Monday, October 31, 2005

~~Happy Halloween~~


Dracula: "This is very old wine. I hope you will like it."
Renfield: "Aren't you drinking?"
Dracula: "I never drink... wine."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Basic Juice Ten Buck Wine Juice

Check out Basic Juice. Beau Jarvis, founder of Basic Juice, wine enthusiast and sommelier, is asking wine friends to imagine they are in a wine shop and to their surprise they only have $10 on them! Oh no! What wine are you going to buy for only $10 bucks? Beau tags various wine blogs and ask them this question and we answer back. For extra points food pairings are encouraged.

Here is what I listed:

House Wine made by the Magnificent Wine Company. It's a bargain at $8.99. A red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (58%), Merlot (32%), Syrah (9%), and Cabernet Franc (1%). It's rich, full bodied with a mouth full of blackberries. For my extra points, I would pair this wine with a big ol' burger topped with grilled Walla Walla onions and local morel mushrooms.

Hell, maybe I would stand out in front of that wine shop and sing for an extra $10 bill. Then I would buy a second bottle of House Wine and pair it with a dessert of brownies topped off with Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream.

How about you? What is your favorite 10-Buck-Washington-State-Gem? Can you do it? Tell me about them in "comments."

Sideway Miles Should Spend the Day with Stan Clarke

Any oenophile who saw the movie, "Sideways" remembers that Miles loved Pinot Noir. They will also remember how Miles felt about Merlot.

"If anybody at this table orders Merlot, I'm leaving! I am NOT drinking any #@&#@ Merlot!!!"

Any oenophile (or viticulture/enology student) who knows Stan Clarke can almost hear him say, "If anybody at this table orders Pinot Noir, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any Pinot!" And let it be known that Stan Clarke has planted and managed several Merlot vines and produced a lot Merlot. So there Miles Raymond! Spend a day with Stan and you might change your tune.

The first time I met Stan Clarke was in January of 2002 at the Institute of Enology and Viticulture in Walla Walla. We were the first group of students for the Institute and Stan was our new instructor. I suppose we were pioneers, really. We were using various empty classrooms at the Ag building, but there were hopes and dreams that we would soon have a beautiful new structure to hold our viticulture and enology classes, along with a working winery. Stan was driving a commute of about 90 minutes to make it to his new job and sometimes in the winter would stay over in a camper before he moved to Walla Walla county. Stan left a teaching job of pre-teen boys with behavior problems and learning disabilities to come to Walla Walla. I bet Stan thought it was a relief to leave behind that for a group of adults. Heh. I often wondered if there were days Stan thought some of us weren't too far behind the pre-teen boys.

Before we knew it, Stan had us grafting rootstock, we were learning to root from cuttings, pruning vines and planting our own vineyard of Merlot. Who was this man that was full of enthusiasm and eager to share everything he knew about the wine business?

A graduate of University of California-Davis and Bachelor of Science degree in viticulture and a Master’s degree in teaching from Washington State University. Stan is a highly respected viticulturist and served as a grower relation’s manager for Chateau Ste. Michelle, general manager of Covey Run Vintners, and a winemaker and general manager of Hyatt Vineyards. Stan has also authored weekly articles on grapes and wines, judged various wine competitions, and served in 1987 as the president of the Washington Wine Institute (the precursor to the Washington Wine Commission).

Just about everybody in the State of Washington who is involved in grapes and wine knows Stan Clarke. I discovered that while attending the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers (WAWGG) with Stan and other students in the Viticulture Student Leadership class. Everybody was talking to Stan or calling out to him and greeting him like he was a celebrity. Perhaps he is a celebrity. I am convinced that Stan knows everything in the industry and I have often referred to him as my "Wine Guru." On the small chance he can't answer a question, he knows who can. Stan is a patient man, enthusiastic about the wine industry and enthusiastic about his students.

As an example the encouragement that Stan Clarke shows his students is the recent story written by Timothy Egan*, for the New York Times, about Victor Palencia. A former student of Stan's and now a 20 year old winemaker for Willow Crest Winery in Prosser, WA.

I think Jack would have had a lot more fun traveling Napa Valley with Stan Clarke than Miles Raymond.

**The NY Times article is written by Timothy Egan. Egan is a third-generation westerner who was inspired to write "The Winemaker's Daughter", after living in Italy for a year. The novel is about the harsh realities and ecological challenges of turning water into wine. Egan also a recipient of a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for his part in a series on Race in America and he has worked for the last fifteen years as a national reporter for the New York Times. He grew up in Spokane and now resides in Seattle.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

~October Cooking With Washington Wines~

Treat your pork chops nice. Love them up a little with some Sauvignon Blanc.

I will admit - I do not drink a lot of white wines. Once in awhile a Chardonnay and only if it's not over oaked and made more of the white Burgundian style. I adore Viognier, but prefer to save it for special occasions. Viognier is truly the nectar of the Gods. Semillon and I do not get along, no matter how I try. I wonder if it's the fact that Semillon is normally low in acid? No way am I a fan of late harvest Semillons, either. However, I might drink a Semillon if it is blended with Sauvignon Blanc and paired with a meal. L'Ecole No. 41 has a Barrel Fermented Semillon that is blended with Sauvignon Blanc. That bit of Sauvignon Blanc adds a crisp touch and really brightens the Semillon.

How do I feel about Sauvignon Blanc? I l-o-v-e it! I enjoy that very grassy, lemony and aggressive wine. How do I feel about Fume' Blanc? Pfffffttttt! Do not over oak the Sauvignon Blanc Mr. Mondavi!

So far in Walla Walla wine country there are a few Sauvignon Blancs. Woodward Canyon has an excellent Sauvignon Blanc (but what isn't excellent that has the Woodward Canyon label?), Waterbrook 's Sauvignon Blanc with a skoosh of Viognier blended in and an excellent value. Three Rivers Winery has a elegant white Meritage (63% Sauvignon Blanc).

Don't settle for your basic "shake and bake" pork chop. Let your pork chops feel the love and definitely try this recipe.

1 red bell pepper
6-8 large flat mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsps olive oil
4 pork chops
1/2 cup plain flour
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2- 3/4 cup of your favorite Sauvignon Blanc
1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

Grill or bake the red bell pepper until the skin blackens. Place in a paper bag and when cool enough to handle, peel off the skin, remove the stem, seeds and interior ribs and cut into strips. Keep warm. Cut the stems from the mushrooms and wipe the caps clean. Slice. Finely chop the garlic. Heat olive oil in a heavy pan and add the mushrooms. Stir, then add the garlic. Cook on medium heat, stirring often, until the mushrooms soften and exude moisture. Stir in salt and pepper, then put on a plate and keep warm. Don't wash the pan unless food is burned on. Save all of the little drippings and brown bits. That equals flavor!

Remove excess fat from chops. Season the flour with salt and pepper and press the chops into it to coat. Heat a little more oil in the pan and lightly brown the chops on both sides. Add the chopped herbs, stir for a minute or so, then drizzle in the wine. Part-cover the pan, lower the heat and simmer 10-15 minutes, adding more wine if necessary (Of course! Adding more wine is always necessary!). Don't overcook; the meat is ready as soon as it releases clear juices. Remove the chops to warm plates and keep warm. Put mushrooms back in the pan and stir, check seasoning, then carefully fold in roasted red bell pepper. Spoon the sauce over the chops and top with lightly chopped Italian parsley. Serves four. Serve with the same Sauvignon Blanc.

Now, aren't you glad you were nice to your pork?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Waterbrook 2004 Melange

My family loves this stuff. At our family events we will often have a bottle or two to share. Every vintage of the Melange we have tasted has always been an elegant wine. Can't beat the price either for a wine that gets good reviews. We watch for it to go on sale at Super-One Food Stores/Huckleberry's/Rosauer stores in Walla Walla and Spokane. Often $9.99 - $12.00. I found it at $7.99 at Cost Plus - World Market once.

An unusual blend of 40% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 9% Sangiovese, and 8% Syrah. And a very soft and smooth wine with bright flavors of plum, currants, cherries, and vanilla with a bit of cigar box going on. A good example of an excellent Walla Walla table red with an excellent value.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday

The weekend is almost here. The sun is shining and I want to get out in it. Enjoy the funny.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Board Walk of Wine

Shawn Dore, wine director for "Borgata", casino, hotel and spa in Atlantic City (new casino features a 15,000 bottle wine cellar) recently visited Washington State. She expressed some of her favorite Washington wines - out of the nine wines she expressed, four of them were produced in the Walla Walla Valley:

Forgeron Cellars, 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley (I own a bottle);

Long Shadows, 2004 Poet's Leap Riesling, Wahluke Slope (I own a bottle);

Reininger, 2002 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley (I should get a bottle);

Woodward Canyon, 2002 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon (I should get a bottle).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

10th Annual December Barrel Tasting

If you want to visit the Walla Walla Valley during the December 3-4 Holiday Barrel Tasting, you had better have your lodging reservations in ASAP. In fact, you might be too late. Visitors to the Valley will taste samples of future releases straight from the barrel and be the first to enjoy the wines of a new vintage. Each winery seems to participate in their own special way offering a variety of different features including food, music, art, wine dinners, and more which adds to this festive time of the year.

It is really a beautiful time in the Valley. Downtown Walla Walla is looking its holiday best. Besides Holiday Barrel Tasting, there are other special events such as The Macy's Christmas Parade of Lights, Holiday Open House at the Kirkman House Museum, and musical performances at Whitman College's Cordiner Hall and Walla Walla College.

Friday, December 2 is the opening night winemaker reception at Cordiner Hall on the Whitman College Campus. This event is included in the purchase of a "Premier Pass" ($60.00). Premier passes entitles holders to waived tasting fees at select wineries or discounts on wine purchases at other participating wineries. Only 300 Premier Passes will be made available.

A "Backstage Pass" will also be offered for $35.00. This pass entitles holders waived tasting fees or special discounts to pass holders at participating wineries. Both passes can be purchased through the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Grape Stomp

This weekend, October 8-9, is the 20th Annual Italian Heritage Days in Walla Walla. One of the popular events have been the "Grape Stomp." A competition with prizes going to the top three teams squishing the most amount of grape juice. This year the "Stomp" is sponsored by Ste. Michelle Wine & Estates. One year my sister was part of a team. Caren wore the "purple badge of honor" besides slipping on her butt a few times. Other events include, bocce' ball, biscotti bake-off, red pasta sauce contest and of course the food!

It is only fitting to celebrate the rich Italian heritage in the Valley. In the late 1800's, the first Italian farmers came to the Walla Walla Valley and began developing truck gardens. Out of some of those gardens came the famous Walla Walla Sweet Onion and the first vineyards in our region. Fort Walla Walla Museum tells the story of our first vineyards, including a small working vineyard that is managed as if still in a time warp of the late 1800's. The grapes are Cinsault and were also known to the Italians as "Black Prince." One summer, I "managed" the vineyard under the guidance of wine guru, Stan Clarke. Did we make wine? No, the birds got to the grapes before we did. Cin cin!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Is Your Zinfandel Red Or White?

Amongst the 63 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, there is only one Zinfandel being produced and I have been working for that winery since their first 2001 vintage (we are now selling the 2003). In fact there are very few Zinfandels in Washington state. At this time I know of the following: Maryhill Winery, Portteus Winery, Barnard Griffin, Kiona Wines , Thurston Wolfe Winery, besides Forgeron Cellars. Selling a Zinfandel in Washington state has indeed been an education for me. An education while I try to educate.

This is not the first time that Walla Walla has had a Zinfandel in their valley. Over 100 years ago, the Italian settlers planted Cinsault (also known to them as Black Prince) in the Walla Walla valley, but also vines of Zinfandel, sent from California, were planted. Wines were made for home consumption, trading and some sold to the soldiers at Fort Walla Walla. In 1955, the grapes froze and the dead vines removed.

Believe it or not I am not one of those die-hard Zin drinkers. Oh sure, I enjoy a well made Zinfandel and often buy several bottles when I find one, but I did find on visits to Northern California, home of great Zins, later begging for a Cabernet Sauvignon. I always appreciate the Zin lovers that visit the winery and will admit I even appreciate those who do not understand the history of Zinfandel - they give me great stories. Here is often a typical conversation about Zinfandel.

Tasting room customer: "Ohhh...I see you have a Zinfandel. I love Zinfandel. "(I pour the Zinfandel in the tasting glass) The following responses will often happen:

"What did you do to make it red?" or;
"No. You must not have heard me correctly. I said Zinfandel. You poured me a red wine."

Sometimes I will hear:
Tasting room customer: "Naaahhh...I hate that pink crap."

This is when I must go to work and educate. I proceed with the story of Sutter Home and their pink creation, which often leads me to the processing of red v. white wines. Crush, pressing, fermentation, pressing of grape must, etc. Some customers will look at me like a light bulb just went on behind their eyes, while a few others look at me with distrust. For awhile I found myself saying, "red Zinfandel", but it was the only way to get the point across, as redundant as it seems. It's been difficult, but I am trying to respect this wine they call "White Zinfandel." It has converted some Americans into drinking wine and is the third-largest selling varietal wine in the US supermarkets. However, I tell many people, they are not "allowed" to drink it forever. I suggest White Zin drinkers to move beyond and experiment with other wines.

At a former winery in the Walla Walla Valley, where I was employed, a timid young woman came into the tasting room and she whispered to me, "This is my first visit into a tasting room winery and I plan on spending the day here in Walla Walla visiting their wineries. Can you give me any tips so I will at least look like I know what I am doing?"

I answered, "Yes. First and foremost, do not ask for any White Zinfandel."

One evening, at a dinner meeting with a group of local women. I overheard them dissing the Walla Walla Valley Wine industry and commented that the local wine industry would make more money if they were to start producing a White Zinfandel. Horrors! I spoke up with, "In our lifetime we will never see a White Zinfandel come out of our valley." They looked at me with distrust. Why is that? Why are people not believing me about White Zinfandel? Could it be that they see nothing but the fighting varietal line-up at the local supermarkets and if the supermarkets sell a lot of White Zin, then so shall Walla Walla wineries? Am I wrong, or does it seem like there is a mentality that supermarkets are the authorities on wine?

Recently, I have had the same question being asked by customers, and a good question at that. Why are there so few Zinfandels in the State of Washington? Here is my answer. First of all, the wine consumer has to remember that the State of Washington is still a young wine state in comparison to California. We are only 30+ years old. We immediately planted lots of Merlot and later Merlot's cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon, followed. Also, the other reason is the Zinfandel vine itself - high maintenance and does not particularly favor our cool nights.

Please do not get me wrong. I love pink wines. They are pretty and romantic looking. I love the color of pink, but if I want a pink wine, I'll drink a French Rosé, Italian Rosato or a Spanish Rosado, including beautiful Rose' styles from the Walla Walla Valley made by local French winemakers. There are also California wineries such as Lazy Creek or Navarro from Anderson Valley and recently tasted a Kim Crawford Rose' from New Zealand I sipped this summer paired with shrimp and avocado salad and fresh strawberries - -

But if I want Zinfandel, I'm drinking the real thing. Give me a redundant red Zinfandel!