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.

What Makes a Great Wine?

Terrior. A thoroughly French concept that envelopes soil, topography, sunlight,

Ggrich Hills
Ggrich Hills vines

rainfall, diurnal temperature variations and hydrology. The holistic combination of these components gives wines their unique sense of place. In the Old World.

In the New World, we are more inclined toward grape varieties than geography. But not all grape varieties. There are around 1000 vinifera grape varieties. The more obscure have magical names like, Falanghina, Assyrtiko, Touriga Francesca, Ortega, Norton, Petit Mansang, Muscat Frontignan, and Uva Rara.

The sciences of land, water, air as it relates to plants are important factors to consider when you find that wine you love. Even more important than vintage, in my opinion.

While vintage does make a difference if you’re intending to age a wine, most wines are consumed within a year of being purchased. Fluctuations from vintage to vintage are not as dramatic as it had been in the past. Especially in Washington State.

Modern technology gives the viticulturalist the advantage despite what Mother Nature may throw their way.  The biggest risk is a freeze that kills the vines. Something that has happened in 2006 and in 2016. Recovery is slow and yields are low.

Another recent difficult vintage was 2011 because it was a particularly wet year at the wrong time – harvest. Rain at harvest will plump up the grapes with water and the resulting wine will not be as concentrated as in other, warmer years.

Another small menace for vineyards in a low lying pocket is a spring frost that can interrupt bud break and reduce the crop size. Today, this condition is carefully monitored with sensors in the vineyards talking to computers in the lab. This allows immediate action with water and/or smudge pots so that Mother Nature rarely gets away with very many bunches.

Temperature and diurnal swings are another big factor. Some vinifera grapes like it hot. This is ok if there are the accompanied cool evenings and/or morning fog that are responsible for those balancing acids.

Heat seeking grapes soak up all that warmth from the sun and the soil and that produces fruit sugars. Warm to hot climate grapes such as Cabernet, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Viognier, and Zinfandel are the heat lovers with lots of fruit sugars.

Eastern Washington, the vast vineyards of California’s valleys, France’s Rhone and Provence regions, Italy and Sunny Spain are examples of warm areas that these grapes perform well in. However, these regions have another important factor; the nighttime temperatures and cool morning fog allow the acidity in the grapes to flourish.

Acidity is that refreshing taste that balances the sweetness of a wine.  Acidity is also responsible for preserving color, keeping those red wines red and white wines yellow. There are several types of acidity, all playing their key function.  The most significant are the tartaric and malic acids, with a minor role by citric acid.

Acidity, as any home canner knows, also plays an essential role in preventing bacteria from forming. One exception to this rule is lactic bacteria. Most wineries will inoculate their wines with this bacterium to change the sharper malic acids to rounder lactic acids. This gives a wine, both red and white, a fuller, creamier mouthfeel and is responsible for the buttery flavors in a Chardonnay.  As always, balance is needed otherwise without the refreshing malic acids; your wine will be flabby.

One other significant factor regarding acidity. It is essential for wine and food pairing that the acidity be present to contrast, compliment and cut the fatty proteins in foods like cheese, meats and fish. Just try a bite of seafood without a squeeze of lemon and you’ll know what I mean.

Cool climate grapes are slower in the production of sugars, develop acids more readily and mature at a more leisurely pace. Cool regions have the morning fog hangs over the vineyards; cool evenings and north facing sites that shield the grapes from the hot sun.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, home of David Lett aka Papa Pinot, is renowned for their Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling. All cool climate grapes. Named for the river that flows through it, the Willamette Valley has over 200 wineries and 15,000 acres of vineyards growing grapes in the valley that has those fog covered mornings.  Most of this foggy region is about 100 feet above sea level with the highest point in the sub-AVA of Chehalem Mountains, around 1,633 feet above sea level.

France’s cooler Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne and Alsace regions are also produce very fine wines from their more northerly vineyards with much the same grapes listed above. Even further north are the chilly vineyards of Germany, growing mostly Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau and Dornfelder and a smattering of Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) here and there.

This weekend, there is a wine tour much closer to home in the Puget Sound American Viticultural Area, a uniquely sunny area surrounded by a rain forest, farmlands in the valleys and Puget Sound.

The Olympic Peninsula Wineries are hosting their annual Wine, Cider & Chocolate Tour, February 18th, 19th, and 20th from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Enjoy the scenic peninsula towns of Port Angeles, Sequim, Port Townsend, Chimacum, and Nordland (Marrowstone Island) and the wineries and cideries that produce some award winning products.

Tickets will get you to a special commemorative wine glass, complimentary wine tasting and chocolate samples at Alpenfire Cider, Camaraderie Cellars, Eaglemount Wine & Cider, FairWinds Winery, Finnriver Farm & Cidery, Harbinger Winery, Marrowstone Vineyards, Olympic Cellars, and Wind Rose Cellars.

Online tickets are $40, and $45 day of at participating wineries. Visit www.olympicpeninsulawineries.org for further information. Participants who have their ticket stamped at all 9 of our wineries will be entered into a drawing for an elegant wine themed gift basket.

Hope to see you in our own unique terroir this weekend!

February for Flowers, Wine and Chocolate

Did you know that $1.9 billion is spent on flowers for Valentine’s Day? Another mind blowing fact is the average American consumes more than 10 pounds of chocolate and 2.8 gallons of wine annually. And for those of us doing our part in this endeavor, February offers many events that even combine wine and chocolate.

However, February does start off in a different direction with one colossal beer event. It’s That Sunday, when millions watch the big game while drinking large quantities of an American lager. But if you’re living an alternative high life, perhaps a six pack of Sam Adams, Deschutes, Lagunitas, New Belgium or Sierra Nevada will fill the bill.

In fact, more than 325 million gallons of beer will be consumed that day. It’s also a day when chips, wings, guacamole, chili, pizza and burgers make it the second biggest spread laid out just behind Thanksgiving. Amazing.

Nine days after the Super Bowl, is Valentine’s Day, so if you’re inclined more to craft beer, pair a dark chocolate with a Belgian dubbel, milk stout or Lambic. They cozy up together right nice.

Romance and Valentine’s Day just naturally go together like spaghetti and meatballs. There are a number of events leading up to That big day.

Hopefully, you’ve made plans for dinner whether reservations or a romantic dinner at home – complete with a beautiful bottle of wine – or beer – and a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

Local events leading up to Valentine’s Day include Burrata Bistro’s February Wine Social on Monday, February 6th at 5:00pm.  Six wonderful Italian wines will be opened and available to sip, savor and purchase. An Acinum Prosecco Extra Dry, Pallavicini Frascati, Colosi Nero D’Avola, Cantele Salice Salentino Reserva 2012, Pecchenino San Luigi Dolcetto 2015 and Argiano Non Confunditur Rosso 2014.  The Wine Social is $32 per person. For more info: 360.930.8446

The JW Restaurant in Gig Harbor kicks things off on Wednesday, February 8th with the highly acclaimed Napa winery, Chappellet. Chappellet first crafted wine in 1967 from their Pritchard Hill Vineyards. Pritchard Hill is a 600 acre estate located east of Rutherford about 1,400 feet above Napa Valley. Through the years, some famous winemakers such as Philip Togni, Tony Soter and Cathy Corison have fashioned award winning Chappellet wines.

This memorable evening with Amy and Dominic Chappellet begins at 6pm with Seared Sea Scallops alongside the 2014 Chardonnay; followed by a Filet with Wild Mushroom Bordelaise and the 2012 Merlot; the 2014 Mountain Cuvee is paired Lamb Lollipops drizzled with Blackberry Demi-Glace made with the Mountain Cuvee and for dessert, you’ll savor the Dark Chocolate Trio with the 2014 Signature Cabernet. Seating is limited. For reservations, (253)858-3529

The weekend of February 11 and 12th, all seven Bainbridge Island Wineries are opened for Wine on the Rock – Wine and Chocolate. Each will be pouring their wines paired with wonderful chocolates. A weekend pass is $40 with an option to be shuttled to the wineries for an extra $20 (good for both days). Sit back, relax, enjoy some wonderful wines and leave the driving to a professional. What could be lovelier than that?

The Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island has partnered with the Bainbridge Island Lodging Association to offer a special overnight package which includes a bottle of local wine, invite to a private winemaker’s event February 10th, free shuttle passes and more.  Rooms can be reserved at www.bainbridgelodging.com Sweet!

Recently, Eleven Winery’s 2014 Syrah from Elephant Mountain Vineyard took Double Gold and 2014 Malbec took Silver at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Other medal winning wines can be tasted at Eagle Harbor, Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Fletcher Bay, Rolling Bay and Perennial Vineyards.

Interestingly after Valentine’s Day is National Drink Wine Day on February 18th – as if we needed another reason. We celebrate wine all year long, right? Wine does have many benefits.  Moderate wine drinkers have more friends, lower risks of liver disease, type II diabetes, certain kinds of cancers, heart attack and stroke.  The resveratrol in red wine can reduce the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good (HDL). Not bad for a little glass of pleasure.

Since February 18th is also National Crab-Stuffed Flounder Day, may we suggest a crisp, citrusy white wine to pair the two celebrations together? Viognier, Albariño or Grenache Blanc could be your new grape adventure.

Wine Yakima Valley is inviting wine and chocolate enthusiasts to its annual Red Wine & Chocolate event weekend, February 18 – 20th. As the oldest wine growing region in Washington State, wineries from Yakima, Zillah, Prosser and Red Mountain will be offering a weekend of divine decadence with a Premier Pass, the best way to experience the depth of the Yakima Valley.

By purchasing a Premier Pass, holders will be able to experience a variety of specialty food pairings, library tastings, and tours. Premier Passes are available for $35 at the door at select wineries during the event weekend.

That about takes care of February wine events. Looking ahead to March, which is Washington Wine Month, you’ll want to gear up for the 20th annual Taste Washington.

You and your wine buddies can explore each of Washington’s 14 AVAs, their wineries and vineyards, taste culinary treats from great restaurants and meet some hardworking winemakers and farmers – all during Taste Washington’s 20th Anniversary, March 23-26th.

For a complete Taste Washington experience, you’ll need four full days to try everything this region has to offer – it’s a mini wine vacation! Tickets are on sale now.  TasteWashington.org

For reduced ticket prices to the Grand Tasting, volunteer to set up or clean up. Details here:  http://tastewashington.org/volunteers-2017

 

Discover the Endless Ways to Taste Washington

Washington is overflowing with incredible wine! You and your best friends can explore each AVA’s wineries, taste culinary treats from great restaurants and meet some hardworking winemakers and farmers – all during Taste Washington’s 20th Anniversary, March 23-26.

For a complete Taste Washington experience, you’ll need four full days to try everything this region has to offer – a mini wine vacation! Tickets are on sale now.  http://tastewashington.org

For reduced ticket prices to the Grand Tasting, volunteer to set up or clean up. Details here:  http://tastewashington.org/volunteers-2017/

 

 

 

Bainbridge Island Wine & Chocolate

Grab your sweetheart (or friend) and visit all seven Bainbridge Island wineries to celebrate Valentine’s Day with wine and chocolate.

Wine on the Rock: Wine and Chocolate will be an unforgettable Valentine’s wine tasting event. Saturday, February 11 and Sunday, February 12, 12-5pm.

The event will include a shuttle option with quicker drop off times between each winery.   $40 ticket purchase ($60 with shuttle) is good for both days (one visit at each winery) and includes:

  • Special event wine glass
  • Wine tasting at each of the seven wineries or tasting rooms
  • Local chocolates to complement the wine tasting
  • 6 bottle wine tote

The Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island has partnered with the Bainbridge Island Lodging Association to offer a special overnight package which includes a bottle of local wine, invite to a private winemaker’s event February 10th, free shuttle passes and more.  Rooms can be reserved at www.bainbridgelodging.com

Happy New Year! Again!

It’s almost lunar New Year, which finds revelers around the world ushering in the Year of the Rooster.  And with any cultural celebration of this kind, you will need friends and family, food and wine.

My favorite rooster is pictured on a bottle of Chianti Classico, the gallo nero or black rooster. The black rooster on that bottle of Chianti Classico is one of the most widely recognized emblems of a quality wine. But that wasn’t always the case.

Back a century or two, winemaking in Chianti was pretty much a free for all.  Canaiolo was the main grape variety with lesser amounts of Sangiovese, Mammolo and Marzimino in a supporting role.  Somewhere along the way, Malvasia and Trebbiano, both white grapes, were added to the mix to soften the wine and make it more drinkable.

The region really didn’t have any guidelines for the “recipe,” so in the early 1900s, the government stepped in to help by classifying the area to decrease the huge amounts of faux Chianti produced.

They did this by acknowledging Chianti as both a wine region and a “recipe”.  Then as all governments are wont to do, they passed many laws requiring winemakers to meet certain criteria if they want to put the name Chianti, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata  e Garantita (DOCG) on the label.

In 1996, another major regulation modification brought about colossal change to the grape varieties permitted. The minimum percentage of Sangiovese increased from 75% to 80% and could be as much as 100%.  In addition, the other twenty percent could be other native red grapes, such as Canaiolo, Mammolo, Colorino or even non-native varieties, such as Cabernet, Syrah or Merlot.  As of 2006, white grapes are no longer permitted in a Chianti Classico.

Those stringent regulations included minimum alcohol levels, any new vineyard may only be used after its fourth year, yields must be less than 3.34 tons per acre, production is limited to 6.6 pounds per vine , seven months minimum barrel aging, for Riservas, 24 months minimum maturation with at least three months bottle aging and the most interesting and perhaps comforting, before bottling, the wine has to pass a chemical exam and approval by a tasting panel. Makes one kind of feel like royalty.

A few years ago, the Consorzio Gallo Nero organized the Chianti Classico 2000 Project to modernize viticulture and improve quality. This was sorely needed because during the 20th century, clones of Sangiovese, of which there are a boatload, were planted more for quantity than quality.  When replanting, many growers planted whatever was available not taking into account the extreme soil and climatic differences around the region.

The project took 16 years to complete, 16 experimental vineyards, five research cellars; ten meteorological stations installed to track micro- and macro-climate patterns.

Hundreds of clones were identified. A few Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino clones were chosen because they were less susceptible common viral diseases, had smaller berries, thicker skins, and more open bunches.

Those clones are now producing some delicious Chianti Classicos. Look for the 2013 vintage to accompany your next plate of pasta. Or Sausage Pizza, or Spaghetti and Meatballs, or Rigatoni with Bolognese Sauce, or Wild Mushroom Risotto or Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce.

Chianti Classico refers to the oldest area, the classic region. It’s located between Florence and Siena and is the hub of the Chianti region within the larger Tuscan region.

Like spokes surrounding the hub, are seven other Chianti zones, each with its own particular soil, climate, and regulations. They are Colli Aretini, Colli Forentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina. On their labels are their Chianti names such as Chianti Colli Senesi (the hills of Siena) or Chianti Colli Forentini (the hills of Florence).

But enough of Italy, let’s talk about Washington State. There were about 400 tons of Sangiovese harvested in 2004. It’s a prolific but difficult vine, likened to Pinot Noir.  Through the years planting increased and by 2015 tonnage was up to 1, 300.

It’s planted in some of the best vineyards in the Wahluke AVA, Red Mountain AVA and scattered around the Columbia Valley AVA.

Cavatappi’s with its red wine stained label, to the best of my recollection has been around the longest, some 30 years. Leonetti, Walla Walla Vintners, Five Star, Tagaris, and Kiona have also been producing for some time with at least 75% being Sangiovese and perhaps a touch of Cabernet in there as is done with the Super Tuscans.
Smaller, newer wineries fermenting Sangiovese in no particular order are Sequim’s Wind Rose Cellars, Vino la Monarcha from Victor Palencia who also fashions Jones of Washington’s Sangiovese, Latah Creek out of Spokane, Brian Carter’s has a little Cab and Syrah added to his Sangiovese, Helix by Reininger, Maryhill Winery along the Columbia River sources Sangiovese from Elephant Mountain Vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, and Walla Walla’s Five Star Quinque Astrum, which is Italian for five star.
The Rosé of Sangiovese by Barnard Griffin has won gold numerous times and Waterbrook makes a pretty rose colored tasty one too.

Interesting note, the origin of the word Sangiovese is Latin for the blood of Jove. Jove or Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods, is best remembered for the exclamation of “By Jove! I think I‘ve got it!”

Annual Top Wine Lists

This is the time of year when wine journalists put together lists of “top” wines of the past year. To quote a few:

  • We rated no less than 20 perfect wines after tasting more than 10,000 bottles …
  • Perhaps this column should more accurately be titled the twelve most enjoyable wines of 2016…
  • Here’s our definitive 2016 list of the top 50 bottles …
  • As the year winds down, we can’t help but reflect on our favorite wines of 2016 …
  • After tasting nearly 4,000 bottles in the past 12 months, our wine critic pays tribute …

It’s a tradition and, unfortunately, most wines aren’t available. Unless the wine critic is familiar to you, use their ratings as a guideline. Know and trust your own palate.

Top wines from small production wineries rarely make it to the grocery store shelves. They just don’t make enough product to keep a shelf presence year round. So, traveling to Woodinville, Eastern Washington, Willamette Valley or California may be an option.

For unavailable wines, put them on your watch list and see what the next vintage brings. Lists of high scoring wines can be instructional about good vintages, cool climates and emerging regions.

One last thought when perusing annual wine lists. If a critic tastes 10,000 wines a year, that’s an average of 27 bottles per day. That critic needs help, so it may be a “collective palate” judging that $45 bottle of wine. And that collective palate, made up of several tasters, could change over the year.

And now at last, my 2016 list …

It’s a list heavy with sunny Spain’s top grape varieties, Garnacha and Tempranillo. Spanish wines are perfect for great wines at a small price. Even Gran Riserva Riojas are only about $40.

Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2014 is made from old vines; it’s my unfailing favorite. This purple red Grenache from the Campo de Borja region has a gorgeous aroma and flavors of raspberries and spice. It’s imported by consultant Jorge Ordonez who seeks out old vines and well made Spanish wines.

Solnia Tempranillo 2015 is crafted in the land of Don Quixote, La Mancha. The old vine Tempranillo grapes are hand harvested. From the deep color of the wine, you can tell it went through a long ferment and maceration. Aged for six months to give it further complexity, the wine is balanced and very drinkable at $10. Also imported by Jorge Ordonez.

From the Toro region, Enebral Tinta de Toro 2009 is made by the Well Oiled Wine Company.  Tinta de Toro is a clone of Tempranillo. Enebral’s vineyards are old and yield very low production. Also harvested by hand, the wine sees French oak for 11 months, then matured in bottle for six months before release. You can tell Toro is a warm region with an alcohol content of 14.5% and you’ll be amazed at the color and balance of this wine – for only $12.

Tinto Pesquera Crianza Ribera del Duero 1999 is another all-time favorite andtinto pesquera one I had been hoarding for some time. Crianza is a term used to describe the style of Spanish wine. It’s an aging regimen and describes the youngest category of a wine that has been matured in wood.  A crianza may not be sold until its third year from harvest and spends a minimum of six months in barrique.

Gotin del Risc Mencia 2012 hails from the Bierzio region. Mencia is a red grape variety widely grown in Northwest Spain. It’s a very fragrant grape with glass staining capabilities. It’s rich but not overpowering. Think paella partner for $15.

Atlas Peak Renegade 2013 is amazing. Atlas Peak is also an American Viticultural Area located within the Napa Valley AVA. It’s one of the higher elevations in Napa. The westward orientation also extends the amount of direct sunlight to ripen grape sugars. The soil is volcanic and very porous which means cool evenings for perfect pH. The 2013 Renegade is composed of 93% Syrah, 4% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. This wine is loaded with aromas of dark berries, violets, and tobacco leaf. Aged for 22 months in French and American oak barrels, the flavors are lush with dark fruits, leather and spice.

The Stoller Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 is one of the best Oregon Pinots and reasonably priced. From the best vineyard blocks and French barrels (30% new) in the cellar, it’s aged ten months and then blended prior to bottling. What comes out of the bottle is an marvelous balance of cherries and baking spices with a long, long finish.

Bill Stoller worked on the family farm as a child but as an adult he knew that the rocky terrain that broke discs and plows when tilled, the southern-sloped hills that made growing wheat difficult and the low-yielding Jory soils were all the ingredients of a successful vineyard. Today, the family vineyards are planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Pinot Blanc.

Intrinsic Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 made two publications’ Top 100 lists. This is the first release from this winery. Part of the wine was aged for a remarkable nine months on the skins, another part in stainless steel and the rest in neutral oak. The label claims, “It dazzles with brooding aromas of herbs and black cherry. The flavors are ripe and balanced with smooth tannins and a long finish.” Dazzles and brooding aside, I’m inclined to agree, found it reasonably priced and still available.

Another gem from the cellar was the Long Shadows Pedestal Columbia Valley Merlot 2004. Long Shadows collaborates with highly regarded winemakers around the world. They use Washington grapes to make wine like they do back home. It’s fascinating to taste a Washington wine next to another country’s wine.

For this wine it’s Michel Rolland, owner of Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol and consultant to many others. Let me just name drop here – L’Angelus, Clinet, Smith Haut Lafitte, Pavie and Troplong Mondot in Bordeaux; Simi, Newton, Merryvale and Harlan in California. He has even consulted at Ornellaia in Tuscany and Casa Lapostolle in Chile. Pedestal has pedigree.

Bollinger RD (recently disgorged) 1985 was a pretty amazing bottle. Golden, aromatic and full-bodied, it didn’t have a lot of bubbles but I fully expected it to not be sparkling. I love Madame Bollinger, who would make her daily vineyard inspections in the 1950s by bicycle wearing a dress, a flower in her hair and her pearls.

She once quipped of her Champagne, “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”  cork wreath

Cheers and All the Best in this New Year!

Wines Under Pressure

Much like a bottle of bubbly, the holiday season contains a lot of pressure.bolly

However, sparkling wine has the kind of pressure I can live with! The result of a process that Dom Perignon spent years working on, bubbles are created by the yeast cozying up to the sugars in a closed environment. After this second fermentation, carbon dioxide is dissolved in the wine and held under pressure until the cork is popped. The wine is converted from still to sparkling and the occasion is transformed from ordinary to special.

Almost all sparkling wines have one thing in common. They go through two fermentations, one to make the alcohol and one to make the bubbles. The significant difference between the two fermentations is the first allows the gas to escape which produces the alcohol and the other traps the gases in the bottle and Voila! tiny bubbles!

Sparkling wines vary significantly. They can be white, pink or red. They can be bone dry (brut), sort of dry (extra brut), off dry (demi sec, semi secco) or sweet (doux or dolce). It can have varying degrees of alcohol (5.5% to 13%). The size and persistency of the bubbles and the foam differ significantly too.

The most famous sparkling wine comes from a region in northeast France called Champagne. Champagne produces about a tenth of the world’s sparkling wines. It’s the gold standard for sparkling wines.

According to the rules, Champagne must be made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. With the addition of a little yeast and a little sugar, the second fermentation occurs in the bottle with a crown cap to trap the gases. After remuage, where the dead yeast cells are shaken down into the neck of the bottle that are stored neck down in racks, the plugs of dead yeast cells are quickly expelled in a process called dégorgement. Disgorging involves little more than removing the crown cap and watching the plug fly, propelled by the pressure in the bottle.

The final steps are to top up with wine and a teaspoon to a quarter cup of simple syrup called dosage. The amount of sugar in the dosage determines whether the wine is brut, extra dry, demi sec or doux. The cork, bale and foil are put in place, the label pasted on and it is boxed for shipment.

Other regions in the world also make Champagne-like wines. California is an outpost for Champagne firms who have run out of space in Champagne. You may have seen or sipped Roederer Estate (Roederer), Chandon (Moet & Chandon), Domaine Carneros (Taittinger), Maison Duetz (Duetz), Piper Sonoma (Piper Heidsieck) and/or Mumm Napa (Mumm).

The presence of these French Champagne houses certainly sets a high standard, however, there are challenges. Champagne is a cooler region than many of the California AVAs.  Carneros and Anderson Valley tend to be cooler than say, Napa or the San Joaquin Valley. The French have adapted their methods to produce wonderful sparkling wines that are a quarter of the price of their French cousins.

The trick is to be cool like some parts of Oregon or harvest the grapes earlier than grapes used for a still wine. Oregon’s premier producer is Argyle winery in Dundee. And Soter Vineyards. Argyle has been growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since 1987 and Soter started in California in the 1990s before moving to Carlton, Oregon. Both make wonderful Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rosé.

Washington has some great premium sparkling wines even without the presence of a “Champagne outpost”. One of my favorites is Treveri made by a couple who have been on the Washington wine scene since the early 80s.

Juergen Grieb was born and raised in Trier, Germany. He perfected his winemaking skills in the Ruwer Valley. After moving to the United States, he made wine for Langguth Winery in the early 80s.

The Juergen and Julie Grieb opened the doors to Treveri in 2010.  All their wines sparkle and are made from traditional French and German grape varietals. The grapes are picked early at around 19 brix, which is fairly typical when making a sparkling wine in a warmer region, any higher will result in too high an alcohol content with two fermentations.

They make a Blanc de Noir, Blanc de Blanc, a Rosé which is aged 24 months, and a Gewurztraminer which has extended tirage. It’s disgorged on demand to keep the product fresh. Like many of the Australian “Black Bubbles” Treveri Cellars’ Syrah is a deep red color from the Syrah.

They have a Bubble Club too. Members get 2 bubblies 3 times a year and complimentary glass of sparkling wine during release parties. This would be a perfect gift for that sparkling wine lover.

Other Washington sparklers include Domaine Michelle and Mountain Dome out of Spokane which produces sparkling wines in the “Méthode Champenoise” or the traditional method. Mountain Dome is a family operation in a geodesic dome in the shadow of Mount Spokane. They’ve been making bubbles since 1984.

Other regions to explore are Burgundy, Alsace, Spanish cavas, Prosecco from Italy, New York’s Finger Lakes and don’t forget those black bubbles from Australia.
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Share a little sparkle with your family and friends this holiday season! Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!