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!

Holiday Tours and Tastings

Just in time for the holiday season, here’s a guide to few nearby travel adventures. Trekking to special places is a marvelous way to celebrate the holiday season with family and friends and accomplish a little holiday shopping, too.

One particularly distinctive place to visit is the newest Puget Sound AVA winery, Sailor Vineyards, just outside of Port Townsend. The winery is distinctive for three reasons: the owners’ nautical background, 3 acres of vineyards in the scenic hills above Port Townsend and the grape variety planted — Marechal Foch.

After years of sailing the seven seas, Kit and Claire Africa cruised into Port Townsend and traded in their sails for shovels and hammers. Their background as researchers came in handy for this new tack in life.

in 2009, they began the arduous task of planting their vineyard. And because of their scientific data-gathering background, each row is numbered and each vine in the rows is also numbered.

And what they found was Row 18, vine 2, “nicknamed Bellwether,” is uncanny in its ability to predict days to harvest. When 18-2 grapes hit veraison, it’s exactly 55 days to harvest. And then there is Row 13, vine 13. Out of 2 acres planted in 2009, here is a vine that has yet to ripen. Coincidence?

Marechal Foch (Mar-a-shal Fosh) is a French hybrid that’s an early ripener, resistent of disease and cold hardy. Foch is an unusual red grape because even the pulp is red. It’s versatile, produced in styles from a fruit-forward, similar to Beaujolais, to a more extracted wine with glass-staining properties.

The hardworking owners are minimalists when it comes to enology, the science of winemaking. No fining, filtering or added sulfites. The newest vintage named Dogwatch Red, is a nautical term used for the short watch period, generally used to rotate the system of six-hour watches.

The small production makes this wine a very special, very local gift to give for the holidays. Sailor Vineyards doesn’t have official open hours so catch up with it either their website or on Facebook.  

The next stop is Finn River Farm and Cidery in nearby Chimacum — an award-winning sustainable business that farms and ferments from its orchards and other orchards in Washington.

Finnriver is on a former dairy farm just south of the Chimacum crossroads. This working farm is a great place for all ages to connect with nature strolling the orchards, observing the working geese and lambs who assist in managing grass and weeds and, of course, tasting some really delicious ciders.

Finnriver offers “unique interpretations” of traditional and innovative ciders. There are more than 50 varieties of apples used that range from desserts and russets to the more traditional bittersharps. Old European and early America varieties with names like Wolf River, Tom Putt and Cox Orange Pippin are fermented together.

Here you can enjoy at least over 25 bottlings in traditional, craft, botanical and the orchard series. Some ciders are blended with other fruits, some use wine yeast and some use beer yeast. And for designated drivers and those underage, try the root beer and non-alcoholic cider.

Finnriver is open daily from noon ‘til nine. Wander the orchard, learn about the apples and enjoy a taste in the Garden Pavilion. Finnriver hosts food vendors mainly on weekends, with wood-fired pizzas, Hamma Hamma oysters and bratwurst. So, bundle up, pack up the kids and go!

Bainbridge Island’s Good Egg Bakery & Cafe expertly organizes unique events, pop-up dinners and private parties. Good Egg was opened by Alice Hunting and Lena Davidson a year ago, and they cook up both simple and fancy affairs for breakfast, lunch and special occasions.

One recent special occasion was a pop-up event for the worldwide Beaujolais Nouveau release. Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine of the vintage and is always released the third Thursday of November. It’s a festive start to the holiday season.

I love tasting this wine to get a glimpse of what France’s newest vintage has produced before it’s released two or three years from now. 2018 harvest looks to be very good.

Good Egg tapped a cask of this and served up some delectable dishes. On the menu: Salmon Mousse Tartine, Roasted Half Chicken with Carrots and Lentils, Polenta in Delicata Rings with Beet Relish and crispy Kale, and Cabbage Rolls with Merguez and Rice. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, a nice place to be.

If you’re interested in these wine related pop-up events, join the restaurant’s mailing list or check out the events calendar at www.goodeggbi.com.

Hunting’s enthusiasm for wine began while working for a full service wine cellar in Seattle. After she and Davis opened Good Egg on Bainbridge Island, they collaborated with Harbor Square Wine Shop and Tasting Room for these wine related pop-up events.

Soon celebrating 12 years, Harbor Square Wine Shop and Tasting Room is a great place to pick up a few bottles for gifts and for those special dinners. They have one of the biggest collections of large format wines in Washington State including magnums, Jeroboams, Methuselahs and other larger formats named for Persian kings.

Located on Winslow Way East, there are over 1,000 wines from all around the world with particular emphasis on wines from the Northwest, France, and Italy.  Wines include selections for everyday, special occasions and your cellar.

The Wine Bar is also a wonderful place to hang out. Wines by the glass are poured from a twelve tap system that keeps the wine under a nitrogen blanket to prevent oxidation or vinegar bugs taking over. This system allows the Wine Bar to feature boutique wineries with higher quality than is usual for selections of wine by the glass.

Did you know Seabeck has a winery? Yes, in scenic Seabeck a family-run winery is making wine from grapes harvested from the Red Mountain AVA. While Seabeck Cellars is not yet open to the public, you can find their wines at Seabeck Landing General Store and Lone Rock Mercantile both on the Seabeck Highway.

Holiday in the ‘Hood 2018 takes place on Dec. 16. Party with Grape Killers Guardian Cellars, Baer Winery, Stevens Winery, Mark Ryan’s Board Track Racer and Sparkman Cellars in the Woodinville Warehouse District wineries and tasting rooms. They’ll be serving up killer wines, tasty snacks and “the crazy antics you could only expect at a Grape Killers event.” Tickets can be had from https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3907731.

Cheers and happy holidays!

Thanksgiving Dinner Wines

The key ingredient of any feast is the wine. When it comes to Thanksgiving’s contrasting fare, I prefer the shotgun approach. With so many different flavors on one plate, selecting wines to partner up with all those flavors is made stress-free by following this methodology.

With various enjoyable wines and several glasses lined up, allows you to try the wines side by side with each mouthful of the roasted turkey with sausage and onion dressing, tart cranberries, earthy Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes and even green beans drowning in cream of mushroom soup topped with crunchy onions.

Sparkling wine is the classic for all holiday celebrations. They’re impressive because they’re celebratory and, as an added bonus, they pair well to most any dish. The crisp effervescence is perfect with fried, hearty or rich dishes and the usual assorted appetizers from cheese and crackers to crab claws with lemon and butter or seafood sauce.

For the budget minded, a Spanish Cava such as Cristalino Ro or Domaine Ste Michelle brut or Ro would be perfect. Washington’s Treveri Cellars produces some of the state’s best sparklers. I highly recommend their Blanc de Noirs which is 100% Pinot Noir and sells for around $20. It’s the perfect hostess gift, too.

Some say stuffing, others do dressing. Call it what you will, it isn’t Thanksgiving without it. It can be cornbread or dry bread, stuffed with sage and sausage or dressed with oysters or mushrooms. Whatever recipe you favor, match the strongest flavor to your favorite wine.

For instance, the weight and flavors of a new world Chardonnay would be perfect with a cornbread dressing. From Monterey, J. Lohr Riverstone Arroyo Seco Chardonnay has exquisite balance and lush tropical and stone fruits. Out of Walla Walla, Gard Vintners Freyja, a blend of two thirds Viognier and a third Roussanne, would also pair beautifully.

For oyster stuffing, go with a Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc is bright with acidity and citrus flavors. It also has an herbaceous quality making it a perfect partner with vegetables like Brussel sprouts or green beans.

The Columbia Winery Stratos White is an unusual but beautiful blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Crisp, citrusy with a floral nose, this is a foodie wine. Another perfect partner is the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Greg Norman. Bright with acidity and liberal with citrus and tropical fruit flavors. Chateau Pajzos hails from Hungary and is a delicious dry white made from the Tokaji’s Furmint grape similar to Sauvignon Blanc but milder in flavor.

Sage and sausage work well with most any smooth medium bodied red. From Boushey Vineyards, Syncline’s Carignane Grenache is medium bodied, earthy red with hints of mushrooms. Two Vintners Columbia Valley Syrah is a winner, too. Jammy with raspberries and a little bit of dirt to balance all that fruit.

From Tuscany, Neil Empson’s Monte Antico is sure to please many. This IGT is predominantly Sangiovese with a bit of Cabernet and a dollop of Merlot.

Whether it’s deep fried, roasted, grilled or smoked, turkey with wine is a no-brainer. Most every wine will shine with turkey. The elegant Pinot Noir works well with turkey, especially if there is a mushroom gravy and stuffing involved.

My absolute favorite Pinot Noirs – this year – are Rain Dance Vineyards, Stoller Family Estates and Knudsen Vineyards, all from Oregon’s Dundee Hills and Chehalem Mountains AVAs. The 2015 Rain Dance Vineyards Pinot Noir is heavenly with its rich aromatics and well balanced red fruit and mineral flavors.

Stoller Family Estates Pinot Noir went through whole berry fermentation which brings out the bright red fruits of the grape and produces silky tannins. Knudsen Vineyards has a long and storied history in Oregon. The vineyards are planted to several clones of Pinot Noir that mature into elegant, rich wines.

An unoaked Chardonnay, a dry Alsatian Pinot Blanc or Gewürztraminer would be in the lineup too. One of my most memorable finds this year was the Chehalem Three Vineyard Pinot Gris. The amazing Pinot Gris Reserve is a rich, round Alsatian style that is barrel fermented in neutral oak. It is luscious.

Cranberry is probably the tangiest flavor and toughest to match. But with a Beaujolais Nouveau, the tart sweet flavors of cranberries works with this wine that is so full of fruit itself. Beaujolais Nouveau also plays well with turkey and stuffing. Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine of the vintage and is always released the third Thursday of November – just in time for Thanksgiving.

Another wine that is similar to a Beaujolais, comes from Sailor Cellars in Port Townsend. Their estate vineyards are planted to Marechal Foch, a hybrid grape that is a cross of a cross. Unusual for its red flesh, this wine has the stuffing to grace your Thanksgiving table.

Sweet potatoes have another flavor realm altogether. They require a little more thought depending on if it’s the sweet or savory version. If you’re still doing the broiled marshmallow topping, go with an Oloroso sherry; it’s sweetness will match the sweetness of the dish.

Otherwise, Viognier or a dry Gewürztraminer will make your mouth smile with the savory styles of the sweet potatoes. One memorable sweet potato dish was baked with dried apricots. It was great with a Monchof Riesling Kabinet.

When it’s time for dessert, remember wines need to be sweeter than the pie. In my family, there were two kinds of pie my father would bake. ‘Tis Mince (mincemeat) and tainince (everything else). “TM” would be pricked into the top of every pie crust to avoid confusion.

Late harvest Riesling or an ice cider shines with apple pie with good reason. Tawny port with its nutty, caramel flavors would be my choice with pumpkin or pecan pie. Mincemeat pies are intensely flavored with candied orange and lemon peels, raisins, apples and a myriad of spices. With ‘tis mince, an Oloroso or even a Pedro Ximénez would be the perfect match.

Hoping your holidays are the best ever. Cheers!

How to Read a Wine Label

Wine or beer labels are artfully designed to draw your attention with some eye catching colors or dog profiles. But if you read beyond the pretty pictures, you may learn a little about the wine or a beer in your hand.

Labels, both beer and wine, are federally required by the Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) to have detailed information regarding the contents of the bottle, such as the name and location of the producer, sulfite info, the grape or red or white or rose, volume, where and possibly when the grapes are harvested and alcohol percentage.

All this writing and what’s not there on the label tells a story about that beverage. The following may help you interpret that information.

The name of the producer and where its located is required. Location tells a story, too.  A winery may have many different labels but the town where the fermentation vats are remains the same. For instance, if it’s from Paterson, Washington, you can rest assured Washington’s founding winery, Chateau Ste Michelle, is involved; if it’s from Modesto,California,  it’s part of the Gallo empire. You may also find a California producer using grapes from Washington or Oregon.

The type or style of wine and where it’s harvested is required. In the New World, grape names, where they’re grown and possibly a vintage are on the label. In the Old World, regional names grace the label. There are a few exceptions, Alsace, Germany and Piedmont are examples of Old World wines that have grape and place names on the label.

The TTB’s rules about what grape gets to be on the label are very specific. In the U.S., if at least 75% of one varietal grape is used, (85% in Oregon), then a winery can put the grape name on the label. If less than the required amount, it will probably say Red Blend or Rose or White Wine. It could read “Meritage”, which is only a blend of specific white or red grapes used in Bordeaux, France.

Where a grape is grown is important information. Generally, the more specific the geography on the label the better the pedigree. For instance, on rare occasions, you may see American or a specific state on the label. California means it’s grown in California. American on the label is required when grapes come from two non-contiguous states, such as Washington and California.

The more geography on a label, the better the wine. Regional, AVA and vineyard names on the label pinpoint specific and sometimes exclusive areas where superior grapes have been grown. For example, Brune et Blonde Côte-Rôtie in the Rhone, Tokolon Vineyard (first planted in 1868) in Napa or Walla Walla.

The alcohol content is required. What the alcohol content will tell you if you have a sweet wine or a dry wine in your hand. That’s because during fermentation, the yeast eats up the grape sugars and belches out alcohol. The more sugars that are consumed, the more alcohol in your beverage. Dry wines range from 11.5% to about 16ish. Much depends on the grape used – some are fruiter than others. Zinfandel would be an example of a wine that could be in the 15% range and not be very dry.

Sulfites are naturally occurring in all fruit wines. If a wine contains more than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur dioxide, TTB requires ‘contains sulfites’ on the label. If the sulfites are lower than 10 ppm, a winery is allowed to put ‘no added sulfites’ on the label.

Back labels, beyond what producers think you should be smelling and tasting, could have useful information about the wine. Some information is required and some just darned interesting.

The Chehalem Willamette Valley 3 Vineyard 2016 Pinot Gris tells you that the Pinot Gris is from three vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Check out the back label, you’ll learn the grapes were harvested beginning August 30th and ended September 19th. Residual Sugar (R.S.) 0.8% (dry wine), and acidity (pH) 3.21 (crisp).

A bottle of Greystone 2014 California Petite Sirah caught my attention when I read Greystone and Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah could easily be my favorite grape and Christian Brothers’ Greystone Winery was the first winery I ever visited.

The back label said “cellared and bottled by Greystone Cellars.” Notice they didn’t say “produced by” only bottled and cellared. My guess is the wine was fermented elsewhere and Greystone Cellars bought it, bottled and cellared it.

Greystone is this massive building in Napa built by a business man to house the Christian Brothers winery and to store wines from other wineries. When it was built in 1889, it was the largest stone winery in the world. Its cavernous tunnels held 3 million gallons of aging wine. Today, the Culinary Institute of America owns the building and the name. Pretty impressive pedigree.

Canned Oregon White Bubbles hails from Dayton, Oregon the heart of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. In this AVA are heavy weights as Ken Wright Cellars Lemelson Vineyards, Carlton Cellars, Soter Vineyards, Elk Cove Vineyards and Tendril Wine Cellars.

The label is sparse on information but the label did say “produced and canned” which I found amusing. I was really impressed with this wine that I confess I drank from the can even though I told you to pour it in a glass. Hey, what can I say, I was on a wine adventure.

Harvest is Over, Time for Celebrations

Harvest is over. Crush is complete. Punch-downs and pressings are nearly finished. The wines from the 2018 vintage are fermenting awaiting the next stage. The year’s busiest shift for a winemaker and his crew is winding down. With the intense harvest season in the rear view mirror, now’s the perfect time to celebrate!

Harvest wine tours abound this month. Each region has their own special way of celebrating. Here’s a list of regions to visit and wines to taste. Most events take place in the next few weeks, just in time for you to try something special and snag it for Thanksgiving dinner.

The Harvest Wine and Cider Tour on the Olympic Peninsula is self-guided with small batch and award winning wineries and cideries from Chimacum to Port Angeles. These small craft wineries and cideries will throw open their doors and welcome you and your friends on November 10th and 11th.

At Harbinger Winery on the far side of Port Angeles, they are serving up a palatial tour of northwest bounty with award winning wines paired with slow cooked pot roast with root vegetables, apple and chevre bites, and a wild mushroom and sausage quiche. I envision lounging on the couch sipping great wines and enjoying the repast. One of my favorites is their Barbera, a wonderful wine that is crisp and perfect with a bowl of hearty stew. Their Bolero is a blend of two prolific Spanish grapes, Tempranillo and Garnacha aged in Hungarian and American oak.

Finnriver Farm and Cidery makes all kinds of great ciders from traditional cider apples from their 50 acre Chimacum Valley farm. Last spring, I was invited to Finnriver for lunch (catered by the Port Hadlock Inn) and a property tour as part of the Taste Washington on the Farm event. I was greatly impressed with this sustainable operation with many partners. This is so worth the visit, if you’re interested in traditional cider apple varieties, lambs, geese, herb farming, restoring a salmon creek or incredibly delicious ciders. At the event and most weekends, you can taste a slice of wood fired pizza hot off the Dented Buoy oven made with local seasonal ingredients.

Nestled in the woods by Port Angeles, Camaraderie Cellars will be serving up the newly released 2015 Sangiovese and 2014 Merlot paired with the Turkey Pumpkin Chili and pheasant sausage. This Award winning winery is all about big reds made for the dinner table.

Tickets for this Tour are available at Brown Paper Tickets and will get you a free tasting at each of the wineries, a commemorative wine glass and perhaps a bottle or two to grace the Thanksgiving table?

Bainbridge Island’s annual Wine on the Rock presents a Wine & Charcuterie Weekend on November 10 and 11th, just in time for your Thanksgiving Dinner menu planning.  Bainbridge Island winemakers will be on hand babysitting fermentations, pouring or just greeting their visitors.

This is a marvelous opportunity to meet with the winemakers, from 12-5pm on both Saturday & Sunday. Tickets are valid for both days (one visit at each winery) and includes the usual event wine glass, wine tasting at each winery, charcuterie to complement the wine tasting, and a four bottle wine tote.

The transportation options are numerous, buses and ferries, Uber and Lyft and the downright cool

Note: Amelia Wynn Winery will not be open for this event. Instead, their downtown Winslow Way tasting room will be open to taste and buy their fabulous wines.

From Friday, November 9 through Sunday, November 11th, a fabulous wine tasting takes place in and around Prosser in the Yakima Valley. The Drink Prosser Wine Club Experience is a wonderful opportunity for wine club members of participating wineries to be a guest member of other participating Prosser wineries. Grab your pass from your “home winery” and enjoy member benefits throughout town. And if you’re not a participating Prosser winery club member, you can still purchase a pass and be a Prosser Winery member for a day!

In Walla Walla, you can wander in the footsteps of winemakers, eating lunch at their favorite places, taste their wines and visit their favorite watering holes. Each weekend through December 16th has amazing itineraries to follow: Holly Turner at Three Rivers Winery, Jean-Francois Pellet at Pepper Bridge and Amavi Cellars, Cody Janett at Forgeron Cellars, or Ashly Trout, philanthropist, founder and winemaker at Brook & Bull Cellars and Vital Wine. There’s more to check out, winemakers, itineraries and other fun activities at Wander Walla Walla

These itineraries are free, self-guided and pay-as-you-go experiences. When you register for free, you do get perks at the winery of the weekend. Such as waived tasting fees and 10% off a purchase of two bottles or more.

There are also many regions that traditionally host Thanksgiving in the Wine Country. More on that and what wines work best with that traditional turkey dinner next time. Cheers!

Washingon’s Big Fruit Harvest

It’s been a bountiful harvest on the Kitsap Peninsula. Everywhere there are apple, pear and plum trees are bearing tons of fruit. In my yard, the three apple trees, Italian plum and two walnut trees are keeping me pretty busy. The race began in earnest the end of August, picking blackberries before the heat of the day.

Next on the to do list were apples. I froze them, thawed them and then pressed them for some of the sweetest cider I’ve ever tasted. Then I fermented 5 gallons of cider, baked couple of apple cakes, cooked up a dozen jars of apple sauce and when I ran out of jars, sliced over 30 pounds of apples and dried them. It’s a great snack, especially when accompanied with a thin slice of cheddar and a glass of Riesling.

The plums were plentiful too. They accompanied me to every meeting I went to. Out of town guests were sent packing with a bag of plums and apples. Plum tarts, plum wine and jars of spicy plum sauce now occupy my kitchen. I will trade a plum tart for a bottle of wine.

In my spare time, I helped out with crush at a few Bainbridge Island wineries. At Perennial Vintners last month, bottling was the order of the day. Because that’s what you have to do in a small winery to make room for the coming harvest. There is only so much room for a limited amount of tanks.

And this time of year, tanks are needed. Whites are bottled and reds go into barrels. At Perennial, the wine was pumped from the tanks into a smaller container about the size of an aquarium with six spigots. Next, bottles were gassed and then filled, corked and labeled by a crew of volunteers under the direction of owner/winemaker Mike Lempriere. He’ll be harvesting Müller -Thurgau from the Puget Sound AVA soon.

At Eleven Winery, owner/winemaker Matt Albee crushed Elephant Mountain Syrah and Viognier in mid-September and then Tempranillo. This week, the Lemberger is scheduled to arrive. Wine grapes arrive in big tubs called lugs. The lugs are so full of grapes, they’re moved around with a fork lift.

Albee had devised a system to tilt the tub with the fork lift so one volunteer can rake the grapes onto the moving conveyor line where two volunteers remove leaves, bugs and dried grapes. As the grape bunches reach the top of the conveyor, they fall into the crusher/destemmer. Stems fall into one lug and crushed berries fall into another.

When crushing is finished, the lugs are moved into the winery, treated with SO2 and covered with a cloth sheet to allow the sulfites to do their job of killing wild yeasts before off-gassing for 24 hours. After that, the yeast culture is added and voila! Fermentation begins.

Belfair’s Mosquito Fleet Winery has a similar setup however, their sorting tables are manned by at least a dozen enthusiastic volunteers who pick out the dried berries, leaves and other debris that are not Petite Verdot and Malbec grapes. It’s a convivial event with owners Brian and Jacquie Petersen and Scott and Jacy Griffin; lunch and, of course, tastes of award winning wines. Small wineries welcome and take very good care of their volunteers.

With anticipation and apprehension, winemakers keep tabs on their vines and weather at harvest time. It’s the age old winemaker question, when should picking begin? The answer, my wine friends, is blowing in the wind and different for each grape variety. Some are early ripeners, like Syrah and some are late ripeners, like Cabernet.

At an estimated 268,000 tons, the 2018 harvest in Washington is likely to be bigger than last year but not as big as 2016. That year holds the record for grape harvest at 270,000 tons. In contrast, Oregon’s harvest is estimated around 85,000 tons, on par with their 2015 record crop. And in British Columbia, harvest was at an all-time high of 32,700 tons.

A staggering two-thirds of Washington’s grape harvest is handled by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which includes brands such as Columbia Crest, North Star, Intrinsic, Col Solare, Seven Falls, 14 Hands, and, of course, Ste. Michelle.

Much of the growth is due to 58,200 acres of new vineyards that have matured. Most of these plantings are in established AVAs. But hold on to your hat – five new AVAs are on the docket. Applications for Goose Gap, Royal Slope, The Burn, White Bluffs and Candy Mountains have been filed.

It’s a busy time of year in but somehow the Yakima Valley wineries manage to harvest, crush and celebrate. They invite you to celebrate their bountiful harvest during the  Annual Catch the Crush on October 13th and 14th. Each winery offers its own celebratory activities such as grape stomps, crush activities, tours, free-run juice, hors d’oeuvres, live music, and of course, wine tasting.

If you purchase a Catch the Crush Premier Pass, you’ll enjoy exclusive food pairings, library tastings and tours. Wineries ask you to bring your own glass, photo ID and designated driver for this annual wine adventure. Cheers!

Oktoberfest begins in September

Fall seasonal beers are beginning to be released. Fresh hop ales, made from freshly harvested hops and soon the ubiquitous pumpkin flavored beers will be showing up on the shelves. It’s also the traditional time for king of festival beers – Oktoberfest.

Before refrigeration, beer was often made from autumn into spring. Summer fermentation was too chancy. Beer made in March (Märzen), was the last practical month for brewing and it was lagared in ice caves and ready for consumption in late summer. By the time cooler fermenting weather came about sometime around Oktober, the harvest of hops and grains were ready too.

These lagers were dark (dunkel), made exclusively with a kilned malt that really defined their bier. Today, that malt is used around the world and known as Munich malt.

Oktoberfest is a signal that lighter summer beers are shifting to a beer with a little more heft. A beer with amber hues, lightly kilned malty flavors, medium body and the body of a lagar.

This is no crisp hoppy IPA, hops in an Oktoberfest beer are restrained, and decidedly of the noble German variety. These beers are perfect matches for bratwurst, schnitzel and other hearty harvest fare.

All this leads up to the world’s most famous beer festival in Munich. Oktoberfest, the festival, is an annual event that celebrates harvest, beer and food.

In heaven there is no beer, because it’s all drunk at Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival which begins in September not in October. During the 16-day event in 14 big beer tents and a dozen smaller ones, over 3 million visitors drink 11 million liters of beer, munch on pig’s knuckles, roasted oxen (60 in 2016) and chicken (22,000 in 2016). There are parades, shooting galleries, crossbow competitions and, of course, lots of music.

It all started back in 1810, when a couple of Bavarian royals got married and invited the whole city of Munich to come to the celebration. Today, the Munich Oktoberfest continues the tradition of opening 15 days before the first Sunday in October.

As you can well imagine, things get lost at the world’s largest beer festival. Here’s the official list from Oktoberfest 2016 lost and found office: 350 pieces of wardrobe, 350 passports, 120 wallets, 110 smartphones, 211 pairs of glasses, 100 umbrellas, 85 keys, 35 bags and backpacks, 30 pieces of jewelry, 10 cameras, one flugelhorn, one Napoleon-hat, one monk’s robe, one limited edition Oktoberfest mug (price tag: 120 Euro), two wedding rings (both engraved), two paddles, two blood sugar analyzers and a pair of red high heels.

Other cities around the world have Oktoberfest celebrations that are modeled after the original Munich event. If you can’t afford the airfare, Oktoberfest in Bavarian modeled Leavenworth is the next best thing to being in Munich.

This year, four venues serve up German and Washington beer, bratwurst, schnitzel, and pretzels. There is live entertainment and free shuttles in Leavenworth and affordable shuttle routes all the way to Wenatchee.

The Keg Tapping Ceremony happens each Saturday at 1:00 pm. This Bavarian tradition has Leavenworth’s Mayor tapping the first keg just like in Munich.

It begins Friday, October 5th and runs each Friday and Saturday until October 20th. Friday’s are 6pm until midnight and Saturday’s run from noon until 1am. Tickets are $10 on Fridays and $20 on Saturday. Food and drink can be purchased inside the festival with either cash or plastic.

More details here http://www.leavenworthoktoberfest.com/

Washington’s Largest Munich-style Oktoberfest takes place the weekend of October 5, 6 and 7 indoors at the Washington State Fair Events Center in Puyallup.

Two Festhalles, the Munich Festhalle and Bavarian Festhalle dish up authentic food and bier. Bavarian Bier-lympics entertainment includes Hammerschlagen®, a Brat Toss – think football toss only with a bratwurst, Stein Holding – how long can you hold a full stein, arm extended, and a Keg Rolling contest.  Hammerschlagen® is a Pacific Northwest bar game. The goal is to drive a nail into a cross section of wood faster than your opponents.

The 11th Annual Running of the Wieners starts at 11:00am on Sunday the 7th. Dachshunds compete in various races and competitions. The races benefit local rescues chosen by race organizers NW Wiener Races. Visit their website for more details: https://www.oktoberfestnw.com/

Oktoberfest Weekend at The Hub in Gig Harbor begins this weekend and runs through October. Harmon Brewing is behind the fun and games. This festival has  live music, games, and beer. A stein holding competition grand prize winner will win a trip for two to Leavenworth’s Oktoberfest. And there is the HarmonSchlagen, a brat eating contest, an Oktoberfest Trivia contest, Tapping the Firkin Keg and Sunday’s Hangover Breakfast.

These guys really want you to succeed! They’ve even published a training manual for Stein Holding. You can read about it and other info here: https://www.harmonbrewingco.com/oktoberfest/

Fremont’s Oktoberfest 2018 happens on September 21st through the 23rd at NW Canal Street and North 35th Street in Seattle. This weekend of beer features a wide variety of microbrews and German beers, live music, and chainsaw pumpkin carving contest.https://fremontoktoberfest.com/about/how-it-works/

 

Probst!

Producers to Savor during Harvest 2018

Bottling has been the major activity in many wineries these past few months, an annual pre-harvest must. Preparation for bottling or crushing usually takes more time than the actual bottling or crushing. It all has to do with keeping everything — vessels, hands, filters, bottles, corks and hoses — that comes in contact with the wine clean.

California’s harvest began two weeks ago with sparkling wine producers who always pick early for slightly under-ripe grapes. in 2017, over 4,000 wineries crushed 4 million tons of wine grapes. Oregon has also had several banner years. Its 474 wineries had 84,949 tons of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other grapes to ferment, rack, age and bottle.

Washington state’s wine grape harvest is shaping up to be bigger than 2016’s record-breaking harvest of 270,000 tons. More than 940 wineries harvested 227,000 tons in 2017.

A ton of wine will typically produce 768 bottles of wine. And, 270,000 tons equals almost 5 million bottles of Washington wine. An average American drinks 18 bottles a year. Fortunately, American wines are enjoyed by our friends Downunder, in Europe, Japan, China and Canada to name a few countries.

Here are some wines, in no particular order, recently tasted. Going through my notes, I’ve picked out wines that I found particularly delightful. Some are still available, others you’ll just have to get the newer vintage.

Beaucastel Chateau Neuf du Pape 2004 was on the bottom of the cellar and was out of sight for 10 years. It needed to be drunk now, I thought. But when I pulled the cork, aromas of cinnamon and Asian spices filled the air. And it was a gorgeous ruby color without a touch of orange. A beautiful wine with a lamb chop.

And another from the cellar, Roberto Voerzio Vigna Serra 1990, vino da tavola della Lange, da una Nebbiolo e Barbera. The Nebbiolo Barbera blend was earthy and plummy with wonderful aromas. The critics say he makes age-worthy Barolos. This wine was beautiful at 18 years old.

Luigi Righetti 1990 Capiteldella Roari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is produced from Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella. After harvest, the grapes are dried on wooden racks for five months before they are pressed and then aged in oak barrels. On the back label, I was informed that in 1990, Righetti produced 28,000 bottles of this Amarone. I thoroughly enjoyed No. 24081 with friends.

Child’s Play Columbia Valley 2015 Zinfandel was made by Tendril Wine Cellars owner and winemaker Tony Rynders. This had a fantastic balance. Not a huge, jammy, high-alcohol type Zin but more in the early California style of a claret. The fruit and acidity balances the 14.2 percent ABV.

Cairdeas Winery Diffraction 2016 Yakima Valley is a blend of 37 percent Syrah, 20 percent Grenache, and 17 percent Petite Sirah. The remainder is other traditional Rhone grapes: Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan. This one had earthy, chocolate, spice and plum aromas and flavors with Asian spices on a long finish.

The Chehalem Willamette Valley Three Vineyard 2016 Pinot Gris also has fantastic balance. This certified sustainable winery in Newberg produced this wine in the French style, meaning it is not fruit-forward like a Pinot Grigio but rich with peach, lemon peel and spice. Like a Pinot Gris from Alsace, this wine is in a bottle similar to Riesling.

Another great find this year was a bottle of Greystone 2014 California Petite Sirah.  This wine caught my attention when I read Greystone and Petite Sirah. The back label said “cellared and bottled by Greystone Cellars.” Notice it didn’t say “produced by.” Only cellared and bottled. My guess is a negotiator bought some juice, made the wine and Greystone Cellars took it from there.

Greystone is this massive building built by a businessman to house the Christian Brothers winery and to store wines from other wineries. When it was built in 1889, it was the largest stone winery in the world. Its cavernous tunnels held 3 million gallons of aging wine. Today, the building houses the Culinary Institute of America, which owns the building and the name.

Joe to go Oregon Rosé wine is made in Oregon and is really good wine. Back label states that it’s Oregon Grapes, fermented in stainless steel, produced and packed (in a can) by Wine by Joe, Napa, California.

Vinted and canned by Canned Oregon is a non-vintage Oregon Pink Rosé Bubbles that bursts with red berries, apples and a bit of spritz to make it refreshing. This is the ticket at the beach or after the long hike up the mountain.

Canned Oregon hails from Dayton, Oregon, the heart of the Yamhill Carlton AVA. In this AVA are such heavyweights as Ken Wright Cellars, Lemelson Vineyards, Carlton Cellars, Soter Vineyards, Elk Cove Vineyards and Tendril Wine Cellars.

Spanish Wine Adventures

This hot, dry weather of recent weeks is not nearly as hot and dry as what a Spanish grape vine survives in.

The Spanish wine industry has more acreage under vine than any other country in the world. And yet it’s not the largest producer of wine. The reason for this is that most of the country is dry and hot. Irrigation was not permitted until recently so most of the vines planted are eight feet apart – in all directions!

Spanish grapes are very different. With over 400 native varieties, you wouldn’t find until recently, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or Cabernet. Instead you’ll find white grapes such as Albariño, Verdejo, Viura, Palomino, Xarel-lo, Parallada and Macabeo.

Red grapes are a bit more familiar. Widely planted are Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache). Tempranillo by other names can be found in bottles of Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro. Garnacha is the main grape of Campo de Borja and Priorat regions, to name a few.

Indigenous grapes Cariñena, Godello, Graciano, Mencia, Loureira, and Treixadura, Monastrell and Bobal have significant plantings, and produce rosé and red wines. The main grapes for sherry production are Palomino and Pedro Ximénez or PX for short.

Much like the rest of Europe, you’ll find place names (Rioja, Campo de Borja, Ribera del Duero, Rias Baixas, Rueda) on the labels and more recently grape names, (Albariño, Garnacha, Tempranillo) too. In Spain, there are 69 major wine regions with either a Denominación de Origen (DO) classification or a Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOC) Classification.

Denominación de Origen is a governmental regulation used to designate quality wines. About two thirds of the vineyards are classified as DO. DOC is a step above the DO level. Rioja, Spain’s flagship red, was the first region permitted this designation in 1991. Twelve years later, the only other one, Priorat received its DOC.

The Blind Wine Tasters gathered recently to delve  into Spanish food and wine. Tasked with bringing a bottle of wine and tapas for ten, tasters sampled whites and reds, with the Machego cheese, Marconi almonds, Manzanilla olives and fresh made ceviche tapas. And with the most Spanish of dishes, paella, more reds were poured.

We started with Sherry. Sherry styles ranges from very dry to very sweet and there are dozens in between. It’s a fortified wine, from cooler regions due to the nearby ocean. The Barbadillo Sanlúcar de Barrameda (place name) D.O. Manzanilla (style) is a very pale, dry wine made from the white Palomino grape. Sanlúcar is on the estuary and the cool temperatures and high humidity are perfect for developing flor, an essential yeast for sherry. It provides a blanketing cap on the fermenting wine.

Around the same area but further inland is Mantilla-Morales, home of Fino Sherry. Finos are also pale and dry. The Don Benigno Fino and the Barbadillo Manzanilla are great tapas wines and a bargain to boot.

Cava is the name for Spain’s sparkling wine. 95% of Spanish cavas are produced in the Penedes. The two major producers are Cordoniu and Freixnet. There are plenty of smaller producers, one of which I can highly recommend: La Granja Cava Brut is made with 70% Xarel-lo and 30% Parellada. And it’s highly aromatic and delicious.

For the whites, we tasted an Albariño and Verdejo de Rueda. The Albariño outshone the Verdejo. In hindsight, I should have served the Verdejo first. It was on the drier side with more minerality. The Albariño was fragrant, juicy and a crowd favorite.

Marqués de Cáceres is a producer from the Rioja and Rueda regions. Their Verdejo de Rueda took some time to open up but once it did it was fragrant with floral, minerals and citrus. The grapes, like many in this hot country are picked at night when it’s cooler and spontaneous fermentation is less likely to occur in the vineyards.

The Albariño, was a Spanish grape but I kind of threw a curve ball to the blind tasters. I had tasted this wine last spring and loved it. Amelia Wynn’s 2017 Crawford Vineyard Albariño is stunning. Very fragrant, juicy and so well balanced.

Red wines from Spain may have a designation on the label that tells you how much aging the wine has received. The three most common and regulated terms are Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.

Crianzas are aged for 2 years with at least 6 months in oak. Reservas, 3 years with at least 1 year in oak and Gran Reservas, at least 5 years of aging with 18 months on oak and a minimum of 3 years in the bottle. These wines can be exceptional bargains if you’re looking for a wine with age.

The Cortijo Rioja Crianza 2016 is one of the best. A pre-fermentation cold soak boosts the wine’s aromas, color and flavors. After fermentation, half the wine spends three months in 3-year-old barrels and the other half in stainless steel tanks. This regiment produces a wine with softer tannins and better balance that highlights fruit and downplays the oak. The wine is redolent of red fruits and crushed herbs with smooth tannins and a wonderful juiciness.

Also from the Tempranillo grape, Tierra Aranda from the Ribera del Duero.  Harvested by hand from a rocky hillside, it’s fermented in concrete and goes through malolactic fermentation. But it’ll take a few years for this monster with hints of cherry peeking through the tannins to calm down.

The fragrant Lo Nuevo Garnacha Sorbo a Sorbo 2014 from Calatayud had flavors of raspberries and minerals. Sorbo a Sorbo translates to Sip Sip which is good advice. The finish was a bit tannic but was tamed by the paella.

The hands down favorite red of the afternoon was the San Gregorio Calatayud Garnacha. San Gregario was established in 1965 in the DO of Calatayud. Garnacha is the main grape of Calatayud with many plantings over 50 years old. Those old vines get to put “Old Vines” on their labels. Many wines are head pruned and not irrigated. This recipe for low production results in intensely flavored wines.

I’ve enjoyed this session on Spanish wines. It made me forget about the heat for a bit. Salud!