Category Archives: What We’re Drinking

What we’re drinking: Trader Joe’s 2010 Russian River Valley Grand Reserve Pinot Noir

Mary writes:

Pinot Noir is the red grape responsible for red burgundy, the most capricious of all the vinifera vines.

So the Blind Wine group decided to get familiar with this grape that is the most difficult to grow and ferment. Part of the reason for the variation in Pinot Noir lies in its genetic makeup and its propensity to mutate. There are more clones of Pinot Noir than any other varietal.

The Russian River Valley has the perfect climate for this finicky grape.  Trader Joe’s 2010 Russian River Valley Grand Reserve Pinot Noir was one of the stars of the seven wines in our blind tasting.

But 2010 wasn’t an easy year in the Russian River Valley. The young grapes had a wet and chilly spring. Late spring rains prompted growers to pull leaves to open up the canopies and expose the fruit to drying breezes and sunlight. The summer saw plenty of fog and wet weather further slowing grape maturity. Thankfully, an August heat spike promoted development so the grapes were able to reach full maturity in September. This cool spring and summer resulted in balanced flavors and smooth tannins.

Despite the harrowing growing season, this wine had a wonderful sweet black cherry nose with hints of spice; big up front cherry, raspberry flavors with smooth tannins and a spicy, smooth finish. Under $15!

What we’re drinking: Dubindil Winery

Mary writes:

Dubindil Winery, a small winery in Snohomish, recently pulled down three medals at the Seattle Wine Awards. A double gold for the 2010 Columbia Valley Syrah, a gold for the Rowan Red and a bronze for the 2010 Cabernet.

A Double Gold award is very prestigious. This award is The Best of The Best.

And fortunately for us, we were able to taste the Rowan Red and the Double Gold Syrah at the Kitsap Wine Festival.

Owners Lisa and David Henrickson started as home winemakers and volunteers for other wineries for a number of years before taking the big leap into the commercial production in 2010.

Imagine three years later hitting a double gold for one of your first commercially made wines. Pretty darn impressive.

The winery name is a combination of nicknames their kids gave each other — Dubin and Dil. Rowan Red is their proprietary name for their red blend even though this year’s is just Cabernet. Now you too know the code names.

The 2010 Yakima Valley Rowan Red is 100 percent Cabernet aged in French oak for 21 months. The bright berry with hints of herbs, pepper and currants are nicely balanced with smooth tannins and good acidity.  Only 97 cases made. $18/bottle from the winery.

The 2010 Columbia Valley Syrah, the double gold winner, is 100 percent Syrah. It comes from several vineyards which is why you won’t find a vineyard name on the label. This multi-faceted Syrah has a bouquet of violets, blueberries, mocha, and licorice.

It’s a mouthful of blueberries, mocha and licorice. With smooth tannins and great balance. Sold out at the winery but you may be able to find it at specialty stores.

What we’re drinking: Knipprath Cellars

Brynn writes:

Based in Spokane, the only chance we were going to get to try this winery’s wines was at a local tasting. Lucky for us they were at the Kitsap Wine Festival in August.

This was probably one of the most interesting wineries at the wine festival, largely because the wines produced aren’t everyday wines.

Knipprath focuses on Portuguese and Spanish grape varietals grown in the Northwest. The winery also has a heavy focus on Port wines and different flavor variations of Port.

Some of the Ports poured at the wine festival by winemaker Henning Knipprath were: NV Spanish Nudge Coffee Port, NV Au Chocolate Cabernet Port and my favorite of the three, NV Lagrima White Port.

Knipprath also poured a 2010 La Bodega Del Norte Touriga Nacional Red, which is a red wine made from Portuguese grapes traditionally used for Port.

The Lagrima White Port had a nutty finish similar to what you would find in sherry, but it was rounded out with a balanced sweetness of a dessert wine.

The grapes that make up the white port are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Albariño, a white grape with Portuguese origins that is also grown in Spain.

The wine is aged in neutral oak casks for 30 months, which helps give it that nutty finish.

I’m not a huge fan of wine that’s been infused with chocolate flavors, but the Au Chocolate Port had a strong chocolate nose and subtle finish. Knipprath uses cocoa beans to infuse the chocolate flavors in the Cabernet Sauvignon he uses to make this Port-style wine.

For you coffee lovers out there, the Spanish Nudge Coffee Port had a nice combination of Syrah and dark roast coffee. Knipprath infused the wine with cinnamon sticks, giving it a cinnamon nose. This was another interesting combination that had a lot of people coming back for second tastings. (A certain someone who also writes this wine blog, but who asked to remain anonymous — hint her name rhymes with “Berry” — also enjoyed this wine and its complexity.)

Learn more about Knipprath and how to get the wines at the website:

What we’re drinking: Jaillance Crémant de Bordeaux Cuvée de l’Abbaye NV Sémillon

Mary writes:

Well this week’s wine is quite a mouthful. Cremant de Bordeaux is the regional appellation for sparkling wines in the Bordeaux region of France. More famous for their classic, and at times very expensive, blends of Cab and Merlot, or Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, a sparkling wine appellation was made official in 1990.

This Crémant de Bordeaux is made from 100 percent Sémillon and has small perlage and a balanced, nutty, honeyed nose. There is a required period of lees contact in Cremant de Bordeaux wines and they spend at least nine months in the bottle before disgorgement.

The occasion for popping the cork on this wine was the grand opening celebration of the Orthopaedic Center at Harrison Medical Center in Silverdale earlier this month. Glasses of this bubbly were served to guests entering the new wing.

From a distance I could see the color was different than the usual sparkling wine. It was a pale gold color. And the first sip surprised me with its elegance. It had a floral bouquet, creamy mousse and nice balance. A wonderful celebratory wine for a splendid community event.

Jaillance is imported by Vinum Wine Importers in Redmond.

What we’re drinking: Forgeron Cellars

Mary writes:

During the Kitsap Wine Festival at Harborside Fountain Park, one of the outstanding wineries was Forgeron Cellars from Walla Walla. We tasted three of their wines that left us wanting to go back for more.

Forgeron’s founding winemaker/managing partner is  Marie-Eve Gilla. Born and raised in France, she earned her Diplome National d’Oenologie (Masters) at the University of Dijon. After moving to the US, she worked at Argyle, Covey Run, Hogue and Gordon Brothers.

Forgeron Cellars opened in Walla Walla in 2001 and may be hard to find as their production is 350 cases here and 300 cases there. The wines are diverse, some very French in style and others American. Although based in Walla Walla the winery sources its grapes from vineyards outside the Walla Walla AVA, looking for the perfect growing conditions to support the wines it produces.

The 2012 Ambiance from Columnbia Valley is a blend of 38 percent Viognier, 23 percent Roussanne, 23 percent Marsanne, 16 percent Grenache Blanc. These grapes typically make up a white Rhone. Also of note, there isn’t much Grenach Blanc grown in our state, in fact the word is there’s only one vineyard in Washington with this Rhone varietal.

The wine had a nose of melon and ornage peel with flavors of tropical fruits and a crispness that made it so refreshinng. It was aged in neutral French oak to round it out. It was perfect with Anthony’s mini crab stacks.

The second wine I tasted was the very American grape, Zinfandel. This 2010 Zinfandel is actually a blend of 77 percent Zinfandel from Alder Ridge Vineyards and 23percent Primitivo from the Wahluke Slope.

This full bodied Zin had a nose of blackberries and a wonderful balance of blackberry and mocha with a finished of black pepper. My food pick to match with this was the Minder Meats pulled pork sandwich. Yum!

Forgeron’s 2010 Late Harvest Riesling from Dionysus Vineyard — one of the state’s oldest vineyards — was exquisite. This wine had a nose of sweet apricots, honey and botrytise that went on and on. The flavors were as wonderful as the nose, honeyed apricot and botrytise. Very, very good.

What we’re drinking: Finnriver Cidery

Mary writes:

Finnriver Cidery has been popping up in my glass a lot lately. So I just have to share the delights this wonderful farm is pouring out.

At the fifth annual Kitsap Wine Festival at Harborside Fountain Park, this Chimacum Cidery served up their Pear Cider, Pear Brandy, Artisan Sparkling Cider, Black Currant Wine and Spirited Apple Wine.

The Sparkling Pear Cider was incredibly refreshing on that hot summer day. It’s a semi-sweet blend of organic apples and pears which was a nice match with the ahi tuna from Anthony’s.

The other wine that got my attention was the Black Currant Wine. So concentrated it stained the glass and the aromas were pure black currant. It’s port-like in that they blend with apple brandy and is sweet, well-balanced dessert wine.

My next encounter a few weeks later, was with the Blind Wine Group who hosted a Méthode Champenoise tasting. The rules were specific: bring a bottle that was made in the traditional méthode champenoise.

This means that the wine goes through a second fermentation in the bottle. Traditionally, a bottle of Champagne would go through this process anywhere from one to three years.

Finnriver uses the riddling racks, hand turning the bottles and disgorgement methods to make a naturally carbonated sparkling cider. It’s a labor intensive process and well worth the wait.

Of the 12 bottles of sparkling wine and champagne presented at the tasting, no one guessed that it was not made from grapes like the other eleven. It was that good.

And just in case you think that I’m exaggerating, take a look at the medals it has garnered:

  • Double Gold Medal, 2011 Seattle Wine Awards.
  • Silver Medal, 2011 Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition.
  • Silver Medal, 2011 Northwest Wine Summit.
  • ‘American Champagne Toast,’ 2012 Good Food Awards
  • Silver Medal, 2013 Seattle Wine Awards
  • ‘Best of the Northwest, Dry Cider,’ 2013 SIP Magazine

Finnriver is such a delightful place to visit. I encourage you to drop in and savor the farm community, the cidery and the fresh air either in person or online:

What we’re drinking: Barbera, a lot of it

Mary writes:

In northwestern Italy’s Piedmonte region, Barbera is the everyday wine for family dinners. Barbera is the second-most planted red grape in Italy. It’s planted in other parts of the world also, most notably California where Italian immigrants settled, but other parts of the globe too.

Inside Piedmonte, Alba, Asti and Monferrato are the DOC or DOCG regions for Barbera. In the DOCG region of Alba, for some of the best Barolos, the Nebbiolo grape gets the best vineyard sites. Barbera is relegated to the leftover vineyards. This was the natural order for Piedmonte, where Barolo is king with wines that are aged and sold for big bucks — Barbera is the family-friendly dinner wine.

I first tasted the memorable Cigliuiti Barbera d’Alba one hot Northwest summer day many years ago. It became my summer wine, the wine to drink with the tomatoes fresh from the garden. Barbera is gorgeous with juicy red fruits and herbs and natural, lively acidity even in hot climates. For me, it was synergistic with tomatoes. Tomatoes dressed with a little chopped onion, balsamic vinegar, a shave of Fontina and a drizzle of olive oil is my choice for an accompaniment to the wine.

My great affection for Barbera led to Barbera being introduced to the “Blind Wine Group” I formed. The group recently blind tasted eight Barberas, seven from Alba and one from Washington.

Here’s how it works: Everyone brings a bottle of Barbera and a plate of appetizers. The host brings two of the same Barbera. Bottles are brown bagged, numbered and served. Tasters are looking for the duplicate wine.

The structure of Barbera comes from its crisp acidity, which keeps it fresh and cuts through rich fatty foods. If the acidity is out of whack, Barbera can be harsh. But given a tomato, the wine is perfect.

Wines we tasted are as follows:

  • Michele Reverditto Barbera d’Alba 2010: very balanced, aromatic with cherry, cedar; medium-full bodied, tart cherry flavors with a pleasant bitter herb finish.
  • Bricco del Tempo d’Alba 2010 DOC: Lots of fruit on the nose, great taste of bright red fruits with an earthy finish.
  • Viberti Bricco Airolia d’Alba Superiore 2010: Bricco is Italian for hilltop where this vineyard is situated. Grape and almond aromas with grapey and cherry flavors that finish long and smoothly.
  • Maccario DOCG Barbera d’Alba 2011: Dark ruby color with a red fruit based aroma with a floral hint. It’s smooth with black cherry and vanilla flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol.
  • Renato Ratti DOCG Barbera d’Alba 2010: Rich in body and in color, warm and robust, pleasantly tart.  Spent six months in French oak barriques which concentrates the flavors.
  • Podere Ruggere Corsini Barbera d’Alba 2010: Juicy, rich, purple red with bright plum flavors in a mouth-filling style. Very lively acidity.
  • Maryhill Columbia Valley Barbera 2008: Vanilla and spice balance the tart cherry, red berry fruit flavors. Full bodied with a smooth finish.
  • Maccario DOCG Barbera d’Alba 2011: Aromas of cherries and violets, velvety mouthfeel, concentrated bright cherry and blueberry flavors.

The favorite of the tasters was the second bottle of Maccario with the Reverditto a point behind. Four of us picked the duplicate wines, including yours truly.

Other cheeses to try with fresh tomatoes and a glass of Barbera would be Cambozola made from cow’s milk that’s a blue veined soft-ripened triple cream cheese.

Gorgonzola is the classic Italian blue veined cheese, made from unskimmed cow’s milk. The crumbly texture and tang sing with the fresh tomatoes.

What we’re drinking: Contempo Petite Sirah

Mary writes:

Pettite sirah is unique to California. And although the names sound the same, Sirah is not related to Syrah — note the different spelling.

While they might not be related, Sirah did get its name from Syrah because of the similarities in aroma and flavor.

The Contempo brand is from O’Neil Vintners and Distillers in Parlier, Calif. They supply grapes and do custom crush at their facilities for a number of producers such as Back Story, Camelot, Cloud Break, Pepi, Tin Roof and Wink.

They operate in the style of an old world négociant.

The Petite Sirah is dark red with a lovely purple robe, smooth with plum and tart cherry aromas and flavors with a hint of mocha on the finish. It would make a great barbecue accompaniment.

Grocery Outlet has this screw capped bottle for $4.

What we’re drinking: Pump House Pinot Noir

Mary writes:

Reading the label on this bargain bottle of wine gives a little information about what’s inside.

It was cellared and bottled by Our Cellars out of Healdsburg, Calif. and is a product of France with  12.5 percent alcohol.

So what does that mean? I’ll translate: The pinot noir grapes were picked, crushed and fermented in France. The juice was shipped to California, where it was cellared and bottled.

Further investigation leads me to the conclusion it’s a private label for TJ’s (aka Trader Joe’s). Seems we just can’t stay away from this grocer when it comes to looking for bargain wines (although I bought this at Grocery Outlet).

About the wine. It’s French in style, meaning the fruit is understated and the mineral flavors more prominent. Because of this, it did not show well when first opened. But when aired, it showed tangy red cherry, some raspberry, a hint of orange peel, a nice mineral note, and a slightly tannic finish.

It’s nicely structured and a great everyday red. Another bargain find from Grocery Outlet that will only set you back $6. Grill up some salmon and enjoy with friends. It’s a great match.

What we’re drinking: Colores del Sol 2011 Reserva Crisp White Blend

Brynn writes:

This is the counterpart to the Colores del Sol Rich Red Blend we reviewed last week. Unlike the red, this wine needed no time to open up and had Mary and I captivated after the first sip.

It’s a blend of 50 percent Chardonnay, 20 percent Torrontes, 20 percent Semillon and 10 percent Moscato.

Before you poo-poo it because of the majority Chardonnay grape, let me tell you this little tid-bit: When I poured this for Mary I didn’t tell her the breakdown of grapes. Instead I told her to guess.

To my surprise she immediately tasted the Torrontes — a white grape produced in Argentina but not widely known elsewhere — and suggested another white. But she was pretty certain there absolutely was no chardonnay in this wine. (This from a woman who shares my love for chardonnay).

The Torrontes gave the wine a nice acidity, while the Moscato added the slightest hint of sweetness. The Semillon rounded it out and the Chardonnay gave it its crisp, citrus notes.

This is a great wine for summer, especially if you cool it down in the fridge before serving. The wine guy at Trader Joe’s suggested using it as the base of a white sangria, which I think is a great idea. Throw some fresh peach, oranges, pineapple and apple in there and you’d have a great party cocktail.

If I didn’t know the price, I would have guessed this wine fell in the $10 to $15 range. At $2.99 it’s a steal and one I’d buy again, no question.