Spring’s Eternal Blessings

Spring celebrates traditions and cultures and new beginnings. This month’s celebrations include the Passover, Easter and a  birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Easter and Passover are time honored traditions filled with family, friends and feasting. At the Passover Seder, people of the Jewish faith celebrate their freedom from Egyptian slavery and Christians rejoice at their savior’s resurrection. Pagans had their own springtime traditions that involved Ēostre, a Germanic goddess of fertility, bunnies and eggs.

All this celebrating begins as Mother Nature sheds the cold, wet blanket of winter and displays the many shades and hues of green and the occasional clump of sunny daffodils.

Spring brings verdant fare with fresher, lighter dishes and wines on our tables. From appealing asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, to fresh sliced radishes on buttered toast points or crackers, lemony sorrel, the zingiest garden green ever, sautéed leeks and morels, roasted spring lamb with fresh peas, new potatoes with chive butter, juicy, sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb, and the emergence of abundant mint family, there are many refreshing ways to celebrate spring.

Below are some adventurous wines that play nicely with spring’s bounty. But first, my “Spring Wine Rules.”

  1. Spring wines can be complex wines. Color outside the lines with wines that are not your usual fare. Resist the urge to be safe! Be daring! Be adventuresome!
  2. The delicate flavors of spring wines have notes of herbs, grass and slightly tart fruit which are the perfect match for spring vegetables. The brighter the wine, the better the match.
  3. No new oak. These wines should be herbal and crisp; it’s lighten up time! Stainless steel fermentation insures a crisp and fruit forward flavor. Oak does not.
  4. Kosher wines are fairly plentiful and very good. They can range from big and hearty to lower alcohol, fruity Moscatos. From Italy to Israel to southern California, winemakers have been making these wines for decades.
  5. It’s not the perfect guideline for spring wines but wines that will age usually have a cork. Times have changed; screw caps do not necessarily mean bulk wine any more than corks signify high quality wines.
  6. No Chardonnays or Pinot Grigios.

Here are my plucky proposals for spring whites. These are not the easiest wines to find, so go with the region or the grape.

PINOT BLANC – This grape is a member of the mutant ninja Pinot family. Being a mutant ninja has to do with the ease that they can change skin color. The red skinned grapes are Nero or Noir and Meunier and the gray skinned grape is Gris or Grigio. White is Blanc or Blanco depending on where in the world it is made. Today, Pinot Gris or Grigio is more fashionable than Pinot Blanc.

But Pinot Blanc has the body of a Chardonnay and an easy drinking style that is likely to surprise and delight. And it does not see oak! Instead, it spends time in a great big barrel that is more often than not, lined with centuries of tartaric crystals. I often recommend an Alsatian Pinot Blanc as a choice for seafood, vegetables and roasted chicken salads.

As the third most mountainous country in Europe, Greece’s distinct topography enables the cultivation of 350 indigenous cool weather varietals in a warm weather climate. Somewhat unexpected after seeing all those movies of very sunny, sandy beaches in Greece.

One of Greece’s greatest white wines comes from the MOSCHOFILERO (Mohs-koh-FEE-leh-roh) grape. The wine is super dry but has an aromatic and floral nose. It’s a great wine for spring entertaining. Most Moschofilero can be found in Mantinia, a region in the middle of the Peloponnese Peninsula.

ALBARIÑO is native to Spain’s Rias Baixas region. It’s crisp, refreshing and reminds me of a blend of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Albariño can be lovely with an exotic aromatics and crisp citrus character. That makes it great with fish with a sorrel sauce or ham and pea salad. Zingy in style, it has enough fruit for great balance.

GROS MANSENG is a country white from Gascony, in southwestern France, and it delivers a terrific bang for buck. The Gros Manseng grape is filled with fresh, clean, herbal flavors and Armagnac brings more weight than most simple table wines. It’s hard to find a more versatile spring – or summer – wine.

MENETOU-SALONS made from Sauvignon Blanc are in the grassy, minerally flavor realm.  Its racy acidity is ideal for the tender spring vegetables.  Hailing from the Loire Valley, where Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé set the bar, the appellation of Menetou-Salon is just west of Sancerre. The chalky soils are similar to the vineyards of Chablis and the resulting flinty minerality of those wines. Pair it with asparagus and scrambled eggs or a pea risotto as a spring treat.

VINHO VERDE is a fizzy Portuguese white. The fresh citrus and-herb packed flavors, low alcohol and fizzy personality make it the perfect spring wine. The lighter alcohol content is perfect for a light spring brunch of frittata, fresh fruits, and hot cross buns.

PICPOUL, native to the Rhone Valley and Languedoc, tends to be crisp and green similar to a Sauvignon Blanc.  Picpoul de Pinet from vineyards overlooking the Mediterranean Sea can show richness that makes them one of the best value choices out there. Use it to begin dinner as it pairs especially well with clam linguine, barbequed oysters or crab cakes.

VERDELHO plays nicely with spring fare with scents of chervil and thyme and lots of citrusy brightness. It has sweet peachy flavors that add a bit of weight to the mouthfeel. The grape is Portuguese, but it has found home in California, where its ability to hold acidity in the heat make Verdelho a winner. It also shines Hunter Valley where it is blended to brighten up the mellower Semillon. Chill it up and pair it with sardines, olives or a chicken salad.

Another grape to consider is the CHENIN BLANC grape from France, South Africa or Washington. It has a steely, aromatic profile with ripe peach flavors that pairs well with the season’s flavors. Consider a bottle of this with your smoked trout or fresh fruit salad.

May your springtime celebrations be sunny with lighter fare and adventuresome wines!

Small, artisan winemakers at Taste Washington

Washington has a legion of wineries producing great wine from the approximately 50,000 acres planted to vitis vinifera. Only 20 of these wineries make more than 40,000 cases annually. Small, family producers make up the vast majority of the 900+ wineries.

Considering all the wines at Taste Washington’s Grand Tasting, what were the standouts for me? The three that immediately come to mind: Caideas, Cadence and Terra Blanca. All small artisan wineries.

Cairdeas Winery began making wine from eastern Washington grapes in South Seattle. The family-owned artisan operation then moved to the Lake Chelan AVA, a less hectic environment to raise a family and produce great wine. Charlie and Lacey Lybecker named their winery Cairdeas, which is Irish for friendship and a nod to their Irish heritage. I would like to be their new best friend. You may want to be also.

Their wines are Nellie Mae 2014 Columbia Valley White Rhone (named for his grandmother), Tri Red Yakima Valley 2014 Rhone Blend, and (being Irish and wine lover, I love this) the 2014 Caislen an Papa Meek Vineyard Red Rhone from the Yakima Valley. Caislen an Papa is Irish and, roughly translated, means the same as Chateauneuf du Pape. Chateauneuf du Pape is French for new home of the pope.

History tells us there was this long line of Italian only popes and then in the 13th century, a pope was elected that was not Italian but French! He had this brilliant idea of moving the papal palace to Avignon, the heart of the southern Rhône region. There, a red wine was blended using up to13 different grape varieties, both red and white.

Anyway, back to this Irish take on a red Rhône-like wine with an Irish name that so intrigued me. It’s a blend of 44 percent Grenache, 22 percent Mourvedre, 14 percent Syrah, 13 percent Cinsault and 7 percent Counoise. OK, so not the 13 allowed varieties, but when was the last time you saw Cinsault and Counoise in a Washington wine? Definitely a wine to seek out.

Nellie Mae is a white Rhone blend of 70 percent Viognier and Roussanne with 14 percent alcohol. The nose is fragrant, the flavors are balanced and the finish is long. The 2014 Tri was a blend of Yakima Syrah (64 percent) Mourvedre and Grenache with all kinds of raspberry and earthiness in the nose and on the palate. It was gorgeous.

Next was Cadence Winery and the charming Ben Smith. I love their Red Mountain sourced wines. All of these wines will draw you in, as they drew me in, by their fragrant aromas.

The Cadence Coda made by Smith is a Bordeaux blend-like wine of Cab Franc (46 percent), Merlot (28 percent), Cab (17 percent) and Petite Verdot (9 percent) from the Taptiel and Ciel du Cheval Vineyards on Red Mountain. This full-bodied blend redolent of black fruits and earth is especially nice right now but could use a year of aging to marry the flavors.

The 2014 Camerata is a Bordeaux blend from Smith’s own Cara Mia vineyard on Red Mountain. It’s composed of Cab (40 percent), Merlot (34 percent), Cab Franc (15 percent), and Petite Verdot (2 percent).

Winemaker Smith made me feel very special when he pulled out a Bel Canto from 2002. The grapes came from Taptiel Vineyard and were a blend of 49 percent Cabernet, 34 percent Merlot, 15 percent Cab Franc, and 2 percent Petite Verdot. The wine was beautiful.

In 1992, Keith and ReNae Pilgrim purchased of 300 acres on an arid, treeless slope called Red Mountain.  They  journeyed from California to Washington to build Terra Blanca Winery and Estate Vineyards into one of the most magnificent estates on the mountain and perhaps the whole state.

The winery houses a restaurant and a separate banquet room with view of the estate well-manicured grounds. The gigantic underground cellar keeps the barrels and bottles cool.

At the Taste of Washington, they were pouring the 2013 Estate vineyard ONYX, a Bordeaux blend; the 2013 Signature Series Block B Syrah, also from the estate vineyards; and the Signature Series Estate Vineyards 2012 Titan Red.

The 2013 Signature Series Block B Syrah was gorgeous. Rich and polished, it had black raspberry white pepper and smoky herbs. The complexity of it! Another rich and polished wine is the ONYX, which always lives up to high standards. This dense red has flavors of black cherry, plum and aromatic spices neatly framed by silky tannins that will age beautifully for a few years.

Looking through my notes, I saw a couple more you must check out because they are outstanding, too. New Red Mountain arrival Canvasback is a property of California’s Duckhorn Winery. This 2014 Cab is from Ciel du Cheval Vineyards while they wait for their 20 acres of estate vineyards, planted in 2011, to come to maturity. This wine is a blend of 87 percent Cab, 9 percent Merlot, and a dollop of Cab Franc and Malbec. Get some of this beautiful wine.

At Bartholomew Winery, a Seattle urban winery on Airport Way South, you can taste the unexpected. These unusual wines are made from some rare grape varieties in this state. Their  wines  — Carménère Rosé and Konnowac Vineyard Tannat — are sourced from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. They also produce a Horse Heaven Hills Primitivo.

Carménère is rarely seen in Bordeaux, where it was born. It’s more likely to be found in Chile where for years, it was mistaken for Merlot.  Tannat is a thick-skinned varietal most famous as the principal grape in a Madiran and now coming into its own again in South America’s Uruguay.  All these wines are deftly made by owner and winemaker Bart Fawbush.

There are more, so many more small, artisan wineries to discover in our state. Cheers to the continued adventure!

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine lovers for a couple of decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club and can pair a beer or wine dinner in a flash. She volunteers for the Clear Creek Trail, is a member of the Central Kitsap Community Council and a longtime supporter of Silverdale

My Taste Washington Grand Tasting Picks

Taste Washington is an annual (20 years now!) gathering in Seattle of Washington wineries and restaurants to celebrate wine and food.

Winemakers from all over the world have established vineyards and wineries bringing the total wineries in the state to over 900. The wines they ferment reflect the characteristics of the prized vineyards, some planted over 30 years ago. Taste Washington provides a unique opportunity to taste old favorites and experience the over 100 new one from the past two years.

While planning this year’s list, I was taken by the number of wineries that were small, totally focused and passionate about Washington.

And also struck by the number of winemakers coming from all parts of the wine world.  Drawn by the great fruit, terroir, and potential that these vineyards have. Here are some wineries, most new, that have intrigued me with their offerings and a few that I want to become reacquainted with. I hope I can make it to at least half in the short time there.

Andrew Will and Arbor Crest both old favorites who have been here for quite a while and have great vineyard resources.  AniChe, Archeus, Armstrong, Array, Auclair, Avennia, Baier, Barons, Barrage, Barrel Springs, Bartholomew, Bergdorf, Bontzu, Brady, Burnt Bridge, Bronco, broVo, and Buried Cane are very new to me.

Callan Cellars is a new micro-boutique winery in Woodinville. California’s Duckhorn Winery is synonymous to Merlot magic. They recently bought part of Red Mountain and are producing a Washington wine called Canvasback. Excited to try this one.

Cedar River Cellars is Renton’s own award winning winery with grapes from Burgess Vineyards. Along the Columbia River, Cascade Cliffs  make the best Washington State Barbera.  Co Dinn, Col Solare, a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Italy’s Antinori, Walla Walla’s College Cellars, Leavenworth’s Eagle Creek Winery and Eight Bells, a small, 2000 case, urban winery in North Seattle are all worth a sip or two. Wineries are popping up everywhere!

For a Song Winery’s Ancient Lakes Chard is intriguing for the terroir. And Yakima’s JB Neufeld produces award winning wines from the DuBrul and Artz vineyards. Karma is making true Méthode Champenoise and Woodinville’s Kevin White produces some amazing Rhone wines. Kitze has an Italian grape variety, Nebbiolo.

Latta Wines has a Roussanne and Grenache made by Sommelier-owner Andrew Latta who spent a few years working at a notable Washington winery. The Grenache, aged for 22 months, is sourced from the Upland Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA. This area was first planted in 1917 by Washington State wine pioneer William B. Bridgman.

Lobo Hills is a small production winery in Seattle . Tony and Diane Dollar will pour their Chenin Blanc and Petite Verdot.

Long Shadows produces a number of wines from Washington grapes. What is unique about this winery is they have renowned winemakers from Germany. Australia, France, California and Italy make the wine.

Memaloose’s  Grace Vineyard Semillon and Dolcetto are just two of the over 20 grape varieties sourced from the five organic estate vineyards on both the Washington and Oregon banks of the Columbia River – in the Columbia Gorge Appellation.

Monte Scarlatto Estate Winery and Vineyards is one of the newest places on Red Mountain. Varietals include Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carménère, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.

Tiny Mount Si Winery in Snoqualmie makes a Syrah, Cab and Merlot from Wahluke Slope grapes.

When Jerry Riener started the Guardian Winery, he told his friends that he planned to bottle age his red wines at least 12 months before release. They took that comment lightly. Riener has found being patient is a pain, but it sure does create some delicious wines.

Nine Hats is a must, Palouse, Pearl & Stone I vaguely recall and Piccola, Pomum Dondera, Reasons Wine (love the name), Reynvaan, Robert Karl and Rocky Pond’s Lake Chelan Viognier are calling my name.

Sagemoor was planted in 1968. Back then it was all experimental. Nobody knew for sure which grape varietals would grow. Today, over 40 years and 1,100 acres later, Sagemoor has five full-production vineyards supplying grapes to northwest wineries both big and boutique. Those five vineyards are Sagemoor, Bacchus, Dionysus, Weinbau, and Gamache.  Their website is full of wonderful vineyard info.

Secret Squirrel, Snoqualmie’s Sigillo SnoValley White is a blend of Pinot Gris, Chenin and Gewurz, which makes me think of dry white Alsatian blends.  Silvara is a small production winery in Leavenworth with an award winning Malbec.

Seven Falls Wahluke Slope Red, Cab and Chard is on the list because its new and the Wahluke has some great vineyards. Skyfall is new and notable for its under $20 wines, Sol Stone’s Wahluke Slope Weinbau Grenache, Somme des Partues Winery, Sonoris Winery all made the list. As well as South Seattle’s small Structure Winery that uses Wallula Slope, Upland, Destiny Ridge, and Stillwater fruit all great grape places.

Tertulia Cellars produces a Carménère and Tempranillo, these grapes migrated from South America and Spain. Three of Cups Winery has an intriguing Heart of the Hill Petite Sirah, another traveling grape this time from California. Truth Teller has an Elephant Mountain Viognier, Tunnel Hill Winery has a Lake Chelan Pinot Noir, and Two Vintners Boushey Vineyards Grenache Blanc are some of the most unusual wines there.

It is an ambitious plan but I’m willing to swirl, sniff, sip and spit for the experience. Hope to see you there!

Irish Stew with Wine

Faith and begorrah, why is it that Saint Patrick’s Day is the most celebrated national festival in the world?

Did you know more than 13 million pints of Guinness guzzled on that day?  The 258 year-old brew is a favorite with corned beef and cabbage or Irish Stew.

Beer and Whiskey are more common quaffs on this day. But those industrious Irish monks were planting vineyards and making wine in the 5th century out of neccesity. They needed wine to celebrate mass.

Centuries later, skirmishes with England sent Irish wine makers off to France where you’ll find chateaux named Langoa Barton, Lawton,  Phelan Segur, Lynch Bages, and Kirwan.

In California, one famous winery’s Petite Sirah cuttings have been grafted onto rootstock up and down the state. Thank you, James Concannon.
Here on the Kitsap Peninsula, you can enjoy Irish Stew and wine at Fletcher Bay Winery on St. Patrick’s Day from

Walla Walla’s White Wines

The name Walla Walla supposedly translates to “many waters,” but it’s more likely to be “waters waters” than “many many.” Or perhaps Walla Walla was interpreted as enough water for everyone, no water rights needed for the many.

The Walla Walla Valley has the right dirt, “many waters” and abundant sunshine to support this particular agricultural bounty. Even when Washington was still a territory, grape cultivation and winemaking were part of the growing economy as early as 1876.  In 1882, there were 27 saloons in town, selling jugs of wine and shots of cheap whiskey, in a town of 4,000.

Alas, the burgeoning wine industry was cut short when the Northern Pacific Railroad bypassed Walla Walla. Their ability to sell their wines to other markets was severely hampered.  And to further constrict the industry, in the freeze of 1883, temperatures fell to 20 below, grape vines were damaged and production was dramatically reduced.

It would be almost 100 years before grape production began to ramp back up again and put Walla Walla back on the world wine map.

In 1977, Leonetti Cellars opened its doors and received wide acclaim in the ensuing years. After putting in a few harvests at Leonetti, Rick Small opened Woodward Canyon in 1981. Next, in 1983, Jean and Baker Ferguson opened L’Ecole No. 41, Eric and Janet Rindall’s Waterbrook released their first vintage in 1984, Patrick Paul in 1988, Canoe Ridge in 1993, Glen Fiona and Walla Walla Vintners in 1996.
And wineries just keep opening. Today, there are around 77 wineries in downtown Walla Walla, at the airport, on the east and west sides and south into Oregon. Walla Walla is one of three AVAs whose footprint is in both Washington and Oregon.

For the past dozen years or so, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance rolls into Seattle. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the winemakers, wines and wineries.

Forty-nine big and small wineries poured new releases and old favorites. Best known for its powerful reds such as Cab, Merlot and Syrah, Walla Walla also boasts a smattering of other red grapes – Malbec, Mourvèdre, Carménère, and Tempranillo.

Having tasted many of these big, rich reds and looking to explore the path less traveled and the tables less crowded, I sought out and sampled the sprinkling of whites, both the usual suspects and then unusual grapes such as Albariño, Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Marsanne.

A longtime acquaintance who also happens to be a sommelier was there tasting these wines with me. We did the usual comparing to Old World wines with more thumbs up than down. It was a great wine-geeky moment for me.

Abeja is probably my favorite Walla Walla Chardonnay because it’s so well balanced. Which means not overly oaked, and not a fruit bomb either. It could easily tie with another favorite Walla Walla Chardonnay – Woodward Canyon’s. And, of course, Waterbrook’s for a nicely balanced and so affordable wine.

Abeja sourced its 2015 Chardonnay from Celilo and Conner Lee Vineyards as does Woodward Canyon. Kissed with new and used oak for nine months, the balance between fruit, acids and alcohol is perfect.

Abeja’s talented winemaker, John Abbott, honed that balancing act while working for the Canoe Ridge. He’s crafted many harvests for Abeja until the 2016 vintage. His time is now devoted to Pinot Noir under his own label, Devona.  Look for it. It’s going to be great.

Taking over the winemaker duties are the husband wife team of Daniel Wampfler and Amy Alvarez Wampfler. Both started out at Columbia Crest where they met. Wampfler moved to Dunham Cellars in 2008 when they were a 15,000 case winery. Dunham now produces 30,000 cases a year.

In 2010, the Sinclairs hired Alvarez-Wampfler as winemaker at their 1,500 case winery. Sinclair Estate’s 2014 Columbia Valley Chardonnay is aged sur-lie for a year, giving an added dimension to the wine. It’s on the oaky side, having spent a year in 25% new oak. For my palate, I’d give it a year to mellow out.

At Tranche, their Blue Mountain Vineyard is sustainably farmed and the low yield harvest produces intensely flavored fruit. Their 2013 Chardonnay, also from Celilo Vineyards, has a beautiful tropical fruitiness with juicy crispness that makes this wine a great candidate for fish, chicken and that other white meat. Please pass the béchamel. The new French oak was held to a minimum 5% for 18 months. It’s ready to enjoy now.

Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s most versatile and food friendly wines out there. It was widely planted in Washington State’s teen years but Cab, Merlot and Syrah which command higher prices, have changed that.  But there are still old vineyards out there that produce some amazing Chenins from dessert to bone dry.

One is Waitsburg Cellars, which has two versions of Chenin Blanc both from the 2015 vintage. The Cheninnieres is a play on the distinctive, dry Chenin produced in the Savennieres appellation in the Loire Valley where Chenin Blanc is widely planted.

This wine has wonderful pear notes with a hint of herbs on the nose and the palate. It finishs more than off-dry, making it a perfect accompaniment to cold smoked trout with a mustard sauce.

Also located in the Loire Valley is the well-known and well-loved Vouvray, a totally different style from the Savennieres. This wine has sweet, peachy flavors and residual sugar of 3.33%.  The beauty is the acidity that balances the sweetness to keep the wine refreshing. Curried shrimp would definitely be the greatest match for this little sweetie.

Trust 2014 Riesling was enchanting, with its diesel nose. Perfectly mimicking a controlled German Riesling, balance and all with 11.6% alcohol and 2.2% residual sugar. It’s another candidate for that curried shrimp dish.

The Caderetta 2015 SBS is worthy of another glass or two. SBS is short for Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, the traditional white Bordeaux blend. The wine crisp, herbal, citrusy aromas and flavors are the result of 89% of this wine fermented in stainless steel. Pair this with your next herbed vegetable dish, roasted pepper hummus or a Caesar salad and you’ll see.

Caderetta is owned by the Middleton Family, who began planting their estate vineyard in 2008. Seven Hills Vineyard is adjacent to this vineyard and has some of Washington’s finest wineries using their grapes.  In addition to the SBS, they produce Cab, Syrah, and red blends

Well, it’s been a pleasure recapping this tasting. Tastings are such a great opportunity to learn so much about the wines that you like. Remember to smell and taste. Then decide if it’s a keeper or not. It’s really just that simple. You like it or you don’t like it and you move on.

Your next opportunity for tasting Washington wines is at the mother of all Washington wine tastings, Taste Washington. Over 100 wineries, tons of restaurants serving little bites and seminars for more in depth wine knowledge in case you’re sitting for the sommelier test. Cheers!

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine lovers for a couple of decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club and can pair a beer or wine dinner in a flash. She volunteers for the Clear Creek Trail, is a member of the Central Kitsap Community Council and a longtime supporter of Silverdale.

What Makes a Great Wine?

Terrior. A thoroughly French concept that envelopes soil, topography, sunlight,

Ggrich Hills
Ggrich Hills vines

rainfall, diurnal temperature variations and hydrology. The holistic combination of these components gives wines their unique sense of place. In the Old World.

In the New World, we are more inclined toward grape varieties than geography. But not all grape varieties. There are around 1000 vinifera grape varieties. The more obscure have magical names like, Falanghina, Assyrtiko, Touriga Francesca, Ortega, Norton, Petit Mansang, Muscat Frontignan, and Uva Rara.

The sciences of land, water, air as it relates to plants are important factors to consider when you find that wine you love. Even more important than vintage, in my opinion.

While vintage does make a difference if you’re intending to age a wine, most wines are consumed within a year of being purchased. Fluctuations from vintage to vintage are not as dramatic as it had been in the past. Especially in Washington State.

Modern technology gives the viticulturalist the advantage despite what Mother Nature may throw their way.  The biggest risk is a freeze that kills the vines. Something that has happened in 2006 and in 2016. Recovery is slow and yields are low.

Another recent difficult vintage was 2011 because it was a particularly wet year at the wrong time – harvest. Rain at harvest will plump up the grapes with water and the resulting wine will not be as concentrated as in other, warmer years.

Another small menace for vineyards in a low lying pocket is a spring frost that can interrupt bud break and reduce the crop size. Today, this condition is carefully monitored with sensors in the vineyards talking to computers in the lab. This allows immediate action with water and/or smudge pots so that Mother Nature rarely gets away with very many bunches.

Temperature and diurnal swings are another big factor. Some vinifera grapes like it hot. This is ok if there are the accompanied cool evenings and/or morning fog that are responsible for those balancing acids.

Heat seeking grapes soak up all that warmth from the sun and the soil and that produces fruit sugars. Warm to hot climate grapes such as Cabernet, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Viognier, and Zinfandel are the heat lovers with lots of fruit sugars.

Eastern Washington, the vast vineyards of California’s valleys, France’s Rhone and Provence regions, Italy and Sunny Spain are examples of warm areas that these grapes perform well in. However, these regions have another important factor; the nighttime temperatures and cool morning fog allow the acidity in the grapes to flourish.

Acidity is that refreshing taste that balances the sweetness of a wine.  Acidity is also responsible for preserving color, keeping those red wines red and white wines yellow. There are several types of acidity, all playing their key function.  The most significant are the tartaric and malic acids, with a minor role by citric acid.

Acidity, as any home canner knows, also plays an essential role in preventing bacteria from forming. One exception to this rule is lactic bacteria. Most wineries will inoculate their wines with this bacterium to change the sharper malic acids to rounder lactic acids. This gives a wine, both red and white, a fuller, creamier mouthfeel and is responsible for the buttery flavors in a Chardonnay.  As always, balance is needed otherwise without the refreshing malic acids; your wine will be flabby.

One other significant factor regarding acidity. It is essential for wine and food pairing that the acidity be present to contrast, compliment and cut the fatty proteins in foods like cheese, meats and fish. Just try a bite of seafood without a squeeze of lemon and you’ll know what I mean.

Cool climate grapes are slower in the production of sugars, develop acids more readily and mature at a more leisurely pace. Cool regions have the morning fog hangs over the vineyards; cool evenings and north facing sites that shield the grapes from the hot sun.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, home of David Lett aka Papa Pinot, is renowned for their Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling. All cool climate grapes. Named for the river that flows through it, the Willamette Valley has over 200 wineries and 15,000 acres of vineyards growing grapes in the valley that has those fog covered mornings.  Most of this foggy region is about 100 feet above sea level with the highest point in the sub-AVA of Chehalem Mountains, around 1,633 feet above sea level.

France’s cooler Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne and Alsace regions are also produce very fine wines from their more northerly vineyards with much the same grapes listed above. Even further north are the chilly vineyards of Germany, growing mostly Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau and Dornfelder and a smattering of Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) here and there.

This weekend, there is a wine tour much closer to home in the Puget Sound American Viticultural Area, a uniquely sunny area surrounded by a rain forest, farmlands in the valleys and Puget Sound.

The Olympic Peninsula Wineries are hosting their annual Wine, Cider & Chocolate Tour, February 18th, 19th, and 20th from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Enjoy the scenic peninsula towns of Port Angeles, Sequim, Port Townsend, Chimacum, and Nordland (Marrowstone Island) and the wineries and cideries that produce some award winning products.

Tickets will get you to a special commemorative wine glass, complimentary wine tasting and chocolate samples at Alpenfire Cider, Camaraderie Cellars, Eaglemount Wine & Cider, FairWinds Winery, Finnriver Farm & Cidery, Harbinger Winery, Marrowstone Vineyards, Olympic Cellars, and Wind Rose Cellars.

Online tickets are $40, and $45 day of at participating wineries. Visit www.olympicpeninsulawineries.org for further information. Participants who have their ticket stamped at all 9 of our wineries will be entered into a drawing for an elegant wine themed gift basket.

Hope to see you in our own unique terroir this weekend!

February for Flowers, Wine and Chocolate

Did you know that $1.9 billion is spent on flowers for Valentine’s Day? Another mind blowing fact is the average American consumes more than 10 pounds of chocolate and 2.8 gallons of wine annually. And for those of us doing our part in this endeavor, February offers many events that even combine wine and chocolate.

However, February does start off in a different direction with one colossal beer event. It’s That Sunday, when millions watch the big game while drinking large quantities of an American lager. But if you’re living an alternative high life, perhaps a six pack of Sam Adams, Deschutes, Lagunitas, New Belgium or Sierra Nevada will fill the bill.

In fact, more than 325 million gallons of beer will be consumed that day. It’s also a day when chips, wings, guacamole, chili, pizza and burgers make it the second biggest spread laid out just behind Thanksgiving. Amazing.

Nine days after the Super Bowl, is Valentine’s Day, so if you’re inclined more to craft beer, pair a dark chocolate with a Belgian dubbel, milk stout or Lambic. They cozy up together right nice.

Romance and Valentine’s Day just naturally go together like spaghetti and meatballs. There are a number of events leading up to That big day.

Hopefully, you’ve made plans for dinner whether reservations or a romantic dinner at home – complete with a beautiful bottle of wine – or beer – and a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

Local events leading up to Valentine’s Day include Burrata Bistro’s February Wine Social on Monday, February 6th at 5:00pm.  Six wonderful Italian wines will be opened and available to sip, savor and purchase. An Acinum Prosecco Extra Dry, Pallavicini Frascati, Colosi Nero D’Avola, Cantele Salice Salentino Reserva 2012, Pecchenino San Luigi Dolcetto 2015 and Argiano Non Confunditur Rosso 2014.  The Wine Social is $32 per person. For more info: 360.930.8446

The JW Restaurant in Gig Harbor kicks things off on Wednesday, February 8th with the highly acclaimed Napa winery, Chappellet. Chappellet first crafted wine in 1967 from their Pritchard Hill Vineyards. Pritchard Hill is a 600 acre estate located east of Rutherford about 1,400 feet above Napa Valley. Through the years, some famous winemakers such as Philip Togni, Tony Soter and Cathy Corison have fashioned award winning Chappellet wines.

This memorable evening with Amy and Dominic Chappellet begins at 6pm with Seared Sea Scallops alongside the 2014 Chardonnay; followed by a Filet with Wild Mushroom Bordelaise and the 2012 Merlot; the 2014 Mountain Cuvee is paired Lamb Lollipops drizzled with Blackberry Demi-Glace made with the Mountain Cuvee and for dessert, you’ll savor the Dark Chocolate Trio with the 2014 Signature Cabernet. Seating is limited. For reservations, (253)858-3529

The weekend of February 11 and 12th, all seven Bainbridge Island Wineries are opened for Wine on the Rock – Wine and Chocolate. Each will be pouring their wines paired with wonderful chocolates. A weekend pass is $40 with an option to be shuttled to the wineries for an extra $20 (good for both days). Sit back, relax, enjoy some wonderful wines and leave the driving to a professional. What could be lovelier than that?

The Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island has partnered with the Bainbridge Island Lodging Association to offer a special overnight package which includes a bottle of local wine, invite to a private winemaker’s event February 10th, free shuttle passes and more.  Rooms can be reserved at www.bainbridgelodging.com Sweet!

Recently, Eleven Winery’s 2014 Syrah from Elephant Mountain Vineyard took Double Gold and 2014 Malbec took Silver at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Other medal winning wines can be tasted at Eagle Harbor, Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Fletcher Bay, Rolling Bay and Perennial Vineyards.

Interestingly after Valentine’s Day is National Drink Wine Day on February 18th – as if we needed another reason. We celebrate wine all year long, right? Wine does have many benefits.  Moderate wine drinkers have more friends, lower risks of liver disease, type II diabetes, certain kinds of cancers, heart attack and stroke.  The resveratrol in red wine can reduce the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good (HDL). Not bad for a little glass of pleasure.

Since February 18th is also National Crab-Stuffed Flounder Day, may we suggest a crisp, citrusy white wine to pair the two celebrations together? Viognier, Albariño or Grenache Blanc could be your new grape adventure.

Wine Yakima Valley is inviting wine and chocolate enthusiasts to its annual Red Wine & Chocolate event weekend, February 18 – 20th. As the oldest wine growing region in Washington State, wineries from Yakima, Zillah, Prosser and Red Mountain will be offering a weekend of divine decadence with a Premier Pass, the best way to experience the depth of the Yakima Valley.

By purchasing a Premier Pass, holders will be able to experience a variety of specialty food pairings, library tastings, and tours. Premier Passes are available for $35 at the door at select wineries during the event weekend.

That about takes care of February wine events. Looking ahead to March, which is Washington Wine Month, you’ll want to gear up for the 20th annual Taste Washington.

You and your wine buddies can explore each of Washington’s 14 AVAs, their wineries and vineyards, taste culinary treats from great restaurants and meet some hardworking winemakers and farmers – all during Taste Washington’s 20th Anniversary, March 23-26th.

For a complete Taste Washington experience, you’ll need four full days to try everything this region has to offer – it’s a mini wine vacation! Tickets are on sale now.  TasteWashington.org

For reduced ticket prices to the Grand Tasting, volunteer to set up or clean up. Details here:  http://tastewashington.org/volunteers-2017

 

Discover the Endless Ways to Taste Washington

Washington is overflowing with incredible wine! You and your best friends can explore each AVA’s wineries, taste culinary treats from great restaurants and meet some hardworking winemakers and farmers – all during Taste Washington’s 20th Anniversary, March 23-26.

For a complete Taste Washington experience, you’ll need four full days to try everything this region has to offer – a mini wine vacation! Tickets are on sale now.  http://tastewashington.org

For reduced ticket prices to the Grand Tasting, volunteer to set up or clean up. Details here:  http://tastewashington.org/volunteers-2017/

 

 

 

Bainbridge Island Wine & Chocolate

Grab your sweetheart (or friend) and visit all seven Bainbridge Island wineries to celebrate Valentine’s Day with wine and chocolate.

Wine on the Rock: Wine and Chocolate will be an unforgettable Valentine’s wine tasting event. Saturday, February 11 and Sunday, February 12, 12-5pm.

The event will include a shuttle option with quicker drop off times between each winery.   $40 ticket purchase ($60 with shuttle) is good for both days (one visit at each winery) and includes:

  • Special event wine glass
  • Wine tasting at each of the seven wineries or tasting rooms
  • Local chocolates to complement the wine tasting
  • 6 bottle wine tote

The Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island has partnered with the Bainbridge Island Lodging Association to offer a special overnight package which includes a bottle of local wine, invite to a private winemaker’s event February 10th, free shuttle passes and more.  Rooms can be reserved at www.bainbridgelodging.com

Happy New Year! Again!

It’s almost lunar New Year, which finds revelers around the world ushering in the Year of the Rooster.  And with any cultural celebration of this kind, you will need friends and family, food and wine.

My favorite rooster is pictured on a bottle of Chianti Classico, the gallo nero or black rooster. The black rooster on that bottle of Chianti Classico is one of the most widely recognized emblems of a quality wine. But that wasn’t always the case.

Back a century or two, winemaking in Chianti was pretty much a free for all.  Canaiolo was the main grape variety with lesser amounts of Sangiovese, Mammolo and Marzimino in a supporting role.  Somewhere along the way, Malvasia and Trebbiano, both white grapes, were added to the mix to soften the wine and make it more drinkable.

The region really didn’t have any guidelines for the “recipe,” so in the early 1900s, the government stepped in to help by classifying the area to decrease the huge amounts of faux Chianti produced.

They did this by acknowledging Chianti as both a wine region and a “recipe”.  Then as all governments are wont to do, they passed many laws requiring winemakers to meet certain criteria if they want to put the name Chianti, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata  e Garantita (DOCG) on the label.

In 1996, another major regulation modification brought about colossal change to the grape varieties permitted. The minimum percentage of Sangiovese increased from 75% to 80% and could be as much as 100%.  In addition, the other twenty percent could be other native red grapes, such as Canaiolo, Mammolo, Colorino or even non-native varieties, such as Cabernet, Syrah or Merlot.  As of 2006, white grapes are no longer permitted in a Chianti Classico.

Those stringent regulations included minimum alcohol levels, any new vineyard may only be used after its fourth year, yields must be less than 3.34 tons per acre, production is limited to 6.6 pounds per vine , seven months minimum barrel aging, for Riservas, 24 months minimum maturation with at least three months bottle aging and the most interesting and perhaps comforting, before bottling, the wine has to pass a chemical exam and approval by a tasting panel. Makes one kind of feel like royalty.

A few years ago, the Consorzio Gallo Nero organized the Chianti Classico 2000 Project to modernize viticulture and improve quality. This was sorely needed because during the 20th century, clones of Sangiovese, of which there are a boatload, were planted more for quantity than quality.  When replanting, many growers planted whatever was available not taking into account the extreme soil and climatic differences around the region.

The project took 16 years to complete, 16 experimental vineyards, five research cellars; ten meteorological stations installed to track micro- and macro-climate patterns.

Hundreds of clones were identified. A few Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino clones were chosen because they were less susceptible common viral diseases, had smaller berries, thicker skins, and more open bunches.

Those clones are now producing some delicious Chianti Classicos. Look for the 2013 vintage to accompany your next plate of pasta. Or Sausage Pizza, or Spaghetti and Meatballs, or Rigatoni with Bolognese Sauce, or Wild Mushroom Risotto or Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce.

Chianti Classico refers to the oldest area, the classic region. It’s located between Florence and Siena and is the hub of the Chianti region within the larger Tuscan region.

Like spokes surrounding the hub, are seven other Chianti zones, each with its own particular soil, climate, and regulations. They are Colli Aretini, Colli Forentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina. On their labels are their Chianti names such as Chianti Colli Senesi (the hills of Siena) or Chianti Colli Forentini (the hills of Florence).

But enough of Italy, let’s talk about Washington State. There were about 400 tons of Sangiovese harvested in 2004. It’s a prolific but difficult vine, likened to Pinot Noir.  Through the years planting increased and by 2015 tonnage was up to 1, 300.

It’s planted in some of the best vineyards in the Wahluke AVA, Red Mountain AVA and scattered around the Columbia Valley AVA.

Cavatappi’s with its red wine stained label, to the best of my recollection has been around the longest, some 30 years. Leonetti, Walla Walla Vintners, Five Star, Tagaris, and Kiona have also been producing for some time with at least 75% being Sangiovese and perhaps a touch of Cabernet in there as is done with the Super Tuscans.
Smaller, newer wineries fermenting Sangiovese in no particular order are Sequim’s Wind Rose Cellars, Vino la Monarcha from Victor Palencia who also fashions Jones of Washington’s Sangiovese, Latah Creek out of Spokane, Brian Carter’s has a little Cab and Syrah added to his Sangiovese, Helix by Reininger, Maryhill Winery along the Columbia River sources Sangiovese from Elephant Mountain Vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, and Walla Walla’s Five Star Quinque Astrum, which is Italian for five star.
The Rosé of Sangiovese by Barnard Griffin has won gold numerous times and Waterbrook makes a pretty rose colored tasty one too.

Interesting note, the origin of the word Sangiovese is Latin for the blood of Jove. Jove or Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods, is best remembered for the exclamation of “By Jove! I think I‘ve got it!”