I know that everyone was there to taste the ubiquitous Pinot Noir of that region, but my favorite ended up being Shea’s Chardonnay. It was buttery yet crisp with not a hint of a biting finish that so many poorly done Chardonnays possess. I do not have much experience with French wines, but I have had a nice Puligny-Montrachet, a white Burgundy, that I enjoyed very much and these wines were akin to each other in taste and quality. I should mention that Shea Vineyard fruit is highly sought after by many growers from that region and even Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non used to buy Dick’s fruit to make his Pinot before he decided to stop making Pinot Noir altogether. If you are interested in acquiring some of Shea's wines you can e-mail Dick and he will send you a letter for his next offering. I just received a postcard stating that he is now offering futures and that interested parties should give him a call. This is an opportunity to reserve a pre-release at a discounted price. Maggie Harrison of Antica Terra still gets fruit from Shea to help fill out the fruit from Antica Terra Vineyard as those vines are still establishing themselves. I am going to have to perform a King/Rose tasting sometime this summer. I can see the two complementing each other beautifully.

Below is my favorite way of preparing King Salmon. I think you will find the preparation amazingly simple, but so often the most enjoyable things are very simple in nature and the simplicity in this dish allows the beauty of the fish itself to shine through:

-Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit

-Do not even put the fish close to the inside of that oven until it is up to temperature

-Place cleaned fillet on a foiled pan and sprinkle evenly with sea salt and onion salt

-If the flesh close to the spine is very thick, cut the fish through down to the skin and on down to the base of the belly to make portion size cuts that include the belly and back sections. This way it is more difficult for anybody to hoard the belly portion for themselves-in my opinion the richest part.

-Bake for roughly 18 minutes, but start checking around 15 minutes.

-Depending on how thick the fillet is the time will vary, but even a thick fillet should take no longer than 20 minutes if you cut into it before baking for more even cooking.

-The salmon should have turned from a rosy pink to a whitish pink

-Believe me; the fish will taste better as you eat it if you eat it flake by flake. The fish will tell you where to start flaking if you push down on it with the flat of your fork.


I have no intention of politicizing this web location, but I would like to make a statement about something that is near and dear to my heart. As mentioned earlier, I commercial fish in the summertime in Bristol Bay. I have been a part of our family operation since the age of ten and my great grandfather was still fishing with us when I began. The only seasons I have missed were because I did not time my child bearing to work in sync with the fishing season. There is a development prospect that is threatening the future of the great watershed of Bristol Bay. English and Canadian mining entities have been exploring a gold deposit that is at the headwaters of the largest drainage, the Kvichak River. This development would create jobs for the people of the area, but this work is projected to last a mere 30 years at best, and if the containment has not been breached by then, it is inevitable that a breach will happen and create toxins in the watershed that threaten to decimate the last great run of salmon in the world. Bristol Bay is projected to return over 25,000,000 salmon this summer and that all happens over the course of a few weeks. If this run were to return no longer many lives would be impacted along with the environment. This resource provides commercial, social, cultural, and subsistence sustenance that no amount of money would be able to replace. I would hate for the Kvichak’s greatness to be reduced to that of the Columbia River; a river that was once the grandest salmon stream in the world that now contains but a trickle of salmon. I love the thought of my great grandchildren participating in this fishery, but if this mine goes through a much different future will take place.

If you would like to learn more about this issue visit:





Friday, May 22, 2009

It's Alive

I love the notion of wine being a living thing. When I read about winemakers describing the life in their bottles, I think that is what compels me to want to experience their wine the most. I recently made the acquaintance of a wine friend when traveling to a career fair in Bristol Bay Alaska. When he saw that I was reading a biography about Madame Clicquot the door to wine talk was opened. He and his wife travel to Tuscany every spring so he has a pretty extensive knowledge of Italian wines. Upon telling him about a 1969 Brunello that I planned on opening to commemorate the year of my birth, he said that he would help me find as much information about it as possible. This later led us to a conversation about old wines, of which I have little experience. He mentioned a friend who liked to collect Bordeaux wines and Michael has had the privilege of sharing some wonderfully aged bottles with him. He said that his friend claims that wines do not have a straight climb that leads to a penultimate peak, but that wines go through periods of dormancy or sleep where they hide their attributes, then they wake up and their splendor comes through, they hibernate again, and the pattern continues. Although I think it would be difficult to quantify this phenomenon, I find the notion fascinating nonetheless. How wonderful it would be to help carry out an experiment to prove this occurrence to be true. Somebody should write a grant.

There is a winemaker that I began reading about this winter named Sean Thackrey. He believes that his wines present themselves differently depending upon the barometric pressure. He mentions this in an interview on Chow. It is worth watching if you have the time. He has his own winemaking practices that are drawn from ancient texts on making wine. Sean does not grow his own grapes and disputes the concept of terroir that I had mentioned in yesterday’s post. His most effective argument is that he makes a consistently well recognized Syrah called Orion out of fruit sourced from the same Rossi vineyard that Gallo makes their bulk wine from. In his hands and under his guidance the fruit is able to fulfill its greatest expression, whereas the industrialized methods of the Gallos create something altogether different. Thackrey also discusses how much his wine changes after the bottle is opened. Any of you who read ratings have read about how much the wine will change from the initial pour to perhaps two hours later, but Sean maintains that his wine will continue to present additional traits that are still enjoyable up to one and two days after opening the bottle. Until recently, I had always felt that a good bottle should be enjoyed the first day that it was opened so as not to waste its qualities before they go into their demise at the hands of oxygen. The biggest problem is to keep from drinking a bottle before one has the opportunity to experience its evolution.

If you are interested in trying Sean’s wines, visit his website that is linked above to his name and e-mail him requesting to be added to his offering list. I am saving the single varietals that I got from him, all of them named after constellations, but he also makes a non-vintage wine called Pleiades. Each of his releases of this wine bears a different number, yet different mixtures of batches with sometimes up to seven grape types. He said something to the effect that he saves his unruly batches of wines and blends them into what becomes Pleiades. His latest release costs $24/bottle-a great value for such a delicious wine-but he offers a 10% discount for cases, even mixed ones.

My Italy visiting wine friend recommended a book that upholds the wine alive notion. Passion on the Vine by Sergio Esposito contains some wonderful wine narratives with stories of the winemakers that instill the wine with the life it contains. Sergio owns a shop, which is an understatement I am sure, called Italian Wine Merchant. His goal is to represent the top 1% of a huge body of wines that are contained in the political boundaries of Italy. He relates a story of a man named Jasko Gravner who had brought forth the modernization of winemaking techniques in Italy only to walk away from all of that and return to the old way of making wines. Instead of using barrels or smaller barriques to age his wine before bottling, he began to use clay amphorae that are buried underground in his cellar to contain the wine. The temperature and the electrical field, he asserts, are perfectly maintained by the earth. In any case, the results are such that he is in Sergio’s top 1%. This is just a glimpse of the many involved stories that Sergio shared about his relationships with his winemakers. By the way, he is married to an Alaska girl.

Michael Meagher’s Vino V 2005 White Hawk Syrah was very enjoyable. It was dark, deep, and velvety with a hint of vanilla at the top. It had enough tannic structure that I think it could have aged well for a while, but it drank well now. You can get it directly from his website for $45 and if you sign up to be on the mailing list, you will get a discount.

Drink some life juice!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Whatever Will Be, Will Be

Okay, back to Syrah, Syrah. My interest in this grape has grown as of late. In my process of digging and discovering, I have found that many acclaimed winemakers have begun to move away from the big Cabernet grape. I must say that I will never shun the opportunity to drink a full, lush and chewy cabernet, but one cannot deny the fact that because of its popularity, the market value to quality ratio has become pretty skewed. Many of the cult cabs in Napa are priced out at $300 or more. I have put myself on waiting lists for mailing lists out of curiosity and of course there is that underlying urge that I think all collectors have of putting something really special in their cellars. My name actually came up for an offering from the fabled Hundred Acre winery that is Jayson Woodbridge’s ultra premium baby. He sells the affordable line of world wines that all share the name Layer Cake. They run for about $15 a bottle, but Hundred Acre is another story. I got the offering in an e-mail and read the description for the wine Deep Time. It is a cabernet from the Kayli Morgan vineyard that was held in the production cellar longer than they normally hold their cabernet before bottling which is supposed to further intensify the flavors and deepen them. Two 750 ml bottles in a wooden crate were offered for $600. A girl has got to draw a line somewhere, as special as it was made to sound. Perhaps another time Jayson and until then I will comfort myself with the thought that Sideways Miles finds cabernets “exultant…(yet) prosaic,” this quoted by a non-poet.

All that just to get to Syrah, a grape that many producers and drinkers of late claim has more complexity, depth, degrees, and layers than one will ever find in a bottle of Cabernet. I have found enjoyment in Rhone style wines, usually with Syrah as the major component, but sometimes Grenache is included. Chataneuf du Pape goes well with lamb as a general rule, I have never had the pleasure of drinking a Cote Rotie, but then again I have a tendency not to go for French wines because I know so little about them. I do know that I have not had any success with trying Cotes du Rhone which is a shame because of their affordability. Australian Shiraz I find to have a forced quality and usually tastes of heavily extracted fruit. I am sure that when one gets into the Penfolds Grange level, this tendency would be lost. California does have a lot to offer in the way of Syrah and I like the notion that the wines are closer to home, thus creating a smaller carbon footprint in transport. JC Cellars is a branch off from the famed Fess Parker Pinot producers that is making some good Syrah that I can actually find in Alaska when I want to grab something quickly to bring to a dinner.

Tonight I will be trying something new, I’ll have to share a report with you in my next entry, a Vino V Syrah. Michael Meagher is the producer and I found out about him when researching vineyards that grow heralded Syrah fruit. He and his mentor, Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards, source grapes for their syrah from the White Hawk Vineyard. Adam produces single vineyard syrahs from various vineyards around Santa Barbara as well as his very affordable multi vineyard 2006 Syrah which goes for $22. I recently read an article about him where he vowed not to make wines to suit Robert Parker’s palate. He is moving away from the heavily extracted high alcohol content wines that have received so much acclaim in California-and in turn have influenced winemakers around the world who want to jump on that train-and is working toward creating wines that he would like to drink that have more subtlety and nuance. It’s all so interesting to read about, but I wish I could be there to taste what he means; ditto for all of the winemakers that I have read about and mention.

Maggie Harrison, the aforementioned winemaker for Antica Terra, now based out of the Willamette Valley also sources her fruit from White Hawk and has it mad dashed up to Oregon by truck so that she can produce her Lillian Syrah, named for her Grandmother. Her latest offering for her 2006 went out a couple of weeks ago. If you are interested and are too late to get an allocation, go to the Story Teller Wine Co. website and they have pre-release options listed in their Smart Bottle selection. They also offer Magnums of her 2004 Lillian Syrah.

Maggie used to make wines with another fabled winemaker, Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non. He also sources some of his fruit from the White Hawk Vineyard and just recently began growing his own vineyards of Rhone varietals. This is new for him as he has always bought fruit from growers and created his wines in an industrial space off of an alley in Ventura. I suppose the French purists would call him a garagiste, but he is proof positive that wines are not all in the terroir. It is what is done with those grapes once they are in the hands of a capable winemaker that makes a difference, not to dismiss terroir altogether, but highly acclaimed wines can be made apart from an extravagant estate. I bring up Manfred Krankl because he has worked very hard to set the standard for Rhone wines in California. He produces wines with Syrah, Grenache, Roussane, Viognier and not a drop of Cabernet. Unfortunately his prices have climbed to the level of the cult California Cabs. I have signed up to be on the waiting list of the mailing list and will be very interested in seeing how his offering prices compare with the prices for his wines out on the market.

There is one other person I should probably mention if you are Rhone curious. Randall Graham is the winemaker for Bonny Doon and is credited for beginning the California Rhone wine movement and was given the title Rhone Ranger.
His most acclaimed Rhone is Le Cigare Volant and it contains five Rhone blending grapes, grenache, mourvedre, syrah, cargnane, and cinsault. The 2005 sells for an affordable $32 on his website and if you purchase more than $60 worth of wine, the shipping is free.

I followed through on the Cabot Vineyards offering and ordered the Bacon Fat Syrah for $30/bottle. It is only available on Wine Berserkers, and only one barrel was made, so if you are interested, become a member. The Bacon Fat report will be forthcoming.

Will (it) be pretty, will (it) be rich,
Here’s what (it) said to me…

We shall see,


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Pink Day

Okay Guys, I don't mean to alienate you, but honestly it has been a pink day. The layout that made the most sense for WineFine had a red wine colored header, but all of the pinkness on the edges cannot be ignored. I also received a bonus buy treat today in the form of a Pink Veuve Clicquot Rose City Traveller. I believe that I read somewhere that Louis Vuitton designed these insulated fashionable champagne carriers for the house of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. VCP is my non vintage champagne of choice, I think because it was the first champagne that gave me a glimpse of how good it can be, and the yellow trademark color is synonymous with the name, but the pink I just had to try. The tasting will have to wait, but I love the fact that fashion has been married with wine and that brings me to another matter that must be addressed. My sister has a blog that you should visit if you have even a remote interest in fashion. She also happens to be a philosopher and in my opinion has the best sense of humor. If you would like to see how all of these elements can be reconciled, by all means, visit her blog: http://e3p2s.blogspot.com/

I did however taste something else pink tonight, Maggie Harrison's Antica Terra 2008 Rose. This is her first year making the rose since she relocated to the Willamette Valley in Oregon to grow and make pinot noir. She has a very interesting background and I would recommend doing some research on her. She has an interview on graperadio.com and an interesting article on avalonwines.com. Antica Terra can be purchased direct from their website anticaterra.com or  from Story Teller Wine Co. at storytellerwine.com. Anyway, I opened the Rose and drank it with a dinner of pizza with rice crust, due to my daughter's gluten intolerance, and cantaloupe. Sorry Maggie if it was far from what you had envisioned your drinkers to experience, but I am still fathoming what has just happened to me. I am an inexperienced rose drinker and it surprised me how earthy this wine tasted. I thought it would be closer to a white and in many ways it has white wine qualities, but there are most definitely the red pinot traits that come through. Oh, I should mention that there was some sediment in the bottle which I would not have expected in a lighter wine and the alcohol content was 14.5 %. The color is pink to strawberry in color and matched the cantaloupe despite the fact that I did not assess the ripeness correctly. The borderline unripeness actually matched the aforementioned earthiness. Does this sound like a disaster? It wasn't. I am just glad that I have two more of the bottles to experience at another time. Any suggestions on food pairings anyone? Ideal glass shape? Ideal temperature?
While we are on the subject of pink I should mention a brut rose that is a really good cost to quality value; Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rose NV. Last years NV disappeared around New Years time, but I just saw this year's at a local shop recently. It has a beautiful salmon color and is crisp with fine bubbles. You should not expect to pay more than $22. 
Okay guys, if you have not given up on this site altogether, I had a full circle kind of experience that brought me back to my Humboldt days. When I was visiting the Commerce Corner on wineberserkers.com there was a members only offering from Cabot Vineyards that was offering a Syrah called "Bacon Fat."

How is that for masculine?


Que Syrah Syrah


Others already thought of it, therefore it is not the title of my blog.

It really should be called the Wine Fine Ramble as my way of providing a disclaimer should I digress, which I probably will.

But anyway, I find wine endlessly fascinating and new. The more I learn about it, the more I want to know. This learning contains the feeling that I experienced in my younger years upon embarking on my adventures out into the world on my own as a youth, feelings that I thought were long gone, not to be felt again. This carries some meaning considering that I recently hit the landmark age of 40.

I have learned a lot about wine since the days that I was on the cusp of being able to buy wine legally, but fudging a bit. Going down the wine aisle at the Arcata Co-Op was mindblowing and looking back I wish I would have known then what I know now so as to begin my collecting at a place and time when wine was more accessible and affordable than it is in Anchorage, Alaska, the place I call home. As it was, I would try a new wine every time I visited, did not note my favorites and on Friday nights my friends and I would each pick out a bottle for ourselves and go walking around town as we drank from our respective bottles. Ah, youth. Those who know me now will laugh as they now know me as a someone who trys to drink from the ideal glass shaped to enhance the attributes of the chosen wine.

As I find wine endlessly fascinating and have learned a lot about it over the years, I feel it is one of those topics that the more you know about it, you realize how little you know. I plan on continuing my learning process and sharing some of the gems that I find and hopefully furthering your knowledge of this subject, and in turn, I hope that some of you out there will have something to teach me.