28 Mar 2012
Wine lists at restaurants are important to me, almost as important as the food menu. Often times I find myself either frustrated at the lack of creativity, the lack of knowledge or the absurd pricing that makes beer or cocktails seem so much more appealing. I’ve heard rumors of a restaurant with stellar service, phenomenal food and a spectacular wine list. Recently, after a long wait and many friend suggestions, I finally got the opportunity to try Masselow’s Restaurant in the Northern Quest Resort & Casino.
As greater Spokane’s only AAA Four Diamond restaurant, my expectations were high. I was warmly greeted by the host and directed to the booth. The restaurant was nicely appointed in warm colors and wood. The fixtures were understated and fit the decor nicely. I wouldn’t say I was wowed with the design of the space but it was certainly well done. Although we were in a large restaurant (seating for 144), the booth was very private with tall sides.
The service throughout the meal was exceptional starting with the offering of two different sparkling wine options to the clearing of each course and the presentation of the wine (many local restaurants could learn from this here). The waiter was very knowledgeable about the menu and was very articulate in explaining the specials and the various courses.
Masselow’s menu consists of traditional cuisine with a northwest flare that includes bison rib-eye, king salmon, and locally grown chicken along with delicacies that include grass fed filet mignon, and north Atlantic lobster. The meal started with traditional Indian fry bread accompanied by a huckleberry marmalade. The assortment of bread was served with three different butter spreads that each left my mouth watering. The attention and care to each element of the meal was impressive.
My guest and I opted for the Masselow’s Winter Grill (a selection of Montana Rib Eye Bison, Draper Valley Free Range Chicken, and Wild King Salmon) and the Washimi Filet Mignon. The presentation of each was nicely appointed and each dish was cooked to perfection. The only exception was the chicken, which was a little dry. The spaghetti squash and potatoes were a great accompaniment to each. The Filet Mignon was on par with some of THE best cuts of meat I have ever had the privilege of enjoying. Luckily my guest couldn’t finish hers and I couldn’t let it go unfinished. See the full WINTER MENU HERE.
While the desert menu looked inviting, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to indulge any further.
Now, for most important part, and maybe even the reason you’re reading this review…THE WINE. The 10 page wine list is easily organized into glass, 1/2 bottle, bottle, and local selections. Continuing the theme of a northwest inspired menu, the wine list consists largely of Washington and Oregon wineries. A few California, Italy, French and Argentine wines round out various sections. Glass pour prices on the ranged from $6-$13. I would like to see the pricing of some of the reds be more in the $10 range. Paying $13 for a glass of wine that retails for $35 is a little high for me. A excellent balance of price points and high end selections are good to see. The Masselow’s section of the web site contains a link to the current (and ever changing) wine list.
I appreciated the bottle pricing. Most of the wine seemed to be priced very well with only a nominal mark up. While I can tolerate higher glass prices, nothing ticks me off more than seeing a $15 bottle of wine on a menu for $35. Below are a few comparisons:
- Domain Ste Michelle – LUXE; Retail $23, Masselow’s $38
- L’Ecole Luminesce; Retail $19, Masselow’s $39 (would like to see this more at $25)
- Leonetti 08 Cabernet Sauvignon; Retail $99, Masselow’s $165 (why not sell it for $119?)
The Masselow’s wine list showcased wine from 10 of the 19 Spokane producers. This is more than any list I’ve seen in town. We opted for one of my favorites, the 2006 Reserve Blend from Nodland Cellars. The retail on this wine is $35 and Masselow’s price was only $40 making it a great restaurant value. See my review of the 06 Private Blend. Overall the list is excellent and deserves the accolades it receives.
If I were reviewing this restaurant I would give it a 4+/5 stars; coming just short of a perfect review with the dry chicken and slightly high bottle prices on the wine. But, I’m not a food critic and all I can offer is that Masselow’s is one of the best, if not THE best, dining experiences in Spokane. The short 20 minute drive from downtown Spokane is well worth the experience.
Get the details on Northern Quest Resort and Casino and Masselow’s Restaurant.
Impressed. This single word describes my entire experience at The Red Lion Hotel in Pasco. Hungry. This is the word that describes how I’m feeling right now, re-living the culinary experience at the hotel restaurant, Bin No. 20. Jealous. This is the word that you’ll be thinking after reading this post, looking at the pictures and watching the accompanying video. Living in Spokane, I’m very fortunate to have access to some top chefs, quality food, and top notch experiences. My first thought would not be to make the 120 mile drive to the Tri-Cities to have those experiences elevated to a new level…but I was open to be proven wrong.
When I was invited to a winemaker dinner at Bin No. 20, I was in from the mention of the word “Fidelitas.” Fidelitas Winery, situated in the Red Mountain growing region outside the Tri-Cities, has been a longtime favorite of mine. Regardless of what the food experience was going to be, I knew that the wine experience would be off the charts. Watch the video for my interview with owner/winemaker Charlie Hoppes for more information on Fidelitas Winery.
While the Pasco Red Lion is getting along in years, the hotel is timeless in its architecture and has a grand entrance to accompany its three restaurants and well appointed rooms. We were fortunate enough to be put up in the Presidential Suite and were impressed with the spaciousness of the room, separated bedroom / living space, large bathroom with separate shower and jetted tub and a balcony. I’m not a hotel room snob. The room was spacious and clean, the bed was comfortable and I slept well.
Having had a preview of Chef Jonathan Gilbertson’s menu, we entered the restaurant in eager anticipation of the night. My how our expectations were exceeded. Chef Jonathan brings a vast restaurant experience to Pasco by way of top restaurants in Vail, CO, Palm Springs and San Diego, CA. Having him at Bin No. 20 in the heart of Washington wine country is a stroke of brilliance.
Course One (not pictured)
Pan Seared Diver Scallops served with vanilla bean savory grits and Maryhill peach coulis. This was my favorite dish of the night. Sadly, I missed taking a picture of it because in my excitement, I devoured it. The scallop was perfectly prepared and the combination of the creamy grit and the sweet coulis matched amazingly with the Fidelitas Optu White (blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon).
Hudson Valley foie gras and Key West spiny lobster Napoleon. Served with malbec infused mission fig and mallard remoulade. The lobster was flown in from Key West overnight and once again the marriage of flavors was succulent. This wine was paired with the somewhat earthy vanilla and blueberry Fidelitas Malbec. The wine provided more structure and content for the foie gras than I expected.
Intermezzo of Gialla Watermelon Consomme & Raspberry Sorbet
Beautiful palate cleanser as we moved into the final two more hearty dishes.
Majoram Venison Loin served with celery root puree and rabbit saddle jus. I’m not a huge venison eater but this was cooked very nicely. The meat was exceptionally tender and was easily cut with the fork. The Fidelitas Columbia Valley Merlot was, once again, a great pairing.
Queen Charlotte BC Salmon served with saffron pancetta risotto and el maiz-fennel compote. I liked the combination of the pancetta risotto with the marble laden salmon. While my serving of fish was slightly dry, the flavors were still well balanced in the dish. The tricky part here was the pairing of the Fidelitas Columbia Valley Cabernet. While I’m all for breaking the molds when it comes to wine pairing, the curious combination did come across as slightly disjoined to me and my guest. Others at the table raved. The wine, stand alone…beautiful.
I’ll let the picture speak for itself. This artistic creation was as tasty as it was beautiful. Charlie Hoppes opened a special treat with their award winning Champoux Vineyard Cabernet. This highly extracted dark fruit wine was a little big for the chocolate…but at this point…who cares! Both were spectacular.
Bin No. 20 Wine Dinners
Red Lion and Bin No. 20 will continue hosting winemaker dinners each quarter. The price tag on this dinner was a mere $80 per person (easily worth it). Visit their website for a schedule and plan a visit to the hotel as soon as you can. With over 160 wineries within an hour’s drive, this is a great location to call base camp while you explore the amazing variety of Washington wine.
We were so excited by Chef Jonathan, the hotel staff, and the wine tasting experience, we have started the talks to bring Chef Jonathan to Spokane for a preview dinner and then a wine tasting journey through the Tri-Cities. Tickets will be limited, join our mailing list (top right of this page) to be the first to know.
23 Sep 2010
Restaurant wine practices are a sour subject. Earlier in the year CNN.com ran a story on the top five “rip-offs” and restaurant wine prices came in on the list. Often with a 400% above wholesale markup, restaurants are passing off bad wine at high prices and often in inferior stemware with a less than knowledgeable staff. As I type this I can hear restaurant owners around the US complaining about high overhead, stemware breakage, and loss, there is obviously a more balanced way to sell wine.
It’s time to call out the good restaurant wine lists and put the bad ones on notice. Nothing speaks louder than the court of public opinion and we vote with our wallets. With this new series I hope to provide wine lovers a preview of area restaurant wine practices. With this information, you can make informed dining decisions. I don’t review food but stay tuned and we’ll explore the often seedy world of restaurant wine.
To keep things simple I’ll be looking at three basic elements, price, selection and presentation. I’ll evaluate each section and award a 5 point score (similar to how I review wine). Each restaurant will also receive an overall score.
I understand the need to make a profit. People go to restaurants for the experience, the atmosphere and the service. All these things cost money. Evaluation of a restaurant’s wine prices will be based on basic math and mark up; the greater the markup, the lower the score. If you’re trying to sell $10 Smoking Loon Pinot Noir for $40 per bottle, you’re going to score low. However, if you’re like one local restaurant who sells $12 Kiona Cabernet/Merlot blend for $12 – WOW! Personally, I think a good balance is three glass pours should approximately equal the bottle price, example: $25 bottle of Barrister Rough Justice…$8 per glass.
In a previous article I asked the question, “Does Size Matter?” When evaluating selection, the size of your menu will not be as impressive as how you use your menu. A good wine list will have local product, including some from the quality producers in our city, and wine that is appropriate for the food being served.
Presentation can make a big impression and can often justify higher prices. Somehow all seems justified when laying down $50 for a strip steak when surrounded by hip, swanky decoration, cool lighting, posh seating, and service oriented staff. The same is true with the wine list. When evaluating selection, I’ll take into consideration menu layout (and accuracy), stemware, staff knowledge, wine temperature (very important), and service.
Over time, I hope that these posts bring awareness to restaurants who take as much pride in their wine as they do in their food. Attention to the finer points listed above can be the catalyst to selling more wine and creating a refined dining experience.
AMBROSIA BISTRO AND WINE BAR
Ambrosia is a hip urban modern American restaurant tucked in a suburban strip mall on Argonne and Montgomery. They’ve recently been awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for their wine list. The food is good and full of flavor. The atmosphere is nice, but it tough to get over the strip mall vibe (especially when sitting on the patio). The restaurant always a good choice for us but often overlooked considering some of the cool hot spots that have popped up downtown.
Here are some glass price examples that bring down the price score
- Clos du Bois Reserve Chardonnay: RETAIL $15, By the Glass price $9
- Manu Sauvignon Blanc: RETAIL $12, By the Glass price $7
- Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel: RETAIL $14, By the Glass price $7
- Barrister Rough Justice: RETAIL $20, By the Glass price $10
- Gozzo Malbec: RETAIL $15, By the glass price $7
The glass pours seem less inspired than their menu selection and seem to run at a 2 pours to retail (or less). Better pricing exists with the bottle sales.
- White Haven Pinot Noir: RETAIL $22, Bottle price $33
- Amavi Syrah: RETAIL $28, Bottle price $38
- Drew Bledsoe’s Doubleback: RETAIL: 85, Bottle price $100
- Mountain Dome Brut: RETAIL: RETAIL $16, Bottle price $25
Ambrosia boasts 120 different wines by the bottle. With their focus on American cuisine, the selection of Washington, California and Oregon wines appropriately dominate the list. There are occasional offerings from Italy and New Zealand and three French wines (including Moet and Chandon Champagne). The selection of reds is 2 to 1 over whites. Twelve area wines are on the list from six producers. A few more area producers on the menu would be nice to see, considering the scope of the selection. The menu includes helpful wine pairings with each menu item.
The menu is nicely laid out, easy to read and includes region and vintage to assist in informed decision making. The waiter was knowledgeable about the wine, responded appropriately to all our questions and offered additional wine pairings. The stemware was appropriate for the food prices (not top of the line, but very nice). The only piece of the presentation that was not top notch was the wine temperature. We ordered a 07 Fidelitas Merlot (Retail $28, Bottle price $39). The wine was served at room temperature, which was probably 72-73 degrees. At this temperature, red wine can fall apart a little and present more chewy than at an appropriate temperature of 63-66 degrees. A temperature controlled fridge for their wine or a quick chill would have made the presentation perfect.
Overall Wine List Score: 4/5
Ambrosia Bistro and Wine Bar has a fantastic wine list. The overall score was hurt by the lack of inspiration in the ‘by the glass pours’ and the inflated pricing. A few of the ‘glass pours’ could be at the $6 range. A handful of additional local producers could also be added to the list. These changes would make an already great list, one of the tops in the town.
9211 E Montgomery Ave, Spokane WA
17 Sep 2010
Be careful, surfing at entrepreneur.com can lead to some wild adventures. For Mike and Deedee McMahon, it’s just the adventure they were looking for. The McMahon’s own and operate several coffee shops in the Spokane area. With the operations of these shops firmly under control, Mike and Deedee were intrigued by the Wine Styles franchise and were eager to dive into something that involved their other passion, wine. As I’m fond of saying, “Wine and coffee equal liquid love.”
Wine Styles is an exciting franchise that brings an old world retail wine experience to communities. The franchise costs are relatively low and the look / feel of the store is a unique wine sales concept. Spokane’s Wine Style is located in the Indian Trail area, just north of Francis. While the Franchise helps create a consistent look and feel to each store (along with consistent vendor management and point of sale systems), the McMahon’s, along with their son J, are given a good amount of freedom to bring in Northwest wine and a good selection of Spokane wine as well.
The Wine Styles store is laid out very nicely and has a large selection of merchandise, accessories and about 220 different wines to choose from. Instead of wines being laid out by region or grape variety, they are laid out by style ranging from crisp, silky, rich, bubbly, fruity, mellow, bold and my favorite, nectar. “When customers come in the store, we can ask them what style of wine they like, and point them in the right direction,” says Mike. In addition to some great selection of Northwest wine, including Leonetti and Pepperbridge, you’ll find Spokane favorites, Barili, Nodland, and more. Wine Styles also has about 20 wines that are exclusive to the franchise. There is something for everyone at Wine Styles Indian Trail, you can even get a Wine-a-Rita; a combination of various red, and white wines mixed with lemon aid concentrate in a granita machine. I could easily see this becoming a guilty pleasure for many wine snobs.
You’ll also notice that Wine Styles is becoming a hub of wine activity as well. Their event calendar is full of wine tastings, beer tastings, art showings, live music, and educational classes. A quick visit to their web site will keep you in the know. Customers can also join their wine club and a very unique text club. The first gets you two bottles of wine, 15% discount on re-orders, 10% off on any wine, invitations and discounts at wine tastings and more for only $34.99 per month. The latter, is a cool text based coupon system that sends coupons and instant savings right to your cell phone.
Follow Wine Styles on Facebook to stay connected to all of their upcoming events. You can even join their text club by texting WineStyles to 50240 for a great introductory savings!
If you live up north and are looking for a great place to experience wine (whether you’re a newbie or an expert), Wine Styles on Indian Trail is an excellent space. Stop in during one of their tastings and experience something new.
8801 N. Indian Trail Rd
Mon-Thurs: Noon – 8pm
Fri-Sat: Noon – 9pm
11 Aug 2010
If school were like this, I’d have gotten my doctorates degree! L’Ecole 41, French for “The School” district 41 is more appropriately named, “Je t’aime” for the love that it induces upon first sip. Situated in a schoolhouse built in 1915, L’Ecole teaches a master class in Washington wine class, style and marketing. Until the recent changes to Highway 12 in Walla Walla, every visitor entering Walla Wall from the West drove past the distinct schoolhouse tasting room which beckoned all inside for an enological education.
Operated by Megan and Marty Clubb, L’Ecole offers a 27 year lesson plan on Washington Wine. In previous reviews the L’Ecole Columbia Valley Cab finished 2nd in a 5 wine Cabernet shootout (4/5) and the 2007 Perigee was my June wine of the month (4/5). I recently enjoyed their 2007 Syrah, but sadly the bottle was gone before it could make its way to a review.
Visitors to their tasting room can enjoy a 1.3 acre working vineyard and tasting in two restored school rooms. Don’t worry; the Vice Principle is not around to slap your hands if you taste incorrectly. Have fun and write on their unique chalkboard counters while you’re there. Exploring the schoolhouse is half the fun while visiting L’Ecole.
As a side note, I’m experimenting with a new video format. Not sure why the video didn’t render across the full frame. If anyone knows Adobe Premiere Elements, let me know.
2008 L’Ecole 41 Luminesce
- The Stuff: 70% Semillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc from Seven Hills Vineyards, aged 4 months in neutral French oak barrels. 30% malolactic fermentation; 14.2%ABV
- The Swirl: A pale yellow honey in the glass that strikes a chord of gold
- The Sniff: Tropics and pear on the nose. Not an over the top presentation but can definitely pick out the Sauvignon Blanc characteristics added to this blend.
- The Sip: Nice gentle approaching soft fruit on the front of the tongue that opens up to a full embrace on the mid palate. An amazingly bright acidity finishes off this wine. The flavors are not overwhelming but the presentation is well balanced and thoughtful.
- The Score: At only $20 (and often less on sale or in the store), this is a super wine. I love the mix if characteristics from the Semillon and Sauv Blanc. This wine easily scores a 4/5. Find it under $15 and you’ve got a 4+/5
91 Pts Wine Enthusiast; 89 Pts Steven Tanzer
2007 L’Ecole 41 Seven Hills Merlot
- The Stuff: 81% Merlot, 11% Cab Sauv, 8% Cab Franc from Seven Hills vineyard. Aged 18 months in 40% new oak, 14.5%ABV; 1326 cases produced
- The Swirl: Good thick color presentation of plum and dark cherry but has about 60% opacity. Nice strong color to the edges.
- The Sniff: Dominate musty earth and grassy herbs that give way to dried cherry and black berry fruit. A moderate amount of cinnamon and cloves are present as well. From the video to further in the night the wine opened up into a more robust aroma of cherry (which I would expect) and vanilla.
- The Sip: A muscular merlot with good dried fruit, earthy terroir, dark fruit and mild tannin. Those that enjoy a subtle elegant merlot may find this more intriguing.
- The Score: At $37 it is more than most people would drop for a Merlot they haven’t tasted. If you’re looking for a bright cherry vanilla Merlot, you may want to pass, but if you’re after a warm earthy muscle Merlot, give it a go. Decanting this wine is recommended. 3+/5
92 pts Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt); 91 pts Wine Advocate
2007 L’Ecole 41 Apogee
- The Stuff: 60% Cab Sauv, 30% Merlot 6% Malbec, 4% Cab Franc; 22 months in 50% new oak. 1630 cases produced, 14.5% ABV
- The Swirl: Thicker and slightly cloudy in color with dark purple tones. No jewelry here.
- The Sniff: A medium brightness of black berry and black cherry fruits along with subtle hints of cocoa and earthiness.
- The Sip: Big boy wine with a good firm structure of dark fruits and strong chalky tannin. If you’re looking to sip now, decant for several hours. Would recommend this wine as a special cellar project to pull out in 2013 when it would be more smooth and elegant. Great layers of fruit and firmness.
- The Score: At $50 a good percentage of people will not risk their money without a sample or a strong recommendation. The Apogee is not quite the pinnacle of what it is shooting for but it will be there in 3-5 more years. I score this a 4/5 based on potential.
*Wine was provided as an industry sample with the intention to review