Cheers To You An exploration of all things wine with local wine expert Mary Earl.

All posts by Mary Earl

Wine, Winemaking and When to Age

Fermentation is the process of turning grape or other fruits into a very pleasant alcoholic beverage. During fermentation, the little yeastie beasties dine on the fruit sugars and belch out ethanol and carbon dioxide. Temperature, oxygen and length of fermentation are the important factors in finished wines as well as the type of fermentation vessels used.

Various fermentations contribute varied flavors and components to the finished wine. The type of vessel used also puts its own unique stamp on a wine. Stainless steel tanks, common for whites, emphasize fruitiness; wooden barrels are porous, concentrate a wine and pick up flavors from the wood; and secondary fermentation in the bottle is essential for those tiny bubbles.

And then there are vessels made of concrete. Unknown to me until the early ’80s, concrete fermentation tanks have been around for a couple of centuries. While touring the original historic Chateau Ste. Michelle facility at Grandview, I was awestruck by the large square concrete vats sunk into the ground that were used in the early days of Chateau Ste Michelle. The railings surrounding them provided winemakers some measure of safety while punching down the caps.

Another historic winery in the heart of the Napa Valley, Louis Martini, also fermented its award-winning red in concrete vats well into the 1990s. I always found the reds — especially the Cabernets from Monte Rosso — to be more old-world in style, more balanced, more rounded and with less alcohol than Martini’s Napa neighbors. Perhaps because of the concrete vats?

Concrete, in an improved shape, is making a comeback in the wine industry. Concrete in the shape of an egg has an inside surface with tiny pockets of air that refill each time the tank is emptied. These smidgens of oxygen enhance aromatics, tame tannins and increase mouthfeel. Unlike oak, it’s neutral, easy to maintain and more affordable.

While touring and tasting at Force Majuere in Woodinville, I first glimpsed the egg-shaped contraption, brought north by former California winemaker Todd Alexander. There is a considerable difference in the wines that spend time in concrete.

Some winemakers believe the thick concrete walls guard against abrupt temperature swings, keeping the fermenting wines naturally cool — a distinct advantage for some warmer climes of the world.

Cool and constant temperatures are always beneficial for wine. Take the 75 bottles of Veuve Cliquot Champagne, for example, still sparkling and youthful after spending 170 years in the cellar of the shipwrecked Titanic submerged in the Atlantic Ocean.

Balance is the brass ring that winemakers strive for when producing a wine for the cellar. Another factor that influences the taste of your wine and whether it will age gracefully would be the method of closure.

There is nothing like the transformation that occurs at the sound of a cork popping. There are few other sounds in the world quite the same.  Pop announces the party.

But cork has had its problems and because of those problems, alternatives to cork have emerged that don’t quite have the proper party announcement. Plastic corks, glass stoppers and screwcaps all influence your wine in their own inimitable way.

Still, cork is the most common seal for wine bottles, accounting for 70 percent of all wine stoppers in the world. It was used on 95 percent of wines produced at its peak in the 1990s. And 93 percent of consumers say natural cork signifies a quality wine. More than 12 billion cork stoppers are produced each year, mainly from cork forests in Portugal and Spain.

The downfall of the cork in the late 20th century was the excessive cork taint in 10-20 percent of wines produced. Caused by trichloroanisole (or TCA), cork taint will make your wine smell moldy or like wet cardboard, and the taste is just plain flat. Not something you want to happen to that special bottle you’ve been saving for that very special occasion.

To protect their wines from TCA, some winemakers started using plastic corks on their bottling lines. They’re resistant to TCA but their downfall is fit. Unlike cork they can’t adapt their size in the neck of the bottle and the result is an imperfect fit. A loose fit can let in too much air and then you have an oxidized special occasion wine, flat tasting but without the moldy aroma.

And then there is the ubiquitous screw cap. Their advantages are twofold. Screw caps maintain a tight seal, so oxidation is eliminated. And they’re mighty convenient. Just a simple twist, craaaccck and pour!

Whether your wine is sealed with cork, plastic or a screw cap will determine whether you want to cellar it or drink it near term. Cork is still the best and most favored closure for cellaring, and TCA, while not eliminated, has been significantly controlled. Plastic is wrong on many fronts, and screw caps are the best for wines consumed within a year of bottling.

And now, finally to Italy for a wine fiasco. Around the 1500s, bottles were slowly replacing wooden kegs. They were, of course, mouth-blown glass and were more balloon shape than Bordeaux shape. These balloon-shaped bottles were round, so rolling around is what they did naturally whether on the supper table or in an ox cart on the way to market.

This disaster waiting to happen was prevented by the swamp grass basket the village women wove around each bottle. A fiasco is now also known as a round bottle with straw woven around its bottom that you can put a candle in when you’ve finished the wine. Cin cin! (Italian for “Cheers!”)

Matching Food and Wine

One of the greatest dining pleasures is to find a wine or beer or any beverage really that enhances the delights of both the drink and the dish.

Paradiso del Sol Winery in Zillah has a very unique wine tasting experience. The sips, the bite, and a last sip is the Paradiso’s Experience. No bread, oyster or wine crackers here. Instead each of their wines is paired to a droplet of food.

The morsels are presented on a small plate with a tasting sheet that explains what each bite is and the wine that it is paired with. Nine wines, including whites, roses, reds and deserts, and those tiny bites give you that heightened sensory experience.

The Paradiso Oyster White, a barrel fermented Semillon was paired with brie. One of the best matches I’ve found for that particular cheese. Their Sangiovese – the grape of Tuscany – was paired with a wonderful pepperoni from Glondo’s. A traditional and unfailing pairing. For their red blend, winemaker and owner Paul Vandenberg blended together Sangiovese and Tempranillo, a grape indigenous to Spain. This was also a more traditional pairing with a bleu cheese.

For something on the sweet side, a ruby Angelica made from Zinfandel, a highly brambly fruited wine was paired with dark chocolate. And we all know that fruit and chocolate play well together.

Other tasting occasions for pairing wine and food and people are something I’ve done regularly over the years. Donating a wine tasting for a good cause is something I enjoy doing. It is especially rewarding when I hear a diner say something to the effect, “I don’t like Chardonnay but with this, I actually like it!” It’s all in the way it’s presented. Right?

For the latest fabulous wine tasting to benefit United Way of Kitsap County, my gypsy friend and I opened the gates to a new dining adventure for Steve and Betty and eight of their best friends. We began with Spanish Carrots in a sherry vinegar, garlic, cumin and olive oil that was paired with the Atrevida 2014 Mendoza Chardonnay. This four-year-old Chardonnay had understated oak, bright fruit and a crispness that matched the vinegar and the weight of the carrot marched the weight of the wine.

The Hazelnut Vegetated Quinoa was composed of grilled green onions, red bell pepper and spring peas with an Italian dressing. Vegetable always work well with the herbal profile of some Sauvignon Blancs. In this case, Michael Florentino 2015 Red Mountain Sauvignon Blanc was a great match.

Double oops! on the next course. I opened the College Cellars 2016 Walla Walla Chardonnay a course too soon. But then the opportunity to try this barrel fermented wine made by college students and contrast it to the totally different Gordon Estate 2016 Rose of Malbec originally planned.  The dish was Tuna & Cannellini Stuffed Shells, surprisingly, both wines worked.

The Carrot Timbale with Chive Cream and Crab garnish was the best match of the day in my opinion. Crab, cream and carrots with the superb Oregon Stoller 2017 Dundee Hills Chardonnay was enchanting. Winemaker Melissa Burr’s touch was not the usual oaky wine but rather a mix of Chardonnay clones that spent 9 months together in a stainless steel tank. The result is a succulent yet vibrant wine that contrasted this dish in a heavenly way.

Tomatoes are really a fruit, right? And high in acid so if you pair it with a wine high in acid, it’s like trying tomatoes for the first time. Barbera, Chianti and Zinfandel are also high in acid and fruity. A prefect pairing for the Tomato Crisp which is basically bread, olive oil, fresh tomato slices and parmesan cheese that is toasted on the grill. There were lots of Ooos and Aahs when paired with the rich Identified Lodi 2015 Zinfandel.

Dessert was the pièce de résistance. A cake of ginger, lemons and white pepper. I can get anyone to east this cake. It’s spicy, naturally and not too sweet. This was accompanied by a bottle that had been in the cellar for 14 or so years, Selbach 2003 Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese.

It’s easy to alter the taste of a wine just by eating something. Whether sweet or hot, spicy or earthy, fruity or herbal, a food changes the chemistry of your palate. Experiment with your wine by trying it with a little bite of everything on your plate. The meat, the vegetables, even the dessert.

And it’s really fun, following a few basic rules:

Go with tried and true pairings, such as spaghetti and meatballs with Chianti, hot dogs and beer, Tapas with dry sherry, paella with Rioja, Oreo cookies and a glass of cold milk.

Tannic and high alcohol wines do not do well chilled or with spicy food. If the dish is spicy hot, go with a chilled bottle of something really fruity to put out the fire of the dish. Tacos with habanero sauce would be much better with a cold Negro Modelo.

The weight of the wine and the weight of the dish should be equal. For example, Dungeness crab with a Riesling, Chardonnay and a bowl of buttered popcorn and barbequed ribs with a Zinfandel.

Be sure the wine is sweeter than the dish. If your dish is sweeter than the wine, that bottle may have a lot of pucker power.

Wishing you many wonderful wine adventures!

Good Canned Wines

Every Memorial Day weekend, my beer buddy, Alan, has a family get together. Moms and dads, aunts and uncles, and all manner of cousins eat, drink and catch up on the past year. They also have a themed wine tasting. One year it’s Zinfandel, the next it’s Pinot Grigio. It’s the call of that year’s Wine Wrangler.

This year, Alan asked if there were any good canned wines. Yep, this year’s theme is canned wines. And that is an interesting question. Are there any good canned wines?

I had to take a day or two to think on that. And then I recalled: Yes! I had had a canned sparkling wine some years ago. It was pretty good. In fact, it had garnered quite a few awards over the years.

It had to have been 15 or so years ago that I first Sofia Blanc de Blancs comes in an attractive pink hexagontasted Coppolas’s Sofia sparkling from a can. It came in an attractive pink hexagon box with four 187ml cans in it – and four straws. I eschewed the straw and reached for a more traditional glass flute. The effervescent Sofia Blanc de Blancs is a blend of mostly Pinot Blanc with a bit of Riesling and Muscat.

With a little online research, I found that wine in a can was a real novelty 18 years ago. And it’s remarkable how much that part of the wine industry has grown. It’s not just sparkling wines anymore, now it’s still wines that are canned. A handful of wine producers are beginning to see a profitable niche for cans in the marketplace.

According to the latest Nielsen data, in 2016 canned wine sales grew to $14.5 million, up from $6.4 million the previous year. That’s a healthy growth spurt that wineries are paying attention to.

So, what’s good out there?

1. Joe to Go

Well, my first recommendation would be Joe to Go from Oregon’s star winemaker, Joe Dobbes, who recently retired from the helm of Dobbes Family Winery and Wine by Joe. He turned over the reins to a hard-working millennial, Chief Executive Officer Gretchen Boock. She was one of Dobbes’ first hires when he opened his winery in 2002.

Dobbes began his career in Oregon some 30 years ago, beginning at Willamette Valley Vineyards and then launching his own eponymous brand some years later. Wine by Joe was later launched — in 750ml bottles — for a more affordable everyday type of wine.

The Wine by Joe brand recently entered the canned wine market with Joe to Go Rosé and Pinot Gris. With many accolades over the years, including Wine Business Monthly’s #1 Hot Small Brand of 2011, this would be my pick for the can of wine competition.

2. Underwood   

Union Wine Co., in Tualatin, Oregon, pioneered canned wine in the Northwest with its Underwood brand. It is the largest by far, producing over 4 million cans in 2017. Its mission is to produce affordable Oregon wines that are approachable and ready-to-travel anywhere.

The Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Rosé and a white blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer dubbed Get it Girl are sold as four-packs (equal to 2 bottles) or flats (24 cans — equivalent to one case of wine). All flats automatically receive 10 percent discount when purchased online.

3. House Wine

Seattle’s Precept Wine produces canned wine – around 4.8 million cans a year. House Wine was created with the goal of bringing good affordable wine to the picnic table. With over 30 “best buy” recommendations, and varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plus a Rosé with grapes sourced around the world, this could be your everyday house wine contender.

The canned wine trend is growing. When you’re out in the garden, out on the boat, or hiking up to Lower Lena, a can may be the best way to go. Cans are better in bottle-unfriendly venues like concerts, theaters and picnics at the beach. Cans are discreet when you need to be. But I highly recommend you to forget the straw and bring a cup of some sort. It’s impossible to smell the aroma from a can. And isn’t that half of a wine’s charm?

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine lovers for a couple of decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club and can pair a beer or wine dinner in a flash. She volunteers for the Clear Creek Trail, is a member of the Central Kitsap Community Council and a longtime supporter of Silverdale.

Raising a Stein to Homebrewing

In the early 1980s, a craft beer boom sprouted. This was largely the result of Congress approving a resolution that legalized homebrewing — a resolution our founding fathers didn’t see the need for, I would like to point out, since beer, cider and wine were always part of their everyday meals.

Today, beer-making is now as popular as it was in 1787 when the Constitution was drafted and signed – in a tavern.

There were a few beer explorers that catapulted this recent beer-making boom. One of the most influential is the legendary Charlie Papazian, a nuclear engineer, home brewer and author. Papazian founded the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) in 1978 and wrote the bible of homebrewing, “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing,” in 1984. Throughout this book, you will read Papazian’s famous homebrewing motto: “Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a homebrew.”

The American Homebrewers Association’s 47,000 members brew beer, cider and mead. The AHA estimates there over a million homebrewers in the United States. Of those homebrewers, an astounding 40 percent began homebrewing within the last four years.

And the number of licensed craft brewers has skyrocketed from eight in 1980 to over 6,000 in 2018. Many of these licensed brewers started out in their garages experimenting with hops, grinding grains and cooking up some pretty unusual brews like pumpkin porters, oyster stouts and grapefruit weizen.

AHA also founded and organizes the Great American Beer Festival, Homebrew Con, the World Beer Cup and Big Brew. These events provide a platform for homebrewers to compete and hone their fermentation skills.

Big Brew is BIG! Homebrewers worldwide gather to brew a batch of beer and raise a stein to toast both Papazian and their passion for homebrewed beer, mead and cider. Thousands participate in the simultaneous toast, which happens Saturday at 10 a.m.

This year’s official recipes — Rocky Raccoon’s Honey Lager and Dusty Mud Irish-style Stout — were chosen by Papazian.

On the Kitsap Peninsula, Big Brew is an annual event for the West Sound Brewers . Last year, eight groups began brewing around 9:30 in the morning and by 3 p.m. had made 55 gallons of beer. While watching their kettles boil, they relaxed with a homebrew and discussed systems, hops and recipes.

Since May 2, 1992, this homebrew club, conceived by Silver City’s award-winning brewmaster Don Spencer, has been dedicated to promoting the homebrewing hobby and an appreciation of the many styles of beers.

It’s a great group to join if you’re interested in learning or improving your beer-making. Spencer is not the only West Sound Brewers member to go professional. The Thomas Kemper Brewery, which closed in 1996, was the experiential learning ground for some early club members. Spencer started there. Former Thomas Kemper brewer and founding WSB member, Don Wyatt, opened Hood Canal Brewery in 1996. Club members Mark Hood, Brad Ginn and founding member Alan Moum launched Sound Brewery in Poulsbo.

Other notables include Rande Reed, Tom Chase and Pete Jones. Rande Reed and Pete Jones moved to Pyramid in Seattle and Tom Chase brewed Fish Tale Ales in Olympia. Reed later moved to Snoqualmie Brewery.

Big Brew is just one of the 12 themed monthly meetings hosted by club members. Wood Fest, Cask Fest, Octoberfest and January’s Barleywine meeting will give you a taste of what this club is brewing.

Everyone is welcome to this craft beer club whether you brew or not. Join the club by signing up on the website, www.westsoundbrewers.org.

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine lovers for a couple of decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club and can pair a beer or wine dinner in a flash. She volunteers for the Clear Creek Trail, is a former member of the Central Kitsap Community Council and a longtime supporter of Silverdale.

Where to Begin with so Many Wines?

I find the infinite variety of wine, beer, and spirits to be both overwhelming and an adventure. As I was taught while training for sprint distance marathons, the hardest part is getting started.

Take Taste Washington marathon for instance. When faced with the delightful dilemma of a roomful of wine, where do you begin? Are you the adventurous type? The loyal kind? Or the frugal approach?

At Taste Washington this year, there were over 200 wineries, each pouring three or four wines with the opportunity to taste approximately 700 wines if you attended both days. This does not cover the vineyard designated areas that were pouring a dozen or so wines. Or the wines at the Red and White event, Taste on the Farm or the seminars.

Taste Washington is overwhelming but an adventure I look forwards to each year. While pausing at a table to set down my wine glass and a small plate of Assagio’s bolognaise (so good) for a free hand to make notes, I shared a table with older couple. We chatted about which wines were our favorites and where to go next. They had gone to the big names, Betz, Mark Ryan and Long Shadows.

I talked with a friend of a friend after the event and he had pretty much followed the path of tried and true 90+ point wines. He also whined about too many unrated wines and he wasn’t willing to spend valuable tasting time researching so he stuck with the ones he knew.

There was a time that I’d head for the most expensive, the 90+ pointers and make that the plan. But that evolved to wineries that I read about but had never tried. This year, the plan progressed to wineries that were fermenting unusual grape varieties.

Choices included traditional Italian varieties such as Barbera, Nebbiolo, Primitivo, Sangiovese, and Dolcetto. French varieties were well represented by Auxerois, Carmenere, Chenin Blanc, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Lemberger, Mourvedre, Picpoul, Roussanne, Petite Verdot, and Petit Syrah.

German grapes that do well in the Puget Sound AVA were represented with the scarce Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine. Even more scarce are Albarino and Tempranillo, a white and a red that epitomize Spain. Scarcer still, Grüner Veltliner (Austria), Tannat (Uruguay) and a handful of Vermouths (Germany, Italy, France). There was a lot to taste, so where to start?

Custom frequently requires one should begin with a sparkling wine. And so I did. Karma Vineyards was pouring their Blanc de Noir, Blanc de Blanc and Pink sparkling wines. These were classically made – dry, crisp and really paired well with Blue C Sushi’s seared salmon bite with crème fraiche and the cider poached tuna salad with chickpea mayo from Capitol Cider.

The Barbera grape is from the Piedmonte region of Italy so that was an easy choice for me. Maryhill, MonteScarlatto and Cascade Cliffs were particular standouts. Cascade Cliffs and Maryhill are located along the Columbia River in the Columbia Gorge AVA which is dubbed “A world of wine in 40 miles.”

Cascade Cliffs has been making Barbera for a couple of decades and this 2016 was classic with the big black fruits and the high acidity the Barbera grape is prized for.

Cascade Cliffs has been making other Italian varieties, like a Tuscan Red that is a fabulous blend of Cab, Merlot and Sangiovese. They also make a Nebbiolo of Barolo and Barbaresco fame. Seattle’s Upsidedown Wine had a delicious Nebbiolo Rosé that would be great some hot summer day.

Maryhill as Winery of the Year for a number of years, made this 2015 with 18 months of barrel aging in 40% new French oak. It’s a mouthful yet smooth. My favorite pairing with Barbera is fresh sliced tomatoes splashed with balsamic and olive oil, fresh ground pepper, basil and a crusty, rustic bread.

The MonteScarlatto Vineyard at Red Mountain is a fairly new vineyard of 10 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot. They were pouring the 2013 Barbera which my Tasting Partner raved about.

Located in Woodinville, Martedi Winery also produces wine in the Italian tradition with a Sangiovese Rosé, a great spring and summer wine. They also have a Sangiovese and a great Nebbiolo.

Claar Cellars 2013 Sangiovese – the grape that made Chianti famous – was really nice, perfectly balanced strawberry and herb flavors. It spent 12 months on oak which probably accounts for the smoothness of the wine.

Vines from the original Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain were planted in the 1970s. Another 80 acres was planted twenty years later. This prestigious vineyard grows grapes for some of the top wineries of the state.

Grenache is widely planted in Spain where its known as Garnacha and is a large component in France’s Chateauneuf du Pape where it adds body and fruit to the wine. Woodinville’s Convergence 2013 Ciel du Cheval Grenache was a favorite from this prestigious vineyard. And then I ran across Ded Reckoning’s 2013 Ciel du Cheval Grenache.

Lots of Rhone type wines both red and white. Red could be a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise and Cinsault. Whites would be any combination of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul. There are other grapes but I haven’t seen any Clairette Blanche or Bourboulenc, both white grapes.

With summer on the way, it’s time to be looking for Rosés and whites. Tranche Rosé is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Counoise. There were a handful of Grenache Blancs and a couple of Picpouls. These white grapes are the best summer wines. The Walls Vineyards in Walla Walla Grenache Blanc was easy drinking, Cairdeas and Callan had fabulous Grenache Blancs, crisp, fruity and minerals. Callan’s Picpoul was the white wine of choice at Taste. It was very, very good. Another Picpoul worth seeking out comes from Syncline in the Columbia Gorge AVA.

Woodinville’s Warr-king Winery and Seattle’s Latta Wines both have a Roussanne also worth seeking out and Lobo Hills Auxerrois was amazing. This white grape originates from the Alsace region of France.

Forgeron, Hedges and Stottle all made a white Rhone; Forgeron’s was a blend of 39 per cent Roussanne, 34 Viognier and the remainder Grenache Blanc. Hedges blend is 75 per cent Marsanne and the rest Roussanne. The wine was full-bodied, rich and viscous. Stottle’s was a blend of 78 per cent Viognier and the balance in Roussanne. Viognier is a very aromatic grape and this was showed that off to the hilt.

Seattle’s Bartholomew 2015 Rattlesnake Hills Tannat the was an adventure with stunning results. Tannat is the ‘black wines’ of Madiran in southwest France, a fairly obscure wine region. Uruguay recently latched onto this varietal and is making some black wine of its own. And yes, inky black in color. This is a big, big wine.

One last winery with spectacular wines is Samson Winery in Whatcom County. They make the absolute best fruit wines. No words can describe their perfection. Try them and you too will be captivated!

Taste Washington Musings

Taste Washington is a wonderful opportunity taste many wines and to talk with industry leaders, winemakers, cider makers, and reflect on our state’s agricultural culture.

While waiting for the doors to open, I passed the time with fellow standees, Dick Boushey and Sommelier Christopher Chan. Topics ranged from the World Vinifera Conference, to Riesling’s fate in Washington and the 1980s era Langguth Winery.

Dick Boushey had a cherry and apple orchard before planting his first vines in 1980, four years before Washington’s first American Viticultural Appellation. The vineyards, planted to Cab and Merlot, were in a cool part of the Yakima Valley, a different climate than the warmer Red Mountain to the east and Wahluke Slope to the north.

Recognized today as one of the top 10 vineyards in the state, Boushey grapes are prized by Betz Family Winery, Bunnell Family Cellar, Chateau Ste Michelle, Cairdeas Winery, Callan Cellars, Chinook Wines, DeLille Cellars, Fidelitas Wines, Forgeron Cellars, Gorman Winery, Hawkins Cellars, K vintners, McCrea Cellars, Three Rivers Winery, Ross Andrew Winery, W.T. Vintners, Willow Wine Cellars and Long Shadows. Most of these wineries were pouring at Taste Washington’s Grand Tasting.

Another Taste Washington event was an opportunity to visit small, unique farms for a tour of the operations and to enjoy a specially prepared farm to table luncheon.

Delightful wines and ciders, fresh local ingredients and a dose of down-on-the-farm adventure began in Chimacum at the crossroad of Center Road and Chimacum. You can’t miss it. Finnriver Orchard, Tasting and Cider Garden has a 10-acre orchard, a tasting room and Cider Garden right beside the fire station.

This 40-acre plot of land is protected by the Jefferson Land Trust and cared for by the Finnriver crew. Finnriver is certified salmon safe and committed to pursuing sustainable land stewardship through organic agriculture, farmland preservation, habitat restoration, and community outreach.

The original farm is a secluded 80-acre organic farm and orchard about three miles from the crossroad. Organic apples are sourced from these orchards of over 500 trees, with 20 varieties of heirloom and traditional cider apple varieties and across the state.

Other specialists cultivating this farm are The Organic Seed Alliance with a couple of greenhouses and Friends of the Trees in their second year cultivating an herb garden with over 100 species.

Chimacum Creek runs alongside the property and its stewardship group, North Olympic Salmon Coalition is also a big part of stream restoration. This former floodplain and meandering creeks have been altered into agricultural land. Chimacum Creek, much like Clear Creek before the restoration, is constrained into agricultural dikes, meaning they have lost their original meandering.

Despite the blustery day, many of us took the option of tasting Finn River ciders while touring the farm with Cameron, the orchard wizard and Andrew, the production manager.

The orchard is planted in rows according to when bud break occurs, early varieties together, followed by mid-season and then late varieties. This facilitates the honey bees which can then pollinate one area before buzzing off to the next. Other orchard allies include a flock of geese whose job is to weed up and down the rows and with the sheep, keep the grass in “putting green shape.”

In the orchard with the geese honking at the intruders and Nulla, 6-day old lamb to cuddle, we tasted the Golden Russet cider and Black Oak cider. This beautiful rose hued cider gets its color from the addition of black currants. It was aged in oak barrels for a lively, complex and colorful handcrafted cider.

After explaining the complexities of cider apple varieties, the benefits of russets and keeping an orchard, our hosts led us back to the warm Cider Garden for a repast prepared by Chef Dan Rattigan and crew of the Fireside Restaurant at the Resort at Port Ludlow.

We tasted the Finn River artisan sparkling cider with appetizers of SpringRain Farms deviled duck eggs with crispy leeks, Finnriver quinoa cakes with Chimacum Valley tomme and roasted red pepper remoulade.

We slurped a creamy foraged mushroom bisque with melted Red Dog Farm leeks and crème fraiche, accompanied by Waterbrook’s Rose of Sangiovese and Bledsoe Family’s Healy Rose, both from the 2017 vintage.

The main course was a cedar planked Neah Bay Spring King salmon on a bed of Spring Rain kale, purple broccoli and Dharma Ridge Farm Yukon golds all splashed with a roasted shallot vinaigrette.

Paired with this delicious dish was Doubleback’s Red Blend, an everyday red wine in a square shaped bottle with a flip-top – Italian style. We were also treated to Waterbrook’s 2015 Reserve Merlot, a rich wine with good structure and luscious black fruits.

Desert was downright splendid. A cider poached pear with a Mystery Bay goat cheese mousse sitting on Finnriver blueberry compote and paired with Finnriver’s Pommeau, a fortified apple wine that was better than any apple brandy I’ve ever tasted.

With all this freshness within reach, it’s no wonder that Washington has a fabulous farm-to-table dining scene. This amazing adventure illuminated people’s passions for their chosen work from the orchardist to the production manager to the winemakers, the chef and the folks who attended us with impeccable service. I raise my glass to you all. Cheers to you!

While researching this article, I ran across some very interesting facts. If you’re farming in Washington, you’re blessed with one of the most productive growing regions in the nation. In fact, Washington is #1 in the nation’s raspberry production (producing 92.3%), hops (79.2%), spearmint oil (78.7%), cherries (58.6%), apples (57.4%), pears (47.9%), grapes (37.3%), carrots (35.6%), peas (32.4%) and sweet corn (29.7%). We have the #2 spot in asparagus (28.6%), potatoes (22.7%) and onion (21.2%) production. Percentages are for 2016.

Taste Washington Today through Sunday

This annual festival celebrates its 21st year with exceptional wine and winemakers, national and local chef tastings and new adventures. Visit Seattle, Washington State Wine and hundreds of wineries, restaurants and related exhibitors from throughout Washington State will be on hand for this premier wine and food festival .

 

Taste Washington on the Farm (March 23)10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Seattle Region

Three unique lunch excursions join together local farmers, Washington State winemakers and Seattle celebrity chefs. This year’s featured chefs and locations are Chef Kyle Peterson at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, Chef Tad Mitsui and Chef Zoi Antonitsas at Heyday Farm on Bainbridge Island, and Chef Dan Ratigan at Finnriver Farm & Cidery in Chimacum on the Olympic Peninsula (Finnriver SOLD OUT).

The New Vintage (March 23) 7 to 10 p.m., Fisher Pavilion (New Location)

Entering its fourth year, The New Vintage is Taste Washington’s most buzzed-about evening event. Hosted at a new location, Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center, it’s also bigger than ever before. Featuring its first-ever live performance by Los Angeles-based synth pop duo Man Made Time, the event also showcases more than 50 wineries, 10 national and regional chefs, and the highly anticipated new release rosés from 20 coveted wineries.

 

Seminars (March 24 and 25) 10:30 a.m. to noon, Four Seasons Hotel Seattle

Taste Washington seminars feature renowned national experts leading in-depth explorations of Washington State wine. This year’s seminars include Spotlight: Celilo Vineyard; A Rhone of our Own?; Single Vineyard Syrahs of Washington; Beyond the Mystique: A Look at the Science of Washington Wine; Washington vs. the World: Old World, New World, Our World; Blind Tasting Bootcamp (SOLD OUT); and Through the Hourglass: An Exploration of Rare and Aged Washington Wines (SOLD OUT).

Grand Tasting (March 24 and 25) 1 to 5:30 p.m. (Hours vary), CenturyLink Field Event Center

The 21st annual Taste Washington Grand Tasting features more than 225 Washington State wineries pouring their favorite wines and more than 65 Northwest restaurants serving specially-prepared bites throughout two days. General Admission tickets are still available. While Saturday and Sunday VIP tickets are sold out, Sunday VIP tickets are still available by purchasing our new Sunday Brunch + Sunday VIP Grand Tasting ticket bundle. Celebrity chef schedules for both the Alaska Mileage Plan Chef’s Stage and the Albert Lee Culinary Experience mobile kitchen are below.

Sunday Brunch (March 25) 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Quality Athletics

Join us before the Grand Tasting on Sunday to see what happens when music and food collide. Our three celebrities (Chef Daniel Cox, Quality Athletics; Chef Josh Henderson, Huxley Wallace Collective; and Kris Orlowski, Seattle-based singer/songwriter) will collaborate on a menu and a playlist – served up with Grey Goose Bloody Marys and St~Germain Mimosas.

 

About Taste Washington:

Taste Washington is the largest single-region wine and food event in the United States, featuring more than 225 Washington State wineries and more than 65 Pacific Northwest restaurants. The 21st annual event will be held on March 22-25, 2018 at various locations in Seattle. The 2018 Taste Washington welcoming sponsor is Alaska Mileage Plan, the premier sponsors are Albert Lee Appliance, Fire & Vine Hospitality, Seattle Met, Lexus, and Total Wine & More. Taste Washington attracts more than 6,400 wine and food enthusiasts to the Seattle area. The Washington State Wine Commission launched Taste Washington in 1998 and it is now produced by Visit Seattle. For more information, visit

 

www.tastewashington.org.

It’s Time for Taste Washington

Taste Washington draws more than 6,400 wine and food enthusiasts to the Puget Sound to celebrate Washington wine and farm fresh food. March is Washington Wine Month and will culminate with exclusive tastings, farm-to-table lunches, wine seminars and a two-day Grand Tasting of over 230 wineries and sumptuous bites from 65 fabulous restaurants. Taste Washington is a wine and foodie extravaganza.

This long weekend of celebrating Washington Wines begins on Thursday with the fifth annual Red and White party by AQUA at El Gaucho, an elite tasting of some of the top wine producers’ recent releases.

And then on Friday, three rustic, chic luncheons reflect Washington’s agricultural heritage with Taste Washington on the Farm. Home to everything from shellfish farms to fruit orchards, it’s no surprise Washington would have a fabulous farm-to-table dining scene.

Washington has hundreds of acres of grapes and hops, organic veggies and wheat. Orchards produce the biggest apple crop in the nation, and the state is well-known for its cherry crop. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries are just within reach. And with our miles of shoreline, freshly harvested mussels, clams, Dungeness crab and, of course, salmon grace our tables.

Delightful wines, fresh ingredients and a dose of adventure add up to three exciting new excursions to experience special farm-to-table lunches in Seattle and the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas.

Each adventure offers tours of the farm with the farmers, rubbing elbows with the chefs who create a locally sourced spread, and sipping wine with the winemakers. From the three offered, it’ll be a tough choice to make.

One choice is “Wine in the City” at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, where you’ll enjoy a gourmet lunch in a charming urban farm tucked into 16 acres of beautiful gardens at the Center for Urban Horticulture. Chef Kyle Peterson from Palace Kitchen has a delectable meal planned using produce from the urban farm, supplemented by additional ingredients from Tom Douglas’ Prosser farm. Featured wineries include Mercer Family Estate and Matthews Winery.

Choice No. 2 is “Dining on Heyday Farm” on Bainbridge Island. Heyday Farms is a family-owned, 25-acre sustainable and historic farm. Diners will savor a delightful meal in the barn prepared by two local chefs, Tad Mitsui, executive chef and proprietor at Heyday Farm, and Chef Zoie Antonia.

Island wines that will be poured with lunch include Bainbridge Vineyards, Eagle Harbor Wine Co. and Fletcher Bay Winery. Others featured will be Amelia Wynn, Eleven, Perennial Vintners and Rolling Bay.

The third and most adventurous is the “Flyaway to Wine.” This is where you’ll find me. You get to travel by floatplane to the Olympic Peninsula, touching down at the picturesque Resort at Port Ludlow. Greeted dockside with a taste, you’ll then be escorted to Finnriver Farm & Cidery, a 50-acre organic family farm, orchard and artisan cidery in Chimacum. Tickets without the floatplane ride are also on sale.

After the tour, enjoy a delicious lunch in the Cider Garden prepared by Chef Dan Ratigan of The Fireside Restaurant at the Resort at Port Ludlow. Featured wineries and cider include Waterbrook Winery (one of the oldest wineries in Walla Walla), Doubleback (Drew Bledsoe’s family winery) and Finnriver Farm & Cidery.

The Grand Tasting takes place on Saturday and Sunday. In addition to the 230 wineries and more than 65 restaurants, Taste Washington will again feature an all-star chef lineup Guests are invited to watch and interact during hourly chef demonstrations from 2 to 5:30 p.m.

This year’s celebrity chefs include Brooke Williamson of Hudson House in Redondo Beach, California. Williamson was the runner-up in Bravo’s “Top Chef” Season 10, set in Seattle. The chef of Tin Roof in Maui, Sheldon Simeon, also competed in “Top Chef: Seattle” as a finalist and won fan favorite. His tropical cuisine is sure to be a hit at Taste Washington.

Tickets for the Red & White Party are $175. Tickets for the farm events range from $85 to $185. Other events include educational seminars ($45-$85), Sunday brunch ($75) and the Grand Tasting ($95-$210) To purchase tickets, visit http://tastewashington.org/

Hope to see you there.

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine lovers for a couple of decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club. She volunteers for the Clear Creek Trail, is a member of the Central Kitsap Community Council and a longtime supporter of Silverdale.

Ledger David Cellars has Talent

Ledger David Cellars’ owners David Traul and Lena Varner, like yours truly, have a passion for food and wine. Unlike me, their dream place is their vineyard, winery and the Le Petit Tasting Room in Talent, Oregon.

I can’t read “Talent, Oregon” without memories of one of the greatest wines of the world – Chateau D’Yquem. I was dining in a restaurant with incredible depth to their cellar. I don’t recall the red wine we with had dinner but I will never forget the bottle of wine we had for dessert.

We had a 1979, not a great vintage but an affordable one. It was an exquisite wine that I only had to share with one other person. It cost around $90 for a half bottle, but heck, I was on vacation in the Rogue Valley.

Chateau D’Yquem is the world’s most difficult and expensive wine to produce. Being from the Sauternes of region of Bordeaux, it’s a blend of white grapes – about 80% Semillon and the remainder Sauvignon Blanc. Their vineyard is susceptible to Botrytis Cinerea, a good mold that attaches itself to the grape skins and sucks all the moisture out of the grape. It’s not pretty but it is an incredibly beautiful, sweet, concentrated wine whose importance began in a spectacular vineyard.

So why is D’Yquem so difficult and expensive? The biggest factor is how the grapes are harvested. When the time comes, vineyard workers make many passes through the vineyards picking only the choicest grapes. They do this about twenty times during harvest. Imagine the hours of labor of picking berry by berry. Not cluster by cluster. Each fuzzy grape picked is wizened by the botrytis, a small capsule of intense flavors and sugars. It could take a month to harvest. In off years, the wine is not produced.

Ledger David Cellars appears to have the same exacting standards in the vineyards if not the same type of climate or soils. The vineyards, closer to California than Willamette Valley, have a warmer and drier climate than its neighboring Oregon AVAs up north.

The vineyard is in an area known as the Wagner Creek Sub-basin, part of the Rogue Valley Appellation. Grape varieties are also different from the other cooler regions of Oregon in part because of the climate but also the unique soils that are generally volcanic, shallow and well-drained.

The Varner-Traul Vineyards have over 15 acres of wine grapes planted. They were established in 2007 with an extensive line of grapes that include Chenin Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Syrah.

While not world renowned yet, they have been awarded gold and silver medals for many of their wines both past and present. Their 2016 Rogue Valley Viognier is very aromatic, reminding me of melon and peaches with lush stone fruit, a hint of citrus with a lingering finish. Loved the balance and was surprised to see the 14.5% alcohol. Pair with pork chops with roasted apples and shallots or a warm bowl of chowder.

The 2016 Sauvignon Blanc was aged sur lie with the bulk of it in stainless and 15% in neutral French oak for 7 months. That accounts for the pale golden color. The flavors are less Bordeaux in style leaning more towards stone and tropical fruits in the New Zealand style. The bright acidity lends itself to a beautiful seafood wine. Think about crab cakes with a mango puree or steamed clams with garlic, shallots and chives. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Other whites to try are the Radiant White, a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Malvasia Bianca, that’s full bodied with aromas and flavors of ripe pear, apple, tropical fruits with a dollop of vanilla. There is a balancing minerality and bright acidity that makes it a refreshing quaff. Seared scallops, Thai curry or fried chicken?

Another star of this winery is the Dark Night Red, a blend of mostly Tempranillo with a touch of Malbec and Syrah. This rich, lush wine with dark berry aromas tasted of blackberries and mocha and another long finish. This was also shared with just one other person. Pair with a pork loin in an orange sauce or a hearty beef stew.

I loved their Tempranillo from Spain’s indigenous Rioja grape. It’s all cherries, plums and herbs, a perfect foil for Pepper Steak Bundles with Coriander Seeds or the classic Paella. The balance and the aromas will make your mouth smile.

I also loved their 2014 Syrah. Intense, rich and lush, with blackberry and licorice, I should have waited for a year or two. But like a 16-year-old, I couldn’t keep my hands off it. I marveled at the purple hue that stained my empty glass. This would have been perfect with a seared duck breast with savory lentils on the side. Dang it!

The 2014 Sangiovese is sublime with layers of black fruits and dusted with a balancing mineral note. The balanced acidity makes this a wonderful accompaniment to a steaming dish of spaghetti and meatballs or cannelloni stuffed with spinach and ricotta.

These and other limited production estate wines are available for shipping. Or perhaps a road trip is in the stars? Near their Le Petit Tasting Room in Central Point is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Rogue Creamery and Lillie Belle Farms gourmet chocolates. All excellent reasons for a road trip.

And speaking of Oregon, where Nick Tomassi, a wine buddy of many years, moved. For a number of years, Nick taught wine classes at Olympic College and wrote for several local publications. He was a huge promoter of northwest wines – particularly the red ones. He only loved one European wine more than his beloved northwest wines – Tomassi Amarone. Nick moved again a few days ago to his heavenly wine cabinet. Cheers to you, Nick.

Washington Wine is Fun

Wine is Fun. That’s what Eleven Winery’s winemaker/owner Matt Albee believes. And it certainly was fun one sunny Saturday during Wine on the Rock. There were even some bicyclists pedaling from winery to winery.

All of the Bainbridge Island wineries were open and pairing their wines with chocolate. But not just any chocolate. These were local chocolatiers making some incredibly good candies. Bon Bon, Pink Peony, L’Atelier, Powell and Jones, some wineries had chocolates made with their wines and one winery served up a homemade chocolate éclair.

The Eleven Winery folks were pouring their gold medal winning Syrah from Elephant Mountain Vineyard with a Bon Bon dark chocolate fudge made with the wine.  That was the best fudge I’ve ever tasted. Another sweet match was the Sweet Sarah port-style wine also made with Syrah. It was served in a festive chocolate cup.

Fletcher Bay’s new digs in the Coppertop Loop business park had Powell and Jones Chocolates, a relative newcomer to Bainbridge. Their truffles were beautifully crafted and delicious.

They paired well with the heavenly scented 2015 Walla Wallla Cab from Oidos Vineyard. An interesting trend for a few BI wineries is the use of French, Hungarian and Virginian oak before blending the final product. It seems to be the right thing to do for this wine. A very, very good wine.

Fletcher Bay also poured their Yakima cherry wine that was not too sweet and not too dry. And yes, the wine naturally went well with the dark chocolate.

Eagle Harbor’s owner Emily Parsons’ passion is Bordeaux. The 2014 Founders Merlot from a vineyard in Walla Walla had a beautiful nose and great balance. While the 2014 Cab also had a gorgeous nose, it leaned toward the mineral and cedar side of the aromas wheel.

Consultant Hugh Remash was on hand to pour the 2013 Raptor, a blend of equal parts Cab Franc, Cab and Merlot with a drop of Petite Verdot. It received top honors in Seattle for best Bordeaux style blend in 2017. It’s well polished with a long finish.

It was great fun comparing it to the 2014 Raptor, a blend of Merlot, Cab and Cab Franc. I preferred the 2013 but I’m pretty sure next year I’ll be saying that I preferred the 2014 to the 2015. These big wines age gracefully.

The wines were matched with chocolatier L’Atelier whose shop is set up across the parking lot from Eagle Harbor. You need to go there. This is the ultimate in eye and eatin’ candy, everything was so beautiful. They also make pastries, so having had plenty of chocolate, we decided to share a buckwheat pastry. Next time, it’ll be a Belgian cheese waffle.

Amelia Wynn’s Crawford Vineyard Yakima Valley Orange Muscat sports a bright citrusy label. It was awarded 2017 Seattle Wine Awards Best of Class and #2 of the Top 50 White Wines! The wine is dry yet fruity and the perfect match with the chocolate éclair.

Their 2014 Duovin Merlot was from the Dwelley Vineyard in Walla Walla. It had a wonderful nose and rich flavors with a long finish. It seems the folks in San Francisco agree, they awarded a gold medal to this wine.

The 2016 Den Hoed Vineyard Tempranillo was another three star wine for me with its cherry nose and flavors with light herbs. Nicely balanced with a long finish. This one took a double gold in 2018 San Francisco.

The 2014 Sangiovese from Red Mountain’s Kiona Vineyard also took home gold at the 2018 San Francisco competition. I had another éclair, that gets a gold in my book.

Rolling Bay has new location out in the country near Bay Hay and Feed. Their 2015 Malbec earned a star in my book and the 2015 Uplands Vineyard Cab Franc won a silver in San Francisco. My favorite was the Cuvee Aldaro a blend of 78% Cab, 12% Cab Franc and 10% Merlot.

Pink Peony on Bainbridge Island made the dark chocolate bites. Caramel salted, cherry and one spicy one. Loved these chocolates. They can be purchased at Bon  Bon Chocolates.

Bainbridge Vineyards served up a lovely handcrafted chocolate made with and accompanied by their Raspberry wine.

We were the last ones in the door at Perennial Vintners. We were delightfully surprised by the Siegerrebe, a highly aromatic grape that is a cross between Madeleine Angevine and Gewurztraminer. This dry white table wine would pair perfectly with fish or a light chicken dish. But not bad with the cheesecake either.

Next month is Washington wine month culminating in the largest single region grand tasting otherwise known as Taste Washington. I highly recommend this extensive tasting to build your knowledge of some of the over 850 Washington wineries.

For more info on the 225 wineries pouring and the 65+ restaurants dishing up delectable bites, go to TasteWashington.org

Cheers!