Category Archives: beverages

Just Wild About Harry’s

I have got to make a point of getting to Vessel sometime in the next week or so. Just got an email reminder that they’re celebrating one of the most venerable drinking establishment in the world–Harry’s Bar–with signature items from their menu (beef carpaccio was created there, so the legend goes) and the quintessential Harry’s libation: the Bellini.

A trip my husband and I took to Italy in 2007 included two major pilgrimages for me. One to the Via Tribunali in Naples (the street after which this Via Tribunali was named) and the other to Harry’s Bar in Venice. The trip came PB (pre-blog) but I briefly recapped the excitement of cocktails and pizza on my then e-newsletter.

My very first trip to Venice had been back in 1985. It was an amazing, inspiring, eye-opening couple of months traveling eastward as far as Istanbul after a semester of study-abroad in Dijon, France. My girlfriend and I had a budget in the roughly $10-a-day range, stayed in cheap-o pensiones and spending as little as possible on food and other indulgences. “Quanto costa una camera per sta sera?” I’d ask into the payphone at each subsequent train station, checking affordability of a room from a listing found in the Let’s Go Europe book. We got berated by a waiter in some restaurant in Venice, having ordered a pizza that we wanted to share; he made it clear pizza’s were NOT to share, instead we had to each order our own.

But budget or no, it didn’t keep our Venice visit from being magical. Rich is every single traveler who gets to cross the myriad bridges arched over the canals. Getting lost in the small twisty lanes that dead-end to yet another canal. Squinting your eyes in Piazza San Marco and pretending it’s 100 years ago. We watched the sleek, romantic gondolas slip past with a sigh.

That few days did, however, leave me with one lingering desire. One that my husband had heard me repeat a few times over the years when the subject of travel to Venice came up in conversation. My wish was to return some day to the glorious city with two things: a man and a credit card. About 22 years after that first visit, I got my wish. Funny thing is, after all that, we never did invest in the iconic gondola ride. Better ways–it ends up–to spend one’s money in Venice!

On that first trip, Harry’s Bar wasn’t even on my radar. Didn’t register as something to dream longingly about for a future visit. But over the years, I did hear and read about the place, its history, the colorful and iconic characters that passed through that glass-paneled doorway. Though I swear that wasn’t the ONLY reason we chose to book a cruise that began and ended in Venice, it sure was a lovely side benefit of the decision. And it meant I got to Harry’s twice, once on each end of the trip.

Hear about a place like Harry’s Bar for long enough and the image becomes grand, your imagination painting an ever more vivid picture. Lavish decor, sweeping spaces, elegant entryway, shiny and perfect. Alas, winding through Venice, finally coming to the Calle Vallaresso and walking toward its end at the Grand Canal, a small simple door with “Harry’s” etched in the glass panel is all that greets you. But it’s enough. Trust me, it’s enough! (I had very much the same impression when I first visited the original Paris location of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school back in 1984. It sounded like such a majestic, important place, I imagined the school to be in a sort of palace with a sweeping drive, grand columns, high doorway into a marbled, polished interior. Instead I was met with a simple blue awning over a nondescript doorway on a somewhat anonymous street. But still my joy at being there, attending an afternoon cooking demonstration and breathing the same air that Julia Child did some decades before: it was priceless.)

So there we were, slipping into one of the dozen or so tables in the bar, actually at Harry’s. Just as Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Orson Welles, Peggy Guggenheim and many others had been. I didn’t care how simple the decor, underwhelming the physical nature of the place. It was a moment to enjoy, feeling generations of characters sitting alongside me.

But I wasn’t about to order a Bellini. For one thing, I never much enjoy a fruity drink. And for another, I hate ordering what everyone else is ordering. I tried to squint while sitting in Harry’s and imagine I was there 60 years earlier with locals and arty expats and nary a tourist in site. But it didn’t quite work. Took so much squinting that my eyes were effectively closed. Truth is, by my count a good 75% or more folks come in, order one very expensive Bellini and head off for one of those even more expensive gondola rides. I opted instead for a Negroni. Gin, Campari, sweet vermouth. Italian, though not from Venice. Far more my speed. Had a couple for good measure. And to justify more people-watching and daydreaming and just reveling in being in such a historic watering-hole.

One item marked “done” off the great life list of culinary to-does. Two when you count that pizza in Naples!

Here’s to a lifelong pursuit of a delicious lift list fulfillment.

Cheers.

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Taste of Summer: Rosé Sangria

I recorded a radio interview earlier this week, chatting about great foods and beverages to enjoy during the summer. When it comes to “summer” and “drinks” I get fixated on one thing: rosé sangria. I’ll admit to not usually being a sangria fan. Random fruit and sweetened red wine, just not my cup of tea. Which I’m sure is doing a disservice to great traditional sangria, but that’s been my general impression most times I’ve ordered it. Maybe I’ll have to run off to Spain and give some authentic sangria a try one of these days.

But when you swap out that red wine for a brisk, beautiful pink wine of summer and choose some great seasonal fruit — now you’re talking! That’s a sangria I can get enthusiastic about. Pretty, bright, and delicious. An ideal partner for whatever you may be cooking up this summer.

You know about the glories of rosé wine, right? Just because it’s pink doesn’t mean it’s sweet and adorable and girly. And if your only image of “pink” wine is white zinfandel, snap out of it!! Rosé is an incredibly engaging style of wine that serves up quite a lot of personality. Colors can go from just a subtle blush of pink to nearly raspberry, some verging on salmon-orange tones. Flavors range from light, crisp and quite dry to lush and somewhat fruity (my preference leans toward the former rather than the latter). While it’s possible some folks out there are in fact tinging white wine with red to get to pink, quality rosés are made with red wine grapes that are crushed, the juice left in contact with those red skins just long enough to influence the juice with a bit of their color.

So after I’d talked about some great grilling ideas and entertaining suggestions, the subject turned to beverages. And I piped up about my love of rosé sangria, about to rattle off description of the Watermelon-Rosé Sangria that’s in my new book, Gourmet Game Night, when I remembered that I’d also developed a rosé sangria recipe for my Stone Fruit cookbook that came out a few years ago. Kind of obsessed with the subject, you can see. My pal Braiden Rex-Johnson just did a wonderful write-up of Gourmet Game Night, which includes the watermelon version recipe here.

But here below is the original recipe I came up with. It was inspired in large part by the bottles of rosé from Washington’s own Chinook that populate our wine rack each summer. Winemaker Kay Simon makes her rosé with Cabernet Franc grapes, giving the wine some of that cherry-plum-berry character the varietal exhibits. If you’re unable to get your hands on the lighter-fleshed Rainier cherries, you can use dark cherries instead, knowing that their juices will deepen the color of the sangria from the natural hue of the wine.

Here’s to a wonderful summer ahead, with lots of delicious rosé sangria to enjoy! I think I’ll make it a new summertime tradition to come up with a new rosé sangria combo each year. A tasty challenge indeed.

Rosé Sangria with Rainier Cherries and Nectarines
from Stone Fruit

1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 bottles (750 ml each) dry rosé wine
1/2 pound Rainier cherries
1 nectarine or peach
1/2 lime, thinly sliced
1/4 cup brandy or kirsch
1 cup club soda

In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar and warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve, 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil, then set the sugar syrup aside to cool.

Pour the rosé into a large pitcher, preferably glass. Pit and halve the cherries (Rainiers will discolor if pitted too far in advance) and add them to the wine. Pit and thinly slice the nectarine and add it to the pitcher with the lime slices. Stir in the brandy and sugar syrup, then chill the sangria until ready to serve, ideally at least a few hours to allow the flavors of the fruit to meld with the wine

Just before serving, stir in the club soda. Pour the chilled sangria into large wine glasses, spooning some of the fruit into each serving.

Makes 10 to 12 servings

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Vancouver Island Trip: Part Two

Ok, so where was I? Ah yes, lounging in my Victoria hotel room on a lazy Saturday. This was the view at one point inVIharbor the morning, typically Victoria: incoming float plane and a Black Ball ferry heading in from Port Angeles. Outgoing whale-watching trip (that bright orange boat center)  and a tugboat on some mission or another. It was late morning by the time I was done with that previous post and I was powerful hungry. We quickly headed off for lunch. (Breakfast consisted of hotel room coffee and the few lingering ginger snaps in the car-snack-supplies bag.)

A quick stroll to circumnavigate the harbor, and we were down on a pier joining others at a very popular lunch spot, Red Fish Blue Fish. This place is all about sustainability, down to the converted shipping container in which the tiny, efficient, friendly restaurant is housed. Sunny, a bit of a breeze, it was a good day to visit the no-frills spot with its outdoor-only seating. You can grab a stool at the bar-type seating toward the back of the pier, but we opted for the squat backless chairs along the pier’s edge, one doubling nicely as a table for two. It was a severe temptation to over-order, but we honed selections down to include the Pacific Rim Chowder (fish, coconut milk, redfishcorn, garlic, hints of chipotle), a 1-piece salmon and chips (huge portion! their hand-cut, twice-fried chips are outstanding, as is the homemade tartar sauce) and spicy Pacific fish sloppy joe (small pieces of fish in a light sauce, with aïoli and lemon pickled onions). Notice the wood utensils offered, definitely no effort spared to keep the environmental footprint to a minimum. Can’t wait to return to try the tacones, barbecued oysters and other selections.

A nice stroll back to the hotel to retrieve the car and we were off for the day’s explorations. Never too early to consider gin, one of my favorite subjects (I’m a big believer in the idea that it’s 5:00 somewhere!). So our first stop was Victoria Spirits, makers of Victoria Gin. They’re located out on the Saanich Peninsula to the north of town (where you also find Butchart Gardens and Sydney, with its busy ferry docks from US and mainland Canada). The drive, once we got off Highway 17, was really lovely, winding through the trees, lots of lovely old homes along the way, sometimes opening up to a field where horses graze. At the end of many of the driveways, we saw tables laden with garden fruit, fresh-cut flowers, garlic,VIgin eggs — with honor-system prices noted. So charming!

Victoria Spirits‘ tasting room is housed on the Winchester Cellars property, a very pretty setting surrounded by trees and garden. Ken Winchester added the gin to the business’ portfolio last year, but he has moved on to new things. The new owners, Brian and Valerie Murray (with a fun-loving bunch of colleagues), carry on the gin tradition, also making a pinot noir eau de vie (loved it! smooth and flavorful). They’ll start work on whiskey later this year, though product won’t be debuted for at least a few years, since it will take an element of aging. And bitters are on the agenda as well! Will look forward to checking in with them again as the months go by.

After a couple judicious sips at Victoria Spirits (while my non-drinking hubby took in the garden surroundings), the next stop was Sea Cider. Just a bit further up the peninsula, almost an apple’s throw from the water, this is one lovely setting for whiling away a good hour of a lovely Saturday afternoon. It’s a new-construction building that looks to have been here for years, though the youthfulness of the apple orchard that spills down toward the water is a give-away that the property’s been in place for just a few years. VIsea2Those trees are able to produce, now, about 30% of the cider-making needs, the rest coming from other sources in British Columbia. Over the years, as the trees mature, the goal will be that Sea Cider will become an “estate” cidery, with all their apple needs coming from this property.

This isn’t a tasting room, per se, where you belly up to the bar and sip little samples of selected products. Instead, the scenario is table-service. Of course, as a first-time visitor looking to take it all in, I couldn’t not order “the long flight,” a generous pour of all nine ciders currently available. My favorites of the ciders were Kings & Spies (made with Kings and Northern Spies apples, brought a bottle home) and Pippins. For an afternoon nibble, we chose the platter for two, a delicious array of things to snack on, including locally made sausages, cured salmon, eggplant salad, and some Moonstruck cheese from Salt Spring Island. Such a pretty, enjoyable setting.VIfox Little surprise they were shooing customers out a bit early that afternoon to get ready for a wedding, a lovely spot to tie the knot.

Sunday morning, and I wanted to venture beyond the hotel for breakfast. A little sleuthing quickly turned up Blue Fox Cafe as a locals’ favorite at this hour of the day, confirmed by the front desk gal who helped us verify where it was on the map. It wasn’t too hard to find Blue Fox, thanks to the small group of folks clustered on the sidewalk in front. It’s a bustling, cozy, colorful little no-reservations place; and they don’t take names on a list, so you just hang out and wait your turn as a pretty regular stream of folks vacate their tables. Our wait was only about 20 minutes; when we left, after noon, the line was at least twice as long.

Bob opted for the lunch side of the menu, a great club sandwich with a generous and flavorful salad alongside.  Huevos Rancheros always jumps out at me from breakfast menus, I went with that for morning sustenance that day. Great staff, friendly and efficient. And they get major gold stars from me for brining a small pitcher of frothed hot milk when I simply asked for milk for my coffee. I can see why this is a Victoria favorite; we’ll surely return on another trip.

VIfeast1Our time on Vancouver Island was capped off in grand style with a Sunday  afternoon at Feast of Fields. I’d been hearing about this annual local-foods indulgence for a number of years, from my friend Mara Jernigan who helped found the event. The fundraiser–in its 12th year–is put on by FarmFolk/CityFolk each September, held on a different Island farm (this year was the only repeat, the event returned to Providence Farm where it had been held in 2003). Check out the cool wine-glass-friendly “plates” on sale for a mere $5: planks of local cedar. Brilliant. And aromatic!

It was one of those perfect mid-September Northwest days: sunny, blue skies, light breeze, warm. About thirty restaurants from various spots in the area were on tap, not to mention a few dozen or more wineries fromVIfeast2 throughout BC. And Victoria Spirits with their gin, some local breweries and a teamonger. No trouble sating ourself with (sometimes return visits for) late summer gazpacho with vodka-pickled Manila clams (Marina Restaurant); blackberry-walnut baklava (Providence Farm); local Red Fife wheat blinis with Cowichan Bay smoked duck (Fairburn Farm); grain fed beef burgers with ale-braised onions (Spinnaker’s Brewpub); pastry cones with wild mushrooms and smoked goats milk crème fraîche (Sooke Harbour House) and even lovely little mini gluten-free wedding cakes (VinCoco Patisserie). Man alive, it was a lovely afternoon of grazing on the farm. So pleased to finally make it to that celebrated event; I highly recommend trying to plan a mid-September trip to the Island to partake.

After the Feast, we settled in at Fairburn Farm for a last night of the trip. Powerhouse Mara was busy at the event for a couple more hours, we sat out on the big porch with another couple from Seattle, shooting the breeze, talking about life and travels and food. Dinner was simple and delicious, family-style pasta with a perfect bolognese-style sauce. And sleep was blissfully sound. Breakfast the next morning was temporarily interrupted by VIbuff2the chance to watch the farm’s herd of water buffalo parading from the field up to the milking barn. We walked up later to visit with some of the young’uns who are still housed in the barn until old enough to join the others. Before long, we were off, heading back to Nanaimo for the ferry trip back to the “real world” on the mainland.

This trip to Vancouver Island had been a long time in coming, more than a few years had slipped by since our last visit–and countless short-lived efforts to work it into the schedule. It was a full and wonderful time. We packed a lot into those five days, maybe a bit too much. For such a relaxing, unwind-inducing place, we didn’t do a whole lot of relaxing and unwinding. But next time. It won’t be five or six more year. And we’ve already got a list going of things to do that trip that didn’t fit into this itinerary.

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Smith Tea: Return of an Icon

Welcome back, Mr. Smith! I was wondering what had come of you…..

About this time last year I was working on a feature article for Horizon Airlines Magazine recounting the lives and times of Northwest tea companies. It’s a story impossible to tell without the name of Steven Smith coming up. The one-time manager of the first natural foods store in Portland went on to co-found two powerhouse tea companies: Stash (1972) and Tazo (1994).  He’d moved on from both businesses by the time I was doing research (Stash was sold in 1993; Starbucks purchased Tazo in 1999, but Smith stayed on until 2006), though  I read plenty of historical perspective on his work at Stash and Tazo and found a great radio interview online (the link for which seems to have died).  The best I could do in terms of learning where Smith was at that moment insmith1 time, however, was the speculation of “somewhere in the south of France” from one of the tea folks I spoke with.

So what appeared on my front porch this week but a small box from Portland announcing the return of Steven Smith to the world of Northwest tea, with a couple lovely boxes of tea to boot. Back home in Portland, he’s once again scouring the world for the very best tea resources and crafting wonderful blends.

Smith Teamaker represents a core mission of “developing a tea line where I can take people as close to the ingredients’ origin as possible,” Smith explains in the press release. Twelve signature teas launched the enterprise (though many more show on the Web site), each blended in small batches with careful attention to the exact provenance of individual teas incorporated in each blend. To the degree that inputting the batch number found on the bottom of the tea box into the “Batch No. Lookup” spot on the home page brings up specific details of that box’s components.

smith2Based on the panache of the packaging and the pedigree of the founder, I instinctively reached for the fine mesh tea strainer I was going to use to brew a sample cup. Loose-leaf is the purist’s path to a perfect cup of tea, right? (I’m saying that as a coffee drinker, mind you, as in “I think I heard that once…”) Surprised was I to find the teas in these boxes come in individually sealed sachets. I had to laugh when I read this clarification on the side of the box: “Our roomy, relaxed fit [!!] sachet encourages greater full leaf expansion to give you better flavor.” So apparently it’s the best of both worlds–loose leaf tea that just happens to be corralled in a tidy pouch of delicate mesh.

The Northwest is well blessed with outstanding tea purveyors (Remedy Teas, T, Barnes & Watson among them), not to mention a wealth of interesting, varied tea shops and salons in which to enjoy them. So did we need one more elegant, selective, high-end tea to now make those choices tougher? Well, perhaps not “need” exactly. But I do think the region surely benefits by having one of the industry’s gurus return to the fold, helping ensure the Northwest remains the envy of tea lovers everywhere.

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Ultimate Peach Milkshake

While driving through McMinnville, Oregon earlier this week, a sweltering 100+ temp day, my friend pulled into a local drive-in to get a milkshake. He opted for fresh peach, his son picked raspberry, while I tried to be good and forgo the indulgence. Even when the cheery guy on the other side of the drive-in window asked if we wanted a “courtesy cone” to nibble on while we waited for the shakes to be made. Inside, I was leaping up and down, raising my hand, and saying “yes, me please, I’d love a courtesy cone!!” Outside, I politely smiled and said “no, thank you.” Now I’m seriously regretting the decision.

Being good often backfires. At least for me it sometimes does. Case in point, I haven’t been able to get that peach milkshake off my mind and went to thepeach1 store yesterday to buy the fixings to make my own. And of course am now armed with the ingredients to make a few more on a whim. Oh well, I guess there are worse things to be grousing about than possibly giving in to milkshake temptation a couple more times in the coming days.

Though a milkshake’s simple enough to make without a recipe–a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream, a handful of fruit or good dose of other flavoring (chocolate syrup, peanut butter, espresso), a little milk to thin as needed–I dug up the peach milkshake recipe I’d come up with for my Stone Fruit cookbook. Had just enough energy despite the heat to whip this puppy up yesterday, and it did hit the spot. And surely will again over the weekend. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Peach Milkshake (from Stone Fruit)

This milkshake ends up tasting something like a creamsicle with a fresh peach twist. I like the blend of peach nectar and fresh peach, which makes for a little more layering of flavors. Though a great snack as is on a hot summer afternoon, it could also be dressed up for a fun, casual dessert with friends–perhaps spiked with brandy or bourbon–and served with cookies alongside.

 

peach21 ripe peach

1 1/2 cups top-quality vanilla ice cream

1/2 cup peach nectar

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Pit and slice the peach, setting aside 2 thin slices for garnish. Put the remaining peach slices in a blender with the ice cream, peach nectar and orange juice and blend until very smooth. If the shake is quite thick, add a few tablespoons more peach nectar or orange juice.

Pour the peach milkshake into two tall glasses, garnish each with a peach slice, and serve right away.

Makes 2 servings

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On the Calendar: Cask Ale Festival

Wow. Ten years already. I was at, if not the first, definitely the second Cask Ale Festival put on by the Washington Brewer’s Guild. In fact, I think this festival was among the earlier ventures the Guild took on after forming in the late 1990s. The first cask festival had a couple dozen breweries participating and they quenched the thirst of about 400 beer lovers. The first year I went with a pal who’d done some homebrewing in the past (which describes about 1/3 of the Seattle population, right?). Much as I loved the chance to sip, savor and contemplate the wonderful cask-conditioned ales, I could tell he was getting an even bigger kick out of having a couple dozen brewers on hand to chat with about the finer points of beer craft.

This isn’t just an average beer festival, not like any “beer garden” you may pop into at a big festival. This is special beer. In many cases, it’s beer that is made just for this event. Any beer lover worth their weight in hops and barley should make a point of getting to this event!

Cask-conditioned ales are considered by many in the world of beer to be the “real ales.” For the first two-thirds or so of the beer making process, all beers are made in pretty much the same way. But that last third—final fermentation and the conditions under which it is served—are what gives a beer much of its character. Cask ales go through second fermentation in the cask and because of the active yeasts in these casks, the beer requires special care in how it is handled and served. It’s why you won’t see cask-conditioned beers at every corner tavern. But when you do come across one, know you’re in for something special.

In addition to the casks that individual breweries bring to the festival, there are special commemorative casks made in honor of Washington brewing legend Bert Grant, who founded Grant’s Ales in Spokane at the forefront of the 1980s microbrewery evolution. Grant passed away in 2001 and his colleagues salute his contributions each year by collaborating on a special cask to remember all he contributed to their craft and their business. In fact, this 10th anniversary year has spawned 10 different casks of Herbert’s Legendary Cask Festival Ale, a treat indeed for attendees.

This year’s eventwill be held on March 28 at the Seattle Center. There are two sessions of four hours each (that’s plenty of beer-drinking time, don’t you think?). The one at noon is showing “sold out” online, another starting at 6:00. The web site shows brewery locations selling tickets as well, it’s possible some of them have noon tickets available. Definitely best to not  count on a last-minute entry at the door. I see the event’s got a handful more brewers on tap, about 36, than in the first years. But I bet it’s every bit as much the low-key, relaxed, sip-and-swap-stories kind of event. One thing about brewers, they’re hands down some of the best folks to share time with. I may be rubbing elbows with them myself!

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A Reverie of Kir

Last weekend, in the midst of our mingling and visiting before sitting down to dinner here, a friend pointed out my bottle of cassis from Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Oregon, noting what an extraordinary example of the traditional black current liqueur it is. Yes, I agreed wholeheartedly. And despite the fact that it was Open That Bottle Night (technically exactly the time to open and serve precious bottles), I wanted to cry out “don’t you be touching my Clear Creek cassis!”

I’ve been visiting Clear Creek for a number of years now, happily following owner Steve McCarthy in the growth and development of his phenomenal spirits and liqueurs. In fact, there are a few special bottles of Clear Creek products on my shelf that I really should be more generous about cassis21sharing. (After all, I can always buy another bottle when one of them goes dry!) They include a beautiful pear-in-the-bottle pear brandy (in the spirit of poire williams from France) and a unique Douglas Fir liqueur that he concocts through a detailed process that includes a couple trips into the Cascade foothills to capture the most pure essence of the fir.

On one visit with Steve, he offered a sip of what–at the time–was one of his newer products, this amazing cassis.

I have a bit of a sentimental connection to cassis, and its most popular manifestation, the kir. During my college years at University of Puget Sound, I went on the school’s inaugural study-abroad program at the University of Dijon. Burgundy is the heartland of cassis, and Dijon is the heart of Burgundy–if there were an official beverage of the Dijon, it would likely be a kir. The blend of cassis and white wine is named after a former mayor of Dijon, though the simple  combination had been enjoyed for many years prior.

So I lifted that small glass of Steve’s cassis to my nose and was astonished at its power. The rich, deep purple color; the distinctive fruit (rather than syrupy) aroma; the truly lush presentation it made, transporting me back to Burgundy. Even in France I rarely met a cassis this ideally balanced and deliciously crafted. So I keep the bottle tucked away, for some crazy reason. Wanting to keep the memories and that transportation back to Dijon for safe keeping, perhaps.

But just last night, I pulled the cork from the bottle and took another big sniff. I poured a generous drizzle of cassis into a wine glass. And I had a bottle of Chinook sauvignon blanc chilling in the fridge, which proved itself an ideal choice for a kir. In Burgundy, the traditional wine would not be one of the elegant chardonnay wines from the distinctive wine villages of the region. Instead, the lesser-known aligoté white wine is partner for a classic kir. I tend to prefer a wine that has some tart, citrus elements to contrast the light sweetness of the liqueur. And a wine without heavy oak or other strong elements that would overpower the berry character.

For a kir royale, the slight upgrade to a bubbly version, it’s not really the time to pop the cork on a fancy Champagne. Though for a truly regal kir royale, sure, pour a vintage Dom Perignon if you wish. It will be a knockout. Your friends will love you even more.

Otherwise, less expensive and/or domestic sparkling wines can be perfect for a kir royale, of the brut or blanc de noir style. I would like to think that, in keeping with the Burgundian roots, the local crémant de Bourgogne  would be the perfect choice. “Cremant” is a term used in France for regional sparkling wines made in the style of Champagne but not in the region of Champagne. Crémant de Loire and crémant d’Alsace are a couple other delightful examples.

While I studied and worked at La Varenne at Château du Feÿ in northern Burgundy, the “house apéritif” many evenings started with Anne Willan’s husband Mark cracking open a bottle of crémant from nearby Caves de Bailly (a very interesting visit, if you’re ever in the neighborhood). Guests had their choice of traditional cassis to add to the glass, or other local liqueurs such as one made from pêche de vigne or blackberry. Ahh, la belle vie! An ideal way to start any evening.

Unable to find a reference to the early development of the kir royale, I turned to friend (and one of my favorite sommeliers) Jake Kosseff. He pointed out that it was more likely a barman in England or the United States who concocted the ‘royale’ version. Someone who, he points out “may well have invented it when every sparkler said ‘Champagne’ on the label, further complicating things!” So, perhaps it is more sentiment than actual history that leans my sensibilities toward that Burgundian bubbly.

In Anne’s wonderful book, From My Chateau Kitchen, she devotes some time to the cassis made by Madame Milbert (including her recipe), the wife half of the caretaker-couple that kept guard over the chateau and the garden, not to mention those of us who lived and cassis1worked there. It was a very cold, grey, misty day when I left the chateau in December of 1991, heading to the airport for my return home after 2 1/2 years of being in France. Though I’d already said my formal farewell to the Milberts the day before, Madame came running out to the car that morning as we slowed to pass through the big iron gate. Through the car window, she handed me a bottle of her homemade cassis. I was overwhelmed. In part, honestly because I was wondering to myself “how the heck am I going to wedge this into my luggage…” But more truly, the gesture of the gift meant the most. And I still have that bottle on my shelf, too. The few fingers’ worth left in the bottom of that recycled vodka bottle are just too precious to use up. It’s one bottle that I will not be able to replace.

When it comes to the ideal recipe for a kir or kir royale? It’s not something I think needs quantifying. Both in France and in the States, I’ve been served kirs (regular or royale) that range from a gentle dose of cassis for something of a rosé wine effect, up to a deeper mahogany-purple tone that can suggest more cassis-with-wine than the inverse. Ultimately it’s a question of how dry or fruit the wine may be, the quality of the cassis, and your own personal taste. It’s not the worst thing in the world to experiment a bit, is it? As for those recipes I found online that include a lemon twist or (heaven help me) ice cubes — no thanks. I prefer my kir in the style you’d find in a nondescript country bistro in France: served very simply, without pretention or garnish, in a small balloon glass.

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