Wednesday, February 29, 2012

6 Hours Bar Hopping in Seattle - An Un-Practical Guide

The last time I visited Seattle was almost two years ago when I was covering the Seattle Tattoo Convention for Total Tattoo magazine; I had an unbelievable blast involving legendary ink, cigars, and mini donuts. Last weekend, my sister and her boyfriend Patrick came to Portland to visit, shaking me out of my Portlandious mindset. Patrick and I went to five awesome bars, including a speakeasy and the oldest bar in Seattle. The story below doubles as a practical guide for anyone trying to figure out what not to do in Seattle on a cold night. Ok, maybe there are one or two good suggestions... If you keep reading, you'll also find out why Seattle is one scary town.

1st Stop: JUJU Bar


Located on 2nd Street between Bell and Blanchard in the Belltown neighborhood, this place is surrounded by bars with gaudy themes, such as the tiki-themed Lava Lounge and arcade-themed Shorty's bar. Patrick and I went into JUJU because it had a skull over the doorway, which was comparatively tasteful. Inside, I expected Napalm Death or Metallica but found Van Morrison. Still, the bartender was friendly and we ordered two Manny's. Manny's is likely Seattle's best-loved beer and I'm with 'em; our bill came to $5.75 total (just try to divide that by two). The reason to visit this bar is the exceptional artwork by Joey Nix: this guy spray paints portraits of famous criminals, such as Al Capone and Sid Vicious, that are realistic and emotionally present. Then, to top it all off, there are giant paintings of freight trains tearing across deserts and shooting a complex mix of smoke and skulls out of their smokestacks. I'm not sure if this work is also by Joey Nix. (Awesome photo above by Slightlynorth).

2nd Stop: Bathtub Gin & Co.

This place bills itself as a speakeasy and this means that there's no sign. Just walk down the dark, creepy alleyway between 1st and 2nd street on Blanchard and look for the big wooden door. Inside, we found a quiet, intimate atmosphere. Several couples quietly sipped spirits. This is the place to take a girl on the first date: it shows that you are a connoisseur both of Seattle and fine alcohols. The menu was long, so Patrick and I told the bartender our preferred spirits and price range. I was served an awesome apple brandy for eight bucks that I wish I could remember the name of. (Photo above by Holly K.)

3rd Stop: Shorty's
At this point, the Oscars were almost over and our girlfriends probably wanted us to come back to the hotel so that we could all get dinner. Because we weren't 100% sure of this, we decided to go to Shorty's, the arcade-themed bar. With a huge room full of pinball machines in back, this bar is great for people who don't want to talk to each other or focus too much on what they're drinking.

Surprisingly, I met a fellow Portlander. We stepped out for a smoke. He told me that the prior night had been the craziest of his entire life. He'd blacked out and wandered Seattle until dawn. Several hours later, in the middle of the afternoon, he was about to get jumped by four guys when one of the guys called it off. "Don't you remember me from last night," the guy inquired? My fellow Portlander did not remember the guy, but it saved him a crack on the skull and his wallet. After he told this story, a homeless man walked up to us and asked for a cigarette. The homeless man said that Belltown was his neighborhood. "I remember when there wasn't anything but Indians." Then a pretty girl walked up and my fellow Portlander got to talking to her. Turned out that she'd been mugged this week for the first time. She said, "I couldn't see straight for days."

4th Stop: Double Header
Patrick and I picked up the girls, and we all went to eat at the delicious Jade Chinese food restaurant. Afterward, we walked toward Double Header, located in the International neighborhood on Pioneer Square. We'd heard about this bar from the man pouring wine at the complimentary wine tasting at our hotel. He said that Double Header is the oldest bar in Seattle and that it's a good place to go if you don't mind being surrounded by 60-year-old men who've been drinking since noon. For some reason we thought this would be a good idea, but when we got there it was closed.

5th Stop: Central Saloon
So now we're walking around a shady neighborhood and intermittently passing empty nightclubs blasting terrible music. Fortunately, we see the Central Saloon, and, after having our IDs very carefully checked by a man wearing a gun and holster, we find darkness, a few sulking drinkers, and Metallica playing. The bartender was friendly and the drinks were good. However, the bar had terrible Feng Shui, and about 75% of it was filled with un-used furniture turned up side down. I felt like I was drinking in the basement of a rec hall.

After six hours of bar hopping in Seattle, I believe the wild wild west is still off its rocker. If you are going to San Francisco, wear a flower in your hair. If you are going to Seattle, wear a gun.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Budget Wine Tasting Guide to Italy

My latest wine-tasting guide, published by Bootsnall.com, features handpicked winery recommendations in four of my favorite Italian wine-tasting regions, Chianti Classico, Oltrepó Pavese, Montefalco and Bevagna, and the Salento peninsula in Puglia. Check it out and drink great Italian wine and experience killer Italian wine country on the cheap: The Budget Traveler's Guide to Wine Tasting in Italy. Each winery that I featured offers wine tastings for $6 or less or free. This is the type of guide that I'd always wanted when tromping through Italian wine country for the first time. After having way too much fun wine tasting in Italy, make sure to write in with the stories of your mad adventures! Saw-loot-tay!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Vivendo il sogno americano in Italia, nel 1954

Article translated from the English by Giorgio Caló.

Ho bevuto per la prima volta il Mjère Rosso nella città costiera di Gallipoli, in Italia. Situata su una piccola isola fortificata, a Gallipoli servono degli ottimi aperitivi. Ogni serata estiva, i locali preparano i loro divani, sedie e tavoli lungo le mura fortificate e servono un buffet di cibo locale. Io e la mia ragazza volevamo trovare un divanetto bianco tra i vari tettucci e cactus, ordinando vino e guardando il tramonto.

Quella sera abbiamo ordinato un litro di vino locale, ma il ristorante aveva aperto recentemente e non ne aveva. In alternativa, il cameriere versò una bottiglia e un terzo di Mjère Rosso in una caraffa da un litro. Ci fece pagare quasi niente, fino al punto di dire: “Questo è un vino davvero buono”. Scuro, corposo, ricco, secco, era delizioso. Quando abbiamo chiesto di vedere l’etichetta, il cameriere l’ha attaccata sulla caraffa usando la condensazione come colla.



Dopo aver vissuto in Italia per un anno e mezzo, la mia prima tappa era andare a trovare mia sorella a Boston. Lei gestiva la panetteria al Ristorante Sportello e, con mia sorpresa, versava Mjère. Ho scritto un articolo a riguardo e Giorgio Calò, la terza generazione della famiglia Calò, mi ha contattato. Col tempo siamo diventati amici, e ha condiviso la storia della sua famiglia, una storia ricca di fortuna e di dolore.

Storicamente, la Puglia è stata una delle regioni più povere d’Europa. Giorgio mi ha detto che suo nonno, Michele, aveva dovuto lasciare la Puglia per lavorare in una miniera di carbone al confine tra Francia e Belgio. Era il 1947, e Michele aveva circa vent’anni., e il suo sogno era di aprire una cantina. Michele perseverò e, dopo oltre cinque anni di duro lavoro, realizzò il suo sogno: aprì l’azienda Michele Calò & Figli, a Tuglie, vicino a Gallipoli.


La Puglia è sempre stata una terra piena di vino, e Michele sapeva che non poteva trovare la sua fortuna a livello locale. I tempi erano duri in Puglia, e la gente si spostava verso il Nord per trovare lavoro. Era il periodo post-Seconda Guerra Mondiale, noto come Miracolo Economico, e molte fabbriche stavano aprendo nel Nord Italia, da Fiat a Ferrari, fino alle grandi fabbriche di vestiti di alta moda e scarpe. La professione di muratore era molto comune tra le persone Pugliesi. Michele pensava di vendere il suo vino nel Nord Italia e, per la seconda volta nella sua vita, lasciò la sua casa con quasi niente.

All’inizio, vendeva il suo vino direttamente alle persone, senza intermediari. Dato che il vino era buono, e dato che molti pugliesi che si erano trasferiti volevano sentirsi a casa, il suo vino fu un successo, e iniziava ad essere richiesto anche nelle enoteche. Questo periodo continuava e la famiglia acquistò casa ad Arluno, una cittadina alle porte di Milano, aprendo un punto vendita. Era circa il 1957, e non essendoci gli aerei, posso solo immaginare i lunghi viaggi su strade dissestate con serbatoi di vino.



Quando arrivò il momento del papà di Giorgio, Fernando, e dello zio, Giovanni, essi entrarono nell’azienda di famiglia e nel 1972 ci fu il primo imbottigliamento. Michele aveva sempre fatto vino con vitigni autoctoni della Puglia, Primitivo, Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera, Verdeca. Nel 2010, ho messo il loro Mjère Rosato 2009 in cima alla lista dei migliori 5 Rosati della Puglia. Ha una buona acidità, che gli dà struttura e dolci aromi di melograno che ho trovato inseparabili con i miei ricordi di giri in bicicletta nella campagna pugliese, fermandosi a raccogliere melograni lungo la strada.

Giorgio è nato ad Arluno, trascorrendo le sue vacanze in Puglia. Recentemente si sta interessando all’azienda di famiglia, ma senza ricevere alcuna spinta da nessuno. Suo papà trascorre circa tre mesi all’anno in cantina e Giorgio lo aiuta quando ne ha bisogno. “Mi piace gestire rapporti con le persone e la vinificazione”, mi ha detto. Non sapevo, prima di andare a trovarlo ad Arluno, che aveva 18 anni.

Quando siamo arrivati, Giorgio ha accolto la mia ragazza, il mio amico Paolo, e me con una degustazione delle annate recenti. Poi è arrivato il papà di Giorgio e abbiamo parlato un po’ in Italiano e un po’ in Inglese. (Nella Foto: Fernando, Io, e Giorgio nella loro enoteca fuori Milano).



Oggi, Mjère Rosso è comune, negli USA, quasi come in Puglia. A Portland, Oregon, sommelier locali e ristoranti rinomati, come Le Pigeon, Nostrana, Oven & Shaker, lo servono al bicchiere, ma è venduto anche nelle enoteche, come Pastaworks.


Il mese scorso, Michele Calò è morto all’età di 84 anni. Aveva cominciato con nulla e ha lasciato il mondo con dei nipoti e una cantina conosciuta a livello internazionale. In Italia, i tempi sono ancora duri, non solo in Puglia, ovunque. Il turismo è in ritardo ed è diffusa la corruzione. Giorgio potrebbe lavorare nell’azienda di famiglia, se lo desidera. Questo significa che possiamo sentire e degustare le tradizioni della famiglia in ogni sorso del loro vino.

Valutazione Mjère Rosso 2008 – Michele Calò & Figli

Voto: 97
Prezzo: $16 (€ 12,00 circa)
Uve: 100% Negroamaro
Dove acquistare: Pastaworks (Hawthorne Blvd)
Breve Recensione: Un grande valore, con la complessità di un vino più invecchiato (più invecchiato del 2008, che è) e la qualità di un vino da $30-$40 della Napa Valley (California).

Secco e corposo, naso di frutti neri, un po’ di vaniglia e rosmarino. Al palato, la frutta si sente, ma è contenuta, e l’effetto finale è di un vino ben equilibrato, con acidità e tannini abbastanza da renderlo un vino ben abbinabile con il cibo. Ho sentito legno di cedro e lavanda, con note di ciliegia secca e chiodi di garofano nel finale. Il vino è morbido, tranne nel finale, che ha una buona amarezza, ed è maturo (pronto da bere adesso). La prima bottiglia che ho acquistato sapeva di tappo e l’ho restituita. Consiglio vivamente di farlo decantare due ore prima di berlo. Dopo aver bevuto questa deliziosa bottiglia, ho dovuto scuotere la mia testa per un prezzo così basso. Questo è tutto riguardo al vino pugliese.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Living the American Dream in Italy, 1954


I drank Mjere rosso for the first time in the coastal town of Gallipoli, Italy. Located on a tiny fortified island, Gallipoli serves a great aperitivo. Each summer night, the lounges set their patio sofas, chairs, and tables along the fortified walls and serve a buffet of traditional foods. My girlfriend and I would find a cushioned seat among bleached, white canopies and cacti and order wine and watch the sun set.


That evening, we ordered a liter of local wine, but the restaurant was newly opened and didn't have any on hand. As an alternative, the waitress poured a bottle and a third of Mjere rosso into a 1L carafe. She charge us almost nothing, and made a point of saying, "this is a very good wine." Dark, full-bodied, rich, and dry, it was delicious. When we asked to see the wine label, the waitress slapped it onto the carafe, using the condensation as glue.

After living in Italy for a year and a half, my first stop home was to see my sister in Boston. She managed the bakery at Sportello restaurant, and, to my surprise, she was pouring Mjere. I wrote a blog post about it, and Giorgio Caló, the third generation of the Caló family interested in winemaking, contacted me. Over time we became friends, and he shared his family's story, one rife with sorrow as well as good fortune.


Historically, the Puglia region in southern Italy has been one of the poorest parts of Europe. Giorgio told me that his grandfather, Michele, had to leave Puglia to work in a coal mine on the Belgian-French border. It was 1947—Michele was 20 at the time—and his dream was to open a winery. Michele saved and saved over five years of hard labor, and, in 1954, he realized his dream: he opened Michele Caló & Figli (figli means sons) in the town of Tuglie, near Gallipoli.

Puglia has always been a land flooded with wine, and Michele knew that he couldn't find his fortune locally. Times were hard in Puglia, and people were moving north to find work. It was the post-WWII period known as miracolo economico (the Italian economic miracle), and many factories were opening in northern Italy, from Fiat and Ferrari to the high-fashion clothing and shoe factories. Masonry was a particularly common profession among Pugliese. Michele thought he could sell his wine in northern Italy, and , for the second time in his life, left his home with almost nothing.

At first, he sold his wine directly to people without a middleman. Because the wine was good and because the many Pugliese who had relocated north wanted a taste of home, his wine was a success, then he began selling it to wine shops, too. This prosperity continued, and the family purchased a home in Arluno, a town just outside of Milan, and opened a wine store and selling point. Michele regularly traveled the 664 miles between Tuglie and Milan. It was around 1957, and there were no planes, and I can only imagine those long drives on bad roads hauling tanks of wine.


When Giorgio's father, Fernando, and uncle, Giovanni, came of age, they joined the family business, and 1972 marks the winery's first bottling. Michele had always made wine with Puglia's native grapes, primtivo, negroamaro, malvasia nera, and verdeca. Puglia is famous for its rosés, and Mjere rosso (red) and rosato (rosé) were made by combining negroamaro with malvasia nera. In 2010, I put the 2009 Mjere rosato on the top of a list of Top 5 Rosés from Puglia. It has a strong acidity, giving it backbone, and gentle pomegranite aromas that I found inseparable with my memories of riding through Puglia's countryside on a bicycle and stopping to pick pomegranites along the way.

Giorgio was born in Arluno, and he grew up spending his summers in Puglia. Recently he has taken an interest in the family business, but it was never pushed upon him. His father usually spends three months at the winery each year, and Giorgio has worked in the winery as well as helped establish the wineries PR. "I'm interested in building relationships with people," he said, "and recently even winemaking." It wasn't until I visited him in Arluno that I discovered that he was 18.

When we arrived, Giorgio welcomed my girlfriend, my friend Paolo, and I with a tasting of the recent vintage. Then Giorgio's father arrived, and we talked casually in broken Italian and broken English. (PHOTO: Fernando, me, and Giorgio in their enoteca outside Milan.)



These days, Mjere rosso is almost as common in the United States as in Puglia. In Portland, Oregon, local sommeliers at celebrated restaurants, such as Le Pigeon, Nostrana, and Oven & Shaker, are serving it by the glass, and it's sold in wine stores, such as Pastaworks.



Last month, Michele Caló died at the age of 84. He'd started with nothing and left the world with grandchildren and an internationally known winery. In Italy, times are hard again—not only in Puglia, but everywhere. The tourism industry is lagging and the politicians are corrupt. Giorgio has a family business that he can work in if he so wishes. It means all the more that we can feel and taste the family's heritage with each sip of their wine.


Review of the 2008 "Mjere Rosso" by Michele Caló & Figli:

Rating: 97
Price: $16
Grapes: 90% Negroamaro, 10% Malvasia Nera
Where to Buy: Pastaworks (Hawthorne Blvd.)
Short Review: A great value, with the complexity of an older wine (older than 2008, that is) and quality of a $30-$40 bottle from Napa.

Dry and full-bodied. Nose of dark fruit and little vanilla and rosemary. On the palate, the fruit is there but subdued, and the overall effect is of a well-balanced wine with just enough tannins and acidity to make it a food wine. I tasted cedarwood and lavender with notes of dried cherry and cloves on the finish. The wine is smooth except for the finish, which has a nice bitterness. This wine is mature (ready to drink now). The first bottle I purchased was corked and had to be returned. Highly recommend decanting two hours before drinking. After drinking this delicious bottle, I had to shake my head at the low price. This is what Pugliese wine is all about.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bootsnall Publication - The Amazing Coastal Towns of Croatia

Returning home, dripping with olive-oil-scented sweat from withdrawal, I needed to share the intense flavors of Croatia. Ideally, I would have prepared an entire goat in the traditional peka preparation and served it to you with smokey potatoes and carrots. This turned out to be impossible, so the next best thing was to write an article: The Amazing Coastal Towns of Croatia, which is published by Bootsnall.com. If you're looking for an introduction to Croatia, I think this is a good resource. If you're planning your first trip to Croatia's coast, this article will give you a lay of the land, featuring five awesome cities: Rovinj, Zadar, Sibenik, Split, and Dubrovnik. If you're just one of my friends and you want to help a brother out: check out the article and leave a comment!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The DOC Rules Have Changed: Primitivo di Manduria DOC

Primitivo di Manduria DOC is no longer 100% primitivo, and I'm mad as hell. Famed wine critic Jancis Robinson reports in her article, Getting to Grips with Puglia, that the Primitivo di Manduria DOC now allows "up to 15% of any other varieties planted on a given estate, including such foreigners as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot." I'm glad I happened to find this article because I haven't found anyone else reporting on this abrupt change. The Primitivo di Manduria DOC used to be a varietal wine.

A DOC is a government-controlled label of quality in Italy, and Italy has so many DOCs that the label is almost meaningless these days. However, the DOC label is still important in Puglia because the region is in the process of becoming well known in the United States, and its DOCs have been successfully branded. If you go to almost any Trader Joe's, you'll find two of Puglia's best known DOCs: the Salice Salentino DOC and the Primitivo di Manduria DOC. Had you predicted this in the 1990s, you would have been laughed all the way back to Puglia.

Primitivo is famous among Americans because it is the same grape as zinfandel. This has helped the Primitivo di Manduria DOC gain a foothold in the U.S., but Primitivo di Manduria DOC wines aren't nearly as well-known as many other Italian wines. Why would Puglia shoot itself in the foot like this... just as it was getting started? Robinson suggests that the "locals seem to lack faith in their indigenous grapes." Is this the reason? I've never met a Pugliese winemaker who wasn't proud of the native grapes.

But maybe I'm getting ahead of things. Maybe this change in rules isn't bad. Many winemakers will continue to make 100% primitivo Primitivo di Manduria DOC wines, and perhaps the addition of new grapes will produce more age-worthy wines. What do you think?

I can't help but think that this change in regulation will result in confusion among American winelovers. Flavors will change and the wines will be less reliable. Most importantly, a unique identity and terroir will be destroyed. Further, the connection between zinfandel, primitivo, and the Croatian grape, crljenak kaštelanski, is already shrouded in confusion. Just the other day I found a wine at Trader Joe's that further misleads consumers. Its label reads, "Zinfandel in America... Primitivo in Italy... Mali Plavac in Croatia..." but Plavac Mali is not the same grape as zinfandel: It is a cross between zinfandel, aka crljenak kaštelanski, and another grape called dobricic. Can't we just keep things simple?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Puglia Wine Review, February 1, 2012

I'm very happy to share three exceptionally well-priced wines in this round of the Puglia Wine Review. All three wines can be found in the United States, and, if you just happen to live in Portland, Oregon, you can purchase two of these three wines at the very same stores that I did, because I list them.


I think that the first two wines reviewed below display Puglia's terroir exceptionally well. With the negroamaro grape, I think the terroir appears in the form of simultaneous bright and dark fruit flavors. How many wines can tout such a paradoxical quality? The dark fruit makes the wine austere and masculine, but Puglia's wines are nothing if not amicable, and the bright fruit is juicy and mouthwatering. I have to guess that these qualities come from the combination of the negroamaro grape—native to Puglia for a couple thousand years or more—and Puglia's unique growing environment, which combines severe, unrelenting sun with cool sea breezes and a healthy amount of groundwater (sorry, gonna geek out for a sec: this ground water is actually sourced from a river near Naples, then channeled through one of the largest underground aqueducts in Europe, to Puglia—That's crazy terroir!). I hope you get a chance to try these cheap, expressive negroamaros for yourself.

Puglia Wine Review

As always, 50% of my ratings are based on quality and 50% on price.

Terravecchia Winery's 2008 Pámpana (100% Negroamaro)
Rating: 94
Price: $14
Where to Buy: Magnolia's Corner (Sandy and NE 41st)
Short Review: Well hello darlin', nice to meechya.

I tasted this wine at a party to support EAT's Italian culinary tours, and it fully demolished the rest of the competition: My friends and I left with a case of it. The Terravecchia line of wines is produced by Alberto Longo winery in the Daunia region in northern Puglia. Pámpana is one of the best representations of Pugliese wine that I've found in Oregon. The wine is dry and has a med/full body. It is fruit forward and the acidity is balanced, making for gulpable drinking. I got aromas of raspberry and blackberry, cinnamon, vanilla, and plum jam, and I tasted blackberry and juicy dark fruit. The finish is medium but the mouthfeel is long. The tannins are soft and this wine pairs well with salmon or chicken. I've been a fan of some of Alberto Longo's wines, and others have left me less than impressed, but the winery really nails it with this one, especially when you consider the price.

Taurino Winery's 2006 Salice Salentino Riserva (80% Negroamaro, 20% Malvasia Nera)
Rating: 92
Price: $13
Where to Buy: Not imported to Oregon these days. Sorry.
Short Review: A mature wine that's worth every dime

I've had this wine many times, but I'm not sure if I've tried it at this age, which is, apparently, the perfect age. The 2006 will drink well for the next year but not much longer. The nose is dark fruit, fennel, and thyme, and I tasted tobacco, fennel, and cedarwood. The wine's mouthfeel was extraordinarily rich and silky—almost as though all uneven textures had been polished down. Structure was solid, and the wine could pair well with acidic dishes like tomato sauce. The tannins are soft. Medium finish.

Pinetti Notte Winery's 2010 Primitivo
Rating: 90
Price: $6
Where to Buy: Fred Meyers (got mine on SE 39th and Hawthorne)
Short Review: For those who like it sweet...

If you like Layer Cake's Primitivo, which retails around $16, save ten bucks and buy Pinetti Notte's instead. This astonishingly cheap wine tastes pretty good, but it is a little on the sweet side. I got aromas of fruit gummies and red licorice laces, and I tasted dark fruit and cedarwood. The acidity was there and the tannins were soft and these qualities balanced the fruit. Very approachable, this wine is a good cheap primitivo.

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