Alicia Keys turns it way up for Seattle fans
|Alicia Keys turns it way up for Seattle fans|
by Richard Kennedy -
SGN A&E Writer
It's hard to believe that it's been eight years since Alicia Keys became an overnight sensation with the release of her debut single. Three hugely successful albums and tons of hits have bolstered her to superstar status all over the world. I have to admit, I turned my nose up at her music for a while in the beginning - I figured she was another young pop star who would turn out to be a one-hit wonder. On any given day this summer though, you could hear her infectious "No One" blasting from my car stereo as I rode around. I was more than excited to finally catch this "sensation" live last Saturday night.
The R&B diva stormed out on stage like a force of nature, stomping to the beat and commanding the crowd like a seasoned soul singer. The opening track of her latest album As I Am was also the opener of her tour. "Go Ahead" had throbbing bass and a wild electric guitar that Keys danced around to. Tossing her hair every which way, she belted out "Go ahead, go on and get out of here, go on baby!" while the crowd slammed their fists into the air.
Once I was able to catch my breath, I found myself surprised at how petite the Grammy-winning artist is. She's got the hottest body, some boomin' curvy thighs and a very tiny waist, which she accentuated with her high-waist, skintight white trousers. Sparkles adorned her suspenders and platform heels, as well as the butterfly on her purple retro T-shirt that finished off her outfit. She was far more striking in person than I expected.
More new stuff followed with Keys, working her mic like Tina Turner, during "Teenage Love Affair" and a nod to The Supremes as her backup singers performed "Heartburn" along with her. The band was top notch and even included a blazing horn section that added to the hot revue-style show. Keys borrows heavily from other soul singers, but she does it extremely well. "What Goes Around" was brilliantly reworked like a '70s Santana song.
Oddly enough, the crowd in the first 10 or so rows sat through most of this while the entire rest of the floor couldn't sit down through any number.
As predicted, Keys' talent comes through mostly when she sits at the piano. Resting on a turntable platform, the baby grand revolved during "How Come You Don't Call Me." While fans snapped in rhythm, the 29-year-old sensation shared banter with her background singers and even gave them their own high-voltage solos. The two girls gave me chills, and the sexy male singer brought screams and whistles while they all belted about not getting that phone call mentioned in the song. Even though it was stage dialogue, it came off charming and unrehearsed.
"Superwoman" mellowed things out as she dedicated the ballad to all the women in the audience, before leaving the stage for a short break while the band entertained with a musical interlude.
The energy blasted through again as everyone danced to "Wreckless Love." Keys worked the mass into a frenzy, as she tossed around her scarf in sync with the driving beats. It wasn't long before the piano made its way back to the center of the stage. "Diary" from her second hit album turned into a powerhouse duet with her background singer Jermaine Paul. The ballad beautifully segued into the '80s song "Tender Love," while the two brought the house down and garnered a well-deserved standing ovation. "Unbreakable" and "Love Me Like You'll Never See Me Again" brought us right to the closing numbers.
The opening bars of her mega debut single, "Falling" were peppered into a slamming piano solo. Proving her talent, the multi-Grammy winning song was masterfully reinterpreted in the style of James Brown. The Harlem-born songstress even worked a little of Brown's "It's a Man's World" into the middle, while still blending the classical melodies perfectly. It really is astonishing knowing much of her music is self-composed.
This brought everyone onto their feet for another standing ovation, and then the pulsating beats of "No One" slammed everyone into a fist-waving hysteria. Keys jumped up and down with her fans while she belted the chorus. Security was working hard to keep everyone from rushing up to the stage as the energy exploded, the lights flashed and Keys proved to everyone that she has the stage presence and staying power that will eventually turn her into an R&B legend.
As the lights went up, we were all a little surprised we didn't hear "If I Ain't Got You," but with a catalog like hers, considering that she isn't even 30 yet, what is there really to complain about?
|Travel: Exploring and indulging in Eastern Washington's blooming wine country|
by John Griffin -
SGN A&E Writer
When the offer of a tour of Washington's wine country came along, I was glad to accept. Although my personal feeling is that most wines should be mixed with olive oil and poured on salad, I have had enough wine that pleased me to know syrupy dessert wines were not the only ones that aren't reminiscent of vinegar. With that in mind, I ask those readers who really enjoy the acrid tang of most dry wines to bear with me. My palate isn't so unsophisticated that I can't enjoy a brush with those genres.
A major event for Washington's wine growers is coming up soon: Thanksgiving in the Wine Country is November 28 and 29. Participating wineries are offering food and wine pairings in addition to new experiences during the event. Details can be found at www.wineyakimavalley.org. A couple of additional tips for taking full advantage of a tour of regional wineries will be found closer to the end of this article.
Meeting the packed itinerary, crowded with wineries and other local attractions, was a challenge from the beginning. I thought a stop at my nephew's house would fit in easily enough, but I didn't allow for a wrong turn getting in the way. We had to settle for a quick visit before we were on our way again. Nevertheless, we managed to arrive at Badger Mountain Winery a few minutes early. Bill Powers is the owner, but we were met by Mickey Dunn who proudly showed us the grounds and vineyards. Badger Mountain was the first winery in Washington State to be a certified organic operation. This philosophy is carried through in many aspects of production, from the solar panels on the roof to the bio-diesel machinery that runs on recycled cooking oil from local restaurants, and Badger Mountain gets closer every day to being at the optimum level attainable for a "green" company.
ORGANIC WINETASTING BEGINS
The first thing to know about organic wines is they do not enjoy the long shelf life of wines produced by more traditional methods. About 200 years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte offered a prize to anyone who could find a better preservative for wines than sulfites. These compounds occur naturally in wine, and are even produced by the human body, but have long been used as an additive in significant quantities. In fact, they may have been in use for thousands of years by Napoleon's time. No suitable replacement was forthcoming. For that reason, you can't expect to put away organic wines in the cellar and enjoy a particularly fine vintage in your declining years. Drink them and enjoy them, do it just a little more slowly with the ones you like the best.
Finally, the tasting began. I'm forced to limit my comments to one or two wines from each place - blame that full itinerary. From my earlier confession you may justifiably expect me to find more whites than reds to my liking. So it was with the basic line of Badger Mountain Wines (www.badgermountainvineyard.com), and the premium Powers line. The ones we sampled here range in price from $9 to $35 per bottle retail. Fruity is descriptive of almost all the varieties I liked, so I'll soon dispense with that term. The second wine presented to me provided the first delight of the trip. The Organic Riesling has a crisp fruity flavor with a distinct pleasing aroma, less than 2% residual sugar, it's at the lower end in price, a great value. Our final selection here was the Muscat Canelli, almost a true dessert wine with 3.9% residual sugar, but so far from cloying I hesitate to use the word for fear of prejudicing the reader. It has a delicate bouquet and a rich, complex, spicy flavor, with a finish that speaks of the slightest hint of fruit that is on the threshold of maturity in combination with the ripeness of other flavors.
Here is where our itinerary went out the window, figuratively speaking. The schedule gave us 20 minutes to drive to Sacajawea State Park. Fifty minutes later, we were getting close. Our guide had stayed past the end of her shift at the Interpretive Center to fulfill the commitment she had made to us, and it was a very informative tour that we enjoyed there. The facility is the equal of any dedicated to Washington and Northwest history, and her enthusiasm for her work made us glad we had given up staying on schedule.
MOVING THROUGH WINE COUNTRY
The Country Mercantile (www.countrymerc.com) was our next stop. Despite the folksy appellation, it is a very large store, offering a vast array of unique merchandise. Here we were greeted by Max Urióstegui. Since we were yet another item of business in a very busy day, he didn't even realize we were late. That was a relief for us, and the courtesy and generosity we were shown made it evident why he is so busy. He passed the responsibility of entertaining us on to Gaby Urióstegui. The specialties we'd been made aware of, ice cream and fudge, were only delicious examples of the many other products sold there.
We drove deeper into the countryside and arrived at Gordon Brothers Cellars (www.gordonwines.com), a little less behind schedule than we had been. It is a no-nonsense kind of place. They are opening a regular tasting facility in Woodinville this month, but the tasting room at the vineyard reminded me of a suburban dinette, but again, the hospitality was first class. Here the prices range from $10 to $45 retail, and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was the one that got my personal award. It has an especially full, complex bouquet, it is very dry but the fruit comes through delightfully in balance with a mild tartness that puts a smile on the face, instead of a pucker. At $23, it was a medium-priced wine, but a premium value. We had the opportunity to sample wines still in the barrel here, providing a welcome basis of comparison.
At the Barnard Griffin Winery (www.barnardgriffin.com), we met our hostess from the Tri-Cities Visitors Bureau for the first time. We had to forgive her for the jammed itinerary when a real snafu arose she took care of it in record time. Add her charm and beauty to her competence, and, well, need I say more? The wine list here had a range of prices. To my surprise and delight the Fumé Blanc, at $9, was my favorite. Aromatic, crisp, tangy, dry and fruity, with a pleasant finish that invites another sip, it is an exceptional value.
The three of us moved along to the neighboring Bookwalter Winery (www.bookwalterwines.com). The price range here was $11.25 to $75. Once more, I found bliss at the economical extreme, and I must mention two varieties: The 2007 Charbonneau Riesling, with its transparent, sweet bouquet, but only slightly sweet flavor, with a light, tart finish which fades slowly to a lingering, soft, fruity taste on the palate; and the Subplot No 22 Columbia Valley Red Wine, a complicated blend, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 18% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Franc, 10% Syrah, 5% Petit Verdot, with a spicy, almost nutty bouquet, dry and light, not too tart, and fading to a full fruity finish.
In the same neighborhood we found our final stop on the tasting tour for the evening. Taverna Tagaris (www.tagariswines.com) offers fine wine and fine dining. The 2005 "Boar Doe" has a distinctly sharp bouquet, which does not dominate the aroma nor the flavor, and lingers as barely more than a memory for the finish. It made an excellent companion for the delicious grilled bison.
Our lodgings were at the Hampton Inn in Richland (www.richland.hamptoninn.com). Due to the single snag I mentioned - an inadvertent miscommunication that disappeared with a wave of the genie's hand (visitor bureau representative) - the final scheduled stop for drinks and appetizers at Bin No. 20 Steak & Seafood Restaurant (www.bin20.com), in Pasco, had to be missed.
The hotel was luxurious by my standards (any fleabag by the side of the road for some shuteye). The next morning we awoke to a beautiful view from our balcony of the park-like landscape and bike trail. The agenda said "Breakfast on own at hotel." I expected to find the normal fare at an attached restaurant, and I had invited my nephew and his family to join us. I was slightly embarrassed to find an ample breakfast buffet hosted by the hotel; but if anyone noticed the non-guests among the diners, they turned a blind eye to it. My nephew, Keith, was trying to ride herd on his four boys, who were enjoying the change of pace. The other hotel guests didn't seem to mind. I heard one lady say, "Enjoy them while you can." Compared to many a brood, they're no trouble at all.
Our first activity was a ride on the bike trail (www.friendsofourtrail.com), scheduled for 9 a.m. Remarkably, we were up and ready for breakfast by that time, but we only dropped by the rental desk at the Courtyard Marriott (www.marriottrichland.com) to express our regrets and our thanks. Luckily, a few drops of rain helped our credibility in declining their invitation.
SAMPLING FROM THE BARRELS
Olsen Estates (www.olsenestates.com) was our first stop for tasting that morning, in the Airfield District of Prosser. The building gives a boost to the traditional estate environment suggested by the name. I didn't let the comfortable surroundings influence my judgment; the wines here can stand on their own. Their 2006 Pinot Gris, with an almost fresh air bouquet, offers a refreshing well-rounded flavor, and fruity satisfying finish. Martin Olsen, the owner (and namesake of an ancestral uncle of mine), must have been pleased with my reaction; he presented me with a complimentary bottle. The wines at Olsen Estates range in price from $16 to $42 retail.
Next door we found Airfield Estates Winery, www.airfieldwines.com. As the name implies, they make an effort to preserve some of the history of the neighborhood, to the point of naming their wines after classic aircraft. You will find interesting relics of aviation history displayed among the wines, including a very interesting, once top-secret map of the area. Another distinction is the availability of wines actually made by foot, in the traditional manner. The annual "Vineyard Run and Foot Stomp" is coming up on October 11. Our official contact was not available, but her father, the owner Mike Miller, and her brother Marcus stepped in and gave us a warm welcome. The prices here range from $12 to $32. It was when we were sampling from the barrels that I found my favorites. The top selection for me was the Lightning, 30% Viognier, 60% Chardonnay, and 10% Rousanne. It has a smoky nose and is very smooth and fruity with a savory finish. Try the Mustang Rhone and the Temperanillo too.
The Thurston Wolfe Winery, www.thurstonwolfe.com, was the last facility we visited in this neighborhood. Our hostess was Becky Yeaman, and my favorite here was named after her. The 2005 Sweet Rebecca is an incredibly delicious dessert wine. It is a 100% Orange Muscat from the Lonesome Spring Vineyard, near Benton City. It has an intense bouquet, it is sweet, but not cloying, super fruity, and has a delightful, long-lasting finish. My second selection is the namesake of the family's scion, it's the 2006 JTW Port, also a dessert wine. It has an intense, sweet, fruity bouquet, a deep purple color, and ultra-light tang, and a candylike finish. Don't even consider it unless you really like dessert wines. The price range here is from $10 to $27.50.
STICKING TO THE SCHEDULE
Again, we were falling behind our schedule. Proud winemakers are hard to turn your back on, so we skipped lunch and made do with a snack from our welcome basket from the hotel as we made our way toward Yakima. We came as a surprise to Joel Tefft of Tefft Cellars, www.tefftcellars.com, in Outlook, but, as everywhere, we were greeted warmly after we introduced ourselves. There is a comfortable and convenient guesthouse here, if the tasting turns into drinking, or just for a bucolic rest, there's a two-night minimum at $395, plus refundable deposits. The wines range in price from $10 to $25 per bottle, with my favorite being the 2007 Gewurtraminer. It has a delicate bouquet and is dry and fruity to the finish. Two of their dessert selections had unique appeal, Huckleberry White and Black Ice Muscat, both are sweet, but delicious.
The Portteus Vineyards and Winery in Zillah, www.portteus.com, is another "no-nonsense" establishment with prices ranging from $20 to $40 per bottle. My two favorites came from both the bottom and near the top of that range. The 2007 Chardonnay, made in the classic "white Burgundy" style, has a clear, fruity bouquet, with a slight, pleasant tang of tannin. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon has a very good nose, and a fruity, mild, but tangy finish. For dessert try the Port, sweet, but not cloying.
Also in Zillah we visited Paradisos del Sol Winery. You won't find a homier atmosphere anywhere - not even at home. The philosophy here is that wines should compliment foods, and tasters are served items which are considered appropriate for the wines. From their homemade dips, such as the artichoke-crab dip, to marshmallows, our host Paul Vandenberg served up his engaging humor along with the food and wine. There were plenty of good combinations for the wines, which range from $9.25 to $39 per bottle. The dinner wines came with everything from a mild to a sharp bite, but again I have to recommend the dessert wines. The Angelica G is fashioned after Angelica, created as a native altar wine for the early California Missions by the Franciscan friars that followed Father Serra. Though perhaps not a true dessert wine, it has that light sweetness that will be enjoyed by anyone who has relished a raid on the sacristy supplies, topped off by unblessed wafers. The Botrytis Riesling offers a truly unique experience for the palate. These grapes are harvested with a specific mold on them, the "Noble Rot," which produces an unparalleled, exotic flavor, fruity and smooth, with a sweet tart finish. In Seattle, you can enjoy Paul's accomplishments at the Swingside Café in upper Fremont.
Two Mountains Winery, www.twomountainwinery.com, rounded out our visit to Zillah. The selections here range from $13 to $54 per bottle. At the high end is the Tribute; its mildly perfumy bouquet belies its rich flavor and smooth tangy finish. I'm sorry to say it's sold out, but you can still get a taste for a dollar. The 2005 Cabernet Franc was actually a little more to my liking. Again, the mild bouquet is a little misleading and the sharp but contradictorily smooth, fruity flavor gradually gives way to an equally smooth and fruity, but still mildly sharp, long-lasting finish. Coming in as a close second was the 2007 Riesling. It has a very perfumy bouquet, it's sweet yet dry, with a smooth fruity finish. Give the 2004 Syrah a try, too, as it is another delightful selection.
FINAL TASTING AND DEPATURE
Our final tasting adventure was at the Piety Flats Winery in Wapato, www.pietyflatswinery.com. The community gets its name from a pioneer clergyman, and the winery is located in the historic Donald Fruit and Mercantile building. This place has a lot more than wine, with numerous products you'll find nowhere else. It's difficult to decide which of their wines I liked best. I found something to like in about every variety I tried. They're heavy on the dessert end of the menu, but the NV Cabernet Port had to be the wine you can't say fruity about enough. The bouquet, the flavor, the finish, the fruit is there everywhere, but still there's a wonderful tang to be enjoyed, too. Other great choices are the 2007 Riesling and the 2006 Glacier Harvest. Try them with the Piety Flats Dark Chocolates, produced by the San Francisco Chocolate Company especially for them. Another treat were pretzels from the Pretzel Lady. I hadn't had a really good pretzel since Mr. Salty fell victim to market trend changes.
By this time, I could feel the alcohol that had been absorbed through the tissues in my mouth. It was with relief that we checked into the luxury of the Oxford Suites in Yakima, www.oxfordsuitesyakima.com. I was so tired by this time I almost dreaded the drive to Gasperetti's Restaurant, www.gsaperettis.com, but the meal I was rewarded with there soon reinvigorated me. The tenderloin steak I had could have been the example they were named after. If it had been any more tender, I would have needed a straw to eat it, and the flavor superlatively succulent. I hadn't had anything to equal it since I said to a waiter in a Texas steakhouse that I wanted to know what Texans were bragging about. Everything on the plate lived up to the main course, and my partner Joey's reaction told me he was sharing a great dining experience. We wrapped up the evening with a swim and a soak back at the hotel. The only hardship we experienced was from the guilt associated with self-indulgence as we slipped into slumber.
The next morning we were scheduled for a walking tour along the Yakima Greenway at 8 a.m., though we rose closer to 9. Our walking tour was less formal, around the old part of downtown Yakima. The last stop of our trip was for lunch at the Barrel House Restaurant, www.thebarrelhouse.net. From 1906 until 2002 it was a bar, and enough of the original appointments survive to preserve much of the charm from the early 20th century. The food and service were both very good and prepared us for our reluctant departure on the homeward journey.