Category Archives: Northwest Wines

Vintage Lake Chelan

Chelan is a Salish word meaning “deep water.” And it’s no wonder, Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the United States. It has long had an excellent reputation for fishing and other water related activities. Today, Lake Chelan also has an excellent reputation for wine.

The first grape vines were planted along the shores of Lake Chelan in 1891. But it wasn’t until almost 100 years later, that Bob Christopher and Steve Kludt planted a vineyard that was the beginning of something big.

In the years leading up to that momentous occasion, Lake Chelan had been a successful orchard region but when the apple market collapsed in the 1990s, orchards in eastern Washington were taken out and grape vines went in.

By 2001, Lake Chelan Winery had become the first bonded winery in the area. It would only be eight years later when Lake Chelan became Washington’s 11th American Viticultural Area (AVA).

Granted by the federal government, an AVA is an appellation of indicating an area with distinguishing climate, soil and physical features that makes it unique. The Lake Chelan AVA encompasses the southernmost and easternmost areas of the lake and the surrounding lands that are at or below 2,000 feet in elevation.

Lake Chelan’s soil is a coarse, sandy sediment with significant amounts of quartz and mica that lend a certain minerality to the wines. The AVA is also notable for the significant “lake effect” that fosters mild temperatures resulting in a longer growing season.

In the ensuing decade, more pioneers followed Christopher and Kludt’s lead and more vineyards were planted and wineries bonded.  Paul Benson of Benson Vineyards, Mary and Bob Broderick opened Chelan Estate, Denny Evans started Tunnel Hill Winery, Bob Jankelson introduced Tsillan (pronounced Chelan) Cellars, Larry Lehmbecker launched Vin du Lac, Lynn and Henry Munneke introduced Chelan Ridge Winery, Dean and Heather Neff instigated Nefarious Cellars, Katy and Milum Perry began Tildio Winery, Ray Sandidge unveiled C. R. Sandidge  and Don and Judy Phelps unveiled Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards.

In 2015, vineyards had grown to 140 acres with 15 bonded wineries and a Wine Grape Growers Association. In 2018, the Lake Chelan AVA had over 30 wineries with about 300 acres planted to Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Clairette Blanche, Counoise, Gewürztraminer, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Syrah, and Viognier.

On June 7th and 8th, Lake Chelan celebrates 10 years as an official American Viticulture Area (AVA). The Lake Chelan Wine Valley and members of the Lake Chelan community invite you to join the festivities dubbed “Vintage Lake Chelan.”

At Vintage Lake Chelan, you’ll have the opportunity to taste delectable wines at the welcome reception, two seminars and a grand tasting at Larc Hill Vineyard Ranch on the South Shore.

The inaugural Vintage Lake Chelan will kick off with a welcome reception on Friday, June 7 from 6-8 p.m. at the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. This is a great  opportunity to earn about this exciting AVA while tasting a selection of wines and bubblies, and talking with the wine industry folks.

The next day, Vintage Lake Chelan features two tasting seminars, led by representatives of the Walter Clore Center, and a grand tasting event.

“The Pioneers of the Lake Chelan AVA” will delve into those visionaries of the Lake Chelan AVA. Panelists include Alan Busacca, the geologist that studied the region and filed the official petition for the Lake Chelan AVA, Steve Kludt of Lake Chelan Winery, Bob Broderick of Chelan Estate Winery, Judy Phelps of Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards, Heather Neff of Nefarious Cellars, and Larry Lehmbecker of Vin du Lac Winery.

“Lake Chelan AVA – A Balancing Act from North to South” is a deep dive into the most extensively planted varietals on both the north and south shores, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.

Panelists and their wines include Rocky Pond Winery’s Shane Collins and his 2017 Riesling; Jason Morin with Ancestry Cellars 2016 Reunion Dry Lake Vineyard Chardonnay; a 2016 Estate Pinot Noir presented by Michelle Fanton of Tunnel Hill Winery; a 2016 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir offered by winemaker Oscar Castillo of Lake Chelan Winery; Dean Neff of Nefarious Cellars will pour his Defiance Vineyard Syrah, and founder/winemaker Angela Jacobs of WineGirl Wines will pour her Tildio Vineyards Syrah.

A grand tasting with 20+ wineries culminates that evening with delectable bites and delicious wines of the Lake Chelan Wine Valley. You can see the full lineup at http://lakechelanwinevalley.com/vintage-lake-chelan

A couple of highlights – CR Sandidge’s 2018 Sabrina is a white blend made by co-fermenting Gewurztraminer and Riesling.

Early on this Washington winemaker also worked at Weingut Georg Breuer in Germany. While there, Sandidge helped produce the highly acclaimed 1989 Georg Breuer Berg Rottland Trockenbeerenauslese. Winemaker Ray Sandidge has produced highly rated wines both red and white that have earned many awards in many competitions up and down the west coast.

Also high on my favorite Washington wineries is Cairdeas (say ‘Cardis’), an ancient Gaelic word meaning friendship, goodwill or alliance. West Seattle transplants Charlie and Lacey Lybecker believe good wine should be shared with friends, goodwill spread at every opportunity, and the alliances created have brought their flair for Rhone-styled wines to Lake Chelan.

The Lybecker’s dedication to Rhône Valley varietals is evident in their estate vineyard, planted to Syrah and two unusual white varietals: Clairette Blanche and Picardan. Both are widely planted in the renowned Châteauneuf-du- Pape appellation of France.

Tickets for single-day and weekend passes range from $45 to $275, and can be purchased online. For more information and details on Vintage Lake Chelan, check it out at www.vintagelakechelan.com

 

Chenin Blanc an underrated grape that offers so much

I tasted some amazing bottles of wine recently. The depth, complexity and sheer loveliness was so great that it needs to be shared with you.

It may come as a surprise that it was not a Chardonnay, Cabernet or Syrah. Indeed, it wasn’t even from Washington or California. It was from the icon of vinifera grapes, France.

The French make a white Burgundy that every Chardonnay producer wants to hold a candle to. Same with Cabernet. Who can beat a first growth Bordeaux or even a super-second?  Have you ever tried a red wine from northern Rhone? Where Syrah is co-fermented with Viognier? All perfection.

But here is another grape you must taste. It’s a grape that was once held in high esteem, but because Chardonnay, Cabernet and Syrah fetch more profit, this grape’s popularity has waned. This is my shot at convincing you to try a bottle of Chenin Blanc. Or Vouvray. Or Montlouis. Or Bonnezeaux. All from the delightful, versatile Chenin Blanc grape.

The Loire Valley, west of Paris, stretches 630 miles from the Atlantic through the center of France. Dubbed the “Garden of France,” its well-groomed gardens are bountiful, castles and chateaux magnificent, and its vineyards produce great whites.

Indigenous to this region, Chenin Blanc is produced in the center of the Loire Valley with Muscadet to the west and Sauvignon Blanc to the east. Chenin Blanc comes in a wide range of styles from a lush sweetie (Quarts de Chaume) to bone dry (Savennières). Its wonderful sparkling wines are labeled Mousseaux or Cremant.

The climate, soil and topography give the wines a minerality and acidity that balances the concentrated flavors pear, peach, lemongrass and honey flavors. Its greatest asset is its acidity, which is ever present even under warm growing conditions like that in eastern Washington. That balancing acidity also makes these wines age-worthy and food worthy.

Aged Chenin Blancs unveil complex aromatics, body and minerality that make these wines so distinguished. Have you ever had a 9-year old bone-dry Chenin Blanc that was the best white wine you’ve ever tasted?

If not, you may want to try a Domaine des Baumard 2010 Clos du Paillon Savennières. It was sublime. The best wine at the gathering. Everyone was blown away by this amazing, old Chenin Blanc. It paired particularly well with the Thai mussels in coconut milk.

The other outstanding Chenin Blanc we tasted was the Domaine des Baumard 2009 Quarts de Chaume. A luscious, honeyed wine with remarkable acidity for a 10-year old sweet white wine. The 375ml bottle yielded about an ounce and a half in each glass. Enough to enjoy the concentrated aromas for some time before indulging in the taste that lingered forever. A slab of pate is the quintessential accompaniment.

Many years ago, domestic Chenin Blanc was a well-received jug wine with few exceptions. One that stood out was Chappellet Vineyard’s old vine Chenin Blanc. High up on Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley, the original vines were producing when Donn and Molly Pritchard purchased the property back in the 1960s.

In the 1980s, Washington was white wine country. Specifically, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Chenin Blanc. Two wineries that excelled in Chenin Blanc were Kiona Vineyards and Bookwalter Winery.

If you wander to Red Mountain’s Kiona Vineyard, their old vine Chenin Blanc is a must. In this AVA, well-known for its powerful reds, this pioneering family planted Chenin Blanc in 1976 and then another block in 1983. If the conditions were right, the result was a heavenly ice wine.

But with warmer and warmer winters, ice wine conditions are becoming few and far between. Kiona rolled with the change in climate. Their newest edition is Fortunate Sun, a dessert wine much like a Vin Santo. By pruning the leaf canopy late in the season, the autumn sun works its magic to raisin the grapes. Thus concentrating flavors, aromas and sweetness.

Not too far away in Richland, Bookwalter Winery has a drier version of an old vine Chenin from Yakima Valley’s Willard Vineyard, planted in 1980. Bookwalter hand harvests and whole cluster presses then ferments at cold temps with 60% in concrete egg for 4 months and the remainder in stainless steel. Delightfully delicious.

Other dry and off dry, crisp, aromatic, full-flavored Washington versions that compare favorably to those produced in the Loire Valley:

Lobo Hills Roth Rock Chenin Blanc

McKinley Springs Horse Heaven Hills Chenin

L’Ecole No. 41 Yakima Valley Chenin Blanc

Cedergreen Willard Vineyards Chenin Blanc

This delightful yet highly underrated grape offers so much. So much complexity, flavors and aromas. And its wine pairs so well with a wide range of foods from appetizer to dessert throughout each season, won’t you try some today?

Cheers!

The State of Washington Wines 2019

I had a marvelous time at the Taste Washington Grand Tastings. Imagine two days of 235+ possibilities.

And I was amused with this year’s theme, Must. Taste. Everything. Not possible in the 4 or 5 hours each of the two days. Just not possible but I gave it the old college try.

Saturday, was very crowded but I managed to taste almost 40 wines. Sunday, was more laid back and I was able to taste – and spit – almost 54 wines. The plan was to taste the top tier, I.e. expensive, wines and then go on to reds. Sunday was to be dedicated to whites. I was semi-successful with the plan but did get distracted by winemakers, wine and friends. Here are my impressions to help guide your future wine purchases.

Best wine overall: Barnard Griffin Centurion 2016 Sagemoor Vineyards. So well knit, as close to as perfect a wine as you can sip. One barrel made. Thanks for sharing. $150.

Second place: Cadence Spring Valley Vineyards 1998 Red, an amazing 21-year-old. Youthful in appearance, wonderful aromas and very delightful to experience. Thanks for sharing. n/a

Third place: Cascade Cliffs Blood Red Columbia Valley 2017 Barbera, Bob Lorkowski has been making this wine for 20 years and it shows. Layered, juicy, rich, you need to try this wine. It’s amazing. $85.

And in no particular order, I would highly recommend to you:

Laurelhurst 2014 Walla Walla Petite Verdot – WOW! a dense, rich wine with so many anthocyanins it strains your glass. Relocated in the Georgetown district of Seattle, many small lot fermentations of great wines are made by the dedicated winemaking team of Greg Smallwood and Dave Halbgewachs. $36.

On the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor 2015 Old Vine Cabernet from Kiona Vineyards on Red Mountain. This award winning winery produced this polished wine from Red Mountain’s first vineyard. $60.

Karma Vineyards, overlooking Lake Chelan, produced two fabulous méthode champenoise sparkling wines. The finely bubbled 2014 Estate Pink Pinot Noir and the 2013 Brut Chardonnay with hints of apple and bread dough. $50 and $70.

Avennia 2016 Justine Red Rhone is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre that will be a great addition to any cellar. The first graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program, Chris Peterson was awarded a Winemaker of the Year in 2017. Excellent choice. $40.

A custom crush, custom bottling and canning facility intrigued me. Finding myself in front of Cascadian Outfitters booth, I decided to find out what Goose Ridge was all about and have a sip of Cascadian Outfitters can o’ red while sorting out their relationship.

I have enjoyed many bottles of one of Goose Ridge’s five wine labels, Tall Sage. What drew me to that wine was the back label. “Arvid Monson developed his first vineyard on the advice of Dr. Walter Clore, known as the father of Washington’s wine industry: ‘Find a tall sage and you have a place that will sustain superior grape vines.’ A tall sage is one that develops deep tap roots … This release is our tribute to a man of great stature, the founder of Goose Ridge Estate Vineyards.”

Cascadian Outfitters #Adventureinacan comes in three flavors, Chardonnay, rose, and red blend. Estate wine in a can for kayaking, backpacking or biking to the next winery. A six pack is $30.

Their remarkable 2,200-acre estate vineyard is located on a gentle slope adjacent to the Red Mountain AVA. Their five labels are Goose Ridge Estate, g3, Stonecap, Tall Sage and Cascadian Outfitters.  All come from this vineyard and Goose Ridge also sells grapes to other wineries.

Goose Ridge Estate 2015 Syrah is beautiful, everything you expect in a Syrah. The long, smooth finish comes from 22 months in French and American barrels, some new but most neutral. $38.

Kerloo 2014 Upland Vineyards on Snipes Mountain Grenache is all Grenache whole-cluster fermented and concrete aged. This old Snipes Mountain AVA vineyard dates back to the early 1900’s and is extremely warm and rocky. Pump-overs and punch-downs during fermentation extract color and texture for a beautifully balanced wine with great aromatics. A stunning wine for $40.

In the spring of 1997, Chandler Reach owners Len and Lenita Parris, traveled to Tuscany and stayed in a beautiful villa. Inspired, they created a little slice of Tuscany in Yakima. Their signature red, Monte Regalo Estate 2015 Red Bordeaux is a brilliant blend from the winemaker’s block of Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc. $30.

The Parris Estate Reserve 2015 Yakima Cab Franc is fermented in small, open top fermenters and then cellared for 24 months in new and neutral French oak.  Usually a right-bank blending grape, this standalone version is outstanding. $46.

Many great wineries start in a garage. Associated Vintners, now known as Columbia Winery,  is one fine example of an early Seattle garage winery consisting of a group of University of Washington faculty members.

Ducleaux Cellars started out in their Kent garage. Today, this small family winery is making great wines from an estate vineyard and winery now located in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, a sub-AVA of Walla Walla.

Ducleaux Cellars’ Chief Tasting Officer, Toby Turlay, was pouring their 2016 Ducleaux Cellars Anarchy. Mostly Syrah with a splash of Mourvedre, this wonderfully balanced wine from the Ancient Lakes AVA is highly aromatic and tasty! $29.

Brook & Bull Cellars is Ashley Trout’s latest venture. A talented winemaker who has produced wine in both Walla Walla Valley and Argentina. The first time I had her wines, it was the Torrontes grape from Agentina where she would work the March harvest.

Brook and Bull Cellars 2016 Columbia Valley Petite Verdot is exquisite. Another Bordeaux grape that is usually blended, this big, rich wine is stuffed with layers of flavors that make you want another taste and then another. $38.

There’s more but not today. In the meantime, save the date for the next Taste Washington, March 2020. Cheers!

Where to Taste Washington Wines

At the grandest Washington wine tasting, there will be over 236 wineries, pouring several wines each. It’s always good to make a list – and try to follow it without getting too distracted. I like to start out with the most expensive ones since they’re the first to go.

The first one I’ll be tasting is from a winemaker who has made some amazing wines at very affordable prices. Barnard Griffin’s 2016 Centurion Cabernet Sauvignon Sagemoor and Caroway Estate Vineyard. No one should bypass one of the greatest and oldest vineyards in the state and one of Washington’s best winemakers. Only $150

Cascade Cliffs 2017 Columbia Valley Blood Red Barbera is a must, too.  Owner/winemaker Bob Lorkowski has a way with Italian grapes. The Barbera is much sought after. It even has its own wine club. Excellent job, Bob.  $75

Canvasback 2015 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, $40.  Imagine a California winery moving into Washington state because they knew great wine country when they tasted it. Canvasback is part of that venerable Napa winery, Duckhorn.

From another great wine country, Red Mountain has an Italian transplant, Col Solare, a partnership between Marchesi Antinori and Chateau Ste. Michelle. They’ve been working together since 1995. The 2015 Red Mountain Cab is $75 and the 2015 Red Mountain Component Collection Cabernet Franc is $85.

Red Mountain fruit also went into Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor Wine 2015 Old Vine Cab from Kiona Vineyard. $60

Gramercy Cellars is an 8,000-case winery founded in 2005 by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife, Pam. They are Rhône and Bordeaux style fans. Will be tasting the 2016 Walla Walla John Lewis Syrah, $85 and their Columbia Valley 2015 Reserve Cab. $95

In 1978, the first Red Mountain Cab grapes were sold to Preston Winery’s winemaker, Rob Griffin. (See Barnard Griffin Winery above). Kiona Vineyards, a longtime favorite, has their Red Mountain 2016 Estate Reserve Red Bordeaux Blend, for $55 and 2016 Cab from Heart of the Hill Vineyard on Red Mountain. $75

Another distinguished winery, Long Shadows Vintners, is actually a collection of renowned winemakers from revered wineries in Napa, Bordeaux, Germany and Australia. They’re pouring the 2015 Pirouette Red Bordeaux, 2015 Pedestal Merlot, $65 and Chester-Kidder 2015 Red Blend. $60

A transplant from one of Napa’s most famous vineyards, Pritchard Hill, Obelisco Estate is the work of Betsy and the late Doug Long. Can’t wait to try their 2014 Red Mountain Estate Cab 2014 for $50 and their 2015 Red Mountain Electrum Estate Cab. $75

Owen Roe’s David O’Reilly began in Oregon, making incredible single vineyard Pinot Noirs. In 2013, the O’Reillys and Wolffs broke ground in Union Gap for their Washington winery. The 2015 Pearl Block Cab Franc, $72 and 2016 Red Willow Chapel Block Syrah will be staining my glass. $55

A well-regarded Washington winery with ties to Napa’s André Tchelistcheff, the “Dean of American Winemaking,” is Quilceda Creek. Tchelistcheff advised his nephew when Quilceda Creek was on the drawing board. I’ll be tasting the 2016 Columbia Valley Red Blend. $70

Planting began in 1968 for the Sagemoor Vineyards in Columbia Valley. Today, Sagemoor farms five iconic vineyards with 20 varietals planted for “about 100 of the brightest winemakers in the state.” This 2014 Columbia Valley Cab is made by John Abbot from Bacchus, Dionysus, Sagemoor, and Weinbau Vineyards.  $70

One of the newest wineries on this list is The Walls Vineyards, located in Oregon but a sub-AVA of Walla Walla. Wonderful Nightmare 2016 Walla Walla Tempranillo, $38 and the 2016 Red Mountain Curiositas Cab.  $56

And the curious side of me, wants to investigate wineries that I’m not familiar with. There are over 500+ wines to taste, so next on the To Do list would be the ones that I’ve never heard of.

That would include Adrice Wines with California transplants settled in Woodinville. A Rosé of Grenache, Albariño, and Malbec. AniChe Cellars is a small family winery located in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge with a Horse Heaven Hills Dolcetto.

Array Cellars has bottlings of Chardonnay from Celilo Vineyard, Columbia Gorge and Otis Harlan Vineyard in Yakima. Avennia in Woodinville is serving up a Sauvignon Blanc, Red Rhône Blend and Columbia Valley Cab made by Chris Petersen who spent some time at DeLille Cellars learning the craft.

Bayernmoor Cellars in Stanwood, like many western Washington wineries trucks their grapes over from eastern Washington while waiting for their estate vineyards to mature.

Planted in 2008, Vino Bellissimo is a 5-acre vineyard on the Wahluke Slope AVA. Bellissimo Cellars is pouring the 2015 estate Cab and Merlot.

From Walla Walla, Bontzu Cellars has a Cab from Les Collines Vineyard, Rhône Blend, and a white from the Roussanne grape.

With estate vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley, Caprio Cellars produces three estate red Bordeaux.

Cascadian Outfitters offers estate wines in a can! For the adventurous who like to imbibe during hikes, picnics, and bike rides, the Goose Ridge Vineyards offers a Red Blend, Chardonnay and Rosé in a can.

Renton’s Cedar River Cellars has a Chardonnay Cab and Malbec from grapes harvested from three established vineyards in Yakima Valley,

Winemaker and owner Jean Claude Beck grew up in the Alsace region of France. ‘nough said. Located in Zillah, his Chateau Beck naturally includes a Vin Blanc, Vin Rosé and Cab.

Spokane’s Craftsman Cellars is crafting a Wahluke slope Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and red Bordeaux.

Not all damsels are in distress! In fact, Damsel Cellars winemaker Mari Womack is in heaven making a Boushey vineyard Red Rhône Blend, Stillwater Creek Syrah, and a Columbia Valley Cab. I would be too.

Darby Winery at the Hollywood Tasting Room produces a White Rhône, Horse Heaven Hills Cab and Stillwater Creek Vineyard Syrah.

This is only a taste of what’s being poured Saturday and Sunday, Saturday & Sunday, March 30 and 31 at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle. Tickets are still available but not for long! Cheers!

 

Harvest is Over, Time for Celebrations

Harvest is over. Crush is complete. Punch-downs and pressings are nearly finished. The wines from the 2018 vintage are fermenting awaiting the next stage. The year’s busiest shift for a winemaker and his crew is winding down. With the intense harvest season in the rear view mirror, now’s the perfect time to celebrate!

Harvest wine tours abound this month. Each region has their own special way of celebrating. Here’s a list of regions to visit and wines to taste. Most events take place in the next few weeks, just in time for you to try something special and snag it for Thanksgiving dinner.

The Harvest Wine and Cider Tour on the Olympic Peninsula is self-guided with small batch and award winning wineries and cideries from Chimacum to Port Angeles. These small craft wineries and cideries will throw open their doors and welcome you and your friends on November 10th and 11th.

At Harbinger Winery on the far side of Port Angeles, they are serving up a palatial tour of northwest bounty with award winning wines paired with slow cooked pot roast with root vegetables, apple and chevre bites, and a wild mushroom and sausage quiche. I envision lounging on the couch sipping great wines and enjoying the repast. One of my favorites is their Barbera, a wonderful wine that is crisp and perfect with a bowl of hearty stew. Their Bolero is a blend of two prolific Spanish grapes, Tempranillo and Garnacha aged in Hungarian and American oak.

Finnriver Farm and Cidery makes all kinds of great ciders from traditional cider apples from their 50 acre Chimacum Valley farm. Last spring, I was invited to Finnriver for lunch (catered by the Port Hadlock Inn) and a property tour as part of the Taste Washington on the Farm event. I was greatly impressed with this sustainable operation with many partners. This is so worth the visit, if you’re interested in traditional cider apple varieties, lambs, geese, herb farming, restoring a salmon creek or incredibly delicious ciders. At the event and most weekends, you can taste a slice of wood fired pizza hot off the Dented Buoy oven made with local seasonal ingredients.

Nestled in the woods by Port Angeles, Camaraderie Cellars will be serving up the newly released 2015 Sangiovese and 2014 Merlot paired with the Turkey Pumpkin Chili and pheasant sausage. This Award winning winery is all about big reds made for the dinner table.

Tickets for this Tour are available at Brown Paper Tickets and will get you a free tasting at each of the wineries, a commemorative wine glass and perhaps a bottle or two to grace the Thanksgiving table?

Bainbridge Island’s annual Wine on the Rock presents a Wine & Charcuterie Weekend on November 10 and 11th, just in time for your Thanksgiving Dinner menu planning.  Bainbridge Island winemakers will be on hand babysitting fermentations, pouring or just greeting their visitors.

This is a marvelous opportunity to meet with the winemakers, from 12-5pm on both Saturday & Sunday. Tickets are valid for both days (one visit at each winery) and includes the usual event wine glass, wine tasting at each winery, charcuterie to complement the wine tasting, and a four bottle wine tote.

The transportation options are numerous, buses and ferries, Uber and Lyft and the downright cool

Note: Amelia Wynn Winery will not be open for this event. Instead, their downtown Winslow Way tasting room will be open to taste and buy their fabulous wines.

From Friday, November 9 through Sunday, November 11th, a fabulous wine tasting takes place in and around Prosser in the Yakima Valley. The Drink Prosser Wine Club Experience is a wonderful opportunity for wine club members of participating wineries to be a guest member of other participating Prosser wineries. Grab your pass from your “home winery” and enjoy member benefits throughout town. And if you’re not a participating Prosser winery club member, you can still purchase a pass and be a Prosser Winery member for a day!

In Walla Walla, you can wander in the footsteps of winemakers, eating lunch at their favorite places, taste their wines and visit their favorite watering holes. Each weekend through December 16th has amazing itineraries to follow: Holly Turner at Three Rivers Winery, Jean-Francois Pellet at Pepper Bridge and Amavi Cellars, Cody Janett at Forgeron Cellars, or Ashly Trout, philanthropist, founder and winemaker at Brook & Bull Cellars and Vital Wine. There’s more to check out, winemakers, itineraries and other fun activities at Wander Walla Walla

These itineraries are free, self-guided and pay-as-you-go experiences. When you register for free, you do get perks at the winery of the weekend. Such as waived tasting fees and 10% off a purchase of two bottles or more.

There are also many regions that traditionally host Thanksgiving in the Wine Country. More on that and what wines work best with that traditional turkey dinner next time. Cheers!

12th Annual Columbia Winery Charity Run & Walk

A recent email about the Columbia Winery Charity Walk & Run caused a series of flashbacks in my thirty something years in the wine industry.

Did you know Columbia Winery was originally founded by a group of garagists, over half were University of Washington professors? In 1962, the group formed the Associated Vintners and made wines that caught the attention of Leon Adams and Andre Tchelitscheff.

Did you know Columbia Winery hired one of only 11 worldwide Masters of Wine as head winemaker? In 1979, David Lake took Columbia Winery where no other Washington winery had gone: producing the first series of vineyard designated wines and the first Washington Pinot Gris, Syrah and Cabernet Franc wines.

Did you know that Columbia Winery’s Woodinville facility was built in the 1980s for the now defunct Haviland Winery? It was loosely designed with California’s Beringer Winery in mind. Haviland won the first platinum medal for Washington. Platinum medals were awarded to the best wine from a taste off of gold medal winners from competitive tastings.

Did you know Columbia Winery was a stop on the Spirit of Washington dinner train? In the summer of 2007, the train was forced to stop the Woodinville run when the owners of the Woodinville Track Subdivision, BNSF Railway, wouldn’t extend their track contract.

But enough Columbia Winery history! Here’s what they’re up to this Saturday:

The 12th annual Columbia Winery Charity Walk & Run is a 10k, 5k run/walk and kids’ dash designed to support uncompensated care at Seattle Children’s Hospital. In 2017, Children’s provided $120 million in care to families in need.

Columbia Winery’s tasting room will also be open to visitors during and after the race. Run participants can receive 25% off their purchase or take advantage of a discounted tasting flight.

Where: Columbia Winery’s historic tasting room at 14030 NE 145th Street in Woodinville, WA

When: August 18th  The road closes at 8:30am into the area.

To register or if you’d rather just give:

click here or visit www.columbiawinery.com

Kitsap Wine Festival 2018

The Kitsap Wine (and beer and cider) Festival is fast approaching. For the tenth year, it continues at Harborview Fountain Park on Bremerton’s inviting waterfront.

Since it began in 2008, the festival has featured live music, delicious bites from local restaurants and, of course, mostly Washington wines (and lately local beers and ciders). This is a great opportunity to explore and discover new and emerging wines without a trek into the crazy traffic across the pond.

Wineries to check out include Belfair’s Mosquito Fleet Winery which placed in the top 3 of the Seattle Times’ 50 best wines of 2017. Other Washington, Oregon and California wineries to become familiar with are California’s Ava Grace Vineyards, Port Angeles’ Camaraderie Cellars, Davenport Cellars is back, Eaglemount Winery & Cidery from Port Townsend, Walla Walla’s Eleganté Cellars, Bainbridge’s Eleven Winery, Port Angeles’ Harbinger Winery (bring the Barbera!), Hoodsport Winery (Island Belle?), Long Cellars (Petite Sirah and Dry Riesling, please) , Masquerade Wine Company  (Syrah, sirah, please, oh please)  Michael Florentino Cellars, Naches Heights Vineyard, Nota Bene Cellars, the one year old Port Townsend Vineyards, Scatter Creek Winery (Key Auntie?), Silvara Cellars, Stina’s Cellars ( bring the ice wine!!), Red Mountain’s Terra Blanca Winery (I love you,  Onyx), Trinchero Family Estates, Williamette Valley Vineyards, Wind Rose Cellars (Dolcetto? Primitivo?) and the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island.

For several years now you can also buy your new favorite wine at their on-site wine shop. Proceeds from the Kitsap Wine (and beer and cider) Festival benefit Olympic College Alumni Association programs supporting student success.

WHEN:  Saturday, August 11, 2018 from 2 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
WHERE: Harborside Fountain Park, adjacent to the Bremerton ferry terminal
PRICING: Event passes for the Kitsap Wine Festival are on sale now. All guests must be 21 years or older to attend. Event pass pricing is as follows:

§  $60, June 1-August 10

§  $75, August 11

PURCHASE: Visit kitsapwinefestival.com to purchase tickets

Chilling with Exotic Grapes

With this heat wave, a well-chilled wine is very welcome. But sometimes at an impromptu get together, you’ve inadvertently chatted through the only cold one. Emergency measures are called for. Do you throw a bottle in the freezer, drink it warm or resort to ice cubes? What’s the quickest way to chill wine?

The answer, my friends, is freezers are slow, freezer wine jackets are better but a bucket full of ice, water and plenty of salt will get you there in a New York minute. Or even quicker and less messy are ice cubes in the glass.

Is it a faux pas to put ice cubes in your wine? Many wine gurus believe that putting ice cubes in your wine glass is a mortal sin. In an article I recently read, putting ice cubes into wine was cited as the most annoying customer habit by many sommeliers because unless you’re drinking super-fast, which is even more annoying, the ice melts and dilutes the flavors.

And yet, all over France, the holy grail for wine, a common restaurant practice is to serve a pitcher of water and glass of wine with lunch. The water is to dilute your wine to your liking and still function after lunch. In some warmer climate countries (think Greece), it’s common to be offered ice when served a white or rosé at those outdoor cafes.

Even the producer of Dom Perignon has released a wine to be served on ice. Moët y Chandon’s Ice Impérial Rosé has instructions on how much ice to use. Wonder how hard that is for some of those sommeliers to swallow?

I like the panache of putting frozen peach slices or grapes in your wine glass. They’ll chill the wine without diluting it and you’ll get the added benefit of a little extra flavor and fiber in your wine diet.

Trendy canned wines have the added benefit of being quicker and easier to chill. They have the convenience of a cheap American lager and make hiking and biking less strenuous. You can chill it in the creek without fear of breaking the only wine you hauled up countless switchbacks for hours.

My belief is you can do whatever you want to your wine as long as it makes you happy. That, after all, is wine’s purpose in life.

Here are some recently tasted and highly recommended refreshing summer wines (most under $20) to be served with or without ice cubes:

A sparkling or slightly sparkling – frizzante in Italian – is always refreshing. At the Red, White and Brews awards one of my favorites, Treveri Cellars, was pouring their Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir and for those of you who like red wine, Syrah brut.

Another sparkling there was Den Hoed Wine Estates’s Proost Zero Dosage Blanc de Blancs. It was delicious. Zero dosage means the wine was topped up without the usual dosage of wine and sugar syrup that normally would happen after the plug of dead yeast cells is removed and before the final cork and bale are put on.

Proost (Cheers) is produced from Chardonnay grapes. The extended aging means complexity with aromas of minerals and brioche and flavors of citrus, toast and yeast. The winemaker is from Champagne, living in the mountains of New Mexico, making delightful bubblies.

Another New Mexican sparkling wine is Gruet Sauvage Blanc de Blancs. This is wonderfully refreshing, bone dry with green apple and lemon zest flavors and aromas. Take a bottle to your favorite sushi bar.

Vinho Verde is Portuguese, naturally spritzy with low alcohol (around 9%). It’s the ideal hot weather wine from a blend of several white grapes including Alvarinho and a handful of other grapes that produce a wine with flavors of limeade, green apple and citrus.

Other still, crisp, exotic white grapes that are enjoyed in sweltering regions around the globe are:

Picpoul is a French Languedoc grape known for its high acidity. It’s making a revival even in Washington state. Syncline Picpoul comes from the renowned Boushey Vineyard. Refreshing, complex with quenching acidity. Winemaker James Mantone did a whole cluster press of the grapes before racking into a stainless steel tank to age. Mantone was awarded 2018 Winemaker of the Year at the Red, White and Brews Awards.

Guardian Angel Sauvignon Blanc is gorgeous wine. It’s zippy, juicy and downright delicious. The grapes come from another renowned vineyard, Klipsun on Red Mountain. It’s fermented eight weeks in new French oak and then to stainless tanks. This juicy wine has a wonderful array of citrus with grapefruit, lemon zest, lemon curd and a hint of vanilla. Shrimp or Crab salad would be heaven with this wine.

Two Vintners 2015 Syrah received Best Red Wine of the Year at the Red, White and Brews Awards. Fortunately, the willingness to do unfashionable but delightful grapes brought us Two Vintners 2017 Grenache Blanc.  It’s an exotic white grape bright with acidity and brimming with citrus and melon fruit flavors. From the renowned Boushey and Olsen Vineyards with 12% Rousanne in this Rhone style blend.

Whoa! Gotta go. There’s a wine slushy in the making to rescue. Find more refreshing, cold wines including Rose’s and a few chillable reds to explore on the blog, Cheers to you Kitsap!

p.s. See you at the Kitsap Wine Festival August 11th?

ChardoYay! or ChardoNay?

Chardonnay was the very height of fashion in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s still the queen of whites especially when Hood Canal crab season rolls around.

A green skinned grape, Chardonnay is a low maintenance vine that adapts to a variety of climates resulting in fairly high yields worldwide. Those high yields translate into millions of bottles of many different styles. The price of Chardonnay? Anywhere from $4.99 to a pinky-up Corton Charlemagne for upwards of $300.

However, there are still some people that haven’t tried it in 20 years. Tough to understand when you consider the many diverse styles produced worldwide. You just have to know the style you prefer and host a blind tasting.

The grape is a winemaker’s playground when it comes to fermentation and aging. Whether fermented in stainless, barrel or concrete vats, each produces a distinct style. Chardonnay can be aggressively oaked or a big, buttery bomb from malolactic fermentation. It could be fermented in a stainless steel tank for a crisp, clean white wine that pairs well with a sharp cheddar and apple slices.

Having a clear mission, a blind wine tasting was organized with wine lovers, oaky Chardonnay lovers and me. At the top of the oaky Chardonnay loving list is my wine buddy, Brynn Grimley who started this column and blog several years ago with a little help from her wine buddy – me.

Brynn loves Chardonnay, the oakier the better. I, however, am not a fan of oaky Chardonnay. She’s evolved. I think you’ll find our notes amusing no matter what we profess.

Ground rules: You don’t have to like it. You can pour it out but you have to try it and render an opinion whether it’s a simple thumbs up or down or something more effusive. Your favorite wine may be the one that others don’t like, that doesn’t make them right and you wrong. Each taster is poured an ounce or so and can revisit their favorite(s) after tasting all six.

The wines were tasted older vintage to newer vintage. Everyone had the same style glass, so no variations there. Below are my translated notes, the Big Reveal follows.

1) Very deep gold, delicate aromas and faded fruit (definitely a wine with age). Lovely bit of spice on the finish. One taster declared it was the best Chard ever. Many liked it.

2) Gold, muted aromas, subdued fruit, took much swirling to open up then aromas of caramel and some butterscotch on the palate. After more swirling, less caramel and more spice on the palate.

3) Light gold color. A better balanced wine with aromas of spice that follow through on the palate. Crème brulee flavors, good depth and a lighter gold, hints at a newer vintage. My fav so far.

4) Light straw color, no detectable oak, more peach, pear and ginger spice. Beautiful complexity with layers of acidity, minerals, flowers and spice. Very impressive!

5) Aromas of tropical fruits, with layers of minerals, crème brulee, stone fruits. My fav so far – charming from the start with balance and complexity.

6) Light straw color. Mineral and bready with pear and lime zest in the back ground. Mouthwatering, straight forward, and easy to quaff.

The Big Reveal

1)     Chateau Ste Michelle 1989 Columbia Valley Cold Creek Vineyards Chardonnay 13.7%

Winemaker’s notes: “This vineyard ripens relatively early and exhibits intense flavors of melons and apples. Enhanced …. with barrel fermentation, malolactic fermentation and aging in French oak to add complexity.

2)     Gallo Family 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay 14.2%

The name produced a Whaat! This generation of Gallos has a different winemaking program that their Italian heritage grandparents Ernest and Julio, who launched some 80 years ago.

3)     Shafer Vineyards 2005 Napa Carneros Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 14.8%

Shafer has been cultivating this sustainable vineyard since the late 80s. Carneros covers the southern portion of the Napa and Sonoma AVAs, where the gently rolling hills are cooled by breezes from San Pablo Bay. This 13-year-old was barrel fermented and aged in oak.

4)     Chehalem 2016 Willamette Valley INOX unoaked Chardonnay 13.2%

“The winter was warm, budbreak was early and 2016 never looked back – bloom, veraison and harvest were all early records.” Out of Newberg, this estate grown wine is Salmon safe and certified sustainable. Fermented in stainless steel tanks with native yeasts and aged 8 months in tank.

5)     J. Lohr 2016 Riverstone Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay 13.5%

Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel makes this Chardonnay from the “sustainably farmed, cool, windy Arroyo Seco vineyard in Monterey County. Malolactic barrel fermentation with sur lie ageing…” and the price made this my favorite, so far.

6)     Tendril Wines 2017 Child’s Play Willamette Valley Pinot Chardonnay 13.5%

Produced by Tony Rynders, an acclaimed winemaker with a master’s degree in Enology and Viticulture and a world of experience in Napa, Italy, Australia and now Oregon.

In the 60s and 70s, some California winemakers labeled their wine Pinot Chardonnay because they thought it was another Pinot mutation like Noir, Grigio, Meunier, and Blanc. At first, I thought Rynders was being quaint. But after I read his label, I discovered this wine is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Just like they do in Champagne only this one doesn’t have the bubbles. This is so worth slipping it into your next blind tasting.

Brynn:

Being an oak lover, my two favorites were the Shafer and the J. Lohr. The Chateau Ste. Michelle was too old. I bet it was a fantastic wine in its prime but, to me, it was over the hill. The stainless Chards were not my style, which is too bad because despite being an oak lover, I do love a crisp Chardonnay.

While I enjoyed the Shafer best, I was really hoping for a Chardonnay that blended all the styles in one bottle, hints of the warmth that oak imparts as well as the minerality and the crispness of apple and pear.

After some years of experience, the oak lover and the not-so-much-oak wine lover liked the same wines the best.

Where to Begin with so Many Wines?

I find the infinite variety of wine, beer, and spirits to be both overwhelming and an adventure. As I was taught while training for sprint distance marathons, the hardest part is getting started.

Take Taste Washington marathon for instance. When faced with the delightful dilemma of a roomful of wine, where do you begin? Are you the adventurous type? The loyal kind? Or the frugal approach?

At Taste Washington this year, there were over 200 wineries, each pouring three or four wines with the opportunity to taste approximately 700 wines if you attended both days. This does not cover the vineyard designated areas that were pouring a dozen or so wines. Or the wines at the Red and White event, Taste on the Farm or the seminars.

Taste Washington is overwhelming but an adventure I look forwards to each year. While pausing at a table to set down my wine glass and a small plate of Assagio’s bolognaise (so good) for a free hand to make notes, I shared a table with older couple. We chatted about which wines were our favorites and where to go next. They had gone to the big names, Betz, Mark Ryan and Long Shadows.

I talked with a friend of a friend after the event and he had pretty much followed the path of tried and true 90+ point wines. He also whined about too many unrated wines and he wasn’t willing to spend valuable tasting time researching so he stuck with the ones he knew.

There was a time that I’d head for the most expensive, the 90+ pointers and make that the plan. But that evolved to wineries that I read about but had never tried. This year, the plan progressed to wineries that were fermenting unusual grape varieties.

Choices included traditional Italian varieties such as Barbera, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, Sangiovese, and Dolcetto. French varieties were well represented by Auxerois, Carmenere, Chenin Blanc, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Lemberger, Mourvedre, Picpoul, Roussanne, Petite Verdot, and Petit Syrah.

German grapes that do well in the Puget Sound AVA were represented with the scarce Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine. Even more scarce are Albarino and Tempranillo, a white and a red that epitomize Spain. Scarcer still, Grüner Veltliner (Austria), Tannat (Uruguay) and a handful of Vermouths (Germany, Italy, France). There was a lot to taste, so where to start?

Custom frequently requires one should begin with a sparkling wine. And so I did. Karma Vineyards was pouring their Blanc de Noir, Blanc de Blanc and Pink sparkling wines. These were classically made – dry, crisp and really paired well with Blue C Sushi’s seared salmon bite with crème fraiche and the cider poached tuna salad with chickpea mayo from Capitol Cider.

The Barbera grape is from the Piedmonte region of Italy so that was an easy choice for me. Maryhill, MonteScarlatto and Cascade Cliffs were particular standouts. Cascade Cliffs and Maryhill are located along the Columbia River in the Columbia Gorge AVA which is dubbed “A world of wine in 40 miles.”

Cascade Cliffs has been making Barbera for a couple of decades and this 2016 was classic with the big black fruits and the high acidity the Barbera grape is prized for.

Cascade Cliffs has been making other Italian varieties, like a Tuscan Red that is a fabulous blend of Cab, Merlot and Sangiovese. They also make a Nebbiolo of Barolo and Barbaresco fame. Seattle’s Upsidedown Wine had a delicious Nebbiolo Rosé that would be great some hot summer day.

Maryhill as Winery of the Year for a number of years, made this 2015 with 18 months of barrel aging in 40% new French oak. It’s a mouthful yet smooth. My favorite pairing with Barbera is fresh sliced tomatoes splashed with balsamic and olive oil, fresh ground pepper, basil and a crusty, rustic bread.

The MonteScarlatto Vineyard at Red Mountain is a fairly new vineyard of 10 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot. They were pouring the 2013 Barbera which my Tasting Partner raved about.

Located in Woodinville, Martedi Winery also produces wine in the Italian tradition with a Sangiovese Rosé, a great spring and summer wine. They also have a Sangiovese and a great Nebbiolo.

Claar Cellars 2013 Sangiovese – the grape that made Chianti famous – was really nice, perfectly balanced strawberry and herb flavors. It spent 12 months on oak which probably accounts for the smoothness of the wine.

Vines from the original Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain were planted in the 1970s. Another 80 acres was planted twenty years later. This prestigious vineyard grows grapes for some of the top wineries of the state.

Grenache is widely planted in Spain where its known as Garnacha and is a large component in France’s Chateauneuf du Pape where it adds body and fruit to the wine. Woodinville’s Convergence 2013 Ciel du Cheval Grenache was a favorite from this prestigious vineyard. And then I ran across Ded Reckoning’s 2013 Ciel du Cheval Grenache.

Lots of Rhone type wines both red and white. Red could be a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise and Cinsault. Whites would be any combination of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul. There are other grapes but I haven’t seen any Clairette Blanche or Bourboulenc, both white grapes.

With summer on the way, it’s time to be looking for Rosés and whites. Tranche Rosé is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Counoise. There were a handful of Grenache Blancs and a couple of Picpouls. These white grapes are the best summer wines. The Walls Vineyards in Walla Walla Grenache Blanc was easy drinking, Cairdeas and Callan had fabulous Grenache Blancs, crisp, fruity and minerals. Callan’s Picpoul was the white wine of choice at Taste. It was very, very good. Another Picpoul worth seeking out comes from Syncline in the Columbia Gorge AVA.

Woodinville’s Warr-king Winery and Seattle’s Latta Wines both have a Roussanne also worth seeking out and Lobo Hills Auxerrois was amazing. This white grape originates from the Alsace region of France.

Forgeron, Hedges and Stottle all made a white Rhone; Forgeron’s was a blend of 39 per cent Roussanne, 34 Viognier and the remainder Grenache Blanc. Hedges blend is 75 per cent Marsanne and the rest Roussanne. The wine was full-bodied, rich and viscous. Stottle’s was a blend of 78 per cent Viognier and the balance in Roussanne. Viognier is a very aromatic grape and this was showed that off to the hilt.

Seattle’s Bartholomew 2015 Rattlesnake Hills Tannat the was an adventure with stunning results. Tannat is the ‘black wines’ of Madiran in southwest France, a fairly obscure wine region. Uruguay recently latched onto this varietal and is making some black wine of its own. And yes, inky black in color. This is a big, big wine.

One last winery with spectacular wines is Samson Winery in Whatcom County. They make the absolute best fruit wines. No words can describe their perfection. Try them and you too will be captivated!