Tasting History, One Glass at a Time

Have you ever wondered who planted the first grape vine in Washington? Was it the Italian immigrants, German settlers or French fur trappers that roamed the eastern part of the state? Was it in East Wenatchee, Walla Walla or Grapeview?

When we opened Grape Expectations in the fall of 1985, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 Washington wineries. Today, some still exist, in one form or another and others are no longer. There are now somewhere in the neighborhood of  980 wineries in Washington and over 600,000 acres planted to vitis vinifera.

Two of the most influential wine pioneers in the early 1900s  were Dr. Walter Clore and Canadian immigrant, William  B. Bridgman, who encouraged the young Dr. Clore to plant grapes in Yakima Valley Research Center in addition to other fruits, vegetables and grains.

When W.B., as a young  attorney, arrived in Sunnyside,  he set up shop, bought some acreage and also played an important role in the development of irrigation laws in the Yakima Valley.  As manager of the Sunnyside Irrigation Canal, he authored the guidelines to develop and share water resources.

Dr. Clore was an assistant horticulturalist at the Irrigated Agricultural Research and Extension Center just outside of Prosser. Initially, the research center was 200 acres of sagebrush planted to corn, millet, potatoes, wheat and clover. That all changed when vitis vinifera came to town.

Sunnyside, where Bridgman settled in, was founded in the late 1890s by some Midwestern folks from the Progressive Brethren Church. They were determined to keep the sins of the world at bay in their new community. Wine may have been ok for Jesus at Cana but not in the backyards of these Sunnyside residents.

Sunnysiders survived, for a few years anyway, on the produce of their truck gardens but shipping outside the area was beyond their scope of work. So, they discovered the best way to make money was to sell land to unsuspecting newcomers. W. B.’s arrival in the “holy city” of Sunnyside in 1902 was definitely a blessing the residents weren’t counting on.

As his law practice thrived, it allowed him to purchase land. Being from a farming community, farmland was a top priority. He also had viticulture in his background. Back home on the Niagara Peninsula, his family grew Concord grapes. So, in 1917,  Mr. Bridgeman planted a vineyard on Snipes Mountain in the Yakima Valley.

These were the first commercial wine grapes in a region that has been the center of the Washington wine industry ever since. The place, called Harrison Hill, turned out to be a great place to grow wine grapes.

Bridgman became the local celebrity, two-time mayor, and Sunnyside’s biggest promoter. He encouraged the business of farming throughout the valley and the agricultural bounty of the irrigated farmlands.

After Prohibition, Bridgman took advantage of the opportunity and opened Upland Winery on Snipes Mountain. In 1934, the winery produced 7,000 gallons of wine from his vineyards planted to a smorgasbord of vinifera grapes. He had 165 acres of Semilion, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Palomino, Thompson Seedless, Sultana, Black Muscat, Carignane, Zinfandel, and Mataro under contract with more than 70 growers.

While he wanted to focus on table wines using European grape varieties, he found most of his success in sweeter fortified wines that were popular in the ’40s and ’50s. Bridgman sold the winery in 1960 and died eight years later.

Of all his contributions, one of Bridgman’s greatest achievements was convincing young Dr.Walter Clore at the Washington State University Experimental Station in Prosser that wine grape production was viable in Eastern Washington.  Looking back, that was sage advice.

Al Newhouse, a second-generation Yakima Valley farmer, purchased Bridgman’s vineyards and expanded the plantings over the years to four hundred acres. His grandson, Todd Newhouse, joined the family business in 1996 and relaunched Upland Estates Winery in 2006.

In 2009, the federal government recognized Snipes Mountain as an official American Viticultural Area. At 4,145 acres with over 800 planted to vinifera grapes, it’s small but making a huge impact.

And those vines Bridgman planted in 1917? Astonishingly, several of them survive to this day, including Thompson Seedless and Muscat of Alexandria. There is also Black Muscat and Cabernet from the 1950s and ’60s.

Newhouse and winemaker Robert Smasne, before he struck out on his own, have made award winning wines from those vineyards. Other winemakers have too. DeLille Cellar’s Harrison Hill and Thurston Wolfe’s Black Muscat were made from Bridgman’s early planting.

On a recent trip to Yakima Valley, I became reacquainted with Upland Estates Winery over lunch at the Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Ice House. The place would have made W. B. smile. It’s a “polished American Tavern” constructed in the fashion of an old fruit warehouse, all concrete and wood décor to reflect Yakima’s agricultural industry.

Lighting, walls and flooring are re-purposed materials. With an open kitchen, a wood fired oven, smudge pot and ice block lights, concrete walls ingrained with wood and a steel warehouse door that opens to outside dining, the place has wonderful ambiance with so much to see and enjoy. Which I did with glass of Uplands Sauvignon Blanc and a dish of Ahi Tuna with Mango Salsa. It was a perfect lunch.

And while your in Yakima, do stop by the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser. Named for the Father of the Washington Wine industry, it is a learning center that promotes Washington State wines and foods.

You’ll be dazzled when you visit this spacious tasting room, where you can taste wines from across the state and learn about the wide variety of grapes, soils and climates that make our wines so distinctive.

Established at the request of wineries and other petitioners, boundaries for the thirteen Washington AVAs are defined by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Each month at the Walter Clore Center, one of the 13 AVAs are featured for a month. The decision on the featured AVA is decided by drawing a name out of a hat.

You’ll learn to really appreciate the work, quality and diversity of wine and food produced in the state through the Center’s seminars, programs and events. There is even a Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame where you may stumble upon who planted the first vineyard and where in Washington State it was planted.

 

Here’s to You from Yakima Valley

One of the many highlights of a recent trip around Yakima Valley was a wonderful gourmet dinner experience that you should treat your dining partner and yourself to.

The Carousel Restaurant & Bistro is fine dining with French flair. Many of the recipes are from the French chef who originally opened the restaurant. The service was exquisite, the food was fabulous and with Casablanca playing on the wall during dinner, what could be better?  casablanca

The soundless black and white movie created an exotic atmosphere in the middle of this historic farming community.  During dinner, an amazing harp player entertained with familiar tunes.

But the fresh, local food and the wine pairing is the subject of this week’s story.  If it seems like I’m gushing, it’s probably because there’s lots to gush about!

For a dinner such as this, it’s important, almost mandatory, to have a dinner party partner, affectionately known as the DPP.  This ensures that you get to taste twice as much.  I would also like to mention that when in a French restaurant, I like to choose the more adventuresome Chef’s Choice dishes, especially if the DPP chooses the usual dishes.  boar w glasses

The first of five courses was an appetizer of Provence Boar Paté (mine) and crab cakes (the DPP).  I chose the paté made from slow simmered chicken and boar foie gras served with bacon jam. It was perfectly paired with a Domaine Collette Beaujolais Village 2014.

This ruby colored wine has a fruit bowl of flavors that include raspberry, red currant, and strawberry. The tannins were supple and beautifully balanced probably because of the whole bunch fermentation. This wine was a stunning match with the pate. Bravo to Greg, our maître d for the first of many thoughtful and spot on matches.

The DPP went for an appetizer of crab cakes on a  bed of arugula tossed with a lemon vinaigrette and brown butter capers. This too was expertly paired with a Dopff & Irion 2013 Riesling from an often overlooked area of France – Alsace. Here is an old world wine with place names not as prominent on the label as the grape names.

Constructed in 1549, the Chateau was originally owned by the Princes of Wurtemberg, who ruled over the city and its region for almost five centuries. Even a Chateau founded in the 16th century can survive 5 centuries because it embraces new technologies.

This particular bottling was done with screw caps! Gasp! Which surprised me in a pleasant sort of way. We all need to embrace screw caps especially with white wines which are typically enjoyed within a year of being bottled.

Considering a cork tree has to be at least 25 years old before its bark can be harvested, we need to rethink our carbon footprint. Even though its cork can then be stripped every 8 to 14 years after that first harvest, we should adapt as this old chateau has done.

My salad was great but the DPP salad was the show stopper. flambeeingCooked tableside, the salade d’epinards (spinach) flambé was a flaming success. The red wine vinaigrette was reduced and then the cooked bacon was added and flambéed with brandy to produce a two foot high torch.

Salads were served with the Cote de Bonneville DuBrul Vineyard Rosé. This 45 acre site produces small berries, small clusters, and low yields.  DuBrul Vineyard has been recognized as one of the top Washington State vineyards.

french onion soupThe soup course included the ubiquitousasparagus soup but very French, French onion soup and soupe de jour was made with fresh Yakima Valley asparagus. The former was accompanied by one of my all time favorite wines, Owen Roe Abbotts Table which is a blend of Zin, Sangiovese, Blaufrankish and Petite Verdot. The later with a Tour d’Auron 2013, a Bordeaux Supérieur blend of Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot. Another great match by Greg.

And for the pièce de résistance, the chosen entrées were duck and rabbit. The duck was seared and braised in a house red wine sauce with flambéed green peppercorns served over mushroom risotto.

It was complimented by the 2012 King Estate Oregon Pinot Noir, a very aromatic wine with wonderful cherry flavors with with hints of earthy mushrooms.

I chose another chef’s choice created with seasonal ingredients. When in a French restaurant, there are certain dishes guaranteed to be on the menu that you wouldn’t find on a Kitsap County menu, snails, frog’s legs and rabbit.

My dish turned out to be a delicious casserole of rabbit DSCN4305with house-made noodles, arugula and Asiago.  This dish was accompanied by a Kestral 2012 Cabernet. According to winemaker Flint Nelson, “This expansive wine boasts full body, ripe dense fruit flavors, with supple tannins and a lingering finish.” I would heartily agree.

mousseFor dessert, the choices were obvious. Chocolate mousse cake, pastry chef’s choice and a glass of Treveri Rosé. Chef’s choice was a raspberry tart with basil, lemon peel and an apricot glaze. raspberry tartBoth were pleasing to the eye as well as the palate. But I had to use stealth to get a bite of the cake. The sharing was over as the DPP only likes raspberries in his beer.

Treveri Cellars is a Yakima Valley winery that produces some really great handcrafted sparkling wines. This family operation is led by a husband and wife team, Jürgen Grieb, head winemaker with almost 30 years in the Washington wine industry and Julie Grieb, business manager.treveri rose

Treveri opened its doors just days before the Thanksgiving rush in 2010 with a mission to put Washington sparkling wine on the map.  In almost six years, Treveri has been served three times at White House State Department receptions, the James Beard Foundation in New York,  received a Double Gold at the Seattle Wine Awards, 90+ point scores from national 100 point scorers and voted one of the nation’s Top Ten Hottest Brands of 2014 by Wine Business Monthly. Mission accomplished!

Producing a wide array of sparkling wines, including non-traditional varieties such as Syrah, Riesling and Gewurztraminer, Treveri uses state of the art techniques to produce these beautiful bubblies.

This Rosé, aged an average of 24 months, was a gorgeous rose color with big strawberry flavors and a lingering finish. The wine was a perfect match with both desserts and a beautiful and so very continental way to end the evening.

This is a dining experience you deserve! Carousel Restaurant & Bistro, 25 North Front Street, Yakima. (509) 248-6720

Tasting Washington White Wines

So, how was Taste Washington this year?  In a word – Grand.  TasteWaWineMonth_RedPlaid_NoDate_LogoThere were so many wines to taste and bites to match.  To be organized, a plan was made but like a dog after a squirrel,  I  gave chase to the bottle at the next table and the one next to that and the one next to that…

The plan was to taste Chenin Blancs the first hour and then on to the more unusual red varietals, like Carmenere, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Petite Verdot, Barbera, Dolcetto, or Nebbiolo.

Chenin Blanc is probably the world’s most versatile grape variety. It’s capable of producing some of the longest lived sweet wines and with its naturally high acidity, it’s easily the most balanced of wines. This high acidity is also quite useful for a range of sparkling Chenin Blancs.

I thought exploring wineries I hadn’t even heard of would be more educational than visiting the usual suspects. After all, there are over 900 Washington wineries today.

Chenin Blanc was first planted in Washington in 1948 from UC Davis stock. My love affair with Chenin Blanc began when Pontin del Roza released their second vintage in 1985.

The story of how Scott Pontin’s high school FFA project culminated into a successful estate winery is amazing. Here’s a kid making wine and not even old enough to walk into a bar.

However, his family have been farming the Roza since 1954. They began as turkey farmers, and then planted concord grapes and sold the juice to Yakima Valley Grape Producers. The family also farmed wheat, mint, potatoes and sugar beets and apples.

Pontin del Roza roughly translates to mean Pontin from the Roza. This  pioneering family came to the Yakima Valley and planted the terraced vineyards just as their Italian ancestors had done for centuries.

The 2014 Chenin Blanc has 13.6 % alcohol and residual sugar of 2.8% with aromas of lemon zest and melon leading into peach and pineapple flavors that paired wonderfully with Salty’s on Alki’s lobster gyoza with red curry.

Ancestry Cellars in Woodinville was offering up their Le Cortege 2014 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc.  The wine is a refreshing lemon, juicy green apple and honey flavors with aromas of honey and white flowers. It has great weight for an off dry style and has  a fair amount of acidity. The grapes are sourced from the 30 year old vines at Bella Terra Vineyard. It was fermented in stainless steel for a crisp, fresh wine with a residual sugar of  1.67%, and alcohol at 13.3%.  Awarded a Double Gold at the Seattle Wine Awards.

On a hillside overlooking the Wenatchee River Valley, Silvara Vineyards is Leavenworth’s newest winery. They recently garnered a Gold Medal at the Washington Wine Awards for their Chenin Blanc.  It has the sweetness of melon, apricots and honey with a hint of effervescence. Very impressive for this young winery. The drawback is no distributor.  To get a bottle of this wonderful wine, call 509-548-1000 or email info@silvarawine.com  It’s worth it!

At this point, the plan began to unravel. Blame it on the freshly shucked oysters. Had to have some of the Chinook 2014 Sauvignon Blanc and Palencia’s Albarino, two of my all time favorite wines.

My nose led me to Urbane Restaurant’s smoked salmon cake, with Savage Grace next door.  Their Riesling vineyards on Underwood Mountain are on a steep hillside high above the Columbia River Gorge. The climate is a natural for Riesling. Flavors of tangerine and lime with wet stone combine to make this delicious Riesling that paired well with the smoked salmon cake.

Convergence Zone Cellars is a family-owned winery in Woodinville.  The grapes are sourced from some of the best vineyards in the Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain and Columbia Valley AVAs. Their Dewpoint is an off-dry Riesling with aromas of lemon zest, lime and peach. It has bright peach, green apple, and lemon flavors. The juicy fruit and crisp acidity is balanced, and paired perfectly with the Kalaloch Lodge’s Dungeness crab with jalapeno aioli crostini.

We’re big fans of Treveri Cellars, a family owned sparkling wine house that produces some of the best Washington sparklers. They producing a bevy of sparkling wines, including Syrah, Riesling and Mueller-Thurgau.  We tasted the Blanc de Noirs made with 100% Pinot Noir which had a hint of strawberries and brioche with crisp acidity with a creamy finish. It was en tirage which is French for fermenting in the bottle, for 23.5 months. Swiftwater Cellar’s duck comfit with Asian plum sauce was just the ticket to pair with this bubbly.

And then there are the red wines but we’ve run out of room.

And just a reminder that the Yakima Spring Barrel Tasting is next weekend. You can sample a new vintage straight from the barrel, enjoy cooking demonstrations, winemaker dinners, vineyard tours and other educational experiences. This is a great opportunity to delve into some of the wineries and vineyards in Washington’s oldest AVA on April 23rd and 24th .

And right here on the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island wineries have scheduled a special event for April 23 and 24. You’ll taste locally made cheeses with locally made wine. More info at www.bainbridgewineries.com/winerytours

The following weekend, April 29 through May 1st is the Gorge Wine Experience  This three day series of events is for wine enthusiasts to learn about Gorge wine and meet the winemakers. There are over 20 wineries with activities throughout the Gorge.

Tasting Washington Wines this Spring

Taste Washington is the largest wine tasting I’ve ever attended except one. That tasting happened in San Francisco over 30 years ago. It was held in a huge lavish hotel ballroom where wines from every major wine growing region at the time filled hundreds of tables. The amount of glassware used at the event is mind boggling.

With under 60 wineries, Washington was a speck on the world’s wine map at that time. But, my oh my, how things have changed! Today, there are over 890 wineries in this dynamic fruit growing region. On average, a new winery opens every 30 days, making the number of wineries in Washington second behind California.

The first recorded winery operating in Washington was founded by an immigrant from Baden, Germany, in 1874 in East Wenatchee. When John Galler first moved to Washington, he made a living trapping with the Indians before settling down to farm and ferment. He had an orchard and planted 20 acres of grapes, producing wines for some 36 years before retiring.

In the 1900s, the wine industry was based on native American grapes such as the concord which took to the climate of Eastern Washington quite well. Grandview Winery and the National Wine Company or Nawico for short, were the largest along with Seattle’s Pommerelle and Upland winery out of Sunnyside.

There were also wineries popping up in Selah, Vancouver, Vaughn, Wenatchee, Bellevue, Lake Stevens, Edmonds, and Dockton to name a few. Even little Grapeview had one, Stretch Island Winery, operating from 1935 until 1947.

Except for the three larger wineries, most of the smaller community wineries made wine with whatever fruit they could get their hands on.  Apples, cherries, pears, blackberries, gooseberries, loganberries and currants were abundant. One adventurous vintner even made a melon wine.

Grape varieties used were the American Island Belle, Campbell Early, and Concord.  And Muscat, Alicante Bouchet and Zinfandel vines were brought by immigrants.  These wines were very much like the wine coolers of the early 1980s. Sweet, fruity and with not even a hint of complexity.

Dedicated to the lifelong work of Washington’s pioneering viticultural researcher who shaped the Washington wine industry and is recognized as the Father of Washington Wine.
Dedicated to the lifelong work of Washington’s pioneering viticultural researcher who shaped the Washington wine industry and is recognized as the Father of Washington Wine.

The change from Concord to Cabernet was gradual. It started in 1937 at the Irrigated Agricultural Research and Extension Center. They hired Dr. Walter Clore. His job was to evaluate the apple irrigation project and other fruits, including grapes, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries.

A trial block of about 30 grape varieties was planted with both American and European varieties. This grew over the next six years to 45 American, 71 European and a dozen hybrid varieties. By 1974, over 300 varieties had been established at the research center.

Today, over 350 wine grape growers have over 40 varietals planted on some 50,000 acres all across Washington State. The latest record harvest year was 2014 with 227,000 tons of vinifera grapes harvested. And those 890 wineries produced 16 million cases of wine from all those grapes.

In 2015, Washington’s wine grape harvest totaled 222,000 tons, down 2 percent from the record harvest of 2014. Many grape growers attributed the decrease to unusually warm weather, which resulted in a much smaller berry size. The upside of this is more concentrated aromas and flavors.

There are thirteen American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), as recognized and defined by the United States Treasury Department; Alcohol & Tobacco Taxes & Trade Bureau in Washington State.

The first to be recognized was Yakima Valley in 1983. In 1984, Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley joined the Club. Eleven years later, Puget Sound joined the ranks.

The turn of the century brought Red Mountain into the fold, followed by Columbia Gorge (2004), Horse Heaven Hills (2005), Rattlesnake Hills and Wahluke Slope in 2006 and Snipes Mountain in 2009. Naches Heights and Ancient Lakes were added in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Washington’s average sixteen hours per day of summer sunlight and alluvial soils produce some of the best growing conditions for vinifera grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon was the top producing red variety at 47,400 tons. Riesling was ranked second, at 44,100 tons. The latest economic impact numbers for the wine industry is $4.8 billion in 2013.

No wonder Taste Washington is the largest single region wine event today. There are so many wines from so many varieties to choose from. There are still tickets available for Sunday’s Grand Tasting. This is a great opportunity to learn more about Washington’s wineries and what delicious bites pair well with them. For more information, TasteWashington.org

Another great tasting event is coming up. Yakima has their Spring Barrel Tasting right around the corner. This is an opportunity to delve into some of the wineries and vineyards in Washington’s oldest AVA on April 23rd and 24th. Tasting from the barrel is a unique experience. Many wineries have local food pairings, live music and festivities. More learning opportunities! More fun!

And right here on the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island wineries have scheduled a special event for April 23 and 24. You’ll taste locally made cheeses with locally made wine. More info at www.bainbridgewineries.com

Taste Washington this Weekend!

If you haven’t made the move, now is the time.  Purchase your tickets to  the premier Washington Grand Wine Tasting on April 2 -3, 2016. There are over two hundred Washington wineries pouring samples and 70 restaurants servings up tasty bites this weekend. In addition, there are educational seminars and the Alaska Chef’s Stage where you can see real live chef’s whipping up tasty dishes.  TasteWaWineMonth_RedPlaid_NoDate_Logo

Your Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card will get you access to the  VIP Cardholder’s Lounge where you can sample delicious food along with library wines. From the Seastar Restaurant Catering and John Howie Steak try some Porcini Mushroom Soup, Mini Dungeness Crab Cakes,  American Wagyu Beef Meatballs with Foie Gras Demi Glace,  Asiago-Blue Cheese Stuffed Red Potatoes, Sushi, Sesame Peppercorn Crusted Ahi, Prime New York Strip with Maitre d’sauce, and/or Deviled Eggs with Truffled Bacon.

The reserve and library wines will be from some of Washington’s most prestigious winemakers. Here’s the line-up:

Saturday, April 2
1pm – 2pm Chateau Ste. Michelle
2pm – 3pm Dunham Cellars
3pm – 4pm DeLille Cellars
4pm – 5pm Mark Ryan Winery

Sunday, April 3
1pm – 2pm Chateau St. Michelle
2pm – 3pm Barons Winery / Matteo Wines
3pm – 4pm Sparkman Cellars
4pm – 5pm Avennia Winery

If that doesn’t make your mouth water, we need to talk – preferably over a bottle of wine.  More info here,  tastewashington.org

Cheers!

March is Washington Wine Month

March is Washington Wine Month with celebrations and events you won’t want to miss.

On Bainbridge Island, it’s raining gold and silver at Eleven Winery! The judges at Savor NW have chosen the 2013 Syrah and 2013 Roussanne as Gold Medal Winners. The 2013 Viognier and the 2012 La Ronde were awarded Silver Medals.  Available online, in the tasting room or at the  winery with the exception of the sold out  2013 Syrah.

The biggest event of them all is Taste Washington. TasteWaWineMonth_RedPlaid_NoDate_LogoAt Taste Washington, you can sample wines from over 225 Washington wineries, delicious bites from 65 local restaurants, wines from featured Washington AVAs and seminars to learn the nitty gritty about Washington Wines!

The series of educational seminars is truly enlightening. On Saturday, Washington vs the World, will compare Washington Rhone-style wines to Rhone-style wines from around the world. King Cab will explore this Bordeaux grape from various AVAs across the state. Tasting Washington is a discussion and tasting on the Washington-ness in Washington wine.

On Sunday, Through the Grapevine: Lessons learned from a lifetime in Washington wine will feature some of the state’s finest growers and winemakers. Riesling on the Rise and A Sense of Place explores the grape and the winemaker and the vineyard influences on wines. Tickets for the seminars are offered separately from the other events.

After the seminars, The Grand Tasting takes place at CenturyLink Event Center on Saturday,  April 2nd and Sunday, April 3rd. You’ll taste and learn about the the latest and greatest and the tried and true of Washington State wine varietals, AVAs and culinary bites.

During the Grand Tasting,  Alaska Chef Stage will host various live chef demonstrations from an all-star culinary line-up. In a state-of-the-art kitchen, these talented chefs will be demonstrating their cooking skills and offering up culinary tips.

Hear Ryan Burnett, the Chef at the award-winning Coyaba Restaurant at the Muckleshoot Casino. Chef Jason Stratton, Executive Chef of Capitol Hill’s Mamnoon Restaurant, named one of Food & Wine magazine’s 10 Best New Chefs in 2010, and a James Beard semifinalist.

Chef Sarah Scott of El Gaucho Bellevue prepares  signature dishes and Chef Aarti Sequeria, Host of Aarti Party will be on hand. Sequeria competed on and won Season 6 of The Next Food Network Star in 2010. Born in India and brought up in the Middle East, Sequeria brings her varied culinary background to the Taste Washington stage.

More about the wine lineup later but to put a few new ones out there to think about – Port Townsend’s Lullaby Winery , Ambassador Wines out of Red Mountain, MonteScarlatto also on Red Mountain, Walla Walla’s Cadaretta and Lodmell Wineries, Woodinville’s Genoa Cellars,  Pomum Cellars and Pearl and Stone Wine Co.  Meanwhile, for a complete listing and ticket information, visit tastewashington.org

Tickets are on sale now so don’t delay. Join the fun today! Taste Washington – March 31 – April 3, 2016.

Next up is the Spring Barrel Tasting on April 22 through April 24th.  Spring Barrel Tasting weekend is your chance to taste wines from some of the oldest vineyards in the state.  This weekend you’ll sample yet-unfinished wines from the barrel.

Purchase a Premier Pass which will gain you access to added benefits  during this Spring Barrel Tasting weekend at 40 participating wineries. Premier Pass holders will be able to experience a variety of specialty food pairings, library tastings, and tours. Online Premier Pass sales end April 19. The wineries ask that you bring your own glass this weekend. yakimavalleyuncorked.com

Spring White Wines

Much like the clothing industry, the wine industry is getting their spring line up ready for the new season.

Katie Morrow places foil on the bottles during the bottling process at Eleven Winery on Bainbridge Island on Thursday, May 30, 2013. (MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN)

Three very spring white wines I’ve recently tasted were in the French way – that is made from French grapes and in a very French style. The grapes were Pinot Gris, Columbard and Viognier.

Other French grapes often found in the Alsace region and in Germany are Gewurztraminer, Muller-Thurgau, and Riesling.

Pinot Gris, also known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, is the grey skinned Pinot grape. Pinot Blanc is the “white” skinned Pinot and Pinot Noir, or Nero in Italian, is the black skinned Pinot grape.

There is another, very obscure cousin to these well-known Pinots and that is Pinot Meunier. It’s rarely found outside of the France’s Champagne region.

These Pinots cousins have one thing in common besides the “Pinot” in their name. They are mutant ninja Pinots. Pinot Gris is a somatic mutation of the genes that control the skin color.

Pinot Blanc is a further mutation and can produce, to further muddy the must, Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir. The DNA profiles of the Gris and Blanc are identical to Pinot Noir.

All this superfluous information is given to help you understand what a finicky grape Pinot can be.

Recently, I happened across the Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris and was delighted with the elegance and complexity of the wine.

The elegance and complexity can be attributed to several wine making techniques used to produce this wine. The grapes were pressed rather than crushed to produce smoother flavors. Then the juice was slowly fermented at cold temperatures to enhance the fruit flavors.

Another technique is sur lie which is the practice of conditioning a wine on the spent yeast cells. This produces an additional flavor profile. In addition, fermenting in stainless steel further enhances the fruit flavors.

This would be a great match with salmon whether grilled, smoked or seared. Add a little pasta and a cream sauce and you’re in heaven.

Other pairing candidates could include pork and julienned ginger wrapped in lettuce leaves, halibut with chili jam, shrimp salad with garlic croutons or panko-crusted salmon.

Another stunning wine recently tasted is the Michel Gassier les Piliers 2013 from southern Rhone. This was also made with care by removing 100% of the stems, cold skin contact for 48 hours, partial racking of the must and fermentation in vats.

It’s quite exotic with aromas and flavors of passion fruit, citrus and apricot. Made from 65% Columbard and 35% Viognier, it would pair wonderfully with pasta with Gorgonzola cream, sushi, stir fry or an orange and red onion salad.

We’re all familiar with the fragrant Viognier grape but Columbard is something we may have tasted but didn’t know we tasted. Columbard is one of the blending grapes used in both Cognac and Armagnac.

The prolific grape, Ugni Blanc, or Trebbiano if you were Italian, makes up about 95% of Cognac production.

Trebbiano is one of the most widely planted white grapes in the world. Originally from Italy it is also widely planted in France. It’s most commonly used as a blending grape.

Frascati, another wonderful spring time wine, is a blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca. Under DOC laws, Frascati can be made in either a dry or a sweet style and either still or in a Spumante (sparkling) style.

The dry table wines are the most popular. They are labeled as Novello, Superiore, or Novello Superiore. The Trebbiano is more delicately flavored with floral notes that add a striking acidity to the wine. Any fish dish would pair very nicely with this dry wine. And you can pretend you’re on some Italian beach.

Another white recently revisited was the Montinore Estate Borealis. Established in 1982, Montinore Estate is a 210-acre Demeter Certified Biodynamic and Certified Organic estate that lies at the northern end of the Willamette Valley appellation.

The vineyards are planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Lagrein.

The 2014 Borealis is a blend of Gewurztraminer, Muller-Thurgau, Riesling, and Pinot Gris. This blend of grapes covers the full fruit spectrum on the nose with peach, yellow apple, pineapple and bright citrus popping out, accented with whiffs of lychee and fresh rose petals.

On the palate it starts with a slightly sweet taste of ripe peach and pear balanced with zingy citrus, which evolves into a delicious crisp finish of tropical and stone fruit. Spicy Asian, Thai or Indian dishes are the way to go for pairing with all that juicy fruit.

Many of these grape varieties can be tasted at Taste Washington which is on April 2nd and 3rd this year. Taste Washington, the nation’s largest single-region wine and food event, brings together over 225 Washington wineries, and 70 restaurants.  This is a great opportunity to learn about these grape varieties and what to pair with them. For more information, go to TasteWashington.org

Belgians have Wit, the world’s best fries and more

Belgium is very unique in many ways. This culturally diverse country has three languages, 150 breweries making thousands of unusual beers and an especially excellent way with fries.

Just as Wisconsin has its cheese heads, Belgians have potato heads. Indeed, Belgium’s annual per capita frites consumption far surpasses America’s French fry consumption. There are frites stands galore on the streets of Bruges. They are so dedicated to the dish; they even have created a frites museum.

The secret of Belgian’s world’s best fries is like its beers, a special recipe. The trick is to fry the potatoes twice each time at a different temperature and serve with the usual condiment –flavored mayonnaise.

And of course, you’ll want to wash the potatoes down with a tasty beer. Which Belgium has – in spades. The beers from this culturally rich country are diverse and distinctive. Tripels, Dubbels, Quadrupel, Saisons, Wits, Faro, Oud Bruin, Flemish Red, Gueuze, Pale, Strong Dark, Strong Pale and Lambics are the many styles of beer made.

There is also a huge range of Belgian beer glasses for each style of beer. Chalices, goblets, tulips, flutes and snifters are preferred because their shape impacts head development and retention.

Head is the foam created when you pour your beer into a proper glass. It acts as a cap for all the lovely aromas, such as hop oils, fruit, herbs, all kinds of fermentation by products like alcohol, fusels and esters, spices or even wood.

The history of their beer making goes back centuries. Julius Caesar, leading his thirsty Roman legions through the land, made note that the natives produced a variety of beers.

In the Middle Ages, monasteries, as a matter of health, began brewing the unusual brews. This liquid bread was usually a Dubbel or Tripel with a few Wits here and there. The monks found that drinking a brew was healthier than the local water.

The monastic brewing tradition continues to this day. Although to make a true Trappist beer, you must be a sanctioned monastery. The eleven genuine Trappist monasteries — six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands and one each in Austria, Italy and United States produce about 25 labels in very small quantities.

The rest of Belgium presents a treasure trove of exotic ales. Just like the frites, the recipe for each of these beers is unique. With Belgium beer, mashing matters. Belgian brewers do multi-step mashes. Again, they cook it twice each at a different temperature. The result is better head retention and more body.

Other exotics could be introduced at some point in the brewing process. Fresh fruit, barley sugar, herbs, wild yeasts, spices and/ or aged hops are all part of the Belgian way with beer.

The effect of this huge range of flavors has sent beer geeks off into the wide world of wine speak in an attempt to describe the sheer complexity of Belgium beers.

Take the humble beginnings of Saison. Saison is French for season. In the countryside, agriculture naturally attracts a ton of seasonal workers, called saisonniers in Belgium. They would harvest the crops and brew ales with leftovers. Saisons were beers made to be consumed by the workers as part of their pay. How cool is that?

Saisons tend to have a distinct hop flavor, with bright, fruity aromas, a crisp of tartness and dry finish. Saison Dupont is pretty much the gold standard for Saisons. This special beer originated before refrigeration as a beer to be brewed in winter for summer consumption.

The style required a beer sturdy enough to age six months in the bottle but refreshing enough to be enjoyed in warm weather. They generally have a big, fruity bouquet and dense head. The flavors are fruity at the start but end crisp with a light, refreshing body.

One other highly unusual style of beer is the Lambic and Gueze. This style of beer is made with fruit, raspberries, peaches, cassis, apples or cherries. And there is a two step process of fermenting this beer in addition to a wily yeast strain.

Conventional beers are fermented with carefully cultivated strains of yeasts, right? Well, this is where Lambics take a 180. They’re produced by spontaneous fermentation. The wort is set up in the attics, the windows are opened and it is exposed to the wild yeasts and bacteria native to the area. Over eighty microorganisms have been identified in Lambic beer, so it’s got to be good for you.

Another important feature of Lambic is that it is usually a blend of at least two different beers; many “producers” are really just blenders who buy finished product from other brewers, and blend two or more together before bottling. A Gueuze may have occupied space in several different cellars over six years or more.

Witbier, also known as Belgian White, is a style of wheat beers that are pale with a crisp wheat character and refreshing citrus notes from the orange peel and coriander. A great summer quaffer that’s perfect with creamy cheeses and shellfish. Highly recommend Hoegaarden or the Blanche de Chambly.

Where can you taste all these exotic beers? Why at the Belgian Beer Fest in Seattle! But don’t hesitate, it sells out quickly.

The Washington Beer Commission’s 7th Annual Belgian Fest at Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center will highlight 100+ Belgian-style beers crafted by almost 50 Washington breweries. Featured beer styles include Tripels, Dubbels, Saisons, Wits, Abbeys and Lambics.

Saturday, January 30th at the Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center. There are two separate sessions, one from 12-4pm and the other from 5:30-9:30 pm.

Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the door. Admission includes a tasting glass and 10 tasting tokens. Each taste is 4 oz.  Santé!

Walla Walla will be on the West Side of the Mountains

The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliancewine bottles0003 (2) is coming to town.

More than 50 wineries will bring the Walla Walla Valley tasting experience to downtown Seattle on Monday, February 8, 2016. This is a great opportunity to sample Walla Walla wines and talk to the winemakers. It’s like a mini Taste Washington! Light appetizers will be served.

Monday, February 8, 2016, 5:30-8:00pm

General Admission: $50

Buy 6 or more tickets; get 10% off with discount code WALLAWALLA10.

For ticket information, visit www.wallawallawine.com

The Best Bottles of 2015 Report

Book reports are a way to show how well you understand what you read and what you thought about it. So, think of this as my wine and beer report to show how well I appreciated and think about some of my favorite feasts, fine wines and great brews. But most of all, it’s sharing food and drink with family and friends that makes it taste so delicious.

This year’s Bremerton Beer Fest featured brews made with fruit or randalled – perfect for the sweltering heat of the day. Pyramid’s Apridunkel was my absolute favorite. This stronger and darker version of their gold medal winning Apricot Ale was made with 2-row, caramel 40, chocolate malts and flaked wheat and only enough Cascade hops to balance the sweetness of the apricots. Really, really well made.

Innovations in the craft beer industry have brought it back to where it started – fermented, aged and shipped in barrels. The modern day trend ages beer in barrels in order to produce a richer more complex product. Bourbon, rye, tequila, brandy, gin and even wine barrels are used.  My favorites are bourbon barrel imperial stouts.

Take for instance Deschutes the Abyss 2015. It’s aged in Bourbon, Pinot Noir, and new oak barrels before the final blend. Flavors of cherry, chocolate, and licorice make this a perfect match for hearty stew. Also tasted this year, the 2008 and 2013. The Abyss is very good with a little bottle age to it also.

The Shelbourne Inn in Seaview, Washington held its 6th Annual Wild Mushroom and Pike Brewing Dinner in the fall. Every year, I get dragged down there by this fanatic mushroom lover. And every year the dishes and matches continue to amaze us.

This year’s stunning dish was the Paleo Lobster Mushroom “Lasagna” with arugula salad and a red pepper gastrique. It was paired with the Pike Pale Ale. This classic full bodied ale has nutty malt and herbaceous flavors. This amber colored ale, known as bitter in England, was so named because it’s pale compared to porters. It was a surprising match with the stunning lobster mushrooms, arugula and red pepper flavors.

But enough about beer, let’s talk about wine, shall we?

The second memorable match of 2015 was a Geoduck Ceviche with diced shallots, jimaca and avocado. The geoduck was fresh from the northwest waters, sweet and minerally. It was paired with a Vinho Verde (translation: green wine, meaning it’s young). This wine is from a cool, rainy, northwest in the biggest DOC in Portugal. Vinho Verde is known for its mineral flavors, crispness and aromatics. Made from the delicately fragrant Alvarinho grape, it was and always is a perfect match with shellfish.

Fulfilling my dreams of spectacular Bordeaux were a couple of bottles of Chateau Clerc Milon. Established in 1789, when it was sold as a national asset during the Revolution. The Clerc family bought it and did such a wonderful job, it made the cut in the 1855 classification as one of eighteen fifth growths. Located in the northern part of Paulliac, vineyards are sandwiched between two first growths – Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild.

In 1970, Philippe Rothschild thought the neglected buildings and 40 acres looked pretty fetching. He bought it, added vineyards that were originally part of the estate and restored it to its former glory. Today. the 101 acres of vineyards are planted to 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Carmenère.

It’s with great pleasure, this report pronounces the 1999 and the 1989 Clerc Milon perfect. The 1989 is a blend of 65 Cabernet, 25 Merlot and 10 Cabernet Franc. The vintage was exceptional in Bordeaux. This bottle was glorious with wonderful spice, cedar aromas and silky flavors of minerality, cocoa and tobacco and a finish of great length. Everything I would ask for in a wine of its maturity

The 1999 Clerc Milon, a blend of 55 Cabernet, 27 Merlot and 18 Cabernet Franc, was a big, concentrated wine in its youth. Highly rated but not quite the great vintage as the ’89, its anticipated maturity was right around the corner – 2016. It’s a beautiful wine. The color was amazing for a sixteen year old, still very dark with no sign of fading. The fragrant nose and velvet texture were the highlights of this wine.

Just the memory of these wines makes me smile. I hope that 2016 brings you many warm memories that have you smiling too. May the New Year bring you Peace and Happiness.