It’s a very good time to taste wine

Staying in isn’t be so bad when you know there’s a case of wine headed your way.

Now that we’re all stocked up on soap, paper towels, tp, and homebound for a while, let your next case purchase be Washington wine. It’s beneficial for many reasons:

1) Washington wine is good for you because it relieves stress. Set the dinner table, whip up a homey meal, light the candles and enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. Hell, put on your party dress or shirt and make it real special. The mood will lighten with smiles all round.

2) Washington wine purchases support the wine industry in this time of need. With tasting rooms shut down statewide, 59,000+ acres of vineyards and production at nearly 17.5 million cases, the total economic impact to the state is $7 billion. Every bottle purchase helps the economy.

3) Red wine has a compound believed to offer health benefits. Resveratrol is produced in certain plants to fight off bacteria and fungi, and to protect against UV. Resveratrol comes from the skins of red grapes. Blueberries, cranberries, and peanuts are also good sources of resveratrol but wines made of these are only so so.

4) Right now, many Washington wineries are offering free or reduced shipping with certain conditions.

5) The one tasting that I look forward to every year – Taste Washington – cancelled, gosh darn it. Here is a virtual tour of some Washington wineries that we would have tasted had Taste Washington not been cancelled.

A winery that has beguiled me for some time is the craft winery Adrice Wines. Winemaker Pamela Adkins’ first remarkable rosé was produced in Napa Valley. When she and her partner transplanted to Washington, they started their winery and she continues to produce rosés.

Two recent wines include 2019 Rattlesnake Hills Rosé the Riveter Grenache and the 2019 Horse Heaven Hills Nebbiolo Rosé. There are other cool wines in their cellar but rosé is a perfect springtime wine so try these now.

Syncline Winery, located in Lyle, Washington, is another small, craft winery making some big, award winning whites (Grenache Blanc) and reds. Reds to choose from include the 2017 Boushey Vineyard Syrah, 2017 Columbia Valley Mourvedre, 2018 Columbia Gorge Gamay Noir, and the 2018 Subduction Red.

Some bundles offered may include free shipping, 10% discount, and/or $10 gift certificate. Details on the website. Another wonderful option are gift cards or sending wine to family or friends to celebrate their birthday or anniversary.

One of my favorite winemakers is Dr. Brian Peterson, on the Kitsap Peninsula. At Mosquito Fleet Winery’s website, you can order wonderful award-winning wines and have a boatload of fun learning about the historical mosquito fleet and how cork is made.

They’re happy to ship a full-bodied, rich Malbec, Merlot or the Sidewheeler Red Blend. You can also purchase gift cards or send a bottle of wine to honor special events such as birthdays, anniversaries or milestones. Just a text or call and they’ll have your gift on its way. Wine link

Arvid Monson planted his first vineyard on the advice of Dr. Walter Clore, the Father of Washington’s wine industry. “Find a tall sage” advised Dr. Clore, “and plant your vineyard there.” Years later, the Monson family sustainably farms their 2,200-acre vineyard for their five wine brands, sells bulk grapes to other wineries and is a custom crush house.

The tall sage turned out to be on a saddle of land called Goose Gap, tucked in between Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills. Vines are planted on original rootstock with south to north row orientation for maximize sun exposure and managed for low yields. These practices ensure wines of very good quality.

I fell in love with the Tall Sage 2015 red blend a couple of years ago. It’s that affordable, delicious, every day red that you were hoping for. They also produce an affordable, delicious Tall Sage Chardonnay.

Otis Kenyon is offering Black Friday pricing for your stay-at-home needs. Double Discount Pricing on all current releases includes 15% off all purchases with free shipping on case orders! This offer is valid through March 31st.

Stock up on the 2015 Stellar Vineyard Syrah or the delightful Roussanne. These Rhone varietals will pair very well with nearly every hearty dish, including your stockpiled MREs.

When we were old enough to hold a handful of cards, my father taught us some games to keep us entertained. When he passed away some years ago, we all pinned a card to our lapels so friends would know where in the lineup we were. I wore the two of hearts.

One of his favorite card games was pinochle. Reverberating in my head was his sage advice, “When in doubt, play a Jack.” At the time, Saviah Cellars made a red blend called The Jack. It seemed fitting to have a case at his celebration of life.

The Jack was a Bordeaux-type blend, that was at once affordable and delicious. In the ensuing years, The Jack is now a brand that includes the red blend, Syrah, Cabernet and Riesling and named one of the Top Value Brands of the Year by a major wine media.

Self-taught winemaker Richard Funk and the Saviah Cellars Team sends this enticing offer: Shop online for door-to-door delivery. Shipments in the Northwest typically deliver within 1-2 days after the order is processed. Shipping specials include $10 flat-rate ground shipping on orders of 4-11 bottles or purchase a case of 12 for free shipping. Click here to shop

It’s a very good time to Taste Washington wine. And we have the time! Raise a glass and toast to good health.

Note: these offers came to me through winery newsletters. Some have not updated their websites to reflect these offers. Always good to give them a call if you don’t see what you’re looking for.

Celebrate Washington Wine Month

March is Washington Wine Month, a time to celebrate Washington’s more than 1,000 wineries, 370 wine grape growers and the bounty produced.

Taste Washington is the highlight of March – except this March. Staged every year in Seattle since 1998, it’s been scheduled to return on March 19-22 for almost a year. In 2019, the four-day festival attracted a record attendance of 8,479 wine lovers.

In the aftermath of Gov. Jay Inslee’s update of Covid-19 outbreak, the Washington State Wine Commission concluded not to move forward with Taste Washington. It is with much disappointment for over 9,000 that Taste Washington has been canceled.

Feeling a little blue about this, I offer as some consolation, some outstanding Washington wines recently tasted that you should definitely seek out.

Eagle Harbor Wine Co. is an award winning winery on Bainbridge Island. They’re tucked into a small business park off Three Tree Lane. Their grapes are sourced their grapes from some of the finest eastern Washington vineyards, such as Dwelley and Seven Hills in the Walla Walla AVA and Kiona in the Red Mountain AVA.

There are millions of yeast strains in this world, each imparts a unique aroma to the wine. Winemaker Emily Parsons has experimenting – with notable success – some pretty innovative fermentation techniques, employing both non-Saccharomyces and Saccharomyces yeasts.

The most common yeast used in winemaking is Saccharomyces cerevisiae which is a favorite because it’s predictable, vigorous and tolerates relatively high levels of alcohol.

Employment of non-Saccharomyces yeast starters is a growing trend in the winemaking industry. They are used to improve aromatic complexity.

Parson began fermenting a wine with two yeast strains two years ago. The wine is first inoculated with the non-Saccharomyces strain. Because the yeast dies out when the alcohol reaches 6%, a wine yeast is then used to finish the fermentation. A wine yeast will continue to ferment to 13 or 14 % – the normal range for wines.

At a recent new release event, I tasted five wonderful Eagle Harbor wines.

Known for their big rich reds, they also produce a delicious white called Goldfinch. Always a blend of Chardonnay and Viognier, this year’s blend is 50 – 50 with an unoaked Chardonnay and a Viognier that spent some time in oak. The result is very aromatic, crisp and juicy, with some weight to it.

And just in time for spring parties, 2019 Red Mountain Rosé from Kiona Vineyards’ Sangiovese. This Rosé is a springy, rosy red, dry, with watermelon aromas and flavors.

Another new release, is the 2016 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Seven Hills West Vineyards and Dwelley. The wine spent 2 years in French oak and is redolent with dark fruits, minerals and a very smooth, rich finish.

The 2016 Walla Walla Valley Reserve Merlot from the Aria vineyard, was the first wine fermented with two yeast strains before spending 36 months in French oak. Very aromatic with luscious black cherry and red currants flavors. It was easy to see why the two yeast fermentation is favored.

We stayed for a taste of the 2016 Reserve Cabernet from the Seven Hills Vineyard. This gorgeous wine is stuffed with dark fruits, baking spices, slate, graphite with a smooth finish. This one came home with us. Highly recommended.

Another long established Washington winery is Walla Walla Vintners, the eighth winery in Walla Walla’s wine region. Founded by Miles Anderson and Gordy Venneri, Walla Walla Vintners has garnered many golds over the years.

Anderson also played a critical role in establishing Walla Walla Community College’s viticulture and enology program. He was inducted into the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame in 2011 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers in 2014.

Scott and Nici Haladay are the new stewards of the iconic red barn winery and Cut Bank Estate vineyard. Longtime wine lovers, they bought Walla Walla Vintners in 2017 with the retirement of Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson.

The Cut Bank Vineyard sits at 1,467 ft. along the Mill Creek Valley in the shadow of the Blue Mountains. Its relatively high elevation, has cooler temperatures that encourages that wonderful balancing acidity.

The southwest exposure ensures abundant sunshine and the slow, even ripening that promotes steady sugar buildup and natural acidity. Committed to sustainability, the vineyard is dry farmed.

Walla Walla Vintners 2017 Waliser Vineyard Cabernet Franc has wonderful aromas of earth, raspberry, dried herbs and spice. There’s cherry and chocolate flavors but it needs some rough decanting, 3 -5 years of aging or a grilled leg of lamb with a side of lentils.

The 2017 Columbia Valley Sangiovese is blended with a dollop of Syrah and a drop of Malbec. Sourced from some great vineyards, such as Sagemoor, Seven Hills, Kiona, and Cut Bank Estate it’s aged for 15 months 85% neutral oak barrels.

The enticing aroma of wild berries, contrasts nicely with fragrant herbs. On the palate, layers of cranberry, white pepper, currants and herbs is framed by smooth tannins and bright acidity, making this a wine to pair with your next pizza or baba ganoush.

These are just a few of my favorite Washington wines. More favorites will be posted on Facebook in the coming weeks so you’ll be able to wisely stock the cellar. Cheers!

Tasting what’s new from Walla Walla Wineries

Walla Walla Valley is a wonderful place to wander thanks to a combination of climate, charm and over 140 wineries.

According to the Walla Walla Wine Alliance: “The average wine visitor visits nearly two times per year, spends three days in the Valley, and visits nearly seven wineries per visit.”

While we love a wine-themed road trip, last month the Walla Walla Wine Alliance brought the wine to us — sort of. More than 50 Walla Walla Valley wineries and winemakers filled the upper lobby of McCaw Hall in Seattle, giving those of us west of the mountains a chance to taste the latest releases from one of our state’s impressive wine-producing regions.

With each winery pouring three or more wines, we decided our best plan was to divide and conquer: Brynn tasted whites, leaving me the reds.

And while red wines dominated, there were plenty of whites — both single varietals (Chardonnay, Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne) and traditional blends. There was also an outstanding sparkling wine.

In this column, we’ll highlight our standouts, and identify the wineries we tasted with an * that will be at Taste Washington on March 19-23 at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle.

We’re kicking off our review with two wineries that should be on your “must taste” list: Grosgrain Vineyards* and SuLei Cellars. Their Albariños, a grape grown primarily in Spain and Portugal, were memorable. Known for its light body, aromatics and citrus notes, Albariño is an excellent choice with seafood dishes.

Grosgrain sources its Albariño from a small vineyard planted entirely to Spanish varieties. The majority was matured on the lees (leftover yeast particles) in a concrete egg, while the remainder was matured in neutral barrel or stainless steel. The splendid result was a creamy feel with citrus and peach notes.

SuLei sourced its Albariño from Crawford Vineyard in the Yakima Valley AVA. Fermented and aged in stainless steel, the nose was redolent with peach, citrus and guava. The flavors were a delicate balance between apricot, peach and minerality.

The only Riesling, sourced from the prestigious Frenchman Hills Vineyard, was a showstopper. Made by Canvasback*, this wine is balanced with a shot of sweet fruit upfront and layers of mouth-watering grapefruit and blood orange. It’s an off-dry style, cold-fermented and aged in stainless steel.

Next on the list of standout whites were a trio of Chardonnays (Brynn’s favorite white) from Tranche Estate*, Saviah Cellars* and Woodward Canyon*. These three wineries did not disappoint with their masterful winemaking.

Tranche sourced its grapes from Celilo Vineyard, a much-coveted white grape vineyard in the Columbia Gorge AVA. After fermentation, a third was aged in oak and then concrete egg. This Chardonnay spotlights how deep, rich and complex a Chardonnay can be from start to finish.

Saviah’s 2018 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Chardonnay has wonderful toasted notes, followed by a rich creaminess — the result of sur lie aging in French oak. The lees were stirred weekly, which contributes to the wine’s full-bodied mouthfeel.

Longtime favorite Woodward Canyon also sourced its grapes from Celilo and its estate vineyards to make a Burgundian-style Chardonnay. The wine is vibrant with ripe pear, minerals and toast.

The last white on our list showcases an emerging style of fermentation called Pétillant-Natural or “pét-nat”, which means “naturally sparkling.” Made in the Méthode Ancestrale style, pét-nat sparklers are fermented in a one-step process. For comparison, Méthode Traditionelle, which is how Champagne is made, is a two-step process with more equipment and time.

Foundry Vineyards* made a pét-nat with its 2019 Sparkling Rousanne. The wine was partially fermented and bottled without dosage. As a result, the bubbles (carbon dioxide) are captured inside the bottle along with crisp acidity and fruity character. This wine showcased this style beautifully.

Must-try reds

Founded in 2005, Balboa Winery* produces a wonderful Eidolon Estate Bordeaux blend from the 2014 vintage. There is lots of stuffing to this wine with blackberry, plum, cassis, black cherry and a nice touch of minerality.

Canvasback* 2016 Red Mountain Cabernet is a rich blend of 88% Cabernet with a dollop of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Its dark fruits, baking spices and earth are graced with fine-grained tannins and a polished finish. Wow!

Tero Estates 2013 Hill Block Cabernet from the Walla Walla Valley is 100% Cab with licorice aromas in the lead, followed by spice, herb and black fruit. Soft, quite ripe fruit flavors follow. Hill Block was planted in 1998.

Another notable Bordeaux blend, Caprio Cellars Eleanor Estate, is mainly Cab, with Merlot and Cab Franc. This silky wine has dark fruits mingling with mocha and a little minerality.

Saviah Cellars* took first place for Syrahs, offering one from the Walla Walla Valley AVA and one from the Rocks District (in Oregon).

The Walla Walla Valley Syrah has all that you would wish for in a Syrah — olives, fresh-cracked pepper, blackberries, plums, balance and a superb finish.

Their Stones Speak Syrah from The Rocks District is a big wine from a single vineyard. There is so much going on in the glass: dark stone fruit, olives, dirt and a lovely touch of anise. The finish is silky but it has the weight to go the distance. This is too good to pass up.

The Walls Vineyards* Ramparts offered a sensational blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Counoise and Syrah. Spicy aromas and tasty flavors of blackberry, cherries, leather and lavender are nicely balanced with velvety tannins.

Valdemar Estates* 2017 Klipsun WWV Syrah is sourced from an established vineyard on Red Mountain. This exceptional wine comes from a prominent winery in Spain’s Rioja region that saw a promising future in Washington state.

French, Italian and Spain see the potential here. And lucky us, these great wineries are in our backyard and will be even closer when they pour at Taste Washington. So go and explore Washington’s renowned wine country!

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. Brynn Grimley is a communications professional whose love for wine began while studying abroad in France and has continued as she explores wines from Washington state and around the world. Follow Cheers to You on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Cheers2YouWine and Twitter at @Cheers2YouWine

It’s Red Wine and Chocolate Season!

Many wineries and even a few craft breweries up and down the coast are putting on the Red Wine (or brew) and Decadent Chocolate Show.

Like a good red wine, dark chocolate is a source of antioxidants and minerals, and it generally contains very little sugar. So, to guide you through the myriad of how and perhaps when to pair chocolate with your favorite flavor of beverage, remember the cardinal rule: The drink must be sweeter than the chocolate. This is especially applicable when enjoying a rich, dry red wine.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. A mug of dark roasted coffee and a molten chocolate lava cake is a great example. The acidity in the coffee is another factor to consider. It cuts through the chocolate sweetness and makes a beautiful match.

Unless you happen to think that chocolate is overrated like my wine buddy, Brynn Grimley. Long-time readers may remember that she was my counterpart when this column first started. Brynn is rejoining us!

More than a decade ago, Brynn and I had the desire to share our love for wine with the Kitsap Sun community. But in 2013, Brynn’s career took her away, so I continued the column – alone.  After nearly three years of talk about resurrecting our wine writing “dream team”, we elected 2020 as our year to officially reconnect. Expect to hear from her from time-to-time in future columns as we share our wine adventures with you.

But back to chocolate and red wine. Since the Olympic Peninsula Red Wine and Chocolate Tour began this past weekend and continues the hoiday weekend of February 15 – 17th throughout Washington, we thought a reconnaissance mission would be our next wine adventure.

We started at one of Washington’s western most wineries outside of Port Angeles. Harbinger Winery dished up a buttery pan au chocolate with the award-winning Dynamo Red, a sinfully delicious combination. This red is mostly Syrah has a dollop of Cab Franc and Malbec.

Our eyes went wide tasting the Raspberry Bliss packed with 2 ½ tons of freshly picked fruit from Graysmarsh Farm in the Dungeness Valley.  Although dry, it was bright with lots of sweet fruit. This is the one for that triple chocolate brownie.

Savory chocolate dishes are not unheard of. Mexico’s iconic mole, a sauce of chilies, spices, and Mexican chocolate is a savory chicken dish calling for a Zinfandel – red or white. Other savory chocolate dishes could be an arugula, ham, and pear salad tossed with a fruity vinaigrette and garnished with cocoa nibs. Or try my show-stopping recipe for seafood ravioli with a white chocolate-cayenne sauce. Pass the rose’ bubbly, please.

Another Olympic Peninsula Wine, Cider and Chocolate Tour stop was Camaraderie Cellars, tucked into the hills of Port Angeles. Such a welcoming place! The outdoor firepit, sculptures and gardens were warming.

Their 2012 Reserve Cab, from an exceptional vintage, was superb. They also dished up a savory cocoa, spice-rubbed pulled pork. Unsweetened chocolate, such as 95 – 100% cacao, adds smoky and earthy quality to a savory dish.

Brynn writes: if you’re looking for a new wine adventure this year, or maybe you’re like me and aren’t a huge chocolate fan (gasp!), consider venturing to the Monbazillac region of Southwest France. Here you’ll find three white grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle take center stage in this tropical dessert wine.

This is a sweet wine but it has the balancing acidity to make it a particularly delicious dessert wine. With flavors similar to Bordeaux’s esteemed Sauternes made with the same grapes (but with an affordable price tag) this wine offers a beautiful bouquet of fruit — touches of melon, ripe pineapple, and even notes of citrus linger.

We enjoyed a Chateau Belingard from Monbazillac after a delightful epicurean feast. The wine presented beautifully with notes of ripe pineapple and hints of botrytis (noble rot) on the finish. But what made this wine even better was the dessert we paired with it. A scoop of bourbon ice cream and a peach half dusted with cinnamon that was easy to whip up in the blink of the eye.

The Monbazillac region is France’s largest late-harvest sweet wine district by acreage and production. Situated just 45 miles east of Sauternes, in the small, relatively unknown wine region of Bergerac (where the unrequited romantic, Cyrano de was staged).

Monbazillac is an Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) situated on the banks of the Dordogne River. The chance for noble rot to develop in this maritime climate is very good. Noble rot or botrytis cinerea is a fungus that attaches itself to the skins of the grapes and sucks the moisture out, concentrating the sugars and flavors.

Back to wine and chocolate and another style of wine tasted on the Olympic Peninsula Tour. At Wind Rose Cellars in downtown Sequim, they make an Orange Muscat cold soaked for 6 hours before pressing and then fermented in stainless steel. It has the heady aromas of honeysuckle and candied orange peel. This is another sweet, white dessert wine that is a wonderful partner with chocolate especially a creamy, chocolate heart-shaped mousse.

And a reminder that there are many Red Wine and Chocolate events this sweet weekend. I hope you find yourself at one of them. Bainbridge Island Wine Alliance, Yakima Valley, Lake Chelan, Rattlesnake Hills and even Whidbey-Camano Islands wineries!

We wish you many wonderful wine adventures.

Many Ways to Taste Washington Wines

This has to be my favorite time of year. Perhaps for winemakers too. The rush of harvest is over, the wines are resting in tank, barrel or bottle and the vines are dormant. It’s time for a road trip or two.

On Monday, February 10th, head on over to McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center and connect with over 50 Walla Walla Valley wineries and winemakers. Each winery has two or three wines including new releases they would like you to sample.

Many of these craft wineries have vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley AVA and its sub AVA, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. This sub AVA is nestled within the Walla Walla Valley AVA, but its entire footprint resides in Oregon.

The Rocks AVA stands out among all American AVAs. Approved in 2015, this AVA gets its name from the extremely rocky basalt. It is the only AVA in the U.S. whose boundaries have been fixed by virtue of a single soil series – the Freewater Series.

According to the USDA, the “Freewater series consists of deep, somewhat excessively drained soils formed in gravelly alluvium mixed with loess in the upper part. Freewater soils are on high stream terraces and have slopes of 0 to 3 percent. The mean annual precipitation is about 14 inches and the mean annual temperature is about 52 degrees F.”

By contrast, the Walla Walla Valley AVA has four distinct soil series. On valley floor, Ellisforde silt loam; in the foothills, Walla Walla silt loam; in the floodplains, Freewater covered with basalt rocks; and on the steep slopes of the foothills and canyons, Lickskillet, a very stony loam.

The Rocks District Winegrowers organization has 30 members, both producers and winegrowers. This 3,767 acre AVA is planted to almost 350 acres of grapes with over 200 acres in development. To learn more, get your tickets here.

During the long Valentine/President Day weekend, Red Wine and Chocolate occurs from the Olympics to eastern Washington and beyond.

At the annual Olympic Peninsula Red Wine, Cider and Chocolate Tour, eight Olympic Peninsula wineries welcome you with wine, cider and sensational chocolate bites. And you don’t have to do all eight in one day or even one weekend. This event encompasses two weekends, February 8th and 9th and the long holiday weekend February 15th through 17th. Tickets can be purchased at OlympicPeninsulaWineries.com

Some highlights that may tantalize your taste buds: Camaraderie Cellars 2014 Sangiovese, 2012 Reserve Cab and newly released 2016 Cabernet Franc are featured with the ever-popular Cocoa-Spiced Pulled Pork.

At Eaglemount Winery & Cidery, Chocolate Serenade caramels are paired with new releases of ciders and wines. Fairwinds Winery has a chocolate fountain to pair with their outstanding Port of Call.

Harbinger Winery features a carnival of culinary delights beginning with a white chocolate apple bread pudding paired with the crisp La Petite Fleur; pan au chocolate with the award-winning Dynamo Red; devil’s food mini-cupcakes crowned with a spiced chocolate butter cream is sinfully delicious when paired with the newly released 2014 Bolero.

If this isn’t enough, Harbinger will have one more behind the velvet curtain of the VIP room, the reserve wine with Theo’s Chocolates.

Wind Rose Cellars is hosting chocolatier Yvonne Yokota from Yvonne’s Chocolates. Each weekend will feature a different lineup of their wines. I tasted the 2014 Bravo Rosso at the Kitsap Wine Festival this past August. It’s a 3 out of 3-star wine for me.

You could also spend your Valentine’s Day weekend on Bainbridge Island during their annual Wine on the Rock: Wine & Chocolate event. It highlights the wines of the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island’s award-winning producers paired with local chocolates. Each of the five participating wineries (Amelia Wynn, Eagle Harbor, Eleven, Fletcher Bay, Rolling Bay) will be pouring four specially selected wines into very cool wine glasses that you get to keep.

After purchasing tickets online, you pick up your wine glass and other goodies at any winery you choose and start tasting. With the exception of Amelia Wynn Winery, the event will take place at the wineries. Amelia Wynn will pour at their downtown Winslow Way tasting room.

And right around the corner on March 19 through the 22nd, is the granddaddy of all delicious Washington wine and food tastings – the 23rd annual Taste Washington. This year, there are exciting changes with the addition of evening events on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Pacific Standard is a nautically inclined, wine-imbued, mountain-framed, pier-stacked, stuff-your-face with delicious food kind of Friday night commemorating Washington’s most inspiring places. The Saturday night marquee event, The New Vintage, showcases culinary legends: past, present and future with outstanding Washington wines.

The Grand Tasting is the main event, a two-day wine and food celebration with more than 200 of Washington’s award-winning wineries, 60 Seattle restaurants and so much more.

Whether you’re a full-fledged wine geek or burgeoning aficionado, Taste Washington has great seminars. These taste-while-you-learn sessions are hosted by leading experts, including top winemakers, Master Sommeliers and academics. Learn about what makes the terroir of Washington’s vineyards stand apart, the future appellations coming to Washington state, dive headlong into the latest wine science and, of course, taste a lot of fantastic wine.

Tickets are on sale now (a wonderful Valentine gift) both individually and package deals. Go to TasteWashington.com.  Cheers!

The Many Wines from Italy’s Boot

Italy is big into wine. And the numbers testify to that: somewhere around 900 Italian grape varieties are grown in 1,949,000 acres of vineyards in the 20 wine regions. In 2018, 1,447,663 gallons of wine were produced or approximately 7,306,666 bottles.

They also have the biggest classification system with each regions’ own rules about which grapes can used, how much alcohol, how long it must be aged, what place name can be on the label and much more.

The first Italian system of classification was launched in 1963. Since then, modifications were made and grapes were added. The last modification in 2010 conforms with European Union wine regulations.

Many Italian wines are blends of three or more grape varieties and this is strictly regulated for IGP, DOC or DOCG wine. Traditionally, Chianti, a DOC or DOCG wine, from the Tuscany region was a blend of Sangiovese with a small percentage of Canaiolo Nero, Mammolo and Colorino and white grapes Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia.

That has been updated. Chianti no longer has to add white grapes and now are able to grow and add – in small percentages – non-traditional grapes such as Cabernet and Merlot.

One limitation still held onto is grape names on the label. When a grape name is listed on the label, it is followed by a “di” or “della” and then the place name. For instance, Barbera d’Asti, Brunello di Montalcino, Fiano di Avellino, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Morellino di Scansano.

To further complicate matters, blends of grapes are also listed with a place name. That’s because everyone in Italy knows what grapes are allowed to grow in a particular region. Amarone (a style) della Valpolicella (an appellation) is probably the most famous blend made with the dried grapes of Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella.

There is also Ripasso (style) della Valpolicella which is a fermentation process that passes the wine over the pomace of Recioto (style) della Valpolicella. The Recioto is a sweet, unctuous dessert wine made from very ripe and then dried grapes.

I’m telling you this because I needed to refresh my memory about Italian wines and share some recently great, affordable Italian wines I’ve enjoyed. The one that began this quest was new to me – Otto Bucce, a DOC Rosso from Piedmonte.

In the Piedmonte, in northwestern Italy, Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto are the notable red grapes. Less well known and very unique grape varieties are Brachetto, Bonarda Piemontese, Freisa and Albarossa.

The label of this rosso intrigued me with its bunch of red grapes and eight grape names – Dolcetto, Barbera, Bonarda Piedmonte, Merlot, Cabernet, Fresia, Albarossa and Syrah.

This name Otto (eight) Bucce (skins) underscores the unique blend of eight indigenous Piemontese and international grapes which all contribute to this brilliant ruby red with structure, character and a huge amount of fragrance. The wine spends 12 months in the traditional large barrels and ends in neutral French barrique for a smooth, balanced quaff to pair with your next plate of spaghetti.

One of my all-time favorite Italian grapes is Barbera. Barbera d’Asti is a DOCG that lies in the heart of Italy’s Piedmont region. The Lavignone Barbera d’Asti is a classic example. The wine is macerated for a week and then vinified entirely in stainless steel. This would account for the heavenly aromatics and bright flavors of cherries, violets and herbs. Soft tannins and a nice dose of acidity make this wine a favorite with any meal except breakfast.

The Apulia region is in southern Italy, the heel of the boot, and known for producing big reds from Primitivo, Negroamaro, Nero di Troia and Malvasia Nera grapes. Salice Salentino is a DOC of Puglia created in 1976. The area centers on the town of Salice on the Salento Peninsula.

The Marchese di Borgosole Salice Salentino Riserva DOC has a strong, dark, ruby ​​red color. The bouquet is of delicious, fruity berries with a fine nuance of tobacco and chocolate. On the palate it is smooth. A perfect and harmonious drinking pleasure with a crisp bite and a hint of bitterness for a long-lasting finish.

May your wine adventures lead to many bottles of Italian wine in your cellar.

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.