Category Archives: Northwest Wines

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!

It’s Time for Taste Washington

Taste Washington draws more than 6,400 wine and food enthusiasts to the Puget Sound to celebrate Washington wine and farm fresh food. March is Washington Wine Month and will culminate with exclusive tastings, farm-to-table lunches, wine seminars and a two-day Grand Tasting of over 230 wineries and sumptuous bites from 65 fabulous restaurants. Taste Washington is a wine and foodie extravaganza.

This long weekend of celebrating Washington Wines begins on Thursday with the fifth annual Red and White party by AQUA at El Gaucho, an elite tasting of some of the top wine producers’ recent releases.

And then on Friday, three rustic, chic luncheons reflect Washington’s agricultural heritage with Taste Washington on the Farm. Home to everything from shellfish farms to fruit orchards, it’s no surprise Washington would have a fabulous farm-to-table dining scene.

Washington has hundreds of acres of grapes and hops, organic veggies and wheat. Orchards produce the biggest apple crop in the nation, and the state is well-known for its cherry crop. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries are just within reach. And with our miles of shoreline, freshly harvested mussels, clams, Dungeness crab and, of course, salmon grace our tables.

Delightful wines, fresh ingredients and a dose of adventure add up to three exciting new excursions to experience special farm-to-table lunches in Seattle and the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas.

Each adventure offers tours of the farm with the farmers, rubbing elbows with the chefs who create a locally sourced spread, and sipping wine with the winemakers. From the three offered, it’ll be a tough choice to make.

One choice is “Wine in the City” at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, where you’ll enjoy a gourmet lunch in a charming urban farm tucked into 16 acres of beautiful gardens at the Center for Urban Horticulture. Chef Kyle Peterson from Palace Kitchen has a delectable meal planned using produce from the urban farm, supplemented by additional ingredients from Tom Douglas’ Prosser farm. Featured wineries include Mercer Family Estate and Matthews Winery.

Choice No. 2 is “Dining on Heyday Farm” on Bainbridge Island. Heyday Farms is a family-owned, 25-acre sustainable and historic farm. Diners will savor a delightful meal in the barn prepared by two local chefs, Tad Mitsui, executive chef and proprietor at Heyday Farm, and Chef Zoie Antonia.

Island wines that will be poured with lunch include Bainbridge Vineyards, Eagle Harbor Wine Co. and Fletcher Bay Winery. Others featured will be Amelia Wynn, Eleven, Perennial Vintners and Rolling Bay.

The third and most adventurous is the “Flyaway to Wine.” This is where you’ll find me. You get to travel by floatplane to the Olympic Peninsula, touching down at the picturesque Resort at Port Ludlow. Greeted dockside with a taste, you’ll then be escorted to Finnriver Farm & Cidery, a 50-acre organic family farm, orchard and artisan cidery in Chimacum. Tickets without the floatplane ride are also on sale.

After the tour, enjoy a delicious lunch in the Cider Garden prepared by Chef Dan Ratigan of The Fireside Restaurant at the Resort at Port Ludlow. Featured wineries and cider include Waterbrook Winery (one of the oldest wineries in Walla Walla), Doubleback (Drew Bledsoe’s family winery) and Finnriver Farm & Cidery.

The Grand Tasting takes place on Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the 230 wineries and more than 65 restaurants, Taste Washington will again feature an all-star chef lineup Guests are invited to watch and interact during hourly chef demonstrations from 2 to 5:30 p.m.

This year’s celebrity chefs include Brooke Williamson of Hudson House in Redondo Beach, California. Williamson was the runner-up in Bravo’s “Top Chef” Season 10, set in Seattle. The chef of Tin Roof in Maui, Sheldon Simeon, also competed in “Top Chef: Seattle” as a finalist and won fan favorite. His tropical cuisine is sure to be a hit at Taste Washington.

Tickets for the Red & White Party are $175. Tickets for the farm events range from $85 to $185. Other events include educational seminars ($45-$85), Sunday brunch ($75) and the Grand Tasting ($95-$210) To purchase tickets, visit http://tastewashington.org/

Hope to see you there.

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine lovers for a couple of decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club. She volunteers for the Clear Creek Trail, is a member of the Central Kitsap Community Council and a longtime supporter of Silverdale.

Ledger David Cellars has Talent

Ledger David Cellars’ owners David Traul and Lena Varner, like yours truly, have a passion for food and wine. Unlike me, their dream place is their vineyard, winery and the Le Petit Tasting Room in Talent, Oregon.

I can’t read “Talent, Oregon” without memories of one of the greatest wines of the world – Chateau D’Yquem. I was dining in a restaurant with incredible depth to their cellar. I don’t recall the red wine we with had dinner but I will never forget the bottle of wine we had for dessert.

We had a 1979, not a great vintage but an affordable one. It was an exquisite wine that I only had to share with one other person. It cost around $90 for a half bottle, but heck, I was on vacation in the Rogue Valley.

Chateau D’Yquem is the world’s most difficult and expensive wine to produce. Being from the Sauternes of region of Bordeaux, it’s a blend of white grapes – about 80% Semillon and the remainder Sauvignon Blanc. Their vineyard is susceptible to Botrytis Cinerea, a good mold that attaches itself to the grape skins and sucks all the moisture out of the grape. It’s not pretty but it is an incredibly beautiful, sweet, concentrated wine whose importance began in a spectacular vineyard.

So why is D’Yquem so difficult and expensive? The biggest factor is how the grapes are harvested. When the time comes, vineyard workers make many passes through the vineyards picking only the choicest grapes. They do this about twenty times during harvest. Imagine the hours of labor of picking berry by berry. Not cluster by cluster. Each fuzzy grape picked is wizened by the botrytis, a small capsule of intense flavors and sugars. It could take a month to harvest. In off years, the wine is not produced.

Ledger David Cellars appears to have the same exacting standards in the vineyards if not the same type of climate or soils. The vineyards, closer to California than Willamette Valley, have a warmer and drier climate than its neighboring Oregon AVAs up north.

The vineyard is in an area known as the Wagner Creek Sub-basin, part of the Rogue Valley Appellation. Grape varieties are also different from the other cooler regions of Oregon in part because of the climate but also the unique soils that are generally volcanic, shallow and well-drained.

The Varner-Traul Vineyards have over 15 acres of wine grapes planted. They were established in 2007 with an extensive line of grapes that include Chenin Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Syrah.

While not world renowned yet, they have been awarded gold and silver medals for many of their wines both past and present. Their 2016 Rogue Valley Viognier is very aromatic, reminding me of melon and peaches with lush stone fruit, a hint of citrus with a lingering finish. Loved the balance and was surprised to see the 14.5% alcohol. Pair with pork chops with roasted apples and shallots or a warm bowl of chowder.

The 2016 Sauvignon Blanc was aged sur lie with the bulk of it in stainless and 15% in neutral French oak for 7 months. That accounts for the pale golden color. The flavors are less Bordeaux in style leaning more towards stone and tropical fruits in the New Zealand style. The bright acidity lends itself to a beautiful seafood wine. Think about crab cakes with a mango puree or steamed clams with garlic, shallots and chives. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Other whites to try are the Radiant White, a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Malvasia Bianca, that’s full bodied with aromas and flavors of ripe pear, apple, tropical fruits with a dollop of vanilla. There is a balancing minerality and bright acidity that makes it a refreshing quaff. Seared scallops, Thai curry or fried chicken?

Another star of this winery is the Dark Night Red, a blend of mostly Tempranillo with a touch of Malbec and Syrah. This rich, lush wine with dark berry aromas tasted of blackberries and mocha and another long finish. This was also shared with just one other person. Pair with a pork loin in an orange sauce or a hearty beef stew.

I loved their Tempranillo from Spain’s indigenous Rioja grape. It’s all cherries, plums and herbs, a perfect foil for Pepper Steak Bundles with Coriander Seeds or the classic Paella. The balance and the aromas will make your mouth smile.

I also loved their 2014 Syrah. Intense, rich and lush, with blackberry and licorice, I should have waited for a year or two. But like a 16-year-old, I couldn’t keep my hands off it. I marveled at the purple hue that stained my empty glass. This would have been perfect with a seared duck breast with savory lentils on the side. Dang it!

The 2014 Sangiovese is sublime with layers of black fruits and dusted with a balancing mineral note. The balanced acidity makes this a wonderful accompaniment to a steaming dish of spaghetti and meatballs or cannelloni stuffed with spinach and ricotta.

These and other limited production estate wines are available for shipping. Or perhaps a road trip is in the stars? Near their Le Petit Tasting Room in Central Point is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Rogue Creamery and Lillie Belle Farms gourmet chocolates. All excellent reasons for a road trip.

And speaking of Oregon, where Nick Tomassi, a wine buddy of many years, moved. For a number of years, Nick taught wine classes at Olympic College and wrote for several local publications. He was a huge promoter of northwest wines – particularly the red ones. He only loved one European wine more than his beloved northwest wines – Tomassi Amarone. Nick moved again a few days ago to his heavenly wine cabinet. Cheers to you, Nick.

Red Wine and Chocolate Events

There are many opportunities in the next couple of months to taste and learn. February has a plethora of Red Wine and Chocolate events around the state. These tastings lead into March designated as Washington Wine Month and culminating in the grandest grand tasting of Washington wines in the nation.

But first, one of my favorite listen, taste and learn events is the Belgian Beer Fest organized by the Washington Beer Commission. The 9th Annual Festival will take place this year at the Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion where there will be over 100 Belgian Beer styles crafted by Washington breweries.

Belgian beers are unique in the beer world. This amazing beer region has a myriad of styles including Saisons, Wits, Lambics, Dubbels, Tripels and Abbeys. Many are made with wild yeast, fresh fruit and aged hops. Traditional brewing methods blending new with aged and aging in neutral oak for a couple of years.

Way before bourbon barrel aged stouts, Oud Bruins (old brown) were aged and blended old with new. They tend, in my opinion to be more wine like than beer like. For years, I could convert a wine only aficionado or at least have them concede that a Belgian Lambic was almost as good as a sparkling wine.

This is truly a new adventure for IPA fans but you could still sport the standard beer fest accessory – a pretzel necklace. The event is Saturday, January 27th, at the Fisher Pavilion in the Seattle Center. There are two sessions, the first from 12-4pm and the second from 5:30-9:30 pm. Tickets are $37 in advance or $45 at the door. But you take your chances at the door where limited tickets are available. The later session always sells out.

Admission includes a tasting glass and 10 tasting tokens. Each taste is 4 oz. so a tasting companion is a good idea. As of this weekend, there are 4 food trucks and about 40 breweries for your tasting pleasure. You can check out who’s bringing what here: https://washingtonbeer.com/festivals/belgianfest.php

Next on the fun and exciting things to do calendar is Wine on the Rock. Wine on the Rock is a two-day wine and chocolate affair held at each of the seven Bainbridge wineries.

This year, Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eagle Harbor Wine, Eleven Winery, Fletcher Bay Winery, Perennial Winery and Rolling Bay Winery will pour their wines and serve up tasty tidbits of chocolate, February 10 and 11, from noon until 5p.

Tickets are good for both days for one visit per winery if you wanted to check all seven out and includes a commemorative wine glass and a wine tote to take your treasures home with you. Purchase your tickets here: https://www.bainbridgewineries.com/special-events

And if you want to venture a little further afield, there is a Red Wine, Cider & Chocolate tour on the Olympic Peninsula February 10th and 11th, and 17th and 18th from 11:00am to 5:00pm. Tickets include wine glass, wine tasting and chocolate samples at all nine OPW Wineries & Cideries. Online tickets are $40 and remaining tickets will be sold for $45 at participating wineries, on a first come basis. A $10 wine tasting fee will be charged at each winery for non-ticketed visitors.

Beginning in Port Angeles, you’ll find award winning wines at Camaraderie, located at 334 Benson Road and check out one of my favorite Washington wineries, Harbinger on the west side of Port Angeles. They serve up award winning wines, local beers on tap, and handmade chocolates every day.

Founded in 1979, Olympic Cellars was Washington’s 15th bonded winery. It was founded by Gene Neuharth who planted an experimental vineyard next to his winery in Sequim. The vineyard and winery were later relocated to Port Angeles in a 100+ historic barn.

Their Dungeness Series is a nod to Neuharth and the winery’s first name. They also produce Working Girl wines, a nod to the three women who work hard at this award winning winery.

Around Port Townsend, FairWinds Winery will be pouring tastes of Lemberger and other hearty reds. They are the only winery in the state that I know of that produces a little known white grape called Aligote’, a native of Burgundy. Other rare finds are the Fireweed Mead and the Port O’Call, a wine made for chocolate.

Eaglemount Wine and Cider has moved to Port Townsend at 1893 South Jacob Miller Road. The new digs have plenty of room for dinners, dances and receptions and a guest house.

In 2006, Eaglemount started making ciders from over 30 varieties of heirloom apples on their 1883 homestead orchard. Grapes for their red wines are sourced from eastern Washington and processed at the winery. Their red wines and hard ciders have won double gold, gold, silver and bronze medal at numerous competitions.

The main focus at Wind Rose Cellars is Italian varieties, primarily Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese and Orange Muscat. Orange Muscat is definitely a chocolate match even if it’s not red.

The oldest AVA in Washington state also has the oldest running Red Wine and Chocolate event. The weekend of February 17th and 18th over 40 wineries in the Yakima Valley AVA will be pouring tastes of fine wines and nibbling on decadent chocolates from 10:00am until 5:00pm.

Wineries from Yakima, Zillah, Prosser and Red Mountain will be offering a weekend of divine decadence with the Premier Pass, which gives you a variety of specialty food pairings, library tastings, and tours not available to the general public. Premier Passes are available for $35 at the door at select wineries during the event weekend. For more information, www.wineyakimavalley2@msn.com

And finally, Taste Washington is the most decadent of wine events. Exclusive pours from world-class vintners, gourmet bites from great restaurants and private food and farm tours are events you don’t want to miss.

It’s impossible to sample everything at the Grand Tasting, I know, I’ve made valiant efforts. Thank goodness there are two days to enjoy the very best Washington State has to offer. More info: http://tastewashington.org/wineries-2018/

Holiday Traditions and Memorable Dinners

The holiday season has its traditions. For some, it’s putting up twinkling lights, last-minute shopping, and celebratory parties. For me, it’s memorable dinners.

My holiday wining and dining kickoff is at Seaview’s Shelburne Inn. The Wild Mushroom and Pike Brewing Dinner, now in its eighth year, has one common ingredient in each course — wild mushrooms. And more often than not, a splash of Charles and Rose Ann Finkel’s accompanying brews.

A few of the memorable dishes over the years were a cedar planked salmon with Man on Horseback mushrooms, lemon confit and pine nut relish; a duck and Porcini mushroom pie; Canary, Delicioso and Red Russula mushrooms, squash and white cheddar gratin; a luscious deconstructed Lobster mushroom lasagna; and an incredible elk shoulder pastrami bruschetta with Anjou pear and King Boletus mushrooms.

Sometimes, even the dessert has mushrooms. Sounds sort of weird, but the house-made Pike Stout ice cream in a Porcini Florentine cookie topped with pumpkin caramel and Porcini brittle was so decadent, I might have licked the plate.

This year, we sat down to a cream of wild mushroom soup with a touch of cayenne perfectly paired to Pike’s Hive Five Honey Ale. For this ale, Pike Brewing collaborated with the Salish Lodge. On the hillside above the famed lodge are their beehives and their honey used to make this gold medal-winning ale.

Perfectly paired with the Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale was a pretzel sandwich stuffed with a pork and wild mushroom sausage, peppers and more mushrooms. Next up was a pan-seared king salmon with sautéed wild mushroom and a huckleberry demi-glace accompanied by Pike’s Monk’s Uncle, a Belgian tripel-style ale. Then an elk sirloin with a wild mushroom risotto partnered with Pike’s Entire Imperial Russian Stout 2016.

A longtime fan of wine, I asked if we could enjoy a bottle of wine with these wonderful mushroom dishes. The salmon and the elk and mushroom risotto were outstanding with Knudsen’s Pinot Noir.

Another pre-holiday tradition is a harvest potluck with friends. For that occasion, it was another Oregon Pinot that stole the show.

We began with a Kitzke 2011 Red Mountain Nebbiolo, salami and cheese. Nebbiolo is the late-ripening grape of the Barolo and Barbaresco regions of northwest Italy. Traditionally, Barolos can be long-lived, 15 to 25 years; Barbarescos, the more approachable, in 5 to 10 years.

Before Barolo can be released, it has to have been aged three years, two in cask and one in the bottle. This was because Barolo tended to be very high in tannins as a result of the traditional three-week fermentation on the skins.

That was the traditional way. The new generation is more inclined to produce a wine with an “international” profile that doesn’t need to age as long. This controversy has sparked the Barolo Wars.

The Nebbiolo was showing its age, in a good way — light in color, a slight brick rim and a silky mouthfeel. With only 30 months in neutral oak, the aromas and flavors showed traditional rose, faint cherry and a bit of tar.

Next, Raptor Ridge’s 2016 Chehalem Mountains Grüner Veltliner was a beautiful match to the Geoduck Carpaccio with Shichimi Togarashi citrus vinaigrette. An unusual find in the Pacific Northwest, Grüner Veltliner is a refreshing, peppery white wine with stone fruit flavors.

Chelan’s Cairdess Northern White accompanied the chicken white chili. This Rhône-style blend of Marsanne and Roussanne from Boushey and Lawrence Vineyards was packed with peach and mineral flavors.

The crowning glory of the dinner was the sous vide tri-tip steak. Sous vide (French for under vacuum) is a new kitchen gadget that’s like cooking in a hot tub. The meat evenly cooks in a baggie in a water bath for much longer time than normal. This ensures all the moisture is retained. The Tri-tip came out very rich, tender and silky.

We had two very different wines with this course. The first was the Domaine Drouhin Louise 2007 Pinot Noir. Not a great year for some producers, much depending on when the grapes were picked.

The 2007 spring came off without a glitch; summer was cooler than most without any heat spikes that could disrupt the growing season. Everything was great going into harvest — and then it rained.

Some picked early to get it in before the rains, but the grapes weren’t really ready. Some harvested between the rain events, hoping for some usable grapes even if they had not fully ripened. But those who waited while gnawing on their nails fared the best.

The Louise opened to tart cherries with a bit of leather and dust, the acidity was good and the color youthful for a 10-year-old wine. It was a very nice bottle.

Next, we poured a 2015 Yakima Valley Sheridan Cab. The difference was night and day, one elegant with age, the other elegant in its youth. Big and rich, ripe plums and pencil lead, this wine knocked our socks off. We were all grinning over the awesome aromas of plums, cassis and pencil lead.

But the pièces de résistance was the Domaine Drouhin Oregon Louise 2007, the “Rolls Royce of Oregon Pinots” according to our host. I agree. The Louise cuvée had the most compelling perfume.

From the Red Hills of Dundee, the grapes were handpicked, sorted, de-stemmed, and then slowly fermented. For each vintage, DDO focuses on a few favorite barrels that, once nurtured and blended, will become the Louise. Typically in barrel for 15 months, it maintains balance because they use only 20 percent new French oak.

The lesson learned is not to dismiss rainy vintages. Winemakers working with what Mother Nature gives in a cool vintage, have higher acid levels and lower alcohol levels than usual, and with patience, producing some of the most lovely, fragrant wines.

Cheers and happy holidays!