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Red Mountain Wine and Jazz Festival

The 2nd Annual Wine & Jazz Festival livens up the riverfront campus of WSU Tri-Cities  on Saturday, June 25, 2016 beginning at 6:00p.m.   Auction of Washington Wines is partnering with Washington State University Tri-Cities to present the Wine & Jazz Festival featuring live entertainment, heavy appetizers and tastings from 25 Washington wineries. Proceeds support the WSU Viticulture & Enology Program. Here’s the skinny.

Wine & Jazz Lover – $85.00
All-inclusive wine and food tasting throughout the evening.

Jazz Lover
– $25.00
Concert only pricing with one glass of wine, tickets for additional wine and food available for purchase.

Wine & Jazz Weekend Package, June 24-25 – $900.00
Two seats at your choice of Vineyard Dinners, two VIP tickets to the Wine & Jazz Festival, brunch for two at Bookwalter Winery on Sunday, June 26, and accommodations at Springhill Suites by Marriott on Friday and Saturday night.

Cougar Brunch at Bookwalter WineryJune 26, 10am-3pm
Featuring sparkling wines made in the WSU Blended Learning  Program.

Follow this link for a listing of wineries and ticket purchase:

The Savvy Taster’s Guide

You can have loads of fun and more importantly, learn a lotwalter clore tasting room at the many tasting events available year round. The more you know, the better choices you’ll make and more fun you’ll have!

Venues for tasting events vary from outdoor promenades to top of the town restaurants. They can be private tasting room intimate or ballroom standing room only.  The choice is yours.

The 6th annual Summer BrewFest on the Bremerton Boardwalk is a fabulous venue. It’s a two day festival this year, July 15 and 16. Tickets are available from the Washington Beer Commission. You will want to be there soaking up the sun, refreshing yourself with a craft brew or two.

The 8th annual Kitsap Wine Festival in August at the Harborside Fountain Park is another gorgeous venue with wonderful Washington wines, cool fountains, sunshine and boats sailing past. Tickets are now available for this event at Kitsap Wine Festival dot com.

One of the many places for a spectacular view while tasting is the top of the Columbia Tower where the women’s restroom was an experience that even the men were dragged in to see. That practice was halted but the view and artwork are still stunning.

My most stunning venue this year, was at the toph3 tres cruces of Horse Heaven Hills, tasting Coyote Canyon Vineyards’ wines with Mike Andrews. The red and white checkered tablecloth was anchored with horse shoes and the mighty Columbia River was in the distance. Wines from these vineyards have garnered many medals and are well worth the search.

Call me Ms. Manners but whether it’s a beer, wine, or even a spirits tasting event, here are a few tips that will ensure everyone’s tasting experience is enlightening and enjoyable.

  1. Let the Only Fragrance be from the Glass.

Aroma is half the pleasure of tasting. It’s the reason all those wine geeks have mastered the art of swirling in order to release the esters and smell the bouquet. If it smells delicious, it’s probably going to taste delicious.

It’s downright annoying when all you can smell is the person next to you. Instead of inhaling the wine’s beautiful fruits or the subtle hop nuances, all you can smell is Eau de Stinkum.

Leave the perfume, cologne, after shave, or scented body lotion in the bottle. Save it for another special occasion. Same for smoking or vaping – anything. Don’t do it before or during a tasting. It messes with everyone’s ability to smell the bouquet.

  1. It’s Perfectly Acceptable to Spit.spit buckets

After swirling, you taste. But if you swallow everything, by the eighth taste your palate is shot. So, if you really want to learn and take advantage of the opportunity, spit. Save the swallowing for the really good ones that have a long finish.

You can actually tell if the wine or beer is of excellent swallowing quality as you roll it around in your mouth, taking in a little air to appreciate all the complexities or lack thereof. You get the essence of it when you hold it in your mouth for ten to fifteen seconds. And then choose to spit or swallow.

All events have spit buckets or if it’s outside, plants that need watering. Spit buckets have evolved over the years. No more ugly splash back when a funnel like contraption tops off the spit bucket. Or you can use a plastic cup as a personal spit bucket. Either way, it’s perfectly acceptable practice.

You can and should dump any remainders in your glass into the spit bucket. It may be difficult after paying all that good money to taste, but remember, you’re on a reconnaissance mission. You’re looking for that perfect brew or wine to grace your table. Finding the region you prefer, or the perfect balance of the hops and malt, that’s your mission, should you accept it.

  1. Ask Questions.

You’re on a mission to learn, right? Reading is the best way but there isn’t enough time at an event and taste too. Asking questions of the people pouring gets you the facts faster. These folks could be the actual brewmaster or winemaker and they’re here to talk about what they love to do. So ask and they will expound away. Take advantage of all that knowledge and make it your goal to learn one fact about each wine or beer you really liked.

  1. You’re Not the Only One There.

For some unfathomable reason, some people park themselves in front of a table while tasting, ignoring the fact there are other tasters waiting behind them. Don’t do that. Ask your question while your beveridge is being poured. What’s in the blend? What are those very aromatic hops I smell? How many times is it distilled?

Then step back to swirl, sniff, sip and spit.

  1. Remember the Ones You Love.

Events usually have tasting sheets listing the brewery or the winery and what they are offering. Take notes of the ones you really liked and find out where you can get them. Ask who distributes them and where they are available in your area. Sometimes you can purchase that day but always find out where you can get your favorites after the event is history.

For imported products, there is always an importer listed on the back label. Make a note of that also. It’s easier to track it down afterwards.

If note taking is not your forte, take a picture of the label with that fancy phone of yours.

  1. Get a Ride.

Be responsible. Arrange for transportation before you start to sip. There’s a lot to take in at these big, sometimes overwhelming events and while you’ve been spitting and pouring out leftovers, be responsible and take a ferry, bus, cab or designated driver.

The beauty of these tasting events is meeting interesting people and learning about great wines or beers. Be safe because the next tasting is this weekend and you need to be there.

Horse Heaven Hills is Vineyard Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting History, One Glass at a Time

Have you ever wondered who planted the first grape vine in Washington? Was it the Italian immigrants, German settlers or French fur trappers that roamed the eastern part of the state? Was it in East Wenatchee, Walla Walla or Grapeview?

When we opened Grape Expectations in the fall of 1985, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 Washington wineries. Today, some still exist, in one form or another and others are no longer. There are now somewhere in the neighborhood of  980 wineries in Washington and over 600,000 acres planted to vitis vinifera.

Two of the most influential wine pioneers in the early 1900s  were Dr. Walter Clore and Canadian immigrant, William  B. Bridgman, who encouraged the young Dr. Clore to plant grapes in Yakima Valley Research Center in addition to other fruits, vegetables and grains.

When W.B., as a young  attorney, arrived in Sunnyside,  he set up shop, bought some acreage and also played an important role in the development of irrigation laws in the Yakima Valley.  As manager of the Sunnyside Irrigation Canal, he authored the guidelines to develop and share water resources.

Dr. Clore was an assistant horticulturalist at the Irrigated Agricultural Research and Extension Center just outside of Prosser. Initially, the research center was 200 acres of sagebrush planted to corn, millet, potatoes, wheat and clover. That all changed when vitis vinifera came to town.

Sunnyside, where Bridgman settled in, was founded in the late 1890s by some Midwestern folks from the Progressive Brethren Church. They were determined to keep the sins of the world at bay in their new community. Wine may have been ok for Jesus at Cana but not in the backyards of these Sunnyside residents.

Sunnysiders survived, for a few years anyway, on the produce of their truck gardens but shipping outside the area was beyond their scope of work. So, they discovered the best way to make money was to sell land to unsuspecting newcomers. W. B.’s arrival in the “holy city” of Sunnyside in 1902 was definitely a blessing the residents weren’t counting on.

As his law practice thrived, it allowed him to purchase land. Being from a farming community, farmland was a top priority. He also had viticulture in his background. Back home on the Niagara Peninsula, his family grew Concord grapes. So, in 1917,  Mr. Bridgeman planted a vineyard on Snipes Mountain in the Yakima Valley.

These were the first commercial wine grapes in a region that has been the center of the Washington wine industry ever since. The place, called Harrison Hill, turned out to be a great place to grow wine grapes.

Bridgman became the local celebrity, two-time mayor, and Sunnyside’s biggest promoter. He encouraged the business of farming throughout the valley and the agricultural bounty of the irrigated farmlands.

After Prohibition, Bridgman took advantage of the opportunity and opened Upland Winery on Snipes Mountain. In 1934, the winery produced 7,000 gallons of wine from his vineyards planted to a smorgasbord of vinifera grapes. He had 165 acres of Semilion, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Palomino, Thompson Seedless, Sultana, Black Muscat, Carignane, Zinfandel, and Mataro under contract with more than 70 growers.

While he wanted to focus on table wines using European grape varieties, he found most of his success in sweeter fortified wines that were popular in the ’40s and ’50s. Bridgman sold the winery in 1960 and died eight years later.

Of all his contributions, one of Bridgman’s greatest achievements was convincing young Dr.Walter Clore at the Washington State University Experimental Station in Prosser that wine grape production was viable in Eastern Washington.  Looking back, that was sage advice.

Al Newhouse, a second-generation Yakima Valley farmer, purchased Bridgman’s vineyards and expanded the plantings over the years to four hundred acres. His grandson, Todd Newhouse, joined the family business in 1996 and relaunched Upland Estates Winery in 2006.

In 2009, the federal government recognized Snipes Mountain as an official American Viticultural Area. At 4,145 acres with over 800 planted to vinifera grapes, it’s small but making a huge impact.

And those vines Bridgman planted in 1917? Astonishingly, several of them survive to this day, including Thompson Seedless and Muscat of Alexandria. There is also Black Muscat and Cabernet from the 1950s and ’60s.

Newhouse and winemaker Robert Smasne, before he struck out on his own, have made award winning wines from those vineyards. Other winemakers have too. DeLille Cellar’s Harrison Hill and Thurston Wolfe’s Black Muscat were made from Bridgman’s early planting.

On a recent trip to Yakima Valley, I became reacquainted with Upland Estates Winery over lunch at the Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Ice House. The place would have made W. B. smile. It’s a “polished American Tavern” constructed in the fashion of an old fruit warehouse, all concrete and wood décor to reflect Yakima’s agricultural industry.

Lighting, walls and flooring are re-purposed materials. With an open kitchen, a wood fired oven, smudge pot and ice block lights, concrete walls ingrained with wood and a steel warehouse door that opens to outside dining, the place has wonderful ambiance with so much to see and enjoy. Which I did with glass of Uplands Sauvignon Blanc and a dish of Ahi Tuna with Mango Salsa. It was a perfect lunch.

And while your in Yakima, do stop by the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser. Named for the Father of the Washington Wine industry, it is a learning center that promotes Washington State wines and foods.

You’ll be dazzled when you visit this spacious tasting room, where you can taste wines from across the state and learn about the wide variety of grapes, soils and climates that make our wines so distinctive.

Established at the request of wineries and other petitioners, boundaries for the thirteen Washington AVAs are defined by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Each month at the Walter Clore Center, one of the 13 AVAs are featured for a month. The decision on the featured AVA is decided by drawing a name out of a hat.

You’ll learn to really appreciate the work, quality and diversity of wine and food produced in the state through the Center’s seminars, programs and events. There is even a Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame where you may stumble upon who planted the first vineyard and where in Washington State it was planted.

 

Tasting Washington Wines this Spring

Taste Washington is the largest wine tasting I’ve ever attended except one. That tasting happened in San Francisco over 30 years ago. It was held in a huge lavish hotel ballroom where wines from every major wine growing region at the time filled hundreds of tables. The amount of glassware used at the event is mind boggling.

With under 60 wineries, Washington was a speck on the world’s wine map at that time. But, my oh my, how things have changed! Today, there are over 890 wineries in this dynamic fruit growing region. On average, a new winery opens every 30 days, making the number of wineries in Washington second behind California.

The first recorded winery operating in Washington was founded by an immigrant from Baden, Germany, in 1874 in East Wenatchee. When John Galler first moved to Washington, he made a living trapping with the Indians before settling down to farm and ferment. He had an orchard and planted 20 acres of grapes, producing wines for some 36 years before retiring.

In the 1900s, the wine industry was based on native American grapes such as the concord which took to the climate of Eastern Washington quite well. Grandview Winery and the National Wine Company or Nawico for short, were the largest along with Seattle’s Pommerelle and Upland winery out of Sunnyside.

There were also wineries popping up in Selah, Vancouver, Vaughn, Wenatchee, Bellevue, Lake Stevens, Edmonds, and Dockton to name a few. Even little Grapeview had one, Stretch Island Winery, operating from 1935 until 1947.

Except for the three larger wineries, most of the smaller community wineries made wine with whatever fruit they could get their hands on.  Apples, cherries, pears, blackberries, gooseberries, loganberries and currants were abundant. One adventurous vintner even made a melon wine.

Grape varieties used were the American Island Belle, Campbell Early, and Concord.  And Muscat, Alicante Bouchet and Zinfandel vines were brought by immigrants.  These wines were very much like the wine coolers of the early 1980s. Sweet, fruity and with not even a hint of complexity.

Dedicated to the lifelong work of Washington’s pioneering viticultural researcher who shaped the Washington wine industry and is recognized as the Father of Washington Wine.
Dedicated to the lifelong work of Washington’s pioneering viticultural researcher who shaped the Washington wine industry and is recognized as the Father of Washington Wine.

The change from Concord to Cabernet was gradual. It started in 1937 at the Irrigated Agricultural Research and Extension Center. They hired Dr. Walter Clore. His job was to evaluate the apple irrigation project and other fruits, including grapes, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries.

A trial block of about 30 grape varieties was planted with both American and European varieties. This grew over the next six years to 45 American, 71 European and a dozen hybrid varieties. By 1974, over 300 varieties had been established at the research center.

Today, over 350 wine grape growers have over 40 varietals planted on some 50,000 acres all across Washington State. The latest record harvest year was 2014 with 227,000 tons of vinifera grapes harvested. And those 890 wineries produced 16 million cases of wine from all those grapes.

In 2015, Washington’s wine grape harvest totaled 222,000 tons, down 2 percent from the record harvest of 2014. Many grape growers attributed the decrease to unusually warm weather, which resulted in a much smaller berry size. The upside of this is more concentrated aromas and flavors.

There are thirteen American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), as recognized and defined by the United States Treasury Department; Alcohol & Tobacco Taxes & Trade Bureau in Washington State.

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

The turn of the century brought Red Mountain into the fold, followed by Columbia Gorge (2004), Horse Heaven Hills (2005), Rattlesnake Hills and Wahluke Slope in 2006 and Snipes Mountain in 2009. Naches Heights and Ancient Lakes were added in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Washington’s average sixteen hours per day of summer sunlight and alluvial soils produce some of the best growing conditions for vinifera grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon was the top producing red variety at 47,400 tons. Riesling was ranked second, at 44,100 tons. The latest economic impact numbers for the wine industry is $4.8 billion in 2013.

No wonder Taste Washington is the largest single region wine event today. There are so many wines from so many varieties to choose from. There are still tickets available for Sunday’s Grand Tasting. This is a great opportunity to learn more about Washington’s wineries and what delicious bites pair well with them. For more information, TasteWashington.org

Another great tasting event is coming up. Yakima has their Spring Barrel Tasting right around the corner. This is an opportunity to delve into some of the wineries and vineyards in Washington’s oldest AVA on April 23rd and 24th. Tasting from the barrel is a unique experience. Many wineries have local food pairings, live music and festivities. More learning opportunities! More fun!

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

Taste Washington this Weekend!

If you haven’t made the move, now is the time.  Purchase your tickets to  the premier Washington Grand Wine Tasting on April 2 -3, 2016. There are over two hundred Washington wineries pouring samples and 70 restaurants servings up tasty bites this weekend. In addition, there are educational seminars and the Alaska Chef’s Stage where you can see real live chef’s whipping up tasty dishes.  TasteWaWineMonth_RedPlaid_NoDate_Logo

Your Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card will get you access to the  VIP Cardholder’s Lounge where you can sample delicious food along with library wines. From the Seastar Restaurant Catering and John Howie Steak try some Porcini Mushroom Soup, Mini Dungeness Crab Cakes,  American Wagyu Beef Meatballs with Foie Gras Demi Glace,  Asiago-Blue Cheese Stuffed Red Potatoes, Sushi, Sesame Peppercorn Crusted Ahi, Prime New York Strip with Maitre d’sauce, and/or Deviled Eggs with Truffled Bacon.

The reserve and library wines will be from some of Washington’s most prestigious winemakers. Here’s the line-up:

Saturday, April 2
1pm – 2pm Chateau Ste. Michelle
2pm – 3pm Dunham Cellars
3pm – 4pm DeLille Cellars
4pm – 5pm Mark Ryan Winery

Sunday, April 3
1pm – 2pm Chateau St. Michelle
2pm – 3pm Barons Winery / Matteo Wines
3pm – 4pm Sparkman Cellars
4pm – 5pm Avennia Winery

If that doesn’t make your mouth water, we need to talk – preferably over a bottle of wine.  More info here,  tastewashington.org

Cheers!

March is Washington Wine Month

March is Washington Wine Month with celebrations and events you won’t want to miss.

On Bainbridge Island, it’s raining gold and silver at Eleven Winery! The judges at Savor NW have chosen the 2013 Syrah and 2013 Roussanne as Gold Medal Winners. The 2013 Viognier and the 2012 La Ronde were awarded Silver Medals.  Available online, in the tasting room or at the  winery with the exception of the sold out  2013 Syrah.

The biggest event of them all is Taste Washington. TasteWaWineMonth_RedPlaid_NoDate_LogoAt Taste Washington, you can sample wines from over 225 Washington wineries, delicious bites from 65 local restaurants, wines from featured Washington AVAs and seminars to learn the nitty gritty about Washington Wines!

The series of educational seminars is truly enlightening. On Saturday, Washington vs the World, will compare Washington Rhone-style wines to Rhone-style wines from around the world. King Cab will explore this Bordeaux grape from various AVAs across the state. Tasting Washington is a discussion and tasting on the Washington-ness in Washington wine.

On Sunday, Through the Grapevine: Lessons learned from a lifetime in Washington wine will feature some of the state’s finest growers and winemakers. Riesling on the Rise and A Sense of Place explores the grape and the winemaker and the vineyard influences on wines. Tickets for the seminars are offered separately from the other events.

After the seminars, The Grand Tasting takes place at CenturyLink Event Center on Saturday,  April 2nd and Sunday, April 3rd. You’ll taste and learn about the the latest and greatest and the tried and true of Washington State wine varietals, AVAs and culinary bites.

During the Grand Tasting,  Alaska Chef Stage will host various live chef demonstrations from an all-star culinary line-up. In a state-of-the-art kitchen, these talented chefs will be demonstrating their cooking skills and offering up culinary tips.

Hear Ryan Burnett, the Chef at the award-winning Coyaba Restaurant at the Muckleshoot Casino. Chef Jason Stratton, Executive Chef of Capitol Hill’s Mamnoon Restaurant, named one of Food & Wine magazine’s 10 Best New Chefs in 2010, and a James Beard semifinalist.

Chef Sarah Scott of El Gaucho Bellevue prepares  signature dishes and Chef Aarti Sequeria, Host of Aarti Party will be on hand. Sequeria competed on and won Season 6 of The Next Food Network Star in 2010. Born in India and brought up in the Middle East, Sequeria brings her varied culinary background to the Taste Washington stage.

More about the wine lineup later but to put a few new ones out there to think about – Port Townsend’s Lullaby Winery , Ambassador Wines out of Red Mountain, MonteScarlatto also on Red Mountain, Walla Walla’s Cadaretta and Lodmell Wineries, Woodinville’s Genoa Cellars,  Pomum Cellars and Pearl and Stone Wine Co.  Meanwhile, for a complete listing and ticket information, visit tastewashington.org

Tickets are on sale now so don’t delay. Join the fun today! Taste Washington – March 31 – April 3, 2016.

Next up is the Spring Barrel Tasting on April 22 through April 24th.  Spring Barrel Tasting weekend is your chance to taste wines from some of the oldest vineyards in the state.  This weekend you’ll sample yet-unfinished wines from the barrel.

Purchase a Premier Pass which will gain you access to added benefits  during this Spring Barrel Tasting weekend at 40 participating wineries. Premier Pass holders will be able to experience a variety of specialty food pairings, library tastings, and tours. Online Premier Pass sales end April 19. The wineries ask that you bring your own glass this weekend. yakimavalleyuncorked.com

Belgians have Wit, the world’s best fries and more

Belgium is very unique in many ways. This culturally diverse country has three languages, 150 breweries making thousands of unusual beers and an especially excellent way with fries.

Just as Wisconsin has its cheese heads, Belgians have potato heads. Indeed, Belgium’s annual per capita frites consumption far surpasses America’s French fry consumption. There are frites stands galore on the streets of Bruges. They are so dedicated to the dish; they even have created a frites museum.

The secret of Belgian’s world’s best fries is like its beers, a special recipe. The trick is to fry the potatoes twice each time at a different temperature and serve with the usual condiment –flavored mayonnaise.

And of course, you’ll want to wash the potatoes down with a tasty beer. Which Belgium has – in spades. The beers from this culturally rich country are diverse and distinctive. Tripels, Dubbels, Quadrupel, Saisons, Wits, Faro, Oud Bruin, Flemish Red, Gueuze, Pale, Strong Dark, Strong Pale and Lambics are the many styles of beer made.

There is also a huge range of Belgian beer glasses for each style of beer. Chalices, goblets, tulips, flutes and snifters are preferred because their shape impacts head development and retention.

Head is the foam created when you pour your beer into a proper glass. It acts as a cap for all the lovely aromas, such as hop oils, fruit, herbs, all kinds of fermentation by products like alcohol, fusels and esters, spices or even wood.

The history of their beer making goes back centuries. Julius Caesar, leading his thirsty Roman legions through the land, made note that the natives produced a variety of beers.

In the Middle Ages, monasteries, as a matter of health, began brewing the unusual brews. This liquid bread was usually a Dubbel or Tripel with a few Wits here and there. The monks found that drinking a brew was healthier than the local water.

The monastic brewing tradition continues to this day. Although to make a true Trappist beer, you must be a sanctioned monastery. The eleven genuine Trappist monasteries — six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands and one each in Austria, Italy and United States produce about 25 labels in very small quantities.

The rest of Belgium presents a treasure trove of exotic ales. Just like the frites, the recipe for each of these beers is unique. With Belgium beer, mashing matters. Belgian brewers do multi-step mashes. Again, they cook it twice each at a different temperature. The result is better head retention and more body.

Other exotics could be introduced at some point in the brewing process. Fresh fruit, barley sugar, herbs, wild yeasts, spices and/ or aged hops are all part of the Belgian way with beer.

The effect of this huge range of flavors has sent beer geeks off into the wide world of wine speak in an attempt to describe the sheer complexity of Belgium beers.

Take the humble beginnings of Saison. Saison is French for season. In the countryside, agriculture naturally attracts a ton of seasonal workers, called saisonniers in Belgium. They would harvest the crops and brew ales with leftovers. Saisons were beers made to be consumed by the workers as part of their pay. How cool is that?

Saisons tend to have a distinct hop flavor, with bright, fruity aromas, a crisp of tartness and dry finish. Saison Dupont is pretty much the gold standard for Saisons. This special beer originated before refrigeration as a beer to be brewed in winter for summer consumption.

The style required a beer sturdy enough to age six months in the bottle but refreshing enough to be enjoyed in warm weather. They generally have a big, fruity bouquet and dense head. The flavors are fruity at the start but end crisp with a light, refreshing body.

One other highly unusual style of beer is the Lambic and Gueze. This style of beer is made with fruit, raspberries, peaches, cassis, apples or cherries. And there is a two step process of fermenting this beer in addition to a wily yeast strain.

Conventional beers are fermented with carefully cultivated strains of yeasts, right? Well, this is where Lambics take a 180. They’re produced by spontaneous fermentation. The wort is set up in the attics, the windows are opened and it is exposed to the wild yeasts and bacteria native to the area. Over eighty microorganisms have been identified in Lambic beer, so it’s got to be good for you.

Another important feature of Lambic is that it is usually a blend of at least two different beers; many “producers” are really just blenders who buy finished product from other brewers, and blend two or more together before bottling. A Gueuze may have occupied space in several different cellars over six years or more.

Witbier, also known as Belgian White, is a style of wheat beers that are pale with a crisp wheat character and refreshing citrus notes from the orange peel and coriander. A great summer quaffer that’s perfect with creamy cheeses and shellfish. Highly recommend Hoegaarden or the Blanche de Chambly.

Where can you taste all these exotic beers? Why at the Belgian Beer Fest in Seattle! But don’t hesitate, it sells out quickly.

The Washington Beer Commission’s 7th Annual Belgian Fest at Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center will highlight 100+ Belgian-style beers crafted by almost 50 Washington breweries. Featured beer styles include Tripels, Dubbels, Saisons, Wits, Abbeys and Lambics.

Saturday, January 30th at the Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center. There are two separate sessions, one from 12-4pm and the other from 5:30-9:30 pm.

Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the door. Admission includes a tasting glass and 10 tasting tokens. Each taste is 4 oz.  Santé!

Walla Walla will be on the West Side of the Mountains

The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliancewine bottles0003 (2) is coming to town.

More than 50 wineries will bring the Walla Walla Valley tasting experience to downtown Seattle on Monday, February 8, 2016. This is a great opportunity to sample Walla Walla wines and talk to the winemakers. It’s like a mini Taste Washington! Light appetizers will be served.

Monday, February 8, 2016, 5:30-8:00pm

General Admission: $50

Buy 6 or more tickets; get 10% off with discount code WALLAWALLA10.

For ticket information, visit www.wallawallawine.com

The Best Bottles of 2015 Report

Book reports are a way to show how well you understand what you read and what you thought about it. So, think of this as my wine and beer report to show how well I appreciated and think about some of my favorite feasts, fine wines and great brews. But most of all, it’s sharing food and drink with family and friends that makes it taste so delicious.

This year’s Bremerton Beer Fest featured brews made with fruit or randalled – perfect for the sweltering heat of the day. Pyramid’s Apridunkel was my absolute favorite. This stronger and darker version of their gold medal winning Apricot Ale was made with 2-row, caramel 40, chocolate malts and flaked wheat and only enough Cascade hops to balance the sweetness of the apricots. Really, really well made.

Innovations in the craft beer industry have brought it back to where it started – fermented, aged and shipped in barrels. The modern day trend ages beer in barrels in order to produce a richer more complex product. Bourbon, rye, tequila, brandy, gin and even wine barrels are used.  My favorites are bourbon barrel imperial stouts.

Take for instance Deschutes the Abyss 2015. It’s aged in Bourbon, Pinot Noir, and new oak barrels before the final blend. Flavors of cherry, chocolate, and licorice make this a perfect match for hearty stew. Also tasted this year, the 2008 and 2013. The Abyss is very good with a little bottle age to it also.

The Shelbourne Inn in Seaview, Washington held its 6th Annual Wild Mushroom and Pike Brewing Dinner in the fall. Every year, I get dragged down there by this fanatic mushroom lover. And every year the dishes and matches continue to amaze us.

This year’s stunning dish was the Paleo Lobster Mushroom “Lasagna” with arugula salad and a red pepper gastrique. It was paired with the Pike Pale Ale. This classic full bodied ale has nutty malt and herbaceous flavors. This amber colored ale, known as bitter in England, was so named because it’s pale compared to porters. It was a surprising match with the stunning lobster mushrooms, arugula and red pepper flavors.

But enough about beer, let’s talk about wine, shall we?

The second memorable match of 2015 was a Geoduck Ceviche with diced shallots, jimaca and avocado. The geoduck was fresh from the northwest waters, sweet and minerally. It was paired with a Vinho Verde (translation: green wine, meaning it’s young). This wine is from a cool, rainy, northwest in the biggest DOC in Portugal. Vinho Verde is known for its mineral flavors, crispness and aromatics. Made from the delicately fragrant Alvarinho grape, it was and always is a perfect match with shellfish.

Fulfilling my dreams of spectacular Bordeaux were a couple of bottles of Chateau Clerc Milon. Established in 1789, when it was sold as a national asset during the Revolution. The Clerc family bought it and did such a wonderful job, it made the cut in the 1855 classification as one of eighteen fifth growths. Located in the northern part of Paulliac, vineyards are sandwiched between two first growths – Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild.

In 1970, Philippe Rothschild thought the neglected buildings and 40 acres looked pretty fetching. He bought it, added vineyards that were originally part of the estate and restored it to its former glory. Today. the 101 acres of vineyards are planted to 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Carmenère.

It’s with great pleasure, this report pronounces the 1999 and the 1989 Clerc Milon perfect. The 1989 is a blend of 65 Cabernet, 25 Merlot and 10 Cabernet Franc. The vintage was exceptional in Bordeaux. This bottle was glorious with wonderful spice, cedar aromas and silky flavors of minerality, cocoa and tobacco and a finish of great length. Everything I would ask for in a wine of its maturity

The 1999 Clerc Milon, a blend of 55 Cabernet, 27 Merlot and 18 Cabernet Franc, was a big, concentrated wine in its youth. Highly rated but not quite the great vintage as the ’89, its anticipated maturity was right around the corner – 2016. It’s a beautiful wine. The color was amazing for a sixteen year old, still very dark with no sign of fading. The fragrant nose and velvet texture were the highlights of this wine.

Just the memory of these wines makes me smile. I hope that 2016 brings you many warm memories that have you smiling too. May the New Year bring you Peace and Happiness.