Cheers To You

An exploration of all things wine with local wine expert Mary Earl.
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Weekly Wine Defined – Bud Break

Monday, April 14th, 2014

The start of the grape vines’ growth cycle begins in the spring with bud break. The small buds on the vine start to swell or “break” out and shoots begin to emerge from the bud.
The buds have been hanging out since the previous summer. During the winter, they turn brown and go dormant. Then when the weather turns spring-like, tiny green shoots emerge from the buds. This growth is energized from carbohydrate stored in roots and trunks. Soon the shoots sprout leaves and photosynthesis begins. Six months later, it’s harvest time.

Wine Defined – Loess

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Loess is a very important component in Washington wines. It’s an aeolian sediment formed by the accumulation of wind-blown silt, twenty percent or less clay and the balance equal parts sand and silt that are loosely cemented by calcium carbonate.

Many of Washington’s vineyards are located on gentle slopes or on valley floors. Almost all of these vineyards are planted in loess derived from sediments deposited by a series of glacial floods, known as the Missoula Floods.

Underneath much of these vineyards is the other reason Washington is unique in the wine world. The bedrock is basalt alluvium or just plain basalt. At higher elevations the loess directly overlies basalt bedrock.

Basalt is dense. Basalt keeps the average temperatures above average. And most importantly, basalt keeps the root louse away.

What did our Presidents Drink?

Monday, February 17th, 2014

One of the more fun-filled presidential facts I remember reading years ago had to do with what our forefathers drank while composing the Constitution of the United States of America and all those endless late-night meetings they attended.

They drank Madeira, and lots of it. Why is that you may be wondering? During the Revolutionary War it was the only wine available from Europe. The British being the rulers of the Seven Seas back then forbade other European countries from shipping goods to the Colonies.

But Madeira happened to be outside the boundaries of the ban being out in the middle of the north Atlantic Ocean and was unaffected by this decree.

There was plenty of homemade beer in the Colonies. In his early teens John Adams started his day drinking beer for breakfast, and by the time he began his days at Harvard at age 15, it was a daily regimen.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate was completely self-sufficient. There were vegetable gardens, farms, orchards, smokehouses, root cellars and brew houses where beer, cider and wine were fermented. Washington would drink home-made beverages and Madeira wine with the abundance of the land: game, fowl, pork, beef, plantation grown fruits and vegetables, fish from local rivers and a little port with the puddings or cream trifles served up at a state dinner.

President Thomas Jefferson was America’s first wine connoisseur with a studied preference for Bordeaux and Burgundy and Champagne. He brought back cuttings from his European travels and had them planted on his estate in Virginia. The first vinifera vines planted on the east coast.

President James Madison was small and slender and not much is said about what his preferences were, however, his wife, Dolly, was quite the entertainer at White House dinners. This remarkable woman was raised Quaker and yet entertained royally with beer and wine.

Springfield, Illinois was the stomping grounds for President Abraham Lincoln when he began as a circuit lawyer and then senator. It’s where his family home, tomb and presidential library are located. But few know his boyhood Kentucky farm was named Knob Creek Farm. Knob Creek Bourbon was named to honor Honest Abe and his Kentucky roots. Probably would have been tasty in the hot black coffee that was his drink of choice.

Weekly Wine Defined – Chablis

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Chablis is a little town about 110 miles southeast of Paris, France. Its surrounding vineyards, planted exclusively to Chardonnay, produce one of the world’s most famous wines.
It’s a small island miles from the rest of the Burgundy wine region of which it belongs. The soil is chalky and produces a dry flinty Chardonnay that pairs very nicely with oysters.
The name Chablis has long been used by Australia and America but with a totally different style of wine. One producer even made a Pink Chablis which it sold in a jug – with a handle. In California, Thompson Seedless grapes were used to make a jug of wine with Chablis plastered on the label.
In 2005, an agreement between the United States and the EU addressed the use of European place names on American wine labels. Those names, Chablis, Burgundy, Port and Champagne have been used here for over two hundred years. With this agreement, U.S. winemakers are legally permitted to use these names on on existing brands if accompanied by an adjacent appellation of origin.

So, William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru les Clos or Almaden American Chablis in a 5 liter box? I know which one I’d like to taste


Riesling for Harvey’s Recipes

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Mary writes:

Riesling was one of the first vinifera varieties planted in Washington, dating back to late 1880s. Much later, in the early 1970s, there were more acres planted to Riesling than there were Merlot.

Probably because Riesling is the most versatile, complex and food-friendly of all the noble grapes. And because back then, many, many people preferred a sweeter wine. In the next two decades, winemakers started making some Rieslings drier because of the demands of the market.  We can safely say that no other varietal has been crafted to express so many different styles from bone dry to ice wines and everything in between.

Rieslings have very floral aromas, a crisp, vibrant character with peach, citrus and apple flavors that morph into apricot as they age. When noble rot or botrytis attaches itself to the skins, the resulting wine is a concentration of sugars and flavors to produce a wine of incomparable intensity.

With Ann Vogel’s Harvey’s Butter Rum Batter recipes, the versatility of Riesling was the key that unlocked the synergy door. Riesling has just the right amount of sweetness and acidity to pair with apples, pork, pineapple, ham, red pepper flakes and cheesecake.

Riesling is all over the place when it comes to residual sugar (RS). It can have a ton of RS, making it a late harvest or ice wine. Or it can have as little as a Chardonnay – around .5% – and a crisp acidity for food friendliness.

Germany has been making some stunning Rieslings for a few centuries and it’s to Riesling what Bordeaux is to Cabernet and Merlot – the bench mark. That’s why it’s so cool when German winemakers come to Washington to make wine with Washington grapes.

Washington has 6,320 acres planted to Riesling. The most expensive is the Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Ice Wine at $85 for a half (375ml.) bottle. It’s made by one of my favorite German winemakers, Armin Diehl. This being a very special and labor intensive wine, it’s to be expected.

Other Washington Rieslings are as little as $3 for a 750 ml and continue up to around $20. These more expensive wines tend to have more work put into them and are generally drier.

There are three major Riesling producers in Washington State. Hogue, Ch. Ste. Michelle and Pacific Rim. All three have received numerous medals from around the world for their Rieslings.

For the Harvey’s Pork Chops with Apple Compote, try the Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling. This wine is a blend of grapes from all around the Columbia Valley made in an off-dry style at 11% alcohol and 2.2% RS. $10.

Pacific Rim’s Columbia Valley Riesling is crisp and slightly sweeter, a lovely wine with fiery red pepper flakes and juicy sweet pineapple in the Harvey’s Glazed Ham with Pineapple Chutney. Another blend of grapes from around Columbia Valley made in an off-dry style at 11.5% alcohol and 3.1% RS.

Cheesecake was made to be paired with Riesling. That being said we’ll move to a Riesling from another longtime giant in the Washington wine industry, Hogue. Their Late Harvest Columbia Valley Riesling was picked mid-October through the first part of November. It has 11% alcohol and 5.4% RS and at $10 a bottle is a total bargain.

Making a Splash with Syrah

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Mary writes:

Columbia Crest Syrah

Some time during the Merlot craze of the 90s, David Lake had a few acres of Syrah planted in Washington State. Lake, the winemaker at Columbia Winery, Master of Wine and firm believer in terrior, had a vision of what Syrah could become in Eastern Washington. In 1990, there were a mere 15 acres planted to Syrah; today, there are 3,103 acres of Syrah in the ground.

Washington’s Syrah are luscious and ready to drink upon release unlike Old World Syrah that typically require a few years’ aging.

While dining with a friend recently, a bottle of Columbia Crest Syrah was opened to pair with the grilled flank steak with Chimichurri sauce.

This gorgeous wine was flawless from start to finish. Elegant aromas of smoke, cinnamon, blackerrries and cedar, followed by flavors of pepper, blackberries and currants. It’s a big wine, though the tannins are silky and smooth.

Columbia Crest Winery, not to be confused with Columbia Winery that first planted Syrah, was established in 1983. They are part of Stimson Lane that includes Chateau Ste. Michelle.

The winery is located in the Horse Heaven Hills. And it is huge. It was described when I toured it in 1986 as being as large as four football fields and could store 27,000 59 gallon barrels.

Over the years, Columbia Crest Winery has been named Winery of the Year by numerous wine trade magazines. And now by this blog! At $12.00, it’s a lot of wine for the money.

Bull’s Blood

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

This is an intriguing name for a wine, don’t you think?
Bikaver is Hungarian for Bull’s Blood and after 1990 was used to designate a style of wine. This Hungarian treat was once exclusively produced by the state owned winery in Eger, Hungary.
The story goes that Eger’s castle, constructed in the l3th century, was defended by Captain Istvan Dobo and 2,000 soldiers who withstood a month-long siege from the onslaught of 150,000 Turks.
During the siege, the soldiers drank red wine. Being a little shaky, the wine spilled over their beards and onto their armor, coloring them blood red. As the fight against the invading Turks continued, word spread that the Hungarians were drinking bulls blood to make themselves strong and fierce. The superstitious Turks were terrified. And that defeated the Turks.
If you’re feeling brave, try the Egri Bikaver with a nice, hot dinner of Hungarian Goulash, a thick, rich, paprika infused stew made by the Hungarian Herdsmen.

Weekly wine defined: Troken

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Translated, trocken means dry — as in July was very trocken.

But in Germany it’s an official term applied to wines with no more  than 0.9 percent residual sugar.

Halbtrocken are wines that are half dry or in this country, off dry, meaning officially no more than 1.8 percent residual sugar.

White wine blend offers a crisp compliment to spicy peanut sauce

Friday, August 16th, 2013

If you’re into wine, and we hope you are since you’re reading this column, then you may know a good wine to pair with Asian food, especially spicy Asian food, is riesling.

We are fortunate to live in a state that produces some of the nation’s best riesling, which means it’s easy to find a good one at relatively inexpensive prices.

If you read Ann Vogel’s In the Kitchen column and saw her recipe for Spicy Peanut Sauce — a versatile concoction that would do well as a dig for veggies, warmed over pasta, rice or as a marinade over chicken skewers — then you might think our wine pair choice for this recipe would be a riesling.

That’s a safe bet, and one we would recommend, but we’re going to change things up for this recipe and suggest a different white wine.

An unoaked chardonnay with crisp citrus notes and bright acidity would stand up perfectly to the heat of this dish, especially if you follow Vogel’s recommendations to add the cayenne pepper and jalapeño.

If you opt to serve this dish as a marinade to chicken skewers, or as sauce to pasta or rice, we think Hedges Family Estate, a longtime Washington winery, has the perfect blend to compliment your meal.

The winery’s 2012 CMS sauvignon blanc combines fruity notes of chardonnay like ripe pear and caramel apple with hints of citrus from the sauvignon blanc and orange blossoms from a touch of the marsanne grape.

Although not a chardonnay-dominate blend — the wine is 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 10 percent chardonnay and 5 percent marsanne — it marries the flavors perfectly, providing the acidity needed to stand up to the spiciness of the peanut sauce.

The wine is available at most grocery stores and retails for $14, although it is often cheaper at the store and was recently selling for just under $8 at Costco.

According to this study, we’re brilliant

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Brynn writes:

Mary recently passed this study along to me via email. Since it’s all about drinking and being smart — the more you drink the smarter you are, or something like that. It was too good to keep to ourselves, so we’re sharing.

Here’s the link to the MSN study: “Smarter people drink more, study says”

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