Cheers To You

An exploration of all things wine with local wine expert Mary Earl.
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Wine Defined – Shoot Thinning

May 12th, 2014 by Mary Earl

A recent email from Perennial Vintners‘ Vineyard Manager Mike Lempriere, says “the next job in grape growing has begun – it’s time to do shoot thinning.”

Shoot thinning’s goal is to reduce the density of the leaf canopy later on.  Right now it’s easy to tell which shoots bear fruit and which grow leaves. This helps improve wine quality becauase the vine’s energy is more concentrated in the fruit bearing vines.

Shoot thinning is easy to do by hand right now, you just have to know which shoots to snap off the vine. As the weeks go by, the new shoots become stronger and woody and difficult to do by hand. If it reaches that point, a pruning shears and more labor are needed to get the job done.

If you want to learn about this task, Mike is looking for a few volunteers in the next week or two. You can schedule a time by contacting Mike via the website


Tasting Wines Blind

May 3rd, 2014 by Mary Earl

The focus of a blind wine tasting is on the aromas, flavors and colors. Rather than blindfolding everyone, which gets very messy, all the bottles are brown bagged, numbered and corks removed before presenting to the tasting party.brown bags

The Blind Wine Group hosted a tasting recently of French red wines. Participants each bring a bottle of wine and appetizers for 12. Or in this case, hor d’ouvres for 12. The wines are brown bagged by the host who also buys two of the same wine and puts them into the line up.  The object is to find the duplicate wine in the line up. We have a vote at the end to determine that and our personal favorite.
French red is a broad category. There were 5 regions represented but Bordeaux was the most popular with 4 out of the 9 wines presented.  Bordeaux is a very prolific wine region in south-west France. Anyone with an interest in wine knows this is an influential (think Meritage) and famous (Margaux, Rothschild) wine region.
I love Bordeaux, from the $10 price range to the glad-I-bought-it-when-it-was-affordable variety.  It’s a dry, medium-bodied red that can be a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Malbec. Each chateau’s vineyard is planted with the permitted varietals they’ll use.
Depending on which side of the Gironde your wine is from, it could be either left bank or right bank. Left bank (Paulliac, Ste Estephe, St. Julien, Margaux, Medoc) is Cabernet dominate and right bank (Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Cote de Castillion) is a Merlot dominated blend. This fact never makes it on the label, that’s one of those facts you have to memorize.
Cabernet and Merlot vines grow at different times and rates, which spreads the risk posed by poor weather conditions at flowering or harvest. In years when the autumn is wet, the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest suffers from rot and water-logging, but the earlier-ripening Merlot provides a back-up. When the spring is wet, the Merlot flowers poorly, leaving the Cabernet Sauvignon to take up the responsibility of providing a good harvest.
Thousands of producers ferment a vast quantity of wine each year.  Every producer is classified as a First Growth, Second Growth, and so on down to Fifth Growth. If it’s not a classified growth then it would be a Bordeaux AC which produces about 40% of the red wines of Bordeaux.  
Bordeaux prices range from truly affordable to first growth chateaux that produce some of the world’s most expensive wine. Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2010 will set you back about $800 – per bottle. And that is fairly reasonable compared to Chateau Petrus 2010 which sells for around $3,500 per bottle.
The Blind Wine Group’s Bordeaux offering were all Bordeaux AC, the affordable side of the region. Save one, a 1989 Chateau Clerc Milon from Paulliac, a Fifth Growth and property of Mouton Rothschild. Clerc Milon comprises 100 acres of vineyards around the village of  Milon in northeastern Paulliac planted to 60% Cab, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and  2% Petite Verdot.
It was tasted first as is done with all older wines. The nose was gorgeous with the classic cigar box aroma opening up to leather, dried herbs, and coffee. A mineral quality added more complexity. The flavors were tight at first and then opened to wonderful concentration and balance. The vintage was an excellent one and the reason why this 24 year old wine aged so gracefully. One famous wine writer said “the difference between the Clerc Milon and the Mouton Rothschild is negligible.” Considering the price, that says a lot.
Other wines tasted were 2010 Haut-Sorillon Bordeaux Supérieur, a rich, full bodied wine with dark ruby color. I loved it. It has a wonderful nose, plummy and woodsy, with a bit of the cigar box. Although a Bordeaux AC, the vineyards are only 5 km from Saint-Emilion. This wine received a silver medal from the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition. $10
The 2009 Chateau Moulin de Mallet also received a medal, a gold one from the 2010 Concourse de Boudreaux.  Also a Bordeaux AC, it probably comes from the right bank with its telltale blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cab. It had really nice upfront fruit which was surprising for a wine of this age, beautiful weight to the mouthfeel and a long silky finish. $11.
2010 Chateau Haut-Mouleyre Bordeaux AC was another silver medal winner this time from Concourse des Grands Vins de France. With its signature Bordeaux nose, ruby color and aromas of Provence herbs and blackberries, this wine is another everyday wine at $7.
The winner with 6 out of ten votes was the Domaine les Grands Bois 2010 Cote du Rhone Villages with a dense purple robe, grapey, cassis aromas and grapey flavors that were rich and powerful. It’s a good thing it turned up last in the line up or it would have overpowered the other wines. Expect to spend about $14.
Of the eleven tasters, only two found the match, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from the Cotes du Rousillon. The Tessellae Old Vines 2010 sells for around $14.
For the appetizers, the grilled lamb with garlic and basil, the strong cheeses and, of course the homemade bread were the best match.

Spring Barrel Tastings this weekend

April 25th, 2014 by Mary Earl
Alphonse de Klerk at his Rolling Bay winery on Bainbridge Island on Thursday, May 30, 2013. (MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN)

Alphonse de Klerk at his Rolling Bay winery on Bainbridge Island on Thursday, May 30, 2013. (MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN)

Bainbridge Island Wineries are open for tours  and tasting from 12-5 pm this weekend. Meet the winemakers, taste classic favorites from the barrels. Participating wineries are Amelia Wynn, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eagle Harbor, Eleven, Fletcher Bay, Perennial and Rolling Bay. The Island Tasting Room will also be open.

For more information and directions, visitbainbridgewineries.com

 


Easter Ham with Pinot Noir

April 19th, 2014 by Mary Earl

There was always a big ham on the Easter dinner table.  And for the longest time, I thought all hams came smoked, on the bone with cloves stuck into the scored top and sprinkled with brown sugar.

Until many years later, after reading a recipe somewhere, I ordered a fresh ham from the butcher without knowing what I was getting myself into. When I unwrapped it, I had serious misgivings. It had the bone, it was the right shape but it just didn’t look like ham to me.

I faithfully followed the recipe and served it with a creamed horseradish sauce and a big jug of Navalle Burgundy. Forks were flying and before long there was just a soup bone left.

Fresh ham, it turns out, is a pork roast with a big bone in it. Never brined, cured, or smoked. It’s fresh.

Today, this baked fresh ham will be served3girls with a dried cherry and leek sauce and a Pinot Noir. And I have just the wine for the match! Having recently tried a couple of wines from a winery I was not familiar with – Oak Ridge Winery  -  I can highly recommend this Lodi winery.

Lodi lies between the Sierra Nevada foothills and the San Francisco Bay where the days are quite warm and the nights are cool. The Lodi AVA was established in 1986 but grape growing in this prolific farming region has been going on since the 1850s. Many German farming families formed cooperatives and sold their grapes to outfits like Sebastiani and Bronco.

The winery, opened in 1934, was originally a cooperative for the local growers. In 2001, winegrower Rudy Maggio and his partners, Don and Rocky Reynolds, bought the winery. They produce small lots of hand-crafted wines, and like many Lodi wineries, they’re known for Zinfandel, Old Vine Zinfandel.

While over 50 grape varietals thrive in Lodi, Zinfandel shines. Old gnarly vines, some over 100 years old, sculpted by time, yield small amounts of fruit to create a fabulous wine.

While Zinfandel would be great with this dinner, the wine that I had in mind was their Pinot Noir. Pretty unusual climate for Pinot Noir but there it is. The 3 Girls Vineyard California Pinot Noir is not produced from 80% Lodi grapes to get Lodi on the label.  And it actually has 13% Zinfandel in it!

I’m happy I didn’t know that while I was enjoying this delicious bottle of wine. The latent wine snob in me might have emerged.

Oak Ridge is one of the fastest growing wineries in the U.S. and easily the one with most extraordinary tasting room. It’s made from a 75 year old redwood holding tank. The tank had a capacity of 49,429 gallons of wine or 20,610 cases of wine.

Their very affordable wines can be found at these local markets:

CostPlus World Market – Silverdale

Fred Meyer – Port Orchard

Central Market – Poulsbo

Savage Vine – Kingston


Weekly Wine Defined – Bud Break

April 14th, 2014 by Mary Earl

The start of the grape vines’ growth cycle begins in the spring with bud break. The small buds on the vine start to swell or “break” out and shoots begin to emerge from the bud.
The buds have been hanging out since the previous summer. During the winter, they turn brown and go dormant. Then when the weather turns spring-like, tiny green shoots emerge from the buds. This growth is energized from carbohydrate stored in roots and trunks. Soon the shoots sprout leaves and photosynthesis begins. Six months later, it’s harvest time.


Springtime Wine

April 10th, 2014 by Mary Earl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggested taste tour of Sauvignon Blanc:

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

Weekly Wine Defined – Macabeo

April 7th, 2014 by Mary Earl

This is a white grape variety widely planted (32,000 hectares) in Spain. If you’ve ever had a Cava from Catalonia, you’ve had Macabeo (traditionally blended with Xarel·lo and Parellada).   2_18876750_2

Macabeo is also the main grape in a white Rioja, where it goes by the name of Viura. Its natural acidity makes it a good candidate for the required extended ageing in Reserva and Gran Reserva wines. It is also found in the Valencia, Yecla and Jumilla regions of Spain.

In France, Maccabeu’s use is limited to the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France where production has pushed it into eighth place in the most widely planted grape varieties of that country.

For the most part, Macabeo makes a crisp little white for early consumption. Macabeo can be crisp with citrus and floral highlights when picked early on and fermented and aged in stainless steel, but when harvested later and aged in oak, it takes on a heavier weight with honey and almond flavors. In Roussillon, late picked Macabeo is made into a vin doux naturel or fortified dessert wine.

It’s a favorite blending grape in both Spain and France. In Rioja, a small amount is allowed to be blended with Tempranillo and Garnacha. It’s popular in Rioja because the grape has high level of the antioxidant resveratrol. This is important where barrel ageing for six or more years is required for Reserva and Gran Reserva wines.


Taste Washington Bites with Wine Review

April 5th, 2014 by Mary Earl

tastewaThe 17th annual Taste Washington featured dozens of restaurants. Each of those restaurants came up with a Pacific Northwest inspired bite that had their own signature. It was an inspiring array of dishes that you could put together for your next wine tasting.  From savory desserts (olive oil ice cream) to oysters on the half shell, scallops and salmon, with pork bellies, steak, lamb and cauliflower, beets, sweet potatoes, arugula, Taste Washington left no culinary stone unturned.

This tastings tapas-styled food bite was absolutely necessary when you are walking around with a wine glass, small food tray with the wine glass holder, program, pen, and, in some cases, a spit cup. That’s a lot of stuff to juggle with just two hands.

Following is the short list of the bites that inspired me and a Washington wine that I did or would pair with the little dish.

Andaluca‘s Cauliflower soup with lardons and pickled beets is an inspired dish. For the match, go with a Sauvignon Blanc from Yakima’s Chinook Winery or Novelty Hill’s Stillwater Creek. http://www.andaluca.com/

Anthony’s Pier 66 served up pan seared scallops with bacon jam and bib lettuce on a toasted bruschetta. This is the one for Chinook’s 2012 Chardonnay or Challenger Ridge Winery’s 2011 Columbia Valley dry Riesling. http://www.anthonys.com/

AQUA by El Gaucho was shucking Taylor Shellfish oysters faster than a speeding bullet but still could not keep up with demand. I love oysters with Champagne but my second choice would be a Sauvignon Blanc. Try the White Bordeaux blend from L’Ecole No. 41 Walla Walla 2012 or Cave B 2012 Ancient Lakes White Bordeaux blend. http://www.elgaucho.com/Aqua-by-El-Gaucho.html

Barking Frog’s Sweet potato and lamb chorizo croquette red pepper rouille begs for  a Syrah or a Sirah! One of my favs, Gordon Winery Pixie Syrah or the Laurelhurst Cellars 2009 Horse Heaven Hills El Humidor Petite Sirah. http://www.willowslodge.com/barking_frog/

Boom Noodle restaurant is named after a popular Japanese term, meaning the thing one is currently obsessed with. These guys are obsessed with Japanese cuisine and their Seared Albacore rice noodle salad is delightful. Try this with Facelli’s Columbia Valley 2012 unoaked Chardonnay or the appropriately named COR Cellars 2013 AlbaCOR Columbia George 2013 White. http://www.boomnoodle.com/v2/

Cheeseland Inc. Now we’re talking! Wine and Cheese have a natural affinity to each other. I really loved the Honeybee goat cheese, and Ewephoria sheep milk cheese. Long Shadows Vintners Columbia Valley 2010 Chester Kidder Red Blend or Mark Ryan’s 2011 Red Mountain Dead Horse Cab, despite the name is delicious. http://cheeselandinc.com/

Evolve Chocolate Truffles  This was a lovely treat in two ways, it was a passed hors d’ouvres and it was delicious.  “The Colombian” is a rich chocolate coffee flavored truffle that paired nicely with the Three Rivers 2009 Walla Walla Cab. http://www.evolvetruffles.com/

Far-Eats  Love the Name! This is an Indian restaurant with a wine list with over 50 Washington wines on the list. The bite served was Chana Chaat – Chana is Indian for garbanzo beans. These beans were dressed with green chili, onion and tomatoes and sprinkled with cumin seeds, red chili powder, lime juice and coriander leaves. Easy, nutritious and delicious! The Kana Winery 2011 Horse Heaven Hills Old Vines Lemberger has the depth and fruit and Kyra Wines 2011 Wahluke Slope Dolcetto would be another great match for this dish. http://www.geogychacko.com/far-eats.html

Kalaloch Lodge  Smoked salmon artichoke dip and rosemary crisp, loved the way this was served, the dip was on one part of the cracker, and the empty side hung over the side of an elevated tray. Easy to grab and delicious to snack on. W.T. Vintners 2013 Columbia Gorge Grüner Veltliner, an Austrian grape with the right amount of acidity is just the ticket. Or try Whidbey Island Vineyard and Winery 2013 Yakima Valley Sangiovese Rosato.  http://www.thekalalochlodge.com/

La Panzanella  Founded in 1990, La Panzanella, known for its hearty peasant bread and homey cafe, quickly grew into one of the most popular bakeries in Seattle’s Capital Hill area. They offered their original and rosemary croccantini crackers with a truffle-infused cheese. Ginkgo Forest Winery 2010 Wahluke Slope Barbera, or staying with the Italian grapes, Leone Italian Cellars 2009 Walla Walla Dolcetto or 2009 Wahluke Slope Nebbiolo.  http://lapanzanella.com/

Margaux  This French themed restaurant is in the Warwick Seattle Hotel. Chef Chris Zarkades, attended South Seattle Community College’s nationally renowned and accredited culinary program to learn the craft. His red wine poached figs with Roquefort cheese crostinis demand a Bordeaux styled wine like for a big bodied red with some maturity, Brian Carter Cellars 2008 Le Coursier Columbia Valley Red Bordeaux Blend.  http://www.margauxseattle.com/

Paella Seattle Dished up the classic paella recipes of Valencia, Spain, which means chicken, pork and Bomba rice with green and red peppers, onions, garlic, green beans, sweet peas and artichoke hearts. Gotta go with the Tempranillo grape here. Michael Florentino Cellars, Naches Heights Vineyard, Camaraderie Cellars, Cave B Estate Winery, Fall Line Winery, Kana Winery or Stottle Winery all do a rendition of Rioja, the Spanish classic red with paella.

Palisade Waterfront Restaurant  Assorted cured and smoked tartares – cured salmon with Meyer lemon crème fraiche, caper, dill, and a ‘everything bagel crumble, apple wood smoked scallops with pineapple, Fresno chili and micro cilantro, Hamachi apple with ginger, jalapeño, Ahi tuna sesame with tamarind, soy and green onion, and mesquite grilled avocado smoked chili salt, minis sweet pepper, and cilantro. My favorite wine of the day: Kyra Wines 2013 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc with any one of these wonderful tastes.   http://www.palisaderestaurant.com/

SkyCity at the Needle   Stinging nettle soup with crispy razor clams was delightful with JM Winery’s 2013 Red Mountain Sauvignon Blanc and another match would be Davenport’s 2012 Columbia Valley White Bordeaux blend. http://www.spaceneedle.com/home/

Tablas Woodstone Taverna is part of a family of Mediterranean restaurants, Is located in Mill Creek. Their gazpacho is best paired with the Cote de Ciel 2012 Red Mountain Viognier. http://www.tablaswt.com/

Trace Seattle Restaurant and Bar offers a dining experience led by Executive Chef Steven Ariel, who sports a menu filled with contemporary, inventive dishes with a 10-seat sushi bar.  Highlighting their inventiveness was the smoked baby octopus veggie was a bit on the spicy side and there for a perfect pair with Hogue’s Columbia Valley 2011 Gewürztraminer. http://www.traceseattle.com/

The Washington State Wine Commission launched Taste Washington in 1998 and is now produced by Visit Seattle. For more information, visit www.tastewashington.org.


Taste Washington Review

March 31st, 2014 by Mary Earl

by Guest writer Jeff Graham

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

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

 

 


Wine Defined – Loess

March 31st, 2014 by Mary Earl

Loess is a very important component in Washington wines. It’s an aeolian sediment formed by the accumulation of wind-blown silt, twenty percent or less clay and the balance equal parts sand and silt that are loosely cemented by calcium carbonate.

Many of Washington’s vineyards are located on gentle slopes or on valley floors. Almost all of these vineyards are planted in loess derived from sediments deposited by a series of glacial floods, known as the Missoula Floods.

Underneath much of these vineyards is the other reason Washington is unique in the wine world. The bedrock is basalt alluvium or just plain basalt. At higher elevations the loess directly overlies basalt bedrock.

Basalt is dense. Basalt keeps the average temperatures above average. And most importantly, basalt keeps the root louse away.


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