Celebrating Washington Wine Month

The annual celebration of Washington’s $1 billion wine industryTasteWaWineMonth_RedPlaid_300x165 and the wines that put Washington on the world wine map is going on this month.  So, what’s to celebrate you ask?  Why do so many wine aficionados flock to wine country, producing $1.06 billion in revenue?

Well, for one we rank nationally as the 2nd largest premium wine producer in the United States with over 850 wineries, many who have taken home gold, silver and bronze medals nationally and internationally.

To date, we have thirteen American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), approved by the Alcohol & Tobacco Taxes & Trade Bureau.  AVAs are distinct areas where grapes are grown not necessarily where a winery is located.

The first Washington AVA, Yakima Valley, was created in 1983, followed swiftly by Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley in 1984. I say swiftly because it would be another eleven years before a fourth was named and that was, drum roll please … Puget Sound in 1995, which includes the entire Puget Sound area from the Canadian border to just south of Olympia.

In 2001, came the powerful Red Mountain. Columbia Gorge was named three years later and Horse Heaven Hills in 2005. The Wahluke Slope where some of the oldest vineyards are planted was singled out in 2006. Other small but significant AVAs recently named are Rattlesnake Hills, 2006; Snipes Mountain and  Lake Chelan 2009; Naches Heights, 2011 and Ancient Lakes in 2012.

There are over 40 different varietals produced.  The top white varietals are Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris or Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, Semillon and Chenin Blanc, the grape that made Vouvray famous.

Leading red varietals are Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Cab Franc, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Lemberger.

With over 50,000+ acres of wine grapes planted, Washington State produced almost 12.5 million cases of delicious wine in 2014 from the largest harvest so far – 227,000 tons of vinifera grapes.

This is a great time to take advantage of the many specials offered by retailer, wineries, and restaurants. And don’t forget, the culmination of Washington Wine Month is Taste Washington – happening over four days, March 26th – 29th, 2015.

This gourmet experience begins with a Red & White Party, where magnums of Washington wine will be served with an arm long list of appetizers.  An excursion to meet the producers at a new Taste Washington on the Farm and celebrate with The New Vintage Friday are a couple of other opportunities to taste the over 4,000 wines produced in Washington. Saturday and Sunday both have some interesting and Educational Seminars before the Grand Tasting. Tickets are available at tastewashington.org

Established 1995, the Puget Sound AVA has about 69 acres planted to vinifera grapes with about 45 wineries located within the greater Puget Sound region not all produce wines from this AVA. Only about a dozen actually produce wines from grapes grown in this AVA.

The Puget Sound AVA’s climate is a cooler maritime viticulture region.  Some of the wine grape varieties grown include Pinot Noir, Madeleine Angevine, Müller Thurgau, Siegerrebe, Chasselas, Island Belle and the only Melon de Bourgogne in Washington State. This grape is also known as Muscadet and is the perfect wine to pair with oysters.

One local winery, Mosquito Fleet, located in Belfair is celebrating their Grand Release Event this weekend. On Saturday, March 14th and Sunday the 15th from noon ‘til 6:00pm, you can enjoy delicious appetizers and tastes of their newly released 2012 vintage. You can taste fruit sourced from some of the finest vineyards in eastern Washington State for their Bordeaux and Rhone blends and also a Port from the traditional Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz grapes. Hope to see you there!

The Color of an Old Sauternes

You may have heard that Clear Creek, which runs from Bangor Base to the estuary at Dyes Inlet, is getting a new bridge this year. That may have been a shocking discovery about three weeks ago when you would have had to find a new way around the Bucklin Hill while PSE put in some poles during the fish window.  do

In preparation for the big change to the biota of the estuary, the Clear Creek Trail has been monitoring water quality. We’ve been at this since last June, and being a recovering Old Town Silverdale Wine Shop Owner, the color of the dissolved oxygen test reminds me of an old Sauternes.

Sauternes is a special region in southern Bordeaux very near the ocean. In other regions, where dessert wines are made, they are more at the whim of Mother Nature from vines that usually produce drier versions of wine. This region is dedicated solely to the production of unfortified, sweet white wine.

Sauternes winemaking regulations are different also. The appellation is reserved for wines from five communes where regulations stipulate minimum levels of alcohol (13%) and the wine to taste sweet.

This very unique microclimate is close to two rivers and the intertidal waters that create a lot of fog in the fall when the grapes are ripening. This moist atmosphere encourages Botrytis Cinerea or Noble Rot.

Three grapes are allowed, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Sémillon is the principal grape mainly because it is more susceptible to Noble Rot than the other two. It is typically about 80% of the blend. Sauvignon’s main role is the acidity to the blend to keep it balanced and Muscadelle is for aromatics.

Noble Rot is a fungus prized in the Sauternes region. Basically, it sucks moisture out of individual grapes thus increasing the tartaric acid and sugars, concentrating the flavors. The result is a wine of distinction, lush flavors of honey, tropical fruit, heady aromas and rich, powerful, creamy mouthfeel. Mainly because of the Noble Rot which has an unique aroma similar to a spice cabinet.

Sauternes are some of longest-lived wines; I’ve admired some and have tasted even fewer. I remember getting to look at a bottle of 1929, all coppery in color that a former chef of the Silverdale Beach Hotel had in his cellar.

Sauternes typically start out a gorgeous light gold color that becomes increasingly darker as it ages. Once a tint of orange appears, it has developed complex and mature flavors and aromas.

Yes, Sauternes is a labor intensive, costly wine to make. For example, Chateau d’Yquem makes at least 17 passes through the vineyards, picking only the best grapes. Botrytis does not just swoop down one day and perform its magic. It tends to be very spotty.

A typical harvest might be picking a patch of botrytis affected grapes for a couple of days and then it rains for a few days; this brings a halt to the picking. When the better weather resumes, grapes affected by the undesirable grey rot are removed, then another bout of Noble Rot appears and picking begins again. Hand picking can go on for six weeks. A long period of time for the team of pickers to be kept waiting.

When this style of wine got its start is not certain however, Thomas Jefferson purchased many a bottle of Sauternes’ most famous property, d’Yquem. He even convinced George Washington to purchase 30 bottles of the wine!

As with dry wines, vintage makes a big difference when buying Sauternes. And the 2011s now on the shelf are from a great vintage. Top Sauternes bottlings include the Chateau d’Yquemdyquem at around $400 or so, Chateau Guiraud for about $85 and Chateau Suduiraut for a mere $70.

There are two other communes to look for that are not quite as expensive as Sauternes. That would be Barsac and Loupiac. The quality is as good because they live by the same rules of the region but they are lesser known. Cadillac is another commune but is small and rarely seen. They only produce wine there, not cars.

Barsac Chateaux to seek out would be Chateau Doisy Daene, Doisy Vedrine, Nairac, and de Rayne Vigneau. These range in price from $35 to $50.

Sauternes can be had in half bottle sizes (375 ml) and given the richness, much preferred. The wines are served slightly chilled. Sauternes can be paired with a variety of foods but by far, the classic match is seared Foie Gras with fresh berries.

And just like the Champagne, American Champagne and Methode Campainoise agreement, Sauternes made anywhere else in the world is spelled Sauterne – without the S. That’s how you’ll know.

Just a reminder that Taste Washington happens at the end of this month. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the Washington Wine scene. There are some great seminars to attend also, Washington vs. The World, The Chardonnay Revival and a couple of appellation spotlights. The one that caught my attention was Wine Tasting with the Masters – Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. That should be very interesting. Here’s the link for more info: http://tastewashington.org/seminars-2015/

It’s a Red Wine & Chocolate Weekend!

This sweet weekend is a favorite of many Washington State Wineries – Valentine’s Day and a long weekend. And it’s a great weekend for the many Chocolatiers too!

Everyone knows red wine and chocolate are good for you. Dark choc heartchocolate contains healthy fats, mostly monounsaturated and saturated fat, with very little polyunsaturated fat. Dark chocolate also contains lots of polyphenols. When it comes to polyphenol antioxidants, cacao is up there with pomegranates, cranberries, blueberries and red wine. It’s a healthy weekend too!

On the Kitsap Peninsula, wineries on Bainbridge are open for touring this weekend. They have partnered with some of the region’s premier chocolatiers to offer you delectable tastes of chocolate to go with their wines. Regular tasting fees apply but there are no additional fees for chocolate tasting.

At Amelia Wynn try mini chocolate éclairs with their fabulous wines. Locally-made chocolate truffles infused with raspberry wine plus other savory bites will be featured at Bainbridge Vineyards. Eleven Winery has chocolate wine fudge from local maker Bon Bon, chocolate-covered wine grapes, and special samples from Chuao. Chocolatier Keith Jackson will be at Perennial Vintners passing out chocolates from Yukon Jackson’s Chocolates. Rolling Bay Winery will pair their reds with Fremont’s Theo Chocolate.

Yakima Valley is inviting wine and chocolate enthusiasts to its annual Red Wine & Chocolate event this weekend. As the oldest wine region in Washington State, wineries from Yakima, Zillah, Prosser and Red Mountain will be offering a weekend of divine decadence. Premier Pass holders experience a variety of specialty pairings, library tastings, and tours not available to the public. Here are a few that sounded absolutely wonderful:

Antolin Winery will have chocolate cups and wine to taste from and eat. An idea that Reidel has thought of yet!

Gilbert Cellars: Local patisserie Crème will be preparing three special wine-inspired chocolate temptations to pair with three of our favorite reds.

Horizon’s Edge Winery will be releasing a new Devil’s Canyon red blend and finally, after many of you have been patiently waiting for, our new Raspberry Riesling.

 

Kana Winery will be featuring decadent delights paired with our award winning red wines.

Knight Hill Winery: We are offering mole and small Tamales in the Tasting Room with Tamales to purchase and take away!

Lookout Point Winery will have a Chocolate Fountain with fresh fruits as well as handmade Truffles, Mini Macaroons, and savory Pear & Brie Tartlets. Our weekend flight includes five of our award winning vintages that include three Malbecs, a Grenache, and our Tableau blend.

Maison de Padgett Winery has their traditional chocolate fountain to enjoy. A newly released Unzipped Sangiovese and limited McHargue Malbec Port are on tap.

Paradisos del Sol Winery is offering a nine-course winemaker’s dinner for 2015 Red Wine & Chocolate. Nothing elaborate, just nine tiny bites of food — five include chocolate, four savory, two sweet — to pair with nine wines. Sip, Bite, Sip, Sip!

Portteus Winery will featuring Chef Greg Masset’s famous fudge brownies alongside an extensive lineup of knockout reds such as Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Zinfandel. YUM!

Reflection Vineyards will showcase the 2012 release of Reserve Cabernet as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Melange, and a Bordeaux blend. To pair with the wines, Allison’s famous Kahlua Espresso Brownies.

Severino Cellars family recipe of Dark Chocolate Fudge will be available for sampling with the newly released 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red and 2010 Merlot.

Tanjuli Winery’s 2013 Estate Orange Muscat will compliment the array of domestic and imported chocolate treats. Don’t miss this rare treat.

Treveri Sparkling Cellars will have some beautifully handcrafted truffles to taste with their wide array of sparkling wines.

Two Mountain Winery: Don’t miss this hot spot! Be the first to taste the limited production 2011 Touriga National Port paired with Port infused brownies!

Wineglass Cellars has a Decadent Double Dark Chocolate Brownie made by Imogene’s of Yakima which will pair deliciously with the 2004 Port.

You can also go west for a Red Wine and Chocolate Tour of the Olympic Peninsula wineries and cideries. They will pair new releases and decadent chocolate delights. Enjoy a tour through the scenic towns of Chimacum, Nordland, Port Townsend, Sequim and Port Angeles where nine artisan wineries including Camaraderie Cellars, Eaglemount Wine & Cider, FairWinds Winery, Finnriver Farm & Cidery, Harbinger Winery, Lullaby Winery, Marrowstone Vineyards, Olympic Cellars, and Wind Rose Cellars will welcome you.

Your ticket gets you a special commemorative wine glass, complimentary wine tasting and chocolate samples at nine OPW Wineries. Tickets are available online. Any remaining tickets will be sold for $30 at participating wineries during the Red Wine and Chocolate Tour. Visit www.olympicpeninsulawineries.org for further information.

Next month is the Taste Washington, the nation’s largest single-region wine and food event. Taste Washington brings together over 225 wineries, 70 restaurants and 60 culinary exhibitors from across the region for the ultimate four-day experience.

Taste Washington will celebrate its 18th year, March 26-29, 2015. Mark your calendar!

Valentine’s Dinner – Beer or Wine?

A white-clothed table set with gleaming china and the crystal shining in the candle light; all that’s left is to cue some romantic music and cook up something wonderful.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, what better way to show your sweetie your love and appreciation than a multicourse meal with thoughtful pairings? Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday this year; so if you haven’t already made those reservations, this could be the answer.

A romantic repast should always start with the sound of a cork popping on a bottle of bubbly. Pour two flutes, make a toast and let the fun begin.

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than with chocolate? One memorable Valentine’s Day, we hosted a wonderful chococentric dinner.  Each course had some chocolate somewhere in the recipe. Each course was paired with beer, but what we have below is my thoughts for a wine match. And so here you have it: a he-said-she-said kind of romantic dinner.boillet

THE APPETIZER COURSE
Ancho-spiced Cocoa Meatballs
Chocolate Malt Pretzels with Apricot Mustard
Beer: Sam Adams Chocolate Bock and Lindeman’s Kriek
Wine: from Ste. Michelle Sparkling Rosé Brut and from France, Bouilloit Cremant Rosé.

Both wines are non-vintage and both are fermented in the traditional manner, both are made with red grapes — Pinot Noir — and one has 7% of Pinot Noir’s obscure cousin Pinot Meunier. The latter grape is rarely seen outside of France. All the best houses in Champagne make their top rosés this way. Both are sophisticated sparkling rosés, with essences of berries in the nose and on the palate. Both are dry and full bodied and under $15.

THE FISH COURSE
Lobster, Shrimp & White Chocolate Ravioli
Beer: Hair of the Dog Cherry Adam From The Wood
Wine: That was a nice pairing, however, an Argyle Brut Rosé would cream the opposition.

THE MEAT COURSE
Flank Steak with a Chocolate Coffee Butter Sauce
Beer: Kona Pipeline Porter – This was a great match, really aligned well. and the thick rich body was a perfect pair with the steak.
Wine:  However, a Washington Syrah say, from Sparkman Cellars, would be spectacular match to this easy, unusual and delicious course. Sparkman Cellars 2012 Ruckus Syrah is loaded with the delicious Red Mountain Syrah that is co-fermented in the traditional manner of Rhone with a bit of Viognier. The flavors of white pepper, dark chocolate, Chinese five spice, and black fruits would align beautifully with this dish.

THE SALAD COURSE
Pear Salad with Vanilla Vinaigrette & Chocolate Nibs and Rodenbach Grand Cru Dressingroden
Beer: Rodenbach Grand Cru is a blend of 1/3 young beer and 2/3 aged 2 years in large oak vats. The oak matured beer contributes to its complexity and intensity. The finish is worthy of a great wine.
Wine: Even staying with the beer salad dressing on the salad, another Crémant, this time from the Alsace, would be my choice. Trimbach Pinot Blanc would be perfect with this dish. Maison Trimbach began in 1626 when Jean Trimbach settled in Riquewihr, France, and established the family wine trade. He was appointed Gourmet of Hunawihr, a prestigious position designed to protect the quality of wine exports. 98% of Alsatian wines are white. This one is a gorgeous pale gold, elegant with minerals, white flowers and citrus flavors and aromas.

THE DESSERT COURSE
Chocolate Torte drizzled with Sam Adams Triple Bock Reduction
Beer: Samichlaus, which means “Santa Claus” in Swiss German, is brewed on December 6th. This beer was once the world’s strongest beer and aging it enhanced its complexities.
Wine: Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui is another unusual grape with intense raspberry aromas and flavors and low alcohol. A unique red semi-sparkling wine with aromatics of rose petals and raspberries, Rosa Regale is one vivacious and festive wine. Few wines truly pair this well with chocolate. The Brachetto d’Acqui (bra ketto da kee) is a red Italian grape that is classified as a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (controlled designation of origin guaranteed). It is produced in the Piedmont wine region near the province of Asti. Try it, you’ll love it!

Wishing you the happiest Valentine’s Day. The recipes for any or all of these dishes can be had by simply emailing your desires to Cheerstoyoukitsap@gmail.com.

It’s a Beer … It’s a Wine … It’s Barleywine!

The name Barleywine was given to this style of beer because its alcohol was more in the range of wine than that of a beer.
varleywine shot
Verticals of Barleywine

Barleywine had been around in one incarnation or another for a couple of centuries. The term barleywine was first used in the late 1800s. A couple of centuries later, barleywine production is a blend of modern brewing techniques and old traditions.

This style goes back to the days of parti-gyle brewing where, the first run of this brewing method were, of course, the bigger and more flavorful. Parti-Gyle brewing is the technique of making more than one batch of beer from a single mash. These big, complex ales were highly prized and reserved for special occasions and people, similar to an aged port.
Barleywine essentially a very strong beer, top fermented with lots of malt. Hop character is generally mild and bitterness from the hops is often low compared to the high gravity. The beer is complex, with a sweet malt character, often with hints of dried fruits, treacle, toffee and a pleasant sherry-like flavor after some cellaring.
Yes, cellaring a beer. There’s a modern day concept. Beer does age and like wine the ones with higher sugar and tannin content tend to age more gracefully. One of the first verticals I experienced was a mid 80s barleywine that had been in the cellar for 10 years. It opened a whole new world.
And I’ll bet you’re wondering, like I did back then, how can that be? It’s because there is a ton of malt sugars, tannins from the hops and higher alcohol, all excellent preservatives on their own.
Brewers measure the different components of their brews in IBUs, O.G. and F.G. IBUs are international bittering units. This component comes from the hops and in a barleywine could be anywhere from 30 to 120 IBUs.
There are two ways hops are introduced into a brew. One is to put it in with the boil and the other is to dry hop which is to put it in later when it would impart more aroma than bitter flavor. Hops are used to balance the sweet malt sugars.
How sweet are the malt sugars? That would be a measurement known as Original Gravity or O.G. This tells a brewer how heavy the malt sugars in his mash are. For a barley wine, the O.G. will be anywhere between 1.080 and 1.120 or more.
The rich flavor and deep color of a barleywine comes from the amount of grain that’s jam-packed into the brew and the length of time for the boil which caramelizes the sugars, concentrating the color and the flavor. There are many kinds of malt light, dark, black, blonde, toasted. If a lot of malts are used, and many different types, you will have a fairly complex beer.
A barley wine typically reaches an alcohol strength of 9 to 13% by volume and is brewed from specific gravities as high as 1.130. The Final Gravity (FG) is the specific gravity measured at the completion of fermentation and is usually between 1.018 and 1.030 for a barleywine.
So much is packed into barley wine that it usually takes a few years to mellow out to its best. Many barleywines are vintage dated, much like a vintage wine. Like port, barley wine has huge amounts of alcohol, sugars, and a fair amount of balancing bitterness. It takes time for these components to mellow into the full, complex drink that this style is known for.
Barleywine is also an excellent example of the style difference between the American and British versions. British barleywines are very malty and a light touch of hops for balance. Until the introduction of an amber-colored barley wine under the name Gold Label by the Sheffield brewery Tennant’s in 1951, British barley wines were always dark in color.
American versions are just as big in malt flavor with colors usually ranging from amber to light brown, but there is also a tendency to higher IBUs, giving the beer a very bitter hoppiness, especially when young. This will change with time in the cellar.
Barleywine was first made in the United States in 1976 by Anchor Brewing Company.  Its Old Foghorn Barleywine was one word as opposed to the British two word barley wine. It was a marketing decision; the word wine on a beer label was a way around the regulators. Old Foghorn was bottled in nips, a 4 oz bottle.
Barleywine names are as rich as the beers. Here are some examples with their ABV that is definitely as high as wine:
Anchor Brewing Company Old Foghorn 10
Arcadia Brewing Company Cereal Killer Barleywine 12
Deschutes Brewery Mirror Mirror 11
Dry Dock Brewing Bligh’s Barleywine Ale   10
Firestone Walker Brewing Sucaba     12.5
Flying Dog Brewery Horn Dog Barley Wine Style Ale 10.2
Goose Island Beer Bourbon County Barleywine 12.1
Heavy Seas Beer Below Decks Barley Wine   10
J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale 11.5, Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Whisky Cask) 11.5, Harvest Ale (Port Cask) 11.5, Harvest Ale (Sherry Cask) 11.5
Left Hand Brewing Oak Aged Widdershins  10.7
Midnight Sun Brewing Arctic Devil Barley Wine    13.2
Old Dominion Brewing Dominion Millennium Ale 10.5
Pelican Pub & Brewery Mother of All Storms          14
Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project Our Finest Regards         12.1
Ridgeway Brewing Criminally Bad Elf         10.5
Shipyard Brewing Shipyard Double Old Thumper Ale         11.2
The Bruery Smooth Criminal 15
Weyerbacher Brewing Insanity 11.1 and Blithering Idiot     11.1
These beers are made in small batches and best after a few years of aging. Tuck a few into the cellar for a few years and you’ll have a real treat. Beer unlike wine should be cellared upright as they usually don’t have a cork to keep damp.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! While many will enjoy a special bottle and splendid dinner to ring in the New Year, the pop of a cork and all those delicious tiny bubbles will be part of the celebration too. bubbly

Champagne is an enigma, a white wine made from primarily red grapes. The actual invention of champagne is often attributed to a Benedictine Monk by the name of Dom Pérignon. Which is not exactly accurate, he didn’t invent Champagne, he refined it. Among his many refinements was the perfect stopper for the wine previously known as “devil’s brew” since it kept exploding and sending the rags flying.  You see, before the cork and bale, the monks used rags to stopper the wine, hence the flying rags.

As in most regions in France, the Champagne region was first planted to the vine by the Romans. Later the monks took over the vineyards, the winemaking and nursing the community with wine – a healthier option than water at the time.  Wine and beer for that matter, were drunk by everyone, kings and commoners.

Champagne’s glamorous lifestyle began back in 1429. That’s when the first French king was crowned in Rheims Cathedral. Of course, Champagne was served as part of festivities and for every coronation thereafter. Other rulers saw the stars, Czar Nicholas ordered his Roederer Cristal by the boatload and we all know that Napoleon would arrive at Moet y Chandon for a tipple of Dom Pérignon before riding off to his next military campaign.

Today, there are 86,500 acres of vineyards producing 200 million bottles of Champagne every year. The increased demand for Champagne, combined with the meticulous process of production, from véraison to aging in vast cellars, has resulted in Champagne as a symbol of prestige and celebration all over the world.

It’s the attention to detail that makes Champagne one of the world’s most sought after beverages. That and the soil, the grapes, the climate and the labor intensive winemaking that make this wine so fine.

The method of making Champagne or Méthode Champenoise is complicated and long. And starts with the usual alcoholic fermentation. The wine then undergoes a second fermentation inside the bottle. Making the wine sparkling is the primary reason for this but along the way aromatics develop in concert with those tiny bubbles.

By law, the harvested grapes must have enough sugar to produce 10 to 11 percent alcohol. Champagne is the only region that does not permit mechanical harvesting. Every single grape is picked by hand. Thousands of hands from all over France descend upon Champagne at harvest time. Picking starts at dawn and avoids the excessive sun at midday to avoid spontaneous fermentation.

Then the grapes are brought to the press room which is usually very close to the vineyards. This first pressing is, of course, the best. It’s the cleanest with no color or tannins from the skin or seeds. The statutory level for the first press is 8,800 pounds of grapes, with a maximum 670 gallons collected. A second compression is allowed and provides 130 gallons.

Fermentation vats are predominantly stainless steel with a few oak barrels of various sizes scattered here and there around the region. When the wine has finished the first fermentation, sometime in March or April, the assemblage begins. This is the winemaker’s most challenging task, tasting the blends of the different wines from different vats to find the ones that will make up that final house blend.

To the final blend, a liqueur de tirage is added. The tirage is a blend of carefully constructed wine, sugar and yeast. This is the stuff that will ensure those tiny bubbles. Once the tirage is added, the bottle is capped, and taken to the cellar and placed in pupitres which are wooden racks with holes in them. The bottles are placed at an angle so the top is down and the punt end is up.

Champagne-RemuerA remuer rotates every bottle with a quick one quarter turn at least four times a day to shake the spent yeast down into the neck of the bottle. Remuers are being replaced by machines in the larger cellars but the technique is important to the making of Champagne. This goes on for about 18 months.

The last major step is disgorgement and corking the bottle. To disgorge the dead yeast cells in the bottle, the top of the bottle neck is frozen and the bottle cap removed.  All the pressure that has built up sends the plug of spent yeast cells flying.

The next step, the wine has its final dosage, another sugar and wine solution, and then it is corked. The bale holds the cork in place. The label goes on, it’s boxed up and distributed throughout the world to celebrate births, weddings, birthdays, Mother’s Day, promotions, ship launches, the Seahawks repeating, and ringing in every New Year.

As you’ve read, Champagne is complex and celebratory.  Many books have been written about its deliciousness. My favorite is by Don & Petie Kaldstrup, Champagne, How the world’s most glamorous wine triumphed over war and hard times. It’s highly entertaining and solves the mystery of why there are so many Champagne houses with German and Dutch surnames.

Cheers to you! May your New Year be bright and bubbly!

Wine Tastings this Weekend

There are two wine tasting this weekend on the Kitsap Peninsula.  The Port Gamble General Store is having a wine tasting this Saturday Unknown-1from 4 – 6pm with one of my favorite importers – Small Vineyard Imports. You can taste two whites and three reds and listen to these very knowledgeable guys talk about their wines.  The General Store is also having a holiday sale starting Saturday with 30% off holiday ornaments and other decor.

Eleven Winery is having a 1 day sale on their Angelica today. This port-like wine will be $11 today only.  Great with strong blue-veined cheeses. And on Sunday, from 1 – 5 pm, there’ll be wine and music at the winery, 7671 NE Day Road, Bainbridge Island.

The Wines Created by Popes

Once upon a time, Mary had a little lamb. This has stuck with me through the years. Much like my favorite Gary Larson cartoon that has the bespectacled shepherdess sitting down to dinner with the drapes closed, her shepherd’s crook propped in the corner and the caption, “Mary had a little lamb, carrots and potatoes.”

One of my top ten matches of all time would be that very dinner with a ch ndpChateauneuf du Pape. Châteauneuf du Pape’s wide array of aromas and flavors could include herbes de Provence, spice box, tobacco, raspberries, olives, blackcurrant, licorice, thyme, plum, coffee, cinnamon, blueberries, lavender, and black cherry. As you can read, there is a lot going on in a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape and here’s why….

With more than 8,000 acres, Châteauneuf du Pape is the largest appellation in the Rhône Valley. This region makes two wines, a red which produces the bulk of the appellation’s production and a white. Eight red grapes are allowed and five whites.

Châteauneuf du Pape AOC permits thirteen different grapes in red wine but the blend must be predominantly Grenache. The other reds permitted are Syrah, Mourvèdre with minute quantities of Cinsault, Muscardin, Counoise, Vaccarèse and Terret Noir. The permitted white varietals include Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Clarette, Bourboulenc and Roussanne. Chateau Beaucastel is the only one that includes all thirteen, both red and white, in its red wine.

Châteauneuf du Pape is located in southern France, in the southern half of the Rhône, on a hot, alluvial plain that’s covered with round stones. Sitting on the surface of the soil, the stones’ duty is to insulate the vines from both the cold and the heat, and provide drainage for the roots.

The area of the Rhône is in the path of the fierce, cold wind known as Le Mistral. This wind keeps things cool and also stresses the vines in a different way than the hot rocks.

Because of this wind, it’s not unusual to see mature vines untrellissed and low growing. Because of the abundant sunshine and frequent Le Mistral, the use of herbicides or pesticides in the vineyards isn’t needed. The wines benefit from this. They are clean with flavors rarely touched by new oak.

Châteauneuf du Pape takes its name, translated new castle of the pope, from the relocation of the papal court in the 14th century. French Pope Clement V arrived in 1309 and ordered more vines be planted to have more wine on hand for the visitors to court. His successor John XXII is the man who really developed the papal vineyards around Châteauneuf du Pape.

These wines were relatively light in style and unremarkable. After the court moved back to Italy, the bulk of the production was shipped north to cooperatives to be combined into indifferent blends that were sold in bulk.

Modern day Châteauneuf du Pape has its roots in the 1923 precursor appellation system created by Baron Le Roy, proprietor of the renowned Chateau Fortia. Forty years later with the establishment of the AOC, there were only a few making top quality wines.

These would be Chateau de Beaucastel, Clos du Mont-Olivet, Clos des Papes, Mont Redon, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, and Rayas. Today, there are over 60 estates producing wines that are as good as, if not better than these six top chateaux.

Many of these wines are made by a new generation of winemakers and are near term drinkers – generally to be consumed within five to seven years of the vintage, although a handful can age far longer. The finest are concentrated enough to evolve for 15 to 25 years.

The most celebrated cru of the region is Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. The Brunier family has been part of the plateau known as “La Crau” for over a hundred years. They began in 1898 with Hippolyte Brunier. His small vineyard was at one of the highest points near town on a stony plateau called “La Crau”. The elevation was the perfect place to construct in the late 18th century to transmit telegraph messages between Marseilles and Paris.

This was unfriendly terrain where only the toughest vigneron planted, although the legendary mistral wind prevented rot. Hippolyte gradually increased his vineyard holdings.

Over the years, the Brunier family weathered many storms including phylloxera. Hippolyte’s grandson, Henri, replanted the vineyards, constructed a new winery designed to better control temperature during fermentation, and launched the Chateau’s first bottling with the Vieux Télégraphe label.

The wines are classic, displaying rustic strength, earthiness, and tremendous longevity. The old vines of La Crau are all used for the final assemblage. The grapes from the newer vines (all over twenty years old) are used for the wines of Télégramme.

Châteauneuf du Pape is a remarkably food-friendly with all kinds of dishes, partly because it suits so much of today’s style of cooking – grilled red meats (like lamb) – with herbs and olive oil. And because of the lack of new oak in many of these wines, they can be enjoyed alongside lighter dishes such as grilled fish and poultry.

Châteauneuf du Pape would make a wonderful gift this holiday season. Chateau la Nerthe and Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, will be on my wish list.

What’s your Game Plan for Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving celebrations differ from one home to the next. turkeyStill there are certain flavors, traditions and approaches connected with our most food focused holiday that strikes a chord in all of us.

Whether you go with the traditional turkey with sage and onion stuffing, giblet gravy, candied yams, and cranberry sauce; put a cultural twist on it, with a chipotle rubbed bird, red chili gravy and cornbread chorizo stuffing; or go the vegan route with a mound of riced potatoes shaped like a bird and glazed with browned butter with all those wonderful vegetable side dishes, Thanksgiving is a dinner you can sink your teeth into. But what to drink with it has been debated for many decades.

Every Turkey Day, the family sommelier faces the perplexing question: do I go with something sweet that can stand up to candied yams and tart cranberry sauce and keep Mom happy? Or go with Beaujolais Nouveau because it’s available now, red and fruity? Decisions, decisions.

Thanksgiving wines shouldn’t be intimidating. This is not the time to pull out that bottle you’ve been cellaring for a while. Serve something familiar, homey and delicious enough for those neophytes to be satisfied and thoughtful enough for wine lovers to appreciate.

Pairing wine with roasted, brined or deep fried turkey is a piece of cake but short of a dessert wine, nothing is sweet enough to do battle with yams blanketed with toasted marshmallows.

Dry, high alcohol wines will perish with all that sugar and salt. And white wines need a decent amount of acidity to cleanse your palate. Uncomplicated, fruity wines with a little residual sugar are the best recourse for matching with these courses.

Some of the better partners for Thanksgiving dinner, in my opinion, are Alsatian whites, German Rieslings, Grenache blends from France or Spain and Tempranillo from Spain or the West Coast. Pinot Noir, contrary to some opinions, has never worked for me with all those strong flavors dished up at Thanksgiving- unless, of course, it’s in the bubbly.

Balance is the key for the perfect pairing. For a white, think Riesling or one of those soft, slightly sweet Pinot Gris. For reds, fruity and friendly, low alcohol Zinfandels, Tempranillo or even Carmenere would work well.

sparkling glassEvery holiday dinner should begin with something celebratory and good. At my table, nothing says celebrate better than a bottle of bubbly. The pop of the cork signals the start of the celebration. And it’s off to the races from there.

Given the tradition of the day, here are some American bubblies with good acidity and a core of fruit to consider:  Chateau Ste. Michelle’s extra dry which is actually slightly sweeter in style than a brut despite its description; Oregon’s Argyle brut or Washington’s Treveri Cellars would grace any table. Treveri produces several Columbia Valley sparkling wines you should try. Three that would be perfect for this occasion would be their sparkling Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Syrah. You will be impressed! These sparklers range in price from $10.49 to $23.

white wine glassWhite wines to serve, could be California’s Oak Grove Pinot Grigio which is soft, fruity with crisp citrus flavors. Or Wine by Joe Pinot Gris from Oregon that has wonderful flavors of citrus, pear, and green apple with refreshing acidity. Both are under $10, so stock up for the holidays.

But Riesling is really the best white to serve.  And Washington makes second best – after Germany, of course.

Pacific Rim Riesling from Columbia Valley is a delicious off dry, richly fruity wine packed with peach, apricot flavors with a hint of wet stone. Milbrandt Riesling scored high with its fresh, lively stone fruit flavors and juicy acidity. These guys have been growing from in the Columbia Valley for generations. Latah Creek Columbia Valley Riesling is filled with flavors of green apple, ripe pear and spice with a crisp finish.

Jones of Washington Columbia Valley Riesling is an orange blossom special touched with pineapple and fresh picked apples. He also makes an estate Pinot Gris from the Ancient Lakes AVA that would perk a lot of  interest at the table.

Two Mountain Winery Rattlesnake Hills Riesling is another crisp refreshing wine with a nice balance of pear, citrus, and minerals on the palate.

red wine glassRed wines are trickier than white but if you make sure the alcohol is around 13% or less and there is a modicum of fruit, your chosen one will be a hit.  With that in mind here are a few grape suggestions: Lemberger, Tempranillo and Baco Noir.

Lemberger, a dark-skinned grape from Austria, is typically fruity with ripe plum and black cherry and a hint of pepper. It does well in colder climates where it goes by a more mellifluous name of Blaufränkisch.

Look for Kiona Vineyards and Winery on Red Mountain, the largest grower of Lemberger in the United States. Others include Alexandria Nicole Cellars, FairWinds Winery, Kana Winery Olympic Cellars, and Whidbey Island Winery. Priced between $10 and $22.

I had hoped to recommend another grape of Spanish origin from Washington and California that would be fabulous with dinner, but they all went past the affordable for a big dinner party price. So I’m taking you to Spain for delicious, affordable and the perfect reds for Thanksgiving.

The best made and priced would be the Campo de Borja Borsao Red  from La Mancha, Spain. With its intense, smoky, black cherry and spicy flavors, this wine is a blend of mostly Grenache and a dollop of Tempranillo this wine is a deep ruby/purple color.

From Valencia, the El Prado Red is another blend this time Tempranillo and Cabernet. It’s a medium bodied with raspberry and current flavors. And from Rioja, with 100% Tempranillo is the Cune Rioja Crianza. The toasty, cherry flavors are smooth and satisfying.

Also from Spain but made in Prosser is the Red Diamond Temperamental. Red Diamond sources grapes from the best locations around the world. This Spanish blend offers flavors of berries and plum has a silky smooth finish.

Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines from Calatayud is another intensely flavored wine that emphasizes fruit. Mostly black cherry but there are plum and raspberry with smooth tannins and a long finish.

The best thing about these wines is the price – all under $10 and most around $7. So, stock up on these affordable wines, because there are more holiday dinners in your immediate future.

Have a warm and happy Thanksgiving.

How Vintage Affects Your Wine

Will it be a fresh, easy-drinking vintage or one that needs a bit of cellaring? And just what the heck makes it easy drinking or a wait-a-while wine? Are the sugar, acidity and tannins balanced and therefore ready to pick? Or do the grapes need more sunshine to ripen?

In the vineyard, it’s Mother Nature who determines these things, from bud break in the spring through warm summers without rain or hail to harvest in a dry or wet fall.

Vintages from warm years, such as this latest one, tend to have more sugars, lush fruit and with careful tannin management are drinkable in the near term. Cooler years produce wines with thicker skins and higher acidity, more in need of cellar time.

Many are touting the 2014s will go down in the harvest history books as one of the earliest vintages, one of the biggest and one of the best, primarily for the West Coast. Everything was high: temperatures, crop size, sugars and potential alcohol. Other areas, particularly in Europe, were not so fortunate in Mother Nature’s grand harvest scheme.

For most of the northern hemisphere, harvest typically starts around the end of August and wraps up around the first of November, with a few exceptions for those gambling on a late harvest or ice wine. The southern hemisphere, however, is just the opposite: it’s experiencing bud break while the northern half is harvesting.

Washington’s wine grape harvest was off to an early August start this year. The hot summer of 2014, valuable to vineyard managers, produced grapes, free from mildew, ripe and at perfect picking peaks one after another. Wineries scrambled for fermentation tank space. A record harvest of around 230,000 tons is projected, which exceeds 2013’s record of 215,000 tons.

The 2014 Oregon wine grape harvest was pretty perfect, with a warm summer and no summer squalls to water down the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grapes. For the state’s 905 vineyards, this was the warmest growing season on record. The consistent warm temperatures allowed growers to harvest grapes at peak condition rather than rushing around to beat cold weather or rain. As a result, Oregon wineries are harvesting big yields and very good quality grapes.

And in California, a mild winter and spring caused early bud break, and for California, the earliest harvest in recent memory. Sparkling wine producers harvested in July! The sparkling wine producers typically harvest earlier for the higher acidity levels.

Despite drought conditions and an earthquake in August, California’s harvest was estimated at 3.9 million tons. Last year’s crop was 4.24 million tons and 2012 was 4.02 million tons, a bountiful, great drinking vintage right now. The smallest California harvest in the last decade was 2004, at 2.77 million tons.

In Europe, harvests varied significantly by country, with France doing better than last year and Italy facing difficult weather conditions during most of the growing season.

And speaking of drought, Bordeaux and Burgundy haven’t seen a 90-point vintage on the charts for three years. In Burgundy, a warm spring had the growing season off to a good start, but a ruthless hailstorm at the end of June brought the yields down significantly. For the most part, the 2014 vintage appears to have been saved by an Indian summer.

The Rhône region with a cool summer and heavy rainfall during harvest caused slow ripening and the need for meticulous sorting. It’ll be short and perhaps not so sweet.

Further south, Italy saw a lot of wet weather, which will translate to very small quantities on the shelves in two or four year’s time, except for an exceptional year for Sicily.

The Port region of Douro was also hit by rains, which caused soil erosion in many parts of this steep valley and producers facing a challenging harvest.

While Spain as a whole is expected to return to average after last year’s record high. Only Rioja is looking at a bumper harvest.

Germany also saw periods of heavy rain, however the harvest is expected to rise by 16 percent. Let’s hope for an early freeze and much botrytis.

So it looks like enjoying California and Washington wines from 2012 and 2013 vintages is the prudent course to take now while waiting for the West Coast 2014s.