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

Washingon’s Big Fruit Harvest

It’s been a bountiful harvest on the Kitsap Peninsula. Everywhere there are apple, pear and plum trees are bearing tons of fruit. In my yard, the three apple trees, Italian plum and two walnut trees are keeping me pretty busy. The race began in earnest the end of August, picking blackberries before the heat of the day.

Next on the to do list were apples. I froze them, thawed them and then pressed them for some of the sweetest cider I’ve ever tasted. Then I fermented 5 gallons of cider, baked couple of apple cakes, cooked up a dozen jars of apple sauce and when I ran out of jars, sliced over 30 pounds of apples and dried them. It’s a great snack, especially when accompanied with a thin slice of cheddar and a glass of Riesling.

The plums were plentiful too. They accompanied me to every meeting I went to. Out of town guests were sent packing with a bag of plums and apples. Plum tarts, plum wine and jars of spicy plum sauce now occupy my kitchen. I will trade a plum tart for a bottle of wine.

In my spare time, I helped out with crush at a few Bainbridge Island wineries. At Perennial Vintners last month, bottling was the order of the day. Because that’s what you have to do in a small winery to make room for the coming harvest. There is only so much room for a limited amount of tanks.

And this time of year, tanks are needed. Whites are bottled and reds go into barrels. At Perennial, the wine was pumped from the tanks into a smaller container about the size of an aquarium with six spigots. Next, bottles were gassed and then filled, corked and labeled by a crew of volunteers under the direction of owner/winemaker Mike Lempriere. He’ll be harvesting Müller -Thurgau from the Puget Sound AVA soon.

At Eleven Winery, owner/winemaker Matt Albee crushed Elephant Mountain Syrah and Viognier in mid-September and then Tempranillo. This week, the Lemberger is scheduled to arrive. Wine grapes arrive in big tubs called lugs. The lugs are so full of grapes, they’re moved around with a fork lift.

Albee had devised a system to tilt the tub with the fork lift so one volunteer can rake the grapes onto the moving conveyor line where two volunteers remove leaves, bugs and dried grapes. As the grape bunches reach the top of the conveyor, they fall into the crusher/destemmer. Stems fall into one lug and crushed berries fall into another.

When crushing is finished, the lugs are moved into the winery, treated with SO2 and covered with a cloth sheet to allow the sulfites to do their job of killing wild yeasts before off-gassing for 24 hours. After that, the yeast culture is added and voila! Fermentation begins.

Belfair’s Mosquito Fleet Winery has a similar setup however, their sorting tables are manned by at least a dozen enthusiastic volunteers who pick out the dried berries, leaves and other debris that are not Petite Verdot and Malbec grapes. It’s a convivial event with owners Brian and Jacquie Petersen and Scott and Jacy Griffin; lunch and, of course, tastes of award winning wines. Small wineries welcome and take very good care of their volunteers.

With anticipation and apprehension, winemakers keep tabs on their vines and weather at harvest time. It’s the age old winemaker question, when should picking begin? The answer, my wine friends, is blowing in the wind and different for each grape variety. Some are early ripeners, like Syrah and some are late ripeners, like Cabernet.

At an estimated 268,000 tons, the 2018 harvest in Washington is likely to be bigger than last year but not as big as 2016. That year holds the record for grape harvest at 270,000 tons. In contrast, Oregon’s harvest is estimated around 85,000 tons, on par with their 2015 record crop. And in British Columbia, harvest was at an all-time high of 32,700 tons.

A staggering two-thirds of Washington’s grape harvest is handled by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which includes brands such as Columbia Crest, North Star, Intrinsic, Col Solare, Seven Falls, 14 Hands, and, of course, Ste. Michelle.

Much of the growth is due to 58,200 acres of new vineyards that have matured. Most of these plantings are in established AVAs. But hold on to your hat – five new AVAs are on the docket. Applications for Goose Gap, Royal Slope, The Burn, White Bluffs and Candy Mountains have been filed.

It’s a busy time of year in but somehow the Yakima Valley wineries manage to harvest, crush and celebrate. They invite you to celebrate their bountiful harvest during the  Annual Catch the Crush on October 13th and 14th. Each winery offers its own celebratory activities such as grape stomps, crush activities, tours, free-run juice, hors d’oeuvres, live music, and of course, wine tasting.

If you purchase a Catch the Crush Premier Pass, you’ll enjoy exclusive food pairings, library tastings and tours. Wineries ask you to bring your own glass, photo ID and designated driver for this annual wine adventure. Cheers!

Oktoberfest begins in September

Fall seasonal beers are beginning to be released. Fresh hop ales, made from freshly harvested hops and soon the ubiquitous pumpkin flavored beers will be showing up on the shelves. It’s also the traditional time for king of festival beers – Oktoberfest.

Before refrigeration, beer was often made from autumn into spring. Summer fermentation was too chancy. Beer made in March (Märzen), was the last practical month for brewing and it was lagared in ice caves and ready for consumption in late summer. By the time cooler fermenting weather came about sometime around Oktober, the harvest of hops and grains were ready too.

These lagers were dark (dunkel), made exclusively with a kilned malt that really defined their bier. Today, that malt is used around the world and known as Munich malt.

Oktoberfest is a signal that lighter summer beers are shifting to a beer with a little more heft. A beer with amber hues, lightly kilned malty flavors, medium body and the body of a lagar.

This is no crisp hoppy IPA, hops in an Oktoberfest beer are restrained, and decidedly of the noble German variety. These beers are perfect matches for bratwurst, schnitzel and other hearty harvest fare.

All this leads up to the world’s most famous beer festival in Munich. Oktoberfest, the festival, is an annual event that celebrates harvest, beer and food.

In heaven there is no beer, because it’s all drunk at Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival which begins in September not in October. During the 16-day event in 14 big beer tents and a dozen smaller ones, over 3 million visitors drink 11 million liters of beer, munch on pig’s knuckles, roasted oxen (60 in 2016) and chicken (22,000 in 2016). There are parades, shooting galleries, crossbow competitions and, of course, lots of music.

It all started back in 1810, when a couple of Bavarian royals got married and invited the whole city of Munich to come to the celebration. Today, the Munich Oktoberfest continues the tradition of opening 15 days before the first Sunday in October.

As you can well imagine, things get lost at the world’s largest beer festival. Here’s the official list from Oktoberfest 2016 lost and found office: 350 pieces of wardrobe, 350 passports, 120 wallets, 110 smartphones, 211 pairs of glasses, 100 umbrellas, 85 keys, 35 bags and backpacks, 30 pieces of jewelry, 10 cameras, one flugelhorn, one Napoleon-hat, one monk’s robe, one limited edition Oktoberfest mug (price tag: 120 Euro), two wedding rings (both engraved), two paddles, two blood sugar analyzers and a pair of red high heels.

Other cities around the world have Oktoberfest celebrations that are modeled after the original Munich event. If you can’t afford the airfare, Oktoberfest in Bavarian modeled Leavenworth is the next best thing to being in Munich.

This year, four venues serve up German and Washington beer, bratwurst, schnitzel, and pretzels. There is live entertainment and free shuttles in Leavenworth and affordable shuttle routes all the way to Wenatchee.

The Keg Tapping Ceremony happens each Saturday at 1:00 pm. This Bavarian tradition has Leavenworth’s Mayor tapping the first keg just like in Munich.

It begins Friday, October 5th and runs each Friday and Saturday until October 20th. Friday’s are 6pm until midnight and Saturday’s run from noon until 1am. Tickets are $10 on Fridays and $20 on Saturday. Food and drink can be purchased inside the festival with either cash or plastic.

More details here http://www.leavenworthoktoberfest.com/

Washington’s Largest Munich-style Oktoberfest takes place the weekend of October 5, 6 and 7 indoors at the Washington State Fair Events Center in Puyallup.

Two Festhalles, the Munich Festhalle and Bavarian Festhalle dish up authentic food and bier. Bavarian Bier-lympics entertainment includes Hammerschlagen®, a Brat Toss – think football toss only with a bratwurst, Stein Holding – how long can you hold a full stein, arm extended, and a Keg Rolling contest.  Hammerschlagen® is a Pacific Northwest bar game. The goal is to drive a nail into a cross section of wood faster than your opponents.

The 11th Annual Running of the Wieners starts at 11:00am on Sunday the 7th. Dachshunds compete in various races and competitions. The races benefit local rescues chosen by race organizers NW Wiener Races. Visit their website for more details: https://www.oktoberfestnw.com/

Oktoberfest Weekend at The Hub in Gig Harbor begins this weekend and runs through October. Harmon Brewing is behind the fun and games. This festival has  live music, games, and beer. A stein holding competition grand prize winner will win a trip for two to Leavenworth’s Oktoberfest. And there is the HarmonSchlagen, a brat eating contest, an Oktoberfest Trivia contest, Tapping the Firkin Keg and Sunday’s Hangover Breakfast.

These guys really want you to succeed! They’ve even published a training manual for Stein Holding. You can read about it and other info here: https://www.harmonbrewingco.com/oktoberfest/

Fremont’s Oktoberfest 2018 happens on September 21st through the 23rd at NW Canal Street and North 35th Street in Seattle. This weekend of beer features a wide variety of microbrews and German beers, live music, and chainsaw pumpkin carving contest.https://fremontoktoberfest.com/about/how-it-works/

 

Probst!

Producers to Savor during Harvest 2018

Bottling has been the major activity in many wineries these past few months, an annual pre-harvest must. Preparation for bottling or crushing usually takes more time than the actual bottling or crushing. It all has to do with keeping everything — vessels, hands, filters, bottles, corks and hoses — that comes in contact with the wine clean.

California’s harvest began two weeks ago with sparkling wine producers who always pick early for slightly under-ripe grapes. in 2017, over 4,000 wineries crushed 4 million tons of wine grapes. Oregon has also had several banner years. Its 474 wineries had 84,949 tons of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other grapes to ferment, rack, age and bottle.

Washington state’s wine grape harvest is shaping up to be bigger than 2016’s record-breaking harvest of 270,000 tons. More than 940 wineries harvested 227,000 tons in 2017.

A ton of wine will typically produce 768 bottles of wine. And, 270,000 tons equals almost 5 million bottles of Washington wine. An average American drinks 18 bottles a year. Fortunately, American wines are enjoyed by our friends Downunder, in Europe, Japan, China and Canada to name a few countries.

Here are some wines, in no particular order, recently tasted. Going through my notes, I’ve picked out wines that I found particularly delightful. Some are still available, others you’ll just have to get the newer vintage.

Beaucastel Chateau Neuf du Pape 2004 was on the bottom of the cellar and was out of sight for 10 years. It needed to be drunk now, I thought. But when I pulled the cork, aromas of cinnamon and Asian spices filled the air. And it was a gorgeous ruby color without a touch of orange. A beautiful wine with a lamb chop.

And another from the cellar, Roberto Voerzio Vigna Serra 1990, vino da tavola della Lange, da una Nebbiolo e Barbera. The Nebbiolo Barbera blend was earthy and plummy with wonderful aromas. The critics say he makes age-worthy Barolos. This wine was beautiful at 18 years old.

Luigi Righetti 1990 Capiteldella Roari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is produced from Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella. After harvest, the grapes are dried on wooden racks for five months before they are pressed and then aged in oak barrels. On the back label, I was informed that in 1990, Righetti produced 28,000 bottles of this Amarone. I thoroughly enjoyed No. 24081 with friends.

Child’s Play Columbia Valley 2015 Zinfandel was made by Tendril Wine Cellars owner and winemaker Tony Rynders. This had a fantastic balance. Not a huge, jammy, high-alcohol type Zin but more in the early California style of a claret. The fruit and acidity balances the 14.2 percent ABV.

Cairdeas Winery Diffraction 2016 Yakima Valley is a blend of 37 percent Syrah, 20 percent Grenache, and 17 percent Petite Sirah. The remainder is other traditional Rhone grapes: Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan. This one had earthy, chocolate, spice and plum aromas and flavors with Asian spices on a long finish.

The Chehalem Willamette Valley Three Vineyard 2016 Pinot Gris also has fantastic balance. This certified sustainable winery in Newberg produced this wine in the French style, meaning it is not fruit-forward like a Pinot Grigio but rich with peach, lemon peel and spice. Like a Pinot Gris from Alsace, this wine is in a bottle similar to Riesling.

Another great find this year was a bottle of Greystone 2014 California Petite Sirah.  This wine caught my attention when I read Greystone and Petite Sirah. The back label said “cellared and bottled by Greystone Cellars.” Notice it didn’t say “produced by.” Only cellared and bottled. My guess is a negotiator bought some juice, made the wine and Greystone Cellars took it from there.

Greystone is this massive building built by a businessman to house the Christian Brothers winery and to store wines from other wineries. When it was built in 1889, it was the largest stone winery in the world. Its cavernous tunnels held 3 million gallons of aging wine. Today, the building houses the Culinary Institute of America, which owns the building and the name.

Joe to go Oregon Rosé wine is made in Oregon and is really good wine. Back label states that it’s Oregon Grapes, fermented in stainless steel, produced and packed (in a can) by Wine by Joe, Napa, California.

Vinted and canned by Canned Oregon is a non-vintage Oregon Pink Rosé Bubbles that bursts with red berries, apples and a bit of spritz to make it refreshing. This is the ticket at the beach or after the long hike up the mountain.

Canned Oregon hails from Dayton, Oregon, the heart of the Yamhill Carlton AVA. In this AVA are such heavyweights as Ken Wright Cellars, Lemelson Vineyards, Carlton Cellars, Soter Vineyards, Elk Cove Vineyards and Tendril Wine Cellars.

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!”)