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Good Canned Wines

Every Memorial Day weekend, my beer buddy, Alan, has a family get together. Moms and dads, aunts and uncles, and all manner of cousins eat, drink and catch up on the past year. They also have a themed wine tasting. One year it’s Zinfandel, the next it’s Pinot Grigio. It’s the call of that year’s Wine Wrangler.

This year, Alan asked if there were any good canned wines. Yep, this year’s theme is canned wines. And that is an interesting question. Are there any good canned wines?

I had to take a day or two to think on that. And then I recalled: Yes! I had had a canned sparkling wine some years ago. It was pretty good. In fact, it had garnered quite a few awards over the years.

It had to have been 15 or so years ago that I first Sofia Blanc de Blancs comes in an attractive pink hexagontasted Coppolas’s Sofia sparkling from a can. It came in an attractive pink hexagon box with four 187ml cans in it – and four straws. I eschewed the straw and reached for a more traditional glass flute. The effervescent Sofia Blanc de Blancs is a blend of mostly Pinot Blanc with a bit of Riesling and Muscat.

With a little online research, I found that wine in a can was a real novelty 18 years ago. And it’s remarkable how much that part of the wine industry has grown. It’s not just sparkling wines anymore, now it’s still wines that are canned. A handful of wine producers are beginning to see a profitable niche for cans in the marketplace.

According to the latest Nielsen data, in 2016 canned wine sales grew to $14.5 million, up from $6.4 million the previous year. That’s a healthy growth spurt that wineries are paying attention to.

So, what’s good out there?

1. Joe to Go

Well, my first recommendation would be Joe to Go from Oregon’s star winemaker, Joe Dobbes, who recently retired from the helm of Dobbes Family Winery and Wine by Joe. He turned over the reins to a hard-working millennial, Chief Executive Officer Gretchen Boock. She was one of Dobbes’ first hires when he opened his winery in 2002.

Dobbes began his career in Oregon some 30 years ago, beginning at Willamette Valley Vineyards and then launching his own eponymous brand some years later. Wine by Joe was later launched — in 750ml bottles — for a more affordable everyday type of wine.

The Wine by Joe brand recently entered the canned wine market with Joe to Go Rosé and Pinot Gris. With many accolades over the years, including Wine Business Monthly’s #1 Hot Small Brand of 2011, this would be my pick for the can of wine competition.

2. Underwood   

Union Wine Co., in Tualatin, Oregon, pioneered canned wine in the Northwest with its Underwood brand. It is the largest by far, producing over 4 million cans in 2017. Its mission is to produce affordable Oregon wines that are approachable and ready-to-travel anywhere.

The Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Rosé and a white blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer dubbed Get it Girl are sold as four-packs (equal to 2 bottles) or flats (24 cans — equivalent to one case of wine). All flats automatically receive 10 percent discount when purchased online.

3. House Wine

Seattle’s Precept Wine produces canned wine – around 4.8 million cans a year. House Wine was created with the goal of bringing good affordable wine to the picnic table. With over 30 “best buy” recommendations, and varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plus a Rosé with grapes sourced around the world, this could be your everyday house wine contender.

The canned wine trend is growing. When you’re out in the garden, out on the boat, or hiking up to Lower Lena, a can may be the best way to go. Cans are better in bottle-unfriendly venues like concerts, theaters and picnics at the beach. Cans are discreet when you need to be. But I highly recommend you to forget the straw and bring a cup of some sort. It’s impossible to smell the aroma from a can. And isn’t that half of a wine’s charm?

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.

Taste Washington Musings

Taste Washington is a wonderful opportunity taste many wines and to talk with industry leaders, winemakers, cider makers, and reflect on our state’s agricultural culture.

While waiting for the doors to open, I passed the time with fellow standees, Dick Boushey and Sommelier Christopher Chan. Topics ranged from the World Vinifera Conference, to Riesling’s fate in Washington and the 1980s era Langguth Winery.

Dick Boushey had a cherry and apple orchard before planting his first vines in 1980, four years before Washington’s first American Viticultural Appellation. The vineyards, planted to Cab and Merlot, were in a cool part of the Yakima Valley, a different climate than the warmer Red Mountain to the east and Wahluke Slope to the north.

Recognized today as one of the top 10 vineyards in the state, Boushey grapes are prized by Betz Family Winery, Bunnell Family Cellar, Chateau Ste Michelle, Cairdeas Winery, Callan Cellars, Chinook Wines, DeLille Cellars, Fidelitas Wines, Forgeron Cellars, Gorman Winery, Hawkins Cellars, K vintners, McCrea Cellars, Three Rivers Winery, Ross Andrew Winery, W.T. Vintners, Willow Wine Cellars and Long Shadows. Most of these wineries were pouring at Taste Washington’s Grand Tasting.

Another Taste Washington event was an opportunity to visit small, unique farms for a tour of the operations and to enjoy a specially prepared farm to table luncheon.

Delightful wines and ciders, fresh local ingredients and a dose of down-on-the-farm adventure began in Chimacum at the crossroad of Center Road and Chimacum. You can’t miss it. Finnriver Orchard, Tasting and Cider Garden has a 10-acre orchard, a tasting room and Cider Garden right beside the fire station.

This 40-acre plot of land is protected by the Jefferson Land Trust and cared for by the Finnriver crew. Finnriver is certified salmon safe and committed to pursuing sustainable land stewardship through organic agriculture, farmland preservation, habitat restoration, and community outreach.

The original farm is a secluded 80-acre organic farm and orchard about three miles from the crossroad. Organic apples are sourced from these orchards of over 500 trees, with 20 varieties of heirloom and traditional cider apple varieties and across the state.

Other specialists cultivating this farm are The Organic Seed Alliance with a couple of greenhouses and Friends of the Trees in their second year cultivating an herb garden with over 100 species.

Chimacum Creek runs alongside the property and its stewardship group, North Olympic Salmon Coalition is also a big part of stream restoration. This former floodplain and meandering creeks have been altered into agricultural land. Chimacum Creek, much like Clear Creek before the restoration, is constrained into agricultural dikes, meaning they have lost their original meandering.

Despite the blustery day, many of us took the option of tasting Finn River ciders while touring the farm with Cameron, the orchard wizard and Andrew, the production manager.

The orchard is planted in rows according to when bud break occurs, early varieties together, followed by mid-season and then late varieties. This facilitates the honey bees which can then pollinate one area before buzzing off to the next. Other orchard allies include a flock of geese whose job is to weed up and down the rows and with the sheep, keep the grass in “putting green shape.”

In the orchard with the geese honking at the intruders and Nulla, 6-day old lamb to cuddle, we tasted the Golden Russet cider and Black Oak cider. This beautiful rose hued cider gets its color from the addition of black currants. It was aged in oak barrels for a lively, complex and colorful handcrafted cider.

After explaining the complexities of cider apple varieties, the benefits of russets and keeping an orchard, our hosts led us back to the warm Cider Garden for a repast prepared by Chef Dan Rattigan and crew of the Fireside Restaurant at the Resort at Port Ludlow.

We tasted the Finn River artisan sparkling cider with appetizers of SpringRain Farms deviled duck eggs with crispy leeks, Finnriver quinoa cakes with Chimacum Valley tomme and roasted red pepper remoulade.

We slurped a creamy foraged mushroom bisque with melted Red Dog Farm leeks and crème fraiche, accompanied by Waterbrook’s Rose of Sangiovese and Bledsoe Family’s Healy Rose, both from the 2017 vintage.

The main course was a cedar planked Neah Bay Spring King salmon on a bed of Spring Rain kale, purple broccoli and Dharma Ridge Farm Yukon golds all splashed with a roasted shallot vinaigrette.

Paired with this delicious dish was Doubleback’s Red Blend, an everyday red wine in a square shaped bottle with a flip-top – Italian style. We were also treated to Waterbrook’s 2015 Reserve Merlot, a rich wine with good structure and luscious black fruits.

Desert was downright splendid. A cider poached pear with a Mystery Bay goat cheese mousse sitting on Finnriver blueberry compote and paired with Finnriver’s Pommeau, a fortified apple wine that was better than any apple brandy I’ve ever tasted.

With all this freshness within reach, it’s no wonder that Washington has a fabulous farm-to-table dining scene. This amazing adventure illuminated people’s passions for their chosen work from the orchardist to the production manager to the winemakers, the chef and the folks who attended us with impeccable service. I raise my glass to you all. Cheers to you!

While researching this article, I ran across some very interesting facts. If you’re farming in Washington, you’re blessed with one of the most productive growing regions in the nation. In fact, Washington is #1 in the nation’s raspberry production (producing 92.3%), hops (79.2%), spearmint oil (78.7%), cherries (58.6%), apples (57.4%), pears (47.9%), grapes (37.3%), carrots (35.6%), peas (32.4%) and sweet corn (29.7%). We have the #2 spot in asparagus (28.6%), potatoes (22.7%) and onion (21.2%) production. Percentages are for 2016.

Taste Washington Today through Sunday

This annual festival celebrates its 21st year with exceptional wine and winemakers, national and local chef tastings and new adventures. Visit Seattle, Washington State Wine and hundreds of wineries, restaurants and related exhibitors from throughout Washington State will be on hand for this premier wine and food festival .

 

Taste Washington on the Farm (March 23)10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Seattle Region

Three unique lunch excursions join together local farmers, Washington State winemakers and Seattle celebrity chefs. This year’s featured chefs and locations are Chef Kyle Peterson at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, Chef Tad Mitsui and Chef Zoi Antonitsas at Heyday Farm on Bainbridge Island, and Chef Dan Ratigan at Finnriver Farm & Cidery in Chimacum on the Olympic Peninsula (Finnriver SOLD OUT).

The New Vintage (March 23) 7 to 10 p.m., Fisher Pavilion (New Location)

Entering its fourth year, The New Vintage is Taste Washington’s most buzzed-about evening event. Hosted at a new location, Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center, it’s also bigger than ever before. Featuring its first-ever live performance by Los Angeles-based synth pop duo Man Made Time, the event also showcases more than 50 wineries, 10 national and regional chefs, and the highly anticipated new release rosés from 20 coveted wineries.

 

Seminars (March 24 and 25) 10:30 a.m. to noon, Four Seasons Hotel Seattle

Taste Washington seminars feature renowned national experts leading in-depth explorations of Washington State wine. This year’s seminars include Spotlight: Celilo Vineyard; A Rhone of our Own?; Single Vineyard Syrahs of Washington; Beyond the Mystique: A Look at the Science of Washington Wine; Washington vs. the World: Old World, New World, Our World; Blind Tasting Bootcamp (SOLD OUT); and Through the Hourglass: An Exploration of Rare and Aged Washington Wines (SOLD OUT).

Grand Tasting (March 24 and 25) 1 to 5:30 p.m. (Hours vary), CenturyLink Field Event Center

The 21st annual Taste Washington Grand Tasting features more than 225 Washington State wineries pouring their favorite wines and more than 65 Northwest restaurants serving specially-prepared bites throughout two days. General Admission tickets are still available. While Saturday and Sunday VIP tickets are sold out, Sunday VIP tickets are still available by purchasing our new Sunday Brunch + Sunday VIP Grand Tasting ticket bundle. Celebrity chef schedules for both the Alaska Mileage Plan Chef’s Stage and the Albert Lee Culinary Experience mobile kitchen are below.

Sunday Brunch (March 25) 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Quality Athletics

Join us before the Grand Tasting on Sunday to see what happens when music and food collide. Our three celebrities (Chef Daniel Cox, Quality Athletics; Chef Josh Henderson, Huxley Wallace Collective; and Kris Orlowski, Seattle-based singer/songwriter) will collaborate on a menu and a playlist – served up with Grey Goose Bloody Marys and St~Germain Mimosas.

 

About Taste Washington:

Taste Washington is the largest single-region wine and food event in the United States, featuring more than 225 Washington State wineries and more than 65 Pacific Northwest restaurants. The 21st annual event will be held on March 22-25, 2018 at various locations in Seattle. The 2018 Taste Washington welcoming sponsor is Alaska Mileage Plan, the premier sponsors are Albert Lee Appliance, Fire & Vine Hospitality, Seattle Met, Lexus, and Total Wine & More. Taste Washington attracts more than 6,400 wine and food enthusiasts to the Seattle area. The Washington State Wine Commission launched Taste Washington in 1998 and it is now produced by Visit Seattle. For more information, visit

 

www.tastewashington.org.

What I’ve been Drinking on my Summer Vacation

If my dining table could tell the tales about the many bottles it held this summer, it would go something like this: I’ve been holding on to these for a good reason, a virtual share with snippets of their storied past and what may pair well with them.

Knudsen Vineyards has had a long and award winning history. Lunch at RN76 hosted by the Knudsens introduced their second generation mission. Oregon wine pioneer, Cal Knudsen and family actually grew up in the Seattle area. Knudsen, a timber company exec, found his little slice of Burgundy in the Hills of Dundee. The family spent their summers planting and working their vineyards. In the early 70s, it was the largest vineyard in Willamette Valley at 30 acres.

Host second generation David Knudsen also happens to be President and CEO of Ostrom Mushroom Farms. So, naturally mushrooms permeated each course. There was a Mushroom Consommé en Croute accompanied by the 2014 and 2015 Chardonnay.

An Arctic Char Mi-Cuit (mee coo ee), which is a fun French way of saying pretty pink in the middle, was presented on a bed of mushroom ragout. Waiting on the wing were three glasses of Pinot Noir, the 2014, 2015 and the Estate Reserve 2015. My favorite was the 2014 for its maturity, complexity and accessibility. The 2015s were great also, they just needed more ageing.

In 1972, California’s Central Coast also had a pioneer planting vineyards. Raised on a South Dakota farm, Jerry Lohr found his way to Monterey County and planted over the years his 280 acres in the Arroyo Seco appellation.

Kristen Barnhisel is the white winemaker for J. Lohr Estates. Dinner with fresh fish dishes at Matt’s in the Market was a sumptuous meal. We tasted the Arroyo Seco Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 Riverstone and October Night Chardonnays and a 2014 Late Harvest White Riesling. It was a delightful time.

Williams Selyem was the original garagiste wine. Begun as a hobby in a garage in 1979, they rose to cult status after competing with 2,136 other wines to win the California State Fair’s Sweepstakes Prize for their 1987 Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir.

While talking about California wines, my friend Lindsey and I sat down one evening and savored the William Selyem 2001 South Coast Coastlands Vineyard Pinot Noir. This time we just wanted to highlight the matured wine so the nosh was crusty bread and Gruyere. The dark ruby red wine had a slight brick rim, a sign of maturity. Aromas of raspberries and tea leaves opened to juicy acidity and a weighty mouthfeel of raspberries. The lengthy finish was impressive.

Last year’s winecation included travels around Yakima and Red Mountain where I chose a few favorites and finally popped the corks this summer.

Powers Columbia Valley Malbec is from another wine pioneer. For over 30 years, Bill Powers has grown some of the finest wine grapes. Powers and son Greg planted their Badger Mountain Vineyard in 1982. The 80-acre estate transitioned to organic viticulture and in 1990, Badger Mountain Vineyard became Washington’s first Certified Organic vineyard.

Upon receiving the Washington Association of Grape Growers Lifetime Achievement Award, Bill Powers divulged, “I am the luckiest guy in the world because I get up, walk out the door and get to do what I love every day.”

With aromas of pomegranates, plums and a touch of minerality, this wine has depth and complexity. Flavors of anise, plum and minerality with a rich mouthfeel made this 2014 Columbia Valley Malbec a great match with the grilled ribs and corn on the cob on the deck overlooking the Canal with Alan, Vic and Linda.

In 1994, the Mike Andrews planted his first 20-acre plot of Cabernet Sauvignon grape vines in the middle of the family property on Horse Heaven Hills. The plot grew over the years, edging out wheat, watermelons, and corn. What started as a World War II bomb-testing area has now grown to over 1100 acres of vineyards which have produced more than 25 internationally awarded wines.

Another BBQ, this time with old friends Andy and Michele to share a gold medal winning wine. The Coyote Canyon Winery 2013 Tempranillo and dollop of Graciano grapes are sourced from H3. This well-balanced wine had a nose that drew you in. Leather, spice, and cherries mingled together. It was fantastic with the pulled pork sandwiches.

Visiting from Chicago, my longtime friend Ann and I had dinner at Place Pigale. It was a lovely celebration that kicked off with Treveri Blanc de Noir. This 100% Pinot Noir has hints of strawberries with crisp acidity that paired perfectly with the signature mussel appetizer.

For the main course, we were torn between the salmon special and the scallops on a bed of Belgian endive doused with orange vinaigrette. So we did the sensible thing and ordered both and shared. Both were delightful with the Gran Moraine Yamhill-Carlton 2013 Pinot Noir. Produced in the Burgundian tradition, it did take a bit of swirling to get it to open up. And when it did, it was heaven.

Ann and I also enjoyed NXNW Winery Columbia Valley Rose’ with a smoked salmon spread with a touch of Tabasco. The wine is a blend of seven varietals with a hint of sweetness that paired nicely with the little kick in the smoked salmon. NXNW Winery is part of King Estate Winery, a well-known Oregon winery. They began producing affordable Washington wines in 2005.

And finally, my first foray into canned wine! Yep, my friend Catie thought it would be a hilarious hostess gift when she came for dinner. We thought it was a decent quaff and a must for hiking in the mountains with requisite rations of salami, bread and cheese. Although there’s something a little unsettling opening a wine and it sounds more like a cold beer. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Stew with Wine

Faith and begorrah, why is it that Saint Patrick’s Day is the most celebrated national festival in the world?

Did you know more than 13 million pints of Guinness guzzled on that day?  The 258 year-old brew is a favorite with corned beef and cabbage or Irish Stew.

Beer and Whiskey are more common quaffs on this day. But those industrious Irish monks were planting vineyards and making wine in the 5th century out of neccesity. They needed wine to celebrate mass.

Centuries later, skirmishes with England sent Irish wine makers off to France where you’ll find chateaux named Langoa Barton, Lawton,  Phelan Segur, Lynch Bages, and Kirwan.

In California, one famous winery’s Petite Sirah cuttings have been grafted onto rootstock up and down the state. Thank you, James Concannon.
Here on the Kitsap Peninsula, you can enjoy Irish Stew and wine at Fletcher Bay Winery on St. Patrick’s Day from

What Makes a Great Wine?

Terrior. A thoroughly French concept that envelopes soil, topography, sunlight,

Ggrich Hills
Ggrich Hills vines

rainfall, diurnal temperature variations and hydrology. The holistic combination of these components gives wines their unique sense of place. In the Old World.

In the New World, we are more inclined toward grape varieties than geography. But not all grape varieties. There are around 1000 vinifera grape varieties. The more obscure have magical names like, Falanghina, Assyrtiko, Touriga Francesca, Ortega, Norton, Petit Mansang, Muscat Frontignan, and Uva Rara.

The sciences of land, water, air as it relates to plants are important factors to consider when you find that wine you love. Even more important than vintage, in my opinion.

While vintage does make a difference if you’re intending to age a wine, most wines are consumed within a year of being purchased. Fluctuations from vintage to vintage are not as dramatic as it had been in the past. Especially in Washington State.

Modern technology gives the viticulturalist the advantage despite what Mother Nature may throw their way.  The biggest risk is a freeze that kills the vines. Something that has happened in 2006 and in 2016. Recovery is slow and yields are low.

Another recent difficult vintage was 2011 because it was a particularly wet year at the wrong time – harvest. Rain at harvest will plump up the grapes with water and the resulting wine will not be as concentrated as in other, warmer years.

Another small menace for vineyards in a low lying pocket is a spring frost that can interrupt bud break and reduce the crop size. Today, this condition is carefully monitored with sensors in the vineyards talking to computers in the lab. This allows immediate action with water and/or smudge pots so that Mother Nature rarely gets away with very many bunches.

Temperature and diurnal swings are another big factor. Some vinifera grapes like it hot. This is ok if there are the accompanied cool evenings and/or morning fog that are responsible for those balancing acids.

Heat seeking grapes soak up all that warmth from the sun and the soil and that produces fruit sugars. Warm to hot climate grapes such as Cabernet, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Viognier, and Zinfandel are the heat lovers with lots of fruit sugars.

Eastern Washington, the vast vineyards of California’s valleys, France’s Rhone and Provence regions, Italy and Sunny Spain are examples of warm areas that these grapes perform well in. However, these regions have another important factor; the nighttime temperatures and cool morning fog allow the acidity in the grapes to flourish.

Acidity is that refreshing taste that balances the sweetness of a wine.  Acidity is also responsible for preserving color, keeping those red wines red and white wines yellow. There are several types of acidity, all playing their key function.  The most significant are the tartaric and malic acids, with a minor role by citric acid.

Acidity, as any home canner knows, also plays an essential role in preventing bacteria from forming. One exception to this rule is lactic bacteria. Most wineries will inoculate their wines with this bacterium to change the sharper malic acids to rounder lactic acids. This gives a wine, both red and white, a fuller, creamier mouthfeel and is responsible for the buttery flavors in a Chardonnay.  As always, balance is needed otherwise without the refreshing malic acids; your wine will be flabby.

One other significant factor regarding acidity. It is essential for wine and food pairing that the acidity be present to contrast, compliment and cut the fatty proteins in foods like cheese, meats and fish. Just try a bite of seafood without a squeeze of lemon and you’ll know what I mean.

Cool climate grapes are slower in the production of sugars, develop acids more readily and mature at a more leisurely pace. Cool regions have the morning fog hangs over the vineyards; cool evenings and north facing sites that shield the grapes from the hot sun.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, home of David Lett aka Papa Pinot, is renowned for their Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling. All cool climate grapes. Named for the river that flows through it, the Willamette Valley has over 200 wineries and 15,000 acres of vineyards growing grapes in the valley that has those fog covered mornings.  Most of this foggy region is about 100 feet above sea level with the highest point in the sub-AVA of Chehalem Mountains, around 1,633 feet above sea level.

France’s cooler Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne and Alsace regions are also produce very fine wines from their more northerly vineyards with much the same grapes listed above. Even further north are the chilly vineyards of Germany, growing mostly Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau and Dornfelder and a smattering of Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) here and there.

This weekend, there is a wine tour much closer to home in the Puget Sound American Viticultural Area, a uniquely sunny area surrounded by a rain forest, farmlands in the valleys and Puget Sound.

The Olympic Peninsula Wineries are hosting their annual Wine, Cider & Chocolate Tour, February 18th, 19th, and 20th from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Enjoy the scenic peninsula towns of Port Angeles, Sequim, Port Townsend, Chimacum, and Nordland (Marrowstone Island) and the wineries and cideries that produce some award winning products.

Tickets will get you to a special commemorative wine glass, complimentary wine tasting and chocolate samples at Alpenfire Cider, Camaraderie Cellars, Eaglemount Wine & Cider, FairWinds Winery, Finnriver Farm & Cidery, Harbinger Winery, Marrowstone Vineyards, Olympic Cellars, and Wind Rose Cellars.

Online tickets are $40, and $45 day of at participating wineries. Visit www.olympicpeninsulawineries.org for further information. Participants who have their ticket stamped at all 9 of our wineries will be entered into a drawing for an elegant wine themed gift basket.

Hope to see you in our own unique terroir this weekend!

February for Flowers, Wine and Chocolate

Did you know that $1.9 billion is spent on flowers for Valentine’s Day? Another mind blowing fact is the average American consumes more than 10 pounds of chocolate and 2.8 gallons of wine annually. And for those of us doing our part in this endeavor, February offers many events that even combine wine and chocolate.

However, February does start off in a different direction with one colossal beer event. It’s That Sunday, when millions watch the big game while drinking large quantities of an American lager. But if you’re living an alternative high life, perhaps a six pack of Sam Adams, Deschutes, Lagunitas, New Belgium or Sierra Nevada will fill the bill.

In fact, more than 325 million gallons of beer will be consumed that day. It’s also a day when chips, wings, guacamole, chili, pizza and burgers make it the second biggest spread laid out just behind Thanksgiving. Amazing.

Nine days after the Super Bowl, is Valentine’s Day, so if you’re inclined more to craft beer, pair a dark chocolate with a Belgian dubbel, milk stout or Lambic. They cozy up together right nice.

Romance and Valentine’s Day just naturally go together like spaghetti and meatballs. There are a number of events leading up to That big day.

Hopefully, you’ve made plans for dinner whether reservations or a romantic dinner at home – complete with a beautiful bottle of wine – or beer – and a heart-shaped box of chocolates.

Local events leading up to Valentine’s Day include Burrata Bistro’s February Wine Social on Monday, February 6th at 5:00pm.  Six wonderful Italian wines will be opened and available to sip, savor and purchase. An Acinum Prosecco Extra Dry, Pallavicini Frascati, Colosi Nero D’Avola, Cantele Salice Salentino Reserva 2012, Pecchenino San Luigi Dolcetto 2015 and Argiano Non Confunditur Rosso 2014.  The Wine Social is $32 per person. For more info: 360.930.8446

The JW Restaurant in Gig Harbor kicks things off on Wednesday, February 8th with the highly acclaimed Napa winery, Chappellet. Chappellet first crafted wine in 1967 from their Pritchard Hill Vineyards. Pritchard Hill is a 600 acre estate located east of Rutherford about 1,400 feet above Napa Valley. Through the years, some famous winemakers such as Philip Togni, Tony Soter and Cathy Corison have fashioned award winning Chappellet wines.

This memorable evening with Amy and Dominic Chappellet begins at 6pm with Seared Sea Scallops alongside the 2014 Chardonnay; followed by a Filet with Wild Mushroom Bordelaise and the 2012 Merlot; the 2014 Mountain Cuvee is paired Lamb Lollipops drizzled with Blackberry Demi-Glace made with the Mountain Cuvee and for dessert, you’ll savor the Dark Chocolate Trio with the 2014 Signature Cabernet. Seating is limited. For reservations, (253)858-3529

The weekend of February 11 and 12th, all seven Bainbridge Island Wineries are opened for Wine on the Rock – Wine and Chocolate. Each will be pouring their wines paired with wonderful chocolates. A weekend pass is $40 with an option to be shuttled to the wineries for an extra $20 (good for both days). Sit back, relax, enjoy some wonderful wines and leave the driving to a professional. What could be lovelier than that?

The Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island has partnered with the Bainbridge Island Lodging Association to offer a special overnight package which includes a bottle of local wine, invite to a private winemaker’s event February 10th, free shuttle passes and more.  Rooms can be reserved at www.bainbridgelodging.com Sweet!

Recently, Eleven Winery’s 2014 Syrah from Elephant Mountain Vineyard took Double Gold and 2014 Malbec took Silver at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Other medal winning wines can be tasted at Eagle Harbor, Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Fletcher Bay, Rolling Bay and Perennial Vineyards.

Interestingly after Valentine’s Day is National Drink Wine Day on February 18th – as if we needed another reason. We celebrate wine all year long, right? Wine does have many benefits.  Moderate wine drinkers have more friends, lower risks of liver disease, type II diabetes, certain kinds of cancers, heart attack and stroke.  The resveratrol in red wine can reduce the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good (HDL). Not bad for a little glass of pleasure.

Since February 18th is also National Crab-Stuffed Flounder Day, may we suggest a crisp, citrusy white wine to pair the two celebrations together? Viognier, Albariño or Grenache Blanc could be your new grape adventure.

Wine Yakima Valley is inviting wine and chocolate enthusiasts to its annual Red Wine & Chocolate event weekend, February 18 – 20th. As the oldest wine growing region in Washington State, wineries from Yakima, Zillah, Prosser and Red Mountain will be offering a weekend of divine decadence with a Premier Pass, the best way to experience the depth of the Yakima Valley.

By purchasing a Premier Pass, holders will be able to experience a variety of specialty food pairings, library tastings, and tours. Premier Passes are available for $35 at the door at select wineries during the event weekend.

That about takes care of February wine events. Looking ahead to March, which is Washington Wine Month, you’ll want to gear up for the 20th annual Taste Washington.

You and your wine buddies can explore each of Washington’s 14 AVAs, their wineries and vineyards, taste culinary treats from great restaurants and meet some hardworking winemakers and farmers – all during Taste Washington’s 20th Anniversary, March 23-26th.

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

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

 

Happy New Year! Again!

It’s almost lunar New Year, which finds revelers around the world ushering in the Year of the Rooster.  And with any cultural celebration of this kind, you will need friends and family, food and wine.

My favorite rooster is pictured on a bottle of Chianti Classico, the gallo nero or black rooster. The black rooster on that bottle of Chianti Classico is one of the most widely recognized emblems of a quality wine. But that wasn’t always the case.

Back a century or two, winemaking in Chianti was pretty much a free for all.  Canaiolo was the main grape variety with lesser amounts of Sangiovese, Mammolo and Marzimino in a supporting role.  Somewhere along the way, Malvasia and Trebbiano, both white grapes, were added to the mix to soften the wine and make it more drinkable.

The region really didn’t have any guidelines for the “recipe,” so in the early 1900s, the government stepped in to help by classifying the area to decrease the huge amounts of faux Chianti produced.

They did this by acknowledging Chianti as both a wine region and a “recipe”.  Then as all governments are wont to do, they passed many laws requiring winemakers to meet certain criteria if they want to put the name Chianti, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata  e Garantita (DOCG) on the label.

In 1996, another major regulation modification brought about colossal change to the grape varieties permitted. The minimum percentage of Sangiovese increased from 75% to 80% and could be as much as 100%.  In addition, the other twenty percent could be other native red grapes, such as Canaiolo, Mammolo, Colorino or even non-native varieties, such as Cabernet, Syrah or Merlot.  As of 2006, white grapes are no longer permitted in a Chianti Classico.

Those stringent regulations included minimum alcohol levels, any new vineyard may only be used after its fourth year, yields must be less than 3.34 tons per acre, production is limited to 6.6 pounds per vine , seven months minimum barrel aging, for Riservas, 24 months minimum maturation with at least three months bottle aging and the most interesting and perhaps comforting, before bottling, the wine has to pass a chemical exam and approval by a tasting panel. Makes one kind of feel like royalty.

A few years ago, the Consorzio Gallo Nero organized the Chianti Classico 2000 Project to modernize viticulture and improve quality. This was sorely needed because during the 20th century, clones of Sangiovese, of which there are a boatload, were planted more for quantity than quality.  When replanting, many growers planted whatever was available not taking into account the extreme soil and climatic differences around the region.

The project took 16 years to complete, 16 experimental vineyards, five research cellars; ten meteorological stations installed to track micro- and macro-climate patterns.

Hundreds of clones were identified. A few Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino clones were chosen because they were less susceptible common viral diseases, had smaller berries, thicker skins, and more open bunches.

Those clones are now producing some delicious Chianti Classicos. Look for the 2013 vintage to accompany your next plate of pasta. Or Sausage Pizza, or Spaghetti and Meatballs, or Rigatoni with Bolognese Sauce, or Wild Mushroom Risotto or Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce.

Chianti Classico refers to the oldest area, the classic region. It’s located between Florence and Siena and is the hub of the Chianti region within the larger Tuscan region.

Like spokes surrounding the hub, are seven other Chianti zones, each with its own particular soil, climate, and regulations. They are Colli Aretini, Colli Forentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina. On their labels are their Chianti names such as Chianti Colli Senesi (the hills of Siena) or Chianti Colli Forentini (the hills of Florence).

But enough of Italy, let’s talk about Washington State. There were about 400 tons of Sangiovese harvested in 2004. It’s a prolific but difficult vine, likened to Pinot Noir.  Through the years planting increased and by 2015 tonnage was up to 1, 300.

It’s planted in some of the best vineyards in the Wahluke AVA, Red Mountain AVA and scattered around the Columbia Valley AVA.

Cavatappi’s with its red wine stained label, to the best of my recollection has been around the longest, some 30 years. Leonetti, Walla Walla Vintners, Five Star, Tagaris, and Kiona have also been producing for some time with at least 75% being Sangiovese and perhaps a touch of Cabernet in there as is done with the Super Tuscans.
Smaller, newer wineries fermenting Sangiovese in no particular order are Sequim’s Wind Rose Cellars, Vino la Monarcha from Victor Palencia who also fashions Jones of Washington’s Sangiovese, Latah Creek out of Spokane, Brian Carter’s has a little Cab and Syrah added to his Sangiovese, Helix by Reininger, Maryhill Winery along the Columbia River sources Sangiovese from Elephant Mountain Vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, and Walla Walla’s Five Star Quinque Astrum, which is Italian for five star.
The Rosé of Sangiovese by Barnard Griffin has won gold numerous times and Waterbrook makes a pretty rose colored tasty one too.

Interesting note, the origin of the word Sangiovese is Latin for the blood of Jove. Jove or Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods, is best remembered for the exclamation of “By Jove! I think I‘ve got it!”

Annual Top Wine Lists

This is the time of year when wine journalists put together lists of “top” wines of the past year. To quote a few:

  • We rated no less than 20 perfect wines after tasting more than 10,000 bottles …
  • Perhaps this column should more accurately be titled the twelve most enjoyable wines of 2016…
  • Here’s our definitive 2016 list of the top 50 bottles …
  • As the year winds down, we can’t help but reflect on our favorite wines of 2016 …
  • After tasting nearly 4,000 bottles in the past 12 months, our wine critic pays tribute …

It’s a tradition and, unfortunately, most wines aren’t available. Unless the wine critic is familiar to you, use their ratings as a guideline. Know and trust your own palate.

Top wines from small production wineries rarely make it to the grocery store shelves. They just don’t make enough product to keep a shelf presence year round. So, traveling to Woodinville, Eastern Washington, Willamette Valley or California may be an option.

For unavailable wines, put them on your watch list and see what the next vintage brings. Lists of high scoring wines can be instructional about good vintages, cool climates and emerging regions.

One last thought when perusing annual wine lists. If a critic tastes 10,000 wines a year, that’s an average of 27 bottles per day. That critic needs help, so it may be a “collective palate” judging that $45 bottle of wine. And that collective palate, made up of several tasters, could change over the year.

And now at last, my 2016 list …

It’s a list heavy with sunny Spain’s top grape varieties, Garnacha and Tempranillo. Spanish wines are perfect for great wines at a small price. Even Gran Riserva Riojas are only about $40.

Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2014 is made from old vines; it’s my unfailing favorite. This purple red Grenache from the Campo de Borja region has a gorgeous aroma and flavors of raspberries and spice. It’s imported by consultant Jorge Ordonez who seeks out old vines and well made Spanish wines.

Solnia Tempranillo 2015 is crafted in the land of Don Quixote, La Mancha. The old vine Tempranillo grapes are hand harvested. From the deep color of the wine, you can tell it went through a long ferment and maceration. Aged for six months to give it further complexity, the wine is balanced and very drinkable at $10. Also imported by Jorge Ordonez.

From the Toro region, Enebral Tinta de Toro 2009 is made by the Well Oiled Wine Company.  Tinta de Toro is a clone of Tempranillo. Enebral’s vineyards are old and yield very low production. Also harvested by hand, the wine sees French oak for 11 months, then matured in bottle for six months before release. You can tell Toro is a warm region with an alcohol content of 14.5% and you’ll be amazed at the color and balance of this wine – for only $12.

Tinto Pesquera Crianza Ribera del Duero 1999 is another all-time favorite andtinto pesquera one I had been hoarding for some time. Crianza is a term used to describe the style of Spanish wine. It’s an aging regimen and describes the youngest category of a wine that has been matured in wood.  A crianza may not be sold until its third year from harvest and spends a minimum of six months in barrique.

Gotin del Risc Mencia 2012 hails from the Bierzio region. Mencia is a red grape variety widely grown in Northwest Spain. It’s a very fragrant grape with glass staining capabilities. It’s rich but not overpowering. Think paella partner for $15.

Atlas Peak Renegade 2013 is amazing. Atlas Peak is also an American Viticultural Area located within the Napa Valley AVA. It’s one of the higher elevations in Napa. The westward orientation also extends the amount of direct sunlight to ripen grape sugars. The soil is volcanic and very porous which means cool evenings for perfect pH. The 2013 Renegade is composed of 93% Syrah, 4% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. This wine is loaded with aromas of dark berries, violets, and tobacco leaf. Aged for 22 months in French and American oak barrels, the flavors are lush with dark fruits, leather and spice.

The Stoller Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 is one of the best Oregon Pinots and reasonably priced. From the best vineyard blocks and French barrels (30% new) in the cellar, it’s aged ten months and then blended prior to bottling. What comes out of the bottle is an marvelous balance of cherries and baking spices with a long, long finish.

Bill Stoller worked on the family farm as a child but as an adult he knew that the rocky terrain that broke discs and plows when tilled, the southern-sloped hills that made growing wheat difficult and the low-yielding Jory soils were all the ingredients of a successful vineyard. Today, the family vineyards are planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Pinot Blanc.

Intrinsic Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 made two publications’ Top 100 lists. This is the first release from this winery. Part of the wine was aged for a remarkable nine months on the skins, another part in stainless steel and the rest in neutral oak. The label claims, “It dazzles with brooding aromas of herbs and black cherry. The flavors are ripe and balanced with smooth tannins and a long finish.” Dazzles and brooding aside, I’m inclined to agree, found it reasonably priced and still available.

Another gem from the cellar was the Long Shadows Pedestal Columbia Valley Merlot 2004. Long Shadows collaborates with highly regarded winemakers around the world. They use Washington grapes to make wine like they do back home. It’s fascinating to taste a Washington wine next to another country’s wine.

For this wine it’s Michel Rolland, owner of Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol and consultant to many others. Let me just name drop here – L’Angelus, Clinet, Smith Haut Lafitte, Pavie and Troplong Mondot in Bordeaux; Simi, Newton, Merryvale and Harlan in California. He has even consulted at Ornellaia in Tuscany and Casa Lapostolle in Chile. Pedestal has pedigree.

Bollinger RD (recently disgorged) 1985 was a pretty amazing bottle. Golden, aromatic and full-bodied, it didn’t have a lot of bubbles but I fully expected it to not be sparkling. I love Madame Bollinger, who would make her daily vineyard inspections in the 1950s by bicycle wearing a dress, a flower in her hair and her pearls.

She once quipped of her Champagne, “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”  cork wreath

Cheers and All the Best in this New Year!

German Rieslings, Pure, Crisp and Sweet

Beer is the national beverage of Germany but that’s due to the fact that grain is better adapted to the cold northern climate than Chardonnay or Cabernet.

Germans have been growing grapes since 1435. Today, they make up 3 percent of the world’s wines.

But how much of that 3 percent is produced is greatly dependent on Mother Nature. That’s because Germany is the world’s northern most wine growing region.

A good 80 percent of the Qualitatwein, is grown on hillsides above the Rhine River. Since most of the 55,000 acres of vineyards are on south-facing hillsides, handpicking is the only way to harvest as machinery on mountain sides is out of the question.

So if you are determined to grow grapes in a cold climate, you better plant grape varieties that  don’t mind it so much. Let me introduce you to the great cold hardy Riesling, Muller-Thurgau and Silvaner varieties.  All white grapes, all well suited to making a wide range of wine styles.

In Germany, there are more than 1,400 wine villages and 3,200 vineyards. In an effort to codify their wines, the German government passed a law – The German Wine Law of 1971.

The new law stated that a vineyard must be at least 12 acres of land. It also divided German wines into two categories, Tafelwien (table wine) and Qualitatwein (quality wine). It regulated must weight and minimum alcohol levels.  Another rule, if Riesling is on the label, at least 85% if not more, will be in the bottle.  And if it shows a vintage on the label, at least 85% of that vintage must be in the bottle.

There are thirteen winemaking regions in Germany, most hugging the shores of the Rhine River and its tributaries. Most of the regions are named for the river that runs through it, like the Rhine, Mosel, Saar, Ruwer, and Nahe. Other region names found in the U.S. will be from the Rheinhessen, Rheingau, or Pfalz.

German wine labels reveal all. From grape variety to ripeness levels, style and quality levels, alcohol and testing batch number, it’s all right recorded on the label in great detail.

First, on a German wine label will be the producer, Dr. Loosen, for instance; dr-loosenthe region, Mosel; the vintage, 2006; the town and the vineyard, for example, Wehlener Sonnenuhr.

The er on the end of the town of Wehlen is their way of saying belonging to that town. On older labels, you would see 1989er, meaning from that vintage. Sonnenuhr is the vineyard name.

Next would be the grape name, Riesling and the style, Trockenbeerenauslese. The quality level of the wine, QmP and its official testing number – proof that the wine was tasted and passed the strict quality measures required. Alcohol and bottle size are also stated on the label.

Ripeness levels mean how ripe the grapes are at harvest. This also, by law, will determine the wine’s quality level and an early indicator of style.  There are six styles are Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein.

Kabinett – These are typically lighter-bodied, medium-dry wines, made from grapes harvested at the peak of the season. Usually the driest of the Qualitatweins.

Spatlese – Translated means “late (spat) picked (lese)” or late harvest, the extra time in the sun allows produces an elevated ripeness level to a fuller bodied wine and increases the intensity of both aroma and flavor.

Auslese – Literally means “out picked” designating ripe grapes picked from a specific cluster of berries harvested later than the first harvest. This medium to fuller-bodied Riesling can be crafted into either a dry or a sweet version. This is the first style that may exhibit true dessert wine status.

Beerenauslese (BA) – A rare treat, this Riesling is made into the luxurious dessert wines that are sought out for their compatibility with a myriad of dessert options. They are only made when the vintage conditions are just right, adding to the cost and taste.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) – Translated as “dry berry out picking” and that adds up to outside the regular harvest, with possible botrytis infected, raisined grapes, and concentrated sugars. Each grape is picked individually, months after normal harvest. These labor intensive, concentrated, nectar like dessert wines can claim quite a price.

Eiswein – An even later harvest ice (eis) wines (wein), are left on the vine until frozen, then picked and pressed while frozen, resulting in an exquisite, highly concentrated experience even red wine lovers will appreciate.

These styles refer to sugar levels at harvest, and after fermentation, the wine could range from bone dry to super sweet. But remember, this is a colder than usual climate, there is always going to be that crisp, balancing acidity in all styles.

Other terms to know for determining the sweetness level of wine are trocken which means dry and halbtrocken which is half-dry or off-dry. If this is not on the label, chances are good that it will be on the sweet side.

Keep in mind that sweeter Rieslings can be made in either Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese or Beerenauslese (BA) and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) styles, it just depends on the balance between the acidity, sugar, pH and alcohol.

Some wonderful German producers to look for are from the Mosel: Fritz Haag, J.J. Prum, Dr. Loosen, Selbach Oster and Dr. Thanish. From the Rheingau: Schloss Johannisberg, Shloss Vollrads and Robert Weil.

A large portion of Washington State was once planted to the Riesling grape. We still have a lot of Riesling planted but not as much as 15 years ago. However, Chateau Ste. Michelle does have lots more Riesling planted than anyone else in Washington State.
As a result, Dr. Loosen and Chateau Ste. Michelle partner to produce the Eroica Riesling. This collaboration is a classic that offers lots of citrus, lime and peaches and even a hint of petrol that is frequently found in German Rieslings.

German Rieslings are incredibly versatile on the dinner table. Many will age well for a dozen years or so, for top vintages. For dinner, Rieslings are best enjoyed with Asian cuisine, Dungeness crab, white fish, pasta with cream sauce, fresh fruit, creamy cheeses and smoked fish with horseradish. Probst!