Tag Archives: Maison Bleue Winery

A red wine for grilling

We’re finally coming into one of our favorite seasons: summer.

And why do we love summer so much? Beyond the obvious — sunshine, duh! — we like our increased cooking options (read: we love to grill).

Pairing wine with grilling recipes is fun because the selection is vast — many reds, and even some whites, are great accompaniments to food touched by a grill.

For this week’s pairing we wanted to ignore the go-to wines and instead recommend a varietal you might not be familiar with. The wine we’re thinking of is considered the backbone of many wines from one of our favorite wine regions in France, the Rhone Valley. But it likely originated in Spain.

It’s also a grape that has done well in Washington, especially in the Walla Walla area.

So what grape are we talking about? None other than Grenache.

Typically you’ll find Grenache in red blends that include syrah, mourvedre, cinsault and carignan. (Think France’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape). But we’ve seen a trend among Washington winemakers to use Grenache as a stand-alone variety.

That’s great for us wine lovers because this grape, if done right, is a perfect food wine. It’s also a great choice to match with Ann Vogel’s Persian beef shish kebabs and her Filipino barbecued port kebabs.

Grenache is a good red for summer because it is light enough for a warm evening, but holds the weight and structure needed to stand up to the range of flavors a grill can infuse on food.

Flavor characteristics of Grenache include fruits like blackberries and black currants, white pepper, allspice and cinnamon. It’s a wine that doesn’t need a lot of oak, but if oak is used it can add hints of vanilla and even smoke depending on how toasted the inside of the barrels are.

There are a number of Washington wineries that produce great Grenaches. Here’s a few to look out for the next time you’re in the store: Maison Bleue, Milbrant Vineyards, Alexandria Nicole Cellars, Barnard Griffen Winery, Novelty Hill and McCrea Cellars.

We also recommend Trio Vintners, which we tried while at Taste Washington earlier this year. Winemaker Karen LaBonte lets the wine sit for 21 months in barrels with minimal new oak, which allows the grape’s flavors to shine instead of being muddled by oak.

The wine is listed at $26. The only hitch is it’s not available in Kitsap, but if you’re in Seattle it’s available at the Sixth Avenue Wine Cellar in the Pacific Place shopping center downtown or at Esquin Wine and Spirits, 2700 Fourth Avenue South in downtown Seattle.

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.