Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!

The Biggest Beer Festival of All

Get your lederhosen out, Oktoberfest , the annual beer festival held in Munich since 1810 ends Sunday. It’s a multi-day festival running from mid-September to the first weekend in October.

So, why Oktoberfest? Why not Septemberfest since it begins in September not October?

The answer is a two week outdoor festival in October in a northern climate means chilly nights under  the tents in your lederhosen while drinking a liter or two of Märzen. So, over time the festival crept into typically warmer September, but kept the name Oktoberfest.

The first Oktoberfest was a country fair, with a horse race as the star attraction. It was also the celebration of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Saxe-Hildburghausen. The festivities, held on the fields in front of the city gates celebrating the royal event with many beers, wines, sausages, chickens, kraut and noodles, ended a week later.

In the years following the first celebration, the event grew beyond the initial week. Today, festival goers enjoy sitting in the beer tents quaffing beer, visiting the food stalls and strolling the gardens during Oktoberfest without feeling the damp chill of mid-October.

This year’s events include the Parade of Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries, the Official Tapping of the Keg, Oktoberfest Mass, Böllerschießen (cannon salute) and an agricultural fair.

The Lord Mayor of Munich has the honor of tapping the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. Once the first barrel has been tapped, the beer flows for the more than 6 million people attending the event.

These festival goers will raise a stein or two during the festival. As you can imagine, large quantities of beer are consumed during the 16-day festival. In 2013, for instance, 7.7 million liters served.

With that many people attending and that much beer consumption, some personal belongings do get left behind. Each year, hundreds of glasses (how do they see their way home?), phones, wallets, jackets, and other unusual items, such as a set of dentures can be claimed at a large lost and found tent.

Traditional food stalls serve up Hendl (roast chicken), Haxen (pig’s feet), Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Weisswürst (white sausage),  Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Brezen (pretzels), Knödel (potato dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Blaukraut (red cabbage), and Obatzda (spicy cheese spread).

Oktoberfest, the German celebration, has grown into an international festival of beer, with festivities popping up all around the globe.

Oktoberfest, the beer, is a lager (bottom fermenting yeast and longer, cooler fermentation) that originated in Bavaria. It’s medium to full bodied and varies from pale to amber to dark brown. Traditionally, it was brewed in March just before the hot summer months when temperatures interfered with the fermentation process. And then lagered in the ice caves over the summer.

Märzen beer was also a little higher ABV than usual to help preserve the beer through the summer months. Märzen is now known as Oktoberfest.

A few suggestions for some very good German and U.S. Oktoberfest/ Märzen beers you should try.

Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen has a deep golden color tinted with amber. It is lightly sweet with a malty nose balanced with floral hops. It’s medium bodied and the dryness comes from long maturation.

Paulaner Oktoberfest-Märzen  was developed to celebrate the original Oktoberfest over 200 years ago. This is a full bodied beer with rich malt flavor, dark toffee note and underlying fruitiness.

Spaten Oktoberfest Ur Märzen was created in 1872, with aromas flavors of biscuit, caramel malt, and hints of spicy, grassy noble hops.

Weihenstephaner Oktoberfestbier is a full, rich-bodied, hoppy lager brewed for the Festbier season. Deep gold color, malty with great mouthfeel and lots of flavor.

Heater Allen Brewing’s Bobtoberfest caught my attention when researching Oktoberfest beers. It’s named for the head brewer’s late brother Bob; the person who sparked his interest in brewing lager beers in general and Oktoberfest beers in particular.

Bob Allen was a friend, teacher at North Kitsap High School and Olympic College, a member of the West Sound Brew Club and a great brewer, cider maker and winemaker. The first Bobtoberfest was held in Poulsbo. It was quite a celebration. Unfortunately, a trip to Portland is necessary to taste this beer.

Samuel Adams OctoberFest has a deep golden amber hue and is a malt lover’s dream.

Silver City Oktoberfest is an authentic interpretation of the classic style. The rich malty sweetness and spicy hop character are balanced by 6.2% ABV.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest is a collaboration with Mahrs Brau of Bamberg, Germany. An authentic Oktoberfest beer that’s deep golden in color with rich malt complexity and spicy hop character from Record, Magnum, Palisade, Saphir and Crystal hops with 6% ABV.

And then there is Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest  which claims to be a true German Märzen bier, brewed with premium imported Pilsner and Vienna malts. It’s spiced with Bavarian hops and fermented with the famous Bavarian Augustiner Lager yeast from Munich.

Prost!

Pairing Cheese and Wine

Cheese and wine or even beer for that matter have a natural affinity for each other. Ideal pairings will have one or more of the following combinations: they may have similar weight such as a light bodied wine with a light bodied food, or a full bodied wine with a heavier meal.

Or they could have contrasting flavors, like a sweet wine with a salty cheese, a sweet sherry with salty Marcona almonds, or a citrusy Pinot Grigio with a creamy seafood pasta.

One other sure fire way to pair food and wine is look to the place of origin. For instance, chicken cordon bleu with Burgundy, Chianti with antipasto, Porto with Stilton, or Sake with sushi.

Champagne or any other bubbly that is near at hand would pair very nicely with most creamy cheeses. Brie, Camembert, Gruyere, Havarti, Manchego and Parmesan all work in concert with these creamy cheeses. These cow’s milk cheeses have a similar intensity of flavor and the bubblies refresh and cleanse the palate for the next bite of creamy wonderfulness.

A place of origin and similarity would be goat cheese, or Chevre, as the French would call it, with a Sauvignon Blanc from France. Goat cheese tends to be lower in fat, rich and tangy. It pairs very well with higher acid wines. Sauvignon Blanc leans towards herbaceousness and high acidity. Try a Sancerre, Touraine, Pouilly Fume or a White Bordeaux, all made from Sauvignon Blanc.

Chenin Blanc has both high acidity and lots of sugar. This attributes can be a benefit if you were to age this wine. Chenin Blanc has a range of styles from dry to dessert and a range of flavors from crisp green apple to stone fruits and honey.

Vouvray is a medium bodied wine from the Loire Valley and it’s a dream with a Swiss cow’s milk Gruyere, a nutty, slightly sweet and creamy cheese. Gruyere makes a great fondue. The creamy texture pairs well with this medium bodied wine.

Grenache is a red grape grown in the Rhone region of Franc e and all over Spain. It’s very fruity with blackberry sweetness and hints of black pepper. It’s the key grape in Chateauneuf du Pape. The bold flavors of this wine dance smoothly with smoked cheeses.

Zinfandel is another red grape with dark fruit flavors and spice. Zinfandel needs its pairing to be rich and/or big enough to balance its intense flavor profile. It needs a firm sharp cheddar with similar intensity of flavor. Try it with grilled cheddar cheese stuffed jalapenos which match the fruit and spiciness of the wine.

And now to the classic pairing of sweet Porto and salty, tangy blue cheese. Porto, the Portuguese fortified sweet wine is very, very good with blue, Gorgonzola, Roquefort and especially Stilton. This is a contrast that is sublime, the ultimate pairing of sweet and savory. Most blues are aged about sixty days which gives it time to develop its flavors.

Pairing wines with cheese is fun and educational! Remember to serve cheeses at room temperature.

Serve reds and dessert wine between 55 and 65 degrees; whites between 48 and 53 degrees and sparkling wines between 40 and 45 degrees. Proper serving temperatures insure the wines will show well and enhance your pairings. Fill the glass half-full to allow you to pick up all the heavenly aromas.

Enjoy and Savor!

Chardonnay, the Queen of Whites

In its native home of Burgundy, France, some of the highest priced and long lived Chardonnays come from some of the world’s tiniest vineyards.

In the time before new world wines were recognized internationally, Chardonnay ruled white wines on the continent. The French were regarded with admiration for their beautiful and long-lived white Burgundies.

And then, in 1976, came the Judgment in Paris which resulted in international recognition of New World wines. The explosion of Chardonnay in the New World had begun. The California wine industry in 1976 still had the blush of youth.

The Judgment was a Game of Thrones kind of change. This blind tasting, in Paris, with predominantly French judges, was organized by an Englishman. Each judge could award up to twenty points to each of the twenty wines served.

The level playing ground of a blind tasting focuses on aromas, color, taste and finish. No pedigree or pretty labels to distract. Price is no concern. Just aroma, flavors and finish.

Well, in a field of ten, Chateau Montelena 1973 Napa Chard beat the pants off the French Burgundies. Roulot 1973 Meursault Charmes did come in second ahead of Chalone Vineyards and Spring Mountain.

As a result, the growth of Chardonnay vineyards in Australia, California and Washington increased royally. The boom of the 1980s was responsible for making Chardonnay available to the common folk.

In the 1980s, Chardonnay was the height of fashion and so widely planted in a wide range of climates that a glut seemed possible. It was so easy to produce a high yielding crop that it quickly became the cash crop. Chardonnay can go from grape to glass in less than a year.

Winemakers love Chardonnay for its reliability and flexibility. It responds well to a wide range of winemaking techniques. It could be fermented in stainless or barrel, it does well with malolactic fermentation, aging sur lies and in oak barrels.

When ripe there are ample fruit sugars and because of the abundance of fruit sugars, higher alcohol content regularly occurs. It’s the one white grape that can be successfully matured in new oak barrels because the wine has the fruit to balance the new oak.

When the vineyard site is premier, yields are not too high and not too low, acidity is perfect, and the winemaking team makes all the right calls, Chardonnay can produce wines that could age very gracefully for a decade.

And these are the reasons why is there such a dramatic difference between a $3 bottle of Chardonnay and a $75 bottle of Chardonnay.

Various factors such as vineyard age, management and placement, yield per acre, labor for the various winemaking techniques that may be used, and the price of oak barrels.

A $3 bottle will most definitely come from high yielding vineyards, fermented in large stainless steel tanks and if oak is used, it’ll be chips or cubes. Much more affordable than a $800 barrel.

On the other side of the spectrum, a small, old vineyard with moderate yields, could be barrel fermented, aged sur lie, inoculated for malolactic fermentation and then aged in new Limousin oak barrels. Each process adds complexity to the finished wine. All this for only $75.

Depending on your needs and desires, there are still so many Chardonnays in this world to grace your table, patio and blind tasting. Here are a few worth considering:

From Washington:

Rolling Bay 2014 Reserve Chardonnay from the old Upland vineyard is complex, and balanced with lemon, butterscotch and minerality. Toodle on up to Bainbridge for a taste of this elegant wine.

Woodward Canyon Walla Walla Reserve Chard is another wine from old vineyards that shows beautiful fruit aromas and complexity of flavors that finish lavishly.

Owen Roe’s DuBrul Vineyard Chardonnay has both intense fruit and balancing acidity. This is achieved by blending lower elevation grapes with the tropical and citrus characteristics with the higher elevation grapes that have more intense acidity. The final blend saw 35% new French oak and 40% malolactic fermentation for rich, complex flavors.

Terra Bianca’s Arch Terrace 2015 Chardonnay is a great example of one of the many Dijon clones, the preferred French.

75% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel and the remainder is barrel fermented in neutral oak and spends 6 months sur lie. The wine exhibits red apple and tropical fruit flavors.

In California, this noble grape is the most widely planted. In 2014, the state crushed 718,000 tons and shipped 54 million cases.

Mendocino, Russian River, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria are some of the best California has to offer in terms of quality. Many of these areas are planted to the Wente clone.

The Wente clone is budwood used to plant Chardonnay at many vineyards. In 1912, Ernest Wente took cuttings from the France’s University of Montpellier nursery and planted them in Arroyo Seco.

Cuttings from the Wente vineyard then spread to a number of other wineries before eventually being certified by UC Davis. These certified vines are known as “Wente” and “Old Wente” if they are from vines before certification.

The reign of big, buttery Chardonnays persisted through the 1990s and early 2000s when the ABC movement got started. Anything But Chardonnay was hoping to quash the grape but only succeeded in changing the flavor profile.

One remarkable winery to put on your bucket list is Hanzell. They “work with a conservative hand in the use of French oak barrels and malolactic fermentation.” Their Chardonnays have richness with complexity and balance. And it ages very well.

Stony Hill on Spring Mountain is another. The 2013 Chardonnay has green apple, a graceful hint of citrus

Ferrari Camano is more readily available as is Kendall Jackson’s Camelot. Chateau St. Jeans has a bevy of vineyard designated Chardonnays and Mount Eden Old Vine Reserve is a favorite.

Pahlmeyer from Atlas Peak has aromas of honeysuckle and lemon oil and flavors of nectarine and pear. The wine is rich and balanced.

And the Judgment in Paris winner? Montelena’s 2013 Napa Valley Chardonnay has aromas of roses, lemon blossoms, and melon. Flavors of lemon meringue, peaches, and vibrant acidity would pair well with cream sauces on fish or chicken dishes. All this for $50.00 which is nothing compared to the second place winner whose wine is selling for upwards of $350.

Treat yourself royally and enjoy this noble grape in all its glory.