Happy New Year! While many will enjoy a special bottle and
splendid dinner to ring in the New Year, the pop of a cork and all
those delicious tiny bubbles will be part of the celebration too.
Champagne is an enigma, a white wine made from primarily red
grapes. The actual invention of champagne is often attributed to a
Benedictine Monk by the name of Dom Pérignon. Which is not exactly
accurate, he didn’t invent Champagne, he refined it. Among his many
refinements was the perfect stopper for the wine previously known
as “devil’s brew” since it kept exploding and sending the rags
flying. You see, before the cork and bale, the monks used
rags to stopper the wine, hence the flying rags.
As in most regions in France, the Champagne region was first
planted to the vine by the Romans. Later the monks took over the
vineyards, the winemaking and nursing the community with wine – a
healthier option than water at the time. Wine and beer for
that matter, were drunk by everyone, kings and commoners.
Champagne’s glamorous lifestyle began back in 1429. That’s when
the first French king was crowned in Rheims Cathedral. Of course,
Champagne was served as part of festivities and for every
coronation thereafter. Other rulers saw the stars, Czar Nicholas
ordered his Roederer Cristal by the boatload and we all know that
Napoleon would arrive at Moet y Chandon for a tipple of Dom
Pérignon before riding off to his next military campaign.
Today, there are 86,500 acres of vineyards producing 200 million
bottles of Champagne every year. The increased demand for
Champagne, combined with the meticulous process of production, from
véraison to aging in vast cellars, has resulted in Champagne as a
symbol of prestige and celebration all over the world.
It’s the attention to detail that makes Champagne one of the
world’s most sought after beverages. That and the soil, the grapes,
the climate and the labor intensive winemaking that make this wine
The method of making Champagne or Méthode Champenoise is
complicated and long. And starts with the usual alcoholic
fermentation. The wine then undergoes a second fermentation inside
the bottle. Making the wine sparkling is the primary reason for
this but along the way aromatics develop in concert with those tiny
By law, the harvested grapes must have enough sugar to produce
10 to 11 percent alcohol. Champagne is the only region that does
not permit mechanical harvesting. Every single grape is picked by
hand. Thousands of hands from all over France descend upon
Champagne at harvest time. Picking starts at dawn and avoids the
excessive sun at midday to avoid spontaneous fermentation.
Then the grapes are brought to the press room which is usually
very close to the vineyards. This first pressing is, of course, the
best. It’s the cleanest with no color or tannins from the skin or
seeds. The statutory level for the first press is 8,800 pounds of
grapes, with a maximum 670 gallons collected. A second compression
is allowed and provides 130 gallons.
Fermentation vats are predominantly stainless steel with a few
oak barrels of various sizes scattered here and there around the
region. When the wine has finished the first fermentation, sometime
in March or April, the assemblage begins. This is the
winemaker’s most challenging task, tasting the blends of the
different wines from different vats to find the ones that will make
up that final house blend.
To the final blend, a liqueur de tirage is added. The
tirage is a blend of carefully constructed wine, sugar and yeast.
This is the stuff that will ensure those tiny bubbles. Once the
tirage is added, the bottle is capped, and taken to the cellar and
placed in pupitres which are wooden racks with holes in
them. The bottles are placed at an angle so the top is down and the
punt end is up.
rotates every bottle with a quick one quarter turn at least four
times a day to shake the spent yeast down into the neck of the
bottle. Remuers are being replaced by machines in the larger
cellars but the technique is important to the making of Champagne.
This goes on for about 18 months.
The last major step is disgorgement and corking the
bottle. To disgorge the dead yeast cells in the bottle, the top of
the bottle neck is frozen and the bottle cap removed. All the
pressure that has built up sends the plug of spent yeast cells
The next step, the wine has its final dosage, another
sugar and wine solution, and then it is corked. The bale holds the
cork in place. The label goes on, it’s boxed up and distributed
throughout the world to celebrate births, weddings, birthdays,
Mother’s Day, promotions, ship launches, the Seahawks repeating,
and ringing in every New Year.
As you’ve read, Champagne is complex and celebratory. Many
books have been written about its deliciousness. My favorite is by
Don & Petie Kaldstrup, Champagne, How the world’s most
glamorous wine triumphed over war and hard times. It’s highly
entertaining and solves the mystery of why there are so many
Champagne houses with German and Dutch surnames.
Cheers to you! May your New Year be bright and bubbly!
With all the hot weather through July and now into August, the
harvest season is in fast forward mode. So, I’ve been plotting what
to do with all that blackberry bounty.It looks like a record crop
of that sweet luscious fruit and for the truly ambitious that means
lots of wine, cordials, syrup, sauces and cake.
Blackberries, as everyone in Western Washington knows, are
sweet, dark-colored berries that can effortlessly become invasive.
They are extremely variable, because they freely cross with other
blackberries and raspberries.
There are many types of blackberries including the erect ones
from the eastern United States, the Eastern trailing, Southeastern
trailing, and the Pacific Coast trailing types. All of these
different parents have crossed and recrossed to produce the many
cultivars we have today. And sometimes that’s a good thing, for
example, now there are thornless blackberries.
Blackberries are known for their flesh slashing thorns and the
way they trip you up while walking along the trail. Many love the
fruit, but the thorns bring fear and suffering and the seeds get
stuck between your teeth causing you to sprint for the floss.
But we can forgive them their trespasses because of the luscious
goodness they can turn into. First and foremost, blackberry wine.
Having judged a number of county fairs over the years, I’ve tasted
some very, very good blackberry wines.
And I have made my share of blackberry wines. It’s easy,
inexpensive and you get to do it your way. You know, the right
The most important part of fermentation process is to keep
anything in contact with your wine, super clean and sterile. Gloves
and a pot of boiling water to sterilize equipment are
Equipment needed includes a covered fermenting vessel, a small
mesh bag to contain the fruit sediment, siphoning hose, airlock,
and two carboys. Two, actually, because you’ll need to siphon the
wine off the lees after the first 10 – 12 days of fermentation. And
this will need to be done at least three of four times to clarify
the wine and to prevent it from developing off flavors.
You can purchase your yeast, yeast nutrient and Camden tablets
from Bill Sproules of Olympic Brewing Supplies in East Bremerton.
His store has all the equipment you need to make wonderful
blackberry wines. They even have it in a can if you want to skip
the picking part.
Bill is also an excellent resource for winemakers, new and
experienced. He has recipes or you can follow one of the many to be
After the picking is over and your wine has been fermented,
racked, fermented a second time, bottles and aged for about three
to six months, try this recipe for Blackberry Wine Cake.
You’ll need a package white cake mix, 3 oz. blackberry flavored
gelatin, 4 eggs, 1/2 cup vegetable oil and a cup or your blackberry
wine. Mix all ingredients together. Bake in a greased
tube pan at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Prepare a glaze of 1 cup
powdered sugar and 1/2 cup of blackberry wine. Pour over cake.
Other easy ways to enjoy the bounty of blackberries is to make a
cordial. This is super easy. You’ll need equal parts, of vodka,
Cognac or brandy, sugar and berries. Put all ingredients into a big
jar and cover. Agitate it every now and then until the color is
good and the berries have completely macerated about two weeks.
Strain and pour into bottles. Seal tightly and store in a cool
place for at least 2 weeks. Adding spices to the mix makes it way
more interesting. Try a few whole cloves, black peppercorns,
cardamom pods, or cinnamon sticks for more complex nuances in your
Besides the quick and easy cordial, another way to enjoy the
bright burst of color and taste is blackberry syrup. It can
brighten up many dishes. You can splash it into a glass of
champagne, drizzle it over waffles, or flavor a sauce for a roasted
pork loin. You can muddle it with mint or a myriad of other
herbs then top it off with a splash of soda for the ultimate al
fresco cocktail. Or transfer it to a bottle, decorate with pretty
paper and twine, and voila! A hostess gift!
Blackberries also freeze very well. Rinse under cold water. Lay
evenly on a baking tray and put in the freezer. When frozen, put
them in a plastic bag for later use.
There are a few Pacific Northwest wineries that make a delicious
blackberry wine. My favorite is Pasek Cellars. Pasek Cellars in
Mount Vernon has been making fruit wine for about 20 years. And you
may have tasted this too if you have had a bottle of the Bremerton
Blackberry Festival wine made by Pasek Cellars.
Their fruit wines have garnered quite a few gold medals and
include a Blackberry that is vibrant with sun-drenched berry
flavors (both dessert and not dessert), Cranberry (perfect with
turkey), Loganberry and Raspberry. They also make a unique dessert
wine – Arabica, a coffee dessert wine. I’ve had their wines and
hand on heart, swear they’re terrific.
I may have tried the Wild Vines Blackberry Merlot sometime in
the not so distant past. This fruity blend is made in Modesto,
California by the largest wine producer in the world. I only
mention this because it inspired me to blend last year’s blackberry
wine with a Cabernet concentrate I purchase from Bill Sproules at
Olympic Brewing Supplies. It’ll be a few months before I can report
on this blend.
Other Northwest wineries that make blackberry wine are
Honeywood, Hoodsport, Nehalem Bay, Northwest Mountain Winery, Sky
River Blackberry Mead, Wasson Brothers Winery and Westport Winery.
What do you get when you add eight blondes, four brunettes, one
bachelorette and wine?
My trip to Napa Valley.
Yes, my first-ever trip to Napa was for my college friend
Courteney’s bachelorette weekend. She made it clear she wanted to
be surrounded by her closest friends and wine for her last hurrah,
and those who know Courto know she always gets her way.
And lets be honest, what wine lover would say no to a trip to
California wine country?
So the tickets were bought, a house rented in Napa, a limo
booked. We arrived Friday and set out early Saturday morning on our
We hit all these spots, plus one, on Saturday. I’ll write about
each stop, the wines we tried, and my overall impressions.
We also ventured to Sonoma on Sunday to kill time before our
flight. Those of you who recommended Sonoma over Napa were
definitely on the mark. I felt downtown Sonoma fit my
preconceptions of what I’d experience while there. We also stumbled
into a tasting room while we were there. The wines were superb — in
fact I think they were better than most we tried the day before in
Napa. (More on that later).
A couple other observations: I went to Napa expecting to try
some delicious, full-bodied, oak-filled Chardonnays. In fact I was
really looking forward to trying California Chardonnays in
California. So you can only imagine my disappointment when the
three wineries that served us Chardonnay served us what they
proudly proclaimed to be unusual Chards for California — no
malolactic fermentation, no oak and lots of citrus. (I’m convinced
there’s a small revolution brewing in California where winemakers
are rebelling against the oaky Chards they’re known for.)
My other observation has to do with the Cabernet Sauvignons we
tried. Many were blended with other varietals and almost all that I
tried left my mouth dry on the finish — like bone dry.
This really surprised me. I can’t say why I was left with a dry
finish. Maybe it was the style in which they were made? Or because
the terroir is different from the Washington growing regions, which
results in a different wine? Regardless, that’s what I took
away from my tastings: the Napa Cabs are dry. They were delicious,
don’t get me wrong, but they were dry.
And finally, my review of the wines we tried on our four-stop
To start, let me say I loved everything about this winery. While
the weather was downright cold, we were still able to imagine
spending a hot summer day sipping wine on the deck overlooking the
winery’s lush gardens with the vineyards in the distance. They’ve
created an ambiance reminiscent of a cozy house, where when you
walk in, you instantly feel like making yourself at home.
(Sidenote, no one lives at the winery except for the cat).
The wines match that “sit, sip, stay a while” impression, making
you second-guess your decision to leave for another winery when it
comes time to go.
We were given the star treatment while we were there, which also
made our experience that much more enjoyable — it helps that one of
our bachelorette attendees was the sister-in-law of a winery
Tasting flight included:
2009 Frog’s Leap Chardonnay (Napa): One-third
of this wine was aged in stainless steel tanks, while the rest was
kept in neutral oak. This resulted in a Chardonnay that had no oak
tones (and subsequently no butter on the finish). It did however
have a strong citrus impression, which was noticeable immediately
on the nose. This Chardonnay is described by the winery as having a
“mineral-and-slate essence” which I would say is correct.
Everything about the wine is cold, which makes it a good choice to
drink while trying to cool off on a hot day. The finish is
described as “clean” by winemaker John Williams, and I’d have to
agree100 percent. I found the finish tart, leaving my mouth to
pucker ever so slightly, reminding me green apples.
2008 Frog’s Leap Merlot (Ruhterford): This wine
was released two months ago, and grown on site at the winery. The
nose reminded me instantly of oak, because of the hints of
sweetness that were quickly followed by full-bodied fruit aromas.
This is a wine that instantaneously fills your nostrils and your
mouth. My first taste sent me to a state of relaxation. Flavors of
cherry and plum produce a jammyness upfront, but don’t let that
fool you into thinking this wine doesn’t have anything to offer
after that. It leaves your mouth full and the finish is smooth,
leaving you wanting more. (It left me eager to buy a bottle, which
2007 Frog’s Leap ‘Rutherford’: This is the
winery’s premium Cabernet. It’s a blend between Cabernet Sauvignon
and Cab Franc. We were told this wine would have notes of the
Rutherford AVA’s “classic dust” and boy they weren’t kidding. After
sticking my nose in the glass, all I could smell was the dust. It
actually reminded me of the smell a wineglass gets after being
inside a stuffy china cabinet for a month or two without use. I
liked this wine, but found the finish dry (see my above observation
about the dryness of the Cabs we tried). I was surprised by this
because of the oak on the nose — guess I assumed the finish would
be fuller. I was wrong.
2008 Frog’s Leap Petite Sirah (Rutherford):
Maybe it’s because the woman who poured the wine planted this word
in my head, but my one-word description for this wine is “funky”.
This is a 100 percent Petite Sirah, made in a classic European
style. Only 600 cases were produced and the wine isn’t distributed
outside of the winery. This is my first experience with Petite
Sirah. Using the descriptor again, I found the nose “funky”. The
first sip was a blast of flavor, but it didn’t last. There was
virtually no finish. I asked my fellow bachelorette tasters their
impressions. Alexa said the finish reminded her of “beef jerky”.
Before anyone laughs, gaminess was actually a descriptor of the
wine — which Alexa didn’t realize when she said it. The winemaker
says the wine has hints of “tobacco, smoke and game.”
We also were given the chance to try a few more wines not on the
tasting flight list, including:
2010 Frog’s Leap La Grenouille Rougante: This
Rose was a crowd favorite with its dry finish that had just a
spritz at the end.
2008 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel (Napa): This wine
had a good nose with hints of spice. The flavor balanced spice with
its upfront jammy hints.
2008 Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa):
This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Merlot. This
was preferred to the Rutherford Cab. I found it too had a dry
Crowd favorites: I preferred the Merlot, as did
our bachelorette; the Rutherford Cab was labeled “best experience”
by Kelly, our expert Cab drinker; while Alexa (our beef jerky
connoisseur) opted to label the Zin her favorite. Carly was so
wowed by the Rose that she bought a bottle — at $14 it was hard to
With some time to kill before our next stop we used the
“two-for-one” tasting cards given to us by Frog’s Leap to visit
Grgich Hills Estate.
Grgich Hills Estate:
This fun side trip included a few snaps of the camera with the
winemaker himself: Mr. Miljenko “Mike” Grgich. (Sidenote: Mr.
Grgich was inducted into the Vintner Hall of Fame in 2008 for his
lifetime of achievements, including his showing at the 1976 Paris
Tasting where his wine outscored the best of France, thus
revolutionizing the wine world, according to the winery’s
We tried his 2008 Chardonnay, 2009 Fume
Blanc (aka Sauvignon Blanc), 2007
Zinfandel, 2006 Merlot and 2007
Cabernet Sauvignon. All of these are estate grown in
To be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed with any of the wines.
They were drinkable, but they didn’t wow my mouth. Here’s just a
few impressions I wrote down:
The Chard was another without malolactic fermentation, so there
was more citrus than oak up front. Our pourer told us Mr. Grgich
has been making his Chard this way since the 1970s, making him
unique in the region — at least at the time (again see above for my
conspiracy theory that there is a small rebellion brewing among
California winemakers to create non-oaky Chards).
The Zin had a fruity nose — definitely smelled strawberries on
this one — which surprised me and reminded me more of a Burgundy
than a Zin. I traditionally think of Zin’s as a heavier wine that
can stand up to strong dishes (think Chili, BBQ, something with a
lot of spice). This one however came across much lighter.
Lastly the Cab underwhelmed me. The nose was minimal and the
finish was almost nonexistent.
Our next stop was V. Sattui.
The primary goal on this trip: Food. We didn’t try wines here,
and frankly I’m glad. The place was a zoo. Think Disneyland for
adults. The lines at the bathroom were long, the picnic grounds
crowded and the tasting rooms packed.
After our quick nibble outside (under blankets to stay warm), we
hopped back into the limo and headed to…
Alpha Omega Winery:
This is another winery with great scenery. The tasting room
overlooks a patio area with a fountain spouting from the vineyards
out front. If it’d been warm we would have enjoyed a glass out
there, but alas we stayed indoors — where it was also a little
Our tasting included:
2010 Sauvignon Blanc (Napa): This grape is
estate grown. It was crisp with sharp citrus notes. Because of its
clean finish, I imagined enjoying this on a hot day, or with raw
oysters bathing in a vinegar shallot marinade. The winemaker
describes flavors of banana, pineapple and vanilla balanced by
crushed stone, white peach and melon. Can’t say I tasted any of
those (it has been a while since I last ate crushed stone after
all), but the wine reminded me of a crisp white Bordeaux blend.
(This makes sense because winemaker Jean Hoefliger, a Switzerland
native, spent time in Bordeaux).
2010 Chardonnay: This was yet another unoaked
Chardonnay. Fermented in stainless steel for six months, this wine
was focused on its citrus flavors.
2010 Rose (Napa): The first thing I noticed
about this wine was its deep color. We later learned the juice
spent 24 hours on the skins, which is why the color was richer than
the light pink Roses we’ve come to expect. The blend was 60 percent
Cabernet Sauvignon, 16 percent Merlot and the rest a blend between
Cab Franc and Petite Verdot. I would describe this as a dry Rose,
that offers something more for those who think they don’t like
Roses. I have to include the winery’s description of the wine
because to me they listed everything but the kitchen sink for what
you might taste in your glass. Drinkers of this wine might notice
on the nose: “touches of milk chocolate and white chocolate with
cherry, rose, strawberry, yogurt and basil.” (Really yogurt and
basil?) On the palate you could expect a “fresh entrance with an
evolution into citrus, cedar, grenadine and cherry syrup lingering
on fresh lemon zest and grapefruit.” Hmmm.
2007 Proprietary Red (Napa): This is a Bordeaux
blend of 50 percent Merlot, 39 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 7
percent Cab Franc and 4 percent Petite Verdot. The grapes were
sourced from different vineyards, including Stagecoach. I noticed
hints of oak on the palate and nose — but couldn’t discern the
“chalk” I was told I should be able to smell. (To be honest, I’m
not sure I even remember what chalk smells like. It has been a
while since I was in elementary school).
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa): Our last wine
was the Cab, which was a blend of 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 16
percent Merlot and Cab Franc and Petite Verdot. The grapes were
sourced from Stagecoach and To Kalon vineyards — two historically
well-known vineyards in Napa. This Cab had the same dry finish I
noticed with the other Cabs. This was the crowd favorite of our
Overall the wines at Alpha Omega were well-made and interesting,
which left me wanting to try them again. However for the price
points — the Cab and Proprietary Red were $84 and $86 respectively
— I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to buy them. We also got a few
good laughs out of the descriptions for the wine (you may have
noticed my poking fun at them), in part because they used
descriptions of things we’d never taste or eat (i.e. crushed stone
Our last stop of the day was Pina Winery.
Even though we called in advance and scheduled an appointment,
Clare, the only employee on hand, was not expecting us. You can
only imagine his surprise when 12 women and a baby (the bride’s
twin sister Kyle had her beautiful 9-week old daughter Ellie along)
burst into the quiet tasting room, which also doubles as the cellar
While he was a little rough at first, we finally won Clare over
after he learned most of us were fellow University of Washington
Pina is a small-scale winery, only producing 2,000 cases a year.
Their wines are largely available online, through the wine club or
for purchase from the winery. You’re probably not going to find
them in the grocery store or wine shop.
Their focus is Cabernet Sauvignon, and as Clare said: “We make
six, 100 percent Cabs that all taste different.” (However a quick
glance at their website shows only five Cabs and a Chardonnay, but
who’s counting right?)
Clare poured us four Cabs:
2008 Cahoots: This Cab has 5 percent Syrah,
which I felt lent a slight jammyness to the finish, making it less
dry than the other Cabs we’d tried. I really enjoyed this wine
because of the hints of fruit, and the lingering rich mouthfeel.
The wine exhibits black cherry, crème de cassis, graphite and
forest floor, according to the winery’s description. (We liked this
one so much, we bought five bottles).
2007 D’Adamo: This Cab is named after the
vineyard where the grapes are sourced — D’Adamo. The Pina family
leased the land and planted the vineyard in 1982. One of the four
brothers that currently run the winery manages the vineyard, which
he juggles with his day job as a tire salesman, according to Clare.
With 15.4 percent alcohol by volume, you can imagine this wine had
very dry finish. Aromas of black cherry, huckleberry and mocha were
noticeable. The winery’s description says “sweet ripe fruit” will
coat the palate and layers of oak and vanilla will follow. I don’t
recall that experience — instead I felt the wine was a bit tannic.
However with time I’m guessing the oak flavors will step up and the
tannins will subside. This would definitely be a wine that would
benefit from some time in the cellar.
2007 Howell Mountain: This wine is sourced from
the Buckeye Vineyard on Howell Mountain in Napa. It spent 20 months
on 100 percent French oak, 73 percent of it new. I quickly detected
the famous Rutherford dust on the nose again and in the finish.
(Sidenote: the grapes from this vineyard are pretty pricey, $10,000
a ton, according to Clare).
2008 Stone Corral Vineyard: This special bonus
pour was in honor of our bachelorette. It was smooth and tasty, and
honestly because it was the last wine of the day, I don’t remember
a whole lot about what it did to my mouth — I did however drink all
of it, which was the first time all day I allowed myself more than
a single sip without spitting.
A quick last thought on our Sunday visit to Sonoma. We visited
the tasting room of Eric James
Vineyards. It’s a small production winery — only 800
cases a year. We loved all of the wines we tried here — I’d put
them up there with Frog’s Leap for my favorite wines of the
We tasted a 2009 Chardonnay, which was by far
my favorite Chard of the weekend (and yes it too had minimal oak).
It reminded me of a white Burgundy, with a perfect balance of
citrus and floral notes. Next we had a 2010 Syrah
Rose — also my favorite Rose of the weekend — which was
dry but with a slight sweet note, and a 2007 Pinot
Noir, the weekend’s first.
The bouquet on the Pinot was striking and the finish lived up to
the expectations of the nose. All of the wines are around 14
percent alcohol by volume and made to pair well with food. Because
I purchased two bottles the day before and had already packed my
suitcase by the time we visited Sonoma, I didn’t buy anything.
However I wished I had. The Chardonnay and Pinot are still on my
A few weekends ago Mary and I decided to get together outside of
our regular blog meet up day. The purpose? To compare a
1996 St. Joseph with a 2006
Both of these wines are from the Northern Rhone region of France
and made with Syrah grapes.
The idea to compare the wines came up after I started asking
Mary for advice about how to decide which wines should be saved for
a few years and which wines should be had now. (That will be a
topic of a future post to come, so stay tuned).
We planned the menu for the evening: Roasted lamb marinated with
olive oil, rosemary and thyme, and roasted red potatoes and onions
seasoned with dill, parsley and basil.
We opened the 2006 Chave Crozes-Hermitage first, saving the 1996
to have with the dinner because once open it would fade.
We were surprised to find that even after four-and-a-half years,
the 2006 was tight. The color was typical of a Syrah, deep purple,
but the nose was limited to whiffs of plum. The lamb in the oven
smelled better than this wine at this point.
Eventually it did open up to a nose of violets, licorice and
Dinner was ready and we opened the 1996 Chave St. Joseph — but
not before a little difficulty with the cork, which decided to
crumble as we tried to extricate it from the bottle. Dang! No Ahso.
(You know, the corkscrew with the two metal arms that go on each
side of the cork).
A knife was inserted down the neck of the bottle to loosen the
cork’s hold. We then drilled the corkscrew into the side to get a
better hold on the cork. We met with success.
Comparing the two wines, there was a visible difference. The
1996 had a brick rim, a sign of maturity. The nose was fragrant
with plum and cinnamon, and the flavor much more subdued for a
Syrah, with a long, smooth finish.
The 1996 St. Joseph paired so nicely with the succulent lamb and
herbed red potatoes. The plum and cinnamon flavors married
perfectly with the lamb and the parsley and dill potatoes.
The 2006 Crozes-Hermitage, while tight when enjoyed by itself,
became “hot” with the lamb. This means the alcohol was much
more prominent on the finish after sipping it with the flavor of
the lamb in our mouths. We revisited the St. Joseph for the rest of
the delightful meal.
Going with the theme of trying wines that have been aged for a
few years, the next night Jeff and I dug out a bottle we had from
1999. The wine is also a Rhone style blend, but we bought it from a
Virginia winery we visited when we lived on the East Coast.
I bought the wine (along with five other bottles) four years
earlier as a gift for Jeff for Valentines Day.
We had one bottle at the time and it was as great as we
remembered from our visit to the winery. But four years later when
we opened this wine, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre,
Carignan and Tinta Cao with a splash of Viognier, our reaction was
Maybe our palates have since grown, or maybe the wine was past
its prime. We tried to drink it, but after a glass we decided it
was flat and the nose was unappealing.
I did the unthinkable, I poured out the bottle. It was painful,
but the wine was past its prime.
With one bottle left I decided I needed to bring it to Mary, to
get her expert opinion.
Her observations included:
“When we first opened it, I really enjoyed the nose. At first it
smelled of spices and orange peel, it was very appealing, but…”
But 20 minutes later, the nose had completely faded and Mary’s
reaction was that the smell reminded her of fruit flies in her
wine, and as she said “I really hate fruit flies in my wine.”
Her next comment: “It’s a tired wine, so we’re going to have to
pound this.” She was joking of course, but not about the wine being
It would be interesting to try the most recent vintage of this
wine from the winery — assuming they still make this blend — to see
if we still like it.
This is a case where we shouldn’t have held on to the wine as
long as we did. Lesson learned.
I think everyone can relate to the story I’m about to share. It
has to do with pretentiousness that surrounds wine from
time-to-time, and the people who ruin wine as they pontificate
their wine know-how to perfect strangers.
Saturday we visited three of the Bainbridge Island wineries for
the “Meet the Winemakers” weekend. (I’ll go into the wines we tried
in a separate post).
There were a number of people making the circuit, so while we
had some good one-on-one time with the winemakers, there were times
when we had to share their attention.
It was at one of the more crowded stops that Jeff (my husband)
and I encountered a person who, in my opinion, may have had one
taste too many. She wasn’t rude; in fact she was the opposite —
friendly and conversational.
But, the wine know-it-all immediately started name dropping the
Bainbridge winemakers, telling us their wines sell themselves, they
produce some of the best wine in the state, etc., etc. I
appreciated her enthusiasm, and agree there are some great wines
coming from the island, but the more she talked, the more she got
the facts wrong.
Like when she tasted a Sangiovese and claimed she could “Taste
the Bainbridge Island soil; the sunlight and the island’s
Now I don’t pretend to be a wine expert, but I do know the
basics. Including the fact that except for Gerard and Jo Ann
Bentryn, red wines made on the island come from grapes grown in
Eastern Washington. (The Bentryns grow pinot noir at their Day Road
Mind you, the label of the wine she was drinking specifically
said it was from Kiona’s Red Mountain Vineyard, which is located
near the Tri-Cities.
Clearly our new wine friend was trying to show that she knows
how terroir plays into wine. But if she knew enough to know about
terroir, she should also know Bainbridge’s reds — except for the
Bentryn’s Pinot — come from Eastern Washington.
It took everything in me not to say: “Wow you must have an
amazing palate to be able to taste the island’s soil in grapes
grown 218 miles away.”
Instead I kept my mouth shut, smiled politely and poured out the
Sangio to wait for the next red.
She however took this as a dismissal of the wine she described
as “smooth, rich and the best she’d had.” (I liked the wine, but as
a 100 percent Sangiovese, the tannins and acidity were present on
the finish, which did not leave me thinking “smooth”).
Didn’t we like it?
Very much but we’re pacing ourselves, I replied, secretly
thinking: “Maybe you should do the same.”
Let me end this post with some advice. If you’re at a tasting,
pace yourself. Don’t feel bad pouring out after a sip or two, or
spitting. Winemakers won’t be insulted.
In fact, they’re more likely to get insulted when it appears
you’re drinking for the buzz and not to appreciate the hard work
they put in to making it.
I know I’m not the only one who has a story about a run-in with
a pretentious wine drinker. If you can, please share your stories
so we can all chuckle — and remind ourselves not to get caught up
in how much we know about wine.
While dining at a newly opened restaurant on the other side of
the water, my husband and I (along with a group of friends)
experienced an over-eager server whose enthusiasm spilled over into
everything she did — including our wine.
I won’t name the restaurant because I don’t want to deter anyone
from going there, but the experience left everyone in our party
talking about the fact that our young server didn’t realize the
etiquette of the perfect pour. (This led my husband to suggest we
address wine pouring on the blog).
Before we get to wine pouring guidelines, a little scene setting
from the evening:
A group of 10 of us got together in January to meet a friend’s
fiancée for the first time. We decided the best bet for our money
would be to order wine by the bottle. Each couple would buy one
bottle as the one we were drinking ran out.
The problem was, the server would pour about half of the bottle
in one glass, instead of making it last between four glasses. While
smart for her employer — hey if we drink the wine quicker we have
to buy more, right? — it left us feeling like we were never going
to see the bottom of our glasses.
One friend joked our server had just turned 21 so she was
probably pouring like she would for herself — almost to the top of
But pouring a wine to the top prohibits swirling to get the full
bouquet, and in my opinion takes away part of the enjoyment of
I mentioned to Mary the wine drama we experienced at dinner (our
server also refilled my friend’s glass that still had Malbec in it
with Rioja) and asked her if there was a “wine pouring protocol”
that people should follow.
Here’s her advice:
Following protocol with friends may get you the raised eyebrow
but it’s good for everyone to know how to serve wine.
Here are some steps to follow to pour each glass like a
Wine should be ready to go, meaning chill the white and
sparkling wines; reds should be around 60 degrees. Temperature
impacts a wine’s flavor. Chilled wine masks some imperfections —
good for young or inexpensive white wines. However, a chilled red
will accentuate the harsh tannins. If serving an old bottle of
wine, stand it up for a day to let the sediment fall to the
Everyone has a favorite glass shape. (Check out our post for
further details on finding the perfect wine glass). With the
appropriate glass picked out, make sure it’s clean – if it smells
like the cupboards, or soap used after its last rinse, try air
cleaning. Stand clear of counters, tables, chairs, etc. and
dramatically ring the glass like a bell, throwing your arm up and
down in the air. If that doesn’t do the trick, rinse it thoroughly
Opening the bottle
If serving an older wine keep it upright and don’t jiggle it too
much — remember sediment is on the bottom. Decant the wine by
pouring it into a container. The wider the opening of the
container, the easier it is for air to reach the wine. (This is
good if the wine is young and tight, but not so good if the wine is
Decanting improves flavor of tight wines, because more air goes
into the wine as you pour. (Remember to be gentle on the older
How to pour
Leave each wine glass on the table. Pour toward the center of
the glass, and fill it just under half way. Give the bottle a half
twist at the end of the pour to prevent dripping. Face the label
toward guests so they see what they’re drinking.
Serve women and older guests first, then men and end with yourself.
Never fill the glass to the brim or the wine police will be
How to enjoy
With the glass just about half full, you have room to swirl.
Swirling aerates the wine. With base of the wine glass firmly on
the table, make little circles. If the glass is too full you’ll
make a mess, so while you might want to devour the wine right away,
less is better in this case. Stick your nose in the glass and
breathe in with your lips slightly parted — you pick up the scents
better that way.
After enjoying the aroma, take a small taste — put your chin to
your chest and try sucking air in through your lips with the wine
in your mouth. It helps aerate the wine, and gives you more
In a recent “What we’re drinking” post,
Brynn talked about the Novelty Hill
Red wine that she enjoyed at a friend’s house. Later,
she snagged a bottle of the same wine, but it didn’t wow her like
it had before.
Have you ever had a glass of wine and not finished the bottle?
OK, maybe several bottles were opened and you drained one that was
fantastic and the other was put to the side. And then came back to
it a few days later and it too was fantastic?
Someone in the wine industry once said: “Each day a bottle of is
open is equivalent to a year’s worth of age.”
Back to that unfinished bottle: Which glass of wine was better?
The freshly opened glass? Or the dregs of the bottle?
There is no right or wrong answer; it’s just another piece to
the what-you-want-in-a-wine-puzzle. Some palates prefer the fresh
fruity, bright flavors of the younger wines. Others prefer a more
intense fragrance, and smoother taste of the aged wine. You make
Back when the British ruled the waves, most red wines were made
in a style that mandated laying it down for a decade or two.
Fast-forward to the past fifteen years or so and the winemaking
styles have changed to keep up with demand.
I attribute the change to the wine cooler hay day. Wine coolers
in my mind are a wine with training wheels. And it’s a drink-me-now
kind of wine because all the chips are stacked in the fruit
More and more people were drinking more and more wine. Laying
down a wine was not as important as it had been and wineries began
pumping out wine to be drunk in the near term.
But always on the other end of the spectrum will be aged wine.
This wine’s flower of youth has faded and what’s left falls more on
the mineral spectrum of the tasting wheel. Flavors like pencil
lead, cedar, tobacco, gravel and mushrooms will be the highlight of
Some wines are meant to be kept a few years, others drunk right
away. If you prefer the fruity, crisp, oaky wines, stick to
drinking vintage. If you want to give wine time to mature, think
about buying two bottles — one for now and one to lay down for a
year or two to see how it changes with age (just remember to save
your notes from the first time you drank it).
It was Colonel Mustard in the cellar with a wine bottle.
He was perusing labels, trying to determine which wine to decant
for his dinner party at eight.
Peking duck was the entrée. The cook, Mrs. White, had hung the
duck with a rope near the stove to cure it for the required 48
hours. It was a dish he had enjoyed many times in the Far East. Ah,
but duck is a dense red meat. He needed wine with some heft to it,
not too strong, but with infinite balance. And it had to be red,
even if it was fowl.
He picked up a bottle to read the label: Los Bravos Mendoza
Malbec 2009. An Argentinean wine harvested in March 2009, the
Malbec was a young wine made in the new world style, meaning it
would have quite a bit of fruit up front. The alcohol level was
nicely balanced at 13.5 percent, making the wine not too hot and
The Colonel stood there looking from the Malbec to the Barbera
d’Alba. The Barbera, from the Alba region in northwestern Italy,
was also young and being mountain grown, had plenty of acidity to
stand up to the duck. However, the label said 14.5 percent
This is a wine that could pack a wallop.
He put the bottles down and picked up a bottle of Bordeaux. With
a decent alcohol level of 13 percent, was too old for the dish —
there wasn’t enough fruit left in that left bank Cabernet to
balance the richness of the duck.
Remembering the timeless adage: “Old before young; white before
red” and most importantly “dry before sweet”, he rummaged around in
the white bins. Preceding the duck was a little bit of sole, a
simple white fish.
A Sardinian Vermentino, light and crisp, or a German Riesling in
the Kabinett style from Berkasteler — not a really sweet one he
could tell from the alcohol level. At 12 percent, the yeast had
converted most of the fruit sugars to alcohol.
The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough was a bit too
strong in flavor for the delicate sole.
The 5-year-old Chablis caught his eye. Made from the Chardonnay
grape and grown in limestone soil in northern France’s Burgundy
region, the Colonel decided it was a great match. Oak is used
sparingly and the alcohol is in the right parameters – 13.5
percent. It’s crisp yet silky; has perfectly balanced acidity,
alcohol and fruit.
And Chardonnay was the favorite grape of Miss Scarlett.
That settled he went back to the red labels. The California
Zinfandel always has a fantastic quantity of fruit, but the alcohol
level on the Turley was 16.9 percent! Even though it was a favorite
of Professor Plum, it could be a bit hot for the duck.
Lastly his eyes settled on a Washington State Syrah from a
winery in Walla Walla. The grapes were harvested from Sagemoor Vineyards, one of the
oldest vineyards in the Columbia Valley. A very nice pedigree.
A few years of age, and not too over the top with the alcohol,
according to the label.
“I say, this could be the one,” he said out loud.
The pleasure of a port, a mature, vintage port after the meal
would be an outstanding culmination to the dinner, he thought.
This sumptuous, mellow fortified wine’s quality is due in part
to the quality of the brandy used to kill the yeast before it
converts all the sugar from the grapes into alcohol. The yeast just
can’t live in such an environment. This arrest of fermentation,
that leaves unfermented sugars in the wine, is the answer to port’s
sweet, high alcoholic (20 percent) flavors.
It would be best enjoyed with the saltiness of the Double
Gloucester and toasted walnuts Miss White would serve after
Since a vintage port is made only in the best of years, anything
with a year on it would do nicely. The Reverend Mr. Green was
particularly fond of the 1997 vintage, so the Colonel picked up a
Dow’s and smiled in anticipation of the night’s festivities.
To be continued…
(Want more clues? Return to “Cheers to You” tomorrow).