Category Archives: Washington Wines

Wine as a Hostess/Host Gift

Summer is a highly social time with barbeques, picnics, dinner parties, wine tastings beer events and vacationing family and friends.  Being the considerate person that you are, you should arrive on your host’s door step with something more than your sparkling personality, stunning though it may be. It’s better to err on the side of graciousness and put a little joy in someone’s life.

Bringing a hostess/host gift is easy. Even if it seems like bringing coals to Newcastle, do it. But personally, I draw the line if there is an animal on the label or wines produced in Modesto, California. Other friends may not be so finicky.

So, bring your hostess/host a really nice bottle of wine. Select something in the $20-30 range that looks intriguing and is highly recommended by anyone with some sort of credentials. Buying something because it has a cool label is out. Them are the rules.

On a recent high school/college buddy reunion in the wild, wild west town of Livingston, Montana, we brought a case of Pacific Northwest wines, home-smoked salmon and a bucket of frozen blackberries. Yep, we blew their socks off with the wines and salmon. And that jug of wine with the yellow animal on it was strategically positioned in the far corner of the kitchen counter.

Here’s a few of those wines:

I’m out to impress my friends, right? So popping the cork on this cellar dweller makes perfect sense. Ch. Ste. Michelle Ethos Columbia Valley 2007 Reserve Merlot was awarded a national wine magazine’s Editors’ Choice Award. That’s pretty special, and so was this almost 10-year-old. Ripe, round, toasty and medium-bodied, this is a classy wine, especially for the price. A ton of black cherry, cassis, spice and toast is seductive. The tannins have smoothed out after all these years. What a beautiful wine.

Ledger David Winery is owned by David Traul and Lena Varner, who have a passion for food and wine. They created their dream place in Oregon’s Rogue Valley with the Varner-Traul Vineyard in Talent, Oregon. At their Le Petit Tasting Room, you can enjoy Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and other award winning red blends. Their 2016 Rogue Valley Viognier is very aromatic, reminding me of melon and peaches with a hint of citrus. Loved the balance and the lingering finish despite the 14.5 percent alcohol. Their 2015 was awarded Silver from the San Francisco Chronicle Competition

A little further north of the Rogue Valley is the cool Umpqua Valley. There lies the Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards. Owner winemaker Stephen Reustle is a cool climate specialist and has a thing for low yields and clonal selection. It’s no wonder they were awarded the 2017 Northwest Winery of the Year. I thoroughly enjoyed their well-balanced Gruner Veltliner Winemaker’s Reserve. This little-known grape variety is estate grown from vineyards on steep, south-facing hillsides. Very much like its native Austria.

Terra Blanca 2016 Arch Terrace Rosé is a blend of mostly 66 percent Sangiovese with 34 percent Cabernet Franc. Beautiful fruit and great balance make it a fabulous match with summer fare whether picnic, patio or bbq. It’s well-balanced, with lush, tropical fruit and crisp lively acidity on the finish. Stainless steel fermentation followed by extended sur lie aging heightens the beautiful fruit while creating weight and structure all balanced by the crisp acidity. This wine has some complexity to it.

Harbinger Rattlesnake Hills Two Coyote Vineyards Viognier is a blend of 76 percent Viognier and 24 percent Roussanne. These two varietals have been blended since Hector was a pup in the Rhône. I love how Sara Ganon, owner/winemaker, describes her wine. “Viognier loves to pour on the fruit, but struggles with structure, while Roussanne can sometimes be a bit like engineers — so focused on load support, they forget to stop and smell the honeysuckle.” This wine boasts heady aromas of honeysuckle, tropical fruit, ripe pear, lemon and spices. It’s pretty much heaven in a bottle.

Established in 2010, Kevin White Winery set out to produce limited, hand-crafted wines that pair well with food. Founders’ love for Rhone Valley wines naturally led to a focus on Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedré. The Kevin White 2013 Columbia Valley Mourvedre was a wine that hit it out of the park.

It’s a blend of one barrel of Boushey Vineyard Mourvèdre and one barrel of Olsen Estates Vineyards Mourvèdre produced only 42 cases. This medium-body wine has all the traditional spice, pepper, leather and raspberry flavors of a Rhone-style wine, and I was in heaven. It’s meant for grilled foods of all kinds.

Domaine Pouillon is a family-owned winery located in the scenic Columbia River Gorge.  Grapes are hand-picked in small lots, aged in neutral French oak, or neutral oak and stainless steel for whites.

Vigneron Alexis Pouillon was born to an obscure family of French nobility that escaped the guillotine. After the dividing up the family estate, his share was a 4-by-7 meter plot of land with a 3-wheeled Deux Chevaux and feral cat. He abandoned the cat to go and work at Chateau de Beaucastel. That accomplished, he came to America to seek his fortune, thank goodness!

His travels brought him to the Columbia Gorge, the “world of wines in 40 miles.” The 2016 Black Dot McKinley Springs Vineyard is a very interesting blend of 33 percent Zinfandel, 28 percent Syrah, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Dolcetto. All cranberry, raspberry and plum sprinkled with white pepper make this wine an award-winning, grilled-foods-smoked-salmon kind of wine.

And, of course, I had to bring a wine from Kitsap. Alphonse de Klerk’s Rolling Bay 2014 Syrah has garnered some gold and silver in regional competitions.  This Bainbridge Island winery sources its grapes from south-facing rocky slopes on Snipes Mountain, an excellent site for Syrah.  This wine was elegant with wonderful aromas and flavors. It made a great impression.

The trip was a reminder of the importance of good food, great people, and wonderful wine. Cheers!

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine lovers for a couple of decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club and can pair a beer or wine in a flash.

Getting a Wine Education

The wine bug bit me early on, if you consider a jug of Inglenook’s Navalle Burgundy wine. But, hey, you have to start somewhere.

This wine, in a convenient jug with a handle, was good for a week to 10 days. I had a glass of wine or two with dinner. A librarian job in the Loop and a studio apartment on the Northside dictated how much could be spent on wine. Inglenook was a decent quaff for the budget.

Not too long after that was my inaugural trip to Napa Valley. The historic Greystone Abbey home to the Christian Brothers, was the first of many tasting rooms visited and I fell in love with their Grey Riesling. My palette has changed over time with  many bottles consumed. Wine with family and friends – that’s the best of times.

Fast forward some years and I found myself the owner of a wine shop with many opportunities to learn, absorb and taste. The best way to learn about wine is to taste with other wine lovers, beginners and experts alike. And read. And taste some more. The more you taste and read, the more you learn and come to appreciate this tasty beveridge.

Wine festivals, tastings and conferences can give you a broader palette. One remarkable place to learn about Washington wines is the Walter Clore Center in Yakima. The center offers in-depth, Washington wine coverage with a focus on a different AVA each month.

They also offer special tastings such as a blind tasting of the Grüner Veltliner that demonstrates how differences in climate, vineyard practices, soil type and winemaking style can affect the way varietals express themselves.

On July 22 and July 29, the tasting theme is  Washington versus Spain. This comparative tasting covers classic varietals produced in Spain up against the same varietals grown and produced in Washington.

And on Sunday, July 30 at 2 p.m., you can enjoy 4 sparkling red wines, expertly paired with 4 small bites. They may be pushing some boundaries here, but then who here has had red wine with bubbles?  For more info, theclorecenter.org

The inaugural SOMM Summit held last week in Seattle was an around-the-world-in-80-wines tasting. This deliciously serious international wine and spirits educational conference at South Seattle Community College was a wonderful gathering of sommeliers, Masters of Wine, stewards and other wine geeks. We listened, tasted, talked and learned more about the world of wine and spirits.

Dr. Kevin Pogue, Professor of Geology at Whitman College, took us through the cataclysmic, historic journey that shaped Washington State’s soils. Following this, Tim Donahue, Director of Winemaking at College Cellars talked about the winemaker’s influence with lots of emphasis on anthocyanins, catchins, pH and other scientific mumbo jumbo, which he explained using Legos. Yep, it actually worked — for me anyway.

We took a trip through the sparkling wines of South Africa, indulged in a Quilceda Creek Retrospective, sipped Napa Valley wines from the valley floor and above, tasted eight decades of Port, a vertical of Seven Hills, and the exotic Xinomavro grape of Greece.

Closer to home, eight wonderful Washington Syrahs stained our teeth purple and eight crisp whites from British Columbia turned the teeth white again. There were eight decades of Kopke Colheita Portos, three centuries of Remy Martin and the debut of Bodegas Lustau’s Sherry Ambassador Certification course. This was an amazing forum to learn in depth details.

Oregon’s ¡Salud! is patterned after the most famous wine auction in the world, Hospices de Beaune. ¡Salud! is dedicated to providing healthcare services to Oregon vineyard workers and their families for the past 25 years. This is made possible by two major fundraisers.

The Pinot Noir Auction on November 10th and 11th is your only opportunity to access Oregon’s most exclusive Pinot Noir cuvées. It begins with a tasting and Big Board Auction at Ponzi Vineyards and concludes the next day at Domaine Serene with a Black Tie Optional Gala dinner.

They also have Summertime ¡Salud! which showcases great wines and gourmet cuisine on July 27th. Presented by Dukes Family Vineyards and hosted by Stoller Family Estate, you can mingle with winemakers while tasting wine and  sampling hors d’oeuvres, and then enjoy an upscale, family-style, alfresco dinner with some of Oregon’s best wines poured from impressive magnum bottles straight to your glass.

The  Kitsap Wine Festival on the Bremerton’s scenic waterfront is always a great way to celebrate food, wine, sunshine and blue skies. Sip wine and savor local restaurants’ culinary skills at this lovely maritime location.

Many Washington wineries and a sprinkling of other areas’ wines are available for tasting and purchasing. The ninth annual Kitsap Wine Festival will be Saturday, August 12 at Harborside Fountain Park.

Tickets start at $50, https://www.kitsapwinefestival.com.

Cheers to our next opportunity to learn more and enjoy more!

My Taste Washington Grand Tasting Picks

Taste Washington is an annual (20 years now!) gathering in Seattle of Washington wineries and restaurants to celebrate wine and food.

Winemakers from all over the world have established vineyards and wineries bringing the total wineries in the state to over 900. The wines they ferment reflect the characteristics of the prized vineyards, some planted over 30 years ago. Taste Washington provides a unique opportunity to taste old favorites and experience the over 100 new one from the past two years.

While planning this year’s list, I was taken by the number of wineries that were small, totally focused and passionate about Washington.

And also struck by the number of winemakers coming from all parts of the wine world.  Drawn by the great fruit, terroir, and potential that these vineyards have. Here are some wineries, most new, that have intrigued me with their offerings and a few that I want to become reacquainted with. I hope I can make it to at least half in the short time there.

Andrew Will and Arbor Crest both old favorites who have been here for quite a while and have great vineyard resources.  AniChe, Archeus, Armstrong, Array, Auclair, Avennia, Baier, Barons, Barrage, Barrel Springs, Bartholomew, Bergdorf, Bontzu, Brady, Burnt Bridge, Bronco, broVo, and Buried Cane are very new to me.

Callan Cellars is a new micro-boutique winery in Woodinville. California’s Duckhorn Winery is synonymous to Merlot magic. They recently bought part of Red Mountain and are producing a Washington wine called Canvasback. Excited to try this one.

Cedar River Cellars is Renton’s own award winning winery with grapes from Burgess Vineyards. Along the Columbia River, Cascade Cliffs  make the best Washington State Barbera.  Co Dinn, Col Solare, a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Italy’s Antinori, Walla Walla’s College Cellars, Leavenworth’s Eagle Creek Winery and Eight Bells, a small, 2000 case, urban winery in North Seattle are all worth a sip or two. Wineries are popping up everywhere!

For a Song Winery’s Ancient Lakes Chard is intriguing for the terroir. And Yakima’s JB Neufeld produces award winning wines from the DuBrul and Artz vineyards. Karma is making true Méthode Champenoise and Woodinville’s Kevin White produces some amazing Rhone wines. Kitze has an Italian grape variety, Nebbiolo.

Latta Wines has a Roussanne and Grenache made by Sommelier-owner Andrew Latta who spent a few years working at a notable Washington winery. The Grenache, aged for 22 months, is sourced from the Upland Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA. This area was first planted in 1917 by Washington State wine pioneer William B. Bridgman.

Lobo Hills is a small production winery in Seattle . Tony and Diane Dollar will pour their Chenin Blanc and Petite Verdot.

Long Shadows produces a number of wines from Washington grapes. What is unique about this winery is they have renowned winemakers from Germany. Australia, France, California and Italy make the wine.

Memaloose’s  Grace Vineyard Semillon and Dolcetto are just two of the over 20 grape varieties sourced from the five organic estate vineyards on both the Washington and Oregon banks of the Columbia River – in the Columbia Gorge Appellation.

Monte Scarlatto Estate Winery and Vineyards is one of the newest places on Red Mountain. Varietals include Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carménère, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.

Tiny Mount Si Winery in Snoqualmie makes a Syrah, Cab and Merlot from Wahluke Slope grapes.

When Jerry Riener started the Guardian Winery, he told his friends that he planned to bottle age his red wines at least 12 months before release. They took that comment lightly. Riener has found being patient is a pain, but it sure does create some delicious wines.

Nine Hats is a must, Palouse, Pearl & Stone I vaguely recall and Piccola, Pomum Dondera, Reasons Wine (love the name), Reynvaan, Robert Karl and Rocky Pond’s Lake Chelan Viognier are calling my name.

Sagemoor was planted in 1968. Back then it was all experimental. Nobody knew for sure which grape varietals would grow. Today, over 40 years and 1,100 acres later, Sagemoor has five full-production vineyards supplying grapes to northwest wineries both big and boutique. Those five vineyards are Sagemoor, Bacchus, Dionysus, Weinbau, and Gamache.  Their website is full of wonderful vineyard info.

Secret Squirrel, Snoqualmie’s Sigillo SnoValley White is a blend of Pinot Gris, Chenin and Gewurz, which makes me think of dry white Alsatian blends.  Silvara is a small production winery in Leavenworth with an award winning Malbec.

Seven Falls Wahluke Slope Red, Cab and Chard is on the list because its new and the Wahluke has some great vineyards. Skyfall is new and notable for its under $20 wines, Sol Stone’s Wahluke Slope Weinbau Grenache, Somme des Partues Winery, Sonoris Winery all made the list. As well as South Seattle’s small Structure Winery that uses Wallula Slope, Upland, Destiny Ridge, and Stillwater fruit all great grape places.

Tertulia Cellars produces a Carménère and Tempranillo, these grapes migrated from South America and Spain. Three of Cups Winery has an intriguing Heart of the Hill Petite Sirah, another traveling grape this time from California. Truth Teller has an Elephant Mountain Viognier, Tunnel Hill Winery has a Lake Chelan Pinot Noir, and Two Vintners Boushey Vineyards Grenache Blanc are some of the most unusual wines there.

It is an ambitious plan but I’m willing to swirl, sniff, sip and spit for the experience. Hope to see you there!

Discover the Endless Ways to Taste Washington

Washington is overflowing with incredible wine! You and your best friends can explore each AVA’s wineries, taste culinary treats from great restaurants and meet some hardworking winemakers and farmers – all during Taste Washington’s 20th Anniversary, March 23-26.

For a complete Taste Washington experience, you’ll need four full days to try everything this region has to offer – a mini wine vacation! Tickets are on sale now.  http://tastewashington.org

For reduced ticket prices to the Grand Tasting, volunteer to set up or clean up. Details here:  http://tastewashington.org/volunteers-2017/

 

 

 

Happy New Year! Again!

It’s almost lunar New Year, which finds revelers around the world ushering in the Year of the Rooster.  And with any cultural celebration of this kind, you will need friends and family, food and wine.

My favorite rooster is pictured on a bottle of Chianti Classico, the gallo nero or black rooster. The black rooster on that bottle of Chianti Classico is one of the most widely recognized emblems of a quality wine. But that wasn’t always the case.

Back a century or two, winemaking in Chianti was pretty much a free for all.  Canaiolo was the main grape variety with lesser amounts of Sangiovese, Mammolo and Marzimino in a supporting role.  Somewhere along the way, Malvasia and Trebbiano, both white grapes, were added to the mix to soften the wine and make it more drinkable.

The region really didn’t have any guidelines for the “recipe,” so in the early 1900s, the government stepped in to help by classifying the area to decrease the huge amounts of faux Chianti produced.

They did this by acknowledging Chianti as both a wine region and a “recipe”.  Then as all governments are wont to do, they passed many laws requiring winemakers to meet certain criteria if they want to put the name Chianti, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata  e Garantita (DOCG) on the label.

In 1996, another major regulation modification brought about colossal change to the grape varieties permitted. The minimum percentage of Sangiovese increased from 75% to 80% and could be as much as 100%.  In addition, the other twenty percent could be other native red grapes, such as Canaiolo, Mammolo, Colorino or even non-native varieties, such as Cabernet, Syrah or Merlot.  As of 2006, white grapes are no longer permitted in a Chianti Classico.

Those stringent regulations included minimum alcohol levels, any new vineyard may only be used after its fourth year, yields must be less than 3.34 tons per acre, production is limited to 6.6 pounds per vine , seven months minimum barrel aging, for Riservas, 24 months minimum maturation with at least three months bottle aging and the most interesting and perhaps comforting, before bottling, the wine has to pass a chemical exam and approval by a tasting panel. Makes one kind of feel like royalty.

A few years ago, the Consorzio Gallo Nero organized the Chianti Classico 2000 Project to modernize viticulture and improve quality. This was sorely needed because during the 20th century, clones of Sangiovese, of which there are a boatload, were planted more for quantity than quality.  When replanting, many growers planted whatever was available not taking into account the extreme soil and climatic differences around the region.

The project took 16 years to complete, 16 experimental vineyards, five research cellars; ten meteorological stations installed to track micro- and macro-climate patterns.

Hundreds of clones were identified. A few Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino clones were chosen because they were less susceptible common viral diseases, had smaller berries, thicker skins, and more open bunches.

Those clones are now producing some delicious Chianti Classicos. Look for the 2013 vintage to accompany your next plate of pasta. Or Sausage Pizza, or Spaghetti and Meatballs, or Rigatoni with Bolognese Sauce, or Wild Mushroom Risotto or Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce.

Chianti Classico refers to the oldest area, the classic region. It’s located between Florence and Siena and is the hub of the Chianti region within the larger Tuscan region.

Like spokes surrounding the hub, are seven other Chianti zones, each with its own particular soil, climate, and regulations. They are Colli Aretini, Colli Forentini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina. On their labels are their Chianti names such as Chianti Colli Senesi (the hills of Siena) or Chianti Colli Forentini (the hills of Florence).

But enough of Italy, let’s talk about Washington State. There were about 400 tons of Sangiovese harvested in 2004. It’s a prolific but difficult vine, likened to Pinot Noir.  Through the years planting increased and by 2015 tonnage was up to 1, 300.

It’s planted in some of the best vineyards in the Wahluke AVA, Red Mountain AVA and scattered around the Columbia Valley AVA.

Cavatappi’s with its red wine stained label, to the best of my recollection has been around the longest, some 30 years. Leonetti, Walla Walla Vintners, Five Star, Tagaris, and Kiona have also been producing for some time with at least 75% being Sangiovese and perhaps a touch of Cabernet in there as is done with the Super Tuscans.
Smaller, newer wineries fermenting Sangiovese in no particular order are Sequim’s Wind Rose Cellars, Vino la Monarcha from Victor Palencia who also fashions Jones of Washington’s Sangiovese, Latah Creek out of Spokane, Brian Carter’s has a little Cab and Syrah added to his Sangiovese, Helix by Reininger, Maryhill Winery along the Columbia River sources Sangiovese from Elephant Mountain Vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, and Walla Walla’s Five Star Quinque Astrum, which is Italian for five star.
The Rosé of Sangiovese by Barnard Griffin has won gold numerous times and Waterbrook makes a pretty rose colored tasty one too.

Interesting note, the origin of the word Sangiovese is Latin for the blood of Jove. Jove or Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods, is best remembered for the exclamation of “By Jove! I think I‘ve got it!”

Wines Under Pressure

Much like a bottle of bubbly, the holiday season contains a lot of pressure.bolly

However, sparkling wine has the kind of pressure I can live with! The result of a process that Dom Perignon spent years working on, bubbles are created by the yeast cozying up to the sugars in a closed environment. After this second fermentation, carbon dioxide is dissolved in the wine and held under pressure until the cork is popped. The wine is converted from still to sparkling and the occasion is transformed from ordinary to special.

Almost all sparkling wines have one thing in common. They go through two fermentations, one to make the alcohol and one to make the bubbles. The significant difference between the two fermentations is the first allows the gas to escape which produces the alcohol and the other traps the gases in the bottle and Voila! tiny bubbles!

Sparkling wines vary significantly. They can be white, pink or red. They can be bone dry (brut), sort of dry (extra brut), off dry (demi sec, semi secco) or sweet (doux or dolce). It can have varying degrees of alcohol (5.5% to 13%). The size and persistency of the bubbles and the foam differ significantly too.

The most famous sparkling wine comes from a region in northeast France called Champagne. Champagne produces about a tenth of the world’s sparkling wines. It’s the gold standard for sparkling wines.

According to the rules, Champagne must be made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. With the addition of a little yeast and a little sugar, the second fermentation occurs in the bottle with a crown cap to trap the gases. After remuage, where the dead yeast cells are shaken down into the neck of the bottle that are stored neck down in racks, the plugs of dead yeast cells are quickly expelled in a process called dégorgement. Disgorging involves little more than removing the crown cap and watching the plug fly, propelled by the pressure in the bottle.

The final steps are to top up with wine and a teaspoon to a quarter cup of simple syrup called dosage. The amount of sugar in the dosage determines whether the wine is brut, extra dry, demi sec or doux. The cork, bale and foil are put in place, the label pasted on and it is boxed for shipment.

Other regions in the world also make Champagne-like wines. California is an outpost for Champagne firms who have run out of space in Champagne. You may have seen or sipped Roederer Estate (Roederer), Chandon (Moet & Chandon), Domaine Carneros (Taittinger), Maison Duetz (Duetz), Piper Sonoma (Piper Heidsieck) and/or Mumm Napa (Mumm).

The presence of these French Champagne houses certainly sets a high standard, however, there are challenges. Champagne is a cooler region than many of the California AVAs.  Carneros and Anderson Valley tend to be cooler than say, Napa or the San Joaquin Valley. The French have adapted their methods to produce wonderful sparkling wines that are a quarter of the price of their French cousins.

The trick is to be cool like some parts of Oregon or harvest the grapes earlier than grapes used for a still wine. Oregon’s premier producer is Argyle winery in Dundee. And Soter Vineyards. Argyle has been growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since 1987 and Soter started in California in the 1990s before moving to Carlton, Oregon. Both make wonderful Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rosé.

Washington has some great premium sparkling wines even without the presence of a “Champagne outpost”. One of my favorites is Treveri made by a couple who have been on the Washington wine scene since the early 80s.

Juergen Grieb was born and raised in Trier, Germany. He perfected his winemaking skills in the Ruwer Valley. After moving to the United States, he made wine for Langguth Winery in the early 80s.

The Juergen and Julie Grieb opened the doors to Treveri in 2010.  All their wines sparkle and are made from traditional French and German grape varietals. The grapes are picked early at around 19 brix, which is fairly typical when making a sparkling wine in a warmer region, any higher will result in too high an alcohol content with two fermentations.

They make a Blanc de Noir, Blanc de Blanc, a Rosé which is aged 24 months, and a Gewurztraminer which has extended tirage. It’s disgorged on demand to keep the product fresh. Like many of the Australian “Black Bubbles” Treveri Cellars’ Syrah is a deep red color from the Syrah.

They have a Bubble Club too. Members get 2 bubblies 3 times a year and complimentary glass of sparkling wine during release parties. This would be a perfect gift for that sparkling wine lover.

Other Washington sparklers include Domaine Michelle and Mountain Dome out of Spokane which produces sparkling wines in the “Méthode Champenoise” or the traditional method. Mountain Dome is a family operation in a geodesic dome in the shadow of Mount Spokane. They’ve been making bubbles since 1984.

Other regions to explore are Burgundy, Alsace, Spanish cavas, Prosecco from Italy, New York’s Finger Lakes and don’t forget those black bubbles from Australia.
cork wreath
Share a little sparkle with your family and friends this holiday season! Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Fifty Shades of Beige on a Red Mountain

Some names for eastern Washington vineyards, AVAs and mountains are derived from Red Mountainanimals — such as Ciel du Cheval (French for horse heaven), Horse Heaven Hills, Badger Mountain and Rattlesnake Hills. Native American names like Yakima, Naches, Tapteil, and Wahluke are also found on the vineyards and AVAs. Some vineyards are named for early wine pioneers like Mercer, Sagemoor, Weinbau, Dionysus and Bacchus.

So how the heck did Red Mountain get its name? Year-round, there are at least 50 shades of beige on the mountains in and around Columbia Valley.

But then I’ve never been there in April, when the spring cheatgrass turns the mountain dark red — except for the green patches under vine.

The Red Mountain AVA is the smallest AVA at 4,040 acres with just over half planted to Cabernet, Merlot, Sangiovese, Cab Franc, Syrah, Carménère and the newest darling, Malbec.

There is still a smattering of white grapes, most notably Kiona’s old vine Chenin Blanc, with some Semillon, Marsanne, Viognier and Chardonnay. Cooler climate grapes are planted in the nooks and crevices of the hills where shade provides relief from the sun for part of the day.

All that sunshine makes Red Mountain the hottest AVA in Washington State; both in heat units and because some of the 52 vineyards have contributed beautiful bunches of grapes to internationally acclaimed wines.

What makes this AVA so hot, hot, hot? The climate. The soil composition. The great viticulturists formerly known as farmers.

Being hot and windy is an asset, creating an unfriendly environment for mold and mildew. The soil is high in calcium carbonate and low in pH, which along with its granular consistency, promotes well-established root systems.

The predominant soil types are windblown and include the Warden, Hezel and Scootenay. These types of soils are a combination of sand, silt and loam — a proper mix for exceptional vitis vinifera.

And who’s making those internationally acclaimed wines, you may well ask?

Well, it all began in the mid-70s, when some of us were still kiona lem 1987sporting bell bottoms and dancing to the Bee Gees. Kiona’s John Williams and Jim Holmes planted the first vines on the south side of Sunset Road. Fortunately, some of those same vines are still in production.

Later, Blackwood Canyon, Hedges Cellars, Oakwood Cellars, Seth Ryan, and Terra Bianca began planting. At the time, Red Mountain was in the Yakima Valley AVA, which is in the really big Columbia Valley AVA. Being defined by something that huge didn’t quite give Red Mountain its due. The long crusade for a Red Mountain AVA began and was finally granted in 2001.

Today, a row of Red Mountain grapes from Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, Kiona, Blackwood Canyon, Obelisco, or Tapteil Vineyards is in high demand. There are even wineries that produce wine from Red Mountain fruit in their Walla Walla wineries.

Knowing a good thing when they saw it, California’s Duckhorn, Chateau Ste Michelle and Tuscan giant Antinori invested tidy sums to purchase land, plant vineyards and build wineries.

The Vancouver Canucks owners decided to make their first spectacular foray into the wine industry a couple of years back when they bought a chunk of parcels (518 acres with water rights) for $8.3 million.

Red Mountain’s Bordeaux varietals are rich, colorful, powerful and known for incredible balance with intense black fruit flavors, minerality and good structure. The widely planted Cabernet clone #8 produces a wine similar to Bordeaux with concentrated fruit, fine-grained tannins and a lovely mineral quality.

Malbec, Merlot, Syrah and Carménère are also red hot commodities on Red Mountain. Carménère and Malbec have fallen out of favor in Bordeaux but are lighting up the scoreboard when grown on Red Mountain.cooper wines

Cooper Wine Company has 41 acres on the corner of Sunset and Hwy 224. Eight of those acres are planted to Carménère and they have produced a wine called Vinizio that includes all six of the Bordeaux grapes. Neil Cooper explained the chocolate aromas and flavors come from the calcium carbonate in the soil of the Scootney Flats.

Frichette Winery is the newest boutique winery on the mountain. The owners, Greg and frichetteShea Frichette, changed careers and relocated to Red Mountain to be closer to family.  As with most Red Mountain wineries, its portfolio is chalk full of Cabernet, Merlot and a Malbec that stains your glass purple, with blackberry pie aromas and flavors of blackberry and cocoa with a touch of minerality.

Fidelitas has a great deck to sit, sip wine and watch the vineyards grow. Owner winemaker fedelitasCharlie Hoppes, a much-sought-after consulting winemaker, just completed his 28th vintage of Washington wines. His 12 acres are planted to Bordeaux varietals. The 2013 Malbec is another with very dense color, aromatic with black fruits and spice. It’s a wonderful medium-bodied wine to enjoy on the deck with a wedge of aged Gouda and some crusty bread.

Hamilton Cellars is another boutique winery halfway up Sunset Road. hamilton cellarsStacy and Russ Hamilton have 10 acres, with 9 ½ planted three years ago under the supervision of veteran Dick Boushey. They also have veteran Charlie Hoppes as their winemaker. Their 2012 Red Mountain Malbec is from the Scootney Vineyards while waiting for their vines to mature. This Malbec has cocoa and black cherry flavors; a dense, glass-staining color and soft tannins.

Premium land, ideal growing conditions, talented farmers and skilled management are qualities that make Red Mountain fruit highly prized by the likes of Quilceda Creek (the highly awarded Washington winery that sources Red Mountain). Upchurch Cab,  Andrew Will and Long Shadows Pedestal have also scored high 90s using Red Mountain fruit.

Another rare and outstanding wine, Kiona Estate 2014 Chenin Blanc Ice Wine, scored 93 points from an AVA not known for whites.

For more information for your next wine country get-a-way, Visit Tri-Cities (www.visittri-cities.com) can handle your needs.  red mountin trails N4867And for a designated driver, let me recommend something slow, easy and lots of fun: Red Mountain Trails for a horse-drawn wagon ride through the vineyards to the next tasting room. Treat yourself; it’s really a unique way to go.

Red Mountain Wine and Jazz Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horse Heaven Hills is Vineyard Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting Washington White Wines

So, how was Taste Washington this year?  In a word – Grand.  TasteWaWineMonth_RedPlaid_NoDate_LogoThere were so many wines to taste and bites to match.  To be organized, a plan was made but like a dog after a squirrel,  I  gave chase to the bottle at the next table and the one next to that and the one next to that…

The plan was to taste Chenin Blancs the first hour and then on to the more unusual red varietals, like Carmenere, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Petite Verdot, Barbera, Dolcetto, or Nebbiolo.

Chenin Blanc is probably the world’s most versatile grape variety. It’s capable of producing some of the longest lived sweet wines and with its naturally high acidity, it’s easily the most balanced of wines. This high acidity is also quite useful for a range of sparkling Chenin Blancs.

I thought exploring wineries I hadn’t even heard of would be more educational than visiting the usual suspects. After all, there are over 900 Washington wineries today.

Chenin Blanc was first planted in Washington in 1948 from UC Davis stock. My love affair with Chenin Blanc began when Pontin del Roza released their second vintage in 1985.

The story of how Scott Pontin’s high school FFA project culminated into a successful estate winery is amazing. Here’s a kid making wine and not even old enough to walk into a bar.

However, his family have been farming the Roza since 1954. They began as turkey farmers, and then planted concord grapes and sold the juice to Yakima Valley Grape Producers. The family also farmed wheat, mint, potatoes and sugar beets and apples.

Pontin del Roza roughly translates to mean Pontin from the Roza. This  pioneering family came to the Yakima Valley and planted the terraced vineyards just as their Italian ancestors had done for centuries.

The 2014 Chenin Blanc has 13.6 % alcohol and residual sugar of 2.8% with aromas of lemon zest and melon leading into peach and pineapple flavors that paired wonderfully with Salty’s on Alki’s lobster gyoza with red curry.

Ancestry Cellars in Woodinville was offering up their Le Cortege 2014 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc.  The wine is a refreshing lemon, juicy green apple and honey flavors with aromas of honey and white flowers. It has great weight for an off dry style and has  a fair amount of acidity. The grapes are sourced from the 30 year old vines at Bella Terra Vineyard. It was fermented in stainless steel for a crisp, fresh wine with a residual sugar of  1.67%, and alcohol at 13.3%.  Awarded a Double Gold at the Seattle Wine Awards.

On a hillside overlooking the Wenatchee River Valley, Silvara Vineyards is Leavenworth’s newest winery. They recently garnered a Gold Medal at the Washington Wine Awards for their Chenin Blanc.  It has the sweetness of melon, apricots and honey with a hint of effervescence. Very impressive for this young winery. The drawback is no distributor.  To get a bottle of this wonderful wine, call 509-548-1000 or email info@silvarawine.com  It’s worth it!

At this point, the plan began to unravel. Blame it on the freshly shucked oysters. Had to have some of the Chinook 2014 Sauvignon Blanc and Palencia’s Albarino, two of my all time favorite wines.

My nose led me to Urbane Restaurant’s smoked salmon cake, with Savage Grace next door.  Their Riesling vineyards on Underwood Mountain are on a steep hillside high above the Columbia River Gorge. The climate is a natural for Riesling. Flavors of tangerine and lime with wet stone combine to make this delicious Riesling that paired well with the smoked salmon cake.

Convergence Zone Cellars is a family-owned winery in Woodinville.  The grapes are sourced from some of the best vineyards in the Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain and Columbia Valley AVAs. Their Dewpoint is an off-dry Riesling with aromas of lemon zest, lime and peach. It has bright peach, green apple, and lemon flavors. The juicy fruit and crisp acidity is balanced, and paired perfectly with the Kalaloch Lodge’s Dungeness crab with jalapeno aioli crostini.

We’re big fans of Treveri Cellars, a family owned sparkling wine house that produces some of the best Washington sparklers. They producing a bevy of sparkling wines, including Syrah, Riesling and Mueller-Thurgau.  We tasted the Blanc de Noirs made with 100% Pinot Noir which had a hint of strawberries and brioche with crisp acidity with a creamy finish. It was en tirage which is French for fermenting in the bottle, for 23.5 months. Swiftwater Cellar’s duck comfit with Asian plum sauce was just the ticket to pair with this bubbly.

And then there are the red wines but we’ve run out of room.

And just a reminder that the Yakima Spring Barrel Tasting is next weekend. You can sample a new vintage straight from the barrel, enjoy cooking demonstrations, winemaker dinners, vineyard tours and other educational experiences. This is a great opportunity to delve into some of the wineries and vineyards in Washington’s oldest AVA on April 23rd and 24th .

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/winerytours

The following weekend, April 29 through May 1st is the Gorge Wine Experience  This three day series of events is for wine enthusiasts to learn about Gorge wine and meet the winemakers. There are over 20 wineries with activities throughout the Gorge.