Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Pair This: Needle in a Hay-Stack in Prosser & a Winemakers Birthday
The Blog: Robert Smasne's Birthday & Picazo 7seventeen
"There! A needle in a hay-stack"....... Nick and I pulled up not really knowing what to expect. From what we could see, Picazo 7Seventeen or Picazo717 for short, was tucked away in a beautiful historic building mid-way on what seemed like the main block. Nick and I grabbed a bottle of the blend Matt Rawn from Two Mountain Winery had just put together, we looked at each other wondering if we were dressed appropriately, smiled and kind of laughed and walked in. Then it hit me. Where am I? New York? D.C.? Seattle? Nope Prosser, Washington. "This place is wicked", I thought to myself. With a medium to large-sized front dining room, a long curved winebar in the back and wood cut-out of a fireball and a "Z" floating in the middle for a backdrop of the back bar, I thought I was all of the sudden transported back to the downtown Seattle winebars, maybe even New York City. Except in this case, I was 45 mi. east of Yakima and 30 mi. west of tri-cities. The room had a wonderful ambiance which had a little to do with the lighting. Soft lighting with almost red orange walls gave it that intimate, yet modern feel. "Nice", I said to Nick. Robert Smasne was already at the bar and the venue was filled to about half capacity, yet it was only 6:30. We walked up to the bar, said hello, shook hands and started to chat. He introduced Nick and I to Bart Fawbush and his wife Chona, not realizing that I'd had already known Bart a short time. Bart was visiting Robert from Seattle to consult on his next production of wines for his winery, Bartholomew Winery. Little did I know he was about to have dinner with us. Robert asked about the blend we had just picked up. I put it on the table, described the tech notes Matt Rawn had drilled into my head and he proceeded to taste. An 09 Rattlesnake Hills AVA 66% Cab. Sauv. and 34% Merlot. By the time I was finished, he had already dissected it and had made up his mind on whether he liked it or not. "It's good", Robert says. Nick and I looked at each other with a pleasing feeling. I thought, "Yes!!! Matt's gonna love to hear that". Not 2 minutes after we tasted that tank sample, Robert invited us over to the table. Table of 12. "Table of 12??", I thought. Sure enough it packed twelve.
We picked out seats and went with the flow. Robert's sister-and-law was across from me. As I went to introduce myself, I accidentally knocked over a sealed bottle of wine which fell and knocked a glass of water on the table and nearly got everyone wet. Crap. Great Start. I eventually sat down and began introducing myself to the table. I sat between Nick and Chona, the rest of the table was interesting. Carly Womack, Robert's production assistant (asst. winemaker) was next to Nick, her fiancée, their friends, Robert, his brother, sister-and-law, Robert's mother Fredda and father Ray. Big happy family. The wine began to pour. The conversation was great and everything began well. Until I offered to pour Robert's brother a glass of wine. I wasn't really pouring into the glass. For some reason I was pouring next to the glass, on the table. Nick laughed, shook his head and told me he wished I had taken my "Focus" meds way before I did. I then poured myself a glass and realized I was pouring it into my own water glass. "Oh Man!" I thought. Maybe I was nervous, but I had already been at a table of winemakers before. Maybe I just needed to be grounded a little.
And a grounding I got. Apparently Robert had his birthday the night before and we were at the table of friends and family the following night. Cool. How cool was that? The wine kept coming, Bart had brought one of his reds, Carly had her new Carly Syrah on hand (not available yet), Nick and I had our blend sample (not available yet either) and the rest went a little like this. The 08 Rosella Rosé was poured, the 06 Konner-Ray, the 06 Cab. and at least a half a dozen bottles more. Robert said, "...last count there were 18 bottles open on the table."
We talked about everything from college to what grape we'd think was gonna take the place of syrah in the next few years for Washington. We spoke of old world wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Spain and their P. Verdots right down to why China is NOT a good bet to sell to just yet. Robert is really a chill kind of guy, laid back, not cocky at all, yet he knows who he is and what he does. He knows that he's one of the best and I agree with him. He knows how to draw attention to himself without insulting anyone, yet he's still just like you and me, except for one thing...I can't make wine like he can. Maybe one day. "Robert is a great friend....and he cares", said Bart, who used to work for Robert at the tasting in Woodinville. Bart told me that when he began working at the tasting room, Robert would come down almost everyday and watch him at the end of the bar talking to customers and seeing how he interacted. It didn't take him long to get that Bart was a natural at talking about wine. At that point, Robert showed up less. Bart has some very fond memories of working with Robert, from learning to make wine to painting the walls of the tasting room. "good choice on the color Bart", I said. "Oh I didn't choose the color, but I remember PAINTING it." he said with a nod, implicating the job was NOT easy.
The dinner went on and I received my order. An 8 oz. dry aged all natural flat iron steak prepared rare. Love my meats bloody. The plate was incredibly well plated with baby onion hash strewned just underneath the beef, blue cheese and frizzle fried onions lightly garnished on top and a wonderful reduction sauce which seems to me was made from either Cab or Syrah. Nick picked something a little different. Many of you may not know this, but Nick is a Vegetarian, however he had to got with something he hadn't had in a while. Crab cakes. Seriously. Nick chose the Chipotle Dungeness Crab Cake. This thing looked great. I couldn't believe he was eating it. Tisk, tisk Nick. It was pan-seared and served over-top a chili-lime aioli. Perfect, looked better than most Seattle or Annapolis crab dishes I've ever had. Two perfect dishes, better yet 12. Who was behind this?? Who's responsible for all this?
Chef Frank Magana. I had only heard of him from Twitter and other blogs, but I was now cleaning one of his plates off with even more anticipation for the next time I come to Prosser. The cuisine is traditional american pacific northwest style with a little euro-spanish influence. And it's done well. Chef Frank Magana is a local from Tacoma. He was the executive chef Gallucci's in Tacoma for numerous years before one day coming out to Prosser for a weekend with his wife Tricia and falling in love with the atmosphere and wine. The fact that there were NO other restaurants of this caliber anywhere within almost 50 miles inspired him even more to come out here and create his vision. All based on experience, Chef Frank Magana has come a long way to realizing was I would call a "Needle in a Haystack". I honestly I didn't expect what I got. His experience as a chef is second to none. He simply blew me away. Unbelievably good wine, great conversations and spectacular setting.
Finally we came almost down to the end of the dinner. Two more wines. "Thank God", I thought. I only said that because my glass was empty. Robert reached over with a bottle in hand and said, "Here Antoine, I think you might want a little bit of this one."....."Is that was I think it is??", I thought. "Yes", I said, Farm Boy Red.(pardon the NC-17 statement here) "Holy Shit!!". Not that I don't know what it tastes like or that I actually have the last 8 bottles available in retail in the state of Washington, it's just that this is the wine that blew me inside-out in May. This wine made me discover the Woodinville Tasting Rooms. This is my favorite affordable wine this year. And the label is cool too. As if it wasn't enough, Robert pulls an ice wine out and it has Smasne Cellars on it. I had NO CLUE he made one of these. It was better than any other ice wine I've had from Kelowna BC, better yet from the Niagara Peninsula in New York and Canada. I'm not sure if it was as good as Inniskillin, but then again I've never been able to afford buying it at $140.00. This one was local, Washington made, from a solid local winemaker who's been making great wine for over 16 years. And I'm pretty sure this ice wine won't cost you your arm.
It was getting late and Nick and I had to head back to Seattle. We could have stayed. Apparently we had beds to sleep in for the night. But we needed to be back early the next day. But I know those two beds that were offered to us will be used soon. This time, I'll bring the wine. Maybe my uncle's Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I'll remember that dinner for a long time. Certainly a highlight in my career. Thank you Robert and Happy Belated Birthday. I hope you enjoy the My Dear Disco CD and see why I paired it with the Farm Boy. I miss that CD already. (Nick burned me a copy). We will be back. If not for you, then for Picazo717. I'll never drive past Prosser again without at least stopping in for a Beer or a Glass and I suggest you do the same.