What exactly is a chain restaurant? The question seems to have popped up in a local kerfuffle over chef Michael Mina’s plans for his restaurants here in San Francisco.
This has been bothering me for several weeks, since the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Inside Scoop” blog outlined Mina’s intention to turn his flagship restaurant location into Bourbon Steak. The chef’s steak houses by that name in Detroit, Miami, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Washington, D.C., have shown success, offshoots of his Stripsteak in Las Vegas. In my view, that one is among the top two or three steak houses in the U.S.
When winemakers from two different regions get together, sometimes the results push the cutting edge. They can, if they are serious about it, introduce ideas that are new and different and make the wine world just a bit more interesting.
Best known for his superb Syrah-based Hermitage wines, Michel Chapoutier has turned his attention to Rhône grapes in Australia. His latest new wine from Down Under, a Viognier, is elegant, refined and reveals the possibilities of this white grape in Oz.
It seemed like serendipity that Dr. Madaiah Revana would be coming to visit friends in Aspen, where I spend a good part of the summer. I liked the first couple of vintages from his Oregon vineyard, made by Lynn Penner-Ash, but I had not met the man behind them.
He wanted to show me the first bottling of a Pinot Noir, called Sitar, which will carry a series of beautifully-drawn labels honoring Dr. Revana’s Indian heritage and his love of music. My wife and I are devotees of the music festival here in Aspen, and a musically themed wine was too good a coincidence to pass up.
Last summer my friend Tom Waldeck took me up to a picturesque pasture to see his small herd of 35 Wagyu cattle. Raised on a dairy farm, he wanted to get back to his roots. So in his retirement he started the only herd in Colorado of pure Wagyu, the breed that makes the famous Kobe beef in Japan. I arranged with Tom, Montagna at the Little Nell sommelier Jonathan Pullis, my wife and a couple of wine-loving friends to join me in a feast of wine and Wagyu pairing.
Last Saturday we all sat down to five wines: my Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Washington Merlot and Aussie Shiraz, Pullis’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Barbaresco.
Washington has Pinot envy. The state’s vintners look across the Columbia River at Oregon and see a neighbor that has established a firm connection with wine drinkers. Oregon equals PInot Noir. And Pinot Noir is popular. Easy.
The Washington guys wish they could find an identity that wine drinkers could latch onto as easily. They don’t have the soil or climate to make Pinot Noir, and they are quite happy to leave that variety, so fickle to grow and make well, to the Oregonians. But they pine for an easy-to-understand hook to make their wines simpler to market. The topic came up again and again last week as I visited veteran vintners and bright lights of the new wave in the state.
Larry Stone, who stepped away from the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning Rubicon restaurant when Francis Ford Coppola made him managing director of Rubicon Estate in 2006, starts a new job next week. He is to be the general manager of Evening Land, which makes wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, California’s Sonoma Coast and Santa Rita Hills and, more recently, Burgundy.
Looks like a good fit, as lots of sommeliers have been involved with Evening Land, which earned a spot on the Wine Spectator Top 100 last year with a wine from its first vintage in Oregon, 2007.
Heads up, folks. Here comes another Australian wine you never expected. Are you ready for Aussie Vermentino? When I recently met with winemaker Ben Glaetzer and winegrower Frank Mitolo to preview the coming vintages of their Mitolo and Jester wines, they brought the standard Cabernet, Shiraz and Rhône blends. Those wines were good, as usual, and instructive about the vagaries of recent vintages in McLaren Vale, where they grow most of their grapes. But the wine that intrigued me the most was the new Vermentino, coming out later this year on the Jester label.