Category Archives: Northwest Wines

Fifty Shades of Beige on a Red Mountain

Some names for eastern Washington vineyards, AVAs and mountains are derived from Red Mountainanimals — such as Ciel du Cheval (French for horse heaven), Horse Heaven Hills, Badger Mountain and Rattlesnake Hills. Native American names like Yakima, Naches, Tapteil, and Wahluke are also found on the vineyards and AVAs. Some vineyards are named for early wine pioneers like Mercer, Sagemoor, Weinbau, Dionysus and Bacchus.

So how the heck did Red Mountain get its name? Year-round, there are at least 50 shades of beige on the mountains in and around Columbia Valley.

But then I’ve never been there in April, when the spring cheatgrass turns the mountain dark red — except for the green patches under vine.

The Red Mountain AVA is the smallest AVA at 4,040 acres with just over half planted to Cabernet, Merlot, Sangiovese, Cab Franc, Syrah, Carménère and the newest darling, Malbec.

There is still a smattering of white grapes, most notably Kiona’s old vine Chenin Blanc, with some Semillon, Marsanne, Viognier and Chardonnay. Cooler climate grapes are planted in the nooks and crevices of the hills where shade provides relief from the sun for part of the day.

All that sunshine makes Red Mountain the hottest AVA in Washington State; both in heat units and because some of the 52 vineyards have contributed beautiful bunches of grapes to internationally acclaimed wines.

What makes this AVA so hot, hot, hot? The climate. The soil composition. The great viticulturists formerly known as farmers.

Being hot and windy is an asset, creating an unfriendly environment for mold and mildew. The soil is high in calcium carbonate and low in pH, which along with its granular consistency, promotes well-established root systems.

The predominant soil types are windblown and include the Warden, Hezel and Scootenay. These types of soils are a combination of sand, silt and loam — a proper mix for exceptional vitis vinifera.

And who’s making those internationally acclaimed wines, you may well ask?

Well, it all began in the mid-70s, when some of us were still kiona lem 1987sporting bell bottoms and dancing to the Bee Gees. Kiona’s John Williams and Jim Holmes planted the first vines on the south side of Sunset Road. Fortunately, some of those same vines are still in production.

Later, Blackwood Canyon, Hedges Cellars, Oakwood Cellars, Seth Ryan, and Terra Bianca began planting. At the time, Red Mountain was in the Yakima Valley AVA, which is in the really big Columbia Valley AVA. Being defined by something that huge didn’t quite give Red Mountain its due. The long crusade for a Red Mountain AVA began and was finally granted in 2001.

Today, a row of Red Mountain grapes from Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, Kiona, Blackwood Canyon, Obelisco, or Tapteil Vineyards is in high demand. There are even wineries that produce wine from Red Mountain fruit in their Walla Walla wineries.

Knowing a good thing when they saw it, California’s Duckhorn, Chateau Ste Michelle and Tuscan giant Antinori invested tidy sums to purchase land, plant vineyards and build wineries.

The Vancouver Canucks owners decided to make their first spectacular foray into the wine industry a couple of years back when they bought a chunk of parcels (518 acres with water rights) for $8.3 million.

Red Mountain’s Bordeaux varietals are rich, colorful, powerful and known for incredible balance with intense black fruit flavors, minerality and good structure. The widely planted Cabernet clone #8 produces a wine similar to Bordeaux with concentrated fruit, fine-grained tannins and a lovely mineral quality.

Malbec, Merlot, Syrah and Carménère are also red hot commodities on Red Mountain. Carménère and Malbec have fallen out of favor in Bordeaux but are lighting up the scoreboard when grown on Red Mountain.cooper wines

Cooper Wine Company has 41 acres on the corner of Sunset and Hwy 224. Eight of those acres are planted to Carménère and they have produced a wine called Vinizio that includes all six of the Bordeaux grapes. Neil Cooper explained the chocolate aromas and flavors come from the calcium carbonate in the soil of the Scootney Flats.

Frichette Winery is the newest boutique winery on the mountain. The owners, Greg and frichetteShea Frichette, changed careers and relocated to Red Mountain to be closer to family.  As with most Red Mountain wineries, its portfolio is chalk full of Cabernet, Merlot and a Malbec that stains your glass purple, with blackberry pie aromas and flavors of blackberry and cocoa with a touch of minerality.

Fidelitas has a great deck to sit, sip wine and watch the vineyards grow. Owner winemaker fedelitasCharlie Hoppes, a much-sought-after consulting winemaker, just completed his 28th vintage of Washington wines. His 12 acres are planted to Bordeaux varietals. The 2013 Malbec is another with very dense color, aromatic with black fruits and spice. It’s a wonderful medium-bodied wine to enjoy on the deck with a wedge of aged Gouda and some crusty bread.

Hamilton Cellars is another boutique winery halfway up Sunset Road. hamilton cellarsStacy and Russ Hamilton have 10 acres, with 9 ½ planted three years ago under the supervision of veteran Dick Boushey. They also have veteran Charlie Hoppes as their winemaker. Their 2012 Red Mountain Malbec is from the Scootney Vineyards while waiting for their vines to mature. This Malbec has cocoa and black cherry flavors; a dense, glass-staining color and soft tannins.

Premium land, ideal growing conditions, talented farmers and skilled management are qualities that make Red Mountain fruit highly prized by the likes of Quilceda Creek (the highly awarded Washington winery that sources Red Mountain). Upchurch Cab,  Andrew Will and Long Shadows Pedestal have also scored high 90s using Red Mountain fruit.

Another rare and outstanding wine, Kiona Estate 2014 Chenin Blanc Ice Wine, scored 93 points from an AVA not known for whites.

For more information for your next wine country get-a-way, Visit Tri-Cities ( can handle your needs.  red mountin trails N4867And for a designated driver, let me recommend something slow, easy and lots of fun: Red Mountain Trails for a horse-drawn wagon ride through the vineyards to the next tasting room. Treat yourself; it’s really a unique way to go.

Horse Heaven Hills is Vineyard Heaven

Certain factors in viticulture produce intensely flavored grapes with balanced sugars and acids.  And that can only happen in the vineyard.

Washington’s average sixteen hours per day of summer sunlight, cool nights, hills and slopes, rainfall or lack  there of and alluvial soils produce some of the best growing conditions for vinifera grapes.

Each micro-climate, as if there could be micro in eastern Washington, has its own geology, soil, temperature fluctuations, water source and sunlight intensity. That’s what makes each American Viticultural Area (AVA) unique.

There are fourteen Washington State AVAs, defined by the United States Treasury Department’s Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau.

The first to be recognized was Yakima Valley in 1983. In 1984, Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley joined the Club. Eleven years later, our very own unique Puget Sound joined the ranks.

The turn of the century brought Red Mountain into the fold, followed by Columbia Gorge (2004), Horse Heaven Hills (2005), Rattlesnake Hills and Wahluke Slope in 2006 and Snipes Mountain in 2009. Naches Heights and Ancient Lakes were added in 2011 and 2012 respectively. This year Lewis Clark Valley was added to the state’s AVAs – the first shared with Idaho.

Grapes were first planted in the Horse Heaven Hills by Don & Linda Mercer in 1972. Horse Heaven Hills or H3 as some refer to it, is around 570,000 acres of which about 10,130 acres are planted to grapes. Today, it represents 25% of Washington’s total grape production.

H3 rises up from 300 feet at the Columbia River to about 1,800 feet on the border of the Yakima Valley AVA. The AVA’s steep south facing slopes are perfect vineyard locations. vines along the columbia

The well-drained, sandy soils and dry, windy conditions of the Horse Heaven Hills have stressed the vineyards just enough to produce those sought after  intensely flavored grapes.

Older, established vineyards also have a reputation for  intensely flavored grapes. In the Horse Heaven Hills AVA look for Alder Ridge, Andrews Horse Heaven Vineyard, Canoe Ridge, Champoux, Columbia Crest, Destiny Ridge, McKinley Springs, Mercer Canyon and Wallula Gap Vineyards.

Destiny Ridge, just 800 feet up from the Columbia River, is a pretty breezy place for grape vines; the winds that blow are what makes this part of the Horse Heaven Hills appellation distinct.  The best part of the constant wind is the inhospitable habitat for vineyard disease and pests. And much like the mistral winds of southern France, the vines are stressed and would dry out were it not for drip irrigation.

Destiny Ridge Vineyard also benefits from its close proximity to the Columbia River.Mighty columbia  It’s rare to find temperature extremes close to a big body of water. Thanks to the modifying effects of the mighty Columbia rolling on (Woody Guthrie’s immortal words) and the land sloping toward the river which pushes cold air away from the vineyards. Further north away from the water, vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills have had killing frosts.

Overlooking the mighty Columbia River, is Alexandria Nicole Cellars.anc anova  Owners Jarrod and Ali Boyle planted the first vines at Destiny Ridge in 1998 while Jarrod was working with Dr. Wade Wolfe at Hogue Cellars. The plan was to use the fruit from their Destiny Ridge Vineyard to produce small case lots for other wineries. And that worked for about six years until the vines came into full production with such fruit intensity, the seeds of another new winery were planted.

Alexandria Nicole Cellars’ (ANC ) first vintage from the 367-acre estate was in 2004.  Ten years later, the 2014 Shepherds Mark, their signature white, is a blend of 60% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne, and 20% Viognier. And it’s a medal winning wine with a Double Gold, three golds, Best of Class, 93 points and a Silver. This lovely wine is crisp with fresh floral notes and a rich mouthfeel of juicy  Asian pear, citrus and crisp apple.

Why Shepherds Mark? Well, in the early 1900’s, sheepherders left their mark on the Horse Heaven Hills in the form of rock monuments.  These monuments – some still stand along the ridge line of Destiny Ridge Estate Vineyard – were used for identification, way-finding, recreational pastime, artistic expression, or to simply leave one’s mark on the world.

Other ANC wines currently available are the medal winning 2012 Gravity Merlot which also received a Double Gold from the Seattle Wine Awards and 92 points from two industry magazines. The blend of  92% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, and 2% Carmenere was aged 22 months in new and 1 year-old French oak barrels.

The 2013 Jet Black Syrah is another medal winning wine with three golds, Best of Class, 92 points and a Best Buy. This 100% Syrah from blocks 1, 15, 17 and 43 was whole berry fermented and then aged in new and 1 year-old French oak barrels. Prepared to be awed!

If you would like to tour and taste the the wines and wineries of Horse Heaven Hills, mark your calendars for Saturday, July 16, 2016 to experience the Horse Heaven Hills Trail Drive. You’ll meet the growers and vintners behind some of Washington’s most highly rated wines.

During this is a self guided tour, you’ll visit with grape growers and winemakers, enjoy beautiful vistas and sample some excellent wines. There will be music and wine tasting at the BBQ at Crow Butte Park. This annual fundraiser raises money for scholarships in viticulture and oenology.

Here’s to You from Yakima Valley

One of the many highlights of a recent trip around Yakima Valley was a wonderful gourmet dinner experience that you should treat your dining partner and yourself to.

The Carousel Restaurant & Bistro is fine dining with French flair. Many of the recipes are from the French chef who originally opened the restaurant. The service was exquisite, the food was fabulous and with Casablanca playing on the wall during dinner, what could be better?  casablanca

The soundless black and white movie created an exotic atmosphere in the middle of this historic farming community.  During dinner, an amazing harp player entertained with familiar tunes.

But the fresh, local food and the wine pairing is the subject of this week’s story.  If it seems like I’m gushing, it’s probably because there’s lots to gush about!

For a dinner such as this, it’s important, almost mandatory, to have a dinner party partner, affectionately known as the DPP.  This ensures that you get to taste twice as much.  I would also like to mention that when in a French restaurant, I like to choose the more adventuresome Chef’s Choice dishes, especially if the DPP chooses the usual dishes.  boar w glasses

The first of five courses was an appetizer of Provence Boar Paté (mine) and crab cakes (the DPP).  I chose the paté made from slow simmered chicken and boar foie gras served with bacon jam. It was perfectly paired with a Domaine Collette Beaujolais Village 2014.

This ruby colored wine has a fruit bowl of flavors that include raspberry, red currant, and strawberry. The tannins were supple and beautifully balanced probably because of the whole bunch fermentation. This wine was a stunning match with the pate. Bravo to Greg, our maître d for the first of many thoughtful and spot on matches.

The DPP went for an appetizer of crab cakes on a  bed of arugula tossed with a lemon vinaigrette and brown butter capers. This too was expertly paired with a Dopff & Irion 2013 Riesling from an often overlooked area of France – Alsace. Here is an old world wine with place names not as prominent on the label as the grape names.

Constructed in 1549, the Chateau was originally owned by the Princes of Wurtemberg, who ruled over the city and its region for almost five centuries. Even a Chateau founded in the 16th century can survive 5 centuries because it embraces new technologies.

This particular bottling was done with screw caps! Gasp! Which surprised me in a pleasant sort of way. We all need to embrace screw caps especially with white wines which are typically enjoyed within a year of being bottled.

Considering a cork tree has to be at least 25 years old before its bark can be harvested, we need to rethink our carbon footprint. Even though its cork can then be stripped every 8 to 14 years after that first harvest, we should adapt as this old chateau has done.

My salad was great but the DPP salad was the show stopper. flambeeingCooked tableside, the salade d’epinards (spinach) flambé was a flaming success. The red wine vinaigrette was reduced and then the cooked bacon was added and flambéed with brandy to produce a two foot high torch.

Salads were served with the Cote de Bonneville DuBrul Vineyard Rosé. This 45 acre site produces small berries, small clusters, and low yields.  DuBrul Vineyard has been recognized as one of the top Washington State vineyards.

french onion soupThe soup course included the ubiquitousasparagus soup but very French, French onion soup and soupe de jour was made with fresh Yakima Valley asparagus. The former was accompanied by one of my all time favorite wines, Owen Roe Abbotts Table which is a blend of Zin, Sangiovese, Blaufrankish and Petite Verdot. The later with a Tour d’Auron 2013, a Bordeaux Supérieur blend of Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot. Another great match by Greg.

And for the pièce de résistance, the chosen entrées were duck and rabbit. The duck was seared and braised in a house red wine sauce with flambéed green peppercorns served over mushroom risotto.

It was complimented by the 2012 King Estate Oregon Pinot Noir, a very aromatic wine with wonderful cherry flavors with with hints of earthy mushrooms.

I chose another chef’s choice created with seasonal ingredients. When in a French restaurant, there are certain dishes guaranteed to be on the menu that you wouldn’t find on a Kitsap County menu, snails, frog’s legs and rabbit.

My dish turned out to be a delicious casserole of rabbit DSCN4305with house-made noodles, arugula and Asiago.  This dish was accompanied by a Kestral 2012 Cabernet. According to winemaker Flint Nelson, “This expansive wine boasts full body, ripe dense fruit flavors, with supple tannins and a lingering finish.” I would heartily agree.

mousseFor dessert, the choices were obvious. Chocolate mousse cake, pastry chef’s choice and a glass of Treveri Rosé. Chef’s choice was a raspberry tart with basil, lemon peel and an apricot glaze. raspberry tartBoth were pleasing to the eye as well as the palate. But I had to use stealth to get a bite of the cake. The sharing was over as the DPP only likes raspberries in his beer.

Treveri Cellars is a Yakima Valley winery that produces some really great handcrafted sparkling wines. This family operation is led by a husband and wife team, Jürgen Grieb, head winemaker with almost 30 years in the Washington wine industry and Julie Grieb, business manager.treveri rose

Treveri opened its doors just days before the Thanksgiving rush in 2010 with a mission to put Washington sparkling wine on the map.  In almost six years, Treveri has been served three times at White House State Department receptions, the James Beard Foundation in New York,  received a Double Gold at the Seattle Wine Awards, 90+ point scores from national 100 point scorers and voted one of the nation’s Top Ten Hottest Brands of 2014 by Wine Business Monthly. Mission accomplished!

Producing a wide array of sparkling wines, including non-traditional varieties such as Syrah, Riesling and Gewurztraminer, Treveri uses state of the art techniques to produce these beautiful bubblies.

This Rosé, aged an average of 24 months, was a gorgeous rose color with big strawberry flavors and a lingering finish. The wine was a perfect match with both desserts and a beautiful and so very continental way to end the evening.

This is a dining experience you deserve! Carousel Restaurant & Bistro, 25 North Front Street, Yakima. (509) 248-6720

Tasting Washington White Wines

So, how was Taste Washington this year?  In a word – Grand.  TasteWaWineMonth_RedPlaid_NoDate_LogoThere were so many wines to taste and bites to match.  To be organized, a plan was made but like a dog after a squirrel,  I  gave chase to the bottle at the next table and the one next to that and the one next to that…

The plan was to taste Chenin Blancs the first hour and then on to the more unusual red varietals, like Carmenere, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Petite Verdot, Barbera, Dolcetto, or Nebbiolo.

Chenin Blanc is probably the world’s most versatile grape variety. It’s capable of producing some of the longest lived sweet wines and with its naturally high acidity, it’s easily the most balanced of wines. This high acidity is also quite useful for a range of sparkling Chenin Blancs.

I thought exploring wineries I hadn’t even heard of would be more educational than visiting the usual suspects. After all, there are over 900 Washington wineries today.

Chenin Blanc was first planted in Washington in 1948 from UC Davis stock. My love affair with Chenin Blanc began when Pontin del Roza released their second vintage in 1985.

The story of how Scott Pontin’s high school FFA project culminated into a successful estate winery is amazing. Here’s a kid making wine and not even old enough to walk into a bar.

However, his family have been farming the Roza since 1954. They began as turkey farmers, and then planted concord grapes and sold the juice to Yakima Valley Grape Producers. The family also farmed wheat, mint, potatoes and sugar beets and apples.

Pontin del Roza roughly translates to mean Pontin from the Roza. This  pioneering family came to the Yakima Valley and planted the terraced vineyards just as their Italian ancestors had done for centuries.

The 2014 Chenin Blanc has 13.6 % alcohol and residual sugar of 2.8% with aromas of lemon zest and melon leading into peach and pineapple flavors that paired wonderfully with Salty’s on Alki’s lobster gyoza with red curry.

Ancestry Cellars in Woodinville was offering up their Le Cortege 2014 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc.  The wine is a refreshing lemon, juicy green apple and honey flavors with aromas of honey and white flowers. It has great weight for an off dry style and has  a fair amount of acidity. The grapes are sourced from the 30 year old vines at Bella Terra Vineyard. It was fermented in stainless steel for a crisp, fresh wine with a residual sugar of  1.67%, and alcohol at 13.3%.  Awarded a Double Gold at the Seattle Wine Awards.

On a hillside overlooking the Wenatchee River Valley, Silvara Vineyards is Leavenworth’s newest winery. They recently garnered a Gold Medal at the Washington Wine Awards for their Chenin Blanc.  It has the sweetness of melon, apricots and honey with a hint of effervescence. Very impressive for this young winery. The drawback is no distributor.  To get a bottle of this wonderful wine, call 509-548-1000 or email  It’s worth it!

At this point, the plan began to unravel. Blame it on the freshly shucked oysters. Had to have some of the Chinook 2014 Sauvignon Blanc and Palencia’s Albarino, two of my all time favorite wines.

My nose led me to Urbane Restaurant’s smoked salmon cake, with Savage Grace next door.  Their Riesling vineyards on Underwood Mountain are on a steep hillside high above the Columbia River Gorge. The climate is a natural for Riesling. Flavors of tangerine and lime with wet stone combine to make this delicious Riesling that paired well with the smoked salmon cake.

Convergence Zone Cellars is a family-owned winery in Woodinville.  The grapes are sourced from some of the best vineyards in the Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain and Columbia Valley AVAs. Their Dewpoint is an off-dry Riesling with aromas of lemon zest, lime and peach. It has bright peach, green apple, and lemon flavors. The juicy fruit and crisp acidity is balanced, and paired perfectly with the Kalaloch Lodge’s Dungeness crab with jalapeno aioli crostini.

We’re big fans of Treveri Cellars, a family owned sparkling wine house that produces some of the best Washington sparklers. They producing a bevy of sparkling wines, including Syrah, Riesling and Mueller-Thurgau.  We tasted the Blanc de Noirs made with 100% Pinot Noir which had a hint of strawberries and brioche with crisp acidity with a creamy finish. It was en tirage which is French for fermenting in the bottle, for 23.5 months. Swiftwater Cellar’s duck comfit with Asian plum sauce was just the ticket to pair with this bubbly.

And then there are the red wines but we’ve run out of room.

And just a reminder that the Yakima Spring Barrel Tasting is next weekend. You can sample a new vintage straight from the barrel, enjoy cooking demonstrations, winemaker dinners, vineyard tours and other educational experiences. This is a great opportunity to delve into some of the wineries and vineyards in Washington’s oldest AVA on April 23rd and 24th .

And right here on the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island wineries have scheduled a special event for April 23 and 24. You’ll taste locally made cheeses with locally made wine. More info at

The following weekend, April 29 through May 1st is the Gorge Wine Experience  This three day series of events is for wine enthusiasts to learn about Gorge wine and meet the winemakers. There are over 20 wineries with activities throughout the Gorge.

What’s your Game Plan for Thanksgiving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a warm and happy Thanksgiving.

Garlic, Vinegar and a Whole Lotta Black Pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



OysterFest Celebrates 33 Years

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

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

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

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

The Wineries:

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

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

Wining and Dining this Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

Whaling Days does Wild Meadows

While kicking around Whaling Days last weekend, listening to the music, catching up with some long lost friends, I was treated to a new Washington Winery. Well, new to me anyway.

Wild Meadows Winery is part of the Precept Wine portfolio. Precept Wine is the largest privately owned wine company in the Northwest. Founded in 2003, Precept now owns 4,270 acres of vineyards, seven wineries and 37 labels in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.  red beauty

Last year, they produced 950,000 cases of wine including Waterbrook, Pendulum, St. Chapelle, Washington Hills, Sawtooth, Red Knot and Alder Ridge.

Precept allows its wine makers free rein when it comes to making wine. The Wild Meadow Winery winemaker, Hal Landvoigt, is also Precept Wine’s director of winemaking. This means he enjoys the freedom of choosing the best lots for Wild Meadow as well as House Wines, Washington Hills, Primarius, Battle Creek and Windy Bay. These wines are also attractively priced, usually under $12.

Landvoigt was the mastermind behind the chocolate flavored red wine, Chocolate Shop, another Precept Wine brand.

Wild Meadows makes a Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Syrah and Malbec. The juice is usually sourced from Columbia Valley since this is where the bulk of their vineyards are located.

The white wine served was the 2012 Columbia Valley Chardonnay which sells for around $11. Aromas of apple, pear, and citrus follow thru on the palate. Served chilled, the flavors of apple and pear with a bright citrus note still come through.

The red was called Red Beauty. It’s a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 15% Syrah, and 3% Cabernet Franc. The deep garnet color was a promise of good flavors and aromas in the glass with berries, plums, cherries and big body with smooth tannins and a silky finish. Try them! You’ll like them!

Dr. Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center Grand Opening

The Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center honors the Washington wine industry pioneers beginning with Dr. Walter Clore. Dr. Clore began his research work in 1937, studying vinifera grapes and their potential in Washington. His research, a cornerstone of the industry’s development, earned him official recognition from the Washington State Legislature as the Father of the Washington Wine Industry.

The Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center is celebrating its Grand Opening on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 1pm. This event will have a special toast with Columbia Crest 2010 Walter Clore Private Reserve. To RSVP for the Grand Opening, please call 509-786-1000 or

The Tasting Room will showcase a rotating featured AVA of Washington wines, agricultural themed exhibits, and wine and culinary program anchored by a chef’s demonstration kitchen. Entry to the exhibits is free.

Chosen by lottery, the featured AVA for June is the Puget Sound Region. The Puget Sound AVA was established in 1995. There are 178 acres planted to 61% red and 39% white vinifera and hybrid grapes.

June’s featured wines from grapes grown in the Puget Sound AVA:

Bainbridge Island: Mueller Thurgau and Pinot Noir

Comforts of Whidbey Island: Sweet Donna Blend, High Tide

Hoodsport: Island Belle

Lopez Island: Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine

Maury Island: Pinot Noir

Perennial Vintners: Isletage and Raspberry Dessert Wine

Spoiled Dog: Rosé of Pinot Noir

Vashon Winery: Isletage, Pinot Noir

There are several student wines also available for tasting, the WSU Red Blend and Riesling; and the YVCC 2013 Study Skills Chardonnay, 2011 Dean’s List Lemberger, and NV Campus Blend Red

Visitors can enjoy a variety of wines for a tasting fee of $5.00. For more information,