What to Pair with Spring Fare

With Mother’s Day, just around the corner, it’s a signal for party planning time. And not just for Mother’s Day Brunch. There are also Bridal Showers lunches, June graduation bbqs and wedding buffets to celebrate. And the best way to celebrate these special occasions is with food and sparkling wine with family and friends.

A sparkling wine is a great way to kick off a special celebration. Another great way to kick off a special day, like Mother’s Day, is with a Champagne brunch. A punch bowl of sparkling Mimosas or Champagne punch, garnished with fresh fruit is a great accompaniment to those Belgian Waffles or easy cheesy egg casserole.

Since kitchens are a natural gathering place, help making crepes filled with ricotta cheese and sweet sliced strawberries is a good group exercise with just rewards. Having a flute of bubbly sounds like the perfect morning, doesn’t it?

In our large family everyone pitched in to make the meals, especially my dad, who had worked in a bakery and was very good at making bread, coffee cakes and rolls. The first loaf with a stick of butter was always devoured before it even had a chance to cool.

Mom was never seen near the stove after all. She worked full time and she was an excellent list-maker and teacher. She did teach all her children how to make breakfast, lunch, dinner and fudge when we were just knee high to a grasshopper.

The only time she was seen near the stove was on Mother’s Day. This tradition probably stemmed from the massive effort and money to take the family out to brunch.

When they retired, my dad would still do most of the cooking. Mom just loved broccoli salad so she would make that for every special occasion. You could count on it for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and all nine of her children’s birthdays.

I would bring the sparklers for every special occasion, especially a Moscato d’Asti on Mother’s Day. This is one wine that everyone loved with its low alcohol, sweet perfumed fruitiness and balancing acidity. Traditionally produced in the northwest part of Italy, Moscato d’Asti is the Muscat grape from the Asti region. It’s not a full sparkling wine but half sparkling or what the Italians term frizzante.

This wine is now produced around the world and some are made with fruit juices such as pineapple. All are low alcohol, sweet and easy to guzzle.

Spumante is derived from the Italian word spumare which roughly translates to foam, thus a spumante is an Italian way of saying sparkling wine. A Spumante is made from Muscat, Glera, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grape.

The region that is best known for sparkling wine is in Northeast Italy around the city of Veneto. There they have perfected a Spumante and call it Prosecco. They can be dry or sweet or even semi-dry. Prosecco is an ideal brunch wine, especially when making Bellinis.

Other bubblies to consider for the punch bowl that are the very affordable are Spanish Cavas made from a blend of Macabeu, Parellada and Xarel·lo, the traditional grape varieties.

Cava is produced for the most part in the Penedès, a wine-producing region in northeast Spain with a Denominació d’Origen (DO) designation that signifies quality. The biggest producer is Freixenet, headquartered in Sant Sadurní, Catalonia. It’s the largest producer of sparkling wine in the world. Juame Serra Cristalino and Codorniu are the other two huge sparkling wine producers in the area and also make ideal punch bowl ingredients.

The unusual names for these bottles come from ancient history. They are the kings of Babylon, Israel and Arabia, who presumably had many reasons to celebrate.

For your celebrations big and small, here is a rough guide for how much, depending on how many.

Split (1/4 bottle): 187ml or 6.5 oz.; 1 person, 1 glass

Half (1/2 bottle): 375ml or 13 oz.; 2 people, 1 glass

Fifth: 750 ml or 26.25 oz.; 4 people, 1 glass

Magnum (2 bottles): 1500ml or 52.5 oz.; 8 people, 1 glass

Jeroboam (4 bottles): 3000ml or 105 oz.; 4 people, 1 bottle

Rehoboam (6 bottles): 4500ml or 157 oz., 12 people, 2 glasses

Methuselah (8 bottles): 6000ml or 210 oz.; 18 people, 2.5 glasses

Salmanazar (12 bottles): 9000ml or a case; 12 people, 1 bottle

Balthazar (16 bottles): 12 L or a case + 3.3; 20 people, 4 glasses

Nebuchadnezzar (20 bottles): 15 L or a case + 6.6; 20 people, 1 bottle

Solomon (24 bottles): 18 L or 2 cases; The party bottle

Cheers to Mothers, congratulations to graduates and happy nuptials. Best wishes to all!

The State of Washington Wines 2019

I had a marvelous time at the Taste Washington Grand Tastings. Imagine two days of 235+ possibilities.

And I was amused with this year’s theme, Must. Taste. Everything. Not possible in the 4 or 5 hours each of the two days. Just not possible but I gave it the old college try.

Saturday, was very crowded but I managed to taste almost 40 wines. Sunday, was more laid back and I was able to taste – and spit – almost 54 wines. The plan was to taste the top tier, I.e. expensive, wines and then go on to reds. Sunday was to be dedicated to whites. I was semi-successful with the plan but did get distracted by winemakers, wine and friends. Here are my impressions to help guide your future wine purchases.

Best wine overall: Barnard Griffin Centurion 2016 Sagemoor Vineyards. So well knit, as close to as perfect a wine as you can sip. One barrel made. Thanks for sharing. $150.

Second place: Cadence Spring Valley Vineyards 1998 Red, an amazing 21-year-old. Youthful in appearance, wonderful aromas and very delightful to experience. Thanks for sharing. n/a

Third place: Cascade Cliffs Blood Red Columbia Valley 2017 Barbera, Bob Lorkowski has been making this wine for 20 years and it shows. Layered, juicy, rich, you need to try this wine. It’s amazing. $85.

And in no particular order, I would highly recommend to you:

Laurelhurst 2014 Walla Walla Petite Verdot – WOW! a dense, rich wine with so many anthocyanins it strains your glass. Relocated in the Georgetown district of Seattle, many small lot fermentations of great wines are made by the dedicated winemaking team of Greg Smallwood and Dave Halbgewachs. $36.

On the Kitsap Peninsula, Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor 2015 Old Vine Cabernet from Kiona Vineyards on Red Mountain. This award winning winery produced this polished wine from Red Mountain’s first vineyard. $60.

Karma Vineyards, overlooking Lake Chelan, produced two fabulous méthode champenoise sparkling wines. The finely bubbled 2014 Estate Pink Pinot Noir and the 2013 Brut Chardonnay with hints of apple and bread dough. $50 and $70.

Avennia 2016 Justine Red Rhone is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre that will be a great addition to any cellar. The first graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program, Chris Peterson was awarded a Winemaker of the Year in 2017. Excellent choice. $40.

A custom crush, custom bottling and canning facility intrigued me. Finding myself in front of Cascadian Outfitters booth, I decided to find out what Goose Ridge was all about and have a sip of Cascadian Outfitters can o’ red while sorting out their relationship.

I have enjoyed many bottles of one of Goose Ridge’s five wine labels, Tall Sage. What drew me to that wine was the back label. “Arvid Monson developed his first vineyard on the advice of Dr. Walter Clore, known as the father of Washington’s wine industry: ‘Find a tall sage and you have a place that will sustain superior grape vines.’ A tall sage is one that develops deep tap roots … This release is our tribute to a man of great stature, the founder of Goose Ridge Estate Vineyards.”

Cascadian Outfitters #Adventureinacan comes in three flavors, Chardonnay, rose, and red blend. Estate wine in a can for kayaking, backpacking or biking to the next winery. A six pack is $30.

Their remarkable 2,200-acre estate vineyard is located on a gentle slope adjacent to the Red Mountain AVA. Their five labels are Goose Ridge Estate, g3, Stonecap, Tall Sage and Cascadian Outfitters.  All come from this vineyard and Goose Ridge also sells grapes to other wineries.

Goose Ridge Estate 2015 Syrah is beautiful, everything you expect in a Syrah. The long, smooth finish comes from 22 months in French and American barrels, some new but most neutral. $38.

Kerloo 2014 Upland Vineyards on Snipes Mountain Grenache is all Grenache whole-cluster fermented and concrete aged. This old Snipes Mountain AVA vineyard dates back to the early 1900’s and is extremely warm and rocky. Pump-overs and punch-downs during fermentation extract color and texture for a beautifully balanced wine with great aromatics. A stunning wine for $40.

In the spring of 1997, Chandler Reach owners Len and Lenita Parris, traveled to Tuscany and stayed in a beautiful villa. Inspired, they created a little slice of Tuscany in Yakima. Their signature red, Monte Regalo Estate 2015 Red Bordeaux is a brilliant blend from the winemaker’s block of Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc. $30.

The Parris Estate Reserve 2015 Yakima Cab Franc is fermented in small, open top fermenters and then cellared for 24 months in new and neutral French oak.  Usually a right-bank blending grape, this standalone version is outstanding. $46.

Many great wineries start in a garage. Associated Vintners, now known as Columbia Winery,  is one fine example of an early Seattle garage winery consisting of a group of University of Washington faculty members.

Ducleaux Cellars started out in their Kent garage. Today, this small family winery is making great wines from an estate vineyard and winery now located in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, a sub-AVA of Walla Walla.

Ducleaux Cellars’ Chief Tasting Officer, Toby Turlay, was pouring their 2016 Ducleaux Cellars Anarchy. Mostly Syrah with a splash of Mourvedre, this wonderfully balanced wine from the Ancient Lakes AVA is highly aromatic and tasty! $29.

Brook & Bull Cellars is Ashley Trout’s latest venture. A talented winemaker who has produced wine in both Walla Walla Valley and Argentina. The first time I had her wines, it was the Torrontes grape from Agentina where she would work the March harvest.

Brook and Bull Cellars 2016 Columbia Valley Petite Verdot is exquisite. Another Bordeaux grape that is usually blended, this big, rich wine is stuffed with layers of flavors that make you want another taste and then another. $38.

There’s more but not today. In the meantime, save the date for the next Taste Washington, March 2020. Cheers!

Where to Taste Washington Wines

At the grandest Washington wine tasting, there will be over 236 wineries, pouring several wines each. It’s always good to make a list – and try to follow it without getting too distracted. I like to start out with the most expensive ones since they’re the first to go.

The first one I’ll be tasting is from a winemaker who has made some amazing wines at very affordable prices. Barnard Griffin’s 2016 Centurion Cabernet Sauvignon Sagemoor and Caroway Estate Vineyard. No one should bypass one of the greatest and oldest vineyards in the state and one of Washington’s best winemakers. Only $150

Cascade Cliffs 2017 Columbia Valley Blood Red Barbera is a must, too.  Owner/winemaker Bob Lorkowski has a way with Italian grapes. The Barbera is much sought after. It even has its own wine club. Excellent job, Bob.  $75

Canvasback 2015 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, $40.  Imagine a California winery moving into Washington state because they knew great wine country when they tasted it. Canvasback is part of that venerable Napa winery, Duckhorn.

From another great wine country, Red Mountain has an Italian transplant, Col Solare, a partnership between Marchesi Antinori and Chateau Ste. Michelle. They’ve been working together since 1995. The 2015 Red Mountain Cab is $75 and the 2015 Red Mountain Component Collection Cabernet Franc is $85.

Red Mountain fruit also went into Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor Wine 2015 Old Vine Cab from Kiona Vineyard. $60

Gramercy Cellars is an 8,000-case winery founded in 2005 by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife, Pam. They are Rhône and Bordeaux style fans. Will be tasting the 2016 Walla Walla John Lewis Syrah, $85 and their Columbia Valley 2015 Reserve Cab. $95

In 1978, the first Red Mountain Cab grapes were sold to Preston Winery’s winemaker, Rob Griffin. (See Barnard Griffin Winery above). Kiona Vineyards, a longtime favorite, has their Red Mountain 2016 Estate Reserve Red Bordeaux Blend, for $55 and 2016 Cab from Heart of the Hill Vineyard on Red Mountain. $75

Another distinguished winery, Long Shadows Vintners, is actually a collection of renowned winemakers from revered wineries in Napa, Bordeaux, Germany and Australia. They’re pouring the 2015 Pirouette Red Bordeaux, 2015 Pedestal Merlot, $65 and Chester-Kidder 2015 Red Blend. $60

A transplant from one of Napa’s most famous vineyards, Pritchard Hill, Obelisco Estate is the work of Betsy and the late Doug Long. Can’t wait to try their 2014 Red Mountain Estate Cab 2014 for $50 and their 2015 Red Mountain Electrum Estate Cab. $75

Owen Roe’s David O’Reilly began in Oregon, making incredible single vineyard Pinot Noirs. In 2013, the O’Reillys and Wolffs broke ground in Union Gap for their Washington winery. The 2015 Pearl Block Cab Franc, $72 and 2016 Red Willow Chapel Block Syrah will be staining my glass. $55

A well-regarded Washington winery with ties to Napa’s André Tchelistcheff, the “Dean of American Winemaking,” is Quilceda Creek. Tchelistcheff advised his nephew when Quilceda Creek was on the drawing board. I’ll be tasting the 2016 Columbia Valley Red Blend. $70

Planting began in 1968 for the Sagemoor Vineyards in Columbia Valley. Today, Sagemoor farms five iconic vineyards with 20 varietals planted for “about 100 of the brightest winemakers in the state.” This 2014 Columbia Valley Cab is made by John Abbot from Bacchus, Dionysus, Sagemoor, and Weinbau Vineyards.  $70

One of the newest wineries on this list is The Walls Vineyards, located in Oregon but a sub-AVA of Walla Walla. Wonderful Nightmare 2016 Walla Walla Tempranillo, $38 and the 2016 Red Mountain Curiositas Cab.  $56

And the curious side of me, wants to investigate wineries that I’m not familiar with. There are over 500+ wines to taste, so next on the To Do list would be the ones that I’ve never heard of.

That would include Adrice Wines with California transplants settled in Woodinville. A Rosé of Grenache, Albariño, and Malbec. AniChe Cellars is a small family winery located in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge with a Horse Heaven Hills Dolcetto.

Array Cellars has bottlings of Chardonnay from Celilo Vineyard, Columbia Gorge and Otis Harlan Vineyard in Yakima. Avennia in Woodinville is serving up a Sauvignon Blanc, Red Rhône Blend and Columbia Valley Cab made by Chris Petersen who spent some time at DeLille Cellars learning the craft.

Bayernmoor Cellars in Stanwood, like many western Washington wineries trucks their grapes over from eastern Washington while waiting for their estate vineyards to mature.

Planted in 2008, Vino Bellissimo is a 5-acre vineyard on the Wahluke Slope AVA. Bellissimo Cellars is pouring the 2015 estate Cab and Merlot.

From Walla Walla, Bontzu Cellars has a Cab from Les Collines Vineyard, Rhône Blend, and a white from the Roussanne grape.

With estate vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley, Caprio Cellars produces three estate red Bordeaux.

Cascadian Outfitters offers estate wines in a can! For the adventurous who like to imbibe during hikes, picnics, and bike rides, the Goose Ridge Vineyards offers a Red Blend, Chardonnay and Rosé in a can.

Renton’s Cedar River Cellars has a Chardonnay Cab and Malbec from grapes harvested from three established vineyards in Yakima Valley,

Winemaker and owner Jean Claude Beck grew up in the Alsace region of France. ‘nough said. Located in Zillah, his Chateau Beck naturally includes a Vin Blanc, Vin Rosé and Cab.

Spokane’s Craftsman Cellars is crafting a Wahluke slope Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and red Bordeaux.

Not all damsels are in distress! In fact, Damsel Cellars winemaker Mari Womack is in heaven making a Boushey vineyard Red Rhône Blend, Stillwater Creek Syrah, and a Columbia Valley Cab. I would be too.

Darby Winery at the Hollywood Tasting Room produces a White Rhône, Horse Heaven Hills Cab and Stillwater Creek Vineyard Syrah.

This is only a taste of what’s being poured Saturday and Sunday, Saturday & Sunday, March 30 and 31 at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle. Tickets are still available but not for long! Cheers!

 

Taste Washington Vineyards

For a truly grand wine experience, Taste Washington is the place to be. It’s four days of events that overflow with Washington’s culinary riches. There are delicious wines from over 235 Washington wineries to sample and bites from over 65 local restaurants at the Grand Tasting on Saturday and Sunday, March 30 and 31, at CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle.

At the Grand Tasting you can also watch today’s hottest chefs demonstrate their culinary skills on stage, get the wine story from hundreds of winemakers, and indulge in the splendor of it all.

One of my favorite tastings at the Grand Tasting is the “Taste the Vineyards” because vineyards are where it all begins. And you should know that many different wineries are often sourced from the same Washington vineyards. Think what fun and educational tasting this could be!

When you sample wines from the same vineyard, you may learn to identify vineyard profiles. You also learn how the tools and techniques different winemakers use for the same grapes from the same vineyards may be the reason the wines are so different from each other.

Unlike most vines growing in the world today, all vines in Washington are planted on their own rootstocks, since phylloxera, a root-eating aphid, is not an issue here. The combination of the Columbia Valley’s desert dryness in the summer and deep winter chill makes it more resistant to pests and molds. Having vines on their own roots helps us maintain the health and longevity of our vineyards and preserves the grape variety in its natural state with no influence from the grafted roots.

This year, some old and some new vineyards are featured: Alder Ridge Vineyards; Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard and Canoe Ridge Estate Vineyards; Red Mountain’s oldest, Kiona Vineyards; Coyote Canyon’s Vineyards high atop Horse Heaven Hills; Lake Chelan’s Double D; Clos Che Valle Vineyards; and two other Red Mountain vineyards, Shaw and Quintessence. Intriguing, right?

Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate is 559 windswept acres in the Horse Heaven Hill’s AVA overlooking the mighty Columbia River. Planted in 1991, it is on the south facing ridge 950 feet above sea level.

Coyote Canyon Vineyard started out as a World War II bomb test site. In 1994, after years of wheat and vegetable farming, the first 20-acre plot of Cabernet vines were planted along a southern slope. It’s now over 1,125 acres of quality wine grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, which is over 570,000 acres overlooking Canoe Ridge and the mighty Columbia River.

Those 1,125 acres grow 25 varieties of grapes that produce fruit for many award-winning wines for almost 30 wineries, including Northstar and Columbia Crest, part of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Rocky Pond Winery’s Double D and Clos Che Valle Vineyards are also on a gentle slope overlooking the Columbia River but further north in the Chelan AVA. First planted in 2013, Double D Vineyard is between 700 and 940 feet in elevation and the perfect place for 165 acres of Syrah, Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot, Grenache and Mourvedre.

The 50-acre Clos CheValle Vineyard is at 1,250 to 1,600-foot elevations along the south shore of Lake Chelan. This big body of water moderates weather extremes in summer and winter, giving the grapes a chance to develop evenly – both sugars and acids.

With the perfect combination of the lake controlling temperature extremes and the glacial till soils, the 10-year-old vines of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (a relatively unknown grape in the Pinot family usually used in blending a Champagne) are producing some fine wines. Other grapes grown are Riesling, Viognier, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Syrah.

In the wine industry, a winery name usually comes first and then “vineyards” is tacked on the end if they own them. Not so with Kiona Vineyards. On its website, it states emphatically, “We’re not Kiona Cellars. We’re not Kiona Selections. We are Kiona Vineyards. That’s an important distinction for us to make, because we grow grapes. For our own winery and for more than 60 others. Kiona Vineyards … is … the essence of our family’s forty-year tradition.”

Kiona Estate is Red Mountain’s pioneer vineyard, planted in 1975 by John Williams and Jim Holmes. Predominately Cabernet and Merlot, it also is home to Washington’s oldest and best Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Lemberger vines.

According to its website and I wholeheartedly agree, “…this vineyard and the attention it has received over the last 40 years has made Red Mountain what it is today.”

Today, the Williams family owns Kiona Vineyards. Jim Holmes went on to his own 120 acres of neighboring vineyards and is a highly sought-after vineyard consultant. Some 30 wineries get their grapes from Holmes’ Red Mountain vineyards and many more are waiting in line to buy his grapes.

Also on Red Mountain are the older Shaw Vineyard and the newer Quintessence Vineyard, where, for almost three decades, Dick Shaw’s extensive experience has produced grapes for many award-winning wines.

As a result of all that, Dick and Wendy Shaw were inducted into the 2018 Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame. The two were honored at last year’s Legends Gala at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center for their 38 years of producing spectacular and much-sought-after fruit on Red Mountain.

The Quintessence Vineyard, along the eastern ridge of Red Mountain, is a partnership between Dick Shaw and Paul Kaltinick. The vineyard is now almost 300 acres, but the pair started in 2010 with 68 acres planted to Cabernet.

You can taste these vineyards, the hundreds of other wines, the delectable bites and learn more about Washington’s fabulous wines at Taste Washington on March 29 and 30. Purchase your tickets at https://tastewashington.org/event/grand-tasting-2-day/.

But wait! There’s more! The Red & White Party that takes you “into the cellars” of Washington’s premier winemakers, Taste Washington On the Farms, the swanky Canlis Wine Dinner with rare Washington wines, The New Vintage, a backstage pass to meet and mingle with the chefs and winemakers, seminars and Sunday Brunch with Pacific Northwest flair.

It’s a lot like Christmas, indulge! Cheers!

What’s up in Walla Walla during Washington Wine Month

Welcome to March, Taste Washington Wine month. Wineries, restaurants and retailers promote the many wines Washington has to offer. It culminates at the end of the month with Taste Washington, a four-day event celebrating Washington wine and food.

The wine industry in Washington is new compared with Bordeaux, where there are thousands of chateaux producing wine from Cabernet, Merlot and the other permitted grape varieties.

In comparison, Washington has 900-plus wineries and a little more than 60,000 acres  planted to vineyards, making it No. 2 in wine production behind California with its approximately 4,500 wineries and 880,000 acres under vine.

Kicking off the Taste Washington Wine month, the Walla Walla Wine Alliance came rolling into town to promote that corner of the Washington wine industry. It was a wonderful opportunity to catch up and get acquainted with some of the newer wineries from that American Viticultural Area (AVA).

Walla Walla Valley is one of four Washington AVAs that include portions of neighboring states, most into Oregon and one into Idaho. Walla Walla has one recently recognized a sub-AVA, the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. This AVA lies entirely within the Oregon portion of Walla Walla Valley.

Most of the vineyards are in the hills that flank the Walla Walla River, a tributary of the mighty Columbia River. The climate is perfect for traditional Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec.

This is also Rhone varietal country with plantings aplenty of Syrah and Grenache with a sprinkling of Mourvedre, and whites Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne.

There are also vineyards planted to the Spanish grape Tempranillo and the long-lost Bordeaux variety, Carménère, which is making a meteoric comeback in Chile and Walla Walla.

One of the oldest settlements in Washington, Walla Walla was a trading post for the Idaho gold rush and French fur trappers. The French being French planted vines in the area around the 1850s.

But a freeze took out the vineyards and the railroad skirted through Spokane instead, nipping this agricultural center in the bud.

Fast forward almost 100 years and Walla Walla is now renowned for its wheat fields, onions and, yep, wines.

The second and more sustainable wine wave began with four wine pioneers, Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole and Waterbrook. The wine revival came in the late 1970s, when these pioneering vignerons embarked on planting vineyards in the valley.

From those early days, some 100-plus wineries are now producing great wines from about 3,000 acres of vineyards. The top five varieties are Cabernet at 36 percent, Syrah at 18 percent, Merlot at 16 percent, Cab Franc at 7 percent and Malbec at 4 percent.

While standing in line waiting for a pour at one of the newest wineries, The Walls, I slid left to Tertulia Cellars for a sip. And oh my!

Time is the best way to describe Tertulia’s winemaking philosophy. Winemaker Ryan Raber poured the 2015 Carménère; 2015 GSM, dubbed Great SchisM; Ryans’ Reserve; and 2013 Phinny Hill Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills Cab.

I learned some interesting things from Raber. For instance, the GSM stands for “Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre” and is called Great SchisM. This wine comes from The Rocks AVA. The estate vineyard is called Riviere Galets, which is French for river of rocks. And quite literally, the ground is covered with rocks, much like southern Rhone.

Another unusual process was aging in large neutral French oak barrels called fudre for 16 months. These larger barrels were used to lessen the impact of the slow oxidation in the traditional barrels. Since the wines spend less time in oak, more of the fruit character is preserved.

The Ryans’ Reserve, a blend of the traditional Bordeaux grapes, is named for Winemaker Ryan Raber and Vineyard Manager Ryan Driver. The grapes are from their Elevation Vineyard, terraced at 1,500 to 1,700 feet.

The Elevation Vineyard is quite unique. With soils composed of silt and basalt, this vineyard was not planted but rather drilled. Yep, they used jackhammers to drill the holes to plant the grape vines. The resulting harvests are small but the fruit is concentrated.

A blend of 83 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with a little Merlot and Petit Verdot, Ryans’ Reserve is also unique in the way it is racked. After 22 months in oak, this wine was racked using the old-world technique of “soutirage,” a process of racking the wine without a pump from barrel to barrel before bottling.

These old-world traditional techniques are pretty rare anymore, with only a few wineries or even Chateaux using this technique, which softens the tannins.

One great Bordeaux chateau that continues with this process is Cheval Blanc. And Rader and I had a chuckle remembering good old Miles from the movie “Sideways.” You remember the guy that drank the spit bucket? Very gauche.

But that was not half as wicked as his next conflagration – drinking his most prized bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc from a styrofoam cup, alone.

We all know the best way to enjoy Cheval Blanc, Tertulia or any wine is together with family and friends and in a wine glass. Cheers!

Swoon-worthy Sweetness in your Glass

While watching all that snow piling up, I was reminded of a year when something like this happened and resulted in a wine made from frozen grapes — an ice wine. Perfect timing is needed to produce this rare and exquisite wine.

Centuries ago, before refrigeration, the first frozen liquid beverage may well have been eisbock. It was not so much invented as one of those mistakes that resulted in happily ever after in your stein.

It happened sometime in the 18th century in a brewery in Kulmbach, Germany. Workers accidentally left a few kegs of bock bier out on a cold winter’s night. In the morning, some brave soul (but not as brave as the guy who tasted the first oyster) decided to taste it before feeding it to the livestock. The unfrozen portion of the beer was pretty potent, profoundly delicious and decidedly sweet in its maltiness. Eisbock was born.

Eisbock is a really strong dark beer, strong in both malt and alcohol. Today making an Eisbock is basically the same but using modern equipment such as freezers to freeze the water and separate a portion of it, thus concentrating the alcohol and malt sugars.

Because water has a higher freezing point than alcohol, when the water freezes, it’s easy to remove. When the ice is removed, the remaining beer is stronger in flavor and alcohol.

One of my favorites is the elegant Aventinus Eisbock, which is dark-colored with aromas of baking spices, plums and almonds. They use open fermentation and a fractional freezing process to produce this concentrated beer with 12 percent alcohol. For you home-brewing types, the original gravity was 25.5 percent.

As you may suspect, making a tasty beverage even more rich and concentrated can be done by freezing the juice, wort or fruit. But back then, a hard freeze could only happen in a northern hemisphere country. Definitely Germany, Austria and northern Italy. In the new world, Ontario and the Okanagan in Canada excel with Washington, New York and Idaho producing when Mother Nature cooperates.

In Germany, Eiswein is an elixir that happens in this most northerly wine-producing country with some frequency. When this wine region suffered a particularly harsh winter, somebody tasted the frozen grapes and decided it was too good for the livestock. Records in the late 1700s and early 1800s talk about leaving grapes on the vine and discovering how sweet they were when frozen.

Still, it was rare for conditions to be just right to make an Eiswein until 1961 when weather conditions were ripe and a number of Eisweins were produced. That was the watershed vintage and being Germany, production became more systematic and rules were applied. Conditions had to be 19 degrees Fahrenheit or colder — no chaptalizing (adding sugar) or cryogenics.

Production was also assisted by technology. Portable generators lit up the vineyards in the early-morning hours so pickers could harvest the grapes before the sun rose and thawed the grapes. When the grapes did thaw, rot would set in.

Pressing was done with a bladder press, which is a gentler way of pressing grapes than the screw press. This allowed the concentrated juice to flow, leaving the ice crystals behind. The higher sugar levels in the frozen grapes also make the fermentation process slower than usual.

During the time spent waiting for the ripe grapes to freeze, your winemaker’s fingers are crossed, hoping you don’t lose the harvest to hungry wildlife. The solution to that problem was nets covering the vineyards to keep hungry birds from flying away with the harvest.

From 1961 through the 1990s, production ramped up. But in the early 2000s, Eiswein vintages became more infrequent. Many think climate change may have something to do with it.

An early and unexpected frost produced Canada’s first known icewine in the Okanagan Valley. It was made by a German immigrant, Walter Hainle in 1972. On the other side of the country, Inniskillin Winery produced its first icewine in 1984 under the direction of Austrian-born Karl Kaiser. Inniskillin’s first ice wine was made from Vidal grapes, a white hybrid grape that is very winter-hardy and produces high sugar levels in cold climates with balancing acidity.

After Inniskillin won the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo (held in Bordeaux for over a thousand wine professionals around the world) for its 1989 Vidal Icewine, Canada was well on its way to become the largest producer of Icewine in the world. Other traditional vinifera grapes being used today are Riesling, Gewurztraminer and even Cab Franc.

There are a few producers that freeze their grapes cryogenically, but laws prevent them from using the term “ice wine.” Years ago, Randall Graham of Bonny Doon Vineyards, having too many grapes to deal with during harvest, stashed his Riesling in the freezer to be dealt with later. The result was the same as if Mother Nature had been involved but ice wine was not allowed on the label. He got around that by labeling it “Vin de Glaciere.”

This past fall, with three apple trees laden with fruit, my friend, Josh, talked me into making cider. With advice from my wine and beer guru from Vermont, I learned that freezing the apples before putting them in the turn press broke down the molecules in the fruit and produced the sweetest, purest and very cold juice.

Ice cider was originally created in Quebec in 1989, made possible by the frigid cold temperatures and inspired by German Eisweins. Friends from Vermont introduced me to the Quebecois Ice Ciders made in a similar fashion as their Icewines. And like their Icewines, they’re concentrated goodness of fruit sugars, however, ice cider requires almost five times as many apples as regular cider.

Today, there are over 75 producers of ice ciders. A few producers to try would be Neige, Union Libre and Domaine des Salamandres. Serve these Eisweins and Ice Ciders with apple cake, pour concentrated sweetness into small dessert wine glasses for an out-of-this-world pairing.

What goes into a Judges’ Rating?

How do you rate?

Recently, a reader wrote to me about judges and wine ratings and who to trust when looking up new wines. And also what websites, books and magazines could give the most accurate information? One friend “whips out his iPhone and uses an app that gives him “instant” ratings as he scans wine labels in the store. I couldn’t agree with most of those ratings that I saw.”

Experienced wine and beer writers, sommeliers, cicerones and judges have elaborate descriptions and usually use the 100-point system. As a former wine shop owner, I can tell you that higher ratings do sell better than one that is not rated.

Higher ratings also naturally make a difference in the awareness of the product and probably the enjoyment. It really shouldn’t, but it does. Can you trust that a 90-plus point wine is as good when you taste it blind not knowing its score? It all comes back to tasting experience, reading and knowing what you like.

As a lauded wine expert, I have blind-tasted a bunch over the years. It’s a wonderful opportunity to taste something and decide whether I like it or not. When that decision is finally made, the pedigree of the bottle is revealed along with the price. Sometimes I agree with the rating, sometimes I’m certain we’re not talking about the same wine.

Recently, I was asked to play the guess-what-this-grape-is game. I’m good deciding if I like a beer or wine, but not so good at this. Recalling the last 10 minutes of dinner conversation regarding Rhone-style wines recently purchased, I guessed a Rhone-style blend. Nope, it was a Sangiovese from a Washington winery that I greatly admire and has garnered many 90-plus point wines.

The moral of this story — will you still trust me in the morning, or will you search for beverages highly rated by other experts? And if so, how do you know the other expert is any better at this guessing game than I am? Does a rating or description factor into your bottle-buying habits or does some other influence work for you? All puzzling questions for an industry that gives objective ratings on a subjective subject.

With the internet, there has been a rise in amateur critics to choose from — Yelp, Ratebeer or Vavino to name a few. These and other sites allow those with the time and elucidation to opine (witticism intended) about their favorite — or not so favorite — products. Many of these ratings are from people that have a modicum of tastings under their belt.

Professionals have a broad experience, tasting hundreds, even thousands of product in a day or a month. With that broad experience, you have a better understanding of what to expect from a producer, style or region. They can deduce a lot about a product just from reading the label.

I remember the day I blind tasted over 80 red wines in one day. I was judging for the Puyallup Fair’s amateur wine competition. My job was to taste, score and award the best wines. Seventeen other judges and I sat at tables of three and scored each wine brought to us on the traditional 20-point system, which quantifies aroma, color, palate and overall impression. I was assigned the red wine table. Even after spitting out every wine I tasted, by lunch my tongue was black, my teeth purple and I wanted a cold beer with my sandwich.

After lunch, it was back to the judging. I was not looking forward to this, but low and behold, the best wine of the day was presented to our table that afternoon. It was a beautifully balanced blend of blackberry and merlot. I can still remember the taste.

That experience and many others like it have shaped how I choose a bottle of wine or beer. I do utilize some of the ratings and I confess that a 90-plus wine or beer does have a certain appeal. But who does the actual description or rating is of great importance. Because of years of experience, I’ve come to know some of the critics’ palates and how they align with my likes and dislikes.

That’s one of the keys to choosing a bottle of beer or wine. A trusted producer or critic or favorite grape or region influences my decision in addition to the many tastings over the many years. So trust me when I say that a 90-plus rating, pretty label or flowery description should not be the singular reason to buy that bottle.

The 100-point rating system began in the early 1980s, when Robert Parker, a lawyer turned wine critic, developed a scale that has dominated the rating system. His 100-point scale is 96–100 – Extraordinary; 90–95 – Outstanding; 80–89 – Above average to very good; 70–79 – Average; 60–69 – Below average; 50–59 – Unacceptable.

Ratings are a subjective score given to a particular batch of wine or beer or cider. Ratings could be assigned by a critic or team of critics and would be based on quality as determined by each individual critic.

During the scoring process, wines, beers and other libations are tasted blind; tasters have no knowledge of label, price or lack of pedigree other than it may be a Cabernet, an IPA or a cider. Their tastings are performed blind, although reviewers may know style, variety or region but never the producer or price.

Imagine a group of tasters reviewing more than 15,000 wines each year in blind tastings before publishing anywhere between 700 to 1,800 reviews a year. Using the 100-point rating system, this international magazine has built a following over the years. There is a big difference in this rating system: it’s a group of tasters that changes every so often. A collective palate rather than one individual palate is harder to gauge.

So the key to deciphering a wine rating is finding a critic you can trust. Keep in mind, the best way to find a wine critic you trust, is to try a few different wines and see which critic you agree with the most. Until you find a critic that you trust, take all wine ratings with a grain of salt, continue to read and choose bottles you think are good. Blind taste them and take notes!

Blind tastings are educational, for novice and critic alike. Never stop reading — books, magazines and newspapers, and websites contribute to the knowledge about the who, what, why and where of that tasty beverage in your glass. Cheers!

Aged Beers and Craft Breweries

With all the holiday and birthday celebrations, a veritable cascade of craft beers flowed into my glass: Some aged, some hopped, many rich, many malty and all made by craft brewers.

Craft brewers are small, innovative brewers. Small is defined as an annual production of 6 million barrels or less. Craft beer is usually made with the traditional ingredients of malted barley, yeast and hops for a variety of different styles, but employing interesting techniques and innovative ingredients creates even more styles to choose from. Think bourbon barrel aging or adding maple syrup or raisins.

In 2017, there were a record number of craft breweries in the United States – over 6,000. As of July of this year, there were 6,655 United States breweries, the most in history. This surpasses 1873 — yes, 1873 — when there were 4,176 breweries in the 37 United States.

European craft breweries are still ahead with over 8,500. Statistics show 6,071 craft breweries in seven leading countries in Europe in 2017. The United Kingdom has the largest number with over 2,000, followed by Germany with 1,295.

As a result, most of us live within 10 miles of a craft brewer or two or six. And if each craft brewer made six beers, well, you get the picture. There are many beers in this world. Each made with a different combination of malted grains, hops and yeast.

There are hundreds of yeast varieties. In 1841, yeast was identified as the prime engineer of fermentation. Since then, yeast strains have been cultivated and redesigned for their unique aromas and flavors.

In the beginning, styles of beer were driven by climate. For instance, colder regions used yeast that could ferment at colder temperatures. Today, craft breweries use clean cultures of yeast for better control of fermentation. Wild yeast is everywhere and can cause off-aromas and flavors. However, there are some breweries that use wild yeasts with great success, predominantly in the Lambic beers of Belgium.

In the beginning, there were the noble hop varieties of East Kent Goldings, Fuggle, Hallertauer, Saaz and Tettnang. Now, some of the trendiest hop varieties are, like cultured yeasts, cultivated for unique aromas and flavors.

Hops are used in four ways: bittering, aroma, fresh and dual. Bittering hops, most likely in IPAs, tend to have a high amount of acid and the accompanying bitter flavor. Aroma hops have less acid and more complex aromas. Most brewers use both at different stages of the fermentation process.

Fresh hop means the beer was made from hops that were harvested less than 24 hours before the beer was brewed. Naturally, these beers are brewed during harvest season. Dual hops have high levels of alpha acids (bitterness) and ample aromas.

Hops are the spice of craft beers. Some are tropical, others piney, some earthy, some floral and some hops have more alpha acids, which contributes to bitterness.

Traditional hops originated in Germany and England. Others were bred in the last century, such as Centennial bred for its aroma, Nugget, a resiny bittering hop, and the popular American-bred Willamette.

These days, designer hops have become fashionable — like Mosaic, Citra and Simcoe. And new hop varieties are continuing to be bred resulting in brews that may taste and smell of tropical, lemon, blueberry, tangerine and grapefruit. Others have pronounced piney, spicy, rosy, herbal or even a bubble gum character.

At a recent beer geek birthday party, eight of us tasted a bunch of beers. Most of those beers came from cellars and the resultant tasting was mind-boggling. Many of these beers come in small bottles of 8 or 10 ounces. Here’s what we tasted:

Although not aged in a cellar, Rogue’s 8 hop (8.88%) and 10 hop (10.10%) IPAs are richly brewed from hops grown on Rogue Farm. In the 10 Hop, Liberty, Independence, Revolution, Keven, Adair, Rebel, Newport, Yaquina, Freedom and Alluvial hops were used.

Belgian beers are favored by this group of craft beer fans. Sound Brewery Tripel Entendre (9.9%) and Entendez Noel, a Belgian Style Pale Quadrupel (11.8%), were pulled from the cellar.

Brouwerij Lindemans Cuvee Renee was a beautiful Oude Kriek Lambic ale made with cherries and wild yeast that was lost in someone’s cellar for a few years. Another masterpiece was Liefmans Cuvee Brut, an aged ale made with cherries and cherry juice, barley malt, sugar and wild yeast.

Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra, pushing the Belgian yeast to 15%, is brewed with “an obscene” amount of malt and raisins. 

And the hilariously-labeled-but-totally-delicious He’Brew the Chosen Beer Jewbelation, a Sazerac Rye Whiskey barrel-aged ale, is a Hanukah brew similar to a Christmas or Winter beer style.

Another wonderful winter beer was a 2015 Silver City Bourbon Barrel Old Scrooge (9.6%), and the Austrian Samichlaus Helles, a malt liquor of 14%.

Sam Adams 1995 Triple Bock — brewed with malted barley, noble hops and maple syrup — was aged in whiskey barrels. A first, back in 1995.

The Orkney Brewery’s Skull Splitter, named after Thorfinn Einarsson the 7th Viking Earl of Orkney, comes in a 330 ml bottle, which is a good thing for this rich, sweet dessert beer with an ABV 8.5%.

Not only was this a wonderful celebration of a couple of holiday birthdays, but watching the Seahawks clinch a berth in the playoffs made for hearty cheers!

Another Gift Idea for the Wine Lover

Taste Washington
March 28-31, 2019 

Taste Washington is a Washington wine celebration! It’s a food and wine lovers’ wonderland! And tickets are on sale making this a fabulous stocking stuffer.

With more than 235 wineries, 65 restaurants and some of the nation’s most-talented chefs, this is the ultimate tasting. Get ready to drink and eat to your heart’s content.

Thursday, March 28
For one night only, this exclusive experience takes you ‘into the cellars’ of Washington’s premier winemakers to taste the best of the best. This is the only event at Taste Washington where you will you find Washington winemakers’ most-coveted bottles.

Friday, March 29
Home to everything from shellfish farms to fruit orchards, it’s no surprise Seattle has one of the most unique and exceptional farm-to-table dining scenes in the country. Taste Washington On the Farm invites you to come around the table with farmers, winemakers and chefs to celebrate the hands and land behind Washington’s food and wine. You’ll have the chance to get outside and tour a local farm, then enjoy a sensational lunch paired with some of the best Washington wines alongside the chefs and winemakers who craft them.

Saturday & Sunday, March 30-31
CenturyLink Field Event Center
A truly ‘grand’ experience, this two-day event is overflowing with Washington’s culinary riches. With delicious samples from over 235 Washington wineries and bites from over 65 local restaurants, there a lot of good things to taste here.
Whether you’re a seasoned wine and food connoisseur or simply a fan of eating and drinking great things, there’s something to satisfy every taste bud at this event. Thank goodness there’s two days to discover many good wines and foods.
Wishing you a very Happy Holiday!

Wine Gift Ideas – What I Want for Christmas

A long time ago, I complimented a friend on how good she was at her career. And she said something that has stuck with me ever since. “Everyone is good at what they love to do. You’re good with wine, I’m good with kids.” 

It’s true I don’t find wine daunting and absolutely enjoy helping friends, family and readers choose the best wine for the occasion.

Sometimes vintage matters, sometimes price. Thinking about the sheer volume of wine produced worldwide, there are still many, many wines to try that could be a contender for your favorite wine.

For the many holiday occasions in the weeks to come, here are few of my favorite go-to wines, good for gracing a dinner table or gift giving.

Many great wines come from venerable vineyards such as To Kolan or Clos Mouches. With the great pedigree comes a three figure price tag. While looking for affordable wines, look for blends, sometimes of grapes, sometimes of vineyards, and sometimes both.

Many of my choices are venerated producers, ones that have been producing for decades, ones that I trust year in and year out because they have had their vineyards forever, most are very affordable but upper end wines are also available from these producers. You’ll be pleased with the quality/price ratio.

Beringer Vineyards has been producing wine since 1876. With 1,600 acres of vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles, you can be assured this award winning winery has what you’re looking for.

Known for the many firsts in California winemaking such as gravity fed facilities, hand dug cellars and the first to give public winery tours. They have several tiers at several price points, red, rosé or white. This is a two thumbs up for gift giving or the holiday dinner.

Bogle Vineyards is another California winery in the Clarksburg region. They began farming in the mid-1800’s and ventured into grapes in 1968. With more than 1,200 acres of grapes, the Bogle family can offer you rich, luscious reds for any occasion.

Look for the Phantom Red, a blend of mostly Petite Sirah and Zinfandel with a dollop of Merlot and Cab. Their perennial award winning Petite Sirah is so intense and concentrated. And it’s no wonder, as this was the first red grape founder Warren Bogle planted in 1968.

The Old Vine Zinfandel is from 75-year-old, gnarly head-trained, dry farmed vines that produce small, concentrated clusters of fruit, resulting in deep, glass-staining, concentrated wines.

J. Lohr Estates is another California winery that I can highly recommend both their reds and whites. A huge grape growing operation in the Central Coast, they have more than 3,600 acres in Monterey and Paso Robles. The Seven Oaks Cab is sourced from Paso Robles and is a crowd pleasing, attractively priced wine.

The 2017 Riverstone Chardonnay is a fabulously balanced Chardonnay for professed oak lovers and understate-the-oak lovers like me. It was the favorite Chardonnay in our blind wine tasting and around $15.

The J Lohr Wildflower is an unusual but delightful wine to give to any wine lover. It’s made from a red grape called Valdiguié from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. Whatever choice you make, know that J Lohr wines deliver much quality no matter the price.

The Hess Collection is another well-established California winery that over delivers quality for the price. High on top of Mount Veeder, Donald Hess first acquired 900 acres in 1982. What is incredibly impressive, he set aside over 600 acres as undeveloped land to support wildlife corridors, fish friendly farming practices and biodiversity. Wow. The Hess Collection and Select Reds are blends that are rich, balanced and awesome.

Rodney Strong Vineyards was my first Chardonnay love. A former Broadway dancer, Strong moved to California and took up winemaking. His Sonoma County winery was founded in 1959 and transitioned from a jug wine source to vineyard designated wines. I’ll always remember the Chalk Hill Chardonnay 1979 while camping at Scenic Beach State Park. It was perfect with a grilled steak and corn on the cob.

Casa Santos Lima is a family owned company dedicated to the production, bottling and selling of Portuguese wines. Almost 1,000 acres of vineyards, produce award winning Portuguese wines. A wine to buy by the case, would be their recent release of Colossal, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Syrah, Tinta Roriz and Alicante Bouschet. It’s big, rich and could age beautifully for a few years. Best part – it’s around $10.

Other wines to consider: For Malbec lovers, Alamos from Mendoza is so good with black raspberry, toasty oak and a smooth finish. All for under $10. For pasta night, Badia y Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti. This bright wild cherry and herb flavors is the perfect match for lasagna or spaghetti with meatballs.

Spanish wines should also be on your list. Along with South American wines, they’re very affordable, best buys even. I’m always on the lookout for Jorge Ordonez or Eric Solomon imports. Both have outstanding reputations for sniffing out small, many times decades old vineyards that produced intense, affordable wines.

Evodia Garnacha is one such wine, a custom cuvee made for importer Eric Solomon of European Cellars. This immensely juicy, dark-fruited red comes from ancient vines on a high plateau in Spain’s Calatayud region. Under $15.

Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos has long been a favorite of mine. Imported by Jorge Ordonez, ($16) it’s filled to the brim with black cherries and spice from old vines in Spain’s Campo de Borja region. Bodegas Borsao is from a cooperative formed in the mid-1900’s with 375 different wine growers!

All wine is at its best when shared. Share what you love with those you love. Always remember, it’s the thought that really counts. Happy Holidays!