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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.

It’s the Sparkling Wine Season!

‘Tis the season and for many of us, popping corks is the perfect way to set a festive mood.

The history of Champagne documents a wine that wasn’t always bubbly. Gasp! In fact, bubbles were frowned upon.  And it wasn’t predominately made with white grapes as modern day bubbly is. That was frowned upon by none other than the supposed inventor of Champagne, Dom Pérignon. dom-perignon

In 1668, Dom Pérignon began serving as the treasurer of the Abbey of Hautvillers just north of Epernay. As treasurer, one of his duties was collecting tithes from the surrounding villages. This could be in the form form of grapes or wine, which he, as cellar master, fermented, blended and sold for twice as much as his competitors.

Naturally, the abbey flourished under this program and doubled the size of its vineyards. Dom Pérignon also worked on improving fermentation techniques at the abbey. This did not include inventing or improving sparkling wines. True story.

He did not like the refermenting process as it was spontaneous and could cause considerable damage in the cellar and as a result, hurt the bottom line.

With warming temperatures, refermentation in bottles would spontaneously occur. One bottle exploding meant nearby bottles, also under pressure, would explode and the chain reaction would begin. In the Pérignon era, refermentation in the bottle was a cellar bomb. Dom Pérignon worked tirelessly to avoid refermentation.

Dom Pérignon was also not fond of white grapes because of their tendency to re-ferment. The Abbey of Hautvillers wines were made from Pinot Noir and were not sparkling except by accident.

He also advocated heavy vineyard pruning for low yields, early morning harvesting, no trodding on the grapes to minimize maceration and blending, above all, blending during crush was important to the flavor of this light pink wine.

So, if Dom Pérignon inventing Champagne is the stuff of fairy tales, who did perfect the techniques to make this elegant, sublime wine?

Champagne, as we know it now, came to be two centuries after Dom Pérignon. The techniques of modern day Champagnes were 100 or so years in the making. The first major step, taken by a woman, came at the dawn of the 19th century. veuve clicquot

Veuve Clicquot was founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron. Philippe’s son, François Clicquot, married Barbe Nicole Ponsardin in 1798 and died seven years later, leaving his widow (veuve) in control.

In the 18th century, she was 27 and CEO. Her first year at the helm, she shipped 110,000 bottles of Champagne. Russia took delivery of 25,000 of those bottles. Russia, until the start of World War I, was the major Champagne buyer.

Under Madame Clicquot’s guidance, the house made many changes in fermentation and storage that made mass production of Champagne possible. In the early 19th century, with the assistance of her cellar master, Antoine de Müller, they made many advancements in méthode champenoise.

Veuve Clicquot invented the riddling rack. The rack is used to this day to shake (remuage – also a Clicquot invention) the yeast into the neck of the bottle before dégorgement (an important technique of ejecting the dead yeast cell plug).

After all the sediments were ejected, a small amount of wine was added, sweetened to a specific degree to prevent explosions. This took place in the first ever crayeres (chalk caves, formerly quarries) –another important oenological improvement.

In 1810, she created the first vintage champagne. Much later it was named for her – La Grand Dame. Moet y Chandon’s vintage champagne is called Dom Pérignon. Today, vintage champagnes are only made from the best grapes from the best vineyards in the best years.

Yes, the production of quality sparkling wine is labor intensive. It begins in the vineyard with hand harvesting. Rarely are the grapes mechanically harvested which would unnecessarily break the skins and bruise the fruit resulting in more phenols and color in the wine before fermentation.

Grapes are generally harvested earlier than other regions before the fruit sugars fully develop. Since sparkling wines under go two fermentations – one to make the alcohol and one to make the bubbles, higher fruit sugars would result in higher alcohol and low acidity.

In the first fermentation, carbon dioxide is released and in the second fermentation, it is trapped in the bottle making tiny bubbles or perlage, if you want too sound like a sommelier.

In addition to Champagne, there are sparkling wines from French Champagne houses in California: Louis Roederer’s Roederer Estate, Moët Chandon’s Domaine Chandon, G.H. Mumm’s Mumm Napa and Taittinger’s Domaine Carneros.

And one of my all time favorites is Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma. In 1982, the Spanish Ferrer family purchased 250 acres in Carneros and planted it to Pinot Noir. The Ferrer family owns the largest sparkling wine facility in the world – Freixenet.

In the Great Northwest, Oregon’s Argyle began in Dundee with the 1987 vintage. Today, they produce at least ten sparkling wines from the traditional grapes and methods. Also in Oregon, is Soter Vineyards, a long time Pinot Noir expert. These two are worth the search.

Washington State also produces very affordable sparkling wines well worth your hard earned dollars. Domaine Ste. Michelle produces boatloads of brut in the Méthode Champenoise.

Mountain Dome Winery opened in September of 1984 at the foot of Mt. Spokane. The former family owned winery produced both vintage and non-vintage bruts. Things changed in 2006 with the death of owner/winemaker Michael Manz. The winery is now owned by Don Townshend, who also owns Townshend Cellars.

Finally, there is Treveri Cellars, a newer winery making sparkling wine from the traditional and nontraditional sparkling wine grapes such as Syrah, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. They do méthode champenoise very well!

Brighten your holiday festivities with a bottle of bubbly. Nothing is more iconic to ring in the holidays.

Cheers! and Happy Holidays!

Let the Celebrations Begin

The Celebration Season has begun. What bottles will you open? Here are some enologically education events to get you in the swing of things in the next few weeks.

The JW Restaurant in Gig Harbor presents an evening with Dave Huse, owner of Walla Walla’s Five Star Cellars. Dave is a wonderful man with a twinkle in his eye and some great stories. The twinkle is probably because he has some of the best wines in Washington. A while back I won, hands down, the Blind Wine Group Tasting with his 2008 Cab.

It’s Wednesday, November 18th at 6pm, mosey on down to the JW Restaurant in Gig Harbor for a delightful 4 course dinner paired with his wines. Reservation only. For more info, www.jwgigharbor.com

Beaujolais Nouveau release day is always the third Thursday of November, the week before Thanksgiving. It may be coincidence that this wine from the Beaujolais region of France in southern Burgundy is a very good wine for that big family dinner a week later. The Gamay grape is harvested in September (concluding mid September this year) and in bottle just before Thanksgiving. The wine actually originated about a century ago as a cheap and cheerful drink produced by locals to celebrate the end of the harvest season with a new wine or Nouveau. It’s an excellent gauge of the 2015 vintage in Europe. This year’s harvest is reportedly small but intense.

Next up is the BIG FEAST – Thanksgiving. Spending Thanksgiving in wine country is a wonderful way to spend the holiday weekend researching the newer wineries. Yakima Valley, Washington’s oldest AVA, is one of my favorite places to go. Not a ton of people, more face time with the winemakers and plenty of holiday cheer.

Thanksgiving in Yakima Valley Wine Country, from Friday, November 27 to Sunday, the 29th, offers the perfect opportunity to taste wine from dozens of wineries that you’ve only heard about! For instance, have you tasted Antolin Winery, Gilbert Cellars, Kana, Lookout Point, Naches Heights, Owen Roe or Treveri Sparkling Cellars? If not, this could be a perfect opportunity.

Around Zillah try Cultura Winery, Dineen (Chef Chris Guerra of Guerra’s Gourmet will be making fresh tamales and pizza in the wood-fired oven), Knight Hill, Maison de Padgett, Masset Winery, Paradisos del Sol (Albarino), Reflection Vineyards, Severino Cellars, Tanjuli Winery, Two Mountain Winery (port) and Wineglass Cellars.

The Prosser neighborhood has Airfield Estates, Chinook, or Cowan Vineyards. And then the compact Red Mountain neighborhood wineries: Chandler Reach (a fav), Cooper, Hightower, Kiona (a must), Kitzke Cellars, Tapteil Vineyard (VG), Terra Blanca and Tucannon Cellars. Details and directions at https://wineyakimavalley.org/events-item/thanksgiving-in-wine-country-taste-to-fight-hunger/

Our own Kitsap Peninsula Wineries will have an open house that weekend too if you want to take visiting relatives and Mom out for a drive. All the wineries, Amelia Wynn Winery, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eagle Harbor Winery, Eleven Winery, Fletcher Bay Winery, Perennial Vintners and Rolling Bay Winery are open for tours and tasting from 12 to 5pm Thanksgiving weekend. Meet the winemakers, enjoy the lush surroundings and great wines. More info and directions at http://www.bainbridgewineries.com/winerytours/

Mom will absolutely love the newly released Eleven Late Harvest Viognier. One whiff of the heavenly nose and she’ll think she’s gone to heaven. It’s made from grapes dried on the vine for many weeks, resulting in highly concentrated flavors and aromas.

And finally, here are the results of the Beer vs. Wine Tasting. It was a great event for wine lovers and  beer lovers too. It definitely opened up some eyes on the what and the why of pairing. We kept adding special beers and wines and dishes to pair with them. Of the nine courses, wine won three and beer won three with one tie, one both and one result tossed out.

The results were tossed out for the salad course because one of the beer bottles was off and the reinforcement was a heavier beer and it was served before the lighter in body wine. In retrospect, it should have been wine first and then the beer. And the record did not specify which beer was the best match.

Other complexities – we started out with 8 people and a few left before dessert. But not all courses add up to 8, anyway as some guests couldn’t do fish or just simply couldn’t make a definitive decision. And a category “both” was added for those open minded diners who thought both were great with the dish.  This dinner was designed to be a tasting menu so we could add so many special beers and wines.

Geoduck Ceviche marinated in Lime Juice with Shallots, Jimaca, Cilantro and Avocado.

1 – Wine: Espiral 2014 Vinho Verde

  • 4 – Beer: Godamsel Belgian Golden Wild

3 – both

illed Oysters Alki on the Half Shell

5 – Wine: Sauvignon Republic 2013 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

2 – Beer: Homebrewed Smoked Porter/Alaskan Smoked Porter

1 – both

Seared Scallops with Citrus Cream Sauce

3 – Wine: Chateau St Jean 2011 Sonoma Chardonnay

  • 5 – Beer: Rodenbach Red

Muscat or Rodenbach Poached Pears with Napa Cabbage, Curried Walnuts and Vanilla Vinaigrette

Beer: North Coast Old Stock 2011/ Tripel Krullekop

Wine: Domaine Laurier Brut

 

Aged Gouda, English and Vermont Cheddar Cheeses

2 Wine: Chateau Ste Michelle 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • 6 – Beer: Pike Old Bawdy 1994

Multiple Mushrooms Risotto with Mushroom Stock, Fresh and Dried, Truffle Oil, Dust, and Truffle Salt

  • 5 – Wine: Berberanna 2009 Rioja

1 – Beer: Cuvee Rene

2 – both

 

Butternut Cream Soup garnished with Crème Fraiche and Pine Nuts

  • 5- Wine: Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado Sherry

3 – Beer: Rogue Hazelnut Brown

Ruhlman’s Pastrami Beef Short Ribs with Potato and Parsnip Mash and homemade Dill Pickle

3 – Wine: Maryhill 2009 Zinfandel

3 – Beer: Firestone Walker Anniversary 18

Homemade Smoked Lamb & Elk Sausage with Shredded Golden Beets garnished with Goat Cheese, Pickled Mushrooms, Beets, Onions, and Olive Oil Drizzle

Beer: Liefman’s Goudenband

Wine: O – S Winery 2003 Champoux Cabernet Franc 1.5L

  • 4 – both

 

We were all stuffed so for another day:

Gingerbread Trifle With Stroopwafel Cookie

Wine: Hinzerling Rainy Days Tawny Port

Beer: Southern Tier Crème Brulee

Life with Sherry

Most of us first read about sherry when we were in grade school. Only The Cask of Amontillado probably made no sense whatsoever to those No. 2 pencil clutching students of my class.

Yep, Edgar Allan Poe’s 1846 penning of The Cask of Amontillado was my first encounter with wine, but I was blissfully unaware of the turn in that direction my life would take.

But if you think about it, back in 1846, if you were writing about wine, sherry was one of the outstanding wines that came to mind. And not only the wine but how it’s made.

The wines of the Jerez (hair reth) area of Spain have been counted amount the world’s best wines at many points in history. Over the centuries, a myriad of styles and winesmaking techniques that are pretty much foreign to other wines of the world had developed. Techniques such as the Solera method, flor and bota are unique to the wines of Jerez.

Indeed, it is the most complicated wine to explain. But that’s not going to stop me. So sit back, relax with a glass of wine and listen to the story of sherry.

Sherry covers about 30,000 acres near the southernmost point of Spain’s Mediterranean cost. It is surrounded by three towns, Jerez de la Fronters or simply Jerez, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. Palomino is the primary gape of the region, accounting for about 90% of the acreage planted.

Other permitted grapes are Pedro Ximénez (fondly called PX) and Moscatel. Their traditional role is to sweeten things up but nowadays it is easy enough to find bottlings of just these grapes which make heady dessert wines

Remember this: not all Sherries are sweet! In fact, all sherries begin as very dry wines. It’s how they are treated as they grow up and develop personalities that determine whether they will remain a dry Fino or turn into a sweeter Oloroso. Sherries are as complicated as some FB relationships. Trust me.

Sherry styles, from light and dry to heavy motor oil and very sweet, are Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso, Cream and Pedro Ximénez.

Traditional sherry making is complex. After harvest, the grapes are quickly pressed and the acidity level is adjusted with tartaric acid. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks. After fermentation, the wine is stable enough to be fortified. This is all based on flavor and quality. The finest and least alcoholic wines, often from the free run juice, rapidly develop flor. These will eventually be transformed into finos and amontillados.

 

The more powerful stuff will be fortified to 17 to 22 percent. That effectively creates an environment that the flor can’t live in so it says its final adios. Now those wines are ready for a little sweetening and a new life as an Oloroso or cream.

All wines are kept in a “nursery” in butts filled four fifths full. In the nursery, sherries spend time with flor, a floating yeast that provides protective cover from oxygen.  The flor develops or not, in the Solera

A Solera is a room full of casks where the unique aging process begins. Wine is taken out of the oldest cask and replaced with wine from the next oldest cask. That wine is replaced by wine from the next cask and so on down the line. A Solera could be fed by as little as three or four casks and as many as 14.

 

With the errant nature of these casks, even wine from the same vineyard can develop in different ways. The essential difference is the development flor

Sherry is complicated, unpredictable wine to make, so there are considerable differences between styles of sherry. This is just a general guide with some of my favorite pairings

Fino is the lightest style and crisp somewhat bitter like an IPA. It’s aged for about three years completely under flor. They pair well with almonds, fried delectables, green olives, sushi and roasted vegetables

Manzanilla only from Sanlucar de Barrameda near the sea is also dry. It also picks up a bright sea salt aroma and flavor. Perfect match to slurp with oysters on half shell, a skewer of shrimp off the barbie or tapas made with Serrano ham, olives or almonds.

 

Amontillado begins life as a Fino but after some time, maybe six years, the flor dies and is filtered out. The wine will continue to age. This style picks up notes of walnut, almond and dried orange peel. It’s fabulous with a chunk of Manchego or Gouda cheese, fried, grilled or smoked fish, chorizo and soup.

Palo Cortado is rather rare. It shows remarkable range with dried fruit, nut and spice flavors. Tapas made of ham, snails, almonds, hard cheeses and richer dishes work very nicely here.

Oloroso is the heartiest of the Palomino based sherries. This wine spends little or no time under flor before its initial fortification. With its nutty, orange peel and spice notes, it may be sweet or dry. The range is broad. Almonds, blue cheeses, ham with Manzanilla olives, pate, and flan.

Pedro Ximénez is a very dark brown dessert style wine named for the grape type that makes it all possible. Grapes are left on the vine to raisin in the sun. And the resulting wine, as a friend described it, looked like motor oil but had heavenly flavors of date, raisin, caramel and toffee. Think chocolate with this one

Creams are usually the ones that every one thinks of when the word sherry is spoken. This is an Oloroso sweetened with Pedro Ximénez and shows a heavy, creamy texture and dark dried fruit and toffee flavors. Apple pie, anyone? Or maybe a flan, a chunk of blue cheese, or a slice of pecan pie. You’ll be making those yummy sounds for sure.

The Red King

I found a very interesting bottle of wine in a disco bin recently. Disco bins are those shopping carts in the front of the store with prices severely reduced. The back label had enough information to make it sound intriguing — to me anyway. It was vinted and bottled by JL Giguiere out of Zamora, California. I was not familiar with Giguiere or Zamora but I knew where California was on the wine charts.

It was called Tinto Rey, which means Red King, and that alone sounded good enough for my wineglass. Tinto Rey was a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Garnacha, Cab and Tannat. The Tannat was the clincher for me. I rarely see it anymore. The last time I had it was in the last century.

The Tempranillo and Garnacha are widely planted in Spain and contribute spicy red fruit flavors. The Syrah (also planted in Spain) gave it rich black cherry and blueberry fruit, and the Cab (first planted in Spain two centuries ago) and Tannat added structure, depth and spicy notes to the wine. It reminded me of a very expensive wine I once had a tiny taste of because I was in the right place at the right time some 30 years ago.

In the 1970s, Vega Sicilia was Spain’s crown jewel. Situated in a vast dust bowl plateau that few knew about or visited, it wasn’t even a Denominación de Origen (DO). The estate was planted in the 1860s to Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot and Tinto Fino. It was an expensive wine built with structure, balance and the cut of a big Bordeaux.

Today, this bodega has 500 acres planted to Cabernet, Malbec, Tinto Fino (Tempranillo to the rest of the world) and Garnacha (Grenache) on a plateau some 800 meters above the river. After having spent 10 years in barrel, tiny quantities are rationed out to the world at very high prices.

Then in the early 1980s, Alejandro Fernandez had been fanatically tinto pesquerapursuing his version of perfection at Bodega Pesquera. Pesquera’s wines are made with Tinto Fino, Syrah and Cabernet and aged in oak. From much research, I can report these wines have concentrated fruit, high alcohol and a luscious quality. They are much, much more affordable then the Vega Sicilia.

From two bodegas in the 1970s, to 24 when the Ribera Del Duero became a DO in 1982, to almost 300 today, this wide, high, hot plain has been transformed. Ribera Del Duero, or loosely translated River of Duero, has some of the world’s most wonderful wines across the spectrum of pricing from great value to Vega Sicilia. This diversity reflects the complexity of the blends and the dry, hot, dusty, rural region just north of Madrid in Central Spain.

Many of these wineries don’t even grow their own grapes but instead rely on contracts with cooperatives to buy their grapes. Even Vega Sicilia has contracts in the region.

Much like Eastern Washington, Ribera Del Duero’s desert has huge temperature swings between day and night. Enough to balance the grape sugars with acidity. And there is an average of 16 inches of rain per year. Just enough to stress those vines into producing beautiful bunches of grapes.

The hot relentless summers often shut the vines down and the grapes stop ripening, leaving early autumn a scramble to get the ripening before the temperatures drop. But irrigation, officially allowed in 1996, has relieved that pressure.

Spain’s dry soils cannot support many vines, so vines are planted unusually far apart and trained in a bushy fashion. This low-vine density explains why Spain has the most acreage planted to vines in the world with production substantially lower than France or Italy.

When looking for a good Ribera del Duero, understanding the label helps. Don’t just go for the pretty label. Denominación de Origen (DO) is the guarantee of quality. Other terms good to know are Crianza, which is wine aged for a minimum of two years after the harvest — at least 12 months has to be in oak.

Reserva is wine matured for at least three years, of which at least one is in oak and one is in bottle. Gran Reserva is a special wine that is aged for at least five years, at least two in oak and three in bottle.

Bodegas to look for would be Tinto Pesquera Crianza, Condado de Haza, Bodegas Torremoron Tinto, Bodegas Torrederos and Abadia Retuerta, although not technically from Ribera del Duero it’s only 7 miles east of Vega Sicilia. And if you win the lottery, there is always Vega Sicilia.

Cheers to you!

It’s Beer v. Wine in this Dinner Challenge

October is full of challenges.

When the rains begin, the delectable mushrooms pop up and the salmon begins its end of life journey. Mushroom picking is a challenge — wouldn’t want to choose the wrong one or spend all day and only find two. And salmon have quite the challenge swimming up stream to spawn.

And then there’s the perennial challenge for the Chicago Cubs. Being a Cubs fan since high school has been a challenge. In those days, the challenge was not to get caught ditching school for Opening Day. Rest assured, Opening Day at Wrigley Field then was much more exciting than any baseball in October, except maybe this particular October.

My biggest October challenge this year is a birthday dinner that we gifted a friend four years ago. It’s evolved from a beer dinner with friends into an eight-course gourmet delight with a beer vs. wine contest. This contest has been on the uber-beer-geek birthday boy’s bucket list for some time.

My challenge is to present wines that will, at the very least, bring the beer geek dinner guests to say, “Hmm, not bad!” The ultimate win would be for the beer geeks to reluctantly admit that the wine is a better match than the beer. Wish me luck there.

Or better yet, maybe you could help by telling me your favorite beer or wine pairing with the following preliminary menu, which is subject to change. As Alexander Graham Bell noted, “Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.”

A few thoughts first. As we added to the menu, the courses started to multiply. Portions will be in the tasting size but a sufficient amount for a couple of bites with the beer and a couple of bites with the wines.

In any well-planned dinner, we’ll start with the simple dishes paired with lighter beverages and then move progressively to the more intense dishes with the more weighty beverages. Which beverage to sip first will also be suggested with this same principal.

Progressing from dry to sweet is another rule. The opposite, tasting a sweet barleywine and then to an old Bordeaux, would be a wine crime of the first order.

Oysters Alki on the half shell

The Alki part is a vinaigrette on warmed oysters that I had years ago at Salty’s on Alki. It was so good that I went home to recreate it. My version is made of cilantro, shallots, sushi rice wine vinegar, pepper and light oil.

Beer: Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin is India Pale Ale made with grapefruit.

Wine: Some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that is citrusy with a touch of herb.

Geoduck Cerviche

Seafood marinated in lime juice served with chopped onions, hot peppers, tomatoes and a slice of avocado.

Wine: Vinho Verde is the green wine from Portugal that has a citrusy and spritzy flavor and low alcohol.

Beer: Sound Brewery Monk’s Indiscretion Belgian Strong Pale Ale. The Citra hops impart a lovely citrus note to the beer.

Mushroom Risotto

The risotto is from another memorable meal at the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, Oregon. The only reservation we could get was at 10:30 p.m. We were famished by the time we sat down at a table on the third floor of an historic farmhouse. We ordered a bottle of Tony Soter Rosé and much to our surprise, a small, wonderfully fragrant mound of mushroom risotto appeared with it. It was heavenly match.

Wine: An earthy Pinot Noir, maybe California or Oregon

Beer: Scaldis Prestige de Nuits is a top-fermented blended brew of new and old, the old having spent at least nine months in a Hospice de Nuits (Pinot Noir) barrel.

Poached Pear Salad with Curried Cashews

Beer: Tripel Karmeliet is a big Belgian beer with lemony flavors and medium body.

Wine: Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Rose is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Trepat, with some lovely scents and flavors of raspberry and cherry.

Short Rib Pastrami with Golden Beet Hash

Wine: Ridge Zinfandel, possibly a single vineyard, we’ll see.

Beer: Silver City Winter Lager is lagered for several months in ice-cave like conditions. It has a bit of sweetness and big body.

Select Aged Gouda, Cheddar & Parmesan Cheeses

Wine: An old Washington Cab from the last century

Beer: Not sure yet but it has to be something Belgian, aged and delicious! Any suggestions?

Lemon White Pepper Ginger Cake

Always end dinner with a stunning dessert. This is my go-to cake that even people who don’t like dessert will eat. It’s that fantastic.

Beer: Southern Tier Crème Brulee This imperial milk stout has a nose of vanilla, custard and brown sugar with flavors of caramelized sugar.

Wine: Sauternes One with age and a little bit of botrytis, which concentrates the sugars and flavors. This could be the one that works the best.

September is Definitely Beer Month

September is definitely a beer month. While your sitting there wondering, let me explain.

First, there is Oktoberfest which traditionally begins the third weekend in September and ends the first Sunday of October. It all started in 1810 with the Royal Wedding. Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony. After the ceremony, there was this big kegger out on the lawn in front of the castle. It was such a great party, it continues every year.

This year, the festivities in Munich begin with a parade and the tapping of the first beer barrel on September 19th. It ends on Sunday, October 4th with a gun salute at noon, at least, they claim it’s guns.

Today, Oktoberfest beers are malty lagers brewed for brisk weather and festivals. But before refrigeration, beer was made in the cooler months as hot weather is not the best time to ferment. Beer made in March was stored and consumed over the summer months. Bavarian brewers went a step further and developed Märzen (March), using bottom fermentation and making use of caves and cellars, sometimes packing them with ice for lagering.

September is also pumpkin beer release month. After wandering the Kitsap County Fair last week and seeing one of the biggest pumpkins ever, all I could envision was a barrel of pumpkin ale. I first heard about pumpkin ale many years ago, when the fledgling West Sound Brew Club would flex their brewing muscles with really wild beers. In September, pumpkin was one of them. I thought they were goofy.

But they were really on the cutting edge. Nowadays, many harvest beers are made with pumpkin and fresh hops. Pumpkin Ales are varied but typically it’s mild amber-colored, malt-forward ale, with prominent caramel and nutty flavors, little hop bitterness and a malty tone. There are also Pumpkin Porters, Stouts and Barleywines. Many will contain a full bodied mouthfeel from the addition of pumpkin. These beers range in ABV from moderate 5% lagers to 17% behemoth ales.pump ale3178

Some brewers opt to add roasted pumpkins into the mash while others use puree. They are usually spiced with traditional pumpkin pie spices like ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. Unusual additions could include chocolate, cocoa and coffee. Then some may be aged in brandy, bourbon, rye or wine barrels.

Pumpkin beers are an ideal pairing for some of our favorite autumn meals. Hearty harvest fare such as Reuben Sandwiches, a spicy bowl of Chili, Chicken Mole, Beef Stroganoff, Turkey with the Trimmings, or Pumpkin Ale Braised Beef Short Ribs would pair well with a full bodied pumpkin brew.dogfishN3180
Let’s not forget the dessert. The flavors of pumpkin, caramel and spice are great with Bittersweet Chocolate Cake, Apple Pecan Crisp, or Caramel Flan. As with wine, your beer should be sweeter than the dessert.

Here’s a few to look for:

Almanac’s Dark Pumpkin Sour is a rich, dark sour ale brewed with organic heirloom pumpkins and spices and aged in used red wine barrels for a year. Serve this complex ale as a counterpoint to savory Thanksgiving fare. This wild ale was aged in used wine casks with the house “Dogpatch” sour culture, a cocktail of wild Belgian and American yeasts, including San Francisco sourdough starter.

Punkuccino is an Elysian Brewing specialty. It’s a Northwest favorite that could have been brewed by your favorite barista. Punkuccino packs pumpkin and a short shot of Stumptown coffee toddy in your pint with just a shake of cinnamon and nutmeg. Sounds perfect with a slice of homemade pumpkin bread with sweet cream butter.

In the spirit of the season, Laurelwood Pumpkin Ale is an amber colored beer made with pumpkin puree and the usual pie spices, “sure to chase away the evil spirits!” A Day of the Dead brew to pair with Chicken Mole.

Avery Pump[Ky]N Porter is highly unusual at 17.22% ABV. This “monstrous pumpkin porter” is aged in bourbon barrels and spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, and hops. Please pass the Bittersweet Chocolate Cake.

Elysian The Great Pumpkin is the world’s first imperial pumpkin ale. Brewed with five different malts, roasted pumpkin seeds in the mash, and extra pumpkin added in the mash, kettle and fermenter and spiced with the usual cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. This one is perfect for hearty fare such as the Beef Stroganoff or Braised Short Ribs.

Jolly Pumpkin Noel De Calabaza Barrel Aged Strong Ale is another monster of an ale. It begins as a Belgian Christmas ale, all malty, raisiny and lightly hopped and then its aged in oak barrels. May I have an extra helping of the Pecan Pie, please?

Southern Tier Brewing Rum Barrel Aged Pumking is dessert style ale made from roasted pumpkins and aged in 30 year old rum barrels. A serving of bread pudding with a Rum Barrel Aged Pumking hard sauce would be divine.

Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin Ale is the dessert beer made with real hand-roasted heirloom pumpkins. The caramelized gourds were then added to the American Barleywine and aged in rye and brandy barrels for a year. Finally, the barrel-aged beer is blended with freshly brewed ale and a delicate hint of pumpkin pie spices are added to round out this decadent sipper. 50% of the ale brewed with pumpkins aged in rye and brandy barrels and 50% ale brewed with spices.

Cheers and Happy Harvest!

Chilled Red Wine and Al Fresco Dining

Ever wonder what Italians sip under the hot Tuscan sun with their lunch of mozzarella caprese, grilled calamari and carpaccio?

It would not be a Super Tuscan, that’s for sure. But it would be made with the same grape – Sangiovese.  Sangiovese (san-jo-veh-zeh) is a red grape which translated means “Blood of Jove.” Jove was one of many important gods of the Roman Empire, by Jove.

Sangiovese is the essential, and required by law, ingredient of some of Italy’s most famous wines. Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino are 100% Sangiovese. Chianti’s main component since 1996 is 75 to 100% Sangiovese.  Carmignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano, and Super Tuscans all use some or all Sangiovese. But these are not the types of wines for dining al fresco. Too big, too heavy and we need something fruit forward and with a chill on it.

Enter Sangiovese Rosé, one of the most food friendly wines out there. Perfect with antipasti, salads of any type, grilled oysters or salmon, barbequed ribs, hamburgers, chops, and grilled pizzas. You get the picture. There is a swarm of Sangiovese Rosés right here in Washington State that you need to explore this summer.

One that I would highly reccommend is from Kaella Wine kaellaCompany.  While touring the Woodinville Warehouse District a few months ago, I happened upon the winery.  This was my first taste of Rosé this year and boy! I was impressed. This Rosé is a red wine drinker’s  summertime best friend.

Made from 100% Sangiovese from one of the best vineyards in the state, Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain, the grapes were processed in the usual fashion of Rosé making.

After harvesting, those tough stems are removed, in a process called destemming, and then they’re crushed, and the skins are left to macerate for 24 hours to allow the skins release their color, flavors and aromas. The next day, the juice is pressed and then fermented in stainless steel tanks. Stainless steel fermentation accentuates the fruitiness. Rosés rarely see oak.

Kaella’s Rosé has enticing aromas of strawberry, watermelon, and raspberry that are rich and full bodied with great acidity and an impressive finish. Consumed over three days with all manner of fresh crab dishes, I swear I did not notice the 14.2% until the last drop.

Maryhill, Winery of the Year in 2014, makes a wonderful Columbia Valley Rosé of Sangiovese that is bright pink in color and has this sun ripened strawberry and watermelon flavors. Crisp and clean, it also was fermented in stainless steel. Sourced from two award-winning vineyards, this Rosé is comprised of 86% Sangiovese from the Tudor Hills Vineyards and 14% Grenache from Art den Hoed Vineyards.

Barnard Griffin has been producing award-winning rose1wines for over 30 years. It was founded in 1983 by Rob Griffin and Deborah Barnard, while Griffin was still working for Hogue. Barnard Griffin Winery only recently built their own winery in the heart of Washington State’s wine country, at the confluence of the Yakima, Columbia, and Snake rivers.

Their Rosé of Sangiovese is a luscious array of strawberry, melon and cranberry notes with crisp acidity. The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition has awarded this wine Gold or better nine times. A seriously great summer quaffer.

At the Kitsap Wine Festival, celebrating its seventh year, there are a number of Washington Wineries that will be serving up rosés. This fun-in-the-sunshine event is the perfect opportunity to try before you buy.

What to sample? Well, top on my list would be Chandler Reach. Their wines have a certain Tuscan flair to them. Rich, full bodied, always smooth and very food friendly. chandler reach

Their villa is located at the top of a hill just like Tuscan Villas. And the vineyards are blessed with Tuscan-like terroir, located in an area historically considered to be among the warmest in the state. Patio Red is a light Sangiovese blend with strawberry and dark cherry aromas and flavors. It pairs nicely with deck chairs, grilled foods and great friends!

Last year, we gushed over the Forgeron 2013 Ambiance, a blend of white grapes in the Rhone way with Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, &  Marsanne. Forgeron is back again this year, serving up a versatile and food-friendly Rosé of Sangiovese. Crisp and delicious from start to finish with juicy red berry flavors.

Davenport Cellars is a boutique winery located in the warehouse district in Northeast Woodinville. Davenport Cellars also makes a Sangiovese called Rosé de Vins from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain.

Their other fabulous summertime sipper is the Orange Muscat from Lonesome Spring Ranch with a residual sugar of 3.5%. This is a perfect wine for a summer’s day, fragrant, crisp and 100% stainless fermented. Try adding sparkling water for a really refreshing al fresco wine.

Olympic Peninsula’s Harbinger Winery will be pouring their rosé, a crisp beauty from Red Mountain. Although technically a Rhone Rosé, It’s well balanced with bright berry notes and racy acidity, this ruby-colored gem is all cherry pie and sweet spices.

Many of these Washington wines can be tasted at the Kitsap Wine Festival on the waterfront, Saturday, August 8th starting at 2:00pm. Harborside Fountain Park is one of the more splendid venues Kitsap has to offer. Close to the ferry, gorgeous views and spectacular fountains. Enjoy the wines, the delectable bites and friendship; it’s a great Kitsap summer event. Tickets are for sale at Brown Paper Tickets. More info at http://www.kitsapwinefestival.com/sip.php