Taste Belgian-style Craft Beer at Belgian Fest

In Belgium, craft brewing was probably launched in the 13th century with the emergence of guilds and regulations.

Belgian beers have a wide range of flavors, from sour to fresh and fruity to big malty flavors and high octane. Many Belgian-style beers are bottle-conditioned or re-fermented in the bottle. Herbs such as coriander and licorice, spices such as pepper and ginger and apples, cherries and raspberries are de rigueur in the north and south regions of Belgium.

This wide range of beer styles includes abbey beers, an array of wheat beers and pilsners, brown ales, red beers, strong golden and brown ales, saisons and other regional specialties such as Karmeliet and Cantillon. Most unique are the austere, wild yeast Lambics, a relic from the time before yeast was cultivated.

Fast forward to today or this Saturday to be exact.  The Washington Beer Commission’s 11th Annual Belgian Fest will take place at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion. Belgian-style beers crafted by 25 Washington breweries will feature Tripels, Dubbels, Saisons, Wits, Abbeys, Sours and Lambics. In keeping with this unique style, all of the beers are brewed with Belgian yeast. You’ll be like a kid in the candy shop with this line-up.

Saturday, January 25th, 2020
Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center
305 Harrison St
Seattle, WA 98109
Session 1: 1:00-4:30pm  sold out
Session 2: 6:30-10:00 pm

Tickets are $40 online. $45 at the door.
Limited tickets at the door.  Admission includes a tasting glass and 10 tasting tokens. Each taste is 4 oz.  Additional tokens available to purchase.
$5 designated driver admission is available at the door. Designated driver includes soda and/or water.  21+ only. No refunds. No dogs. Registered service dogs ok.

A Taste of Woodinville Wine Country

My holiday shopping began on Black Friday this year. Normally, I wouldn’t be caught near a cash register on that particular day. But an invitation to De Lille Cellars’ Grand Taste and Tour in Woodinville was an offer I didn’t want to refuse.

The invitation promised DeLille wines and cheese pairings while getting a first look at the new tasting rooms, library room, third-story rooftop deck with views of Mount Rainier and mezzanine overlooking the winemaking facility and impressive barrel room.

This celebratory occasion was the completion of its new tasting rooms and winery at Hollywood Station. DeLille Cellars CEO Tom Dugan said “This will mark the first time since 1998 that we’ve had our winery and retail operations under one roof.”

The “new roof” is the old Redhook Brewery site in Woodinville. The 20-acre site is now known as Hollywood Station. This location features DeLille Cellars, Sparkman Cellars and Teatro ZinZanni, which moved into the complex in 2018.

DeLille Cellars has been around for over 25 years. Over the years, the winery has garnered hundreds of 90-plus ratings and a bunch of winery of the year awards. Its wines are inspired by Bordeaux, one of my favorite regions, but it also has wines in the style of Rhone and Aix, two other much loved French wine regions.

The 2018 Roussanne from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain was whole-cluster-pressed, which means no destemming before crushing. The result is wine with less bitterness and more clarity. After fermentation, the other process used was sur lie aging. This is an old French winemaking technique that increases the complexity of mouthfeel, body and aromatics.

About 85% of the wine was fermented in stainless steel, which produces a fruitier, crisper wine. There were wonderful aromatics of tart green apple, melon and peaches with a creamy, weighty feel from the lees contact. The balance was impeccable.

The new release of the D2, its traditional Bordeaux red blend, was delicious. But it would benefit from a few years in the cellar. It was so well-balanced that I knew it would make a wonderful gift. Check one off the list.

The pièce de résistance was the 2014 Grand Ciel Cabernet. From its estate vineyard on Red Mountain, it is powerful, structured and integrated with a long, remarkable finish. This, too, could benefit from time in the cellar. Check another off the list.

With over 130 wineries and tasting rooms and three wine districts, Woodinville wine country has a certain allure. It’s close with so many wonderful wines to taste. The Warehouse District has the largest concentration of tasting rooms, followed closely by the Hollywood District and the less-crowded West Valley District.

Many of these tasting rooms have their production facilities in eastern Washington. Many of the wines are sourced from prestigious vineyards in AVAs across the state. All require a tasting fee that is waved when a bottle or two are purchased.

As we made our way home through the West Valley District, we passed tasting room after tasting room. We made a U-turn.

Isenhower Cellars is a Walla Walla winery with a presence on the west side of the mountains. Founded in 1999 by general manager Denise and winemaker Brett Isenhower, the husband and wife team built their Walla Walla winery in 2002. The Woodinville tasting room opened in 2009.

Viognier is from a region in the Rhone Valley. In the 1980s, almost all of the Viognier planted in the world — about 57 acres — was in the Rhone Valley, most in the Condrieu appellation. Today, there are over 11,000 acres worldwide including Walla Walla Valley.

Fermented in French Acacia barrels and aged sur lie for five months, the Isenhower Viognier is very floral and peachy with crisp, mouthwatering acidity. Another gift checked off the list.

Isenhower also makes a bubbly from Marsanne, a grape that is normally blended with Viognier. This 100% Marsanne brut is from the Yakima Valley’s Olsen Ranch Vineyard. This delightful brut has the requisite small bubbles, dryish finish and total elegance.

Next door, Cascade Cliffs Winery from the Columbia Gorge AVA had just celebrated 22 years. It has some unusual grape varieties – Barbera, Symphony and Nebbiolo – planted on its estate.

Symphony is a hybrid grape, a cross of Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria. This wine has that fragrant Muscat nose and the body and crispness of a Grenache Gris. It’s an unusual and delightful wine.

But from the beginning, Cascade Cliffs was known for its Barbera. Barbera is its most popular and sought-after wine. That intensity and richness of this fruit-driven, high-acid wine is the perfect wine for any dish with tomatoes. Be it tomato tart, shakshouka, lasagna, you get the picture.

Cascade Cliffs began planting this Italian varietal in the early ’90s, and over the years it has won numerous awards including the prestigious “Best of the Best in the Northwest.” This buy was my Christmas present.

Wood House Wine Estates is another winery in the West Valley District we stopped at. It’s a family-run winery that opened in 2004. The winemaker, Jean-Claude Beck, is originally from Alsace where his family has been producing wine since 1579.  He joined Woodhouse in 2008.

Its 2015 Yakima Valley Riesling reminded me of the wonderful dry Rieslings of the Alsace appellation in France. It was fermented in stainless steel and aged sur lie. The sur lie aging gives wine a creaminess and weight.

The 2016 Columbia Valley Cab was sourced from Klipsun and Hyatt vineyards. A brilliant ruby red, this wine had intense black fruits, a touch of herbs and a nice long finish. I bagged two more to complete my shopping.

It’s going to be a very happy holiday. Cheers!

Sparkling Wines for the Holidays

There are many occasions that can easily be made more festive with sparkling wine. With the holidays upon us, nothing says celebrate like the pop of a cork on a bottle of bubbly. It’s the universal signal for the beginning of fun.

Sparkling wines — whether from France, Italy or the U.S. — are different from Riesling, Cabernet or Chardonnay because they, like beer and sparkling cider, go through a second fermentation.

In the first fermentation – the one that makes the alcohol – gases produced by the yeast eating the sugars escape, creating alcohol. The second fermentation traps the gases in the bottle, making tiny bubbles.

This type of fermentation occurs in a bottle with a very tight cap. Since the gasses can’t escape the bottle, voila! The wine sparkles. In the Champagne region, this process is known around the world as Méthode Champenoise. The “Champagne Method” involves fermenting, blending, bottling, secondary fermentation, en tirage, riddling and dosage.

Sparkling wine is the perfect wine. Not only does it make the occasion special, it is incredibly versatile with food. Yes, every food you can plate up or even enjoy out of a bag. Fish and chips, check! Oysters, check! French onion soup, check! Popcorn, check! Smoked salmon, check! Mushu Pork, check! Sushi, check! Turkey, check! Eggs Benedict, check!

One reason for this is sparkling wine grapes are typically harvested weeks before still wine grapes. The result of that early harvest is the grape sugars aren’t as high and the acidity level is up there. Typically, wines with high acidity will pair perfectly with more foods than wines that have little acidity.

Sparkling wines are made all over the world, normally in the cooler parts of the globe. The most famous is Champagne in northern France, second is Prosecco from a region in northern Italy and third is Cava, from predominantly northern Spain. In the New World, many sparkling wines follow the Méthode Champenoise.

Each Old World region makes its sparkling wines from grapes that are indigenous to the region. In Champagne, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are allowed. In Prosecco, the Glera grape can be blended with only 15% of other white grapes. Cavas are traditionally a blend of Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo grapes. Other grapes allowed are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Garnacha.

Outside of Champagne, other French sparkling wines are called Crémant and made with the grapes of the region. In Limoux, Macabeo, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay grapes; in the Alsace, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc; and in Burgundy, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

When considering your ideal sparkling wine, it helps to understand that sparkling wine is a blended wine. It could be a blend of several years’ harvests, which would make it a non-vintage. Or it could be Méthode Traditionelle, meaning a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Here are some terms you may see on labels:

Blanc de Blancs: White of whites — traditionally all Chardonnay grapes

Blanc de Noir: White of dark — traditionally a white bubbly made from Pinot Noir grapes

Style is determined by the amount of sugar in the dosage. Dosage is the final liquid addition used to top up the Méthode Champenoise bottles and determines how sweet or how dry the contents are.

  • Brut Zero ( 0 – very dry)
  • Extra brut (less than 6 — very dry)
  • Brut (less than 15 — dry)
  • Extra dry (12-20 — not so dry)
  • Sec (17-35 — slightly sweet)
  • Demi-sec (33-50 — rather sweet)
  • Doux (more than 50 – very sweet)

Some favorite sparkling wines for all occasions in the $10-$20 range:

Chateau Ste. Michelle brut Rose’ is a beautiful rose-colored, dry wine with a hint of residual sugar on the finish. The generous fruit and sweet finish would pair well with crab, jalapeño and artichoke dip or General Tso’s chicken.

Founded in 1984, Gruet Winery specializes in Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines in the mountains in New Mexico. The non-vintage Brut, a blend of 75% Chardonnay with the balance in Pinot Noir, is crisp, yeasty and has a long finish. Pair it with popcorn tossed with butter and a hint of truffle oil.

Treveri Cellars Sparkling Gewürztraminer from Yakima Valley is a delightful, aromatic non-vintage wine with a dosage of 35g/L (demi-sec) with a balancing acidity of 7.5g/L. Perfect with fried seafood on a bed of spicy Asian slaw.

Jaume Serra Cristalino brut Cava is a traditional blend of the Spanish grapes — Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel lo. This is mimosa material. Two parts Cristalino one part your juice of choice: orange, pomegranate, blackberry, you get the idea. Then pair it up with a sweeter breakfast of waffles with fresh blueberries or a Dutch baby.

In 1531, Benedictine monks perfected sparkling wine in a little known region called Limoux in southern France. Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux has delicate apple flavors and tiny bubbles. A blend of Mauzac, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, its creamy texture begs a dish of fettuccini alfredo or a mound of garlic mashed potatoes with lots of butter.

There are many legendary figures surrounding the world’s most glamorous wine. Dom Perignon comes to mind as does Bond, James Bond who enjoyed a tipple of Bollinger when not sipping something shaken, not stirred.

It’s hard not to admire the legendary Madame Lily Bollinger (1899-1997), who would make her daily inspection of her vineyards by bicycle. Her outfit — hat, heels and skirt. In 1955, when asked when she enjoyed a glass of Bollinger, she replied: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch the stuff — unless I’m thirsty.”

Bring on the Cider: Apple harvest is second biggest

Washington’s 2019 grape and hop harvests are expected to be a similar yield to last year, 260,000 tons and 100 million pounds respectively. September brought on an early and bountiful mushroom harvest. And it’s shaping up to be the second-biggest apple harvest in Washington history.

Apples harvested from an average tree can fill 20 boxes. According to the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, the 2019 apple crop forecast is projected to be 137 million 40-pound boxes. That’s an increase of more than 17 percent from the 2018 harvest.

And that’s just for Honeycrisp, Gala and other varieties that we put in salads, bake in pies or munch on with a chunk of cheddar cheese.  It doesn’t include apples for juice or hard cider.

This amazing bounty comes from about 175,000 acres of apple orchards, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. In comparison, vineyards cover 59,000-plus acres.

Apples are one of Washington state’s top 10 exports: about $760 million dollars’ worth of fruit travels around the world annually. Tony Lynn Adams of the Washington Apple Commission says, “Washington apples represent about 65% of the entire U.S. fresh apple production. We export about a third of our apples to 60 countries.” Surprisingly, Mexico is Washington’s No. 1 export market with 13 million boxes shipped annually.

In recent years, many small family farms are giving way to larger agricultural operations. Some are joining 400+ wine grape growers in the state, uprooting their orchards in favor of vineyards.

Other family orchards have been grafting over to a different kind of apple – the cider apple. Of the 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States, there are 40 or so cider apples. These apples are prized for their high acidity and tannins that make delicious hard cider. Some originated from England and France but there are highly regarded American heirlooms, too. Apples were widespread on the American homestead. Thank you, Johnny Appleseed. 

Cider apple cultivars and varieties are categorized as bittersweet, bittersharp, sharp, and sweet. The grading signifies the amount of acid, tannin and sweetness. Some varieties, like the bittersharp, have high acidity and high tannins. The most prized is the flavorful and aromatic Kingston Black. Kingston Black juice would be blended with a sweet, such as Cox’s Orange Pippen, for the sugars needed to ferment.

There are some 60 some cideries in Washington spread from Westport to Spokane, Bellingham to Kennewick.

Curiously, hard cider is kind of in liquor limbo with Washington’s Liquor Control Board. The law says cider can have a beer-like alcohol level of no more than 7%. If it’s over 7%, then it’s considered apple wine and taxed differently. But even at 7%, it’s classified as wine.

Like beer, cider may be bottle-conditioned or hopped. It’s delivered to taprooms in kegs or more often found in 22-ounce bottles.

Like wine grapes, cider apples are harvested in the fall. The juice is then pressed, bottled, and often times made sparkling using the same process used in Champagne. And because that method is so labor intensive, a bottle of sparkling cider may cost upwards of $20, just like a bottle of wine.

Washington’s pioneer cider makers include Spire Mountain, established in 1985 and with bittersweet and bittersharp apples. San Juan Island’s Westcott Bay Cidery first released its cider in 1999.

Just across the bridge in Jefferson County, visit Alpenfire Cidery in Port Townsend. Established in 2008, where the Bishops planted cider apples like the bittersweet Brown Snouts and Dabinetts alongside the heirloom apples in their orchard.

Also just outside of Port Townsend is Eaglemount Wine and Cider. Since 2007 they have been making cider from a historic homestead built in 1883. Some of the heirloom varieties include Gravenstein, Winesap, White Pippin, Roxbury Russet and Twenty Ounce. They also produce a Quince Cider from the organic Willowrose Bay Orchard in the San Juans. Quince is related to apples and pears.

In Chimacum, Finnriver Orchard and Cider Garden has a 10-acre orchard next to its tasting room and Cider Garden at the crossroads of Center Road and Chimacum. Its orchard is planted on dwarf rootstock for easier maintenance and picking. Cider apples like the Yarlington Mill, Brown Snout, and Harry Masters Jersey are just some of the varieties planted.

Finnriver has been crafting ciders both traditional — only apples — and contemporary since 2008. Some of its more adventurous ciders incorporate other ingredients, like black currants, lavender, hops and habaneros.

Closer to home on the Kitsap Peninsula is Bushel & Barrel Ciderhouse in Poulsbo. One of the newest cideries in the state, its sources its apples from Eastern Washington.

Currently, there is no tasting room but you can find these locally made ciders on tap at many of the local brewpubs — Valholl Brewing, Slippery Pig Brewing and Rainy Daze Brewing in Poulsbo. Elsewhere in Kitsap County, check out the taps at Downpour Brewing, Lovecraft Brewing, Dog Days Brewing and Crane’s Castle.

Further south you can cozy up to a glass at the Wigwam Tavern in Gorst, Port Orchard’s Slaughter County Brewing and Belfair’s Bent Bine Brewing.

Pinot Noir and Wild Mushrooms – the Perfect Pair

Pinot Noir and mushrooms were made for each other. The perfect couple, they share an earthy, yet delicate quality. When paired together, they shine. And from all accounts, there is a bumper crop of mushrooms this fall.

Packed with vitamins and minerals, mushrooms are beneficial in so many ways. They are also low-calorie, low-sodium, fat-free and free from cholesterol until you sauté them in butter with a little shallot, garlic and cream for a heavenly sauce to toss with some fettucine.

Wild mushrooms go with the flow. They be grilled, stuffed, sautéed, or roasted. They add a little something to sauces, soups, casseroles, steaks, burgers, pasta dishes, and stews.

Pinot Noir is that finicky red grape that is missing a component in its skin that all other red skinned grapes have. As a result, the finished wine is so much lighter in color than say a Cab, Syrah or Merlot.

But it does make up for it in other ways. Pinot Noir is one of the most wildly fragrant red wines on the planet. And it has an ethereal quality that makes it one of the most expensive wines.

Pinot Noir does not do well everywhere in the world. Where it excels is Burgundy, a cool, foggy region, rich in history and culture.  Once home to the Dukes of Burgundy, the territory stretched across eastern France and into Flanders, where Belgium beers now flourish.

In cooler regions such as its native Burgundy in east central France, Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains and Willamette Valley AVA and New Zealand’s Martinborough and Marlborough areas, it has wonderful acidity that makes it the perfect wine for a wide range of culinary delights.

Other regions of Pinot Noir plantings of note include California’s Santa Rita, Santa Lucia, Santa Barbara, and Santa Maria AVAs, Champagne and Alto Adige and Fruili regions in northeast Italy. And a nod to emerging Pinot Noir producers in Chile, Germany (called Spatburgunder), South Africa, Argentina, and Australia.

Here are some mouthwatering dishes and the proper (IMO) Pinot Noir to pair with them.

Truffle popcorn with Treveri Cellars Brut Blanc de Noirs

This makes movie night special and oh so delicious. To the usual popped corn add half butter and half truffle oil. The aroma alone will make you swoon. Sparkling wines, as I learned years ago at the knee of a sommelier, and potato chips are a perfect match. This match takes salty popcorn and bubbly to a higher level.

Sausage stuffed mushrooms with Karma Vineyards Blanc de Noir

What better way to begin than mushrooms stuffed with pork sausage, thyme and orange zest and paired with this sparkling wine from the Lake Chelan AVA. The balance of red fruits, creamy texture and small bubbles is impressive.

Roasted pork tenderloin and chanterelles with Ken Wright 2015 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

With this dish, I would like to revisit this wonderful wine from a friend’s cellar. From 3 of their 13 vineyards in the northern Willamette Valley, this four-year old bottle of elegance demonstrates Pinot Noir’s ethereal aromas, balanced fruit and earth notes and smooth tannins.

Oyster mushroom risotto with Knudsen Vineyards 2017 Pinot Noir

Silky oyster mushrooms with a hint of herb pairs well with this classic Dundee Hills blend of two estate vineyards, one over 20-years old the other planted in 2012 to the Dijon clone. The cherry, earthy aromas and flavors have notes of baking spices and a silky finish.

Duck breast with mushrooms, caramelized onions and Chehalem Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir

Mushrooms with a spicy, earthy flavor, sweet caramelized onions and a sautéed duck breast pairs very nicely with this mountain grown wine of remarkable balance. The red fruits, spice, silky tannins and a crisp finish compliment this dish to the max.

Roast chicken and matsutakes with Lemelson Vineyards Willamette Valley Jerome Reserve Pinot Noir

Matsutake is Japanese for “pine mushroom.” It grows most abundantly in the pine forest of Washington and is highly prized in Japanese cuisine. But here, it’s paired with the American by way of France classic – roast chicken. This mushroom is a fragrant spice bomb with a touch of earth perfect with a roasted chicken and Lemelson’s aromatic Pinot. Sourced from several sustainably farmed Willamette Valley vineyards, this wine shows elegant berry and earthy tones and a long, silky finish.

If foraging for mushrooms is on your list of things to do, the Kitsap Mycological Society is a local non-profit organization that can help beginners. These folks study, collect and cook up mushrooms in the forests of the Kitsap Peninsula and other forests in Washington. They have several opportunities where they share their mushroom knowledge with the community. Check them out at https://kitsapmushrooms.org/

Rhone for Fall Cuisine

Every fall, the grape harvest happens. Around the world vineyards come alive with winemakers racing to and through vineyards, testing for ripeness, watching the weather, scheduling picking, sorting and destemming tons of grapes, assessing the juice, fermenting and punching down grapes to deliver the elixir we crave.

With the cooler weather, we slip on a sweater and begin to move away from those chilled wines of summer to something warmer, more full-bodied that match the heartier fall dishes. Squashes find their way into soups, frittatas and stews. Mushrooms pop up in stews, in risotto, Beef Bourguignon and on top of steak. Apples and pears adorn salads, cheeses and meat dishes. This makes my mouth water and my hand reach for a Rhone.

Rhone varietals would be a good go-to for fuller bodied but not too full-bodied fall wine. Grapes such as Syrah, Viognier Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Roussanne are indigenous to this French region. There are a bunch more indigenous varieties – a few you may have heard of, some are little known and are allowed in this appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) – Picardan, Picpoul, Carignan, Clairette Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Cinsault, Marselan and let’s not forget Muscat a Petites Grains!

The Rhone region is divided in half, both with a different set of rules on how to make wine with the same grapes. Northern AOC red wines are Syrah only and typically co-fermented with the light touch of Viognier to bring up the aromatics and to soften the hard edges of Syrah.

Southern Rhone is the Heinz 57 of the wine world. A wine from the Chateauneuf du Pape AOC can be a blend of up to 13 grape varieties! A Cotes du Rhone is typically a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. This is a large area so the wines — both red and white — can be easily found and enjoyed.

Rhone grapes can be found in vineyards around the world. Eastern Washington, Australia, and California all make Rhone-style wines. In fact, Chelan’s Cairdeas Winery has vines from Southern Rhone by way of California.

Other regions of the world may label their Rhone-style wines with the grape name (must be at least 75%) or give it a proprietary name such as GSM, for Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre.

Cairdeas Winery produces traditional blends as well as unique blends, both styles inspired by the Rhone region and grapes. Its delightful wine “Northern White” is a blend of 60% Marsanne and 40% Roussanne. This Rhone-style wine is a perfect dry white for a steaming bowl of mushroom risotto.

Another is the Caisléan an Papa – an Irish way of saying Chateauneuf du Pape. This red blend is made up of 37% Grenache, 26% Mourvèdre, 16% Syrah, 11% Counoise, and 10% Cinsault for a delicious, almost traditional, highly rated wine.

The Guigal family, one of the largest producers in the Rhone Valley, specializes in white Rhone varieties. Most Rhone wines produced are primarily red; white wine production is nominal. In contrast, Guigal’s production of white wine is large, at least a quarter of wines produced.

Its Cotes du Rhone Blanc is a blend of many white grapes: Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. It’s a fragrant full-bodied white, and a very good value.

Famille Perrin has, for centuries, made an exquisite Chateauneuf du Pape. Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Counoise and Picpoul from Château de Beaucastel’s vineyards are fermented separately and later blended before aging in foudres (big oak barrels) and bottle.

Another classic Rhone-style wine is made with the legendary Australian Shiraz grape. Shiraz is Australian for Syrah, the legendary grape of Northern Rhone. Australia is also home to some of the world’s oldest Syrah vineyards.

Shiraz vineyards planted in the mid-1800s produce tiny crops of intensely concentrated grapes from ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines. Penfolds has been making Rhone-style wines since 1844. Its Bin 138 is the traditional southern Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mataro (Mourvedre). This classic GSM from Barossa Valley includes grapes from some vines that are over 100 years old. 

And if you ever get a chance, there is an award-winning, classic wine made by Penfolds since 1951. Grange (called Grange Hermitage until the 1989 vintage) is made with Shiraz and a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. The term “Hermitage” was dropped from the label since the European Union won’t allow the name of a French wine appellation on a wine that is not from that appellation.

Marsanne, a Rhone white grape, is more likely to be found in Australia than even its native Rhone. Tahbilk Winery, in Central Victoria, has the largest vineyard site of Marsanne in the world. Its Marsanne is fermented in stainless for a crisp, dry white. Like many classic whites, with age it transforms into a full-bodied, aromatic wine. Perfect with a curried pumpkin soup. (Couldn’t go without mentioning the ubiquitous fall vegetable).

Cheers, Mate!

Seeking out Italian Wines and Cuisine

Chicagoland is, in my opinion, a great place for Italian cuisine. And, of course, Italian wine. I enjoyed some wonderful wines on a recent trip, most from the Old World because that’s what I seek out when in the Midwest. Old World wine and Italian beef sandwiches.

A visit with one of my favorite brothers, always involves Italian wines. He dutifully had several bottles of wine waiting when I arrived. We popped the cork on his newest find, Zucardi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. He loves this full-bodied wine but is dismissive of the little piece of vine attached to the bottles neck. A marketing ploy, he says.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo comes from the Abruzzi hills above the Adriatic coast. It’s made from the Montepulciano grape from the wine region located along the calf of the boot of Italy.

You may have heard of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – no relation to Montepulciano the grape – but rather a Sangiovese based wine from vineyards surrounding the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany. Rule of thumb for Italian wines is di, del, or della in between two words on the label means “grape” from “region.”

The Abruzzi region, one of the most widely exported of all Italian wines, is dominated by giant cooperatives that pump out decent every day jug wine with black cherry flavors, soft tannins and made to be consumed that night.

But a few more serious producers are making some mighty fine wine. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was first classified as Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) in 1968. This DOC is permitted to blend up to 15 per cent Sangiovese with the Montepulciano grape. Wines aged for more than two years are permitted to add Riserva to their labels.

I loved the Zucardi too and found another old favorite from the same region – Barone Cornacchia Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, to see what he thought of another producer of the Montepulciano grape.

Montepulciano’s are full-bodied with good balance which makes them really good food wine. We enjoyed ours with fresh picked tomatoes and cheese, while dining al fresco on the patio.

For our family dinner of roast chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, and carrots, he cracked out a Produttori del Barbaresco. This special wine is from the Piedmonte in northwestern Italy. It’s the little sister of Barolo, a big wine with big tannins and a big personality. Ageing for years is a must, sometimes ten or twenty years depending on vintage.

Both Barbaresco and Barolo are made from the same grape, Nebbiolo. Just different areas near the city of Alba. Barbaresco vineyards are northwest of the city and at lower elevations than their big Barolo brother’s southwest vineyards. One other difference is Barbaresco enjoys a more sheltered position, lying further away from weather systems coming off the Atlantic.

Produttori del Barbaresco, founded in 1958, is actually a cooperative of producers around the town of Barbaresco and managed by Aldo Vacca, former assistant to Angelo Gaja of Barolo fame. Produttori sources fruit from 50 member-growers farming 250 acres of premium Nebbiolo vineyards in the commune of Barbaresco.

Fermented in stainless steel tanks, this wine spends 30 days on the skin with pumping over 2 to 3 times a day. This gives the wine a beautiful dark, rich color. It’s then aged 24 months in big barrels of neutral Slovian oak called grandi botti.

After 30 months, it’s bottled and then about 260,000 bottles are distributed worldwide. So, there’s plenty of this classic, best value Barbaresco to enjoy with lamb chops or roast chicken with chanterelles.

The Veneto area in the northeast also produces classic wines. The unique wines of Valpolicella are made with a blend of Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella grapes and 5 different styles. Basic Valpolicella is a lighter table type wine, Classico is from the original Valpolicella zone, Superiore is aged at least a year, and Ripasso is made with partially dried grapes left over from the Amarone or Recioto fermentation. Reciotos and Amarones are made from dried grapes and downright magnificent.

Valpolicella was awarded DOC status in 1968. Amarone and Recioto received Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status in 2009.

I enjoyed a couple of unusual bottles of Valpolicella while visiting. Both were labeled Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), one of four Italian wine classifications. IGT signifies the wine is typical of that geographical region but doesn’t qualify for the DOC or DOCG’s stricter requirements. Maybe the vines weren’t old enough, the alcohol content is not in the range for that particular style, or maybe some of the grapes came from outside that designated region. Any of these reasons would keep the wines from being DOC or DOCG.

One such IGT was made by Natale Verga Antale Veneto. This full-bodied, elegant wine had intense color from the slight drying of the grapes. The blend is mostly Corvina with a little Merlot, hence IGT status since Merlot is not an allowed grape in this DOC or DOCG. This would be my go to wine for my favorite Italian beef and hot giardiniera – Paul’s in Westchester, Illinois.

Another new to me IGT wine was Cecilia Beretta {FREEDA} Rosé. It’s a blend of Corvina, Cabernet and Carménère grapes from the southern area of Lake Garda. After being harvested by hand, the grapes are pressed together with a short maceration to achieve the pale pink color. Each grape adds its own character to the wine – cherries and raspberries from Corvina, green peppercorn from the Cabernet and minerality and body from the Carménère. A must for the next time you have lobster risotto.

Cin Cin!

What makes a Great Vintage?

How do you know if it’s a great vintage? While the viticulturalist is trained to know when to prune, how to manage leaf canopy and control pests and disease, for the most part, it’s the weather during the growing season that makes all the difference between good and great.

The 2019 Washington crush began the third week of August. Treveri Cellars always crosses the finish line first. And the reason for that is sparkling wines are harvested at a lower brix level (18–23°).  

In wine country, grapes are warmed by the sunshine which brings up the grape sugars and cooled at night which promotes that balancing acidity. In any vintage, a brix reading (usually around 24 brix) will signal the time to harvest grapes intended for still wines.

Brix is used to measure the sugar in grapes, the more sugar, the riper the grapes. When harvesting grapes early, the must will have less sugar and more acidity – ideal conditions for sparkling wines.

A higher brix level can be achieved by many days of hot weather, long hang time or drying the grapes. Hot weather raises the sugar levels; cool weather takes longer to reach maturity.

By comparison, the 2015 harvest – a very hot year – began August 6th.  In 2010, – a very cool year – white grapes weren’t harvested until September and no red wine grapes until October!

The 2019 grape harvesting is in full swing right now. And it’s shaping up to be a very good year. Not too hot and not too cool. I know because I’m a certified sorter, a very important and well-paid position. 

Sorters pull leaves, bugs and dried grapes out before the grapes are put into the destemmer where the grapes are separated from the stems. A destemmer is a big stainless steel tub with a big screw that pushes the grapes one way and the stems the other way. The big colander type basket at the bottom funnels the grapes and juice into one bin. The woody stems are pushed into another bin.

While sorting grapes for two wineries this past week, I tasted the grapes. One winery had Red Mountain Merlot and the other Horse Heaven Hills Merlot. And I can tell you from that tasting, Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills Merlot grapes tasted unique to their terroirs.

While sorting grapes, the winemaker does the scientific stuff by taking a reading of the juice to determine the brix (the sugar in the juice which will tell the winemaker what the final alcohol content may be), stabilizing the must (SO2 preserves the fruit color and kills the wild yeasts) and other winemaking techniques they may have picked up along the way.

In addition to adding SO2, Ben Smith of Cadence Winery pumped the juice out of one fermenting bin back into the same bin. This was to “stir” the juice so the SO2 was evenly distributed.

At Mosquito Fleet Winery, winemaker Brian Peterson added a 25-pound bag of oven toast oak chips to the three fermenting bins. This helps set the color and promote polyphenols. He also added a bag of dry ice to the fermenting bins – an effective way to cold soak when you don’t have refrigerated storage.

The bin mover sets the pace when a winery has tons of grapes to process. Using a pallet jack or forklift, the bins are moved around where needed – grapes to the destemmer, full fermenters to the side for a 24-hour cold soak, empty fermenters to catch the next ton of grape juice from and the bins of stems to the compost pile.

As I mentioned, certified sorters are well-paid. This year I earned two bottles of wine, a private barrel tasting, 22 gallons of saignée juice and free lunch. 

Saignée is a French term which translates “to bleed.” It’s a winemaking techniques that “bleeds” or removes juice and a few grapes from a fermenter.  Since there is a higher proportion of skins to juice, a richer more concentrated wine is the desired result of this technique. And the lightly-colored juice that is bled out will produce a rosé for next summer’s drinking pleasure.

A long time ago, I had the opportunity to taste a Carmenet Cabernet from the same vineyard, fermented in the same tank and aged in the same French oak. The only difference was the coopers used. I was stunned at the difference of what should have been a more similar than different wine. Lesson learned.

The private barrel tasting at Mosquito Fleet Winery was another educational lesson in French oak. We tasted three 2018 Cabernets aging in oak barrels. Two were the same grape, harvest, and fermentation aging in French oak barrel from different coopers, Taransaud and Bootes. The difference was very striking. The Bootes was a much bigger wine and the Taransaud was smooth and more fruit forward.

Tasting young red wine before it has been bottled is instructive but these young wines with their high acidity and tannin only hint at their true greatness after they have been in bottle for a few years. The key ingredient in my opinion, is to pay attention to the fruit. Is there enough fruit component to vault the young wine to an attractive maturity? For these two fraternal wines, the answer is a hearty Yes!

Up and down the west coast, you can look forward to the promise of a very good 2019 vintage. Cheers!

Early Inland Empire Wineries

In 1980, sixteen wineries in Washington state produced almost a million gallons of wine. Today, approximately 970 wineries produce over 180 million gallons of wine.

Washington was just emerging as a wine region and 1982 was a very good year for wine. Twelve wineries opened their doors and joined a handful of wineries in the state. That was the year, Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Barnard Griffen, Covey Run Vintners and Snoqualmie Winery opened. As did two Spokane wineries, Arbor Crest Wine Cellars and Latah Creek Winery.

My first peek at Spokane was in 1974 at the World’s Fair. I recall exhibits about logging and loggers in cork boots but no corks in bottles. Some years later, I made a run to Spokane to pick up a palette of Whaling Days wine. Latah Creek Winery, Arbor Crest Wine Cellars and Worden’s Washington Winery (the first custom label program where you could “Make the wine you serve your own!”) were producing enough wine to put private labels on.

A recent visit to the Inland Empire, reminded me of those early days in the Washington wine industry and the people who toiled to figure out where to plant which varieties and who could actually make the wine the growers were growing.

Opening a winery is challenging enough but back then many of the wheat and apple farmers were just beginning to plant wine grapes under the direction of Dr. Walter Clore, the father of Washington wine industry.

First, it was Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Muscat. Then the buttery Chardonnays were followed by the Merlot craze of the 1990s, fueled by 60 Minutes’  French Paradox. By then, Washington was well established in the number two spot of the U.S. wine industry.

But it took those early pioneers forging ahead and making the Washington wine industry what it is today. Early pioneers like Bill Preston, Bill Powers, Mike Wallace, and John Williams, all started out as farmers and early on decided to plant wine grapes. Thank goodness! They are the reason we have what we have today. Many are honored on the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame.

In California, a flurry of winemakers started moving north to a new wine paradise. Latah Creek’s winemaker, Mike Conway had spent some time learning how to make wine in big California wineries.

The 1980 move from large California wineries to an emerging wine region was spurred by job offer. By the fall of 1980, Conway had fermented 69 tons of grapes into Worden’s Winery wine. The wine produced was in a style that was predominantly white, fruity, and sweet.

A joint venture with grape grower Hogue Cellars for the 1982 harvest, had Conway making wine for both the Hogue Cellars and Latah Creek. That first Latah Creek harvest was 7,000 gallons. For the next two years, Conway made wine for both wineries before concentrating solely on his Latah Creek Winery.

This small family winery – a rarity anymore – still produces Riesling and Maywine (gold) in addition to their perennially popular Huckleberry d’Latah (gold), a Riesling made with huckleberry concentrate. Roughly 60 percent of Latah Creek’s production are their most popular wines: Pinot Gris (double gold), Riesling (double gold), and Huckleberry d’Latah.

Introduced in 2010, their Monarch Reserve Reds Series is a small-lot, reserve red program. Those wines and other reds account for 15 percent of their production. Included are a Sangria made with natural fruit juices, a Wahluke Slope Barbera, their well-awarded Merlot, a Horse Heaven Hills Zinfandel, a Wahluke Slope Tempranillo and a Horse Heaven Hills Reserve Cabernet.

The remaining 25 percent includes a selection of dry and sweet white wines – a gold medal winning Chardonnay from Ancient Lakes AVA, a dry Chenin Blanc, a Rose’s of Malbec and an Orange Muscat with a bit of effervescence.

The first Washington father-daughter wine team began in 2005 when Natalie Conway-Barnes began making wine. One of her first projects was a red dessert wine named Natalie’s Nectar.

Like many of the oldest wineries that don’t grow grapes, they have well-established and long term contracts with the best vineyards in the state. Today, Latah Creek’s production is around 15,000 cases annually.

This charming small winery is getting a facelift. And on Saturday and Sunday, September 28 and 29 they will be celebrating their Grand Re-Opening. This would be a good time to taste their wines.

Not too far from Latah Creek Winery, is another well-regarded Washington wine pioneering family. In the early 1980s, Harold and Marcia Mielke also moved up from California to begin a new wine adventure in Spokane Valley. The state’s 29th winery, Arbor Crest Wine Cellars overlooks the Spokane River in a beautiful place called the Cliff House, on the national historic landmark.

Another family winery, this one is also run by the next generation. The Mielke’s daughter, Kristina Mielke van Löben Sels, spent some time working in a Sonoma winery for several years before becoming the head winemaker at Arbor Crest.

Her husband, Jim van Löben Sels, is Arbor Crest’s general manager and viticulturalist. Grapes are sourced from some of Washington’s well-established and respected vineyards and include Sagemoor, Dionysus, Bacchus, Conner Lee, Stillwater Creek and Klipsun Vineyards.

A recently shared bottle of their Bacchus Vineyard (unoaked) Chardonnay reminded me of how much I admire these well-made wines. And having a seasoned winemaker who spent some time making wine at Sonoma’s Ferrari-Carano, it’s no wonder.

Their Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay is made in a full-bodied style and sees French oak, Riesling from Dionysus Vineyard and the Bacchus Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc round out the white wines.

Reds include a Conner Lee Cabernet Franc, a Cabernet Sauvignon from 5 fabulous vineyards, the Cliff House Red Table Wine, Dionysus, a Bordeaux blend, Merlot from original, ungrafted rootstock, Wahluke Slope Sangiovese, and Syrah from Stillwater Creek Vineyard.

Spokane now has a Cork District with at least 22 tasting rooms scattered around the very pedestrian friendly downtown area. Some are local, some are not. But it makes for a great weekend getaway to explore the wines of Washington.

Cheers!

When it comes to wine, trust your palate

You’ve probably read many times, as I have,  what a wine should taste like from reviews in publications or the back labels.

Descriptive phrases that may include words like full-bodied, tropical, vanilla, buttery, citrus, cherry, brambleberry, spice, cedar, cigar box, tobacco, herbaceous or award winning, 90-some points are helpful but …

Once you absorb these words, it all comes down to your palate. Do the reviews make the wine taste any better? Sometimes yes and sometimes, not so much. Tasting is the true test of a wine’s ability to please you.

Tasting wine gives you a better idea of what grapes, styles and regions you prefer. That’s why it’s important that you get your tickets for the Kitsap Wine Festival on Saturday, August 10th

Bremerton’s Harborside Fountain Park is the sunny setting for this afternoon of sipping wine with friends and family. More than 30 wineries from Washington and Oregon will be pouring tastes of over 100 pretty delightful wines. And to enhance the experience, local restaurants will be whipping up some delectable bites.

The Kitsap Wine Festival began 11 years ago and through the years has benefitted several local nonprofits. This year, it’s the Kitsap Humane Society’s pets. Their cadre’ of volunteers will ensure an extra layer of special to the event. From the welcome to the raffle baskets, golden ticket prize to the retail shop at the end.

So, get online and buy your tickets ASAP at https://kitsapwinefestival.brownpapertickets.com

General admission includes 12 tickets, food samples, and your wine glass. But wait! There’s more! The VIP Experience includes an hour earlier access, 15 drink tickets, delectable bites, 5 raffle tickets, and your wine glass.

Come celebrate with me at the Kitsap Wine Festival! Here’s a few wineries I’m excited to try or revisit.

From the Port Angeles area, Harbinger Winery is an artisan winery with an annual case production hovering around 3000.  They’re bringing their bistro wine series which includes the 2018 Albariño fermented in stainless steel for a crisp, citrusy treat.

The La Petite Fleur is an intensely aromatic Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling blend for a unique summer wine. Dynamo Red is a gold medal winning, velvety layered wine rich with berries and toasty oak.

And happily, my favorite summertime red, the 2013 Barbera which garnered a gold at the International Women’s Wine Competition. Bring on the beefsteak tomatoes!

Also from the Olympic Peninsula is Wind Rose Cellars, a boutique winery in Sequim. During the week, it’s a traditional tasting room. And on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s live music, wine by the glass and light snacks.

Other wineries attending from this area are Eaglemount Winery, Port Townsend Vineyards, Hoodsport Winery and Camaraderie Cellars.

Moving east to the Kitsap Peninsula is Long Road Winery near Belfair. Since they don’t have a tasting room yet, they share their wines at tasting events such as the Kitsap Wine Festival. The same for Seabeck Cellars, no tasting room yet but here’s your opportunity to taste their wines from grapes shipped from eastern Washington and Oregon.

The newest of the new Kitsap Peninsula wineries is Hard Hat Winery in Poulsbo. Established by three veterans last year, here’s the occasion to try their wines while waiting for the tasting room to open.

And speaking of veterans in the wine business, the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island will also be there pouring wines from the seven wineries on the “rock” – Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eleven, Eagle Harbor, Fletcher Bay, Perennial, Rolling Bay.

Long Cellars in eastern Washington will be pouring their 2018 Lake Chelan Pinot Gris and 2018 Dry Rosé of Pinot Gris. The 2017 Red Wine is a blend of Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet, and a 2017 Cab Franc.

From the Woodinville area be sure to stop by the Adrice Wines booth. The name Adrice is a portmanteau, (a mash-up of 2 words to make a new word) using the last names of the winemaker, Pam Adkins and co-owner Julie Bulrice. I first tasted Adrice Wines at another wine festival and was duly impressed with this craft winery transplanted from Napa Valley in 2015.

And if exploring Washington wineries is on your list, these wineries will also be there:

Davenport Cellars, Eleganté Cellars, Gouger Cellars, Mercer Estates, Michael Florentino Cellars, Monte Scarlatto Winery, Naches Heights Vineyard, Scatter Creek Winery, Silvara Cellars, Simpatico Cellars, Stina’s Cellar, Tanjuli Winery, Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyards and Vino Aquino.

Finally, and most importantly, Raptor Ridge from Newberg, Oregon. Raptor Ridge is celebrating their 25th harvest with a special on their 2015 Brut Rose for $25 on the 25th of each month!

At the Kitsap Wine Festival, they will share the – rare for the Pacific Northwest – Estate Grüner Veltliner. I first had this wine back in 2017 while visiting the Chehalem Mountain wineries. Its balanced fruit, acidity and minerality make this the most food friendly of wines.

Raptor Ridge will also be pouring the 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, a blend of two vineyards, one in the McMinnville AVA and the other in the Eola Amity AVA. Another of their wines I can highly recommend.

Visit the Kitsap Wine Festival site for the latest on who will be pouring and more importantly to buy your tickets. The Kitsap Humane Society and I thank you!

Cheers!