Tasting Our Way Through The Kitsap Wine Festival

News flash: This past weekend was hot.

So hot we wondered how we were going to manage standing in the direct sunlight for three and half hours while trying to make our way through the second annual Kitsap Wine Festival.

We sucked it up, slathered on the sunscreen and set out to see how long we could last. Proudly we were some of the first ones there and of course the last to leave.

The walk-around tasting featured 37 wineries from Oregon and Washington. We were unable to visit every table, but we made it to 17 wineries, and by Mary’s calculations we tasted 37 wines.

In a tasting like this, spitting is necessary and with the sun beating down on us, rehydrating extremely important. And of course sampling the different foods was a must — we needed fuel to give us the energy to power through.

Catering for the event came from the Kitsap Conference Center, (with a fabulous goat cheese and mango crostini), Anthony’s (they had delicious mussels Mediterranean), the Clubhouse at McCormick Woods, Old Town Bistro, Boston’s Pizza and Deli, CJ’s Evergreen Catering and Bella Bella Cupcakes. (Like the wineries, we didn’t make it to every food table).

With 37 wineries, it’s hard to know where to begin. Here’s the list we had to choose from:

Anam Cara Cellars, Argyle Winery, Balboa Winery, Camaraderie Cellars, Chandler Reach, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Chatter Creek, Chinook Wines, Columbia Crest, Columbia Winery, Cooper Mountain Vineyards, Davenport Cellars, DeLille Cellars, DiStefano Winery, Flying Trout Wines, Forgeron Cellars, Glencorrie, Gordon Brothers Family Cellars, Hightower Cellars, Kiona Vineyards and Winery, Kyra Wines, Lange Estate Winery, Mannina Cellars, Masquerade Wine Company, McCrea Cellars, Mercer Estates, Milbrandt Vineyards, Naches Heights Vineyard, Northwest Totem Cellars, Revelry Vintners, Snoqualmie, Soléna Estate, SYZYGY, Thurston Wolfe, Waterbrook Winery and Whidbey Island Winery.

At Mary’s direction, we quickly passed through the bottleneck of people and went straight to the tables closest to the water. (Brynn was happy to get the breeze off Sinclair Inlet). As we made our way around the cul-de-sac of tables, Mary could hardly go more than 2 feet before seeing someone she knew.

Everyone asked: What’s your favorite?

She wouldn’t answer — directing people instead to “Cheers to You” to find out.

After the event we returned to Kitsap Sun world headquarters and talked through each of the wines we tasted. Being the more experienced taster, Mary did a better job of taking notes and asking questions.

When coming up with our “Favorites” list, we decided to look at the wineries we visited. Only a handful stood out that could deliver across the board with every wine they poured. We then chose to single out individual wines that left lasting impressions.

The two top wineries that pleased our palates the most were Kiona Vineyards and Winery and Chinook Wines. We chose these because all the wines presented by both wineries were especially well made.

For Kiona this encompassed a wide range of styles. A 2008 Estate Red Mountain Dry Riesling, a Lemberger, a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon and an Ice Chenin from 35-year-old vines.

Kiona is a family-run winery, founded by John Williams and Jim Holmes (who now runs his Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, also on Red Mountain). The pair were pioneers on Red Mountain in 1975. (The Red Mountain Appellation is situated near Yakima).

Grandson JJ Williams — a sales manager with Kiona — was in Kitsap Saturday, pouring the wines and sharing family history.

Mary shared this phrase, and now we pass it on to you: Old vines make great wines.

That is clearly the case with Kiona. The Estate Riesling comes from the original 1975 vineyard. Extremely versatile, the Riesling is sweet but with enough acidity to balance the sweetness. This wine was showing well, very pleasant with a bit of frizzante that comes from cold fermentation.

Brynn: at the time Mary was asking JJ about the frizzante (a term he used to describe the wine) I stood there intently listening, trying to figure out what the heck they were talking about. I had no luck, so I asked Mary afterward. Here’s her answer:

When making a sparkling wine or Champagne, wine goes through two fermentation processes. The first is when alcohol is created — yeast eats sugar, which makes the alcohol. Gasses created during this process are released. It’s in the second fermentation that the gasses are trapped inside the bottle, resulting in the bubbles.

The next wine we tasted was the 2007 Estate Red Mountain Lemberger. Kiona was the first winery in the United States to produce Lemberger way back in 1980. It’s a little-known grape from Germany (called Blaufränkisch there).

After the Lemberger we tried the 2003 Kiona Estate Cabernet. Yes, we said 2003 Cab. And it’s listed at only $20. This wine was aged 28 months in oak and has a splash of Merlot and Cab Franc. It also spends time in the bottle. This aging is evident on the first sip. The wine has a smooth finish and is delicious — even on a sweltering 90-degree day.

The last Kiona wine we tried was the Ice Chenin. As a dessert wine you want to sip this because of its concentration — it is almost like syrup. The sweetness was balanced perfectly with acidity, making a beautiful combination. The alcohol content was 9.6 percent and the residual sugar 26.8 percent. (In comparison, the Riesling’s alcohol content was 12.5 percent and its residual sugar 2.5 percent).

Chinook Wines

Clay Mackey, with wife Kay Simon, created Chinook Wines in 1983. The two have extensive experience with California and Washington wines. (Read their story here.)

Clay was on-hand Saturday to pour the following: Yakima Valley White Wine, 2009 Cabernet Franc Rose, and 2008 Cabernet Franc.

Cab Franc is planted in large quantities in France’s Bordeaux and Loire regions. In Bordeaux it’s often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and sometimes Petite Verdot.

Clay explained they make their Cab Franc in the style of the Loire Valley. In the Loire, labels that say Chinon or Rose d’Anjou will contain Cab Franc, he said. He also explained Cabernet Franc is older than Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact DNA testing has shown that Cab Franc is a parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Brynn really enjoyed the Yakima Valley White, which was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The grapes were blended from selected vineyard lots. It was a dry white with a hint of Chardonnay — a perfect answer to a sweltering day.

Ranking the Wines:

Davenport Cellars: 2009 Snowflake from Bacchus Vineyards in the Columbia Valley.

This is a 75 percent Sauv Blanc, 25 percent Semillon blend — a typical Bordeaux blend, Mary explained. This wine went through 100 percent stainless steel fermentation. As a result it is very crisp. We found this wine to be a perfect match with the goat cheese and mango crostini.

After speaking with winemaker Jeff Jirka, we were surprised to learn they (Jirka and wife Sheila) have only been doing this for three years. (Read their story here). This wine was balanced perfectly and its crispness was a perfect refresher on a hot day.

As Mary said: White wines are harder to make, and they just nailed this one.

Forgeron Cellars: 2007 Chardonnay from Columbia Valley.

This wine was a perfect pairing with Anthony’s Mediterranean mussels. There was a good balance between the crispness, or acidity of the wine, and its barrel flavors. This is definitely a food-friendly wine. (Online: www.forgeroncellars.com)

McCrea Cellars: 2008 Sirroco Blanc from Boushey vineyard.

This blend: 40 percent Grenache Blanc, 30 percent Marsanne, 20 percent Roussanne and 10 percent Picpoul, is a traditional blend for the South of France. McCrea is really into Rhone varietals, which makes it no surprise that this blend is a Rhone-inspired white.

This was Mary’s first time tasting Picpoul grown on American soil (Picpoul predominately comes from France) — Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley has the state’s only varietal Picpoul.

We found this a nice blend that was also refreshing for a summer day. The crispness was balanced with an earthy density. (Online: www.mccreacellars.com)

Paparazzi Watch: A number of elected officials and community leaders were in attendance Saturday. Brynn had the chance to ask Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer if he had a favorite wine of the day.  He smiled and said: “Anthony’s.”