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German Rieslings, Pure, Crisp and Sweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Biggest Beer Festival of All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prost!

Pairing Cheese and Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy and Savor!

Chardonnay, the Queen of Whites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Washington:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.