Getting a Wine Education

The wine bug bit me early on, if you consider a jug of Inglenook’s Navalle Burgundy wine. But, hey, you have to start somewhere.

This wine, in a convenient jug with a handle, was good for a week to 10 days. I had a glass of wine or two with dinner. A librarian job in the Loop and a studio apartment on the Northside dictated how much could be spent on wine. Inglenook was a decent quaff for the budget.

Not too long after that was my inaugural trip to Napa Valley. The historic Greystone Abbey home to the Christian Brothers, was the first of many tasting rooms visited and I fell in love with their Grey Riesling. My palette has changed over time with  many bottles consumed. Wine with family and friends – that’s the best of times.

Fast forward some years and I found myself the owner of a wine shop with many opportunities to learn, absorb and taste. The best way to learn about wine is to taste with other wine lovers, beginners and experts alike. And read. And taste some more. The more you taste and read, the more you learn and come to appreciate this tasty beveridge.

Wine festivals, tastings and conferences can give you a broader palette. One remarkable place to learn about Washington wines is the Walter Clore Center in Yakima. The center offers in-depth, Washington wine coverage with a focus on a different AVA each month.

They also offer special tastings such as a blind tasting of the Grüner Veltliner that demonstrates how differences in climate, vineyard practices, soil type and winemaking style can affect the way varietals express themselves.

On July 22 and July 29, the tasting theme is  Washington versus Spain. This comparative tasting covers classic varietals produced in Spain up against the same varietals grown and produced in Washington.

And on Sunday, July 30 at 2 p.m., you can enjoy 4 sparkling red wines, expertly paired with 4 small bites. They may be pushing some boundaries here, but then who here has had red wine with bubbles?  For more info, theclorecenter.org

The inaugural SOMM Summit held last week in Seattle was an around-the-world-in-80-wines tasting. This deliciously serious international wine and spirits educational conference at South Seattle Community College was a wonderful gathering of sommeliers, Masters of Wine, stewards and other wine geeks. We listened, tasted, talked and learned more about the world of wine and spirits.

Dr. Kevin Pogue, Professor of Geology at Whitman College, took us through the cataclysmic, historic journey that shaped Washington State’s soils. Following this, Tim Donahue, Director of Winemaking at College Cellars talked about the winemaker’s influence with lots of emphasis on anthocyanins, catchins, pH and other scientific mumbo jumbo, which he explained using Legos. Yep, it actually worked — for me anyway.

We took a trip through the sparkling wines of South Africa, indulged in a Quilceda Creek Retrospective, sipped Napa Valley wines from the valley floor and above, tasted eight decades of Port, a vertical of Seven Hills, and the exotic Xinomavro grape of Greece.

Closer to home, eight wonderful Washington Syrahs stained our teeth purple and eight crisp whites from British Columbia turned the teeth white again. There were eight decades of Kopke Colheita Portos, three centuries of Remy Martin and the debut of Bodegas Lustau’s Sherry Ambassador Certification course. This was an amazing forum to learn in depth details.

Oregon’s ¡Salud! is patterned after the most famous wine auction in the world, Hospices de Beaune. ¡Salud! is dedicated to providing healthcare services to Oregon vineyard workers and their families for the past 25 years. This is made possible by two major fundraisers.

The Pinot Noir Auction on November 10th and 11th is your only opportunity to access Oregon’s most exclusive Pinot Noir cuvées. It begins with a tasting and Big Board Auction at Ponzi Vineyards and concludes the next day at Domaine Serene with a Black Tie Optional Gala dinner.

They also have Summertime ¡Salud! which showcases great wines and gourmet cuisine on July 27th. Presented by Dukes Family Vineyards and hosted by Stoller Family Estate, you can mingle with winemakers while tasting wine and  sampling hors d’oeuvres, and then enjoy an upscale, family-style, alfresco dinner with some of Oregon’s best wines poured from impressive magnum bottles straight to your glass.

The  Kitsap Wine Festival on the Bremerton’s scenic waterfront is always a great way to celebrate food, wine, sunshine and blue skies. Sip wine and savor local restaurants’ culinary skills at this lovely maritime location.

Many Washington wineries and a sprinkling of other areas’ wines are available for tasting and purchasing. The ninth annual Kitsap Wine Festival will be Saturday, August 12 at Harborside Fountain Park.

Tickets start at $50, https://www.kitsapwinefestival.com.

Cheers to our next opportunity to learn more and enjoy more!

Travels in Oregon Wine Country

It was the French who were the first to require Oregon Territory wine back in the 1840s. After a tough day’s work for the Hudson Bay Company, a rustic red to pair with their venison stew was just the ticket. The first recorded local winery was established in the late 1850s. The ensuing Pacific Northwest wine industry was at budbreak when the hailstorm of Prohibition put the kybosh on the burgeoning trade.

110 years later, a few groundbreaking Californians packed up their station wagons and moved up north to a land that was damp and chilly by comparison. Pioneers “Papa Pinot” Lett, Dick Ponzi, David Adelsheim, Cal Knudsen, and Dick Erath kick started the second attempt at a viable wine industry with none other than the persnicketiest grape of all – Pinot Noir.

They persevered even though many believed the attempt in the valleys and rolling hillsides made fertile by all that rain, futile.

Pinot Noir is capriciousness embodied. And yet, that’s part of its allure. Pinot Noir is a demanding mistress of the vigneron.  To increase fruit quality, long, cool growing seasons are essential.  It can’t take the heat so it performs better in wine regions like foggy Burgundy, cool Champagne, New Zealand, California’s foggy Carneros, Russian River, Santa Barbara or mountainous Santa Lucia Highlands and drizzly Oregon.

But cooler regions have problems that warmer vineyards don’t. Early budbreak is risky  because spring frost can take out a good portion of the crop overnight.  Cool, damp vineyard sites are also more susceptible to mildew. In rainy climates, showers at harvest can be disastrous. Do we pick or do we wait? It’s a nail biter.

With its thin skin, Pinot Noir is like the princess and the pea, picky about where it’s planted and high maintenance, too. Each site has different exposures to sun, wind, rain and fog. As a result, Pinot Noirs are diverse because this grape is more susceptible to quirks of weather.

Some Pinot Noir clones are more prolific and others do better resisting mildew which is important considering the climate Pinot Noir prefers. It just depends on where and what you’re planting that determines what end result will be. Many Oregon viticulturists are now planting many clones in the same vineyard blocks for even greater complexity and insurance.

Did I mention that Pinot Noir is genetically unstable?  Pinot is the mutant ninja grape with more clones than any other wine grape variety. Around 100 clones, French (Pommard, Dijon) and heritage California selections, have been submitted to UC Davis for inclusion in their registration program. This type of information is helpful to figure out what to plant and where.

Oregon Pinot Noir made its first splash on the world wine map in 1979 when David Lett’s 1975 Eyrie Reserve Pinot Noir placed second in a competition in Burgundy. That was a milestone for Oregon wine.

At the inaugural 1987 International Pinot Noir Celebration, winemaker Robert Drouhin, owner of a large, prestigious French domaine with amazing vineyards in Burgundy was completely seduced. Domaine Drouhin Oregon was established shortly thereafter.

The Oregon wine industry has grown tremendously since those early days. Many winemakers and owners are transplants from California, France, Portugal, Iran and the Midwest. Today, the vast majority of wineries (702) are still small, family-owned operations, with a dozen or so large (60,000+ cases) wineries.

Oregon’s winemakers have worked hard and collaboratively to figure out where to plant their vineyards, what clones and rootstocks work best, and how to use new oak judiciously. They’ve gained quite a lot of experience and as a result, confidence.

Pinot Noir at its best is a grape capable of grace, finesse and elegance with an ability to express the nuances of a particular terroir. Here are some recently enjoyed Oregon Pinots:

In Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains, Anan Cara Cellars’ vineyards were first planted in 2001. Nick and Sheila Nicholas made the 2012 Reserve Estate Pinot Noir from ten-row sections in each block of the beautiful Nicholas Estate vineyard. The 2012 vintage was a fabulous vintage with warm summer days and cool evenings that ensured full ripeness at harvest. The wine is beautifully aromatic, silky with dark cherry fruit, spice and herbs. Mouthwatering acidity adds to the structure and preserves the ruby hue. The wine saw only 15% new oak barrels.

In 1989, with a Masters Degree in Viticulture and Oenology, Tony Rynders began a 20 year career making wine around the world before he opened his own Tendril Wine Cellars. He has contract vineyards sites in Eola Hills, Dundee and Yamhill-Carlton to make is wines. The 2013 Extrovert Pinot Noir is beautifully aromatic with Asian spices, hints of black fruits, cranberries and a great big long finish.

Domaine Serene’s winery is a 4-storied gravity-flow facility that takes care of the 227 acres of dry farmed, LIVE certified vineyards. This award winning winery is located on the top on Dundee’s Red Hills. Their 2014 Triple S Vineyard is planted to the Dijon clone 777. This wine had a noble Pinot nose, lovely balance and a fantastic lingering finish.

Founded in 1970, Ponzi Vineyards has accumulated many awards and accolades over the years. They have continually set the standards for award winning Pinot Noir.  Their state of the art four-level gravity flow winery is another standard set. Second generation winemaker Luisa was the first American woman to earn the Certificate Brevet Professionnel d’Oenologie et Viticulture in Beaune.

The pinnacle Pinot for me is the 2014 Classico, a blend of old and new vineyards, cold soaked to bring out the blackberry and spice in this beautifully balanced wine aged for 11 months in French oak with 35% new.

Another award winning winery, Stoller Family Estate is a 370 acre farm in the Dundee Hills AVA that has been in the family since 1943. First planted to vine in 1995, the 200 acres of vineyards are LIVE and Salmon Safe and planted to clones Pommard, Wadenswil, 115, 667 and 777. The sustainable winery and tasting room are LEED Gold Certified. Their 2015 Dundee Hill Mosaic is a delightful overview of elevations, vineyard ages and all clones of the estate. The aromatics are bright red fruits with hints of spice and the palate is silky with warm, sun ripened raspberries.

Oregon Wine Country is a wonderful wine-cation whether you make the drive or host a stay-cation tasting. Ultimately, it’s a great grape to research with family and friends.

A Passion for Pink

What’s a rosé, anyway? Generally, it’s a category of wine – just like white, red, sparkling and dessert. It takes its name from the French word for pink and because the “e” has that little swoosh over it, it rhymes with Jose.

Most rosés are made from red grapes. The aroma, color and tannic structure of a wine is in the grape skins. As a result, the color, flavor, and style of the rosé depends on three winemaking practices: the temperature throughout the winemaking process,  the length of time the grape juice is in contact with the skins and how much residual sugar is in the finished wine.

Rosé can be any shade of pink from barely perceptible to pale red. When using just red grapes, how long the grape juice macerates with the skins determines what shade of pink the finished wine will be.

It’s similar to making a cup of tea, do you take the tea bag out after a brief dunk or do you dunk the tea bag, over and over and over? That continual dunking, whether tea bag or grape skins, extracts darker colors, more aromas, darker fruit flavor profiles and more acidity.

Like Riesling, rosé wines can be made anywhere on the residual sugar spectrum. Fermentation happens when the yeast gorges itself on the grape sugars and burps up alcohol. Residual sugar is what the little yeasties haven’t eaten because, in the case of rosé, the winemaker stops the fermentation anywhere between 9% (sweet) and 13% (definitely drier) alcohol.

Winemaking styles and consumer palates have changed since the heyday of Lancers and Mateus. Not all rosés are sweet. Just look to the center of the world’s rosé production, Provence, where they’ve been making dry rosés since Hector was a pup.

Dry rosé is a staple in France. It’s consumed with lunch, brunch and dinner, on the patio, and decks, at the seaside, in the gardens, and practically every other occasion. As a matter of fact, French rosé outsells white wine in France.

Long before most Americans became acquainted with rosés, there was white Zinfandel and pink Chablis.  In the seventies, sweet fruity whites were the wine of choice. And then it happened, a tank of Zinfandel at Sutter Home got mixed up with a tank of white. White Zinfandel was a sweet pink mistake.

In the USA, however, some still equate pink with sweet, possibly based on past encounters with blush wines from a jug with a handle on it. But those wines are behind us, dry rosé production is on the rise in France, Italy, USA and Spain.  American wine drinkers are dumping the misconception that crisp, bright, and dry rosés are the same as sweet blush wines.

There’s several ways to achieve that pretty pink color.  Everyday patio pinks are typically a blend of white wine with enough red wine in it to make it “blush.” Per bottle, this style of wine would contain five times as much residual sugar as a Provençal rosé.

Another pink winemaking process is called, saingnée (sahng nee), another French term that translates to bleed. With this winemaking technique, the winemaker “bleeds” off the free-run juice from just barely crushed red grapes after momentary maceration.  (No continual dunking!) The goal of saingnée is to produce a light pink wine with aromas and flavors similar to a red wine.

A few of my favorites include:

Barnard Griffin’s Rosé of Sangiovese. Not too sweet, not too dry. A deeper colored wine with a lot of aroma, juicy acidity and flavors. A perfect patio wine.  Others agree with me. Barnard Griffin Rosés have won eleven Best of Class and gold at prestigious wine competitions since its debut in 2002.

Maryhill’s Columbia Valley Rosé Zinfandel is sourced from the award-winning Tudor Hills Vineyards.  Grapes were hand-harvested during the cool hours of the morning to preserve the bright fruit notes and left on the skins overnight to extract color and then gently pressed. The free run juice was slowly fermented at 50ºF for a month. This wine is a crowd-pleaser and gold medal winner.

Gerard Bertrand’s Rosé from the Languedoc DOC is a traditional Mediterranean blend of red grapes, Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah. It’s a beautiful pale pink and perfectly balanced with a dry, medium-bodied and yet fruity freshness. Its beauty extends to the bottle, designed by an art student. The old fashioned bottle shape has an artfully embossed rose where the punt is usually found and a glass stopper in place of the traditional cork.

One winemaker I’ve been following for some time is Victor Palencia. His Vino la Monarcha Pinot Noir Rosé from the Ancient Lakes AVA is delicious. Yep, Pinot Noir from Quincy, Washington. Its floral aromas and flavors of citrus and minerality makes this one a refreshing patio pink.

Stoller Family Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir Rosé is another winner. This wine is whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel all at cool temperatures to preserve the aromatics and fresh red fruit flavors and mouthwatering acidity. The LEED gold certified winery has catacombs that draw in nighttime air, a natural cooling system!

A favorite Spanish rosé from 40 year old vines in Campo de Borja is ZaZa made from Garnacha by Norrel Robertson, a Master of Wine.  The must remained in contact with the skins for 24 to 48 hours, then free-run juice was bled, barrel fermented and aged sur lie for a month to integrate flavors, build mouthfeel, length and complexity. And it worked! The bright raspberry color and aroma give way to crisp raspberry and vanilla flavors and well-balanced acidity. It’s made for tapas, barbeque, salads, seafood and the patio.

Dry, pale pink to a ravishing raspberry, they all have one thing in common. They are enormously refreshing, very hip and on the rise.

The Wines of the Loire Valley

Much like Bordeaux, the Loire Valley was part of the dowry the beautiful, talented and very rich Eleanor of Acquitaine brought to England when she married Henry Plantagenet in the 12th century. She was responsible for jump starting the French wine trade in England and spent a number of her sunset years in a nearby nunnery, Fauntevraud, seeing that young women were taught to read and write. One of her five sons, Richard the Lion-hearted was buried there rather than a cathedral in England. But that’s an interesting tale for another time.

The Loire River is the country’s longest river, running from the middle of France west to the Atlantic Ocean. Along the river and its four tributaries are captivating castles once majestic and sumptuous, which former French and English kings, queens, mistresses, dukes and cardinals had built and called home.

In these castles, historic Treaties and Edicts were written and signed. At Chinon, Charles VII and fourteen year old Joan of Arc met and discussed the state of the nation, Ussé Castle was the inspiration for the fairytale of Sleeping Beauty and Villandry and Azay-le-Rideau have the most stunning formal gardens with the requisite attending army of gardeners.  The area is a must for your bucket list.

This beautiful rolling river valley in northwest France is also home to some of the world’s most famous white wines.  Vineyards are planted near villages with enchanting names like Manetou-Salon, Pouilly Fumé, Anjou, Coteaux de Layon, Bonnezeaux, Sancerre and Vouvray.  And none of these famous vineyards are planted to Chardonnay.

With the east west orientation of the river, the Atlantic Ocean clearly has an effect on the quality of the region’s wines—more so than Bordeaux, located just south of the Loire Valley. In cool vintages, it takes longer to develop the grape sugars needed to balance the naturally high acidity in these grapes.

The Loire Valley has three distinct wine regions, the Pays Nantais on the western end, the middle Loire and the upper Loire. The upper Loire is also known as the Central Vineyards because they’re centrally located in France.

Allowed white grapes in this valley are Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet), Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc, which account for more than half of the wine from this region. Approved red grapes are the native Grolleau, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Gamay.

Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are the two most widely planted grapes. Sauvignon Blanc is grown in the Central Vineyards from around the villages of Pouilly Fumé, Quincy, Menetou-Salon and Sancerre. Chenin Blanc is grown in the middle Loire’s Touraine and Anjou-Saumur regions around the villages of Vouvray, Montlouis sur Loire, Saumur and Coteaux de Layon.

Winemaking in the valley is generally done without barrel ageing or malolactic fermentation. The wines have enough natural acidity to be great food wines. Chaptalization is permitted here. This winemaking technique of adding sugar to the fermenting wine helps compensate for the lack of grape sugars that balance the high acidity in difficult years.

For red wines, there’s other techniques used such as extended skin maceration for more color, flavor and tannins.  Pinot Noir both in a red and rosé styles are lighter in color and flavor than found in other parts of the wine world. Cabernet Franc is also lighter in color with more herbaceous aromas and flavors. In riper vintages, Loire reds will develop more fruit aromas and flavors and lose that herby component.

Once considered the quintessential white restaurant wine, Sancerre is considered among the finest location in the world to grow Sauvignon Blanc. Here the soil plays a big part in flavor development. It’s limestone with oyster traces and siliceous soil accounts for the wonderful flinty aromas and flavors.

During cool vintages, Sauvignon Blanc wines are lighter in color, less fruity and have a more pronounced herbaceous component. This style makes the wine the perfect companion to salads especially with goat cheese, salmon pate, poached white fish with buerré blanc, Oysters Rockefeller and other delectable shellfish recipes whether steamed, fried, grilled, stewed or raw.

Sancerre reds and rosés are made from the Pinot Noir grape. These wines are lighter in style than other regions where Pinot Noir is made. Lighter fare such as salads with smoked trout, chicken or aged goat cheese would make a perfect pairing.

Oddly enough, New Zealand is the only other wine region to produce Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc in the same region.

Chenin Blanc with its crisp acidity, is easily one of the most food-friendly wines of the world. It’s the classic brunch wine in that it pairs well with everything on the buffet. The range is similar to Riesling; it can be dry and austere to rich and sweet as well as everything in between. It can be still and it can be sparkling.

Chenin Blanc reaches its most characteristic expression in the Anjou-Saumur and Touraine regions in the middle Loire Valley. Vouvray is the world’s most popular Chenin Blanc but Anjou, Saumur and Savenniéres produce great ones too.

Quarts de Chaume, Bonnezeaux and Coteaux du Layon all produce stunning desert wines from the Chenin Blanc grape. Saumur’s most important wine is Saumur Mousseux, a well-priced sparkling made from Chenin Blanc.

In the Pays Nantais region of the Loire Valley, the city of Nantes is surrounded by vineyards planted to the Melon de Bourgogne grape. Muscadet Sevre et Maine covers the area between the Maine and Sevre rivers, tributaries of the Loire river. Muscadet Sur Lie is produced by aging the wine on the spent yeast cells which adds body and complexity to this light bodied wine whose reputation with oysters is classic.

A little known French gastronome once observed, “Cuisine is best when things taste like themselves. “  That brings Muscadet with oysters, Sancerre with Chevre and Vouvray with scallops to mind. And I know there is no better time to sample the wines of the Loire than when spring and summer cuisines converge. Cheers!

Explore Italy’s wines beyond Pinot Grigio and Chianti

Italy is the second largest and in some years largest, wine producing country in the world. With 20 regions, 97 provinces, over 2,000 grape varietals and a classification system that is complicated, to say the least, Italy is the go-to wine for many wine lovers both novice and pinky up.

For many, Pinot Grigio and Chianti are their limits for this wine region but there so, so many more regions to explore.  Gargenega, Gavi di Gavi, Amarone di Valpolicella, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Nero d’Avola, Prosecco, Fiano de Avellino, Frascati and Soave are all wonderful if not familiar to the average American.

But everyone has heard of Tuscany, where there are six distinct Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG for short) regions for a sea of red wine. Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano, Carmignano and Bolgheri all have one grape in common – Sangiovese.

Despite the recent changes in regulations to include international grape varieties, Italian wines for the most part are bonded to the traditional, indigenous varieties which are estimated to be around 2,000. Of those many grape varieties, Sangiovese takes the cake for the most widely planted in all of Italy.

Tuscany or if you’re Italiano, Toscana, is the most beloved region in Italy. Not only for wine but as the birthplace of language, arts (the Uffizi Gallery has masterpieces of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Rubens, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and more), sciences and literature. All under the patronage of the Medici who followed in the Roman footsteps of planting vineyards everywhere they ruled.

Tuscany is an undulating landscape with hillside vineyards surrounding hill topped towns that supply the vast majority of the best wines. Sangiovese vines are widely planted in Tuscany and have been as far back as three centuries ago. There are a plethora of Sangiovese clones, some are known by their place name and have local names such as Brunello or Prugnolo Gentile.

You’ll find it in places such as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Maremma, Morellino de Scansano, Carmignano and Super Tuscans.  It’s the mainstay of Toscana wines with other grapes playing a supporting role only in Chianti and Carmignano. Bolgheri DOC, home to the first Super Tuscan, is more international in its regulations.

For the most part, Italian wines have place names on the labels unlike New World wines with grape names on the label. For example, Chianti is a place within the borders of Tuscany in Central Italy. In the Chianti region, DOCG regulations require that seven Chianti zones be composed of at least 70% and could be up to 100% Sangiovese with no more than 30% other grapes that could include traditional red grapes, Canaiolo and Colorino and/or International varieties Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot. White grapes, Trebbiano and Malvasia, may not exceed 10% of the blend and Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc may be 10% separate or together. These regulations are more stringent and mind boggling for the eighth zone, Chianti Classico.

Surrounding the hill top town of Montalcino are the vineyards of Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino. Brunello, which translates to little dark one, is the local name for the large berried Sangiovese Grosso clone used for these wines.

Winemaking in Montalcino dates back to the 14th century but it wasn’t until the 1870s when Ferruccio Biondi-Santi isolated the Sangiovese Grosso grape and made a particularly wonderful batch of wine from his grandfather’s Il Greppo estate. At a time when most wines were white and sweet, this was pretty daring. He also went further to limit yields and extended the maceration process for more concentrated and intensely colored wine.

One hundred years later, Brunello was named one of the first DOCGs and with that came the regulations. Only one grape, Brunello is allowed, age it for four years with at least two in wood. For Riserva, it’s six years with at least 2 in wood. As you can imagine, all that time drumming your fingers, waiting for the Brunellos to mature could make one very thirsty. There is a solution to that dilemma. It’s the Rosso di Montalcino or red of Montalcino. This baby Brunello has more relaxed regulations and only needs to be aged for one year.

Two DOCG regions that allow grape varieties other than Sangiovese clones are Carmignano and Morellino di Scansano. Carmignano is located northwest of Florence on the north bank of the Arno River. Here, Sangiovese has been blended with Cabernet since the 18th century. Today’s regulations allow 10 to 20% Cabernet or Cabernet Franc, up to 20% Canaiolo, up to 5% Mammolo, up to 5% Colorino as well as up to 10% white grapes. Carmignano can be released two years after the harvest with one of those years in wood. Riservas require 3 years with half spent in wood.

Scansano is another hilly Tuscan region located in the Maremma region on the coast of Tuscany. It achieved DOCG status in 2007 and now must contain at least 85% Sangiovese and the balance can be – get this – any red varietal approved in Tuscany. That opens the blend up to include the Cabernets, Merlot and Syrah in addition to the traditional grape varieties.

Morellino di Scansano does not require wood ageing and can be released the first May after harvest. Riservas on the other hand will not be release until the January two years after the harvest. One of those years must be in wood.

Tuscany also has offers an amazing array of culinary dishes like fresh Ricotta from Siena, panzanella salad, tomato bruschetta, olive oil, truffles, Zuppa Toscana, Pizza Margerita, cannelloni, gnocchi and Salame di Cinghiale (wild boar sausage).

Tuscany is truly a culinary adventure. Go forth and explore!

Spring’s Eternal Blessings

Spring celebrates traditions and cultures and new beginnings. This month’s celebrations include the Passover, Easter and a  birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Easter and Passover are time honored traditions filled with family, friends and feasting. At the Passover Seder, people of the Jewish faith celebrate their freedom from Egyptian slavery and Christians rejoice at their savior’s resurrection. Pagans had their own springtime traditions that involved Ēostre, a Germanic goddess of fertility, bunnies and eggs.

All this celebrating begins as Mother Nature sheds the cold, wet blanket of winter and displays the many shades and hues of green and the occasional clump of sunny daffodils.

Spring brings verdant fare with fresher, lighter dishes and wines on our tables. From appealing asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, to fresh sliced radishes on buttered toast points or crackers, lemony sorrel, the zingiest garden green ever, sautéed leeks and morels, roasted spring lamb with fresh peas, new potatoes with chive butter, juicy, sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb, and the emergence of abundant mint family, there are many refreshing ways to celebrate spring.

Below are some adventurous wines that play nicely with spring’s bounty. But first, my “Spring Wine Rules.”

  1. Spring wines can be complex wines. Color outside the lines with wines that are not your usual fare. Resist the urge to be safe! Be daring! Be adventuresome!
  2. The delicate flavors of spring wines have notes of herbs, grass and slightly tart fruit which are the perfect match for spring vegetables. The brighter the wine, the better the match.
  3. No new oak. These wines should be herbal and crisp; it’s lighten up time! Stainless steel fermentation insures a crisp and fruit forward flavor. Oak does not.
  4. Kosher wines are fairly plentiful and very good. They can range from big and hearty to lower alcohol, fruity Moscatos. From Italy to Israel to southern California, winemakers have been making these wines for decades.
  5. It’s not the perfect guideline for spring wines but wines that will age usually have a cork. Times have changed; screw caps do not necessarily mean bulk wine any more than corks signify high quality wines.
  6. No Chardonnays or Pinot Grigios.

Here are my plucky proposals for spring whites. These are not the easiest wines to find, so go with the region or the grape.

PINOT BLANC – This grape is a member of the mutant ninja Pinot family. Being a mutant ninja has to do with the ease that they can change skin color. The red skinned grapes are Nero or Noir and Meunier and the gray skinned grape is Gris or Grigio. White is Blanc or Blanco depending on where in the world it is made. Today, Pinot Gris or Grigio is more fashionable than Pinot Blanc.

But Pinot Blanc has the body of a Chardonnay and an easy drinking style that is likely to surprise and delight. And it does not see oak! Instead, it spends time in a great big barrel that is more often than not, lined with centuries of tartaric crystals. I often recommend an Alsatian Pinot Blanc as a choice for seafood, vegetables and roasted chicken salads.

As the third most mountainous country in Europe, Greece’s distinct topography enables the cultivation of 350 indigenous cool weather varietals in a warm weather climate. Somewhat unexpected after seeing all those movies of very sunny, sandy beaches in Greece.

One of Greece’s greatest white wines comes from the MOSCHOFILERO (Mohs-koh-FEE-leh-roh) grape. The wine is super dry but has an aromatic and floral nose. It’s a great wine for spring entertaining. Most Moschofilero can be found in Mantinia, a region in the middle of the Peloponnese Peninsula.

ALBARIÑO is native to Spain’s Rias Baixas region. It’s crisp, refreshing and reminds me of a blend of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Albariño can be lovely with an exotic aromatics and crisp citrus character. That makes it great with fish with a sorrel sauce or ham and pea salad. Zingy in style, it has enough fruit for great balance.

GROS MANSENG is a country white from Gascony, in southwestern France, and it delivers a terrific bang for buck. The Gros Manseng grape is filled with fresh, clean, herbal flavors and Armagnac brings more weight than most simple table wines. It’s hard to find a more versatile spring – or summer – wine.

MENETOU-SALONS made from Sauvignon Blanc are in the grassy, minerally flavor realm.  Its racy acidity is ideal for the tender spring vegetables.  Hailing from the Loire Valley, where Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé set the bar, the appellation of Menetou-Salon is just west of Sancerre. The chalky soils are similar to the vineyards of Chablis and the resulting flinty minerality of those wines. Pair it with asparagus and scrambled eggs or a pea risotto as a spring treat.

VINHO VERDE is a fizzy Portuguese white. The fresh citrus and-herb packed flavors, low alcohol and fizzy personality make it the perfect spring wine. The lighter alcohol content is perfect for a light spring brunch of frittata, fresh fruits, and hot cross buns.

PICPOUL, native to the Rhone Valley and Languedoc, tends to be crisp and green similar to a Sauvignon Blanc.  Picpoul de Pinet from vineyards overlooking the Mediterranean Sea can show richness that makes them one of the best value choices out there. Use it to begin dinner as it pairs especially well with clam linguine, barbequed oysters or crab cakes.

VERDELHO plays nicely with spring fare with scents of chervil and thyme and lots of citrusy brightness. It has sweet peachy flavors that add a bit of weight to the mouthfeel. The grape is Portuguese, but it has found home in California, where its ability to hold acidity in the heat make Verdelho a winner. It also shines Hunter Valley where it is blended to brighten up the mellower Semillon. Chill it up and pair it with sardines, olives or a chicken salad.

Another grape to consider is the CHENIN BLANC grape from France, South Africa or Washington. It has a steely, aromatic profile with ripe peach flavors that pairs well with the season’s flavors. Consider a bottle of this with your smoked trout or fresh fruit salad.

May your springtime celebrations be sunny with lighter fare and adventuresome wines!

Small, artisan winemakers at Taste Washington

Washington has a legion of wineries producing great wine from the approximately 50,000 acres planted to vitis vinifera. Only 20 of these wineries make more than 40,000 cases annually. Small, family producers make up the vast majority of the 900+ wineries.

Considering all the wines at Taste Washington’s Grand Tasting, what were the standouts for me? The three that immediately come to mind: Caideas, Cadence and Terra Blanca. All small artisan wineries.

Cairdeas Winery began making wine from eastern Washington grapes in South Seattle. The family-owned artisan operation then moved to the Lake Chelan AVA, a less hectic environment to raise a family and produce great wine. Charlie and Lacey Lybecker named their winery Cairdeas, which is Irish for friendship and a nod to their Irish heritage. I would like to be their new best friend. You may want to be also.

Their wines are Nellie Mae 2014 Columbia Valley White Rhone (named for his grandmother), Tri Red Yakima Valley 2014 Rhone Blend, and (being Irish and wine lover, I love this) the 2014 Caislen an Papa Meek Vineyard Red Rhone from the Yakima Valley. Caislen an Papa is Irish and, roughly translated, means the same as Chateauneuf du Pape. Chateauneuf du Pape is French for new home of the pope.

History tells us there was this long line of Italian only popes and then in the 13th century, a pope was elected that was not Italian but French! He had this brilliant idea of moving the papal palace to Avignon, the heart of the southern Rhône region. There, a red wine was blended using up to13 different grape varieties, both red and white.

Anyway, back to this Irish take on a red Rhône-like wine with an Irish name that so intrigued me. It’s a blend of 44 percent Grenache, 22 percent Mourvedre, 14 percent Syrah, 13 percent Cinsault and 7 percent Counoise. OK, so not the 13 allowed varieties, but when was the last time you saw Cinsault and Counoise in a Washington wine? Definitely a wine to seek out.

Nellie Mae is a white Rhone blend of 70 percent Viognier and Roussanne with 14 percent alcohol. The nose is fragrant, the flavors are balanced and the finish is long. The 2014 Tri was a blend of Yakima Syrah (64 percent) Mourvedre and Grenache with all kinds of raspberry and earthiness in the nose and on the palate. It was gorgeous.

Next was Cadence Winery and the charming Ben Smith. I love their Red Mountain sourced wines. All of these wines will draw you in, as they drew me in, by their fragrant aromas.

The Cadence Coda made by Smith is a Bordeaux blend-like wine of Cab Franc (46 percent), Merlot (28 percent), Cab (17 percent) and Petite Verdot (9 percent) from the Taptiel and Ciel du Cheval Vineyards on Red Mountain. This full-bodied blend redolent of black fruits and earth is especially nice right now but could use a year of aging to marry the flavors.

The 2014 Camerata is a Bordeaux blend from Smith’s own Cara Mia vineyard on Red Mountain. It’s composed of Cab (40 percent), Merlot (34 percent), Cab Franc (15 percent), and Petite Verdot (2 percent).

Winemaker Smith made me feel very special when he pulled out a Bel Canto from 2002. The grapes came from Taptiel Vineyard and were a blend of 49 percent Cabernet, 34 percent Merlot, 15 percent Cab Franc, and 2 percent Petite Verdot. The wine was beautiful.

In 1992, Keith and ReNae Pilgrim purchased of 300 acres on an arid, treeless slope called Red Mountain.  They  journeyed from California to Washington to build Terra Blanca Winery and Estate Vineyards into one of the most magnificent estates on the mountain and perhaps the whole state.

The winery houses a restaurant and a separate banquet room with view of the estate well-manicured grounds. The gigantic underground cellar keeps the barrels and bottles cool.

At the Taste of Washington, they were pouring the 2013 Estate vineyard ONYX, a Bordeaux blend; the 2013 Signature Series Block B Syrah, also from the estate vineyards; and the Signature Series Estate Vineyards 2012 Titan Red.

The 2013 Signature Series Block B Syrah was gorgeous. Rich and polished, it had black raspberry white pepper and smoky herbs. The complexity of it! Another rich and polished wine is the ONYX, which always lives up to high standards. This dense red has flavors of black cherry, plum and aromatic spices neatly framed by silky tannins that will age beautifully for a few years.

Looking through my notes, I saw a couple more you must check out because they are outstanding, too. New Red Mountain arrival Canvasback is a property of California’s Duckhorn Winery. This 2014 Cab is from Ciel du Cheval Vineyards while they wait for their 20 acres of estate vineyards, planted in 2011, to come to maturity. This wine is a blend of 87 percent Cab, 9 percent Merlot, and a dollop of Cab Franc and Malbec. Get some of this beautiful wine.

At Bartholomew Winery, a Seattle urban winery on Airport Way South, you can taste the unexpected. These unusual wines are made from some rare grape varieties in this state. Their  wines  — Carménère Rosé and Konnowac Vineyard Tannat — are sourced from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. They also produce a Horse Heaven Hills Primitivo.

Carménère is rarely seen in Bordeaux, where it was born. It’s more likely to be found in Chile where for years, it was mistaken for Merlot.  Tannat is a thick-skinned varietal most famous as the principal grape in a Madiran and now coming into its own again in South America’s Uruguay.  All these wines are deftly made by owner and winemaker Bart Fawbush.

There are more, so many more small, artisan wineries to discover in our state. Cheers to the continued adventure!

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

My Taste Washington Grand Tasting Picks

Taste Washington is an annual (20 years now!) gathering in Seattle of Washington wineries and restaurants to celebrate wine and food.

Winemakers from all over the world have established vineyards and wineries bringing the total wineries in the state to over 900. The wines they ferment reflect the characteristics of the prized vineyards, some planted over 30 years ago. Taste Washington provides a unique opportunity to taste old favorites and experience the over 100 new one from the past two years.

While planning this year’s list, I was taken by the number of wineries that were small, totally focused and passionate about Washington.

And also struck by the number of winemakers coming from all parts of the wine world.  Drawn by the great fruit, terroir, and potential that these vineyards have. Here are some wineries, most new, that have intrigued me with their offerings and a few that I want to become reacquainted with. I hope I can make it to at least half in the short time there.

Andrew Will and Arbor Crest both old favorites who have been here for quite a while and have great vineyard resources.  AniChe, Archeus, Armstrong, Array, Auclair, Avennia, Baier, Barons, Barrage, Barrel Springs, Bartholomew, Bergdorf, Bontzu, Brady, Burnt Bridge, Bronco, broVo, and Buried Cane are very new to me.

Callan Cellars is a new micro-boutique winery in Woodinville. California’s Duckhorn Winery is synonymous to Merlot magic. They recently bought part of Red Mountain and are producing a Washington wine called Canvasback. Excited to try this one.

Cedar River Cellars is Renton’s own award winning winery with grapes from Burgess Vineyards. Along the Columbia River, Cascade Cliffs  make the best Washington State Barbera.  Co Dinn, Col Solare, a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Italy’s Antinori, Walla Walla’s College Cellars, Leavenworth’s Eagle Creek Winery and Eight Bells, a small, 2000 case, urban winery in North Seattle are all worth a sip or two. Wineries are popping up everywhere!

For a Song Winery’s Ancient Lakes Chard is intriguing for the terroir. And Yakima’s JB Neufeld produces award winning wines from the DuBrul and Artz vineyards. Karma is making true Méthode Champenoise and Woodinville’s Kevin White produces some amazing Rhone wines. Kitze has an Italian grape variety, Nebbiolo.

Latta Wines has a Roussanne and Grenache made by Sommelier-owner Andrew Latta who spent a few years working at a notable Washington winery. The Grenache, aged for 22 months, is sourced from the Upland Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA. This area was first planted in 1917 by Washington State wine pioneer William B. Bridgman.

Lobo Hills is a small production winery in Seattle . Tony and Diane Dollar will pour their Chenin Blanc and Petite Verdot.

Long Shadows produces a number of wines from Washington grapes. What is unique about this winery is they have renowned winemakers from Germany. Australia, France, California and Italy make the wine.

Memaloose’s  Grace Vineyard Semillon and Dolcetto are just two of the over 20 grape varieties sourced from the five organic estate vineyards on both the Washington and Oregon banks of the Columbia River – in the Columbia Gorge Appellation.

Monte Scarlatto Estate Winery and Vineyards is one of the newest places on Red Mountain. Varietals include Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carménère, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.

Tiny Mount Si Winery in Snoqualmie makes a Syrah, Cab and Merlot from Wahluke Slope grapes.

When Jerry Riener started the Guardian Winery, he told his friends that he planned to bottle age his red wines at least 12 months before release. They took that comment lightly. Riener has found being patient is a pain, but it sure does create some delicious wines.

Nine Hats is a must, Palouse, Pearl & Stone I vaguely recall and Piccola, Pomum Dondera, Reasons Wine (love the name), Reynvaan, Robert Karl and Rocky Pond’s Lake Chelan Viognier are calling my name.

Sagemoor was planted in 1968. Back then it was all experimental. Nobody knew for sure which grape varietals would grow. Today, over 40 years and 1,100 acres later, Sagemoor has five full-production vineyards supplying grapes to northwest wineries both big and boutique. Those five vineyards are Sagemoor, Bacchus, Dionysus, Weinbau, and Gamache.  Their website is full of wonderful vineyard info.

Secret Squirrel, Snoqualmie’s Sigillo SnoValley White is a blend of Pinot Gris, Chenin and Gewurz, which makes me think of dry white Alsatian blends.  Silvara is a small production winery in Leavenworth with an award winning Malbec.

Seven Falls Wahluke Slope Red, Cab and Chard is on the list because its new and the Wahluke has some great vineyards. Skyfall is new and notable for its under $20 wines, Sol Stone’s Wahluke Slope Weinbau Grenache, Somme des Partues Winery, Sonoris Winery all made the list. As well as South Seattle’s small Structure Winery that uses Wallula Slope, Upland, Destiny Ridge, and Stillwater fruit all great grape places.

Tertulia Cellars produces a Carménère and Tempranillo, these grapes migrated from South America and Spain. Three of Cups Winery has an intriguing Heart of the Hill Petite Sirah, another traveling grape this time from California. Truth Teller has an Elephant Mountain Viognier, Tunnel Hill Winery has a Lake Chelan Pinot Noir, and Two Vintners Boushey Vineyards Grenache Blanc are some of the most unusual wines there.

It is an ambitious plan but I’m willing to swirl, sniff, sip and spit for the experience. Hope to see you there!

Irish Stew with Wine

Faith and begorrah, why is it that Saint Patrick’s Day is the most celebrated national festival in the world?

Did you know more than 13 million pints of Guinness guzzled on that day?  The 258 year-old brew is a favorite with corned beef and cabbage or Irish Stew.

Beer and Whiskey are more common quaffs on this day. But those industrious Irish monks were planting vineyards and making wine in the 5th century out of neccesity. They needed wine to celebrate mass.

Centuries later, skirmishes with England sent Irish wine makers off to France where you’ll find chateaux named Langoa Barton, Lawton,  Phelan Segur, Lynch Bages, and Kirwan.

In California, one famous winery’s Petite Sirah cuttings have been grafted onto rootstock up and down the state. Thank you, James Concannon.
Here on the Kitsap Peninsula, you can enjoy Irish Stew and wine at Fletcher Bay Winery on St. Patrick’s Day from

Walla Walla’s White Wines

The name Walla Walla supposedly translates to “many waters,” but it’s more likely to be “waters waters” than “many many.” Or perhaps Walla Walla was interpreted as enough water for everyone, no water rights needed for the many.

The Walla Walla Valley has the right dirt, “many waters” and abundant sunshine to support this particular agricultural bounty. Even when Washington was still a territory, grape cultivation and winemaking were part of the growing economy as early as 1876.  In 1882, there were 27 saloons in town, selling jugs of wine and shots of cheap whiskey, in a town of 4,000.

Alas, the burgeoning wine industry was cut short when the Northern Pacific Railroad bypassed Walla Walla. Their ability to sell their wines to other markets was severely hampered.  And to further constrict the industry, in the freeze of 1883, temperatures fell to 20 below, grape vines were damaged and production was dramatically reduced.

It would be almost 100 years before grape production began to ramp back up again and put Walla Walla back on the world wine map.

In 1977, Leonetti Cellars opened its doors and received wide acclaim in the ensuing years. After putting in a few harvests at Leonetti, Rick Small opened Woodward Canyon in 1981. Next, in 1983, Jean and Baker Ferguson opened L’Ecole No. 41, Eric and Janet Rindall’s Waterbrook released their first vintage in 1984, Patrick Paul in 1988, Canoe Ridge in 1993, Glen Fiona and Walla Walla Vintners in 1996.
And wineries just keep opening. Today, there are around 77 wineries in downtown Walla Walla, at the airport, on the east and west sides and south into Oregon. Walla Walla is one of three AVAs whose footprint is in both Washington and Oregon.

For the past dozen years or so, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance rolls into Seattle. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the winemakers, wines and wineries.

Forty-nine big and small wineries poured new releases and old favorites. Best known for its powerful reds such as Cab, Merlot and Syrah, Walla Walla also boasts a smattering of other red grapes – Malbec, Mourvèdre, Carménère, and Tempranillo.

Having tasted many of these big, rich reds and looking to explore the path less traveled and the tables less crowded, I sought out and sampled the sprinkling of whites, both the usual suspects and then unusual grapes such as Albariño, Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Marsanne.

A longtime acquaintance who also happens to be a sommelier was there tasting these wines with me. We did the usual comparing to Old World wines with more thumbs up than down. It was a great wine-geeky moment for me.

Abeja is probably my favorite Walla Walla Chardonnay because it’s so well balanced. Which means not overly oaked, and not a fruit bomb either. It could easily tie with another favorite Walla Walla Chardonnay – Woodward Canyon’s. And, of course, Waterbrook’s for a nicely balanced and so affordable wine.

Abeja sourced its 2015 Chardonnay from Celilo and Conner Lee Vineyards as does Woodward Canyon. Kissed with new and used oak for nine months, the balance between fruit, acids and alcohol is perfect.

Abeja’s talented winemaker, John Abbott, honed that balancing act while working for the Canoe Ridge. He’s crafted many harvests for Abeja until the 2016 vintage. His time is now devoted to Pinot Noir under his own label, Devona.  Look for it. It’s going to be great.

Taking over the winemaker duties are the husband wife team of Daniel Wampfler and Amy Alvarez Wampfler. Both started out at Columbia Crest where they met. Wampfler moved to Dunham Cellars in 2008 when they were a 15,000 case winery. Dunham now produces 30,000 cases a year.

In 2010, the Sinclairs hired Alvarez-Wampfler as winemaker at their 1,500 case winery. Sinclair Estate’s 2014 Columbia Valley Chardonnay is aged sur-lie for a year, giving an added dimension to the wine. It’s on the oaky side, having spent a year in 25% new oak. For my palate, I’d give it a year to mellow out.

At Tranche, their Blue Mountain Vineyard is sustainably farmed and the low yield harvest produces intensely flavored fruit. Their 2013 Chardonnay, also from Celilo Vineyards, has a beautiful tropical fruitiness with juicy crispness that makes this wine a great candidate for fish, chicken and that other white meat. Please pass the béchamel. The new French oak was held to a minimum 5% for 18 months. It’s ready to enjoy now.

Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s most versatile and food friendly wines out there. It was widely planted in Washington State’s teen years but Cab, Merlot and Syrah which command higher prices, have changed that.  But there are still old vineyards out there that produce some amazing Chenins from dessert to bone dry.

One is Waitsburg Cellars, which has two versions of Chenin Blanc both from the 2015 vintage. The Cheninnieres is a play on the distinctive, dry Chenin produced in the Savennieres appellation in the Loire Valley where Chenin Blanc is widely planted.

This wine has wonderful pear notes with a hint of herbs on the nose and the palate. It finishs more than off-dry, making it a perfect accompaniment to cold smoked trout with a mustard sauce.

Also located in the Loire Valley is the well-known and well-loved Vouvray, a totally different style from the Savennieres. This wine has sweet, peachy flavors and residual sugar of 3.33%.  The beauty is the acidity that balances the sweetness to keep the wine refreshing. Curried shrimp would definitely be the greatest match for this little sweetie.

Trust 2014 Riesling was enchanting, with its diesel nose. Perfectly mimicking a controlled German Riesling, balance and all with 11.6% alcohol and 2.2% residual sugar. It’s another candidate for that curried shrimp dish.

The Caderetta 2015 SBS is worthy of another glass or two. SBS is short for Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, the traditional white Bordeaux blend. The wine crisp, herbal, citrusy aromas and flavors are the result of 89% of this wine fermented in stainless steel. Pair this with your next herbed vegetable dish, roasted pepper hummus or a Caesar salad and you’ll see.

Caderetta is owned by the Middleton Family, who began planting their estate vineyard in 2008. Seven Hills Vineyard is adjacent to this vineyard and has some of Washington’s finest wineries using their grapes.  In addition to the SBS, they produce Cab, Syrah, and red blends

Well, it’s been a pleasure recapping this tasting. Tastings are such a great opportunity to learn so much about the wines that you like. Remember to smell and taste. Then decide if it’s a keeper or not. It’s really just that simple. You like it or you don’t like it and you move on.

Your next opportunity for tasting Washington wines is at the mother of all Washington wine tastings, Taste Washington. Over 100 wineries, tons of restaurants serving little bites and seminars for more in depth wine knowledge in case you’re sitting for the sommelier test. Cheers!

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.