Kristen Johnson, Blue Sardinia, Seattle

Which classic grape varietal is the most underrated?
I’d like to say Grenache. However, we sell it like water at Blu Sardinia, featuring two Cannonau wines by the glass and another half a dozen bottle selections, coining them our “House wines”.  Therefore, I’d have to go with Merlot.  Unfortunately, I think it’s still recovering fro Sideways.  People simple don’t want to admit they like it.  That’s the reason I believe the Old World has much greater success with it. Most guests don’t even know they’re drinking it because the varietal isn’t seen anywhere on the label. A few years back I suggested a wine for a few of our regular clients that had come trust my palate. About 3/4s the way through the second bottle of the same wine, I revealed that is was 100% Merlot from Tuscany. One of the four guests proceeded to try to convince me that something was wrong with the wine.  Fortunately, the others convinced her that it was fine. For me, some of the best merlot in the world comes out of Tuscany.  More specifically, Bolgheri.

What kind of flavors inspire you most?
Pretty much anything herbal, aromatic, bitter and citrusy.  I like calisaya and it’s signature place in Amaros.  I love cardamom and the way it can lift savory or sweet ingredients.  I enjoy rhubarb root, anise, clove and cinnamon. If it’s sweet, I’d like it to be well balanced.  A good friend recently introduced me to a tea made of roasted dandelion root and French vanilla. I’ve had a great time playing with it behind the bar as well as sipping it before bed.

Choose a drink to match with pork – and why?
If not wine, a layered brown based cocktail; more specifically one made with a great rye, such as Cadee Cascadia Rye Whiskey from Whidbey Island.  On it’s own, it’s a nice sipper but when mixed with the right ingredients such as Alpine spice, chai, the perfect vermouth and a light amaro you get a wonderful warm medium bodied drink that finishes light enough for even the ladies to enjoy.  When you get the right balance, you find the perfect accompaniment to food such as pork prepared with either sweet or savory ingredients. A great cocktail should not taste the same from start to finish.  It should develop and unravel with each sip throughout a meal.  I recently converted four of my “vodka drinking” college girlfriends that claimed they could never drink anything brown. After one sip, I had a glass in each of their hands and that cocktail became the highlight of the weekend.  That was a fun experiment.