It’s the Sparkling Wine Season!

‘Tis the season and for many of us, popping corks is the perfect way to set a festive mood.

The history of Champagne documents a wine that wasn’t always bubbly. Gasp! In fact, bubbles were frowned upon.  And it wasn’t predominately made with white grapes as modern day bubbly is. That was frowned upon by none other than the supposed inventor of Champagne, Dom Pérignon. dom-perignon

In 1668, Dom Pérignon began serving as the treasurer of the Abbey of Hautvillers just north of Epernay. As treasurer, one of his duties was collecting tithes from the surrounding villages. This could be in the form form of grapes or wine, which he, as cellar master, fermented, blended and sold for twice as much as his competitors.

Naturally, the abbey flourished under this program and doubled the size of its vineyards. Dom Pérignon also worked on improving fermentation techniques at the abbey. This did not include inventing or improving sparkling wines. True story.

He did not like the refermenting process as it was spontaneous and could cause considerable damage in the cellar and as a result, hurt the bottom line.

With warming temperatures, refermentation in bottles would spontaneously occur. One bottle exploding meant nearby bottles, also under pressure, would explode and the chain reaction would begin. In the Pérignon era, refermentation in the bottle was a cellar bomb. Dom Pérignon worked tirelessly to avoid refermentation.

Dom Pérignon was also not fond of white grapes because of their tendency to re-ferment. The Abbey of Hautvillers wines were made from Pinot Noir and were not sparkling except by accident.

He also advocated heavy vineyard pruning for low yields, early morning harvesting, no trodding on the grapes to minimize maceration and blending, above all, blending during crush was important to the flavor of this light pink wine.

So, if Dom Pérignon inventing Champagne is the stuff of fairy tales, who did perfect the techniques to make this elegant, sublime wine?

Champagne, as we know it now, came to be two centuries after Dom Pérignon. The techniques of modern day Champagnes were 100 or so years in the making. The first major step, taken by a woman, came at the dawn of the 19th century. veuve clicquot

Veuve Clicquot was founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron. Philippe’s son, François Clicquot, married Barbe Nicole Ponsardin in 1798 and died seven years later, leaving his widow (veuve) in control.

In the 18th century, she was 27 and CEO. Her first year at the helm, she shipped 110,000 bottles of Champagne. Russia took delivery of 25,000 of those bottles. Russia, until the start of World War I, was the major Champagne buyer.

Under Madame Clicquot’s guidance, the house made many changes in fermentation and storage that made mass production of Champagne possible. In the early 19th century, with the assistance of her cellar master, Antoine de Müller, they made many advancements in méthode champenoise.

Veuve Clicquot invented the riddling rack. The rack is used to this day to shake (remuage – also a Clicquot invention) the yeast into the neck of the bottle before dégorgement (an important technique of ejecting the dead yeast cell plug).

After all the sediments were ejected, a small amount of wine was added, sweetened to a specific degree to prevent explosions. This took place in the first ever crayeres (chalk caves, formerly quarries) –another important oenological improvement.

In 1810, she created the first vintage champagne. Much later it was named for her – La Grand Dame. Moet y Chandon’s vintage champagne is called Dom Pérignon. Today, vintage champagnes are only made from the best grapes from the best vineyards in the best years.

Yes, the production of quality sparkling wine is labor intensive. It begins in the vineyard with hand harvesting. Rarely are the grapes mechanically harvested which would unnecessarily break the skins and bruise the fruit resulting in more phenols and color in the wine before fermentation.

Grapes are generally harvested earlier than other regions before the fruit sugars fully develop. Since sparkling wines under go two fermentations – one to make the alcohol and one to make the bubbles, higher fruit sugars would result in higher alcohol and low acidity.

In the first fermentation, carbon dioxide is released and in the second fermentation, it is trapped in the bottle making tiny bubbles or perlage, if you want too sound like a sommelier.

In addition to Champagne, there are sparkling wines from French Champagne houses in California: Louis Roederer’s Roederer Estate, Moët Chandon’s Domaine Chandon, G.H. Mumm’s Mumm Napa and Taittinger’s Domaine Carneros.

And one of my all time favorites is Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma. In 1982, the Spanish Ferrer family purchased 250 acres in Carneros and planted it to Pinot Noir. The Ferrer family owns the largest sparkling wine facility in the world – Freixenet.

In the Great Northwest, Oregon’s Argyle began in Dundee with the 1987 vintage. Today, they produce at least ten sparkling wines from the traditional grapes and methods. Also in Oregon, is Soter Vineyards, a long time Pinot Noir expert. These two are worth the search.

Washington State also produces very affordable sparkling wines well worth your hard earned dollars. Domaine Ste. Michelle produces boatloads of brut in the Méthode Champenoise.

Mountain Dome Winery opened in September of 1984 at the foot of Mt. Spokane. The former family owned winery produced both vintage and non-vintage bruts. Things changed in 2006 with the death of owner/winemaker Michael Manz. The winery is now owned by Don Townshend, who also owns Townshend Cellars.

Finally, there is Treveri Cellars, a newer winery making sparkling wine from the traditional and nontraditional sparkling wine grapes such as Syrah, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. They do méthode champenoise very well!

Brighten your holiday festivities with a bottle of bubbly. Nothing is more iconic to ring in the holidays.

Cheers! and Happy Holidays!

Roll out the Barrel Aged Beer

While browsing the Washington State Visitors’ Guide recently, an amusing thought occurred to me. We all know where wine country is but where is beer country?

In this visitor’s guide, fun trips for visiting family and friends included boom towns, bike trails, fairways, volcanoes, heli-skiing, islands, rain forests and wine country but nothing about beer country.

So I did an online search for beer country. Nada. No where. Another search for hop country was darned fascinating. There is no such thing as hop country but there is Hick Hop Country which is a concept pertinent to beer in unique ways.

When you think about Wine Country, you envision vineyards, barrel rooms and tasting bars. You know this is where they grow great grapes, ferment and age fabulous wines. Federal Law actually requires the wine labels to inform you where the grapes are from be it Barossa Valley, Burgundy or Bainbridge Island. And this helps you understand the importance of wine regions where the wine grapes are grown to the wine’s quality.

But most beer labels are woefully sparse on the origins of the grains and hops and how they’re treated in the fermentation process that will affect the final product. It doesn’t make sense that where grain and hops are grown doesn’t contribute to the quality of the brew, especially when you consider how much hops and grain are grown in Washington State.

Washington State produces 77% of the United States’ hop harvest. Washington hop growers raise both aroma and alpha variety hops. The majority of the hops produced in Washington are alpha and super alpha varieties. Alpha hops are designer hops, used as a bittering agent in your IPAs and other brews.

Traditional aroma varieties, Willamette, Cascade, and Mt. Hood have been grown in eastern Washington – aka Wine Country – for generations. The economic impact of the Washington beer industry contributes greatly to our state’s economic vitality. Revenue generated was in excess of $6 billion in 2014.

While many of us are proud of the wonderful award winning beers produced here in the Kitsap Peninsula, we are clearly behind in per capita consumption. In 2012, the United States drank 77.1 liters per person, with some doing more and others clearly not doing their part.

We rank 14th in per capita beer consumption behind the likes of Finland, Panama, Slovenia, Venezuela and other more obvious stein sloshing nations like the Czech Republic, Poland, Ireland and Germany. Astonishingly, IPA’s namesake, India, drinks 2 liters per capita which is the equivalent of 5.6 six packs.

Wine on the other hand, is an equally intriguing story. Not surprisingly, the majority of the highest ranking wine consumption countries are in Europe. Surprisingly, it’s the country of Vatican City that utterly dominates every other country, with 73.38 liters per capita in 2012. That is amazing considering there are only about 800 Roman Catholic adults in this country. France clocks in at 44.12 liters per capita. And Italy? 37.54 liters per capita.

Even Canada (11.70L) quaffed more wine than the United States, at a mere 10.33 liters per capita. The take away from this news is we, as a country need to give more beer and/or wine gifts.

We can start with our Christmas lists. Cross off sweaters and such and give a thoughtful gift of Eleven late harvest Viognier, Rolling Bay Syrah or Amelia Wynn Merlot.

On the beer side, I would highly recommend a barrel aged beer. Barrel aged beer is more complex, richer and concentrated. For thousands of years, beer was not only aged but brewed and transported in wood. Today, they’re boiled in copper kettles, fermented in stainless steel and for the most part, then bottled. But several years ago, the bourbon barrel made its grand entrance into the brewing world.

The law dictates that bourbon makers can only use a barrel once. After that first use, the expensive barrels are re-purposed. Bourbon barrels are sent around the world to age Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Sherry, and most recently, big beers.

Bourbon barrels aren’t the only containers brewers are using, either. Those creative folks also use sherry, wine, tequila, and rum barrels. At a recent barrel aged beer tasting, I tasted beer aged in bourbon, brandy, sherry, tequila, Viognier, Muscat, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay barrels. One beer was even made with grains, Grenache Blanc and Chardonnay grapes and fermented with both lager and champagne yeast.

deschutesHere are a few barrel aged beers that would make great stocking stuffers:

Deschutes The Abyss is imperial stout, partly aged in Bourbon, Pinot Noir, and new oak barrels.  Almanac’s Barrel Noir is a stout aged in tequila barrels. And Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper is a quintessential bourbon barrel aged imperial stout, full of chocolate covered caramel flavors

Firestone Walker’s Anniversary Ales are always a blend of bourbon and brandy barrel aged beers. Most years the blend can be from as many as eight separate barrels of their Parabola, Stickee Monkee, Bravo and/or Velvet Merkin. The result is a masterful blended beer that is highly sought after and prized.  The perfect gift.

Scaldis Prestige NuitsScaldis Prestige de Nuits is a Belgian strong ale that’s aged in Burgundy barrels from Hospices de Nuits Saint Georges. This prestigious French Burgundy barrel caught my attention. The beer takes almost a year to produce and is fermented a total of three times. Once in tank, then in the wine cask, and finally in the bottle. And it’s a third of the price of a bottle of Hospices de Nuits Saint Georges.


Let the Celebrations Begin

The Celebration Season has begun. What bottles will you open? Here are some enologically education events to get you in the swing of things in the next few weeks.

The JW Restaurant in Gig Harbor presents an evening with Dave Huse, owner of Walla Walla’s Five Star Cellars. Dave is a wonderful man with a twinkle in his eye and some great stories. The twinkle is probably because he has some of the best wines in Washington. A while back I won, hands down, the Blind Wine Group Tasting with his 2008 Cab.

It’s Wednesday, November 18th at 6pm, mosey on down to the JW Restaurant in Gig Harbor for a delightful 4 course dinner paired with his wines. Reservation only. For more info,

Beaujolais Nouveau release day is always the third Thursday of November, the week before Thanksgiving. It may be coincidence that this wine from the Beaujolais region of France in southern Burgundy is a very good wine for that big family dinner a week later. The Gamay grape is harvested in September (concluding mid September this year) and in bottle just before Thanksgiving. The wine actually originated about a century ago as a cheap and cheerful drink produced by locals to celebrate the end of the harvest season with a new wine or Nouveau. It’s an excellent gauge of the 2015 vintage in Europe. This year’s harvest is reportedly small but intense.

Next up is the BIG FEAST – Thanksgiving. Spending Thanksgiving in wine country is a wonderful way to spend the holiday weekend researching the newer wineries. Yakima Valley, Washington’s oldest AVA, is one of my favorite places to go. Not a ton of people, more face time with the winemakers and plenty of holiday cheer.

Thanksgiving in Yakima Valley Wine Country, from Friday, November 27 to Sunday, the 29th, offers the perfect opportunity to taste wine from dozens of wineries that you’ve only heard about! For instance, have you tasted Antolin Winery, Gilbert Cellars, Kana, Lookout Point, Naches Heights, Owen Roe or Treveri Sparkling Cellars? If not, this could be a perfect opportunity.

Around Zillah try Cultura Winery, Dineen (Chef Chris Guerra of Guerra’s Gourmet will be making fresh tamales and pizza in the wood-fired oven), Knight Hill, Maison de Padgett, Masset Winery, Paradisos del Sol (Albarino), Reflection Vineyards, Severino Cellars, Tanjuli Winery, Two Mountain Winery (port) and Wineglass Cellars.

The Prosser neighborhood has Airfield Estates, Chinook, or Cowan Vineyards. And then the compact Red Mountain neighborhood wineries: Chandler Reach (a fav), Cooper, Hightower, Kiona (a must), Kitzke Cellars, Tapteil Vineyard (VG), Terra Blanca and Tucannon Cellars. Details and directions at

Our own Kitsap Peninsula Wineries will have an open house that weekend too if you want to take visiting relatives and Mom out for a drive. All the wineries, Amelia Wynn Winery, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eagle Harbor Winery, Eleven Winery, Fletcher Bay Winery, Perennial Vintners and Rolling Bay Winery are open for tours and tasting from 12 to 5pm Thanksgiving weekend. Meet the winemakers, enjoy the lush surroundings and great wines. More info and directions at

Mom will absolutely love the newly released Eleven Late Harvest Viognier. One whiff of the heavenly nose and she’ll think she’s gone to heaven. It’s made from grapes dried on the vine for many weeks, resulting in highly concentrated flavors and aromas.

And finally, here are the results of the Beer vs. Wine Tasting. It was a great event for wine lovers and  beer lovers too. It definitely opened up some eyes on the what and the why of pairing. We kept adding special beers and wines and dishes to pair with them. Of the nine courses, wine won three and beer won three with one tie, one both and one result tossed out.

The results were tossed out for the salad course because one of the beer bottles was off and the reinforcement was a heavier beer and it was served before the lighter in body wine. In retrospect, it should have been wine first and then the beer. And the record did not specify which beer was the best match.

Other complexities – we started out with 8 people and a few left before dessert. But not all courses add up to 8, anyway as some guests couldn’t do fish or just simply couldn’t make a definitive decision. And a category “both” was added for those open minded diners who thought both were great with the dish.  This dinner was designed to be a tasting menu so we could add so many special beers and wines.

Geoduck Ceviche marinated in Lime Juice with Shallots, Jimaca, Cilantro and Avocado.

1 – Wine: Espiral 2014 Vinho Verde

  • 4 – Beer: Godamsel Belgian Golden Wild

3 – both

illed Oysters Alki on the Half Shell

5 – Wine: Sauvignon Republic 2013 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

2 – Beer: Homebrewed Smoked Porter/Alaskan Smoked Porter

1 – both

Seared Scallops with Citrus Cream Sauce

3 – Wine: Chateau St Jean 2011 Sonoma Chardonnay

  • 5 – Beer: Rodenbach Red

Muscat or Rodenbach Poached Pears with Napa Cabbage, Curried Walnuts and Vanilla Vinaigrette

Beer: North Coast Old Stock 2011/ Tripel Krullekop

Wine: Domaine Laurier Brut


Aged Gouda, English and Vermont Cheddar Cheeses

2 Wine: Chateau Ste Michelle 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • 6 – Beer: Pike Old Bawdy 1994

Multiple Mushrooms Risotto with Mushroom Stock, Fresh and Dried, Truffle Oil, Dust, and Truffle Salt

  • 5 – Wine: Berberanna 2009 Rioja

1 – Beer: Cuvee Rene

2 – both


Butternut Cream Soup garnished with Crème Fraiche and Pine Nuts

  • 5- Wine: Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado Sherry

3 – Beer: Rogue Hazelnut Brown

Ruhlman’s Pastrami Beef Short Ribs with Potato and Parsnip Mash and homemade Dill Pickle

3 – Wine: Maryhill 2009 Zinfandel

3 – Beer: Firestone Walker Anniversary 18

Homemade Smoked Lamb & Elk Sausage with Shredded Golden Beets garnished with Goat Cheese, Pickled Mushrooms, Beets, Onions, and Olive Oil Drizzle

Beer: Liefman’s Goudenband

Wine: O – S Winery 2003 Champoux Cabernet Franc 1.5L

  • 4 – both


We were all stuffed so for another day:

Gingerbread Trifle With Stroopwafel Cookie

Wine: Hinzerling Rainy Days Tawny Port

Beer: Southern Tier Crème Brulee

Life with Sherry

Most of us first read about sherry when we were in grade school. Only The Cask of Amontillado probably made no sense whatsoever to those No. 2 pencil clutching students of my class.

Yep, Edgar Allan Poe’s 1846 penning of The Cask of Amontillado was my first encounter with wine, but I was blissfully unaware of the turn in that direction my life would take.

But if you think about it, back in 1846, if you were writing about wine, sherry was one of the outstanding wines that came to mind. And not only the wine but how it’s made.

The wines of the Jerez (hair reth) area of Spain have been counted amount the world’s best wines at many points in history. Over the centuries, a myriad of styles and winesmaking techniques that are pretty much foreign to other wines of the world had developed. Techniques such as the Solera method, flor and bota are unique to the wines of Jerez.

Indeed, it is the most complicated wine to explain. But that’s not going to stop me. So sit back, relax with a glass of wine and listen to the story of sherry.

Sherry covers about 30,000 acres near the southernmost point of Spain’s Mediterranean cost. It is surrounded by three towns, Jerez de la Fronters or simply Jerez, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. Palomino is the primary gape of the region, accounting for about 90% of the acreage planted.

Other permitted grapes are Pedro Ximénez (fondly called PX) and Moscatel. Their traditional role is to sweeten things up but nowadays it is easy enough to find bottlings of just these grapes which make heady dessert wines

Remember this: not all Sherries are sweet! In fact, all sherries begin as very dry wines. It’s how they are treated as they grow up and develop personalities that determine whether they will remain a dry Fino or turn into a sweeter Oloroso. Sherries are as complicated as some FB relationships. Trust me.

Sherry styles, from light and dry to heavy motor oil and very sweet, are Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso, Cream and Pedro Ximénez.

Traditional sherry making is complex. After harvest, the grapes are quickly pressed and the acidity level is adjusted with tartaric acid. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks. After fermentation, the wine is stable enough to be fortified. This is all based on flavor and quality. The finest and least alcoholic wines, often from the free run juice, rapidly develop flor. These will eventually be transformed into finos and amontillados.


The more powerful stuff will be fortified to 17 to 22 percent. That effectively creates an environment that the flor can’t live in so it says its final adios. Now those wines are ready for a little sweetening and a new life as an Oloroso or cream.

All wines are kept in a “nursery” in butts filled four fifths full. In the nursery, sherries spend time with flor, a floating yeast that provides protective cover from oxygen.  The flor develops or not, in the Solera

A Solera is a room full of casks where the unique aging process begins. Wine is taken out of the oldest cask and replaced with wine from the next oldest cask. That wine is replaced by wine from the next cask and so on down the line. A Solera could be fed by as little as three or four casks and as many as 14.


With the errant nature of these casks, even wine from the same vineyard can develop in different ways. The essential difference is the development flor

Sherry is complicated, unpredictable wine to make, so there are considerable differences between styles of sherry. This is just a general guide with some of my favorite pairings

Fino is the lightest style and crisp somewhat bitter like an IPA. It’s aged for about three years completely under flor. They pair well with almonds, fried delectables, green olives, sushi and roasted vegetables

Manzanilla only from Sanlucar de Barrameda near the sea is also dry. It also picks up a bright sea salt aroma and flavor. Perfect match to slurp with oysters on half shell, a skewer of shrimp off the barbie or tapas made with Serrano ham, olives or almonds.


Amontillado begins life as a Fino but after some time, maybe six years, the flor dies and is filtered out. The wine will continue to age. This style picks up notes of walnut, almond and dried orange peel. It’s fabulous with a chunk of Manchego or Gouda cheese, fried, grilled or smoked fish, chorizo and soup.

Palo Cortado is rather rare. It shows remarkable range with dried fruit, nut and spice flavors. Tapas made of ham, snails, almonds, hard cheeses and richer dishes work very nicely here.

Oloroso is the heartiest of the Palomino based sherries. This wine spends little or no time under flor before its initial fortification. With its nutty, orange peel and spice notes, it may be sweet or dry. The range is broad. Almonds, blue cheeses, ham with Manzanilla olives, pate, and flan.

Pedro Ximénez is a very dark brown dessert style wine named for the grape type that makes it all possible. Grapes are left on the vine to raisin in the sun. And the resulting wine, as a friend described it, looked like motor oil but had heavenly flavors of date, raisin, caramel and toffee. Think chocolate with this one

Creams are usually the ones that every one thinks of when the word sherry is spoken. This is an Oloroso sweetened with Pedro Ximénez and shows a heavy, creamy texture and dark dried fruit and toffee flavors. Apple pie, anyone? Or maybe a flan, a chunk of blue cheese, or a slice of pecan pie. You’ll be making those yummy sounds for sure.

The Red King

I found a very interesting bottle of wine in a disco bin recently. Disco bins are those shopping carts in the front of the store with prices severely reduced. The back label had enough information to make it sound intriguing — to me anyway. It was vinted and bottled by JL Giguiere out of Zamora, California. I was not familiar with Giguiere or Zamora but I knew where California was on the wine charts.

It was called Tinto Rey, which means Red King, and that alone sounded good enough for my wineglass. Tinto Rey was a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Garnacha, Cab and Tannat. The Tannat was the clincher for me. I rarely see it anymore. The last time I had it was in the last century.

The Tempranillo and Garnacha are widely planted in Spain and contribute spicy red fruit flavors. The Syrah (also planted in Spain) gave it rich black cherry and blueberry fruit, and the Cab (first planted in Spain two centuries ago) and Tannat added structure, depth and spicy notes to the wine. It reminded me of a very expensive wine I once had a tiny taste of because I was in the right place at the right time some 30 years ago.

In the 1970s, Vega Sicilia was Spain’s crown jewel. Situated in a vast dust bowl plateau that few knew about or visited, it wasn’t even a Denominación de Origen (DO). The estate was planted in the 1860s to Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot and Tinto Fino. It was an expensive wine built with structure, balance and the cut of a big Bordeaux.

Today, this bodega has 500 acres planted to Cabernet, Malbec, Tinto Fino (Tempranillo to the rest of the world) and Garnacha (Grenache) on a plateau some 800 meters above the river. After having spent 10 years in barrel, tiny quantities are rationed out to the world at very high prices.

Then in the early 1980s, Alejandro Fernandez had been fanatically tinto pesquerapursuing his version of perfection at Bodega Pesquera. Pesquera’s wines are made with Tinto Fino, Syrah and Cabernet and aged in oak. From much research, I can report these wines have concentrated fruit, high alcohol and a luscious quality. They are much, much more affordable then the Vega Sicilia.

From two bodegas in the 1970s, to 24 when the Ribera Del Duero became a DO in 1982, to almost 300 today, this wide, high, hot plain has been transformed. Ribera Del Duero, or loosely translated River of Duero, has some of the world’s most wonderful wines across the spectrum of pricing from great value to Vega Sicilia. This diversity reflects the complexity of the blends and the dry, hot, dusty, rural region just north of Madrid in Central Spain.

Many of these wineries don’t even grow their own grapes but instead rely on contracts with cooperatives to buy their grapes. Even Vega Sicilia has contracts in the region.

Much like Eastern Washington, Ribera Del Duero’s desert has huge temperature swings between day and night. Enough to balance the grape sugars with acidity. And there is an average of 16 inches of rain per year. Just enough to stress those vines into producing beautiful bunches of grapes.

The hot relentless summers often shut the vines down and the grapes stop ripening, leaving early autumn a scramble to get the ripening before the temperatures drop. But irrigation, officially allowed in 1996, has relieved that pressure.

Spain’s dry soils cannot support many vines, so vines are planted unusually far apart and trained in a bushy fashion. This low-vine density explains why Spain has the most acreage planted to vines in the world with production substantially lower than France or Italy.

When looking for a good Ribera del Duero, understanding the label helps. Don’t just go for the pretty label. Denominación de Origen (DO) is the guarantee of quality. Other terms good to know are Crianza, which is wine aged for a minimum of two years after the harvest — at least 12 months has to be in oak.

Reserva is wine matured for at least three years, of which at least one is in oak and one is in bottle. Gran Reserva is a special wine that is aged for at least five years, at least two in oak and three in bottle.

Bodegas to look for would be Tinto Pesquera Crianza, Condado de Haza, Bodegas Torremoron Tinto, Bodegas Torrederos and Abadia Retuerta, although not technically from Ribera del Duero it’s only 7 miles east of Vega Sicilia. And if you win the lottery, there is always Vega Sicilia.

Cheers to you!

It’s Beer v. Wine in this Dinner Challenge

October is full of challenges.

When the rains begin, the delectable mushrooms pop up and the salmon begins its end of life journey. Mushroom picking is a challenge — wouldn’t want to choose the wrong one or spend all day and only find two. And salmon have quite the challenge swimming up stream to spawn.

And then there’s the perennial challenge for the Chicago Cubs. Being a Cubs fan since high school has been a challenge. In those days, the challenge was not to get caught ditching school for Opening Day. Rest assured, Opening Day at Wrigley Field then was much more exciting than any baseball in October, except maybe this particular October.

My biggest October challenge this year is a birthday dinner that we gifted a friend four years ago. It’s evolved from a beer dinner with friends into an eight-course gourmet delight with a beer vs. wine contest. This contest has been on the uber-beer-geek birthday boy’s bucket list for some time.

My challenge is to present wines that will, at the very least, bring the beer geek dinner guests to say, “Hmm, not bad!” The ultimate win would be for the beer geeks to reluctantly admit that the wine is a better match than the beer. Wish me luck there.

Or better yet, maybe you could help by telling me your favorite beer or wine pairing with the following preliminary menu, which is subject to change. As Alexander Graham Bell noted, “Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.”

A few thoughts first. As we added to the menu, the courses started to multiply. Portions will be in the tasting size but a sufficient amount for a couple of bites with the beer and a couple of bites with the wines.

In any well-planned dinner, we’ll start with the simple dishes paired with lighter beverages and then move progressively to the more intense dishes with the more weighty beverages. Which beverage to sip first will also be suggested with this same principal.

Progressing from dry to sweet is another rule. The opposite, tasting a sweet barleywine and then to an old Bordeaux, would be a wine crime of the first order.

Oysters Alki on the half shell

The Alki part is a vinaigrette on warmed oysters that I had years ago at Salty’s on Alki. It was so good that I went home to recreate it. My version is made of cilantro, shallots, sushi rice wine vinegar, pepper and light oil.

Beer: Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin is India Pale Ale made with grapefruit.

Wine: Some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that is citrusy with a touch of herb.

Geoduck Cerviche

Seafood marinated in lime juice served with chopped onions, hot peppers, tomatoes and a slice of avocado.

Wine: Vinho Verde is the green wine from Portugal that has a citrusy and spritzy flavor and low alcohol.

Beer: Sound Brewery Monk’s Indiscretion Belgian Strong Pale Ale. The Citra hops impart a lovely citrus note to the beer.

Mushroom Risotto

The risotto is from another memorable meal at the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, Oregon. The only reservation we could get was at 10:30 p.m. We were famished by the time we sat down at a table on the third floor of an historic farmhouse. We ordered a bottle of Tony Soter Rosé and much to our surprise, a small, wonderfully fragrant mound of mushroom risotto appeared with it. It was heavenly match.

Wine: An earthy Pinot Noir, maybe California or Oregon

Beer: Scaldis Prestige de Nuits is a top-fermented blended brew of new and old, the old having spent at least nine months in a Hospice de Nuits (Pinot Noir) barrel.

Poached Pear Salad with Curried Cashews

Beer: Tripel Karmeliet is a big Belgian beer with lemony flavors and medium body.

Wine: Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Rose is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Trepat, with some lovely scents and flavors of raspberry and cherry.

Short Rib Pastrami with Golden Beet Hash

Wine: Ridge Zinfandel, possibly a single vineyard, we’ll see.

Beer: Silver City Winter Lager is lagered for several months in ice-cave like conditions. It has a bit of sweetness and big body.

Select Aged Gouda, Cheddar & Parmesan Cheeses

Wine: An old Washington Cab from the last century

Beer: Not sure yet but it has to be something Belgian, aged and delicious! Any suggestions?

Lemon White Pepper Ginger Cake

Always end dinner with a stunning dessert. This is my go-to cake that even people who don’t like dessert will eat. It’s that fantastic.

Beer: Southern Tier Crème Brulee This imperial milk stout has a nose of vanilla, custard and brown sugar with flavors of caramelized sugar.

Wine: Sauternes One with age and a little bit of botrytis, which concentrates the sugars and flavors. This could be the one that works the best.

September is Definitely Beer Month

September is definitely a beer month. While your sitting there wondering, let me explain.

First, there is Oktoberfest which traditionally begins the third weekend in September and ends the first Sunday of October. It all started in 1810 with the Royal Wedding. Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony. After the ceremony, there was this big kegger out on the lawn in front of the castle. It was such a great party, it continues every year.

This year, the festivities in Munich begin with a parade and the tapping of the first beer barrel on September 19th. It ends on Sunday, October 4th with a gun salute at noon, at least, they claim it’s guns.

Today, Oktoberfest beers are malty lagers brewed for brisk weather and festivals. But before refrigeration, beer was made in the cooler months as hot weather is not the best time to ferment. Beer made in March was stored and consumed over the summer months. Bavarian brewers went a step further and developed Märzen (March), using bottom fermentation and making use of caves and cellars, sometimes packing them with ice for lagering.

September is also pumpkin beer release month. After wandering the Kitsap County Fair last week and seeing one of the biggest pumpkins ever, all I could envision was a barrel of pumpkin ale. I first heard about pumpkin ale many years ago, when the fledgling West Sound Brew Club would flex their brewing muscles with really wild beers. In September, pumpkin was one of them. I thought they were goofy.

But they were really on the cutting edge. Nowadays, many harvest beers are made with pumpkin and fresh hops. Pumpkin Ales are varied but typically it’s mild amber-colored, malt-forward ale, with prominent caramel and nutty flavors, little hop bitterness and a malty tone. There are also Pumpkin Porters, Stouts and Barleywines. Many will contain a full bodied mouthfeel from the addition of pumpkin. These beers range in ABV from moderate 5% lagers to 17% behemoth ales.pump ale3178

Some brewers opt to add roasted pumpkins into the mash while others use puree. They are usually spiced with traditional pumpkin pie spices like ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. Unusual additions could include chocolate, cocoa and coffee. Then some may be aged in brandy, bourbon, rye or wine barrels.

Pumpkin beers are an ideal pairing for some of our favorite autumn meals. Hearty harvest fare such as Reuben Sandwiches, a spicy bowl of Chili, Chicken Mole, Beef Stroganoff, Turkey with the Trimmings, or Pumpkin Ale Braised Beef Short Ribs would pair well with a full bodied pumpkin brew.dogfishN3180
Let’s not forget the dessert. The flavors of pumpkin, caramel and spice are great with Bittersweet Chocolate Cake, Apple Pecan Crisp, or Caramel Flan. As with wine, your beer should be sweeter than the dessert.

Here’s a few to look for:

Almanac’s Dark Pumpkin Sour is a rich, dark sour ale brewed with organic heirloom pumpkins and spices and aged in used red wine barrels for a year. Serve this complex ale as a counterpoint to savory Thanksgiving fare. This wild ale was aged in used wine casks with the house “Dogpatch” sour culture, a cocktail of wild Belgian and American yeasts, including San Francisco sourdough starter.

Punkuccino is an Elysian Brewing specialty. It’s a Northwest favorite that could have been brewed by your favorite barista. Punkuccino packs pumpkin and a short shot of Stumptown coffee toddy in your pint with just a shake of cinnamon and nutmeg. Sounds perfect with a slice of homemade pumpkin bread with sweet cream butter.

In the spirit of the season, Laurelwood Pumpkin Ale is an amber colored beer made with pumpkin puree and the usual pie spices, “sure to chase away the evil spirits!” A Day of the Dead brew to pair with Chicken Mole.

Avery Pump[Ky]N Porter is highly unusual at 17.22% ABV. This “monstrous pumpkin porter” is aged in bourbon barrels and spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, and hops. Please pass the Bittersweet Chocolate Cake.

Elysian The Great Pumpkin is the world’s first imperial pumpkin ale. Brewed with five different malts, roasted pumpkin seeds in the mash, and extra pumpkin added in the mash, kettle and fermenter and spiced with the usual cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. This one is perfect for hearty fare such as the Beef Stroganoff or Braised Short Ribs.

Jolly Pumpkin Noel De Calabaza Barrel Aged Strong Ale is another monster of an ale. It begins as a Belgian Christmas ale, all malty, raisiny and lightly hopped and then its aged in oak barrels. May I have an extra helping of the Pecan Pie, please?

Southern Tier Brewing Rum Barrel Aged Pumking is dessert style ale made from roasted pumpkins and aged in 30 year old rum barrels. A serving of bread pudding with a Rum Barrel Aged Pumking hard sauce would be divine.

Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin Ale is the dessert beer made with real hand-roasted heirloom pumpkins. The caramelized gourds were then added to the American Barleywine and aged in rye and brandy barrels for a year. Finally, the barrel-aged beer is blended with freshly brewed ale and a delicate hint of pumpkin pie spices are added to round out this decadent sipper. 50% of the ale brewed with pumpkins aged in rye and brandy barrels and 50% ale brewed with spices.

Cheers and Happy Harvest!

Chilled Red Wine and Al Fresco Dining

Ever wonder what Italians sip under the hot Tuscan sun with their lunch of mozzarella caprese, grilled calamari and carpaccio?

It would not be a Super Tuscan, that’s for sure. But it would be made with the same grape – Sangiovese.  Sangiovese (san-jo-veh-zeh) is a red grape which translated means “Blood of Jove.” Jove was one of many important gods of the Roman Empire, by Jove.

Sangiovese is the essential, and required by law, ingredient of some of Italy’s most famous wines. Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino are 100% Sangiovese. Chianti’s main component since 1996 is 75 to 100% Sangiovese.  Carmignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano, and Super Tuscans all use some or all Sangiovese. But these are not the types of wines for dining al fresco. Too big, too heavy and we need something fruit forward and with a chill on it.

Enter Sangiovese Rosé, one of the most food friendly wines out there. Perfect with antipasti, salads of any type, grilled oysters or salmon, barbequed ribs, hamburgers, chops, and grilled pizzas. You get the picture. There is a swarm of Sangiovese Rosés right here in Washington State that you need to explore this summer.

One that I would highly reccommend is from Kaella Wine kaellaCompany.  While touring the Woodinville Warehouse District a few months ago, I happened upon the winery.  This was my first taste of Rosé this year and boy! I was impressed. This Rosé is a red wine drinker’s  summertime best friend.

Made from 100% Sangiovese from one of the best vineyards in the state, Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain, the grapes were processed in the usual fashion of Rosé making.

After harvesting, those tough stems are removed, in a process called destemming, and then they’re crushed, and the skins are left to macerate for 24 hours to allow the skins release their color, flavors and aromas. The next day, the juice is pressed and then fermented in stainless steel tanks. Stainless steel fermentation accentuates the fruitiness. Rosés rarely see oak.

Kaella’s Rosé has enticing aromas of strawberry, watermelon, and raspberry that are rich and full bodied with great acidity and an impressive finish. Consumed over three days with all manner of fresh crab dishes, I swear I did not notice the 14.2% until the last drop.

Maryhill, Winery of the Year in 2014, makes a wonderful Columbia Valley Rosé of Sangiovese that is bright pink in color and has this sun ripened strawberry and watermelon flavors. Crisp and clean, it also was fermented in stainless steel. Sourced from two award-winning vineyards, this Rosé is comprised of 86% Sangiovese from the Tudor Hills Vineyards and 14% Grenache from Art den Hoed Vineyards.

Barnard Griffin has been producing award-winning rose1wines for over 30 years. It was founded in 1983 by Rob Griffin and Deborah Barnard, while Griffin was still working for Hogue. Barnard Griffin Winery only recently built their own winery in the heart of Washington State’s wine country, at the confluence of the Yakima, Columbia, and Snake rivers.

Their Rosé of Sangiovese is a luscious array of strawberry, melon and cranberry notes with crisp acidity. The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition has awarded this wine Gold or better nine times. A seriously great summer quaffer.

At the Kitsap Wine Festival, celebrating its seventh year, there are a number of Washington Wineries that will be serving up rosés. This fun-in-the-sunshine event is the perfect opportunity to try before you buy.

What to sample? Well, top on my list would be Chandler Reach. Their wines have a certain Tuscan flair to them. Rich, full bodied, always smooth and very food friendly. chandler reach

Their villa is located at the top of a hill just like Tuscan Villas. And the vineyards are blessed with Tuscan-like terroir, located in an area historically considered to be among the warmest in the state. Patio Red is a light Sangiovese blend with strawberry and dark cherry aromas and flavors. It pairs nicely with deck chairs, grilled foods and great friends!

Last year, we gushed over the Forgeron 2013 Ambiance, a blend of white grapes in the Rhone way with Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, &  Marsanne. Forgeron is back again this year, serving up a versatile and food-friendly Rosé of Sangiovese. Crisp and delicious from start to finish with juicy red berry flavors.

Davenport Cellars is a boutique winery located in the warehouse district in Northeast Woodinville. Davenport Cellars also makes a Sangiovese called Rosé de Vins from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain.

Their other fabulous summertime sipper is the Orange Muscat from Lonesome Spring Ranch with a residual sugar of 3.5%. This is a perfect wine for a summer’s day, fragrant, crisp and 100% stainless fermented. Try adding sparkling water for a really refreshing al fresco wine.

Olympic Peninsula’s Harbinger Winery will be pouring their rosé, a crisp beauty from Red Mountain. Although technically a Rhone Rosé, It’s well balanced with bright berry notes and racy acidity, this ruby-colored gem is all cherry pie and sweet spices.

Many of these Washington wines can be tasted at the Kitsap Wine Festival on the waterfront, Saturday, August 8th starting at 2:00pm. Harborside Fountain Park is one of the more splendid venues Kitsap has to offer. Close to the ferry, gorgeous views and spectacular fountains. Enjoy the wines, the delectable bites and friendship; it’s a great Kitsap summer event. Tickets are for sale at Brown Paper Tickets. More info at

Washington Craft Fruit Beers

The Bremerton Summer BrewFest was a blast. washington_beer_buttonComing in waves off the ferry, driving across three major bridges to get to the Kitsap Peninsula, happy beer enthusiasts filled the boardwalk from the Turner Joy to the ferry terminal.

The 5th annual Summer BrewFest was hot in more ways than one. Shade was at a premium but this year’s festival, featuring of fruit infused beers, was just the ticket to cool things off.

There were quite a few Washington craft brewers that made a fruit infused brew. They used one or more of the following: pineapples, raspberries, apricots, blood oranges, blackberries, limes, peaches, watermelons, lemons, strawberries, or grapefruits with other refreshing, non-fruit additions such as basil, ginger, rosemary, honey, rhubarb, chili peppers, Szechuan peppers or black peppers.

Many of these ingredients were added during fermentation but another way to introduce a really refreshing note into your glass is to pour it through a Randall. A Randall is a device that is connected to the tap and filled with flavor enhancers be it fruit, hops or spices. The beer flows through the container and Voila! You have a very cool, refreshing beverage.

For instance, Silverdale’s Rainy Daze poured their session IPA with its big citrus hop notes through a Randall of citrus fruit. This refreshing brew is a session brew meaning its alcohol content is lower (4.5%) than an IPA (5.5 – 7.5%).

Fish Brewing out of Olympia served up a Randalled Peach Imperial Pilsner made with German malts, hops and peaches. (10%)  Another was Dirty Bucket out of Woodinville. Their Hefen’ Pineapple is a German weisen made with fresh pineapple and Randalled through a homemade fruit cocktail. (5%)

One of the most refreshing brews of the day was In the Shadow Brewing, a nano-brewery outside Arlington. They brewed up a blonde ale with crystal and honey malts and threw in some basil and lemon during fermentation and added local honey at the end for a touch of sweetness and perfect balance. (5% with 13 IBU) It would be a fun summer jaunt to the brewery to get your growler filled but do make an appointment.

Top Rung Brewing from Lacey poured the Raspberry Lacey Lager through a Randall of Raspberries. Very aromatic and refreshing summertime sipper at 4.5% with 24 IBU.

Other unRandalled, made-with-real-fruit brews include the ultra refreshing Boundary Bay Steady as She Gose infused with Raspberries. Gose is an old German beer style made from malted wheat, which creates a cloudy, yellow color but provides crispness. It has low hop bitterness, spice from ground coriander seeds and twang from the addition of salt.

Fremont Brewing’s Summer Mojito is a refreshing take on the classic summer cocktail, they take their Summer Ale and infuse it with lime and mint. A seriously quaffable ale. (5.2% / 45 IBU)

No-Li Brewhouse’s Brass Monkey is a very good, sweet malt ale combined with orange peel zest. This refreshing, citrusy summer seasonal has that robust citrus aroma from the cascade hops and orange peel.

Schooner Exact brewed a wheat beer called Seamstress Union Raspberry Wheat. The raspberry aromas explode from the glass and the palate is all tangy raspberries. (5% / 20 IBU)

Another perfectly refreshing summertime filtered wheat beer infused with raspberries is from Walking Man Brewing. Crafting award winning beers along the Columbia River Gorge at Stevenson, Walking Man Brewing has a 17-barrel system that produces about 1200 barrels per year. (4.8% / 28 IBU).

Saving my favorite for last, drum roll please… Pyramid’s Apridunkel. Woot! Woot! This is a stronger and darker version of their gold medal winning Apricot Ale. Made with 2-row, caramel 40, chocolate malts and flaked wheat and only enough Cascade hops to balance the sweetness of the apricots. Really, really good. (6.8% with 25 IBU).

Many of these breweries have limited distribution so a trip to the brewery may be warranted. Or try Kitsap Peninsula’s best beer store – Marina Market in Poulsbo. They have a huge and many times unique collection of Northwest brews.

More hoppy news – It was great seeing Mike Hale pour on Saturday and pass out postcards announcing Hale’s Barrel House Tavern opening this fall at 15th and Wycoff in Bremerton.

This festival is presented by the Washington Beer Commission. They hold many craft beer festivals throughout the year.  Next month:  August 15th is the Everett Craft Beer Festival and August 29th is the South Sound Craft Beer Festival. More information at


It’s the Hop Days of Summer!


Hops are important to beer the way salt is to French fries.  Hop growing is a big industry in the Pacific Northwest, one of the top hop producers of the world.

Hops are the female flowers or cones of Humulus lupulus, the hop plant. They are used for aroma, flavoring and a stability agent in beer. There are over 240 varieties of hops, some are used for bittering and preserving, and  some are used for aromatics.

Aroma hops have low alpha acids. These are generally used at the end of brewing for aroma and not extraction of the International Bittering Units (IBU). Bitter hops have higher alpha acids and more oils. These hops are used in the boiling process to extract bitterness. The longer it’s boiled the more extraction and bitterness.

India Pale Ale (IPA) is the perfect match for hot weather meals from smoked meats to grilled shrimp, corn on the cob and fruity desserts. These beers have aromas of tropical and citrus fruits and a bitterness that balances the big maltiness – for the most part.

IPAs were invented in the British Empire in the 17th Century when the Empire included India. Brewers added more hops to the barrels of beer so the beverage wouldn’t sour during the month long voyage to the troops in India.

In the Pacific Northwest, craft brewers evolved the IPA style by using more pale malts and a heavier hand when it came to adding hops to the boil. Thanks to the potent crop of locally grown hops, the West Coast style of IPA was created.

To be classified as an American IPA, the brew must have between 40 and 70 IBUs. Our obsession for even higher IBUs inspired the creation of another category of beer, the Imperial or Double IPA. These brews can have between 60 and 120 IBUs and even higher alcohol content.

The most frequently used hops for IPAs include:

Amarillo with its flowery, citrus-like aroma and medium bittering. Cascade has flowers, citrus and spice with grapefruit the noticeable fragrance. Centennial has a dual purpose – aromatics with mid to high bittering value.

And good old Chinook is a pine forest washed with spice and infused with grapefruit. The alluring aroma and a high bittering value has gained this hop full respect from craft and major brewers.

Columbus is high on the bittering scale and valued for its oil content. Mosaic is a new hybrid derived from Simcoe with earthy, grassy, herbal, citrus, cedar, tropical, spice and stone fruit notes adding to the pine-based pungency. Simcoe is a 10 year old hop variety that has a dual purpose but generally used as a bittering hop.

Our Kitsap craft brewers have made some pretty incredible and for some, award winning India Pale Ales. Here’s what’s available:

Bainbridge Island Brewing crafts small batches of Downrigger Double IPA, 8.0% ABV and Eagle Harbor IPA at 6.0%. IBUs not published.

Der Blokken Brewery in Bremerton has a delicious Hessian Session IPA that is clean, crisp, and glowing with lemon and grapefruit and clocks in at 5.2% ABV and 44.5 IBUs.

Downpour Brewing in Kingston has a Hop Llama Double IPA at 7.5% ABV and hang on – 110 IBUs.

Hales Ales, used to be in Silverdale so I’ve included them, hoping they’ll pop up in Kitsap again. Their Supergoose IPA is aggressively, dry hopped and rich in hop flavor and aroma with grapefruit dominating. 6.9% ABV   67 IBU

Kingston’s Hood Canal Brewing has their Dabob Bay IPA. The prominent hop flavor is provided by numerous hop additions during the boil and dry hopping in the kegs. ABV: 6% IBU: 63

Rainy Daze Brewing’s Silverdale Sod Slayer ISA is a session IPA, with big citrus hop notes and only 4.5%. 60 IBU

Silver City Brewery’s Saint Florian, the Patron Saint of Firefighters, is their IPA with a portion of the proceeds going to a Washington State Council of Firefighters benevolent fund. Silver City uses Washington grown Cascade and Columbus hops. ABV: 6.5% IBU: 55

Whoop Pass is their Double IPA, without a doubt the hoppiest mother of a brew they have ever created. More than 50 lbs. of Washington State Cascade and Columbus hops are infused, injected, or otherwise inflicted upon a single batch. Welcome to hop country!

Slaughter County Brewing in Port Orchard, the county seat for Kitsap, formerly known as Slaughter County, has a Rabbit Imperial IPA originally from a homebrew recipe that uses an extreme Citra hop load. The finished product is 9% ABV with over 100 IBUs.

Slippery Pig Brewing in downtown Poulsbo has a refreshing Rhubarb IPA.  At the Bremerton Brew Fest, it was randalled over rhubarb and strawberries. A Randall is a device that is connected to a tap of your favorite beer and filled with flavor enhancers, be it fruit, hops or whatever. 9.4% ABV

Award winning Sound Brewing’s Humulo Nimbus Double IPA is a “towering thunderstorm of Northwest hops against a sky of clean, dry malt.” 8.5% ABV with 72 IBU.

Poulsbo’s Valhöll Brewing Brew Bitch IPA is a classic version of the Northwest India Pale Ale. It uses some of Yakima Valley’s classic hops, and a couple of the Northwest’s newest hops: Cascade, Centennial, Zythos, and Simcoe. ABV: 6.2% IBU: 70

Here’s to a summer of BBQ and hoppy beers. Cheers!