What’s your Game Plan for Thanksgiving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a warm and happy Thanksgiving.

How Vintage Affects Your Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garlic, Vinegar and a Whole Lotta Black Pepper

Pairing Filipino cuisine with a beverage that is heavily influenced by the Spanish who brought tomatoes, sausages, peanuts and wine; and the Chinese with their fish paste, soy sauce, rice, noodles and spring rolls is a bit of a challenge.

Many dishes are made with tart tropical fruits, pickled in vinegar, steeped in garlic and soy sauce. And let’s not forget the salted dried fish. Ingredients that are not exactly easy to pair with say a Northwest Syrah or Chardonnay, right?

The quintessential Filipino signature dish is Adobo. It has plenty of garlic, black pepper, vinegar and soy sauce. The former two are fairly easy to pair with most wines. The latter two are trickier, especially the soy sauce.

With this classic dish, the basic rule to remember is no tannins and lots of fruit for contrast to the tart, salty flavors of the Adobo. Here is what comes to mind.

Filipino tradition dictates a San Miguel or a sweet, cold fruit drink sometimes made with vinegar. These are quite popular in this tropical climate. The popular Lambanog is an alcoholic beverage described as coconut wine distilled from the sap of the unopened coconut flower.

Drinks from tropical fruits, mangoes, bananas, limes, coconuts and oranges would also be refreshing. Spanish Sangria is a popular drink. It’s a red wine made with a dollop of simple syrup and lots of fresh tropical fruit floating on top for a thirst quenching drink to pair with the vinegary, salty, spicy Adobo.

Here in the northwest, there are many beautiful fruit forward wines. Let’s explore some of the more exotic wines available here.

First though, my go to book on pairing, What to Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, suggests that the best wine with a soy-sauced dish is Gewürztraminer followed by fruity wines and then sparkling wines.

The Kitsap Wine Festival introduced me to a few new wineries that make beautiful Gewürztraminers. First was Naches Heights Vineyards. This Gewürztraminer with its lovely fragrance of lychee fruit and apricot, tangerine and green apple flavors has an off dry style that makes this a superb match with both the Adobo and Lumpia.

Masquerade Wines 2011 Columbia Valley Gewürztraminer has that typical floral, spicy Gewürztraminer fragrance and tropical fruit flavors in a slightly sweeter rendition of the grape, a nice contrast to the pepper and soy sauce.

For red wine, I highly recommend the Baco Noir grape. This is a hybrid that is prevalent in both Michigan and British Columbia. Being half American and half vinifera grape, it can survive those blustery cold climates. Stina’s Cellars in Lakewood Washington has a 2010 Baco Noir that is all blueberry, plum and pepper with a smooth and supple mouth-feel. Highly recommended.

Two Mountain Winery doesn’t make a Baco Noir but does make a wine with similar smooth and supple characteristics. Lemberger is a relatively obscure European vinifera grape known as Blaufränkisch, the blue French grape. Their Lemberger from Rattlesnake Hills with flavors of boysenberry, fig and white pepper would be another perfect wine with the Adobo if only it were available! Be on the lookout for their soon to be released 2012.

Kiona was the first winery in the United States to produce Lemberger way back in 1980. Their Lemberger is a consistent award-winner. It’s bright black fruit and pepper flavors and smooth medium-bodied texture would pair very well with the Adobo.

But enough about wine, let’s talk about beer. As you well know, there are many, many beer styles and with this vinegary, black pepper, soy sauced dish, the same guiding principle: No over the top bitterness.

With beer, bitterness comes from compounds in the hops. International Bittering Units scale (IBUs) measures how much bitterness is absorbed during brewing. And, of course, the hundreds of different hops have differing levels of bitterness.

For local beers, try SilverCity’s Clear Creek Pale Ale. It’s a blend of three lightly toasted malts that add a mild caramel character to the flavors. This beer has mild Centennial and Amarillo hops and then a bit of time in the conditioning tank so it is mild and refreshing.

Poulsbo’s Sound Brewery’s Koperen Ketel Belgian Style Pale Ale has 18 IBUs, relatively low on the IBU scale. For instance their Reluctant IPA is an American Style IPA at 52 IBUs. This copper colored ale has an herbal, fruity aroma and a clean dry finish.

And then there is the idiosyncratic Slippery Pig Brewery also in Poulsbo. Their Curly Tail Stinging Nettle Pale is flavored with Cascade hops and Stinging Nettles so the resulting IBUs are quite low. I think it would be a great match for the Adobo.

 

 

OysterFest Celebrates 33 Years

Here’s an opportunity to find the best wine or beer to pair with oysters. Oysters, made your favorite way, a couple dozen Washington Wineries and a boatload of microbreweries await you in Shelton this weekend at the Port of Shelton Fairgrounds.

It’s the 33rd annual OysterFest hosted by the Shelton Skookum Rotary Club Foundation. OysterFest, home to the West Coast Oyster Shucking Championships, draws thousands for Washington State’s official seafood festival. This culinary adventure supports local non-profit service clubs and organizations, as well as funding scholarships and local community improvement projects.

The festival features wineries, breweries, music, hands-on water quality exhibits, a cook-off and a giant food pavilion with nearly 100 unique items on the menu. Oysters are barbequed, on the half shell, in stew, frittered, sandwiched and more. You’re sure to find a favorite or two.

The Festival is today from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm. And Sunday from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. Tickets are ten bucks for adults, five for the kiddies. The main Fairgrounds parking lot will fill up and close any time from 11:00 am Saturday until 2:00 pm Saturday. But no worries, there are four other lots with shuttle service to the fairgrounds.

The Wineries:

Chandler Reach Vineyards
Convergence Zone Cellars
Ginkgo Forest Winery
Hoodsport Winery
Horizon’s Edge Winery
Hyatt Vineyards
Madsen Family Cellars
Maison de Padgett Winery
Marchetti Wines
Mosquito Fleet Winery
Northwest Mountain Winery
Olympic Cellars
Scatter Creek Winery
Stina’s Cellars
Stottle Winery
Tanjuli Winery
Walter Dacon Wines
Westport Winery
Wilridge Winery

The Breweries:
Alaskan Brewery
American Brewery
Blue Moon
Deschutes Brewery
Elysian
Firestone Brewery
Full Sail Brewery
Goose Island Brewery
Kona Brewery
Langunitas Brewery
Mack & Jack Brewery
Narrows Brewery
New Belgium Brewery
Ninkasi Brewery
Red Hook Brewery
Samuel Adams Brewery
Seattle Cider
Shock Top
Square Mile
Stella
Ten Barrel Brewery
Widmer Brewery

Fragrant Stews, Fragrant Wines

Pumpkin is one of the quintessential flavors of fall. It has made its way into many sweet and savory dishes. When in season, the versatile pumpkin turns up in pies, tarts, cakes, muffins, cheese cake and ice cream. Or you could make an unusual supper of soup, stews, ravioli, or lasagna. It’s great pureed or mashed with other root vegetables and can stand up to really fragrant strong herbs like sage.

You can boil it, roast it, bake it, and braise it. You can even ferment it.  Pumpkin beer isn’t a modern day invention. It was used in making beer during the early colonial period because it was more available than malt or barley. The native pumpkin has plenty of fermentable sugars.

There is a pumpkin wine. Three Lakes Winery in Wisconsin makes it. I haven’t tried it but do highly recommend the following pumpkin stew recipes with vinifera grapes that I’m more familiar with.

This wonderful vegetarian stew pairs well with Viognier. At the Harborside Wine Festival this summer, the Chandler Reach 2012 Viognier was one of my favorite finds. Thanks to its aromatic intensity and hint of sweetness, it pairs nicely with this curried pumpkin stew.

Viognier comes from the tiny appellation of Condrieu in the northern Rhone. This temperamental grape is highly sensitive to mildew and low yielding. Well timed harvesting is also a challenge, you don’t want to pick it too early or too late or you will miss out on the beautiful aromas and full flavors.

Curried Pumpkin Stew

3 tablespoons vegetable oil  curried soup
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tomatoes, chopped
2/3 cup water
1 pound pumpkin, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, sliced
1 potato, chopped
1 green banana, chopped

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the curry powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and black pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir until thick.

Add the water, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate all the flavors. Add the pumpkin, carrot, potato, and green banana. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring a couple of times, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Another warm fragrant stew made with a lot of spice is inspired with south of the border flavors. For this hearty stew I would suggest a red grape called Tempranillo. It’s a vinifera grape that originated in the Rioja region of sunny Spain. The Ramon Bilbao Rioja Crianza is a full bodied blackberry and cherry flavored Tempranillo from the Rioja region of Spain. All those luscious fruit flavors and smoky nuance really works well with this dish.

Also from Spain is the Red Diamond Temperamental. Red Diamond is a Washington winery located in Patterson that sources grapes from around the world. They’re good at showcasing the distinct personalities of varietals from their place of origin. This wine has aromas of blackberries and hints of cherry; it’s approachable, easy to drink, and a wonderful companion to this spicy south of the border pumpkin stew.

3 – 6 chipotle chilies, canned or dried  pumpkin stew
3 garlic cloves
5 medium tomatillos, halved
5 roasted plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound lean, boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups sliced Swiss chard
1 tsp salt
4 cups peeled, seeded, fresh pumpkin, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

If using dried chilies, preheat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add chilies and toast, turning frequently until very aromatic, about 30 seconds. Transfer chilies to a small bowl and cover with hot water and rehydrate for about 30 minutes. Toss the garlic and tomatillos in the pan and turn occasionally, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a food processor or blender. Add drained chilies to the tomatillos and puree.

For the tomatoes, broil on a baking sheet until blackened on one side, about 6 minutes. Turn tomatoes over and do the other side, for another 6 minutes. When cool, peel and roughly chop and put in a bowl with the juices.

Heat the oil in the frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork and onions. Cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits about 10 minutes. Add reserved salsa, tomatoes, and 3 to 4 tablespoons water; stir to combine. Add Swiss chard and season with salt.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a large baking dish and spread the pumpkin chunks evenly in the dish. Pour the pork and roasted vegetables over it. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes until the pumpkin is soft.

Remove the foil and raise the temperature to 400 degrees. Continue baking until sauce has reduced slightly and top becomes crusty, about 15 minutes.

Washington Wine Harvest 2014

Washington wine makers are up to their ears in grapes right now.  grapes in a tubWith all those hot summer days we had, some vineyard sites and grape varieties are running ahead of the usual schedule.  Many Washington vineyards began harvesting at the end of August in what is expected to be yet another record-breaking wine grape harvest,

Crop estimates put this year’s wine grapes at more than 230,000 tons, according to the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. Last year, Washington farmers picked 210,000 tons of wine grapes. In 2012, the harvest was 188,000 tons.

What’s turning into the second bumper crop in a row has led to flurries of activities in Washington’s wineries. It’s a logistical scramble for many of the state’s wineries; handling all of this bounty takes preparation.

The reason for this is there are only so many wine holding vessels that can fit into the state’s smaller wineries. In those wineries are the barrels, tanks, fermenters and all the other accoutrements for the winemaker. In order to make room for the harvest, everything is shifted into the next phase. Barrels are emptied into bottles, tanks into barrels and fermenters into tanks.

Once that is accomplished, wineries have room for the next gondola of grapes being harvested and tons of tubs ready for delivery.

Most vineyards are machine harvested. Sturdier red grapes and Riesling tend to work better with machine harvest because the clusters hold together. It takes a crew of two to three people an hour to pick an acre with a harvester. White grapes are usually harvested late at night or early in the mornings when it is still cool and the more resilient red grapes during the day.

Some winemakers prefer hand-picked grapes which is more costly. Using a knife to cut the stem of each cluster, it would take 12 to 18 pickers to harvest an acre of grapes in that hour. But the bulk of Washington’s wine crop is picked by machine because of a shortage of pickers.

As the weather cools, grapes mature more slowly, giving them more “hang time,” this allows winemakers to make room in the fermenters. This works well as long as it doesn’t rain. Depending on when the rains come, harvesting and fermenting will likely continue through the end of October.

You can Catch the Crush in Yakima Valley on October 11th and 12th.  This well-known event celebrates the harvest with wine tastings and releases, grape stomps, crush activities, tours, hors d’oeuvres and live music. Forty-two wineries are each holding harvest parties during the weekend. Premier passes are available online for $30. wineyakimavalley.org

When you go to wine country this time of year, here’s a primer so you understand what the heck they’re talking about.

Crush – a whirlwind season of activity in the wineries at harvest time.

Barrel – made of oak and holds 60 – 100 gallons

Bottle shock – after bottling, the dumb condition of the wine from the filtering and bottling machines.

Botrytis Cinerea – beneficial mold that forms on the skins of ripe grapes that eventually concentrates sugars and flavors.

Brix – a measurement of the sugars; winemakers measure at harvest to determine maturity.

Cap – the “crust” that forms on the top of the fermenting wine.

Cuvaison – juice and skins are fermented longer for color and additional tannins.

Cuvee – a blend of different grapes or different harvests or different vineyards.

Estate Grown – must be within 50 miles of the winery.

Fermenter – great big plastic tubs that hold a lot of crushed grapes that ferment away.

Fining – filters stuff out of the wine before bottling.

Must – freshly pressed juice that has skins, seeds, and stems.

Ph – the acids in a wine. In the life of a grape, it’s very high at the start and lowers as the sugars grow.

Press – a wooden barrel shaped vat with a funnel like bottom where the must is pressed and the juice is then pumped into the fermenters.

Punch down – During fermentation, winemakers will punch down the cap twice a day to give the wine more color and flavor

Sur –lie – Tricky practice of leaving the spent yeast cells in the fermenter. Gives the wine another dimension.

Topping – Oak barrels allow a wine to evaporate, concentrating the flavors. Air, however, is detrimental to wine so barrels are topped up to eliminate the air in a barrel.

Verjus – high acid wine made from unripe grapes, usually used in cooking.

Wine thief – a long tube used to extract wine from the barrels.

A Steely Wine for Scallops

For Ann Vogel’s Sea Scallops with Asparagus and Bacon, a Chardonnay is just the ticket. But not your ordinary everyday Chardonnay. You need a cool climate Chardonnay that has a steely purity and a limestoney, mineral quality that pairs with seafood in a beautiful way. You need a Chablis.

True Chablis is from the northern most vineyards of Burgundy, France. Just two hours from Paris, the appellation is actually much closer to Champagne than Burgundy.

Like most of the vineyards in France, it was the Romans who first planted vines in the area. Later under the guidance of the medieval Cistercian monks, winemaking flourished up and down the banks of the Yonne River, conveniently close to the best means of transport to the thirsty Parisians.

With Chablis, you don’t expect something rich, it’s a different kind of complexity. The effects of terroir are clearly demonstrated in Chablis with its cooler climate and limestone soils that contribute significantly to its singular style of Chardonnay.

Chablis is loaded with raciness and minerality that makes it a perfect pair for seafood. The wines can make your mouth water from the acidity and the mineral flavors, which can range from wet stone to flint. The fruit flavors are typically lean and vary on the citrus side with some green apple.

Unlike its Burgundian cousins, Chablis is usually free of oak. Oak is definitely not used in the Petit Chablis and Chablis, resulting in wines that are very clean and straightforward. Upper classification Chablis may see some oak, but the wines would never be oaky. After all, it’s Chablis, not a Chardonnay.

Chablis vineyards are divided into four classifications. The bottom tier, Petit Chablis, is usually found at higher elevations where the soils are considered less than ideal.

Then there is Chablis, which accounts for about two-thirds of the vineyards, Chablis Premier Cru, scattered throughout the area and Chablis Grand Cru with only seven designated vineyards. Wines in the Chablis appellation may claim the classification on their label held by the vineyard where they were grown.

The key difference within the Chablis tiers lies in the soil. Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis soils contain greater levels of mineral rich clay, as well as significant lime content; the source of the trademark minerality. In contrast, Petit Chablis soils are not as rich in clay, and produce less complex, slightly fruitier wines with a bit of minerality.

Chablis Premier Cru is not really a distinct appellation like the other three classifications, but rather a subdivision of quality from the standard AOC Chablis title. The cost is around $30-$50.

Chablis Grand Cru is more expensive, with Les Clos, the top Grand Cru vineyard, fetching the highest price. Grand Cru wines are produced from just 250 acres planted on southwest facing slopes. Chablis Grand Cru can be cellared for 10 and 15 years for a wonderfully aromatic wine with lots of complexity.

Many of the wines you’ll see on the market now are from the 2011 and 2012 vintages with a couple of Grand Cru 2009s. Wines from 2009 have good ripeness along with ample acidity. 2011 was more variable. And 2012 and 2013 produced very small crops. After two short years in a row, supplies are a bit tight.

As you can guess, anything with a Premier Cru or Grand Cru on the label are more expensive, but basic Chablis can represent a good value, considering its quality. Most will be in the $20-$30 range. A few producers that have good availability are William Fevre, Jean-Marc Brocard, Domaine Chenevieres and Drouhin.

Tomatoes and Barbera

Tomatoes are such a versatile fruit of the vine. It’s the tomatoes high acidity that really sets it apart from the rest of the vegetable crops. With tomatoes, I like reds with equal parts acidity, fruit and tannins. Those favored reds to have with tomatoes all have their roots in Italy, Barbera, Chianti and Sangiovese.  barbera
Chianti is a blended wine with a preponderance of Sangiovese. Sangiovese is Italy’s most widely planted grape with vineyards in Tuscany being the most heavily planted to the grape. There you can drink Chianti, Brunello, Vino Nobile and Super Tuscans, all made with Sangiovese.
But with tomatoes, I reach more towards Barbera. Second only to Sangiovese in production and versatility, it’s naturally high in acidity so it does very well in warmer climates, like Italy, California and Eastern Washington.
Barbera reaches its zenith in the Piedmont region where you can find labels stating Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba. It also does best on the well-drained, limestone slopes of Asti and Alba in northwestern Italy.
Even the warmer sites in Eastern Washington, Sonoma Valley and the Sierra Foothills produce some fantastic Barberas. This acidity complements the fruit flavors and the wines are ripe, bright and tangy, a perfect match for Ann Vogel’s Tomato Tarte Tatin.
Barbera is a dark-skinned variety found in several Italian wine regions, including its native Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Puglia, Campania, Sicily and Sardinia. Barbera can be both on its own or blended, usually with that other Piedmonte grape, Nebbiolo.
Like so many Italian grape varieties, Barbera has an interesting history. It was recorded in the cathedral of Casale Monferrato archives where leased vineyards were planted to Barbera between 1246 and 1277. Barbera was well regarded for its “rustic yet generous” character.
It was a favorite among army officers, who considered the wine a “sincere companion” and helped them maintain their courage in battle. Also cited in a Società Agraria di Torino document in 1798, there you can read the first definitive list of Piedmont’s grape varieties.
This varietal’s bright and cooperative nature has made it equally popular in California. Barbera is the sixth most planted red grape in California, but is rarely bottled alone. Loved for its color and acidity, Barbera is usually blended to tame other varietals into better balance.
So where to start with Barbera? I would highly recommend Italy’s La Spinetta Barbera d’Alba or d’Asti, Prunotto Barbera d’Asti Pomorosso, Sandrone Barbera d’Alba, Seghesio Barbera d’Alba, Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne or d’Asti, or Voerzio Barbera d’Alba.
Early California planters and producers of Barbera were Martini, Seghesio, and Sebastiani. Sebastiani was winning awards for his Barbera in the 1930s.
But in this century, I’d choose a Montevina Amador Barbera, Sobon Estate Amador Barbera, Seghesio Alexander Valley Barbera, Shenandoah Sierra Foothills Reserve Barbera or Renwood Amador County Barbera.
Cavu Cellars Barbera Rose, Facelli, Maryhill Winery, Stomani Cellars, and Wind Rose Cellars all produce Barberas from Washington grown grapes.
Bon Apetito!

Wining and Dining this Weekend

This weekend head on down to the 25th Annual Blackberry Festivalbbfest_logo held on the Louis Mentor Boardwalk on Saturday, August 30th through Monday, September 1, 2014. The festival opens at 10:00 a.m. each day with lively music, lots of food vendors and fun for the whole family.

The festival’s blackberry wine is also available. It’s made, as in past years, by Pasek Cellars of Mount Vernon Washington. A perfectly balanced wine, not too sweet and not too dry, it’s just right.

The Bainbridge Island Winery Alliance wineries are open for tours and tasting this weekend from 12:00 – 5:00 p.m. It’s billed as a pre-harvest party even though Mother Nature brought on an early harvest this year. These cozy wineries offer the opportunity to meet and talk with the winemakers, taste their wines, some offer music to enjoy their wines amid lush surroundings.

Yes, the 2014 harvest has begun! And that means Catch the Crush is not far away. The smells, colors and hustle and bustle make this one of the more exciting times of the year to visit Yakima Valley.

You can celebrate the harvest with the Yakima Valley wineries at the annual Catch the Crush event, October 11th and 12th. Each winery offers its own celebratory events, including grape stomps, harvest and crush activities, tours, free-run juice, hors d’oeuvres, live music and wine tasting, of course.

Eleven at Eleven

It’s a special weekend for Eleven Winery, they turn 11 and there are several ways to help them celebrate!

The garagiste and volunteers during crush.

Matt Albee, a true garagiste,  first started the Bainbridge Island winery in 2003 in the garage. This humble beginning has blossomed into the same garage winery but with lots more equipment, and two tasting rooms, one on Bainbridge and one in Poulsbo.

This weekend’s celebrations include  a special 11th Anniversary commemorative wine glass for $5, bottle discounts on their 2011 vintage wines, and reserve tastings for $11.

This is also your last chance to visit the Poulsbo Tasting Room during the Great Poulsbo Sidewalk Sale on August 29th and 30th. After several years in Poulsbo, Albee has decided to refocus efforts on the winery location. There will be huge discounts on wine merchandise but not the wine.

With this closing, the winery hours and events will be expanded. The winery is located off 305 at 7671 NE Day Road. The winery tasting room will be open every Saturday and Sunday from 12-5 p.m. and other fun wine occasions for club members.

You can also order off their website but it won’t be near as much fun as being there!