Wine Is Divine

A Hospitality Professional Living in Portland, Oregon

Wine at a Whiskey Library?

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Why offer a decent little wine list in our fabulous little whiskey bar? Good question. The quick answer: because not everyone who enters our doors will drink whiskey. The Multnomah Whiskey Library procured not just a remarkable collection of whiskies, but all manner of fine spirits. We also made certain to have remarkable food.

Everything we do at The Library has thought or reason behind it, floor to ceiling, fireplace to fixtures. The wine list is also part of this process. Since an underlying theme of our institution is education, we thought to build a small list, which fits nicely into the overall beverage program and highlights a few key points when thinking about the world of wine. Not coincidentally, these are useful themes when examining the world of distillates as well.

So the first section of wines by the bottle is NURTURE because sometimes the process of how something is made becomes the star of the show. Champagne is probably the quintessential example. Yes, Grower Champagne is a fantastic, but nobody would care about it without the bubbles, the process supersedes the place. In the second section, NATURE, the opposite can be said: the place where the vines grow is of greater importance than how the wine is made. What’s in the glass transparently conveys the vineyard. The third section, PATIENCE, showcases the evolution of wine as it ages. All of these wines are from vintages before 2000. And finally STRENGTH is the marriage of wine to spirit. These fortified wines display the power, beauty and elegance.


Anthony Garcia
http://twitter.com/wineisdivine

Hybrid sommelier meets hybrid bartenders at hybrid bar

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When Tommy Klus reached out for me to join Multnomah Whiskey Library, I didn’t hesitate to immediately turn in my notice at Noisette, a job I dearly loved, but sometimes love sometimes isn’t enough. I was looking for something different, something fresher, and our first meeting at Grendel’s across from Le Pigeon, where he explained the concept to me was enough. Multnomah Whiskey Library was going to be a service-focused bar with an exhaustive collection of spirits, staffed with a cadre of professional bartenders. I didn’t doubt for a moment that this service model was totally executable. Tommy was the first and remains one of only a handful of hospitality professionals in Portland that I’ve witnessed several times actually providing excellent, guest-centric service. I trusted the staff he was hired to select and shape was to be cut from the same cloth. In the first pre-opening, staff trainings, it was clear that an environment of learning and craft-honing was on par with creating a culture of old-school-styled-selfless service, similar to what you would find at The Four Seasons.

Aside from hospitality culture, the technique of bartenders rolling out guéridons {which we simply call “carts”}, customized to build cocktails or present fine spirits was amazing to see develop. Essentially, I was watching a new style of service professional emerge, a bartender acting as sommelier: being gracious, knowledgeable, recommending spirits, presenting, pouring and serving tableside, often times using a tray when the cart is not necessary. The team looks very much like Court of Master Sommeliers trained professionals, with one notable exception; each bartender is particularly lethal at creating cocktails.

I knew I was moving into uncharted territory when I found myself spending more on a set of gold Japanese jiggers than I had ever spent on a single wine tool in my life. I found I wasn’t only learning about spirits, but was being developed by my co-workers, particularly Jordan and Alise, to craft balanced cocktails. In a sense, I’ve come to realize that I’m not really a sommelier in this world, but a hybrid somm-meets-barback-meets-foh-manager.

The Library is also a hybrid concept.  The bar accepts reservations and controls seating much like a restaurant, offers a membership component, but is not entirely a private club. The owners want the greater Portland public to have access to the space as well as those visiting our fair city. And then there’s the service model: where four different bar carts are literally rolled out to the guests, who are reclining mostly in living room settings and a handful of traditional tables.

The place is designed with grandeur to look like a gentlemen’s club of old, but you may receive a very casual {yet custom-built!} TV tray to use when food is ordered. The look and feel of the place might seem tony and pretentious, but the team, working the floor are down-to-earth, donning hand-made uniforms, yet remaining humble and personable.

We by no means invented this concept of tableside service, but we have adapted it, polished it a bit and some may say have innovated it.

Anthony Garcia
http://twitter.com/wineisdivine

Sherry Casks in Scotch Whisky Production, a marriage made in confusion

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I currently have a charmed work life. My employer, Multnomah Whiskey Library, provides a great deal of opportunity for education on the subject of distillates and I work with a bunch of spirit nerds. We continually learn together and learn from each other, exchanging ideas, reading material, etc.

My years of studying wine {and to a lesser extent spirits} has given me a unique and perhaps painful perspective on learning about alcohol in general. Long before there was a Guild of Sommeliers website, I found myself hunting for true information in order to make flashcards to memorize over countless hours. Pre-2009, I read so many books, magazines and online sources to find conflicting information on various wine topics. No sommelier-student wants to waste any time memorizing the wrong information when facing an important exam. Even when I’d find a reliable source, a law would change, which altered the parameters of a wine or wine region and I’d have to tear up a stack of flashcards. I swear this is not a post about studying for the Master Sommelier Exam, I won’t be writing one like that for a while.

Seemingly overnight, the non-profit, educational arm of the Court of Master Sommeliers launched the Guild of Sommeliers website and started to eradicate all of the bad information, add only the true and do this in real time. No need to wait for a new edition of said wine book to come out or scurry through wine magazines for current data. This site was a game-changer; the world was a better place for the studying sommelier.

All of this searching, reading, writing flashcards, memorizing flashcards, tearing up flashcards, making new ones, and rememorizing, created a sickness in my stomach and soul concerning real facts. Why waste time on learning and reiterating incorrect information?

Although wine and service is still a professional anchor, my daily work life has changed a bit. I’m immersed in spirits. I’ve probably presented, jiggered and poured more fine spirits tableside in the last six months than all the Master somm and Advanced candidates have in all of the Court exams ever given, and the tricked-out, custom-built guéridons we use for spirit service and cocktail crafting are the bleeding edge. Plus, I’m learning again, not for testing, but for improving my craft and enhancing the guest experience. To say the least, I’m exposed to a great deal of information. Yet, one hard fact remains. Most of this available knowledge is intertwined with marketing language and bad habits, and for a split second, I dropped my guard down. I remembered what it’s like to be sick in my stomach after realizing I’ve championed incorrect information.

When the local Cognac expert tells us at an educational event that my new favorite Cognac house, Cognac Park, is owned by Tesseron, I say to myself: “That makes sense, no wonder it’s so good. I’ve got to talk to the local suppliers, who bring Cognac Park into the state of Oregon to see, if they will bring in Tesseron, too!” I start to sell Cognac Park with greater velocity and begin to tell guests that Cognac Park is owned by Tesseron.

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A month later when I met one of the owners of Cognac Park, Jérôme Tessendier, and asked him about the Tesseron connection. He offers his utmost respect for Tesseron, but explains that they’re not involved with his house. My heart fell at the thought of how much incorrect information came out of my hack mouth and into the guest’s ear. No serious service professional wants to convey incorrect information, especially to a guest.

What I’ve noticed in this current whisk{e}y boom as the market refocuses on spirits of contemplation is that there are not many, if any, definitive sources on the products we sell. Much material is tied to marketing, ego, big business money, and perhaps some laziness.

The greatest amount of conflicting information in the single malt whisky world is regarding the use of Sherry barrels for the aging of spirit. Most sources speak of Sherry casks being crafted from Spanish oak, which goes against everything I’ve read or have been taught for several years. From The Oxford Companion to Wine, the definition of a Sherry butt or barrel:

"butt, BARREL TYPE associated with SHERRY production in the Jerez region. It is usually made from American oak and has a capacity of 600 and 650 l/172 gal. A bota chica or shipping butt holds 500 l and is sometimes used as a unit of measurement. New butts are an inconvenience in the sherry-making process and have to be seasoned by being used for the FERMENTATION of lower quality wines.”

Spanish oak?! Never heard of it in Spanish winemaking, not in Priorat, Rioja, Ribera del Duero and especially not Jerez. My new favorite book, Sherry, Manzanilla, & Montilla by Peter Liem and Jesús Barquín, highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn about Sherry, has this to say about the usage of wood in Jerez:

“Wood has been used to store wine since ancient times, and while many different types of wood have been used in Jerez over the centuries, today barrels in the sherry region are typically made of American white oak (Quercus alba). This is not a recent development: the ports of Andalucía have enjoyed a healthy trade with the New World since the sixteenth century, and while no one knows exactly when American oak was introduced to the region, it is likely that its importation was already established by the late seventeenth century.”

“Regarding its suitability for the making of sherry, American oak is prized for its tight grain, which allows an optimal amount of breathability through its pores. It is easy to work with, having no knots, and it contains no resins that might influence the wines. Barrels used for sherry are never new, and must spend many years being seasoned with lesser wines before being used in a solera; this is done not only to eliminate any flavors of wood that might be imparted to the wine, but also because the tannins found in new wood will adversely affect the development of flor. In the sherry region, many cellarmasters consider a barrel less than 20 years of age to be too young, and 50 years old is widely seen as being within the window of the optimal period of aging. Barrels can be in continuous use for 100 years or more, with repairs made or even individual staves replaced as necessary. Thus, barrels themselves are essentially neutral vessels in terms of their actual material, providing a degree of managed oxidation while contributing nothing in terms of flavor.”

I’ve also read accounts in whisky books and listened to travelling brand ambassadors about what Sherry’s Spanish oak imparts to the final single malt whisky. It is wholly appropriate to discuss ex-Bourbon cask’s oak influence on aging Scotch whisky, since the barrels are “relatively” new {by law all Bourbon must be aged in charred, new American oak} and the newer the barrel the greater the phenolic influence on the stuff in the barrel {whether wine or spirit}. With ex-Sherry casks, I’d argue that the fortified wine itself, which was once in the barrel, is more of an influential factor over the oak.

Oloroso Sherry undergoes an oxidative aging path and the resultant wine is rich in glycerol and tawny-mahogany color with a leathery-walnut, often tobacco-y flavor profile. Whisky aged in ex-Oloroso casks often display these characteristics. For the lesser used Fino barrels in whisky production, these wines undergo biological aging, the wine protected under a layer of flor, which consumes the available glycerol, creating a wine that is light in texture, yet rich in briny, almondy flavor. I recently tried the Bowmore 1964, Single Malt, Fino Cask {on 04-16-14}. The whisky tasted like a smoked green olive, soaked in honey, wrapped in gauze. It was easy to see the influence of the Fino wine on the final spirit.

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I’m not saying that there are no exceptions to the rule or there are not barrels of Spanish oak sometimes used in Sherry. I am saying: any whisky producer buying barrels sourced from Spanish oak and coopered in Jerez with wine being held in the barrel for a couple of years before being shipped to Scotland {or Japan for that matter} are not using a Sherry barrel; they’re using something altogether different. This is a practice, referenced in single malt whisky guides and conveyed by brand ambassadors. If the whisky producer is using a true Oloroso barrel or Fino cask, which should be sufficiently old, understand that the wood itself is imparting nothing to the flavor profile except the slow controlled oxidation of the mellowing spirit. It’s likely the wine, which was in the barrel beforehand contributes flavor to the whisky.

I think a trip to Jerez should be in my immediate future.

My critical review of Sherry, Manzanilla, & Montilla by Peter Liem and Jesús Barquín- it’s definitely a great book and worth having in your library. Available here: http://www.sherryguide.net/ 

Here is a useful pod cast produced by the Guild of Sommeliers, featuring Mr. Liem: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sherry-with-peter-liem/id425715938?i=123469708&mt=2

As the whiskey and spirit boom continues, I predict, it’s just a matter of time before the Guild of Sommeliers site focuses in earnest on the subject of distillates and starts its process of eradicating bad information.


Anthony Garcia
http://twitter.com/wineisdivine

Chehalem ‘Ridgecrest Vineyards’ Gamay 2012 - a little tart, but luscious too. Black plum, black cherry, touch of prosciutto fat & dried roses, medium-plus body, medium-plus acid, moderate tannin level. Really tasty local red.

Chehalem ‘Ridgecrest Vineyards’ Gamay 2012 - a little tart, but luscious too. Black plum, black cherry, touch of prosciutto fat & dried roses, medium-plus body, medium-plus acid, moderate tannin level. Really tasty local red.

Lucien Lardy Côte du Py, Morgon 2012 is the best Beaujolais for the money. I stopped by Biwa earlier today, said “Hi!” to Gabe, Kellen, Dan & Grace, then left for home with a bottle. $9 a glass- such an awesome red for warm summer nights.Anthony Garciahttp://twitter.com/wineisdivine

Lucien Lardy Côte du Py, Morgon 2012 is the best Beaujolais for the money. I stopped by Biwa earlier today, said “Hi!” to Gabe, Kellen, Dan & Grace, then left for home with a bottle.

$9 a glass- such an awesome red for warm summer nights.


Anthony Garcia
http://twitter.com/wineisdivine

Just sold the 1995 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a steal at $150. The sediment was minimal. The guests loved it.
You can sell wine at a whiskey library {just not that often}.Anthony Garciahttp://twitter.com/wineisdivine

Just sold the 1995 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a steal at $150. The sediment was minimal. The guests loved it.


You can sell wine at a whiskey library {just not that often}.


Anthony Garcia
http://twitter.com/wineisdivine

Trinquevedel Tavel Rosé 2013 is now at Luc Lac {$19 for the 375ml}!

The half bottle list is revamped for the summer. I really like what we have on it. Here are some highlights: Fiorini Becco Rosso Lambrusco {$14}, Punta Crena Vigneto Isasco Vermentino {$18}, Cune Rioja Crianza {$15}. 

I am pleased to be a small part of what they’re doing here. Later this week we unveil our Lemongrass Saison {$5} made for us by Upright Brewing!

Anthony Garcia
http://twitter.com/wineisdivine

Decided to bring another 1937 Kopke in. So glad C&G {the local distributor} had another in stock. The 1930s overall were crappy vintages in Europe. As if the vines said “eff you fascism!” Ironically, Rioja had some success in this dark period {the vines were obviously on Franco’s side} and then there’s this gorgeous jewel from Portugal.
Anthony Garciahttp://twitter.com/wineisdivine

Decided to bring another 1937 Kopke in. So glad C&G {the local distributor} had another in stock. The 1930s overall were crappy vintages in Europe. As if the vines said “eff you fascism!” Ironically, Rioja had some success in this dark period {the vines were obviously on Franco’s side} and then there’s this gorgeous jewel from Portugal.

Anthony Garcia
http://twitter.com/wineisdivine

Alan’s kind to let us use MWL’s library table to blind taste each Tuesday @ 10am. Bums me out when delivery drivers blow through earlier than they’re suppose to while one of us are going through the grid. Will the sign help? Probably not.
Anthony Garciahttp://twitter.com/wineisdivine

Alan’s kind to let us use MWL’s library table to blind taste each Tuesday @ 10am. Bums me out when delivery drivers blow through earlier than they’re suppose to while one of us are going through the grid.

Will the sign help? Probably not.

Anthony Garcia
http://twitter.com/wineisdivine