Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Made Easy

The wine-food conundrum for Thanksgiving stems from the plethora of fruits, vegetables, spices and flavors on the plate all at once, rather than a seven-course dinner, right? If you think of Thanksgiving as a wine opportunity rather than a challenge, you have just solved the perennial puzzle.

My wine advice for your Thanksgiving table — whether it is store-bought, traditional, fancy or familial, vegetarian or vegan — is to serve a wide variety of wines. The decision should not be which wine to pour but which wines to pour. With this shotgun wine approach, you’re likely to please a majority of the palates at the table and make some fantastic pairings, too.

This can be an adventure for all. Have your friends and relatives bring their favorite wine or, better yet, an untried but often-heard-of bottle of wine. This approach also ensures quashing any political conversations with an “Oh my gosh! That wine is so great with your Waldorf salad, Aunt Kitty.”

What you learn from this experience is great practice for mastering the magic of food and wine pairing. Remember, it takes, practice, practice, practice.

Be it red, white or rosé, roast turkey, mashed potatoes and giblet gravy pair with most any wine, really. But it’s the relatives and friends and the side dishes that create this myriad of palates and flavors.

The multitude of Thanksgiving flavors is a whole lot of hearty, savory dishes. If the wine is hearty also, then it will work well because the dish and the wine are of similar weight. That’s the key.

So here’s my plan: First and foremost, greet your guests with a sparkling wine. Pour a vintage cuvée that could set you back $30+. You’re worth it.

For diversity, Washington’s Treveri Cellars makes premium sparkling wines from a wide array of grapes, such as the traditional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to Riesling, Viognier, Gewurztraminer and even Syrah. Aged on average 24 months, these sparkling wines would make this occasion very special.

For a crowd, pour a Prosecco or a Spanish cava, your best bets for a tasty value. And if Gramma likes something sweeter, go for an extra dry sparkling or pour a dollop of OJ or raspberry syrup in her glass along with the bubbly. She’ll love it.

When everyone is seated and it’s time to present Tom Turkey, put a few chilled whites and some fruit-forward, medium-bodied reds on the table and let the pairing begin. You can smile, knowing you have just maneuvered around the age old question of what wine to have with Thanksgiving dinner.

Do you go with the traditional sage, sausage and onion stuffing, whipped potatoes, giblet gravy, candied yams, mashed rutabaga, turnips, glazed onions and cranberry sauce? Or do you put a cultural twist on the table with a chipotle rubbed smoked bird, red chili gravy and cornbread chorizo stuffing?

An off-dry Riesling, aromatic Gewürtztraminer, Oregon Niagara, new world Pinot Noir, full-bodied Spanish Tempranillo, Washington Merlot and a rich, red blend would cover most traditional dishes very nicely. With the spicier twist, bring on the Beaujolais Nouveau with its carbonic macerated fruitiness, a German Auslese, a jammy Zinfandel, Australian Shiraz and a rich, fruity Valpolicella Ripassa.

Or perhaps your family tradition is oyster stuffing, roasted Brussel sprouts and carrots with horseradish sauce, sweet potato soufflé, roasted squash, Waldorf salad, jellied cranberries and that green bean casserole from the soup can recipe.

Well, let me introduce you to Alsatian wines that are the most food-friendly wines on the planet. Choose from Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris or Riesling. Or chill up all four of these medium-bodied, French mountain grown whites and taste them side by side. A bevy of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs would also work very nicely with vegetables of every color and the wide assortment of herbs.

When it comes to food and wine, Italians seemed to have figured it all out a long time ago. Many Italian wines have an incredible ability to combine a medium-bodied wine with a ton of acid, and that translates to refreshing with rich foods.

From the Campania region, try the Falanghina grape, an Umbrian Orvieto and a full-bodied Gavi from Piedmont. For reds, nothing can beat the flavors or price of a Nero d’Avola, a juicy Barbera, or a Tuscan Sangiovese with its flavors of cherries and herbs.

Let’s broach the dilemma of dessert. What the heck does pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and mincemeat pie pair well with for goodness sake?

The dessert wine rule is always serve a wine that is sweeter than the dessert. When was the last time you tried an Oloroso sherry, Malmsey Madeira, Muscat Beaumes de Venise or a Tawny port? Well, it’s time. And be sure to bring out those small dessert glasses for these unctuous treats.

My annual advice remains the same: Open one of everything. Or at least, a wide assortment of wines that will go well with the variety of dishes on your holiday table. Find wines you like at prices you can afford and be sure to raise a glass with your family and friends with each and every glass.

Cheers and a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Zinfandel – California’s Claret

Yes, it’s true, all Zinfandel grapes have red skins. The white Zinfandel grape does not exist – yet.

Zinfandel has been a part of California’s history for around 150 years. It was rumored to have been brought into California in 1862 by Agoston Haraszthy, then owner of Buena Vista Winery. He was a member of the state commission on viticulture who brought back thousands of vine cuttings from a trip to Europe. His account of this trip and his work in the early California wine industry can be read in his book Grape Culture, Wines and Winemaking, published in 1862.

However, Zinfandel was never mentioned in Haraszthy’s literature of the time. Instead, there is mention of “Zenfendel” in 1829, by a Mr. George Gibbs of Long Island. Zenfendel resurfaced in Boston a few years later where it was known as “Zinfindal” and grown in greenhouses as a table grape.

After the California Gold Rush, many a forty-niner decided to forsake the gold pan for a plow, sending for plants from the east coast. It’s likely that Zinfindal was included in a shipment around 1852 and by 1859 was documented to be grown in both Napa and Sonoma. In 1862, the same year that Haraszthy’s book was published, the Sonoma Horticultural Society gave a bottle of Zinfindal to a French winemaker at a California winery who proclaimed it “a good French claret.”

Still, Zinfandel was used to make jug wines in the early years and favored by the California winemakers of Italian decent. It reminded them of the wines from Sardinia, Sicily or Puglia. With good reason.

In the early 1990’s, the mysterious Zinfandel was finally DNA fingerprinted. It was found to be the Primitivo grape of southern Italy. But even that was disputed when an ancient Croatian variety, Crljenak Kastelanski, was confirmed to be – through DNA fingerprinting – genetically identical to Zinfandel.

It turns out that Crljenak Kastelanski and Primitivo are related, sort of like twins. Triplets if you count Zinfandel. But differences in vine vigor and cluster size separate Zinfandel from its genetic twins. Other differences such as soil, rainfall and winemaking combine to give Zinfandel its own truly American style.

U.S. regulations stipulate that on wine labels, Zinfandel and Primitivo be identified separately. Thankfully, there is no danger of having to learn how to pronounce Crljenak Kastelanski on an American wine label.

Today, Zinfandel is California’s third most widely planted grape in 45 of the 58 counties. In 2014, total acreage planted to Zinfandel was 47,827 with San Joaquin topping the charts at 18,718. Sonoma had 5,260 acres; Amador brought up third place with 2,055, Mendocino had 1,930 and Napa, a mere 1,497 acres.

Over 100 years later, California Zinfandel has more than 4,800 labels. A majority of the grapes, though, are used to make White Zinfandel. White Zinfandel at 35 million cases continues to outsell red Zinfandel.

Over the past thirty years, it has developed into one of California’s best reds. However, depending on climate and producer, there are so many different styles ranging from big, rich, ripe, high-alcohol, spicy, smoky, concentrated, and intensely flavored to a light, fruity rose.

The best Zinfandel, for my palate, are not the pink ones.  However, a very long time ago, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with no other wine on the boat, I drank some Sutter Home White Zinfandel. It tasted delicious out there in the middle of the ocean with no store within miles.

But I’ve had many more bottles of the big, full-bodied, robust, rich, intensely flavored Zins that have stained my teeth to look like a geisha’s.

Some of my favorites that come to mind are Cline in southern Sonoma. They have acres of old, Old Vines. Their Oakley vineyards are dry-farmed and head-pruned, as they were a century ago. Hot sun, sandy soil, and cool evening air from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers produce a stunning, concentrated wines.

Also in Sonoma, Dry Creek  Vineyards owns Beeson Ranch, old vineyard dating back to 1896. This head-pruned, dry farmed property produces a very delicious claret style Zinfandel.

Martinelli Winery has been farming the valley since 1880. They specialize in small single lots of great wine. The wines are fermented with naturally occurring yeasts, and kept in barrel for 10 months. They are unfiltered and unfined, and only racked before bottling. This is an intense Zin.

I’ve followed the footsteps of Ridge, who bottle read-ridgevineyard designated Zinfandels. Ridge began in 1886 with 180 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That was done in by prohibition but they reappeared with new ownership and wine in 1962. Winemaker Paul Draper has an unbroken record of hits with his Zinfandels. Look for Geyserville, Lytton Springs, Dusi Ranch, Pagani and Three Valleys. The wine labels are an oenological education for sommelier wannabes.

Rafanelli holds a special placed in my heart. While visiting Sonoma, we popped in on Rafanelli because it was so hard to get in Washington State. It was mid-afternoon and the tasting room was not open yet. We went out front and took pictures of the head pruned vines out front. They had to have been at least 100 years old.

Meanwhile, a school bus stopped in front of the winery and out stepped Shelly Rafanelli. She opened the tasting room door, dropped her books on the table and the tasting commenced. We were treated to some sublime wines.

Other Zin makers to seek out are Ravenswood with a No Wimpy Wine attitude. they have a stable full of intense, rich red Zinfandels. Ravenswood is celebrating 40 years under the leadership of Joel Petersen, who works with over 100 growers.

Another really longtime Sonoma County family is Seghesio Family Vineyards. In 1895, Italian immigrant and winemaker Edoardo Seghesio planted his first Zinfandel vineyard. Seghesio was a key supplier of grapes and bulk wine to California wineries. Around 1983, the fourth generation Seghesios began selling Zin and other varietals under the Seghesio label.

Zinfandel, whether white or red, is a great party wine. Perfect for backyard picnics and family get-togethers. Enjoy these Zins with barbecued meats with sweet barbecue sauces, stewed or roasted beef, strong, rich cheeses like blue or Stilton, duck, hamburgers especially with cheese, lamb, pizza, pork chops, sausage, and it’s also the perfect match with that mother of all family get-togethers – Thanksgiving. Cheers!

German Rieslings, Pure, Crisp and Sweet

Beer is the national beverage of Germany but that’s due to the fact that grain is better adapted to the cold northern climate than Chardonnay or Cabernet.

Germans have been growing grapes since 1435. Today, they make up 3 percent of the world’s wines.

But how much of that 3 percent is produced is greatly dependent on Mother Nature. That’s because Germany is the world’s northern most wine growing region.

A good 80 percent of the Qualitatwein, is grown on hillsides above the Rhine River. Since most of the 55,000 acres of vineyards are on south-facing hillsides, handpicking is the only way to harvest as machinery on mountain sides is out of the question.

So if you are determined to grow grapes in a cold climate, you better plant grape varieties that  don’t mind it so much. Let me introduce you to the great cold hardy Riesling, Muller-Thurgau and Silvaner varieties.  All white grapes, all well suited to making a wide range of wine styles.

In Germany, there are more than 1,400 wine villages and 3,200 vineyards. In an effort to codify their wines, the German government passed a law – The German Wine Law of 1971.

The new law stated that a vineyard must be at least 12 acres of land. It also divided German wines into two categories, Tafelwien (table wine) and Qualitatwein (quality wine). It regulated must weight and minimum alcohol levels.  Another rule, if Riesling is on the label, at least 85% if not more, will be in the bottle.  And if it shows a vintage on the label, at least 85% of that vintage must be in the bottle.

There are thirteen winemaking regions in Germany, most hugging the shores of the Rhine River and its tributaries. Most of the regions are named for the river that runs through it, like the Rhine, Mosel, Saar, Ruwer, and Nahe. Other region names found in the U.S. will be from the Rheinhessen, Rheingau, or Pfalz.

German wine labels reveal all. From grape variety to ripeness levels, style and quality levels, alcohol and testing batch number, it’s all right recorded on the label in great detail.

First, on a German wine label will be the producer, Dr. Loosen, for instance; dr-loosenthe region, Mosel; the vintage, 2006; the town and the vineyard, for example, Wehlener Sonnenuhr.

The er on the end of the town of Wehlen is their way of saying belonging to that town. On older labels, you would see 1989er, meaning from that vintage. Sonnenuhr is the vineyard name.

Next would be the grape name, Riesling and the style, Trockenbeerenauslese. The quality level of the wine, QmP and its official testing number – proof that the wine was tasted and passed the strict quality measures required. Alcohol and bottle size are also stated on the label.

Ripeness levels mean how ripe the grapes are at harvest. This also, by law, will determine the wine’s quality level and an early indicator of style.  There are six styles are Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein.

Kabinett – These are typically lighter-bodied, medium-dry wines, made from grapes harvested at the peak of the season. Usually the driest of the Qualitatweins.

Spatlese – Translated means “late (spat) picked (lese)” or late harvest, the extra time in the sun allows produces an elevated ripeness level to a fuller bodied wine and increases the intensity of both aroma and flavor.

Auslese – Literally means “out picked” designating ripe grapes picked from a specific cluster of berries harvested later than the first harvest. This medium to fuller-bodied Riesling can be crafted into either a dry or a sweet version. This is the first style that may exhibit true dessert wine status.

Beerenauslese (BA) – A rare treat, this Riesling is made into the luxurious dessert wines that are sought out for their compatibility with a myriad of dessert options. They are only made when the vintage conditions are just right, adding to the cost and taste.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) – Translated as “dry berry out picking” and that adds up to outside the regular harvest, with possible botrytis infected, raisined grapes, and concentrated sugars. Each grape is picked individually, months after normal harvest. These labor intensive, concentrated, nectar like dessert wines can claim quite a price.

Eiswein – An even later harvest ice (eis) wines (wein), are left on the vine until frozen, then picked and pressed while frozen, resulting in an exquisite, highly concentrated experience even red wine lovers will appreciate.

These styles refer to sugar levels at harvest, and after fermentation, the wine could range from bone dry to super sweet. But remember, this is a colder than usual climate, there is always going to be that crisp, balancing acidity in all styles.

Other terms to know for determining the sweetness level of wine are trocken which means dry and halbtrocken which is half-dry or off-dry. If this is not on the label, chances are good that it will be on the sweet side.

Keep in mind that sweeter Rieslings can be made in either Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese or Beerenauslese (BA) and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) styles, it just depends on the balance between the acidity, sugar, pH and alcohol.

Some wonderful German producers to look for are from the Mosel: Fritz Haag, J.J. Prum, Dr. Loosen, Selbach Oster and Dr. Thanish. From the Rheingau: Schloss Johannisberg, Shloss Vollrads and Robert Weil.

A large portion of Washington State was once planted to the Riesling grape. We still have a lot of Riesling planted but not as much as 15 years ago. However, Chateau Ste. Michelle does have lots more Riesling planted than anyone else in Washington State.
As a result, Dr. Loosen and Chateau Ste. Michelle partner to produce the Eroica Riesling. This collaboration is a classic that offers lots of citrus, lime and peaches and even a hint of petrol that is frequently found in German Rieslings.

German Rieslings are incredibly versatile on the dinner table. Many will age well for a dozen years or so, for top vintages. For dinner, Rieslings are best enjoyed with Asian cuisine, Dungeness crab, white fish, pasta with cream sauce, fresh fruit, creamy cheeses and smoked fish with horseradish. Probst!

The Biggest Beer Festival of All

Get your lederhosen out, Oktoberfest , the annual beer festival held in Munich since 1810 ends Sunday. It’s a multi-day festival running from mid-September to the first weekend in October.

So, why Oktoberfest? Why not Septemberfest since it begins in September not October?

The answer is a two week outdoor festival in October in a northern climate means chilly nights under  the tents in your lederhosen while drinking a liter or two of Märzen. So, over time the festival crept into typically warmer September, but kept the name Oktoberfest.

The first Oktoberfest was a country fair, with a horse race as the star attraction. It was also the celebration of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Saxe-Hildburghausen. The festivities, held on the fields in front of the city gates celebrating the royal event with many beers, wines, sausages, chickens, kraut and noodles, ended a week later.

In the years following the first celebration, the event grew beyond the initial week. Today, festival goers enjoy sitting in the beer tents quaffing beer, visiting the food stalls and strolling the gardens during Oktoberfest without feeling the damp chill of mid-October.

This year’s events include the Parade of Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries, the Official Tapping of the Keg, Oktoberfest Mass, Böllerschießen (cannon salute) and an agricultural fair.

The Lord Mayor of Munich has the honor of tapping the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. Once the first barrel has been tapped, the beer flows for the more than 6 million people attending the event.

These festival goers will raise a stein or two during the festival. As you can imagine, large quantities of beer are consumed during the 16-day festival. In 2013, for instance, 7.7 million liters served.

With that many people attending and that much beer consumption, some personal belongings do get left behind. Each year, hundreds of glasses (how do they see their way home?), phones, wallets, jackets, and other unusual items, such as a set of dentures can be claimed at a large lost and found tent.

Traditional food stalls serve up Hendl (roast chicken), Haxen (pig’s feet), Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Weisswürst (white sausage),  Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Brezen (pretzels), Knödel (potato dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Blaukraut (red cabbage), and Obatzda (spicy cheese spread).

Oktoberfest, the German celebration, has grown into an international festival of beer, with festivities popping up all around the globe.

Oktoberfest, the beer, is a lager (bottom fermenting yeast and longer, cooler fermentation) that originated in Bavaria. It’s medium to full bodied and varies from pale to amber to dark brown. Traditionally, it was brewed in March just before the hot summer months when temperatures interfered with the fermentation process. And then lagered in the ice caves over the summer.

Märzen beer was also a little higher ABV than usual to help preserve the beer through the summer months. Märzen is now known as Oktoberfest.

A few suggestions for some very good German and U.S. Oktoberfest/ Märzen beers you should try.

Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen has a deep golden color tinted with amber. It is lightly sweet with a malty nose balanced with floral hops. It’s medium bodied and the dryness comes from long maturation.

Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen  was developed to celebrate the original Oktoberfest over 200 years ago. This is a full bodied beer with rich malt flavor, dark toffee note and underlying fruitiness.

Spaten Oktoberfest Ur Märzen was created in 1872, with aromas flavors of biscuit, caramel malt, and hints of spicy, grassy noble hops.

Weihenstephaner Oktoberfestbier is a full, rich-bodied, hoppy lager brewed for the Festbier season. Deep gold color, malty with great mouthfeel and lots of flavor.

Heater Allen Brewing’s Bobtoberfest caught my attention when researching Oktoberfest beers. It’s named for the head brewer’s late brother Bob; the person who sparked his interest in brewing lager beers in general and Oktoberfest beers in particular.

Bob Allen was a friend, teacher at North Kitsap High School and Olympic College, a member of the West Sound Brew Club and a great brewer, cider maker and winemaker. The first Bobtoberfest was held in Poulsbo. It was quite a celebration. Unfortunately, a trip to Portland is necessary to taste this beer.

Samuel Adams OctoberFest has a deep golden amber hue and is a malt lover’s dream.

Silver City Oktoberfest is an authentic interpretation of the classic style. The rich malty sweetness and spicy hop character are balanced by 6.2% ABV.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest is a collaboration with Mahrs Brau of Bamberg, Germany. An authentic Oktoberfest beer that’s deep golden in color with rich malt complexity and spicy hop character from Record, Magnum, Palisade, Saphir and Crystal hops with 6% ABV.

And then there is Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest  which claims to be a true German Märzen bier, brewed with premium imported Pilsner and Vienna malts. It’s spiced with Bavarian hops and fermented with the famous Bavarian Augustiner Lager yeast from Munich.

Prost!

Pairing Cheese and Wine

Cheese and wine or even beer for that matter have a natural affinity for each other. Ideal pairings will have one or more of the following combinations: they may have similar weight such as a light bodied wine with a light bodied food, or a full bodied wine with a heavier meal.

Or they could have contrasting flavors, like a sweet wine with a salty cheese, a sweet sherry with salty Marcona almonds, or a citrusy Pinot Grigio with a creamy seafood pasta.

One other sure fire way to pair food and wine is look to the place of origin. For instance, chicken cordon bleu with Burgundy, Chianti with antipasto, Porto with Stilton, or Sake with sushi.

Champagne or any other bubbly that is near at hand would pair very nicely with most creamy cheeses. Brie, Camembert, Gruyere, Havarti, Manchego and Parmesan all work in concert with these creamy cheeses. These cow’s milk cheeses have a similar intensity of flavor and the bubblies refresh and cleanse the palate for the next bite of creamy wonderfulness.

A place of origin and similarity would be goat cheese, or Chevre, as the French would call it, with a Sauvignon Blanc from France. Goat cheese tends to be lower in fat, rich and tangy. It pairs very well with higher acid wines. Sauvignon Blanc leans towards herbaceousness and high acidity. Try a Sancerre, Touraine, Pouilly Fume or a White Bordeaux, all made from Sauvignon Blanc.

Chenin Blanc has both high acidity and lots of sugar. This attributes can be a benefit if you were to age this wine. Chenin Blanc has a range of styles from dry to dessert and a range of flavors from crisp green apple to stone fruits and honey.

Vouvray is a medium bodied wine from the Loire Valley and it’s a dream with a Swiss cow’s milk Gruyere, a nutty, slightly sweet and creamy cheese. Gruyere makes a great fondue. The creamy texture pairs well with this medium bodied wine.

Grenache is a red grape grown in the Rhone region of Franc e and all over Spain. It’s very fruity with blackberry sweetness and hints of black pepper. It’s the key grape in Chateauneuf du Pape. The bold flavors of this wine dance smoothly with smoked cheeses.

Zinfandel is another red grape with dark fruit flavors and spice. Zinfandel needs its pairing to be rich and/or big enough to balance its intense flavor profile. It needs a firm sharp cheddar with similar intensity of flavor. Try it with grilled cheddar cheese stuffed jalapenos which match the fruit and spiciness of the wine.

And now to the classic pairing of sweet Porto and salty, tangy blue cheese. Porto, the Portuguese fortified sweet wine is very, very good with blue, Gorgonzola, Roquefort and especially Stilton. This is a contrast that is sublime, the ultimate pairing of sweet and savory. Most blues are aged about sixty days which gives it time to develop its flavors.

Pairing wines with cheese is fun and educational! Remember to serve cheeses at room temperature.

Serve reds and dessert wine between 55 and 65 degrees; whites between 48 and 53 degrees and sparkling wines between 40 and 45 degrees. Proper serving temperatures insure the wines will show well and enhance your pairings. Fill the glass half-full to allow you to pick up all the heavenly aromas.

Enjoy and Savor!

Chardonnay, the Queen of Whites

In its native home of Burgundy, France, some of the highest priced and long lived Chardonnays come from some of the world’s tiniest vineyards.

In the time before new world wines were recognized internationally, Chardonnay ruled white wines on the continent. The French were regarded with admiration for their beautiful and long-lived white Burgundies.

And then, in 1976, came the Judgment in Paris which resulted in international recognition of New World wines. The explosion of Chardonnay in the New World had begun. The California wine industry in 1976 still had the blush of youth.

The Judgment was a Game of Thrones kind of change. This blind tasting, in Paris, with predominantly French judges, was organized by an Englishman. Each judge could award up to twenty points to each of the twenty wines served.

The level playing ground of a blind tasting focuses on aromas, color, taste and finish. No pedigree or pretty labels to distract. Price is no concern. Just aroma, flavors and finish.

Well, in a field of ten, Chateau Montelena 1973 Napa Chard beat the pants off the French Burgundies. Roulot 1973 Meursault Charmes did come in second ahead of Chalone Vineyards and Spring Mountain.

As a result, the growth of Chardonnay vineyards in Australia, California and Washington increased royally. The boom of the 1980s was responsible for making Chardonnay available to the common folk.

In the 1980s, Chardonnay was the height of fashion and so widely planted in a wide range of climates that a glut seemed possible. It was so easy to produce a high yielding crop that it quickly became the cash crop. Chardonnay can go from grape to glass in less than a year.

Winemakers love Chardonnay for its reliability and flexibility. It responds well to a wide range of winemaking techniques. It could be fermented in stainless or barrel, it does well with malolactic fermentation, aging sur lies and in oak barrels.

When ripe there are ample fruit sugars and because of the abundance of fruit sugars, higher alcohol content regularly occurs. It’s the one white grape that can be successfully matured in new oak barrels because the wine has the fruit to balance the new oak.

When the vineyard site is premier, yields are not too high and not too low, acidity is perfect, and the winemaking team makes all the right calls, Chardonnay can produce wines that could age very gracefully for a decade.

And these are the reasons why is there such a dramatic difference between a $3 bottle of Chardonnay and a $75 bottle of Chardonnay.

Various factors such as vineyard age, management and placement, yield per acre, labor for the various winemaking techniques that may be used, and the price of oak barrels.

A $3 bottle will most definitely come from high yielding vineyards, fermented in large stainless steel tanks and if oak is used, it’ll be chips or cubes. Much more affordable than a $800 barrel.

On the other side of the spectrum, a small, old vineyard with moderate yields, could be barrel fermented, aged sur lie, inoculated for malolactic fermentation and then aged in new Limousin oak barrels. Each process adds complexity to the finished wine. All this for only $75.

Depending on your needs and desires, there are still so many Chardonnays in this world to grace your table, patio and blind tasting. Here are a few worth considering:

From Washington:

Rolling Bay 2014 Reserve Chardonnay from the old Upland vineyard is complex, and balanced with lemon, butterscotch and minerality. Toodle on up to Bainbridge for a taste of this elegant wine.

Woodward Canyon Walla Walla Reserve Chard is another wine from old vineyards that shows beautiful fruit aromas and complexity of flavors that finish lavishly.

Owen Roe’s DuBrul Vineyard Chardonnay has both intense fruit and balancing acidity. This is achieved by blending lower elevation grapes with the tropical and citrus characteristics with the higher elevation grapes that have more intense acidity. The final blend saw 35% new French oak and 40% malolactic fermentation for rich, complex flavors.

Terra Bianca’s Arch Terrace 2015 Chardonnay is a great example of one of the many Dijon clones, the preferred French.

75% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel and the remainder is barrel fermented in neutral oak and spends 6 months sur lie. The wine exhibits red apple and tropical fruit flavors.

In California, this noble grape is the most widely planted. In 2014, the state crushed 718,000 tons and shipped 54 million cases.

Mendocino, Russian River, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria are some of the best California has to offer in terms of quality. Many of these areas are planted to the Wente clone.

The Wente clone is budwood used to plant Chardonnay at many vineyards. In 1912, Ernest Wente took cuttings from the France’s University of Montpellier nursery and planted them in Arroyo Seco.

Cuttings from the Wente vineyard then spread to a number of other wineries before eventually being certified by UC Davis. These certified vines are known as “Wente” and “Old Wente” if they are from vines before certification.

The reign of big, buttery Chardonnays persisted through the 1990s and early 2000s when the ABC movement got started. Anything But Chardonnay was hoping to quash the grape but only succeeded in changing the flavor profile.

One remarkable winery to put on your bucket list is Hanzell. They “work with a conservative hand in the use of French oak barrels and malolactic fermentation.” Their Chardonnays have richness with complexity and balance. And it ages very well.

Stony Hill on Spring Mountain is another. The 2013 Chardonnay has green apple, a graceful hint of citrus

Ferrari Camano is more readily available as is Kendall Jackson’s Camelot. Chateau St. Jeans has a bevy of vineyard designated Chardonnays and Mount Eden Old Vine Reserve is a favorite.

Pahlmeyer from Atlas Peak has aromas of honeysuckle and lemon oil and flavors of nectarine and pear. The wine is rich and balanced.

And the Judgment in Paris winner? Montelena’s 2013 Napa Valley Chardonnay has aromas of roses, lemon blossoms, and melon. Flavors of lemon meringue, peaches, and vibrant acidity would pair well with cream sauces on fish or chicken dishes. All this for $50.00 which is nothing compared to the second place winner whose wine is selling for upwards of $350.

Treat yourself royally and enjoy this noble grape in all its glory.

Bremerton Summer Brewfest

The 6th annual Bremerton Summer Brewfest will expand to two days this year! Located on the on the scenic Bremerton waterfront , just a hop, skip and a jump from the ferries, this Washington Beer Commission event features around 30 Washington breweries pouring more than 100 craft beers.

To celebrate summer, Washington brewers will be focusing on fruit-infused beers as they did last year. Remember the randall? Join the revelry at the Bremerton Summer Brewfest to learn from expert brewers while you enjoy live music and local food.

Dates & Times
Friday, July 15, 4pm-9pm
Saturday, July 16, Noon-6:30pm

Location
Bremerton Boardwalk

Tickets

$20 advance tickets/$25 at the door while supplies last ($15 for Military with valid ID)
Admission includes a commemorative tasting glass & six 5 oz. tastes; additional tokens – $2 each or three for $5. Washington Beer Lover members receive two bonus tokens with their passports

$20 tickets also available at these ticket outlets:
Cash Brewing in Silverdale
Der Blokken Brewer in Bremerton
Downpour Brewing in Kingston
Pike Brewing in Seattle
Silver City in Bremerton
Sound Brewery in Poulsbo

Fifty Shades of Beige on a Red Mountain

Some names for eastern Washington vineyards, AVAs and mountains are derived from Red Mountainanimals — such as Ciel du Cheval (French for horse heaven), Horse Heaven Hills, Badger Mountain and Rattlesnake Hills. Native American names like Yakima, Naches, Tapteil, and Wahluke are also found on the vineyards and AVAs. Some vineyards are named for early wine pioneers like Mercer, Sagemoor, Weinbau, Dionysus and Bacchus.

So how the heck did Red Mountain get its name? Year-round, there are at least 50 shades of beige on the mountains in and around Columbia Valley.

But then I’ve never been there in April, when the spring cheatgrass turns the mountain dark red — except for the green patches under vine.

The Red Mountain AVA is the smallest AVA at 4,040 acres with just over half planted to Cabernet, Merlot, Sangiovese, Cab Franc, Syrah, Carménère and the newest darling, Malbec.

There is still a smattering of white grapes, most notably Kiona’s old vine Chenin Blanc, with some Semillon, Marsanne, Viognier and Chardonnay. Cooler climate grapes are planted in the nooks and crevices of the hills where shade provides relief from the sun for part of the day.

All that sunshine makes Red Mountain the hottest AVA in Washington State; both in heat units and because some of the 52 vineyards have contributed beautiful bunches of grapes to internationally acclaimed wines.

What makes this AVA so hot, hot, hot? The climate. The soil composition. The great viticulturists formerly known as farmers.

Being hot and windy is an asset, creating an unfriendly environment for mold and mildew. The soil is high in calcium carbonate and low in pH, which along with its granular consistency, promotes well-established root systems.

The predominant soil types are windblown and include the Warden, Hezel and Scootenay. These types of soils are a combination of sand, silt and loam — a proper mix for exceptional vitis vinifera.

And who’s making those internationally acclaimed wines, you may well ask?

Well, it all began in the mid-70s, when some of us were still kiona lem 1987sporting bell bottoms and dancing to the Bee Gees. Kiona’s John Williams and Jim Holmes planted the first vines on the south side of Sunset Road. Fortunately, some of those same vines are still in production.

Later, Blackwood Canyon, Hedges Cellars, Oakwood Cellars, Seth Ryan, and Terra Bianca began planting. At the time, Red Mountain was in the Yakima Valley AVA, which is in the really big Columbia Valley AVA. Being defined by something that huge didn’t quite give Red Mountain its due. The long crusade for a Red Mountain AVA began and was finally granted in 2001.

Today, a row of Red Mountain grapes from Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, Kiona, Blackwood Canyon, Obelisco, or Tapteil Vineyards is in high demand. There are even wineries that produce wine from Red Mountain fruit in their Walla Walla wineries.

Knowing a good thing when they saw it, California’s Duckhorn, Chateau Ste Michelle and Tuscan giant Antinori invested tidy sums to purchase land, plant vineyards and build wineries.

The Vancouver Canucks owners decided to make their first spectacular foray into the wine industry a couple of years back when they bought a chunk of parcels (518 acres with water rights) for $8.3 million.

Red Mountain’s Bordeaux varietals are rich, colorful, powerful and known for incredible balance with intense black fruit flavors, minerality and good structure. The widely planted Cabernet clone #8 produces a wine similar to Bordeaux with concentrated fruit, fine-grained tannins and a lovely mineral quality.

Malbec, Merlot, Syrah and Carménère are also red hot commodities on Red Mountain. Carménère and Malbec have fallen out of favor in Bordeaux but are lighting up the scoreboard when grown on Red Mountain.cooper wines

Cooper Wine Company has 41 acres on the corner of Sunset and Hwy 224. Eight of those acres are planted to Carménère and they have produced a wine called Vinizio that includes all six of the Bordeaux grapes. Neil Cooper explained the chocolate aromas and flavors come from the calcium carbonate in the soil of the Scootney Flats.

Frichette Winery is the newest boutique winery on the mountain. The owners, Greg and frichetteShea Frichette, changed careers and relocated to Red Mountain to be closer to family.  As with most Red Mountain wineries, its portfolio is chalk full of Cabernet, Merlot and a Malbec that stains your glass purple, with blackberry pie aromas and flavors of blackberry and cocoa with a touch of minerality.

Fidelitas has a great deck to sit, sip wine and watch the vineyards grow. Owner winemaker fedelitasCharlie Hoppes, a much-sought-after consulting winemaker, just completed his 28th vintage of Washington wines. His 12 acres are planted to Bordeaux varietals. The 2013 Malbec is another with very dense color, aromatic with black fruits and spice. It’s a wonderful medium-bodied wine to enjoy on the deck with a wedge of aged Gouda and some crusty bread.

Hamilton Cellars is another boutique winery halfway up Sunset Road. hamilton cellarsStacy and Russ Hamilton have 10 acres, with 9 ½ planted three years ago under the supervision of veteran Dick Boushey. They also have veteran Charlie Hoppes as their winemaker. Their 2012 Red Mountain Malbec is from the Scootney Vineyards while waiting for their vines to mature. This Malbec has cocoa and black cherry flavors; a dense, glass-staining color and soft tannins.

Premium land, ideal growing conditions, talented farmers and skilled management are qualities that make Red Mountain fruit highly prized by the likes of Quilceda Creek (the highly awarded Washington winery that sources Red Mountain). Upchurch Cab,  Andrew Will and Long Shadows Pedestal have also scored high 90s using Red Mountain fruit.

Another rare and outstanding wine, Kiona Estate 2014 Chenin Blanc Ice Wine, scored 93 points from an AVA not known for whites.

For more information for your next wine country get-a-way, Visit Tri-Cities (www.visittri-cities.com) can handle your needs.  red mountin trails N4867And for a designated driver, let me recommend something slow, easy and lots of fun: Red Mountain Trails for a horse-drawn wagon ride through the vineyards to the next tasting room. Treat yourself; it’s really a unique way to go.

Red Mountain Wine and Jazz Festival

The 2nd Annual Wine & Jazz Festival livens up the riverfront campus of WSU Tri-Cities  on Saturday, June 25, 2016 beginning at 6:00p.m.   Auction of Washington Wines is partnering with Washington State University Tri-Cities to present the Wine & Jazz Festival featuring live entertainment, heavy appetizers and tastings from 25 Washington wineries. Proceeds support the WSU Viticulture & Enology Program. Here’s the skinny.

Wine & Jazz Lover – $85.00
All-inclusive wine and food tasting throughout the evening.

Jazz Lover
– $25.00
Concert only pricing with one glass of wine, tickets for additional wine and food available for purchase.

Wine & Jazz Weekend Package, June 24-25 – $900.00
Two seats at your choice of Vineyard Dinners, two VIP tickets to the Wine & Jazz Festival, brunch for two at Bookwalter Winery on Sunday, June 26, and accommodations at Springhill Suites by Marriott on Friday and Saturday night.

Cougar Brunch at Bookwalter WineryJune 26, 10am-3pm
Featuring sparkling wines made in the WSU Blended Learning  Program.

Follow this link for a listing of wineries and ticket purchase:

The Savvy Taster’s Guide

You can have loads of fun and more importantly, learn a lotwalter clore tasting room at the many tasting events available year round. The more you know, the better choices you’ll make and more fun you’ll have!

Venues for tasting events vary from outdoor promenades to top of the town restaurants. They can be private tasting room intimate or ballroom standing room only.  The choice is yours.

The 6th annual Summer BrewFest on the Bremerton Boardwalk is a fabulous venue. It’s a two day festival this year, July 15 and 16. Tickets are available from the Washington Beer Commission. You will want to be there soaking up the sun, refreshing yourself with a craft brew or two.

The 8th annual Kitsap Wine Festival in August at the Harborside Fountain Park is another gorgeous venue with wonderful Washington wines, cool fountains, sunshine and boats sailing past. Tickets are now available for this event at Kitsap Wine Festival dot com.

One of the many places for a spectacular view while tasting is the top of the Columbia Tower where the women’s restroom was an experience that even the men were dragged in to see. That practice was halted but the view and artwork are still stunning.

My most stunning venue this year, was at the toph3 tres cruces of Horse Heaven Hills, tasting Coyote Canyon Vineyards’ wines with Mike Andrews. The red and white checkered tablecloth was anchored with horse shoes and the mighty Columbia River was in the distance. Wines from these vineyards have garnered many medals and are well worth the search.

Call me Ms. Manners but whether it’s a beer, wine, or even a spirits tasting event, here are a few tips that will ensure everyone’s tasting experience is enlightening and enjoyable.

  1. Let the Only Fragrance be from the Glass.

Aroma is half the pleasure of tasting. It’s the reason all those wine geeks have mastered the art of swirling in order to release the esters and smell the bouquet. If it smells delicious, it’s probably going to taste delicious.

It’s downright annoying when all you can smell is the person next to you. Instead of inhaling the wine’s beautiful fruits or the subtle hop nuances, all you can smell is Eau de Stinkum.

Leave the perfume, cologne, after shave, or scented body lotion in the bottle. Save it for another special occasion. Same for smoking or vaping – anything. Don’t do it before or during a tasting. It messes with everyone’s ability to smell the bouquet.

  1. It’s Perfectly Acceptable to Spit.spit buckets

After swirling, you taste. But if you swallow everything, by the eighth taste your palate is shot. So, if you really want to learn and take advantage of the opportunity, spit. Save the swallowing for the really good ones that have a long finish.

You can actually tell if the wine or beer is of excellent swallowing quality as you roll it around in your mouth, taking in a little air to appreciate all the complexities or lack thereof. You get the essence of it when you hold it in your mouth for ten to fifteen seconds. And then choose to spit or swallow.

All events have spit buckets or if it’s outside, plants that need watering. Spit buckets have evolved over the years. No more ugly splash back when a funnel like contraption tops off the spit bucket. Or you can use a plastic cup as a personal spit bucket. Either way, it’s perfectly acceptable practice.

You can and should dump any remainders in your glass into the spit bucket. It may be difficult after paying all that good money to taste, but remember, you’re on a reconnaissance mission. You’re looking for that perfect brew or wine to grace your table. Finding the region you prefer, or the perfect balance of the hops and malt, that’s your mission, should you accept it.

  1. Ask Questions.

You’re on a mission to learn, right? Reading is the best way but there isn’t enough time at an event and taste too. Asking questions of the people pouring gets you the facts faster. These folks could be the actual brewmaster or winemaker and they’re here to talk about what they love to do. So ask and they will expound away. Take advantage of all that knowledge and make it your goal to learn one fact about each wine or beer you really liked.

  1. You’re Not the Only One There.

For some unfathomable reason, some people park themselves in front of a table while tasting, ignoring the fact there are other tasters waiting behind them. Don’t do that. Ask your question while your beveridge is being poured. What’s in the blend? What are those very aromatic hops I smell? How many times is it distilled?

Then step back to swirl, sniff, sip and spit.

  1. Remember the Ones You Love.

Events usually have tasting sheets listing the brewery or the winery and what they are offering. Take notes of the ones you really liked and find out where you can get them. Ask who distributes them and where they are available in your area. Sometimes you can purchase that day but always find out where you can get your favorites after the event is history.

For imported products, there is always an importer listed on the back label. Make a note of that also. It’s easier to track it down afterwards.

If note taking is not your forte, take a picture of the label with that fancy phone of yours.

  1. Get a Ride.

Be responsible. Arrange for transportation before you start to sip. There’s a lot to take in at these big, sometimes overwhelming events and while you’ve been spitting and pouring out leftovers, be responsible and take a ferry, bus, cab or designated driver.

The beauty of these tasting events is meeting interesting people and learning about great wines or beers. Be safe because the next tasting is this weekend and you need to be there.