Tag Archives: Chateau Ste. Michelle

What’s your Game Plan for Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving celebrations differ from one home to the next. turkeyStill there are certain flavors, traditions and approaches connected with our most food focused holiday that strikes a chord in all of us.

Whether you go with the traditional turkey with sage and onion stuffing, giblet gravy, candied yams, and cranberry sauce; put a cultural twist on it, with a chipotle rubbed bird, red chili gravy and cornbread chorizo stuffing; or go the vegan route with a mound of riced potatoes shaped like a bird and glazed with browned butter with all those wonderful vegetable side dishes, Thanksgiving is a dinner you can sink your teeth into. But what to drink with it has been debated for many decades.

Every Turkey Day, the family sommelier faces the perplexing question: do I go with something sweet that can stand up to candied yams and tart cranberry sauce and keep Mom happy? Or go with Beaujolais Nouveau because it’s available now, red and fruity? Decisions, decisions.

Thanksgiving wines shouldn’t be intimidating. This is not the time to pull out that bottle you’ve been cellaring for a while. Serve something familiar, homey and delicious enough for those neophytes to be satisfied and thoughtful enough for wine lovers to appreciate.

Pairing wine with roasted, brined or deep fried turkey is a piece of cake but short of a dessert wine, nothing is sweet enough to do battle with yams blanketed with toasted marshmallows.

Dry, high alcohol wines will perish with all that sugar and salt. And white wines need a decent amount of acidity to cleanse your palate. Uncomplicated, fruity wines with a little residual sugar are the best recourse for matching with these courses.

Some of the better partners for Thanksgiving dinner, in my opinion, are Alsatian whites, German Rieslings, Grenache blends from France or Spain and Tempranillo from Spain or the West Coast. Pinot Noir, contrary to some opinions, has never worked for me with all those strong flavors dished up at Thanksgiving- unless, of course, it’s in the bubbly.

Balance is the key for the perfect pairing. For a white, think Riesling or one of those soft, slightly sweet Pinot Gris. For reds, fruity and friendly, low alcohol Zinfandels, Tempranillo or even Carmenere would work well.

sparkling glassEvery holiday dinner should begin with something celebratory and good. At my table, nothing says celebrate better than a bottle of bubbly. The pop of the cork signals the start of the celebration. And it’s off to the races from there.

Given the tradition of the day, here are some American bubblies with good acidity and a core of fruit to consider:  Chateau Ste. Michelle’s extra dry which is actually slightly sweeter in style than a brut despite its description; Oregon’s Argyle brut or Washington’s Treveri Cellars would grace any table. Treveri produces several Columbia Valley sparkling wines you should try. Three that would be perfect for this occasion would be their sparkling Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Syrah. You will be impressed! These sparklers range in price from $10.49 to $23.

white wine glassWhite wines to serve, could be California’s Oak Grove Pinot Grigio which is soft, fruity with crisp citrus flavors. Or Wine by Joe Pinot Gris from Oregon that has wonderful flavors of citrus, pear, and green apple with refreshing acidity. Both are under $10, so stock up for the holidays.

But Riesling is really the best white to serve.  And Washington makes second best – after Germany, of course.

Pacific Rim Riesling from Columbia Valley is a delicious off dry, richly fruity wine packed with peach, apricot flavors with a hint of wet stone. Milbrandt Riesling scored high with its fresh, lively stone fruit flavors and juicy acidity. These guys have been growing from in the Columbia Valley for generations. Latah Creek Columbia Valley Riesling is filled with flavors of green apple, ripe pear and spice with a crisp finish.

Jones of Washington Columbia Valley Riesling is an orange blossom special touched with pineapple and fresh picked apples. He also makes an estate Pinot Gris from the Ancient Lakes AVA that would perk a lot of  interest at the table.

Two Mountain Winery Rattlesnake Hills Riesling is another crisp refreshing wine with a nice balance of pear, citrus, and minerals on the palate.

red wine glassRed wines are trickier than white but if you make sure the alcohol is around 13% or less and there is a modicum of fruit, your chosen one will be a hit.  With that in mind here are a few grape suggestions: Lemberger, Tempranillo and Baco Noir.

Lemberger, a dark-skinned grape from Austria, is typically fruity with ripe plum and black cherry and a hint of pepper. It does well in colder climates where it goes by a more mellifluous name of Blaufränkisch.

Look for Kiona Vineyards and Winery on Red Mountain, the largest grower of Lemberger in the United States. Others include Alexandria Nicole Cellars, FairWinds Winery, Kana Winery Olympic Cellars, and Whidbey Island Winery. Priced between $10 and $22.

I had hoped to recommend another grape of Spanish origin from Washington and California that would be fabulous with dinner, but they all went past the affordable for a big dinner party price. So I’m taking you to Spain for delicious, affordable and the perfect reds for Thanksgiving.

The best made and priced would be the Campo de Borja Borsao Red  from La Mancha, Spain. With its intense, smoky, black cherry and spicy flavors, this wine is a blend of mostly Grenache and a dollop of Tempranillo this wine is a deep ruby/purple color.

From Valencia, the El Prado Red is another blend this time Tempranillo and Cabernet. It’s a medium bodied with raspberry and current flavors. And from Rioja, with 100% Tempranillo is the Cune Rioja Crianza. The toasty, cherry flavors are smooth and satisfying.

Also from Spain but made in Prosser is the Red Diamond Temperamental. Red Diamond sources grapes from the best locations around the world. This Spanish blend offers flavors of berries and plum has a silky smooth finish.

Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines from Calatayud is another intensely flavored wine that emphasizes fruit. Mostly black cherry but there are plum and raspberry with smooth tannins and a long finish.

The best thing about these wines is the price – all under $10 and most around $7. So, stock up on these affordable wines, because there are more holiday dinners in your immediate future.

Have a warm and happy Thanksgiving.

What we’re drinking: Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer

Brynn writes:

How this wine found its way into our wine rack has me baffled. Every time I perused the small white collection in the rack I’d look at this wine and wonder: Did we buy it? Was it a gift? How the heck did it get here?

I once had a great memory for this sort of thing. Then I had a baby. Now I’m stumped.

Where the wine came from is irrelevant — except that it really is bugging me because Gewurztraminer isn’t usually on my “go to” list when buying white wine. But after drinking this wine, I might just have to change my buying practices.

I know we’ve recommended a few Gewurztraminers (or Gewurzt) recently, so it’s fitting that I decided to follow our recommendation and drink one.

Even though it was a 2009, I might have let this wine sit even longer, since as I said Gewurtz doesn’t usually make my “must drink” list, but last night we were looking for a quick and easy way to cook chicken for dinner. My husband suggested we cook it in a white wine and garlic sauce. I made a quick mental inventory of our dwindling white wine selection, thinking all that’s left are wines that I would never let touch the inside of a pan. Then I happened upon the Chateau Ste. Michelle from Columbia Valley.

Since I wasn’t sure how long we’d had the wine, and considering I had no plans of coming home one night and popping the cork to drink it alone, I decided the best way to use it would be to cook with it. Typically with chicken I prefer a dry wine (think alcohol percentage in the 13.5 percent to 14 percent range), but surprisingly the 12 percent Gewurzt was fabulous.

I dredged the chicken in flour, browned it on both sides in a large pan, then added four cloves of garlic and about half the bottle of wine. I then let the wine and chicken simmer for roughly 25 to 30 minutes on medium to low heat. The end result? Delicious, moist chicken breasts with great flavor.

We then drank the wine with dinner and shockingly I quite enjoyed it. The wine was light, with the slightest hint of sweetness, but not to the point where it’d turn you away (trust me, “sweet” wines don’t fly in our house unless its a dessert wine). The fruit flavors definitely shined in this one, but the crispness balanced the sweetness from the fruit, making the wine refreshing. There was also just the slightest hint of bubbles, giving a tickle to the tongue. I also greatly enjoyed its floral character, which was noticeable on the nose and in the finish.

My final determination? I’ll buy this wine again. And at $8 or less, it’s a great value.

Fast wine pairings for quick meals

If your home life is anything like ours, you can relate to the recurring scene that plays out each night in our kitchens as we try to come up with dinner ideas that don’t require hours spent slaving over the stove.

The stack of “15 minute meals” cookbooks continues to grow as we try to keep our taste buds happy with meals that can be prepared quickly.

When it comes time to serve the gourmet meals, we don’t want to slow things down by weighing our wine pairing options.

To meet your quick preparation schedule we’re suggesting various wine selections for Ann Vogel’s “one dish wonders”.

Her Red Pepper Spiced Chicken Rigatoni recipe was tricky to find a perfect wine match in part because of the red pepper flakes, which add a kick to the dish, and also because it combines marinara and alfredo sauces.

But after reviewing our trusty “What to Drink With What You Eat” book by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, we think we’ve got a couple options that could work.

If you opt to lay on thick the red pepper flakes, we recommend selecting a dry Riesling or gewürztraminer, both white wines. The slight sweetness of these wines will balance the heat of the red pepper flakes, while complimenting the rich creaminess of the alfredo sauce.

There are a number of affordable options available at the grocery store for each of these varietals, thanks largely to Riesling being a widely planted grape in Washington.

Look to Pacific Rim, a Washington winery focused on making various styles of Riesling, or Chateau Ste. Michelle for affordable gewürztraminer options. And remember to buy dry, not sweet.

If you’re not into heat and you’d rather drink a red wine with the marinara dominated sauce, consider a barbera. This Italian wine has low tannins, making it a great pair for tomato-based sauces, and high acidity, which again will compliment the richness of the alfredo sauce.

For Vogel’s Quick Couscous Paella, because the ingredients are shellfish and chicken based, we recommend a white Rioja.

This Spanish wine is a perfect summer sipper, and seeing it’s from Spain — where Paella is served regularly — it’s only natural that it would be the perfect accompaniment. Look for Marques de Caceres Rioja Blanco at the grocery store. It’s usually priced between $8 and $10, making it a great deal.

Treat yourself to a Washington riesling this Valentine’s Day

It’s been a while since we’ve recommended a wine that goes well with dessert. Lucky for us, the pairing for Ann Vogel’s Pear and Apple Tart with Almonds didn’t require us to dust off too many cobwebs to come up with a recommendation.

As Washingtonians it would be blasphemous to recommend anything but a Washington riesling for this pairing.

Riesling is viewed by some as part of the backbone of the Washington wine industry, largely because it was planted 20 years before Washington started making headlines for its prime wine-growing real estate.

While merlot and cabernet sauvignon brought widespread attention to Washington thirty years ago, the state’s riesling production has earned much-deserved recognition over the last decade.

One of Washington’s largest wineries, Chateau Ste. Michelle, deserves credit for riesling’s resurgence in recent years. The winery produces varying styles of this varietal ranging from sweet to dry. Its wines also range in price from affordable to what some might consider a “special occasion” price.

The Washington wine mogul can attribute its riesling success to a partnership it entered into with Ernst Loosen, an acclaimed winemaker from Germany. Loosen is the winemaker behind Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Eroica label.

To honor Loosen’s and Chateau Ste. Michelle’s contribution to Washington’s riesling industry, we recommend the Eroica semisweet Riesling for this Valentine’s Day dessert. The sweetness of the wine will compliment the dessert, while the citrus flavors found in the wine — including hints of peach and a tartness of grapefruit — will pair perfectly with the pear or apple filling.

The wine can be found at any local grocery store. It runs in the “special occasion” price range — about $17 to $20 — but hey it’s Valentine’s Day, you’re suppose to splurge.

Washington white best for mushroom risotto

A nice creamy risotto could call for two different styles of wine depending on how you decide to prepare it.

We’ve decided to prepare it two ways, allowing us to suggest two different wines that we’d serve with the dish if it were on our tables at home.

The richness of Ann Vogel’s Fresh Mushroom Risotto calls for a wine with equal richness. That’s why we’re recommending a Sémillon.

But before we get into why we would choose Sémillon, a little history. At one point it is believed that Sémillon was the most-planted grape in the world. That’s not the case anymore, and in fact some of France’s top Chateaus in Bordeaux recently joined together to create an association focused on growing quality clones because a decline in the grape’s popularity was resulting in fewer nurseries growing quality wine.

In Bordeaux it’s common to see Sémillon blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, in fact these are the three main grapes that make up traditional white Bordeaux blends.

The grape is also used to make some of the world’s best dessert wine, which is produced by leaving the grapes on the vine until noble rot takes over. The noble rot causes the grapes to shrivel, which dries up the moisture in the fruit and intensifies the acid and sugar levels.

In France, when Sémillon is the dominant grape being blended, it creates wine masterpieces like Château d’Yquem Sauternes.

We Washingtonians are lucky because we have wineries here that produce some stellar Sémillons, including one of Walla Walla’s oldest wineries L’Ecole No. 41.

L’Ecole actually produces two Sémillon wines, one from a series of well-known vineyards in the Columbia Valley appellation and its estate-grown Luminesce.

Both are blended with Sauvignon Blanc, but the Sémillon is 83 percent Sémillon, 17 percent Sauv Blanc, while the Luminesce is 67 percent Sémillon and 33 percent Sauv Blanc.

When the Sémillon grape dominates, the wine has a rounder mouthfeel with more floral, fruity notes.

If you decide to add some extras to the mushroom risotto — like asparagus and lemon — Sémillon is definitely the best match. L’Ecole’s Sémillon retails for around $14 and can be found at the grocery store and most wine shops.

If you prefer to make Vogel’s recipe with her suggested prawns and chili pepper additions, we have a different white wine for you.

Because of the sweetness of the shrimp, and the spiciness of the chili peppers, we suggest another wine that does exceptionally well in Washington: Riesling.

In fact, the wine does so well that last year the leading variety of wine planted in the state was Riesling, which accounted for 33,500 tons of grapes picked.

While some are hesitant to try Riesling because of a fear of sweet wines, we’re here to assure you, there’s nothing to be afraid of. We even recommend grabbing a sweeter Riesling over its dry cousins.

The sweetness of the wine balances the spiciness of the chilies — this is why Riesling is often recommended to accompany spicy Thai food.

And as we said before, the sweet notes in the wine will highlight the faint sweetness of the prawns.

Consider a Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, also sourced from multiple vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA, which retails for around $9.

Rhone Rangers ‘rock’ our socks off

Last week we had the chance to take a field trip to Seattle’s Maritime Event Center on Pier 66 for the annual Rhone Rangers Seattle Trade Tasting.

Yes, that’s right we played hooky on a Tuesday to taste wine.

But not just any wine, wine made in the style of France’s Rhone Valley — a region near and dear to both of our hearts.

If you’ve never heard of the Rhone Rangers here’s a little background: It’s a California-based non-profit educational organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines. It’s membership based, and goes around the country holding tastings to spread the word about Rhone-style wines.

Some of the events are open to the public, while others are for trade only to introduce winemakers to restaurateurs and distributors who might be interested in carrying their wines.

We went to the trade event in Seattle. Most of the wineries pouring were from California, but there were five Washington wineries present (Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Winery, Harbinger Winery, Maison Bleue Winery, Mercer Estates and Waterbrook Winery).

The nice thing about this event was in most cases the winemaker, or someone from the winery who knew about the winemaking process, was pouring. So they could easily answer questions and give us insight into the wineries.

For this tasting, Brynn stuck primarily with the whites, while Mary hit up the reds. If we found one we loved from our designated color, we told the other to try it. This allowed us to divide and conquer.

After three hours of tasting (and spitting), we came to the conclusion that there are some darn good Rhone-style varietals being made in the States. But we already knew this living in Washington, where winemakers have jumped on the Rhone bandwagon in the last decade, producing some top-notch Rhone-style wines.

Before we list the wineries that caught our eye, a little history on Rhone wines and the varietals allowed in this region.

Unlike France’s other regions where wine can be blended between three to five grapes — Red Bordeaux blends often contain different levels of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and to a lesser degree Malbec and Petite Verdot — wines from the Rhone Valley can include up to 22 different varietals.

No, that’s not a typo, we said “22”.

A snip-it from the Rhone Rangers website about the most common red and white grapes in France’s Cotes du Rhone region:


The most common red Rhone varietals are Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre, with Syrah predominant in the Northern Rhone and Grenache in the Southern Rhone. Other relatively common red grapes include Cinsault and Carignan. Finally, the list includes some grapes that are found only in trace amounts even in France, and are just beginning to be explored in the United States, including Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul Noir, Vaccarese, and Terret Noir.


The principal white Rhone varietals are Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, each found throughout the Rhone Valley, with Grenache Blanc a widely planted but less well-known contributor in the Southern Rhone. The other white grapes include Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanc, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Picardin, Picpoul/Piquepoul Blanc, and Ugni Blanc.

In the Northern Rhone region (St. Joseph, Crozes Hermitage, Hermitage will be on the label) Syrah is the only red grape allowed, but winemakers traditionally add 5 percent Viognier to bring out floral notes. This is usually co-fermented with the Syrah.

In Southern Rhone, it’s more like a grape free-for-all. A Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rhone or Gigondas technically can have all 22 of the above grape varieties.

So, what was our favorite winery of the bunch you ask?

To be honest it was hard to come up with just one — in fact Brynn had a favorite wine from two-thirds of the tables she visited — but in the end we decided we were most impressed with Washington’s very own Maison Bleue out of Prosser.

Owner and winemaker Jon Martinez was on hand to pour, and explained his Marsanne was typically a crowd favorite — especially among wine media.

Mary would have to agree with this statement, although Brynn was more impressed with Martinez’s 2010 Notre Vie Viognier from Arthur’s Vineyard. He also had another unusual white grape varietal, Roussanne. This rare grape was aged for nine months in Burgundian barrels for a round, full-bodied mouthfeel.

The Viognier was a 100 percent Viognier wine that spent time in 70 percent French oak barrels. The rest was kept in stainless steel tanks before the two were mixed.

The wine showed a nice balance of acidic minerality with the sweeter, more tropical floral flavors often associated with the Viognier grape. The combination of oak and stainless steel aging allowed these two styles to blend perfectly.

Beyond his delectable whites, Martinez’s table was also full of red blends — seven of them to be exact.

Most were from Snipes Mountain and Boushey vineyards. Boushey Vineyards has been around since the 1980s and is highly sought after. Dick Boushey planted Syrah in 1994.

(Sidenote: Dick Boushey was at the Rhone Rangers event and Mary chatted with him for a bit about beer, of all things. Brynn only quickly compared notes with him on a couple Viogniers and a Syrah).

Of the reds, we recommend the Maison Bleue Red blend, a 50–50 blend of Grenache and Syrah from the Yakima Valley called Jaja — French slang for wine.

The ‘09 Grenache from Upland on Snipes Mountain was all raspberries, white pepper and aromatic. The balance and finish were great. But Mary’s absolute favorite was from the same vineyard: A 2009 blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. “What balance!” she said. “Rich concentrated fruit flavors, smooth and showy at the same time.”

Stay tuned next week for more Rhone Rangers reviews.

Wine suggestions for pork chops

Pork chops are the perfect canvass for a wide range of food accompaniments.

Onions and pears?
Sliced mushrooms?
Gingered apple compote?

These all pair perfectly with “that other white meat.” So what wine also goes well with all these options, and the chops? Look no further than Chardonnay.

Recognizing that there are several different styles of Chardonnay, here are some guidelines. The sweeter the sauce, the sweeter the wine needs to be. With an apple sauce, choose a wine that’s lightly oaked. If you have a ton of spice with the chops, lay low on the oak.

With Ann Vogel’s “Stuffed Iowa Chops” and their apple glaze and apple stuffing, we recommend Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 2009 Chardonnay. Head winemaker Bob Bertheau describes the wine as food-friendly, with bright sweet citrus fruit character, subtle spice and oak nuances.

Sounds like a perfect match for the apple-stuffed chops.

Now for the perfect wine for the Baked Potato Soup (see above link for the recipe).

We believe potatoes are the perfect vegetable (says the woman of Irish decent and her blond partner in crime who never met a carb she didn’t like).

But seriously, potatoes are the perfect vegetable because the can be paired with just about any wine. For this recipe, Chardonnay would work because of the butter, onions and cream. If you were planning to serve Vogel’s pork chops and the soup together, stick with the previously mentioned Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay.

If you’re looking for a different white, Sauvignon Blanc is another smart choice because it goes well with cream dishes, celery and parsley.

If red wine’s more your style, the recipe’s bacon and cream are two components that match up nicely with a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Irishman David O’Reilly of Owen Roe Winery, based out of St. Paul, Ore., has a great red blend that would match everything in the cream soup. His 2009 Abbot’s Table (from Washington vineyards) is a blend of Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache. There’s also small amounts of Blaufrankish, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Merlot.

Owen Roe is going to be more expensive than the Chateau Ste. Michelle Chard, but it’s worth it.

Weekly wine defined: Brix

This week we’re defining Brix, which also happens to be part of the name one of my favorite restaurants in Gig Harbor — Brix 25˚.

If you Google the term Brix, you quickly see the Gig Harbor restaurant isn’t the only place capitalizing on this wine term. Cafes, bars, restaurants and cellars from Tacoma to Boston pop up in the search window.

So what does this mean? And how is it pronounced? (Think “bricks”, like what’s used to pave walkways or construct buildings).

The term is used to measure the amount of sugar in wine. You may have noticed this term in winemaker notes, or on the labels of some wines, saying grapes used were harvested at (insert number here)-degree Brix.

Winemakers care about the degree Brix of grapes because they want to harvest the crop when the fruit is at its peak — the sugars are in balance with the acids. Knowing the sugar levels of a grape helps the winemaker during the fermentation process (remember yeast eats sugar, which makes alcohol).

It’s a term also used by the starch and sugar manufacturing industry to measure the sugars in fruits, vegetables, juices and soft drinks.

When it comes to wine, each degree Brix (often written using the symbol: °Bx) is equal to about 1 gram of sugar per 100 grams of the juice produced. Typically wines that could be defined as table variety have a Brix reading between 20 and 25 degrees at harvest. More than half of this sugar is converted to alcohol during the fermentation process.

You’ll often see degrees Brix referenced with dessert wine, which signals its sweetness. For example, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Eroica (one of its lines of dessert wines produced with German winemaker Ernst Loosen) lists the degree Brix on its wine fact sheet.

For the 2006 Eroica Riesling Ice Wine, the grapes were harvested at 36.7˚ Brix. The wine has an alcohol content of 7.5 percent, and residual sugar of 26.1 g/100ml.

The 2006 Eroica Single Berry Select has an even higher harvested brix at 51.9˚ and 41g/100ml of residual sugar. Its alcohol content is 7.1 percent.