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

ChardoYay! or ChardoNay?

Chardonnay was the very height of fashion in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s still the queen of whites especially when Hood Canal crab season rolls around.

A green skinned grape, Chardonnay is a low maintenance vine that adapts to a variety of climates resulting in fairly high yields worldwide. Those high yields translate into millions of bottles of many different styles. The price of Chardonnay? Anywhere from $4.99 to a pinky-up Corton Charlemagne for upwards of $300.

However, there are still some people that haven’t tried it in 20 years. Tough to understand when you consider the many diverse styles produced worldwide. You just have to know the style you prefer and host a blind tasting.

The grape is a winemaker’s playground when it comes to fermentation and aging. Whether fermented in stainless, barrel or concrete vats, each produces a distinct style. Chardonnay can be aggressively oaked or a big, buttery bomb from malolactic fermentation. It could be fermented in a stainless steel tank for a crisp, clean white wine that pairs well with a sharp cheddar and apple slices.

Having a clear mission, a blind wine tasting was organized with wine lovers, oaky Chardonnay lovers and me. At the top of the oaky Chardonnay loving list is my wine buddy, Brynn Grimley who started this column and blog several years ago with a little help from her wine buddy – me.

Brynn loves Chardonnay, the oakier the better. I, however, am not a fan of oaky Chardonnay. She’s evolved. I think you’ll find our notes amusing no matter what we profess.

Ground rules: You don’t have to like it. You can pour it out but you have to try it and render an opinion whether it’s a simple thumbs up or down or something more effusive. Your favorite wine may be the one that others don’t like, that doesn’t make them right and you wrong. Each taster is poured an ounce or so and can revisit their favorite(s) after tasting all six.

The wines were tasted older vintage to newer vintage. Everyone had the same style glass, so no variations there. Below are my translated notes, the Big Reveal follows.

1) Very deep gold, delicate aromas and faded fruit (definitely a wine with age). Lovely bit of spice on the finish. One taster declared it was the best Chard ever. Many liked it.

2) Gold, muted aromas, subdued fruit, took much swirling to open up then aromas of caramel and some butterscotch on the palate. After more swirling, less caramel and more spice on the palate.

3) Light gold color. A better balanced wine with aromas of spice that follow through on the palate. Crème brulee flavors, good depth and a lighter gold, hints at a newer vintage. My fav so far.

4) Light straw color, no detectable oak, more peach, pear and ginger spice. Beautiful complexity with layers of acidity, minerals, flowers and spice. Very impressive!

5) Aromas of tropical fruits, with layers of minerals, crème brulee, stone fruits. My fav so far – charming from the start with balance and complexity.

6) Light straw color. Mineral and bready with pear and lime zest in the back ground. Mouthwatering, straight forward, and easy to quaff.

The Big Reveal

1)     Chateau Ste Michelle 1989 Columbia Valley Cold Creek Vineyards Chardonnay 13.7%

Winemaker’s notes: “This vineyard ripens relatively early and exhibits intense flavors of melons and apples. Enhanced …. with barrel fermentation, malolactic fermentation and aging in French oak to add complexity.

2)     Gallo Family 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay 14.2%

The name produced a Whaat! This generation of Gallos has a different winemaking program that their Italian heritage grandparents Ernest and Julio, who launched some 80 years ago.

3)     Shafer Vineyards 2005 Napa Carneros Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 14.8%

Shafer has been cultivating this sustainable vineyard since the late 80s. Carneros covers the southern portion of the Napa and Sonoma AVAs, where the gently rolling hills are cooled by breezes from San Pablo Bay. This 13-year-old was barrel fermented and aged in oak.

4)     Chehalem 2016 Willamette Valley INOX unoaked Chardonnay 13.2%

“The winter was warm, budbreak was early and 2016 never looked back – bloom, veraison and harvest were all early records.” Out of Newberg, this estate grown wine is Salmon safe and certified sustainable. Fermented in stainless steel tanks with native yeasts and aged 8 months in tank.

5)     J. Lohr 2016 Riverstone Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay 13.5%

Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel makes this Chardonnay from the “sustainably farmed, cool, windy Arroyo Seco vineyard in Monterey County. Malolactic barrel fermentation with sur lie ageing…” and the price made this my favorite, so far.

6)     Tendril Wines 2017 Child’s Play Willamette Valley Pinot Chardonnay 13.5%

Produced by Tony Rynders, an acclaimed winemaker with a master’s degree in Enology and Viticulture and a world of experience in Napa, Italy, Australia and now Oregon.

In the 60s and 70s, some California winemakers labeled their wine Pinot Chardonnay because they thought it was another Pinot mutation like Noir, Grigio, Meunier, and Blanc. At first, I thought Rynders was being quaint. But after I read his label, I discovered this wine is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Just like they do in Champagne only this one doesn’t have the bubbles. This is so worth slipping it into your next blind tasting.

Brynn:

Being an oak lover, my two favorites were the Shafer and the J. Lohr. The Chateau Ste. Michelle was too old. I bet it was a fantastic wine in its prime but, to me, it was over the hill. The stainless Chards were not my style, which is too bad because despite being an oak lover, I do love a crisp Chardonnay.

While I enjoyed the Shafer best, I was really hoping for a Chardonnay that blended all the styles in one bottle, hints of the warmth that oak imparts as well as the minerality and the crispness of apple and pear.

After some years of experience, the oak lover and the not-so-much-oak wine lover liked the same wines the best.

Riesling is a Noble Grape

Riesling is a grape of many ways. It can be dry from a fermentation that consumes all the fruit sugars, it can be still or sparkling. Some evolve gracefully from time spent aging in a bottle, others in a great big tartrate lined oak barrel that has been used for centuries. The interior of these barrels gives the wine a distinct mouthfeel that is definitely not anywhere near oaky.

Many people think Riesling is sweet and it can be. But there is so much more to it! Riesling can be semi-sweet or semi-dry, sweet or even real sweet as in dessert. It can be crisp and it can have a wonderful minerality. It’s a very versatile grape. And the Germans and Alsatians have been perfecting this for a few centuries.

A couple of common characteristics of Riesling, especially those from Germany, are they are rarely blended with other varietals and rarely exposed to oak. With the possible exception of some maverick vintners fermenting in neutral oak barrels or the Alsatians who use barrels lined with hundreds of years’ worth of tartrates.

The wine classification system in Germany is highly organized and much can be learned about the wine’s pedigree by reading the label. The German Wine Law of 1971 is strictly adhered to in Germany’s delineated and registered vineyards and the grapes from these vineyards can be used to make wine of the different quality levels, that are determined by the ripeness, or must weight (more sugars make a heavier must) of the grapes.

In Germany, sugar levels at the time of harvest are an important consideration in the Qualitatswein (quality wine) production. The sweetness of the wine is categorized using terms that describe the ripeness of the grapes such as Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Berenauslese, Trockenberenauslese and Eiswein.

Equally important is wine’s acidity which is made possible by the cool nights on the steep ridges of the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer Rivers off the Rhine River where some think the best Rieslings in the world are made.

Acidity is yang to the Riesling’s sugars yin. You must have an equal amount of both to make a balanced wine. There are two types of acidity, malic acid and tartaric acid. Malic acid is the softer rounder acidity. Similar to the mouthfeel of a nice cold glass of half and half. Tartaric acidity will bring a snappy citrus crispness to your wine.

In cool years, waiting until November to harvest Riesling is a high stakes gamble. If the birds don’t make off with the harvest, the longer hang time and cooler weather concentrates the sugars and the acidity levels definitely rise.

Hundreds of years of practice at making wine in a cold climate was an exacting science for German winemakers. They measured the fruit sugars, the acidity and always keeping an eye on the thermometer, both inside and out. Before refrigeration, wineries could and did stabilize the wine with the weather, the low temps in winter would halt fermentation and leave the wines with natural sugars and a resultant lower alcohol.

High levels of both acidity and sugar are necessary if you intend to age a Riesling. Riesling acquires more depth and breadth as it ages. If the levels are high, after ten or so years, they could precipitate out into “wine jewels” little tartaric deposits in the bottom of the bottle.

I recently shared (wine is always better when shared) a bottle of a Selbach 2003 Zeltinger Himmelreich Spätlese from my cellar. Reading the label word by word, Selbach is the producer. Himmelreich is the name of the town where the vineyards lie and Himmelreich is the name of the delineated vineyard. Finally, Spätlese is the name of the style the wine according to the strict law of the Germans. It was magnificent with the lemon, ginger and white pepper cake.

Another you may be familiar with is Dr. Loosen (In German, double vowels are never both pronounced, only the second vowel is used) 2016 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett. A delicious, lip smacking wine with everything. Spice, minerality, floral notes and lovely fruit.

The Langguth family winery was founded in 1789 by Franz Wilhelm Langguth. They have expanded from the Mosel to five continents. They also own the famous Blue Nun brand and is in the top five of German wine producers.

In the early 1980’s, they made the move to Washington state to try their winemaking knowledge on Riesling. They invested a heap of money to build a very huge winery in Mattawa. It opened in 1982. Jurgen Grieb, a graduate of a German winemaking institute, was imported to be the winemaker.

Weinbau Vineyard, a 460-acre vineyard was planted in 1981 as part of Langguth Winery. Alas, some good wines were made but after a few years they were out of business. Weinbau is now part of the Sagemoor partnership, the huge winemaking facility is a custom-crush winery and Jurgen Grieb liked Washington state enough that her stayed on to open his own winery, Treveri Cellars in Wapato.

Treveri Cellars Sparkling Riesling is, in the German tradition, 100% Riesling. From Washington’s oldest AVA, Yakima Valley, this sparkling wine is semi-dry and like any of their sparkling wines, perfect for every occasion.

One other enormous German influence on Washington Riesling comes in the form of a partnership between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen. Eroica Riesling was launched in 1999 and is 100% Riesling primarily the Ancient Lakes AVA. The winery describes the name best: “Named for Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Erotica reflects not only its variety and site, but also its heritage: bold and forward from its Washington roots, elegant and refined from German inspiration.” Well said.

 

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.