Category Archives: Tastings

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!

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!

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/

Wandering Walla Walla continued ….

For 25 years, Woodward Canyon’s Old Vines Cabernet sported a portrait on the front label and a local history lesson on the back. The portraits were of early Walla Walla developers who were influential in Walla Walla’s agricultural, banking, or governing. I was especially impressed with the three ladies, Lettice Reynolds, Mabel Anderson and Annie McC. Mix, who were prominent in high society, philanthropists and benefactors of Whitman College. For an interesting look at 1900s Walla Walla, check out the labels here.

Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard was first planted to Chardonnay in 1976 on the Small family’s wheat farm. The canyon was named for A. P. Woodward an early Walla Walla Valley soldier, stockman and farmer. Mr. Woodward came to Walla Walla County in 1852, did some soldiering and bought a 400 acre farm in the canyon that now bears his name. This introduction was made on the inaugural 1981 Old Vine Cabernet Dedication Series.

The Woodward Canyon Artist Series began in 1992. This is a fuller bodied Cabernet from some of the oldest and renowned vineyards in the Columbia Valley. Each year features a different artist with the original artwork hanging in the tasting room in Lowden. The 2014 label was the work of Linda Lowe of Gig Harbor.

The grapes for the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet are sources Columbia Valley’s Sagemoor Vineyards from a section planted in 1972. Woodward Canyon is a partner in Champoux Vineyard, also planted in the 1970s, in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation also part of the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet.

Walla Walla is a small town of 25,000 and connections in the wine industry are inescapable. For instance, Gilles Nicault made his Washington winemaking debut at Woodward Canyon. Nicault is now Long Shadows’ Director of Winemaking, the second winery on the Rick Small and Jordan Dunn Small WWander itinerary.

Long Shadows Vintners is just a short jaunt from Woodward Canyon on Frenchtown Road, a fitting road name for this winery. Long Shadows is named for the people who have cast long shadows across the wine industry. It’s a Who’s Who of winemakers from all corners of the wine world. Founder Allen Shoup, met many of winemakers, viticulturalists and vineyard owners during his 18+ years at the helm of Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Long Shadows Vintners is a collection of exceptional wines showcasing Washington fruit fermented and blended by several internationally acclaimed winemakers. As director of wine making, Nicault has overseen the crafting of Chester-Kidder, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend, Poet’s Leap Riesling and Saggi, a super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Cab.

Atlas Peak’s esteemed Randy Dunn fashions Feather, a mountain grown Cabernet; John Duval, best known for his years at the helm of Australia’s Penfolds Grange, crafts Sequel; rising star Philippe Melka produces Pirouette, a red blend; and Pomeral’s Michel Rolland, a right bank Bordeaux wizard, conjures up Pedestal from 100% Merlot.

Another connection – South of town is Tertulia Cellars. Jordan Dunn Small managed Tertulia Cellars tasting room and sales before joining the family at Woodward Canyon. The tasting room and winery overlooks the Péntaque field. We were treated to the Viognier, Syrah, and the award winning Great Schism, a Rhone blend of 50 Grenache, 40 Syrah, 7 Cinsault and 3 Mourvedre.

And we learned the rules to play Pétanque. The number 1 rule is you must play with a wine glass in hand. Easy! Pétanque is a game where the goal is to toss or roll hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet, while standing inside a circle. It’s played in facilities called boulodromes which have gravel surfaces. Very fun. Prior practice pitching softballs, putting and pool served me well.

Our next stop was a local taco joint Mi Pueblito where we picked up some chips, three very good salsas, pombazo and tacos to go. I chose the pombazo because I had never even heard of it. it turns out to be Mexican bread. This particular dish was a bun about 8″ in diameter and filled with potatoes with chorizo. We enjoyed the food at Burwood Brewing Company’s new taproom at the airport.

Another connection – Burwood Brewery owner David Marshall taught Jordan’s husband how to brew beer. And Marshall spent a few years in the wine industry as assistant winemaker at Long Shadows before switching over to brewing instead of fermenting. A Master Brewer, he worked for a few years at Pyramid before opening his own brewery. He uses local malts and Yakima hops and also makes a tasty root beer.

WWander Walla Walla Wine Country is truly a wonderful wine experience. Curated by 10 very cool Walla Walla winemakers, each itinerary is a same-day, pay-as-you-go experience with suggestions to local favorite places to eat, taste and explore.  Exclusive tastings, helping out with harvest, winemaker talks, property tours, wine club member benefits for the day or complimentary tastings are perks that await!

All you have to do is register for the Saturday of your choice at WallaWallaWine.com/WWander   Registration is free. So pack your bags, register to wander and explore these excellent Walla Walla Valley itineraries. Cheers!

How to Wander Walla Walla Wine Country

The Walla Walla AVA was established in 1984 with only four wineries, Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No. 41 and Waterbrook. It was unique at the time not only because there were only four wineries but because approximately 57 percent of the vineyards were in Washington, the other 43 percent were in Oregon.

With few vineyards planted, those wineries sourced grapes from Columbia Valley. While many of today’s wineries continue this practice, the increased vineyard size allows some wineries to put the Walla Walla AVA designation on their wine labels. Wineries must source at least 85 percent of the grapes from a specified area if that area is on the label.

A mere 23 years later, thanks to a combination of climate and charm, Walla Walla boasts almost 130 wineries and more than 2,960 acres of vineyards. Walla Walla wineries and tasting rooms are spread around six designated areas: airport, downtown, westside, eastside, southside and Oregon.

So now imagine, it’s fall, the leaves are turning and crush is just about over. You’re in Walla Walla wine country, map in hand. You’ve picked a favorite winery to visit but need to break for lunch. Or you’re in a downtown tasting bar and you want to figure out what other tasting bars or wineries are within walking distance. Or maybe a place to rent a bicycle and take a leisurely ride or go for a run.

Well, cool news! The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance has cooked up  wonderful wine experiences called “WWander Walla Walla Valley Wine.”  These Saturday itineraries are curated by 10 pretty cool Walla Walla winemakers.

Each itinerary is a same-day, pay-as-you-go experience with  suggestions by the winemakers to their favorite places to eat, taste and explore. They offer perks such as exclusive tastings, helping out with the harvest, winemaker talks, property tours, wine club member benefits for the day or complimentary tastings.

All you have to do is register for the Saturday of your choice at WallaWallaWine.com/WWander  Registration is free and you get an official badge to wander like a winemaker.

We recently did a trial run and I can tell you, this is a real treat. This partial itinerary was compiled by Woodward Canyon’s Rick Small and Jordan Dunn Small, first- and second-generation owners.

The first stop on the tour was breakfast at the Colville Street Patisserie. Owners David Christensen and Tiffany Cain’s case displays mouthwatering classic French pastries. We had to make the hard choice of which to have with the locally roasted freshly brewed coffee. So I picked two, one with coffee and one for later.

We  took a stroll through the 115-year-old Pioneer Park, designed by the celebrated Olmsted Brothers of Central Park fame. There’s a lot to take in — the beautiful old sycamores, the aviary, and an incredibly whimsical sculpture by Tom Otterness to name a few.

On to Woodward Canyon’s tasting room, located in a beautifully restored farmhouse next door to the old tasting room, a converted machine shop. The complimentary estate vineyard tasting will give you a sense of the vineyard’s maturity and the winemaking that is more French in style with balance, complexity and the ability to age gracefully.

We tasted the Estate Sauvignon Blanc sourced from 15 year old vines, fermented in stainless and briefly aged in neutral oak. It was wonderfully crisp, full bodied and well balanced, a perfect food wine.

Next, the 2014 Barbera was juicy with plenty of dark fruits and acidity, the kind that makes you wish for a plate full of sliced tomatoes sprinkled with balsamic, olive oil and shaved parm.

The family has been working with clones and root stock to prepare for the coming climatic changes. We tasted the Estate Cab where a blend of three clones produce a wine with dark fruits, bright acidity and a long finish.

The 2013 Reserve was a blend of 33% Merlot, 33% Petite Verdot, 22% Cab Franc and 12% Cab. It’s also a blend, this time with 13 clones that give it depth and richness not found in wines this young. With some age, this wine will be stunning.

We finished up with the 2013 Erratic, a southern Rhone blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. This gorgeous wine is big with rich raspberry and spice flavors. It would accompany a leg of lamb perfectly.

Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard was first planted to Chardonnay in 1976 on the family’s ranch.  In addition to the Chardonnay, it’s now planted with Cab, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc with a few rows of Barbera, Dolcetto, Mourvedre and Grenache.

The winery continues to purchase grapes from Columbia Valley’s Sagemoor Vineyards where a section planted in 1972 is part of the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet. Woodward Canyon is a partner in Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation also part of the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet.

Next on the itinerary was lunch at Brasserie Four. It’s a local favorite, with amazing moules-frites and Coquille St Jacques. We took Rick and Jordan’s advice to indulge in a glass of something imported with lunch. The J J Prum Kabinett was a standout. Mouthwatering French cuisine and an amazing collection of wines by the glass and by the bottle. What more could you ask for?

A trip focusing on wine, food and the obligatory after-indulging exercise in the Walla Walla Valley is a slice of heaven. It can also be a bargain when you keep in mind that this is the shoulder season and many area hotels and airlines offer lower rates. So pack your bags, register to wander and explore these excellent Walla Walla Valley itineraries. And remember, your first case of wine flies free.

Still Learning about Wines

The 6th Annual Washington Wine Awards was held last week. About 40 wineries were pouring with some wonderful bites presented by local restaurants. It was a heavenly event.

So what did I learn? Well, grab a glass of wine and pull up a chair as I tell you about some of my favorites that evening.

A new find was the Ashren 2016 Columbia Valley and 2014 Celilo Vineyard Chard. Winemaker Chris Gorman sources his grapes from some of the best vineyards – Conner Lee, Boushey and Celilo. While rather high at 14.4% alcohol, you couldn’t taste it, it was so well balanced. Both spent 9 months in neutral oak also contributing to the fullness and balance.

Airfield Estates on Merlot Drive in Prosser poured their 2015 Yakima Chard. This wine was so easy to sip with 70% fermented in stainless and only 30% aged in neutral oak. Crisp, medium bodied with pear and apple aromas and flavors. It’s a summertime wine.

Next I beat feet to Cadence but with several bodies blocking my way, I waited my turn at Canvasback next door, one of the newest wineries on Red Mountain. What makes this such a storied wine is its California roots.

Owned by Duckhorn of Merlot, Cab and Sauvignon Blanc fame, they’re making wine from the Obelisco and Quintana vineyard grapes while waiting for their vines to reach maturity (seven years old). Winemaker Brian Roudin apprenticed at Cadaretta in Walla Walla. You need a bottle of this.

Cadence was pouring the 2013 Red Mountain Bel Canto, a blend of 75 Cab Franc and 25 Merlot which is the inverse of some great Pomerols with their 75 Merlot and 25 Cab Franc. The breadth and depth of aromas and palate was amazing.

Sparkman Cellars Wilderness 2014 Syrah was being poured. It went very nicely with the Tulalip Casino’s Pork Belly sushi. I was also drawn to their wonderful 2015 Kindred, a Bordeaux blend. He makes great wines – really.

I thoroughly enjoyed Purple Star Winery’s 2013 Cab, a blend of 90% Cab with the remainder Merlot and Petite Verdot. And Dusted Valley’s 2013 Cab, a blend of predominantly Cab, with Petite Verdot and Cab Franc from Dionysus Vineyard is another wine that garnered 3 stars from my pen, along with Long Shadows Chester Kidder’s 2014 Red Blend.

Newsprint Winery’s 2014 Red Blend is another not-to-be-missed BBQ wines. And finally, in a garage in Woodinville is Kevin White Winery, near and dear to me. His 2015 Yakima Red and 2014 DuBrul Red well worth seeking out, if you can find them. Truly.

OK, last one, Treveri Cellars Blanc de Noir was absolutely perfect as always but with the Tulalip Casino’s Butter Poached Prawns with Dungeness Crab, Ginger Lime Vinaigrette and Wasabi Tobiko, we’re talking heavenly. Both those guys really nailed it.

The Kitsap Wine Festival at Harborside Fountain Park is next Saturday. This revelry of wine, set on Bremerton’s scenic and sunny waterfront, is one of the best on the Kitsap Peninsula.

The 9th annual festival begins at from 2 and ends at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $65 from Brown Paper Tickets which includes a Kitsap Wine Festival commemorative wine glass and 15 scripts.

Kitsap Peninsula’s Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island will be there also. The Winery Alliance includes Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eagle Harbor, Eleven Winery, Fletcher Bay, Perennial Vintners, and Rolling Bay Winery.

What the individual wineries are pouring that day remains to be seen but here are my picks with fingers crossed that they’ll pour what I want to taste:

Harbinger Winery is an artisan Olympic Peninsula winery focused on making fabulously drinkable wines with varietals that aren’t mainstream. Sara Gagnon, owner and winemaker, has made great wines and I hope to taste her Dynamo Red Table Wine, a gold medal winning wine made from mostly Syrah, with a dollop of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Grenache.

I first met Davenport Cellars owners Jeff and Sheila Jirka at a Kitsap Wine Festival a few years ago. Located in the warehouse district of Woodinville, they source their grapes like most from eastern Washington. Their Continuity is a Bordeaux blend of 71% Cab, with the remainder being Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Fruit sources include Walla Walla’s Pepper Bridge and Les Collines, Sheridan Vineyard in Rattlesnake Hills, and Kiona on Red Mountain.

Also new to me from Woodinville, is Long Cellars, a boutique winery whose primary mission is to produce fine Bordeaux styled wines from vineyards located in the Yakima Valley AVA, the oldest AVA in Washington.

Eleganté Cellars is another winery that’s been around since 2007. They also make wine from Les Collines which is in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, in the Walla Walla AVA. Their Gewürztraminer grapes come from 35 year old vines from Celilo Vineyards.

Stina’s Cellars in Lakewood caught my attention after having won a bottle of Ice Wine at auction last winter. They have won a number of awards for their 2013 Wahluke Slope Tempranillo and a gold medal at the Capital Wine & Food Festival for their 2012 Yakima Valley Malbec.

Finally, many Oregon wineries will be in the direct path of the total solar eclipse on August 21st. Viewing totality among the grape vines in the Willamette Valley could be just the kind of celebration you haven’t experienced on a Monday morning.

Willamette Valley Vineyards’ sold out event offers parking, eclipse viewing eye-glasses, wine tasting, educational presentations, a commemorative Solar Eclipse Pinot Noir and live music for $100. For ticket holders arriving ahead of the traffic, gates open at 0400!

Getting a Wine Education

The wine bug bit me early on, if you consider a jug of Inglenook’s Navalle Burgundy wine. But, hey, you have to start somewhere.

This wine, in a convenient jug with a handle, was good for a week to 10 days. I had a glass of wine or two with dinner. A librarian job in the Loop and a studio apartment on the Northside dictated how much could be spent on wine. Inglenook was a decent quaff for the budget.

Not too long after that was my inaugural trip to Napa Valley. The historic Greystone Abbey home to the Christian Brothers, was the first of many tasting rooms visited and I fell in love with their Grey Riesling. My palette has changed over time with  many bottles consumed. Wine with family and friends – that’s the best of times.

Fast forward some years and I found myself the owner of a wine shop with many opportunities to learn, absorb and taste. The best way to learn about wine is to taste with other wine lovers, beginners and experts alike. And read. And taste some more. The more you taste and read, the more you learn and come to appreciate this tasty beveridge.

Wine festivals, tastings and conferences can give you a broader palette. One remarkable place to learn about Washington wines is the Walter Clore Center in Yakima. The center offers in-depth, Washington wine coverage with a focus on a different AVA each month.

They also offer special tastings such as a blind tasting of the Grüner Veltliner that demonstrates how differences in climate, vineyard practices, soil type and winemaking style can affect the way varietals express themselves.

On July 22 and July 29, the tasting theme is  Washington versus Spain. This comparative tasting covers classic varietals produced in Spain up against the same varietals grown and produced in Washington.

And on Sunday, July 30 at 2 p.m., you can enjoy 4 sparkling red wines, expertly paired with 4 small bites. They may be pushing some boundaries here, but then who here has had red wine with bubbles?  For more info, theclorecenter.org

The inaugural SOMM Summit held last week in Seattle was an around-the-world-in-80-wines tasting. This deliciously serious international wine and spirits educational conference at South Seattle Community College was a wonderful gathering of sommeliers, Masters of Wine, stewards and other wine geeks. We listened, tasted, talked and learned more about the world of wine and spirits.

Dr. Kevin Pogue, Professor of Geology at Whitman College, took us through the cataclysmic, historic journey that shaped Washington State’s soils. Following this, Tim Donahue, Director of Winemaking at College Cellars talked about the winemaker’s influence with lots of emphasis on anthocyanins, catchins, pH and other scientific mumbo jumbo, which he explained using Legos. Yep, it actually worked — for me anyway.

We took a trip through the sparkling wines of South Africa, indulged in a Quilceda Creek Retrospective, sipped Napa Valley wines from the valley floor and above, tasted eight decades of Port, a vertical of Seven Hills, and the exotic Xinomavro grape of Greece.

Closer to home, eight wonderful Washington Syrahs stained our teeth purple and eight crisp whites from British Columbia turned the teeth white again. There were eight decades of Kopke Colheita Portos, three centuries of Remy Martin and the debut of Bodegas Lustau’s Sherry Ambassador Certification course. This was an amazing forum to learn in depth details.

Oregon’s ¡Salud! is patterned after the most famous wine auction in the world, Hospices de Beaune. ¡Salud! is dedicated to providing healthcare services to Oregon vineyard workers and their families for the past 25 years. This is made possible by two major fundraisers.

The Pinot Noir Auction on November 10th and 11th is your only opportunity to access Oregon’s most exclusive Pinot Noir cuvées. It begins with a tasting and Big Board Auction at Ponzi Vineyards and concludes the next day at Domaine Serene with a Black Tie Optional Gala dinner.

They also have Summertime ¡Salud! which showcases great wines and gourmet cuisine on July 27th. Presented by Dukes Family Vineyards and hosted by Stoller Family Estate, you can mingle with winemakers while tasting wine and  sampling hors d’oeuvres, and then enjoy an upscale, family-style, alfresco dinner with some of Oregon’s best wines poured from impressive magnum bottles straight to your glass.

The  Kitsap Wine Festival on the Bremerton’s scenic waterfront is always a great way to celebrate food, wine, sunshine and blue skies. Sip wine and savor local restaurants’ culinary skills at this lovely maritime location.

Many Washington wineries and a sprinkling of other areas’ wines are available for tasting and purchasing. The ninth annual Kitsap Wine Festival will be Saturday, August 12 at Harborside Fountain Park.

Tickets start at $50, https://www.kitsapwinefestival.com.

Cheers to our next opportunity to learn more and enjoy more!

Small, artisan winemakers at Taste Washington

Washington has a legion of wineries producing great wine from the approximately 50,000 acres planted to vitis vinifera. Only 20 of these wineries make more than 40,000 cases annually. Small, family producers make up the vast majority of the 900+ wineries.

Considering all the wines at Taste Washington’s Grand Tasting, what were the standouts for me? The three that immediately come to mind: Caideas, Cadence and Terra Blanca. All small artisan wineries.

Cairdeas Winery began making wine from eastern Washington grapes in South Seattle. The family-owned artisan operation then moved to the Lake Chelan AVA, a less hectic environment to raise a family and produce great wine. Charlie and Lacey Lybecker named their winery Cairdeas, which is Irish for friendship and a nod to their Irish heritage. I would like to be their new best friend. You may want to be also.

Their wines are Nellie Mae 2014 Columbia Valley White Rhone (named for his grandmother), Tri Red Yakima Valley 2014 Rhone Blend, and (being Irish and wine lover, I love this) the 2014 Caislen an Papa Meek Vineyard Red Rhone from the Yakima Valley. Caislen an Papa is Irish and, roughly translated, means the same as Chateauneuf du Pape. Chateauneuf du Pape is French for new home of the pope.

History tells us there was this long line of Italian only popes and then in the 13th century, a pope was elected that was not Italian but French! He had this brilliant idea of moving the papal palace to Avignon, the heart of the southern Rhône region. There, a red wine was blended using up to13 different grape varieties, both red and white.

Anyway, back to this Irish take on a red Rhône-like wine with an Irish name that so intrigued me. It’s a blend of 44 percent Grenache, 22 percent Mourvedre, 14 percent Syrah, 13 percent Cinsault and 7 percent Counoise. OK, so not the 13 allowed varieties, but when was the last time you saw Cinsault and Counoise in a Washington wine? Definitely a wine to seek out.

Nellie Mae is a white Rhone blend of 70 percent Viognier and Roussanne with 14 percent alcohol. The nose is fragrant, the flavors are balanced and the finish is long. The 2014 Tri was a blend of Yakima Syrah (64 percent) Mourvedre and Grenache with all kinds of raspberry and earthiness in the nose and on the palate. It was gorgeous.

Next was Cadence Winery and the charming Ben Smith. I love their Red Mountain sourced wines. All of these wines will draw you in, as they drew me in, by their fragrant aromas.

The Cadence Coda made by Smith is a Bordeaux blend-like wine of Cab Franc (46 percent), Merlot (28 percent), Cab (17 percent) and Petite Verdot (9 percent) from the Taptiel and Ciel du Cheval Vineyards on Red Mountain. This full-bodied blend redolent of black fruits and earth is especially nice right now but could use a year of aging to marry the flavors.

The 2014 Camerata is a Bordeaux blend from Smith’s own Cara Mia vineyard on Red Mountain. It’s composed of Cab (40 percent), Merlot (34 percent), Cab Franc (15 percent), and Petite Verdot (2 percent).

Winemaker Smith made me feel very special when he pulled out a Bel Canto from 2002. The grapes came from Taptiel Vineyard and were a blend of 49 percent Cabernet, 34 percent Merlot, 15 percent Cab Franc, and 2 percent Petite Verdot. The wine was beautiful.

In 1992, Keith and ReNae Pilgrim purchased of 300 acres on an arid, treeless slope called Red Mountain.  They  journeyed from California to Washington to build Terra Blanca Winery and Estate Vineyards into one of the most magnificent estates on the mountain and perhaps the whole state.

The winery houses a restaurant and a separate banquet room with view of the estate well-manicured grounds. The gigantic underground cellar keeps the barrels and bottles cool.

At the Taste of Washington, they were pouring the 2013 Estate vineyard ONYX, a Bordeaux blend; the 2013 Signature Series Block B Syrah, also from the estate vineyards; and the Signature Series Estate Vineyards 2012 Titan Red.

The 2013 Signature Series Block B Syrah was gorgeous. Rich and polished, it had black raspberry white pepper and smoky herbs. The complexity of it! Another rich and polished wine is the ONYX, which always lives up to high standards. This dense red has flavors of black cherry, plum and aromatic spices neatly framed by silky tannins that will age beautifully for a few years.

Looking through my notes, I saw a couple more you must check out because they are outstanding, too. New Red Mountain arrival Canvasback is a property of California’s Duckhorn Winery. This 2014 Cab is from Ciel du Cheval Vineyards while they wait for their 20 acres of estate vineyards, planted in 2011, to come to maturity. This wine is a blend of 87 percent Cab, 9 percent Merlot, and a dollop of Cab Franc and Malbec. Get some of this beautiful wine.

At Bartholomew Winery, a Seattle urban winery on Airport Way South, you can taste the unexpected. These unusual wines are made from some rare grape varieties in this state. Their  wines  — Carménère Rosé and Konnowac Vineyard Tannat — are sourced from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. They also produce a Horse Heaven Hills Primitivo.

Carménère is rarely seen in Bordeaux, where it was born. It’s more likely to be found in Chile where for years, it was mistaken for Merlot.  Tannat is a thick-skinned varietal most famous as the principal grape in a Madiran and now coming into its own again in South America’s Uruguay.  All these wines are deftly made by owner and winemaker Bart Fawbush.

There are more, so many more small, artisan wineries to discover in our state. Cheers to the continued adventure!

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

My Taste Washington Grand Tasting Picks

Taste Washington is an annual (20 years now!) gathering in Seattle of Washington wineries and restaurants to celebrate wine and food.

Winemakers from all over the world have established vineyards and wineries bringing the total wineries in the state to over 900. The wines they ferment reflect the characteristics of the prized vineyards, some planted over 30 years ago. Taste Washington provides a unique opportunity to taste old favorites and experience the over 100 new one from the past two years.

While planning this year’s list, I was taken by the number of wineries that were small, totally focused and passionate about Washington.

And also struck by the number of winemakers coming from all parts of the wine world.  Drawn by the great fruit, terroir, and potential that these vineyards have. Here are some wineries, most new, that have intrigued me with their offerings and a few that I want to become reacquainted with. I hope I can make it to at least half in the short time there.

Andrew Will and Arbor Crest both old favorites who have been here for quite a while and have great vineyard resources.  AniChe, Archeus, Armstrong, Array, Auclair, Avennia, Baier, Barons, Barrage, Barrel Springs, Bartholomew, Bergdorf, Bontzu, Brady, Burnt Bridge, Bronco, broVo, and Buried Cane are very new to me.

Callan Cellars is a new micro-boutique winery in Woodinville. California’s Duckhorn Winery is synonymous to Merlot magic. They recently bought part of Red Mountain and are producing a Washington wine called Canvasback. Excited to try this one.

Cedar River Cellars is Renton’s own award winning winery with grapes from Burgess Vineyards. Along the Columbia River, Cascade Cliffs  make the best Washington State Barbera.  Co Dinn, Col Solare, a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Italy’s Antinori, Walla Walla’s College Cellars, Leavenworth’s Eagle Creek Winery and Eight Bells, a small, 2000 case, urban winery in North Seattle are all worth a sip or two. Wineries are popping up everywhere!

For a Song Winery’s Ancient Lakes Chard is intriguing for the terroir. And Yakima’s JB Neufeld produces award winning wines from the DuBrul and Artz vineyards. Karma is making true Méthode Champenoise and Woodinville’s Kevin White produces some amazing Rhone wines. Kitze has an Italian grape variety, Nebbiolo.

Latta Wines has a Roussanne and Grenache made by Sommelier-owner Andrew Latta who spent a few years working at a notable Washington winery. The Grenache, aged for 22 months, is sourced from the Upland Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA. This area was first planted in 1917 by Washington State wine pioneer William B. Bridgman.

Lobo Hills is a small production winery in Seattle . Tony and Diane Dollar will pour their Chenin Blanc and Petite Verdot.

Long Shadows produces a number of wines from Washington grapes. What is unique about this winery is they have renowned winemakers from Germany. Australia, France, California and Italy make the wine.

Memaloose’s  Grace Vineyard Semillon and Dolcetto are just two of the over 20 grape varieties sourced from the five organic estate vineyards on both the Washington and Oregon banks of the Columbia River – in the Columbia Gorge Appellation.

Monte Scarlatto Estate Winery and Vineyards is one of the newest places on Red Mountain. Varietals include Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carménère, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.

Tiny Mount Si Winery in Snoqualmie makes a Syrah, Cab and Merlot from Wahluke Slope grapes.

When Jerry Riener started the Guardian Winery, he told his friends that he planned to bottle age his red wines at least 12 months before release. They took that comment lightly. Riener has found being patient is a pain, but it sure does create some delicious wines.

Nine Hats is a must, Palouse, Pearl & Stone I vaguely recall and Piccola, Pomum Dondera, Reasons Wine (love the name), Reynvaan, Robert Karl and Rocky Pond’s Lake Chelan Viognier are calling my name.

Sagemoor was planted in 1968. Back then it was all experimental. Nobody knew for sure which grape varietals would grow. Today, over 40 years and 1,100 acres later, Sagemoor has five full-production vineyards supplying grapes to northwest wineries both big and boutique. Those five vineyards are Sagemoor, Bacchus, Dionysus, Weinbau, and Gamache.  Their website is full of wonderful vineyard info.

Secret Squirrel, Snoqualmie’s Sigillo SnoValley White is a blend of Pinot Gris, Chenin and Gewurz, which makes me think of dry white Alsatian blends.  Silvara is a small production winery in Leavenworth with an award winning Malbec.

Seven Falls Wahluke Slope Red, Cab and Chard is on the list because its new and the Wahluke has some great vineyards. Skyfall is new and notable for its under $20 wines, Sol Stone’s Wahluke Slope Weinbau Grenache, Somme des Partues Winery, Sonoris Winery all made the list. As well as South Seattle’s small Structure Winery that uses Wallula Slope, Upland, Destiny Ridge, and Stillwater fruit all great grape places.

Tertulia Cellars produces a Carménère and Tempranillo, these grapes migrated from South America and Spain. Three of Cups Winery has an intriguing Heart of the Hill Petite Sirah, another traveling grape this time from California. Truth Teller has an Elephant Mountain Viognier, Tunnel Hill Winery has a Lake Chelan Pinot Noir, and Two Vintners Boushey Vineyards Grenache Blanc are some of the most unusual wines there.

It is an ambitious plan but I’m willing to swirl, sniff, sip and spit for the experience. Hope to see you there!

Discover the Endless Ways to Taste Washington

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

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

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