Cheers To You An exploration of all things wine with local wine expert Mary Earl.

Spanish Wine Adventures

This hot, dry weather of recent weeks is not nearly as hot and dry as what a Spanish grape vine survives in.

The Spanish wine industry has more acreage under vine than any other country in the world. And yet it’s not the largest producer of wine. The reason for this is that most of the country is dry and hot. Irrigation was not permitted until recently so most of the vines planted are eight feet apart – in all directions!

Spanish grapes are very different. With over 400 native varieties, you wouldn’t find until recently, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or Cabernet. Instead you’ll find white grapes such as Albariño, Verdejo, Viura, Palomino, Xarel-lo, Parallada and Macabeo.

Red grapes are a bit more familiar. Widely planted are Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache). Tempranillo by other names can be found in bottles of Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro. Garnacha is the main grape of Campo de Borja and Priorat regions, to name a few.

Indigenous grapes Cariñena, Godello, Graciano, Mencia, Loureira, and Treixadura, Monastrell and Bobal have significant plantings, and produce rosé and red wines. The main grapes for sherry production are Palomino and Pedro Ximénez or PX for short.

Much like the rest of Europe, you’ll find place names (Rioja, Campo de Borja, Ribera del Duero, Rias Baixas, Rueda) on the labels and more recently grape names, (Albariño, Garnacha, Tempranillo) too. In Spain, there are 69 major wine regions with either a Denominación de Origen (DO) classification or a Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOC) Classification.

Denominación de Origen is a governmental regulation used to designate quality wines. About two thirds of the vineyards are classified as DO. DOC is a step above the DO level. Rioja, Spain’s flagship red, was the first region permitted this designation in 1991. Twelve years later, the only other one, Priorat received its DOC.

The Blind Wine Tasters gathered recently to delve  into Spanish food and wine. Tasked with bringing a bottle of wine and tapas for ten, tasters sampled whites and reds, with the Machego cheese, Marconi almonds, Manzanilla olives and fresh made ceviche tapas. And with the most Spanish of dishes, paella, more reds were poured.

We started with Sherry. Sherry styles ranges from very dry to very sweet and there are dozens in between. It’s a fortified wine, from cooler regions due to the nearby ocean. The Barbadillo Sanlúcar de Barrameda (place name) D.O. Manzanilla (style) is a very pale, dry wine made from the white Palomino grape. Sanlúcar is on the estuary and the cool temperatures and high humidity are perfect for developing flor, an essential yeast for sherry. It provides a blanketing cap on the fermenting wine.

Around the same area but further inland is Mantilla-Morales, home of Fino Sherry. Finos are also pale and dry. The Don Benigno Fino and the Barbadillo Manzanilla are great tapas wines and a bargain to boot.

Cava is the name for Spain’s sparkling wine. 95% of Spanish cavas are produced in the Penedes. The two major producers are Cordoniu and Freixnet. There are plenty of smaller producers, one of which I can highly recommend: La Granja Cava Brut is made with 70% Xarel-lo and 30% Parellada. And it’s highly aromatic and delicious.

For the whites, we tasted an Albariño and Verdejo de Rueda. The Albariño outshone the Verdejo. In hindsight, I should have served the Verdejo first. It was on the drier side with more minerality. The Albariño was fragrant, juicy and a crowd favorite.

Marqués de Cáceres is a producer from the Rioja and Rueda regions. Their Verdejo de Rueda took some time to open up but once it did it was fragrant with floral, minerals and citrus. The grapes, like many in this hot country are picked at night when it’s cooler and spontaneous fermentation is less likely to occur in the vineyards.

The Albariño, was a Spanish grape but I kind of threw a curve ball to the blind tasters. I had tasted this wine last spring and loved it. Amelia Wynn’s 2017 Crawford Vineyard Albariño is stunning. Very fragrant, juicy and so well balanced.

Red wines from Spain may have a designation on the label that tells you how much aging the wine has received. The three most common and regulated terms are Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.

Crianzas are aged for 2 years with at least 6 months in oak. Reservas, 3 years with at least 1 year in oak and Gran Reservas, at least 5 years of aging with 18 months on oak and a minimum of 3 years in the bottle. These wines can be exceptional bargains if you’re looking for a wine with age.

The Cortijo Rioja Crianza 2016 is one of the best. A pre-fermentation cold soak boosts the wine’s aromas, color and flavors. After fermentation, half the wine spends three months in 3-year-old barrels and the other half in stainless steel tanks. This regiment produces a wine with softer tannins and better balance that highlights fruit and downplays the oak. The wine is redolent of red fruits and crushed herbs with smooth tannins and a wonderful juiciness.

Also from the Tempranillo grape, Tierra Aranda from the Ribera del Duero.  Harvested by hand from a rocky hillside, it’s fermented in concrete and goes through malolactic fermentation. But it’ll take a few years for this monster with hints of cherry peeking through the tannins to calm down.

The fragrant Lo Nuevo Garnacha Sorbo a Sorbo 2014 from Calatayud had flavors of raspberries and minerals. Sorbo a Sorbo translates to Sip Sip which is good advice. The finish was a bit tannic but was tamed by the paella.

The hands down favorite red of the afternoon was the San Gregorio Calatayud Garnacha. San Gregario was established in 1965 in the DO of Calatayud. Garnacha is the main grape of Calatayud with many plantings over 50 years old. Those old vines get to put “Old Vines” on their labels. Many wines are head pruned and not irrigated. This recipe for low production results in intensely flavored wines.

I’ve enjoyed this session on Spanish wines. It made me forget about the heat for a bit. Salud!

12th Annual Columbia Winery Charity Run & Walk

A recent email about the Columbia Winery Charity Walk & Run caused a series of flashbacks in my thirty something years in the wine industry.

Did you know Columbia Winery was originally founded by a group of garagists, over half were University of Washington professors? In 1962, the group formed the Associated Vintners and made wines that caught the attention of Leon Adams and Andre Tchelitscheff.

Did you know Columbia Winery hired one of only 11 worldwide Masters of Wine as head winemaker? In 1979, David Lake took Columbia Winery where no other Washington winery had gone: producing the first series of vineyard designated wines and the first Washington Pinot Gris, Syrah and Cabernet Franc wines.

Did you know that Columbia Winery’s Woodinville facility was built in the 1980s for the now defunct Haviland Winery? It was loosely designed with California’s Beringer Winery in mind. Haviland won the first platinum medal for Washington. Platinum medals were awarded to the best wine from a taste off of gold medal winners from competitive tastings.

Did you know Columbia Winery was a stop on the Spirit of Washington dinner train? In the summer of 2007, the train was forced to stop the Woodinville run when the owners of the Woodinville Track Subdivision, BNSF Railway, wouldn’t extend their track contract.

But enough Columbia Winery history! Here’s what they’re up to this Saturday:

The 12th annual Columbia Winery Charity Walk & Run is a 10k, 5k run/walk and kids’ dash designed to support uncompensated care at Seattle Children’s Hospital. In 2017, Children’s provided $120 million in care to families in need.

Columbia Winery’s tasting room will also be open to visitors during and after the race. Run participants can receive 25% off their purchase or take advantage of a discounted tasting flight.

Where: Columbia Winery’s historic tasting room at 14030 NE 145th Street in Woodinville, WA

When: August 18th  The road closes at 8:30am into the area.

To register or if you’d rather just give:

click here or visit www.columbiawinery.com

Kitsap Wine Festival 2018

The Kitsap Wine (and beer and cider) Festival is fast approaching. For the tenth year, it continues at Harborview Fountain Park on Bremerton’s inviting waterfront.

Since it began in 2008, the festival has featured live music, delicious bites from local restaurants and, of course, mostly Washington wines (and lately local beers and ciders). This is a great opportunity to explore and discover new and emerging wines without a trek into the crazy traffic across the pond.

Wineries to check out include Belfair’s Mosquito Fleet Winery which placed in the top 3 of the Seattle Times’ 50 best wines of 2017. Other Washington, Oregon and California wineries to become familiar with are California’s Ava Grace Vineyards, Port Angeles’ Camaraderie Cellars, Davenport Cellars is back, Eaglemount Winery & Cidery from Port Townsend, Walla Walla’s Eleganté Cellars, Bainbridge’s Eleven Winery, Port Angeles’ Harbinger Winery (bring the Barbera!), Hoodsport Winery (Island Belle?), Long Cellars (Petite Sirah and Dry Riesling, please) , Masquerade Wine Company  (Syrah, sirah, please, oh please)  Michael Florentino Cellars, Naches Heights Vineyard, Nota Bene Cellars, the one year old Port Townsend Vineyards, Scatter Creek Winery (Key Auntie?), Silvara Cellars, Stina’s Cellars ( bring the ice wine!!), Red Mountain’s Terra Blanca Winery (I love you,  Onyx), Trinchero Family Estates, Williamette Valley Vineyards, Wind Rose Cellars (Dolcetto? Primitivo?) and the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island.

For several years now you can also buy your new favorite wine at their on-site wine shop. Proceeds from the Kitsap Wine (and beer and cider) Festival benefit Olympic College Alumni Association programs supporting student success.

WHEN:  Saturday, August 11, 2018 from 2 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
WHERE: Harborside Fountain Park, adjacent to the Bremerton ferry terminal
PRICING: Event passes for the Kitsap Wine Festival are on sale now. All guests must be 21 years or older to attend. Event pass pricing is as follows:

§  $60, June 1-August 10

§  $75, August 11

PURCHASE: Visit kitsapwinefestival.com to purchase tickets

Chilling with Exotic Grapes

With this heat wave, a well-chilled wine is very welcome. But sometimes at an impromptu get together, you’ve inadvertently chatted through the only cold one. Emergency measures are called for. Do you throw a bottle in the freezer, drink it warm or resort to ice cubes? What’s the quickest way to chill wine?

The answer, my friends, is freezers are slow, freezer wine jackets are better but a bucket full of ice, water and plenty of salt will get you there in a New York minute. Or even quicker and less messy are ice cubes in the glass.

Is it a faux pas to put ice cubes in your wine? Many wine gurus believe that putting ice cubes in your wine glass is a mortal sin. In an article I recently read, putting ice cubes into wine was cited as the most annoying customer habit by many sommeliers because unless you’re drinking super-fast, which is even more annoying, the ice melts and dilutes the flavors.

And yet, all over France, the holy grail for wine, a common restaurant practice is to serve a pitcher of water and glass of wine with lunch. The water is to dilute your wine to your liking and still function after lunch. In some warmer climate countries (think Greece), it’s common to be offered ice when served a white or rosé at those outdoor cafes.

Even the producer of Dom Perignon has released a wine to be served on ice. Moët y Chandon’s Ice Impérial Rosé has instructions on how much ice to use. Wonder how hard that is for some of those sommeliers to swallow?

I like the panache of putting frozen peach slices or grapes in your wine glass. They’ll chill the wine without diluting it and you’ll get the added benefit of a little extra flavor and fiber in your wine diet.

Trendy canned wines have the added benefit of being quicker and easier to chill. They have the convenience of a cheap American lager and make hiking and biking less strenuous. You can chill it in the creek without fear of breaking the only wine you hauled up countless switchbacks for hours.

My belief is you can do whatever you want to your wine as long as it makes you happy. That, after all, is wine’s purpose in life.

Here are some recently tasted and highly recommended refreshing summer wines (most under $20) to be served with or without ice cubes:

A sparkling or slightly sparkling – frizzante in Italian – is always refreshing. At the Red, White and Brews awards one of my favorites, Treveri Cellars, was pouring their Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir and for those of you who like red wine, Syrah brut.

Another sparkling there was Den Hoed Wine Estates’s Proost Zero Dosage Blanc de Blancs. It was delicious. Zero dosage means the wine was topped up without the usual dosage of wine and sugar syrup that normally would happen after the plug of dead yeast cells is removed and before the final cork and bale are put on.

Proost (Cheers) is produced from Chardonnay grapes. The extended aging means complexity with aromas of minerals and brioche and flavors of citrus, toast and yeast. The winemaker is from Champagne, living in the mountains of New Mexico, making delightful bubblies.

Another New Mexican sparkling wine is Gruet Sauvage Blanc de Blancs. This is wonderfully refreshing, bone dry with green apple and lemon zest flavors and aromas. Take a bottle to your favorite sushi bar.

Vinho Verde is Portuguese, naturally spritzy with low alcohol (around 9%). It’s the ideal hot weather wine from a blend of several white grapes including Alvarinho and a handful of other grapes that produce a wine with flavors of limeade, green apple and citrus.

Other still, crisp, exotic white grapes that are enjoyed in sweltering regions around the globe are:

Picpoul is a French Languedoc grape known for its high acidity. It’s making a revival even in Washington state. Syncline Picpoul comes from the renowned Boushey Vineyard. Refreshing, complex with quenching acidity. Winemaker James Mantone did a whole cluster press of the grapes before racking into a stainless steel tank to age. Mantone was awarded 2018 Winemaker of the Year at the Red, White and Brews Awards.

Guardian Angel Sauvignon Blanc is gorgeous wine. It’s zippy, juicy and downright delicious. The grapes come from another renowned vineyard, Klipsun on Red Mountain. It’s fermented eight weeks in new French oak and then to stainless tanks. This juicy wine has a wonderful array of citrus with grapefruit, lemon zest, lemon curd and a hint of vanilla. Shrimp or Crab salad would be heaven with this wine.

Two Vintners 2015 Syrah received Best Red Wine of the Year at the Red, White and Brews Awards. Fortunately, the willingness to do unfashionable but delightful grapes brought us Two Vintners 2017 Grenache Blanc.  It’s an exotic white grape bright with acidity and brimming with citrus and melon fruit flavors. From the renowned Boushey and Olsen Vineyards with 12% Rousanne in this Rhone style blend.

Whoa! Gotta go. There’s a wine slushy in the making to rescue. Find more refreshing, cold wines including Rose’s and a few chillable reds to explore on the blog, Cheers to you Kitsap!

p.s. See you at the Kitsap Wine Festival August 11th?

ChardoYay! or ChardoNay?

Chardonnay was the very height of fashion in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s still the queen of whites especially when Hood Canal crab season rolls around.

A green skinned grape, Chardonnay is a low maintenance vine that adapts to a variety of climates resulting in fairly high yields worldwide. Those high yields translate into millions of bottles of many different styles. The price of Chardonnay? Anywhere from $4.99 to a pinky-up Corton Charlemagne for upwards of $300.

However, there are still some people that haven’t tried it in 20 years. Tough to understand when you consider the many diverse styles produced worldwide. You just have to know the style you prefer and host a blind tasting.

The grape is a winemaker’s playground when it comes to fermentation and aging. Whether fermented in stainless, barrel or concrete vats, each produces a distinct style. Chardonnay can be aggressively oaked or a big, buttery bomb from malolactic fermentation. It could be fermented in a stainless steel tank for a crisp, clean white wine that pairs well with a sharp cheddar and apple slices.

Having a clear mission, a blind wine tasting was organized with wine lovers, oaky Chardonnay lovers and me. At the top of the oaky Chardonnay loving list is my wine buddy, Brynn Grimley who started this column and blog several years ago with a little help from her wine buddy – me.

Brynn loves Chardonnay, the oakier the better. I, however, am not a fan of oaky Chardonnay. She’s evolved. I think you’ll find our notes amusing no matter what we profess.

Ground rules: You don’t have to like it. You can pour it out but you have to try it and render an opinion whether it’s a simple thumbs up or down or something more effusive. Your favorite wine may be the one that others don’t like, that doesn’t make them right and you wrong. Each taster is poured an ounce or so and can revisit their favorite(s) after tasting all six.

The wines were tasted older vintage to newer vintage. Everyone had the same style glass, so no variations there. Below are my translated notes, the Big Reveal follows.

1) Very deep gold, delicate aromas and faded fruit (definitely a wine with age). Lovely bit of spice on the finish. One taster declared it was the best Chard ever. Many liked it.

2) Gold, muted aromas, subdued fruit, took much swirling to open up then aromas of caramel and some butterscotch on the palate. After more swirling, less caramel and more spice on the palate.

3) Light gold color. A better balanced wine with aromas of spice that follow through on the palate. Crème brulee flavors, good depth and a lighter gold, hints at a newer vintage. My fav so far.

4) Light straw color, no detectable oak, more peach, pear and ginger spice. Beautiful complexity with layers of acidity, minerals, flowers and spice. Very impressive!

5) Aromas of tropical fruits, with layers of minerals, crème brulee, stone fruits. My fav so far – charming from the start with balance and complexity.

6) Light straw color. Mineral and bready with pear and lime zest in the back ground. Mouthwatering, straight forward, and easy to quaff.

The Big Reveal

1)     Chateau Ste Michelle 1989 Columbia Valley Cold Creek Vineyards Chardonnay 13.7%

Winemaker’s notes: “This vineyard ripens relatively early and exhibits intense flavors of melons and apples. Enhanced …. with barrel fermentation, malolactic fermentation and aging in French oak to add complexity.

2)     Gallo Family 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay 14.2%

The name produced a Whaat! This generation of Gallos has a different winemaking program that their Italian heritage grandparents Ernest and Julio, who launched some 80 years ago.

3)     Shafer Vineyards 2005 Napa Carneros Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 14.8%

Shafer has been cultivating this sustainable vineyard since the late 80s. Carneros covers the southern portion of the Napa and Sonoma AVAs, where the gently rolling hills are cooled by breezes from San Pablo Bay. This 13-year-old was barrel fermented and aged in oak.

4)     Chehalem 2016 Willamette Valley INOX unoaked Chardonnay 13.2%

“The winter was warm, budbreak was early and 2016 never looked back – bloom, veraison and harvest were all early records.” Out of Newberg, this estate grown wine is Salmon safe and certified sustainable. Fermented in stainless steel tanks with native yeasts and aged 8 months in tank.

5)     J. Lohr 2016 Riverstone Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay 13.5%

Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel makes this Chardonnay from the “sustainably farmed, cool, windy Arroyo Seco vineyard in Monterey County. Malolactic barrel fermentation with sur lie ageing…” and the price made this my favorite, so far.

6)     Tendril Wines 2017 Child’s Play Willamette Valley Pinot Chardonnay 13.5%

Produced by Tony Rynders, an acclaimed winemaker with a master’s degree in Enology and Viticulture and a world of experience in Napa, Italy, Australia and now Oregon.

In the 60s and 70s, some California winemakers labeled their wine Pinot Chardonnay because they thought it was another Pinot mutation like Noir, Grigio, Meunier, and Blanc. At first, I thought Rynders was being quaint. But after I read his label, I discovered this wine is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Just like they do in Champagne only this one doesn’t have the bubbles. This is so worth slipping it into your next blind tasting.

Brynn:

Being an oak lover, my two favorites were the Shafer and the J. Lohr. The Chateau Ste. Michelle was too old. I bet it was a fantastic wine in its prime but, to me, it was over the hill. The stainless Chards were not my style, which is too bad because despite being an oak lover, I do love a crisp Chardonnay.

While I enjoyed the Shafer best, I was really hoping for a Chardonnay that blended all the styles in one bottle, hints of the warmth that oak imparts as well as the minerality and the crispness of apple and pear.

After some years of experience, the oak lover and the not-so-much-oak wine lover liked the same wines the best.

Riesling is a Noble Grape

Riesling is a grape of many ways. It can be dry from a fermentation that consumes all the fruit sugars, it can be still or sparkling. Some evolve gracefully from time spent aging in a bottle, others in a great big tartrate lined oak barrel that has been used for centuries. The interior of these barrels gives the wine a distinct mouthfeel that is definitely not anywhere near oaky.

Many people think Riesling is sweet and it can be. But there is so much more to it! Riesling can be semi-sweet or semi-dry, sweet or even real sweet as in dessert. It can be crisp and it can have a wonderful minerality. It’s a very versatile grape. And the Germans and Alsatians have been perfecting this for a few centuries.

A couple of common characteristics of Riesling, especially those from Germany, are they are rarely blended with other varietals and rarely exposed to oak. With the possible exception of some maverick vintners fermenting in neutral oak barrels or the Alsatians who use barrels lined with hundreds of years’ worth of tartrates.

The wine classification system in Germany is highly organized and much can be learned about the wine’s pedigree by reading the label. The German Wine Law of 1971 is strictly adhered to in Germany’s delineated and registered vineyards and the grapes from these vineyards can be used to make wine of the different quality levels, that are determined by the ripeness, or must weight (more sugars make a heavier must) of the grapes.

In Germany, sugar levels at the time of harvest are an important consideration in the Qualitatswein (quality wine) production. The sweetness of the wine is categorized using terms that describe the ripeness of the grapes such as Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Berenauslese, Trockenberenauslese and Eiswein.

Equally important is wine’s acidity which is made possible by the cool nights on the steep ridges of the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer Rivers off the Rhine River where some think the best Rieslings in the world are made.

Acidity is yang to the Riesling’s sugars yin. You must have an equal amount of both to make a balanced wine. There are two types of acidity, malic acid and tartaric acid. Malic acid is the softer rounder acidity. Similar to the mouthfeel of a nice cold glass of half and half. Tartaric acidity will bring a snappy citrus crispness to your wine.

In cool years, waiting until November to harvest Riesling is a high stakes gamble. If the birds don’t make off with the harvest, the longer hang time and cooler weather concentrates the sugars and the acidity levels definitely rise.

Hundreds of years of practice at making wine in a cold climate was an exacting science for German winemakers. They measured the fruit sugars, the acidity and always keeping an eye on the thermometer, both inside and out. Before refrigeration, wineries could and did stabilize the wine with the weather, the low temps in winter would halt fermentation and leave the wines with natural sugars and a resultant lower alcohol.

High levels of both acidity and sugar are necessary if you intend to age a Riesling. Riesling acquires more depth and breadth as it ages. If the levels are high, after ten or so years, they could precipitate out into “wine jewels” little tartaric deposits in the bottom of the bottle.

I recently shared (wine is always better when shared) a bottle of a Selbach 2003 Zeltinger Himmelreich Spätlese from my cellar. Reading the label word by word, Selbach is the producer. Himmelreich is the name of the town where the vineyards lie and Himmelreich is the name of the delineated vineyard. Finally, Spätlese is the name of the style the wine according to the strict law of the Germans. It was magnificent with the lemon, ginger and white pepper cake.

Another you may be familiar with is Dr. Loosen (In German, double vowels are never both pronounced, only the second vowel is used) 2016 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett. A delicious, lip smacking wine with everything. Spice, minerality, floral notes and lovely fruit.

The Langguth family winery was founded in 1789 by Franz Wilhelm Langguth. They have expanded from the Mosel to five continents. They also own the famous Blue Nun brand and is in the top five of German wine producers.

In the early 1980’s, they made the move to Washington state to try their winemaking knowledge on Riesling. They invested a heap of money to build a very huge winery in Mattawa. It opened in 1982. Jurgen Grieb, a graduate of a German winemaking institute, was imported to be the winemaker.

Weinbau Vineyard, a 460-acre vineyard was planted in 1981 as part of Langguth Winery. Alas, some good wines were made but after a few years they were out of business. Weinbau is now part of the Sagemoor partnership, the huge winemaking facility is a custom-crush winery and Jurgen Grieb liked Washington state enough that her stayed on to open his own winery, Treveri Cellars in Wapato.

Treveri Cellars Sparkling Riesling is, in the German tradition, 100% Riesling. From Washington’s oldest AVA, Yakima Valley, this sparkling wine is semi-dry and like any of their sparkling wines, perfect for every occasion.

One other enormous German influence on Washington Riesling comes in the form of a partnership between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen. Eroica Riesling was launched in 1999 and is 100% Riesling primarily the Ancient Lakes AVA. The winery describes the name best: “Named for Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Erotica reflects not only its variety and site, but also its heritage: bold and forward from its Washington roots, elegant and refined from German inspiration.” Well said.

 

Wine, Winemaking and When to Age

Fermentation is the process of turning grape or other fruits into a very pleasant alcoholic beverage. During fermentation, the little yeastie beasties dine on the fruit sugars and belch out ethanol and carbon dioxide. Temperature, oxygen and length of fermentation are the important factors in finished wines as well as the type of fermentation vessels used.

Various fermentations contribute varied flavors and components to the finished wine. The type of vessel used also puts its own unique stamp on a wine. Stainless steel tanks, common for whites, emphasize fruitiness; wooden barrels are porous, concentrate a wine and pick up flavors from the wood; and secondary fermentation in the bottle is essential for those tiny bubbles.

And then there are vessels made of concrete. Unknown to me until the early ’80s, concrete fermentation tanks have been around for a couple of centuries. While touring the original historic Chateau Ste. Michelle facility at Grandview, I was awestruck by the large square concrete vats sunk into the ground that were used in the early days of Chateau Ste Michelle. The railings surrounding them provided winemakers some measure of safety while punching down the caps.

Another historic winery in the heart of the Napa Valley, Louis Martini, also fermented its award-winning red in concrete vats well into the 1990s. I always found the reds — especially the Cabernets from Monte Rosso — to be more old-world in style, more balanced, more rounded and with less alcohol than Martini’s Napa neighbors. Perhaps because of the concrete vats?

Concrete, in an improved shape, is making a comeback in the wine industry. Concrete in the shape of an egg has an inside surface with tiny pockets of air that refill each time the tank is emptied. These smidgens of oxygen enhance aromatics, tame tannins and increase mouthfeel. Unlike oak, it’s neutral, easy to maintain and more affordable.

While touring and tasting at Force Majuere in Woodinville, I first glimpsed the egg-shaped contraption, brought north by former California winemaker Todd Alexander. There is a considerable difference in the wines that spend time in concrete.

Some winemakers believe the thick concrete walls guard against abrupt temperature swings, keeping the fermenting wines naturally cool — a distinct advantage for some warmer climes of the world.

Cool and constant temperatures are always beneficial for wine. Take the 75 bottles of Veuve Cliquot Champagne, for example, still sparkling and youthful after spending 170 years in the cellar of the shipwrecked Titanic submerged in the Atlantic Ocean.

Balance is the brass ring that winemakers strive for when producing a wine for the cellar. Another factor that influences the taste of your wine and whether it will age gracefully would be the method of closure.

There is nothing like the transformation that occurs at the sound of a cork popping. There are few other sounds in the world quite the same.  Pop announces the party.

But cork has had its problems and because of those problems, alternatives to cork have emerged that don’t quite have the proper party announcement. Plastic corks, glass stoppers and screwcaps all influence your wine in their own inimitable way.

Still, cork is the most common seal for wine bottles, accounting for 70 percent of all wine stoppers in the world. It was used on 95 percent of wines produced at its peak in the 1990s. And 93 percent of consumers say natural cork signifies a quality wine. More than 12 billion cork stoppers are produced each year, mainly from cork forests in Portugal and Spain.

The downfall of the cork in the late 20th century was the excessive cork taint in 10-20 percent of wines produced. Caused by trichloroanisole (or TCA), cork taint will make your wine smell moldy or like wet cardboard, and the taste is just plain flat. Not something you want to happen to that special bottle you’ve been saving for that very special occasion.

To protect their wines from TCA, some winemakers started using plastic corks on their bottling lines. They’re resistant to TCA but their downfall is fit. Unlike cork they can’t adapt their size in the neck of the bottle and the result is an imperfect fit. A loose fit can let in too much air and then you have an oxidized special occasion wine, flat tasting but without the moldy aroma.

And then there is the ubiquitous screw cap. Their advantages are twofold. Screw caps maintain a tight seal, so oxidation is eliminated. And they’re mighty convenient. Just a simple twist, craaaccck and pour!

Whether your wine is sealed with cork, plastic or a screw cap will determine whether you want to cellar it or drink it near term. Cork is still the best and most favored closure for cellaring, and TCA, while not eliminated, has been significantly controlled. Plastic is wrong on many fronts, and screw caps are the best for wines consumed within a year of bottling.

And now, finally to Italy for a wine fiasco. Around the 1500s, bottles were slowly replacing wooden kegs. They were, of course, mouth-blown glass and were more balloon shape than Bordeaux shape. These balloon-shaped bottles were round, so rolling around is what they did naturally whether on the supper table or in an ox cart on the way to market.

This disaster waiting to happen was prevented by the swamp grass basket the village women wove around each bottle. A fiasco is now also known as a round bottle with straw woven around its bottom that you can put a candle in when you’ve finished the wine. Cin cin! (Italian for “Cheers!”)

Matching Food and Wine

One of the greatest dining pleasures is to find a wine or beer or any beverage really that enhances the delights of both the drink and the dish.

Paradiso del Sol Winery in Zillah has a very unique wine tasting experience. The sips, the bite, and a last sip is the Paradiso’s Experience. No bread, oyster or wine crackers here. Instead each of their wines is paired to a droplet of food.

The morsels are presented on a small plate with a tasting sheet that explains what each bite is and the wine that it is paired with. Nine wines, including whites, roses, reds and deserts, and those tiny bites give you that heightened sensory experience.

The Paradiso Oyster White, a barrel fermented Semillon was paired with brie. One of the best matches I’ve found for that particular cheese. Their Sangiovese – the grape of Tuscany – was paired with a wonderful pepperoni from Glondo’s. A traditional and unfailing pairing. For their red blend, winemaker and owner Paul Vandenberg blended together Sangiovese and Tempranillo, a grape indigenous to Spain. This was also a more traditional pairing with a bleu cheese.

For something on the sweet side, a ruby Angelica made from Zinfandel, a highly brambly fruited wine was paired with dark chocolate. And we all know that fruit and chocolate play well together.

Other tasting occasions for pairing wine and food and people are something I’ve done regularly over the years. Donating a wine tasting for a good cause is something I enjoy doing. It is especially rewarding when I hear a diner say something to the effect, “I don’t like Chardonnay but with this, I actually like it!” It’s all in the way it’s presented. Right?

For the latest fabulous wine tasting to benefit United Way of Kitsap County, my gypsy friend and I opened the gates to a new dining adventure for Steve and Betty and eight of their best friends. We began with Spanish Carrots in a sherry vinegar, garlic, cumin and olive oil that was paired with the Atrevida 2014 Mendoza Chardonnay. This four-year-old Chardonnay had understated oak, bright fruit and a crispness that matched the vinegar and the weight of the carrot marched the weight of the wine.

The Hazelnut Vegetated Quinoa was composed of grilled green onions, red bell pepper and spring peas with an Italian dressing. Vegetable always work well with the herbal profile of some Sauvignon Blancs. In this case, Michael Florentino 2015 Red Mountain Sauvignon Blanc was a great match.

Double oops! on the next course. I opened the College Cellars 2016 Walla Walla Chardonnay a course too soon. But then the opportunity to try this barrel fermented wine made by college students and contrast it to the totally different Gordon Estate 2016 Rose of Malbec originally planned.  The dish was Tuna & Cannellini Stuffed Shells, surprisingly, both wines worked.

The Carrot Timbale with Chive Cream and Crab garnish was the best match of the day in my opinion. Crab, cream and carrots with the superb Oregon Stoller 2017 Dundee Hills Chardonnay was enchanting. Winemaker Melissa Burr’s touch was not the usual oaky wine but rather a mix of Chardonnay clones that spent 9 months together in a stainless steel tank. The result is a succulent yet vibrant wine that contrasted this dish in a heavenly way.

Tomatoes are really a fruit, right? And high in acid so if you pair it with a wine high in acid, it’s like trying tomatoes for the first time. Barbera, Chianti and Zinfandel are also high in acid and fruity. A prefect pairing for the Tomato Crisp which is basically bread, olive oil, fresh tomato slices and parmesan cheese that is toasted on the grill. There were lots of Ooos and Aahs when paired with the rich Identified Lodi 2015 Zinfandel.

Dessert was the pièce de résistance. A cake of ginger, lemons and white pepper. I can get anyone to east this cake. It’s spicy, naturally and not too sweet. This was accompanied by a bottle that had been in the cellar for 14 or so years, Selbach 2003 Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese.

It’s easy to alter the taste of a wine just by eating something. Whether sweet or hot, spicy or earthy, fruity or herbal, a food changes the chemistry of your palate. Experiment with your wine by trying it with a little bite of everything on your plate. The meat, the vegetables, even the dessert.

And it’s really fun, following a few basic rules:

Go with tried and true pairings, such as spaghetti and meatballs with Chianti, hot dogs and beer, Tapas with dry sherry, paella with Rioja, Oreo cookies and a glass of cold milk.

Tannic and high alcohol wines do not do well chilled or with spicy food. If the dish is spicy hot, go with a chilled bottle of something really fruity to put out the fire of the dish. Tacos with habanero sauce would be much better with a cold Negro Modelo.

The weight of the wine and the weight of the dish should be equal. For example, Dungeness crab with a Riesling, Chardonnay and a bowl of buttered popcorn and barbequed ribs with a Zinfandel.

Be sure the wine is sweeter than the dish. If your dish is sweeter than the wine, that bottle may have a lot of pucker power.

Wishing you many wonderful wine adventures!

Good Canned Wines

Every Memorial Day weekend, my beer buddy, Alan, has a family get together. Moms and dads, aunts and uncles, and all manner of cousins eat, drink and catch up on the past year. They also have a themed wine tasting. One year it’s Zinfandel, the next it’s Pinot Grigio. It’s the call of that year’s Wine Wrangler.

This year, Alan asked if there were any good canned wines. Yep, this year’s theme is canned wines. And that is an interesting question. Are there any good canned wines?

I had to take a day or two to think on that. And then I recalled: Yes! I had had a canned sparkling wine some years ago. It was pretty good. In fact, it had garnered quite a few awards over the years.

It had to have been 15 or so years ago that I first Sofia Blanc de Blancs comes in an attractive pink hexagontasted Coppolas’s Sofia sparkling from a can. It came in an attractive pink hexagon box with four 187ml cans in it – and four straws. I eschewed the straw and reached for a more traditional glass flute. The effervescent Sofia Blanc de Blancs is a blend of mostly Pinot Blanc with a bit of Riesling and Muscat.

With a little online research, I found that wine in a can was a real novelty 18 years ago. And it’s remarkable how much that part of the wine industry has grown. It’s not just sparkling wines anymore, now it’s still wines that are canned. A handful of wine producers are beginning to see a profitable niche for cans in the marketplace.

According to the latest Nielsen data, in 2016 canned wine sales grew to $14.5 million, up from $6.4 million the previous year. That’s a healthy growth spurt that wineries are paying attention to.

So, what’s good out there?

1. Joe to Go

Well, my first recommendation would be Joe to Go from Oregon’s star winemaker, Joe Dobbes, who recently retired from the helm of Dobbes Family Winery and Wine by Joe. He turned over the reins to a hard-working millennial, Chief Executive Officer Gretchen Boock. She was one of Dobbes’ first hires when he opened his winery in 2002.

Dobbes began his career in Oregon some 30 years ago, beginning at Willamette Valley Vineyards and then launching his own eponymous brand some years later. Wine by Joe was later launched — in 750ml bottles — for a more affordable everyday type of wine.

The Wine by Joe brand recently entered the canned wine market with Joe to Go Rosé and Pinot Gris. With many accolades over the years, including Wine Business Monthly’s #1 Hot Small Brand of 2011, this would be my pick for the can of wine competition.

2. Underwood   

Union Wine Co., in Tualatin, Oregon, pioneered canned wine in the Northwest with its Underwood brand. It is the largest by far, producing over 4 million cans in 2017. Its mission is to produce affordable Oregon wines that are approachable and ready-to-travel anywhere.

The Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Rosé and a white blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer dubbed Get it Girl are sold as four-packs (equal to 2 bottles) or flats (24 cans — equivalent to one case of wine). All flats automatically receive 10 percent discount when purchased online.

3. House Wine

Seattle’s Precept Wine produces canned wine – around 4.8 million cans a year. House Wine was created with the goal of bringing good affordable wine to the picnic table. With over 30 “best buy” recommendations, and varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plus a Rosé with grapes sourced around the world, this could be your everyday house wine contender.

The canned wine trend is growing. When you’re out in the garden, out on the boat, or hiking up to Lower Lena, a can may be the best way to go. Cans are better in bottle-unfriendly venues like concerts, theaters and picnics at the beach. Cans are discreet when you need to be. But I highly recommend you to forget the straw and bring a cup of some sort. It’s impossible to smell the aroma from a can. And isn’t that half of a wine’s charm?

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

Raising a Stein to Homebrewing

In the early 1980s, a craft beer boom sprouted. This was largely the result of Congress approving a resolution that legalized homebrewing — a resolution our founding fathers didn’t see the need for, I would like to point out, since beer, cider and wine were always part of their everyday meals.

Today, beer-making is now as popular as it was in 1787 when the Constitution was drafted and signed – in a tavern.

There were a few beer explorers that catapulted this recent beer-making boom. One of the most influential is the legendary Charlie Papazian, a nuclear engineer, home brewer and author. Papazian founded the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) in 1978 and wrote the bible of homebrewing, “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing,” in 1984. Throughout this book, you will read Papazian’s famous homebrewing motto: “Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a homebrew.”

The American Homebrewers Association’s 47,000 members brew beer, cider and mead. The AHA estimates there over a million homebrewers in the United States. Of those homebrewers, an astounding 40 percent began homebrewing within the last four years.

And the number of licensed craft brewers has skyrocketed from eight in 1980 to over 6,000 in 2018. Many of these licensed brewers started out in their garages experimenting with hops, grinding grains and cooking up some pretty unusual brews like pumpkin porters, oyster stouts and grapefruit weizen.

AHA also founded and organizes the Great American Beer Festival, Homebrew Con, the World Beer Cup and Big Brew. These events provide a platform for homebrewers to compete and hone their fermentation skills.

Big Brew is BIG! Homebrewers worldwide gather to brew a batch of beer and raise a stein to toast both Papazian and their passion for homebrewed beer, mead and cider. Thousands participate in the simultaneous toast, which happens Saturday at 10 a.m.

This year’s official recipes — Rocky Raccoon’s Honey Lager and Dusty Mud Irish-style Stout — were chosen by Papazian.

On the Kitsap Peninsula, Big Brew is an annual event for the West Sound Brewers . Last year, eight groups began brewing around 9:30 in the morning and by 3 p.m. had made 55 gallons of beer. While watching their kettles boil, they relaxed with a homebrew and discussed systems, hops and recipes.

Since May 2, 1992, this homebrew club, conceived by Silver City’s award-winning brewmaster Don Spencer, has been dedicated to promoting the homebrewing hobby and an appreciation of the many styles of beers.

It’s a great group to join if you’re interested in learning or improving your beer-making. Spencer is not the only West Sound Brewers member to go professional. The Thomas Kemper Brewery, which closed in 1996, was the experiential learning ground for some early club members. Spencer started there. Former Thomas Kemper brewer and founding WSB member, Don Wyatt, opened Hood Canal Brewery in 1996. Club members Mark Hood, Brad Ginn and founding member Alan Moum launched Sound Brewery in Poulsbo.

Other notables include Rande Reed, Tom Chase and Pete Jones. Rande Reed and Pete Jones moved to Pyramid in Seattle and Tom Chase brewed Fish Tale Ales in Olympia. Reed later moved to Snoqualmie Brewery.

Big Brew is just one of the 12 themed monthly meetings hosted by club members. Wood Fest, Cask Fest, Octoberfest and January’s Barleywine meeting will give you a taste of what this club is brewing.

Everyone is welcome to this craft beer club whether you brew or not. Join the club by signing up on the website, www.westsoundbrewers.org.

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