Category Archives: White Wines

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  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

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.

Spring White Wines

Much like the clothing industry, the wine industry is getting their spring line up ready for the new season.

Katie Morrow places foil on the bottles during the bottling process at Eleven Winery on Bainbridge Island on Thursday, May 30, 2013. (MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN)

Three very spring white wines I’ve recently tasted were in the French way – that is made from French grapes and in a very French style. The grapes were Pinot Gris, Columbard and Viognier.

Other French grapes often found in the Alsace region and in Germany are Gewurztraminer, Muller-Thurgau, and Riesling.

Pinot Gris, also known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, is the grey skinned Pinot grape. Pinot Blanc is the “white” skinned Pinot and Pinot Noir, or Nero in Italian, is the black skinned Pinot grape.

There is another, very obscure cousin to these well-known Pinots and that is Pinot Meunier. It’s rarely found outside of the France’s Champagne region.

These Pinots cousins have one thing in common besides the “Pinot” in their name. They are mutant ninja Pinots. Pinot Gris is a somatic mutation of the genes that control the skin color.

Pinot Blanc is a further mutation and can produce, to further muddy the must, Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir. The DNA profiles of the Gris and Blanc are identical to Pinot Noir.

All this superfluous information is given to help you understand what a finicky grape Pinot can be.

Recently, I happened across the Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris and was delighted with the elegance and complexity of the wine.

The elegance and complexity can be attributed to several wine making techniques used to produce this wine. The grapes were pressed rather than crushed to produce smoother flavors. Then the juice was slowly fermented at cold temperatures to enhance the fruit flavors.

Another technique is sur lie which is the practice of conditioning a wine on the spent yeast cells. This produces an additional flavor profile. In addition, fermenting in stainless steel further enhances the fruit flavors.

This would be a great match with salmon whether grilled, smoked or seared. Add a little pasta and a cream sauce and you’re in heaven.

Other pairing candidates could include pork and julienned ginger wrapped in lettuce leaves, halibut with chili jam, shrimp salad with garlic croutons or panko-crusted salmon.

Another stunning wine recently tasted is the Michel Gassier les Piliers 2013 from southern Rhone. This was also made with care by removing 100% of the stems, cold skin contact for 48 hours, partial racking of the must and fermentation in vats.

It’s quite exotic with aromas and flavors of passion fruit, citrus and apricot. Made from 65% Columbard and 35% Viognier, it would pair wonderfully with pasta with Gorgonzola cream, sushi, stir fry or an orange and red onion salad.

We’re all familiar with the fragrant Viognier grape but Columbard is something we may have tasted but didn’t know we tasted. Columbard is one of the blending grapes used in both Cognac and Armagnac.

The prolific grape, Ugni Blanc, or Trebbiano if you were Italian, makes up about 95% of Cognac production.

Trebbiano is one of the most widely planted white grapes in the world. Originally from Italy it is also widely planted in France. It’s most commonly used as a blending grape.

Frascati, another wonderful spring time wine, is a blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca. Under DOC laws, Frascati can be made in either a dry or a sweet style and either still or in a Spumante (sparkling) style.

The dry table wines are the most popular. They are labeled as Novello, Superiore, or Novello Superiore. The Trebbiano is more delicately flavored with floral notes that add a striking acidity to the wine. Any fish dish would pair very nicely with this dry wine. And you can pretend you’re on some Italian beach.

Another white recently revisited was the Montinore Estate Borealis. Established in 1982, Montinore Estate is a 210-acre Demeter Certified Biodynamic and Certified Organic estate that lies at the northern end of the Willamette Valley appellation.

The vineyards are planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Lagrein.

The 2014 Borealis is a blend of Gewurztraminer, Muller-Thurgau, Riesling, and Pinot Gris. This blend of grapes covers the full fruit spectrum on the nose with peach, yellow apple, pineapple and bright citrus popping out, accented with whiffs of lychee and fresh rose petals.

On the palate it starts with a slightly sweet taste of ripe peach and pear balanced with zingy citrus, which evolves into a delicious crisp finish of tropical and stone fruit. Spicy Asian, Thai or Indian dishes are the way to go for pairing with all that juicy fruit.

Many of these grape varieties can be tasted at Taste Washington which is on April 2nd and 3rd this year. Taste Washington, the nation’s largest single-region wine and food event, brings together over 225 Washington wineries, and 70 restaurants.  This is a great opportunity to learn about these grape varieties and what to pair with them. For more information, go to

Time For Riesling

Riesling has been on my mind a lot lately. For two really great reasons: Hood Canal Shrimp and the pick, albeit reluctantly, for this month’s wine tasting.

Riesling is one of the all-time classics, a noble grape variety, loved by beginners and experts for its awesome aromatics, crisp acidity and versatility with all food groups.

It could also be the world’s most misunderstood and mispronounced grape variety. (It’s pronounced reece ling, by the way.) Although not the most widely planted grape in German vineyards, it is the most prized with some of the most expensive little bottles of white wine you will ever see.

Riesling is one of my favorite wines. Wine made from Riesling is unlike any other. It is generally light in alcohol, refreshingly high in fruit, natural acidity and is capable of aging for decades. Like Chenin Blanc, it does well if fermented cool and bottled early without any malolactic fermentation or oak.

Where the grape is planted determines the style of Riesling you will purchase. Riesling actually ripens early, so when planted in warmer areas, its juice can be sweet and flabby. It needs some time in cool nights to build up the acidity to balance the sweetness. 1989erIn cool climates, like Germany, the Alsace, Washington and Canada, it’s a late ripener and had time to develop flavors, aromatics and acidity.

Müller-Thurgau, the most widely grown and productive German variety and a Riesling cross, will ripen just about any place. But Riesling will only ripen fully on the most special sites, those with the most sunlight so that it stays on the vine well into fall. Riesling from the Mosel and its even cooler tributaries the Saar and Ruwer is one of the wine world’s most distinctive, least imitable wine styles: crisp, racy, refreshing as a mountain stream and with a hint of the slate that covers the best sites.

Riesling is also very successful in the Alsace region of northeast France, where 95% of the wines produced are white. Here in the Vosges Mountains, some of the best dry, steely Rieslings can age for a decade or two. Traditional cellars have huge oval vats, usually built into the cellar to store the wine. Inside these 100-year old vats, the walls are lined with a build up of tartrates so the wine never touches wood.

On the west coast, Riesling has been cultivated since the 19th century, by the early Germans, of course. The Beringers, Krugs, Schrams, Gundlachs and Bundschus were instrumental in planting acres of Riesling in California. All well and good until the 1970s when sweet wines fell out of favor and Chardonnay began to overtake Riesling in acreage.

In Washington State, Riesling has found the most suitable home outside of Germany. With 6,900 acres planted in eastern Washington, Chateau Ste. Michelle makes more Riesling than any other winery in the world. And then take into account Columbia Crest, Hogue and Covey Run also helping quench the thirst for Riesling.

A respected Mosel wine family, the Langguths, arrived in Washington in the early 1980’s with plenty of cash to build a winery. Opened in 1982, it was the largest facility in the State. In 1987, Snoqualmie Winery bought controlling interest in the winery, and installed Mike Januik as winemaker and changed the name to Saddle Mountain Winery. In 1991, Chateau Ste. Michelle bought the facility and it’s used for crush and storage.

And that brings us back to what wine for the Wine Club’s Tasting? 3 labels What could I possibly find to turn them from reluctant Riesling tasters to wow! This is really good. So a scan of the Cellar lifted my hopes. But it’s a tough decision. Will it be 1987 Gordon Brothers, 1988 French Creek Cellars, 1993 Bookwalter all bottled for Whaling Days, or the 14 year old Claar Cellars Late Harvest Riesling?

I might also take a 1983er Eitelsbacher Karthauferhofberg Burgberg Auslese or a 1989 Schmitt Sohne Rheinhessen Bornheimer Adelberg Qba just to acquaint these junior palates with the heights that Riesling can rise to.

This weekend is the perfect time to become reacquainted with Washington Rieslings. I look forward to Hood Canal Shrimp on the barbie and some old, old favorites.

Cheers to you, Kitsap.

Pairing Sauvignon Blanc

My favorite go-to wine with vegetables, especially the green ones in Ann Vogel’s Leek and Spinach soup, is Sauvignon Blanc. In many ways, it’s more like a red wine than its white sisters. Which isn’t too surprising considering it’s one of the parents of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.

Sauvignon Blanc can be highly aromatic, with herbs, minerals, and citrus. It’s pungent, grassy, citrus flavors can be minerally, grassy, hay, green pepper, lemons, lime, grapefruit and/or gooseberries and refreshingly acidic. It all depends on how and where it is grown.

Sauvignon Blanc also has a tendency to overwhelm or clash with more delicate dishes that pair well with other less assertive wines. But Sauvignon Blanc’s herbal aromas and racy acidity harmonize with vegetables very well, and the pairing is a bright and fresh on your summer table.

Sauvignon Blanc is also a great match for foods with high acidity and herbal tones. Sauvignon Blanc’s brisk acidity makes it the perfect partner for tangy goat cheese, tomatoes, spinach salads or most any green vegetable, even asparagus

And tangy citrus notes in the wine also make it a delicious pairing for dishes that need a bright note of citrus like a shrimp salad or Leek and Spinach soup. The bracing acidity of the wine also makes a perfect match to cream soups or other dishes that lean towards the thick, rich side. Each taste of wine cleans the palate for the next sip of soup.

Highly recommended Sauvignon Blancs include:

Brancott 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is a classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with ripe bell pepper aromas and hints of gooseberries. The rich fruit and crisp mouthfeel make this a winner with Ann Vogel’s  Sautéed Leeks and Carrots. Around $11.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Horse Heaven Hills Sauvignon Blanc wine offers fresh aromas of herbs with a beautiful floral note. A touch of Semillon and partial stainless fermentation makes for a more complex, rich wine. It’s fresh and lively, with apple, citrus and a bit of herbs in the finish. Around $13.

Geyser Peak 2012 California Sauvignon Blanc has that bracing acidity with flavors of limes, lemons, and hay. The lime note in Sauvignon Blancs is distinctly New Zealand wines but perhaps the Australian wine maker knows the way to get it in American wines?

Honig 2012 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp little number with citrus and herbal tones. This medium-bodied wine is blended in the traditional Bordeaux manner with a little Semillon and Muscat. $12

Waterbrook 2012 Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc, a long time favorite winery with big production and excellent quality. This wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc fermented in stainless steel for a wine that is all citrus and little herbalness to it. Around $12.

Riesling with your Shrimp Catch

shrimpGrilled Hood Canal shrimp and a chilled bottle of Riesling is just the ticket for these warm sunny days. And right on cue, a couple of emails received earlier this week highlighted the length that some aficionados go to for love of Riesling.

The first was a traveling tasting experience from Key West to New York City. Riesling enthusiast and NYC restaurateur Paul Grieco and German wine author and expert Stuart Pigott will spread the word and German Riesling with their wine bar on wheels, leading tastings for trade and media and hosting dinners along the way.

The other was a blog about the Summer of Riesling. The Summer of Riesling is a worldwide movement which encourages the consumption, discussion and enjoyment of Riesling.

Riesling is a noble grape that originated in Germany’s Rhine region. Riesling does well in cool climates. Germany has one of the world’s most northern vineyards and they’re pretty frosty to boot. Since the 15th century, they have staked their vineyards on Riesling because it can survive and thrive in cooler climates.

Extremely versatile, Riesling can be made dry, semi-sweet, sweet, dessert or sparkling. It’s rarely blended and when it does see oak, as is the case in the Alsace, the barrels are lined with centuries of tartrates that insulate the barrel.

Riesling is usually consumed young, when it’s a fruity and aromatic with aromas of green apples, peach, rose blossoms or minerals and crispness from the bracing acidity. In cool climates, the wines tend toward apple and peach notes with crisp acidity that’s balanced by the residual sugar. It develops citrus and peach notes in warmer climates. In Australia, you’ll find a lime note.

This naturally high acidity and prominent residual sugars make it a likely candidate for aging. With aging, Riesling takes on honeyed character, petrol aromas and an amber hue.

Two German wines to try are the Losen-Bockstanz 2012 Mosel Wittlicher Lay Riesling Kabinett, and the Rudi Wiest 2012 Mosel Riesling QBA. Both sell for just $11 and have the crisp acidity and mineral component that is the hallmark of German Rieslings.

Because of that broad range of acidity, flavors and sweetness or lack there of, there is, of course, a broad range of dishes that work so well with this wine. One dish that comes to mind this time of year is shrimp, Hood Canal Shrimp, sweet, succulent and slightly charred from the grill.

Here’s a favorite recipe an old chef friend made with Hood Canal shrimp. Make a marinade of grated lime peel with 1/4 cup lime juice, a teaspoon of sugar and a tablespoon of chopped ginger. Pour over shrimp in the shells and let it stand for an hour or two. Drain into a sauce pan and simmer for about 5 minutes

Preheat grill for direct grilling on medium-high. Skewer shrimp with two skewers an inch apart so the shrimp won’t twist when you flip them. Grill 3 to 4 minutes turning over once until shells are bright and shrimp turn opaque. Line a plate with lettuce and mint leaves. Top with grilled shrimp, chopped avocado and pink grapefruit segments. Sprinkle with cooled marinade.

Even though shrimping 2014 ends this week, there is still a n opportunity to get some at the Brinnon ShrimpFest 2014 which runs Saturday, May 24th, 10 to 6 pm and Sunday, May 25th, 10 to 4pm. Gate Fee: $4/day or $6 for two-day pass.  For more information: or check out their facebook page.

Springtime Wine

chivesSpring brings out the fresh herbal dishes in my kitchen. When the bright green sorrel, pungent chives, lemony lemon balm and asparagus have sprung up in the garden, it’s time for my favorite go-to vegetable wine, Sauvignon Blanc. Having oysters, goat cheese or roast chicken? Try a Sauvignon Blanc. Grilled seafood, smoked salmon, vegetarian dish? Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic, herbal, citrusy and refreshingly acidic. These components pair well with seafood with lemon, goat cheese and strongly flavored vegetables. It’s pungent, grassy, citrus flavors range from grass, hay, green pepper, lemons, grapefruit to gooseberries. It all depends on how and where it is grown.

The vines are more apt to concentrate on leaf and shoot growth so a stern canopy management plan is needed to achieve balance between the green and the fruity parts of the vine.

Most Sauvignon Blancs are fermented in stainless steel at low temperatures to enhance and preserve every bit of fruit and tame the acidity. The wines are best drunk young.

Two classic, high-end Sauvignon Blancs come from two appellations on the banks of the Loire River in Central France, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines have a minerality that distinguishes them from counterparts on the west coast and New Zealand.

But if you’re looking for a good value, the Loire’s less famous appellations of Touraine, Menetou Salon, Reuilly and Quincy are delicious.

A white Bordeaux is a blend of crisp Sauvignon Blanc with the much fatter, less acidic Semillon. In the value conscious Entre-Deux-Mers appellation, as well as Graves, it’s blended with Semillon in varying proportions and produces a great dry wine.

Some of the world’s most famous Sauvignon Blanc is grown in New Zealand. Vines were first planted in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s they burst onto the wine scene with an lavish, fruity style that put New Zealand wines firmly in the forefront. The cool maritime climate and dry gravel soil of Marlborough are perfectly suited for this grape.

Sauvignon is the name seen on Chilean labels. Planted in the cool wine region of Casablanca Valley, Sauvignon is clearly in an ideal spot in Chile. Always a wine value.

Many of our west coast vineyards are too hot for Sauvignon Blanc. In the cooler vineyards of Santa Barbara, Oakville Bench and the Mayacamas Mountains, a California style of full-bodied, slightly sweet Sauvignon, often oak aged, are produced. Some labels may say Fumé Blanc, a term coined by Robert Mondavi in the late 60s.

Washington State makes some fine, racy Sauvignon Blancs in cooler vineyards like Horse Heaven Hills and Yakima Valley with an average elevation of 1,000 feet.

Suggested taste tour of Sauvignon Blanc:

  • Babcock Vineyards, Santa Barbara
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Horse Heaven Hills Sauvignon Blanc
  • Henri Pele Menetou Salon, Loire
  • Kim Crawford, New Zealand
  • Les Gourmets Touraine Sauvignon, Loire
  • Veramonte Vineyards, Chile

Taste Washington Review

by Guest writer Jeff Graham

One of the special things about Taste Washington is the opportunity to explore many different wines from many different wineries in one location. This is the wine tour that comes to the consumer — and there’s plenty offered for consumption.
A few years ago, Taste Washington was a one-day event. It ran longer, so single-day attendees had the chance to do a little more tasting, but CenturyLink’s events center often became bloated in the final hours as the crowds made their way toward the finish line.
Now a two-day endeavor, Taste Washington is still a well-attended event, but attendees no longer need to elbow around each other to get to the tables of their choice. This year’s event seemed … comfortable. There appeared to be more food available (70-plus restaurants/eateries represented) than in previous years. And there was still plenty of wine available (220-plus wineries in attendance).
Media members and VIPs were given four hours to taste, and trust me, the time flew by. My typical plan of attack is to seek out roughly 20-25, seeking diversity of grape and price point. One year, I went on a mission to taste Cab Franc from various wineries. While a worthy endeavor, I probably missed out on some other fine pours.
This year, I managed to reach 15 tables, and wasn’t disappointed not to make it around to more. These were virtually all new wines. My palate didn’t feel overwhelmed by day’s end.

I’d offer my stamp of approval to most of the wine tasted.
–Kyra Winery, for the price, might have been my big winner. Of course, some of the first wine tasted at an event can appear to be special, but the 2013 Chenin Blanc offers tremendous value for $15. A 2011 Dolcetto and 2012 Sangiovese ($20 each) got thumbs up as well.
–Whidbey Island Winery had a Rosato Sangiovese that rocked. I’m not a huge fan of Rosé, and admit I haven’t had a ton of experience with it, but this delivered in a fine way.
–W.T Vintners offered a Gruner Veltliner, the only one offered at Taste Washington. Nice and dry, it was in hot demand.
–Stottle Winery from Lacey was one of the few tables offering Nebbiolo and it was delicious. Appealing brickish color. A favorite of the day.
–Robert Ramsay Cellars boasted reds tailored specifically for food pairings, but I found their wines plenty drinkable as stand alones. A 2011 Par La Mer Red Rhone Blend ($25) is ready to enjoy. Their Old Vine Cab made a strong impression as well.
–Laurelhurst Cellars didn’t advertise its 2012 Late Harvest Viognier Roussane, but it’s a winner through and through. Find some if you can.
–Facelli Winery had a 2012 Chardonnay that made quite an impression. Not overly buttery or oaky, but expressive on the finish. For someone who doesn’t drink Chardonnay much, it delivered. On my next Woodinville excursion, Facelli is on the list.
Hope everyone who attended Taste Washington enjoyed their time as much as I did. Spring releases are on their way, so the tasting is just beginning!



The Hotter, the Sweeter

If you’re wondering what pairs well with curry, you’re not alone. There are more opinions on the subject than there are curries and the range is “just go with a beer” to any off dry wine you like.

The crux of the quandary is the amount of heat from the chilies and the alcohol. I read somewhere that chili heat and warmth of alcohol hit the same receptors on your palate, so when you have a lot of heat and high alcohol, the burning sensation is intensified.

Pairing wine with curry is tricky and it gets trickier the hotter the curry is. Some like their curry hot, some do not. It’s a lot like wine in that respect; it’s only a good if you like it.

Are you fond of the rush from Ghost Peppers, which clock in at 460,000 Scoville Heat Units? If so, fire away with a fruity 16% California Zinfandel or a beer. (For reference, the jalapeño rates from 2,500 –10,000 SHU depending on where and how it’s grown.)

But if you’re more likely to be in the 10,000 SHU, the pairing should be a low alcohol wine ranging around 10 to 12.5% alcohol with a lot of up front fruit.

In my experience, what pairs well with curry is a refreshing contrast to the heat of the food. Take a bite of curried chicken and put out the flames with something cold and sweet. The sugar or fruity sweetness and cold supplies that contrast. It can be actual unfermented sugars or residual sugars or it may be just a ripe fruity red with low alcohol.

Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s most underrated and versatile varietals. Chenin Blanc is the grape that made France’s Loire Valley Vouvray famous. And they can be sweet, dry, dessert, sparkling in so many delicious ways.


But Chenin Blanc suffers from an image problem, so I’m here to convince you to try one with the chicken or pork curry recipes submitted by Ann Vogel. The high acidity, low alcohol and fruity character would compliment either of these curry recipes.

Chenin Blanc is a vigorous vine and has a tendency to bud early and ripen late. These attributes have made it the workhorse in California’s Central Valley where it is blended with Columbard and Thompson Seedless and sold in jugs – with handles on them.

But grown under the conditions of  the cool Loire Valley, with its chalky soils, it can produce a wider range of styles, from bone dry to real sweet and even sparkling. Chenin Blanc can vary from thin with high acidity (where it is over cropped) to minerally and crisp, with intense fruit and the ability to age gracefully.

The aromas and flavors of Chenin can be citrus, floral and sometimes tropical. Older vineyards have wonderful floral aromatics, body and minerality that make the grape so delicious.

Here are a few Chenin Blancs, highly recommended and most are from vineyards over 30 years old.

Pontin del Roza 2012 Yakima Valley Chenin Blanc is, I must say, one of my all time favorites. I sold gallons of this in my day. The Pontin family has been farming along the Roza Canal in the Yakima Valley for over 40 years. In the 1980s, they began planting vineyards. This little sweetie, at 2.8% residual sugar, is all pears, melon and lemon zest aromas with wonderful peachy, flavors and a crisp clean finish.

L’Ecole No. 41 2012 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc is sold out but the 2013 will be released this spring. Be ready! This is sourced from one of the older vineyards in Washington. This wine has that enticing pear, peach and nectarine aromas with floral hints and fresh tropical flavors balanced by a crisp, citrusy finish. $14

Kiona Columbia Valley 2013 Chenin Blanc is another Old Vine Wine that is made in a crisp, clean style with peach and apricot flavors and mouthwatering acidity that balances the sweetness. The finish has a lovely mineral quality. $15

Hestia Cellars 2011 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc is a delightful wine that offers an enticing nose of pear, peach, and honeysuckle with a hint of minerals. The fruit is intense with that wonderful ripe fruit, wet stone and slightly honeyed yet dry finish. Around $16

Cedergreen 2011 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc this dry wine, 13.8%, is sourced from 32 year old vines off Snipes Road. It may be tough to find since there were only 70 cases made. But they’ll release the next vintage this spring. I love this wine for its minerality, pear and melon flavors and creaminess. $17

McKinley Springs 2009 Horse Heaven Hills Chenin Blanc is also made in a dry style that reminds me of the spring trip in the Loire Valley. Heaven! Also from a vineyard planted in 1981, the aromas of pear, peach, honeysuckle and orange blossoms are wonderful. The ripe fruit flavors are apple and citrus with a lovely touch of minerality, spice and dry finish. A bargain at $14.

Alas, Chenin Blanc will never be popular like Chardonnay but for wine lovers and the adventuresome, it’s worth seeking out. It could surely use your support.

What to Drink – Idilico Albariño

What a lovely start to the New Year! A friend dropped in for the annual open house and left without his hat. A few days later, I dropped by his house and reunited the hat and the head.

But the best part was I dropped by at dinnertime. They invited me in for a glass of wine.  And a little week night supper of fried rice to boot.

But back to the wine… It was a Washington winery that I had never heard of and a grape they had never heard of – Idilico and Albariño respectively. Both were quite a surprise to me. I had no idea Washington was growing Albariño.

Winemaker Javier Alfonso, a native of Spain, believes eastern Washington is much like the wine regions of Spain with dry, desert-like climate with hot days and chilly nights. He figures the climate in eastern Washington is very similar to the climate in northwestern Spain’s Rias Baixas wine region where Albariño originates.

Washington’s Idilico Winery is really into Spanish varietals. What other Spanish grapes do they produce you ask? Well, there’s Tempranillo, a juicy and luscious Garnacha (Grenache), Monastrell (Mourvèdre), Graciano and the rare but stunning Albariño

Finicky Albariño is a quality varietal but it’s low yielding. And its skins are thick so the pulp to skin ration is very different from other white grapes.

This Albariño is from a 6 acre planting of in a cooler area of the Yakima Valley north of Prosser. The wine was fermented and aged sur lie in stainless steel for three months.

The wine has the full spectrum of floral, almond and white peach aromas with the stone fruit flavors of apricots, peaches with a bit of citrus to make it really bright. Albariño has bracing acidity from those cool nights and should be consumed in its youth as it rarely ages.

As you might imagine, production of these varietals in Washington is still very small. Their website charmingly explains, “We would like to apologize in advance if finding our wines proves to be difficult. In an attempt to help you locate the wines we will start giving updates via our Facebook Page which you can access below. Happy hunting!

Your fail safe option is to contact your favorite wine shop and ask them to order any available Idilico wines for you. Don’t be intimidated, this is done by good wine retailers all the time. Just let them know which distributor carries the wine in your area.”

Elliott Bay Distributing distributes their wines in our area and the cost about $15. Enjoy!

The Vegetable Wine

I’ve tasted wine made from vegetables. Rhubarb is probably my favorite vegetable wine. Once a home winemaker gave me a bottle of his onion wine, but when he handed it to me he said, “Don’t drink it, use it for marinade.” I took his wine and his good advice.
However, if ever there was a wine to pair with vegetables, Sauvignon Blanc would be the winner. Whether it’s peas, olives, a salad with celery, cucumbers and bell peppers, or even the wine tricky asparagus and artichokes, this is the one!  It’s a touchdown with Ann Vogel’s cauliflower and broccoli recipes.
Sauvignon Blanc’s aromas range from grass, hay, bell pepper, to the citrus grapefruit, lemon zest, green apples, gooseberries and in some soils, lots of minerals. The flavor profile is similar with refreshing, lively acidity that makes this grape so vegetable, fish and cheese friendly.
But Sauvignon Blanc didn’t have an easy childhood in the U.S. The name was a drawback. Then, early in the 1970s, Robert Mondavi, California’s biggest wine promoter, renamed it Fume Blanc. That did the trick, easier to ask for than Sauvignon Blanc, it soon enjoyed enormous success. The 2011 vintage is, according to the website, “a beautiful, Sancerre-like balance of citrusy fruit and herbal flavors – citrus, honeydew, lemon verbena – with cleansing minerality and racy acidity.”
Washington’s Chinook Winery’s Sauvignon Blanc has always been a favorite because of its racy acidity, citrus and herb flavors that pair so well with fish, cheese and vegetables. From their website, this 2012 “medium bodied wine shows a very impressive balance between the generous pear and citrus fruits and the crisp acidity.” Around $18.
A relatively vigorous vine, Sauvignon Blanc adapts easily to different kinds of terrior. As an early ripener, growing in colder climates doesn’t pose too much of a problem. It even does well in warmer regions as its naturally high acidity allows it to retain its zinginess even in warmer areas. However, as any grape variety will tell you if it could talk, bring on the bright sunshine and a dry harvest!
This green skinned grape is widely planted around the world. In France, you’ll find it under the name of regions such as Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, and Quincy from the Loire Valley.  In Bordeaux, Graves, Entre-Deux-Mers and Sauterne are the regions that excel with this grape, however, in these regions, Sauvignon Blanc is almost always blended with Sémillon and occasionally Muscadelle. This is particularly true when making a Sauterne.
Australia’s Margaret River wine region also makes a habit of blending their Sauvignon Blanc with Semillon but this is more in the fashion of the dry white Bordeaux wines.
A decade or so ago, New Zealand burst onto the wine world with this grape as their standard bearer. Today, the wine region of Marlborough at the northern tip New Zealand produces more Sauvignon Blanc than all of France put together.
Other areas where you would find this grape, although not to the extent of France and New Zealand, are Chile, South Africa, and the cool yet sunny alpine slopes of Alto Adige in Italy.
The biggest production of Sauvignon Blanc is the United States. Both California and Washington are big contributors with a smattering from Oregon and Idaho.
And here’s a fun fact for all the I-prefer-red-wine drinkers out there. In 1997, DNA fingerprinting pegged the green skinned Sauvignon Blanc grape as a parent of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. It’s believed this ‘marriage’ with Cabernet Franc happened in Bordeaux around the 18th Century.
The two Sauvignons have a lot in common: name, point of origin, characteristic bell pepper and herbaceous aromas and flavors, vigorous vines that produce large crops and overly dense canopies.
Both parent and offspring are now two of the most widely planted grape varieties in the wine world.