Friday, March 31, 2006

French Renaissance in Walla Walla

In the April 2006 issue of the Wine Spectator, an article titled "Washington State, Europe's Newest Appellation?" by Seattle Times wine writer Paul Gregutt describes the abundance of European wine-making talent that is already evident among Washington's wineries and helping the state's wine reach a new, sophisticated level.

Many talented winemakers from France are finding their way to Walla Walla, especially. There are many reasons: the soil is conducive to growing traditional French wine grapes, the climate is similar to Burgundy and Champagne, and there is a growing industry to learn from as well as advise. Perhaps most important, these young winemakers emigrate to come to our valley because it is easier for them to assume positions of authority in the business here as opposed to in France, where it is difficult for them to become executives until the older, established leadership in the industry passes on -- and especially difficult if they do not come from a winemaking family and business. Also, if you are a young adventurous winemaker who hails from a winemaking family, often you are shackled to a very particular winemaking tradition and style of wine; there's no encouragement or room to branch out creatively.

In any event, we are blessed to have these viticulteurs and their talents here in the valley, among them:

Christophe Baron at Cayuse Cellars
Virginie Bourgue at Bergevin Lane
Marie-Eve Gilla at Forgeron Cellars
Serge Laville at Spring Valley Vineyard
Gilles Nicault at Longshadows Vintners
Jean-Francois Pellet at Pepper Bridge Winery and Amavi Cellars(3rd generation Swiss winemaker)and most recently,

French winemaker and Napa Valley resident Phillipe Melka recently bottled his first wine (a Bordeaux-styled blend called Pirouette) for Longshadows Vintners.

In the article, Gilles Nicault really sums it up, I think, for young French winemakers seeking to establish themselves in the New World, especially in the Walla Walla area. "In France," he says, "there is no way I could make Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling all together at a single winery!"

Thursday, March 30, 2006

New Wine and Culinary Center For Washington State

Washington State wine industry leaders celebrated this week with a ground breaking ceremony for a $9.2 million project to showcase Washington state's viticulture history, wineries, and local produce. The Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center is named for Walter Clore, the "father of Washington wine." Dr. Clore worked to develop many of the area's vineyards while spending 40 years with the Washington State University extension office.

The Yakima Valley center, located in Prosser, will be a destination spot for tourist as well as a gathering place for vineyard owners and vintners. The 24-acre site will include a 17,500 square-foot building, vineyards, organic gardens and a public park. The building will include a cafe, restaurant, demonstration area, gift shop, classrooms and theatre. The center is predicted to open in May of 2007.

Good News For Washington State Wineries

Washington State Governor, Christine Gregoire signed Senate Bill 6823 which will now allow out-of-state wineries to sell directly to retailers rather than through a distributor. Previously, Washington wineries were allowed to self-distribute, but out-of-state wineries were required to sell only through a distributor. Last year the current system was ruled unfair in a case brought by Costco, whose corporation is based in Issaquah, Washington.

U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman gave the state Legislature until April 14 to either ban all direct sales or extend the right to all out-of-state-producers. If the bill would have failed, it would have effected all Washington state wineries drastically. It would have meant that all Washington state wineries would have lost their right to self-distribute and it would especially effect the small wineries that don't produce enough wine to use distributors. Hopefully, this good news will encourage other states to follow Washington's lead.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Generation Wine Y

There is good news concerning the future of wine consumption in the USA. There was a recent consumer study from the Wine Market Council showing that younger wine drinkers are considerably more comfortable with wine, and drink it more often, than older Baby Boomers. They are labeled "Generation Wine Y" -- could the 'Y' stand for "Youngsters?"

The study, which surveyed 1,938 respondents, divided American wine drinkers into three demographic segments: Boomers (ages 41-59 in 2006), Generation X (29-40) and Millennials (18-28). Their study showed that these three groups are drinking more wine than they were two years ago, but Millennials are increasing their rate of consumption faster than anyone else. Among Millennials, the net percent of increase was 39 percent, compared with 30 percent for Generation Xers and just 8 percent more for Boomers.

The study also shows that the Millennials are behaving, at least with wine, in a similar manner as the Boomers did in the 1970s.

It's apparent that if you are merchandising wine, you need to be wine-savvy and hip (or is it "cool", "rad", "bitchin'" or "that's hot"). The wine "youngsters" of today can spot a "wine poseur." From working tasting rooms and sitting in viticulture/enology classrooms, I've learned that the new, young wine consumer tends to be well-educated, sophisticated and well-traveled. They are inquisitive about grapes and wine production, and may ask about everything from "the bilateral cordon" to "geranium taint." They love to debate SO2 v. organics. And it isn't unusual for them to ask questions that are beyond the information printed on tasting-room hand-outs. If you are working sales in this industry, you may need more education than "Wine for Dummies 101," though if you feel you don't need much education you might never know these well-informed kids could be laughing behind your back. Many times I have felt the "Wine Youngster" knew the answer but was testing me to see if I was worthy. A few times they almost got the best of me!

If you are a wine-loving Boomer, you will be looking into the faces of your own children or maybe even grandchildren as the wine experts of tomorrow. The image of the distinguished white- haired man in the tweed jacket with the tastevin and sash around his neck is obsolete.

I love Generation Y. This new generation of wine lovers will keep me young in this industry and keep me current with new wine info. These kids will also make me reach into my old brain to find the answers to wine questions that I may not have thought of in years, and that's a good thing.

Walla Walla Wine Greetings to Philadelphia!

Keith Wallace, director of the The Wine School of Philadelphia says not only does he love Walla Walla wines, but he loves the people as well.

I am pleased to announce that Philadelphia wine lovers will be learning more about Walla Walla and Walla Walla wines as this blog, ~Through The Grape Vine~ will now be syndicated ("bloggregation") into the school's own Wine Lust - The Best of the Blogosphere."

As of last month, the state of Pennsylvania was still a bit confused on what direction the wine consumer should take when it came to ordering wine outside of their state. A federal judge ruled in November that Pennsylvania's prohibitions against out-of-state wine shipments were unconstitutional, but state regulators, wineries, carriers and consumers are in vino limbo. While they are now legally allowed to ship, they are with no rules for how to do it. In the mean time they waiting for some direction from the state legislature.

Let's keep our corkscrews crossed so the state of Pennsylvania can start enjoying Walla Walla's area wines and that it will be delivered right to their doorstep.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Patit Creek Cellars

Northwest Palate magazine (March/April 2006 issue) really liked this 2003 Merlot from Patit Creek Cellars. Congratulations!

"Attractive, herbal-oriented aromas show mint, graham, spice, and bold plum fruit. Juicy and round, with full flavors of plum and ripe black berries. Freshening acidity, firm tannins, and a toasty oak frame finish a delicious wine. Cellar for 2 to 3 years to round off the youthful edges"

Patit Creek Cellars is located in the charming town of Dayton, which is 30 miles from Walla Walla. They also have a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla, which is opened during April to December.

Celebrity Spotting

Actor Kyle MacLachlan was spotted dining at popular local downtown soup and sandwich spot, Stone Soup. Kyle is known for such characters as Dr Trey McDougal of "Sex and the City" and FBI agent Dale Cooper of "Twin Peaks."

Kyle is no stranger to Walla Walla. He is a native of Yakima, WA and has been seen spotted in Walla Walla numerous times and been reported as a fan of Walla Walla wines. I remember him fondly as "Jeffrey Beaumont" in David Lynch's 1986 brilliant film noir, "Blue Velvet". Also starring in the movie was Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper and Laura Dern.

"She wore blue velvet..."

Friday, March 24, 2006

Woodward Canyon

Last night I opened a bottle of Woodward Canyon's Red Table Wine. This is definitely a great food wine to be paired with Wednesday night spaghetti, Saturday's bar-be-que hamburgers or Sunday's pot roast. Even better, an every day great sipping wine. I enjoyed my glass while nibbling on a European dark chocolate bar.

I believe that this particular blend was Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The nose was cocoa and mint. The taste was of very dense and full of dark fruit. What I enjoyed most of all was the long burnt sugar and creamy finish. Reminded me of creme brulee.

This wine is another fine example of Walla Walla's excellent red table wines for under $20.00. The valley's wineries have been producing some of the finest non-vintage blends at excellent values.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Waitsburg In Sunset Magazine

This morning Carl Schmitt, whose family owns the first class restaurant Whitehouse-Crawford, forwarded me to the new April issue of Sunset Magazine (page 58). I was delighted to read that under the Sunset's "Travel, Things To Do In The Northwest" the town of Waitsburg was featured. The article, "Tiny, tasty Waitsburg", emphasized the delicious food coming out of the WhoopemUp Hollow Cafe and the hand tossed pizza from the Lyon's Den.

Gee - all Sunset Magazine had to do was ask me or at least stay tuned to this blog, I could have told them that.

Thanks Carl for the pointer!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Lesson of a Horoscope and a Good Cabernet.

In 2001, the then tasting room staff at "L'Ecole No #41 was discussing the differences of the two 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon releases. All of the tasting room staff, with the exception of me, preferred the 1998 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet to the 1998 Columbia Valley Cabernet. Now, it wasn't that I didn't like the 1998 L'Ecole Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I loved it! But there was something about the 1998 L'Ecole Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon I preferred. It was just something different that spoke to my tastebuds.

A few months later, the Wine Spectator listed the 1998 L'Ecole Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in their "Top 100 Wines of the World" list. Yes! My tastebuds felt absolved!

Yesterday my horoscope said I should do something nice for myself. It's rare when I listen to those things. Okay - sure - this time only. Why not? So I decided to have a quiet happy hour for one and work on that French cassoulet recipe* I have been wanting to master. Turned on some light music and made a little "pu-pu plate" of water biscuits and a foil cake of shallot and chive Boursin cheese (I try to keep a box of it around - perfect for impromptu happy hours). I stood in front of the wine rack, closed my eyes and picked. Ah-ha! It was a 1998 L'Ecole Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon! I almost put it back and then remembered what my horoscope said.

I dusted off the bottle, opened it and let it sit for awhile. Cedar came through to the nose and very aromatic cooked fruit. The taste was very silky with little to no appearance of tannins. A little taste of cassis at first and after it sat for awhile, a very strong essence of cherry pie and toasty almonds really came through. This evening I will enjoy another glass or two and see if there has been any change. There's another bottle of this fine Cabernet in my collection along with a couple of the larger format bottles. Those bottles will defininitely not be opened for a few more years. It will be interesting to look back and see how much the wine has aged.

There is a good chance you might be able to obtain this wine. It may be available in the L'Ecole library, which some of the wines are often for sale. If you do - give them a pointer to this post and tell them I sent you.

*About the cassoulet? It's almost perfect and the emphasis on the herbs de Provence made it happen. Tonight I will cover it with a gratin and bake it. My next batch I may add a onion confit to it. I hope it pairs well with the 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon and if it doesn't? Who cares? They will both taste delicious.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

First the dog and now the wine cellar - D_I_V_O_R_C_E!

First there was alimony which later begat palimony. Then came the issues of pet custody and pet-alimony. Now the lastest on divorce is: who is going to get custody of the wine cellar and the wine club! Will this new legal issue be referred to as "Enolomony"(remember you read that word here first)?"

Tom Wark of Fermentation points out attorney, Jeffrey Lalloway's post about "The new divorce battleground? The wine cellar."

I am reminded of my own divorce and wine cellar. While we had far from 300 cases, there was a modest 75-100 bottles of wine depending. The wine was kept in the basement and there were a couple of special wine racks to hold the bottles. We went wine tasting about a couple of times a year looking for wine for upcoming family gatherings and holidays. Some of the bottles held special memories of wine tasting trips with friends, gifts and even a few bottles of my father's homemade wine from the 1970's.

My ex-husband is really a great guy. Towards the end of our 20 years together, he became the "great guy who made some bad life choices" and I went on to make better life choices. When we split the sheets and the wine cellar, he was very helpful in packing it all up. We agreed to split it evenly. About a month later I was unpacking my wine. That helpful little &^%$# ex-husband gave me all of the whites! There wasn't a red wine in the two and 1/2 cases of wine! At first I was a bit miffed, but I ended up laughing it off. I mean how could I not laugh? I believe in karma.

In the last ten years, since the divorce, we see each other during family events. I usually show up to family events with several bottles of wine to share and often saving one for the ex-husband to take home and enjoy. Of course, I always send him home with a red wine, too. Sure, why not?

I now work in the wine industry, so I get involved in some great wine deals from our area. At this time I am building my own collection of red wines. And it just so happens that the ex-husband's new wife? She only drinks White Zinfandel from a box. Oooohhh - - you gotta love karma!

Monday, March 20, 2006

CreekTown Cafe

Do you want to dress up for the evening, but dine on old family recipes like bread pudding or would you rather wear your jeans and dine on cherry balsamic duck breast? No matter how you dress, the freshest food and finest local wines come into the back doors of this intimate and friendly cafe to reach the tables of their guests.

Proprietors Tom Uberuaga and Bill Pancake have built a dining experience with hometown roots. Tom was formerly opening manager of the distinguished White-House Crawford restaurant in Walla Walla and Bill was chef and former owner of Jacobi's (Jacobi's was never as good after Bill sold it) at the old historic train station in Walla Walla.

Everytime I dine at CreekTown, my tastebuds remind me "Why don't I eat here more often?" Saturday was just such a day when my tastebuds spoke to me. My son Allen was in town and we met up with Jeff, one of his best friends. Jeff and co-owner Bill are cousins and when Jeff said, "Let me treat you at my cousin's restaurant", I knew exactly where he meant - CreekTown Cafe!

Some of my favorites are the bread pudding for dessert and the hummus and baked artichoke dip appetizer plate. One evening we dined on a prime rib special that included a baked (and very rich) mac and cheese and a vegetable gratin. We left feeling stuffed but happy.

Saturday I tried their special of coconut shrimp over roasted vegetables. I asked for a wine suggestion and our waitress paired it perfect - a Viognier from Rulo Winery. The floral and soft pear notes from the wine really blended nicely with the curry ginger sauce over the roasted vegetables.

CreekTown keeps a local rotating wine list so they can pour every Walla Walla wine at least a couple times a year. The cafe is small and always busy, so I definitely recommend reservations.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Lyon's Den

Last week several friends and I took a road trip to Waitsburg, Washington. Waitsburg is a small town located in Walla Walla wine country and about a twenty minute drive from the city. It's a safe bet that this sleepy agriculture town of 1,262 will soon be a Washington State desination spot. There is movement going on in the historical Main Street buildings and it's exciting!

In August I wrote about our wonderful experience at the WhoopemUp Hollow Cafe, a mouth watering assortment of southern food located in Waitsburg, of all places! My last trip back to the WhoopemUp, I noticed a new spot in Waitsburg, The Lyon's Den and that was the destination of last week's road trip.

The ambiance of the Lyon's Den is comfortable with antler chandeliers and original brick walls. There is a lot happening in this place. Music on the weekends and we couldn't help noticing a serious crowd of women playing pool. There is a full bar featuring Walla Walla wines from Isenhower Cellars, Tamarack Cellars, Amavi, Forgeron Cellars, Three Rivers Winery, Walla Walla Vintners, and Magnificent Wine Co (K-Vintners). Last, but not least is their menu of "big city" martini's - tweaked cowboy style.

Besides friendly service, there is a casual menu available featuring freshly made artisan style pizzas and large salads. My large "pizza salad" was so filling, there wasn't any room for a piece of that delicious looking artisan crust with melted cheese. Next time I am skipping the salad (well, maybe I'll order a small one) and going right for the pizza! Right. I am going back!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Frank is Blue

A member of Wine Wenches Warriors & Exiles read my post about Lemberger and directed me to this site - ClearWeather Wines from Montana. They just happen to produce a Lemberger and also gather many of their grapes from some of the finest vineyards in Washington and Oregon. Their handcrafted small lot wines age in both French and Oregon oak barrels and are affordably priced. ClearWeather emphasizes that they do not make "cookie cutter" wines. And it appears that they do not make "cookie cutter" labels, either.

Check out "Blue Frank" and his very interesting life. It's a great story.

Blue Frank was born in a log cabin in the little town of Lemberg, Western Canada. Growing up, he had dreams of moving to Montana to be a dental floss farmer. At the age of 45, he moved out of his mother's house and started to Montana. Somehow, he lost his directions, drifted through Hanford (where he ended up blue), and arrived at the onion factory in Patterson, Washington. After living on red wine and Walla Walla Sweet Onions for three years, Blue Frank finally made his way to Montana. In Missoula, he found out that the bottom had fallen out of the dental floss business. Being broke, tired, disillusioned, and Blue, he did the only thing he could. He sold his old VW Bus and bought a guitar. In three short days, he learned to sing the blues. To this day, you can still find him, sitting at the Farmer's Market, old hat and bottle of wine in front of him, singing the blues on his old guitar.

I think Frank strikes a uncanny resemblance to Frank Zappa.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Calico

Just like the many colors and textures of the calico fabric, Calico Red, weaves together a RTW blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel.

This will be the third release of Calico Red from the "Girls" at Bergevin Lane - Annette, Virginie, and Amber. Since the 2001 release, this has been one of my favorite (and consistent) RTW's from the valley and always affordable at $16.00. To describe the taste I would explain it as a luscious and juicy, like a fresh compote of strawberries, raspberries and other brambleberries. Spicy with black pepper, cocoa, and burnt sugar, but silky finish like caramel.

Calico Red is a wine I would pair with casual dining such as a bar-be-que with smokey sausages, brisket and ribs and even better for that every day sipping wine. Calico Red is a fine example of one of the many affordable and quality red table blends in the valley.

No Merlot?

Have you heard of the website No Merlot? If you haven't, check it out. This site is also for sale. Their reason for "No Merlot" is based on the movie, "Sideways." The famous Merlot scene takes us to Jack and Miles having dinner with a couple of women they picked up:

Jack: "And if they wanna drink merlot, we're drinkin’ merlot."
Miles: "No. If anybody orders merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any f#%&ing merlot!"

The wine peeps at "No Merlot" feels that Mile's aversion to Merlot is well-founded. They feel that Merlot, or more specifically, American Merlot is generally bland and flabby, lacking any varietal character or structure. Phhhhttt!!! Hey boys and girls - it's obviously you haven't tried any Merlot from Washington State! Or maybe they have and that is why they are selling their "No Merlot" site?

The unfortunate thing is, as fun as the movie Sideways was, it did an injustice to current Merlot sales and might possibly harm future Pinot Noir sales. Miles waxed poetry about his favorite wine, Pinot Noir. Of course, the sales soared! Unfortunately, this also meant that the casual wine drinker was missing out on some fantastic Merlot and was probably picking up some cheap Pinot Noir (instead of the beauties from the Willamette area in Oregon) at their local grocery store and were left wondering, "What is so great about Pinot Noir?"

The irony - - while Miles was cursing Merlot, he babbled on about the virtues of Chateau Petrus, one of the world's most expensive wines, which also just happens to be made up of 95% Merlot! Chateau Petrus produces about 3,000 cases of wine in an average year. Newly released bottles are usually offered as futures for around $500-750 a bottle, and later vintages will fetch more than $1,000 a bottle.

Listening to this character Miles rant and rave about hating Merlot, I kept thinking to myself - he hasn't tasted Washington Merlots. Pomerol, where Petrus is located sits on the 45th parallel of latitude. If you follow that latitude west to North America and across the United States, you will discover that the Walla Walla Valley is just to it's north. The soils of the Walla Walla Valley are similar to those of Pomerol - deposits of gravel and clay. Washington state grape vines also get two more hours of sunlight per day than those vines in California. Those extra hours of sun intensifies color, acids and makes for perfect ripening of the fruit. Unlike the more jammier Merlots of the south state, Washington Merlots are more food friendlier. Bolder and more earthier wine due to to the soil from the region.

In January 2006 issue of Decanter, they recommended the following Walla Walla Merlots:

Leonetti Cellar 2003, Lecole #41 Seven Hills Vineyard 2003, Northstar - Walla Walla Valley 2001 (note: Northstar only produces Merlot), Pepperbridge Winery 2002, and Woodward Canyon, 2002 .

For best value, their recommendations are:

Seven Hills Vineyard, 2002 - $30, Walla Walla Vintners, 2003 - $28, Ash Hollow, 2003 - $24, Beresan Winery, 2003 - $29, Forgeron Cellars, 2002 - $27, Lowden Hills, 2002 - $24, and Stephenson Cellars, 2002 - $28.

It's important to say that the "No Merlot" also has a website No Chardonnay. Again, it is based on the movie Sideways and here is why they are not drinking any Chardonnay:

Jack: “I thought you hated chardonnay.”
Miles: "No, no, no. I just don't generally like the way they manipulate Chardonnay in California. Too much oak and secondary malolactic fermentation."

Finally - I couldn't agree more!

Friday, March 10, 2006

~March Cherry Pick~

It's a grapey month! March is "Washington Wine Month", as declared by the Washington Wine Commission. During the month, the state's wine industry will be the focal point with various events at several restaurants and wine shops through the state.

The valley's March weather has been true to the legacy of "In like a lion and out like a lamb." So, I thought this month I would choose two very different wines - a bold one like the beast and a delicate wine like a lamb.

The "lion" is the 2003 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Three Rivers Winery. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc has gone into this vintage. Champoux is one of the oldest vineyards in the Columbia Valley with the first vines planted in 1972. This is an intense wine, showcasing the true varietal character of Cabernet. Deep cherry flavors and lots of tannins, which makes this wine perfect for aging. A medium to rare grilled peppercorn steak or add a topping of broiled bleu cheese makes a great pairing and I would finish it with a rich chocolate mousse or torte. Make it simple with a meat lovers style of pizza with lots of sausage and a Hershey chocolate bar for dessert. This Cabernet has been noticed with a Silver Medal-2005 Tri-Cities Wine Festival and a Bronze Medal at the 2006 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

The "lamb" is the 2004 Riesling from Forgeron Cellars. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know - I work there. But seriously, this is a wine that is very typical of the early world class Rieslings of Washington state. It really has a great nose - with citrus and honeysuckle aromas. Definitely a bite of the orchard with apple and peach flavors. A residual sugar of 2.93, this wine is not only a great afternoon sipping wine with a cheese and fresh fruit plate, but cleanses the palette and blends perfectly with spicy phad Thai and other Asian dishes. Pair it with exotic foods like tandoori chicken or Italian polenta with lots of butter and cheese. Go for something simple like chicken pot pie or popcorn. I heard, "though the grapevine" that there isn't much of this delightful Riesling left. You want it? At the terrific price of $16.00 a bottle, get_it_now!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

PS: Nina Lee - A Very Sexy Syrah

How could I forget the Nina Lee! Not only is this another example of a fine Syrah from the Walla Walla area, but even the label is sexy!

A relative of the Corkrum's Spring Valley family, Nina Lee was a vaudeville actress at one of the local theatres in the 1920's. She married into the Corkrum family and after her husband Frederick died, she continued to manage the family ranch on her own.

This is a very HUGE Syrah, unlike the woman that it was named after! Lots of cocoa and bramble berries coming through. My notes remembered it being a very earthy and spicy wine. Now that I have teased you, good luck finding it. The current vintage is sold out!

Sexy Syrah

There is a buzz going on in the wine industry and the buzzing is about the Syrahs from Walla Walla Valley. Wine retailers and others are making claims that Walla Walla is making world-class Syrahs that are complex and aromatic. As a fan of Syrah, I couldn't agree more. These Syrah's are designed for wine drinkers who are looking for a rich, dense, yet low in tannins, and very fragrant wine.

ACNielsen reports that sales of Washington's Syrah are up 41 percent from a year ago, while Walla Walla Syrahs are up a huge 269 percent. California Syrah sales were up just 19 percent. Some wine retailers feel the difference between the two states is that Washington, especially Walla Walla, Syrahs seem to have more depth and earthier.

Walla Walla winemaker, Rusty Figgins was the "grandfather" (a young one) of this special grape. In 1993, he convinced a local vineyard to plant a block of Syrah. Later, a founder of Glenn Fiona, Figgins co-fermented the Syrah with Viognier, as done in classic Côte Rôties. Since that time, Syrah's have taken off in the valley. In 1996, French winemaker Christophe Baron used Syrah as his flagship grape for his Walla Walla winery, Cayuse.

Some of my favorite valley Syrah's? Where do I start?

Cayuse is one of the finest to have hit these lips. But good luck finding it. At this point, Christophe is providing Syrah to those on his wine club list. My bottles of Cayuse are swaddled in fine cloths of velvet and linen. After that, I am torn between any Syrah that comes from the Morrison Lane Vineyards, K-Vintners (voted top 10 Syrah in America), and Forgeron Cellars. Morrison Lane Winery of course, has their estate Syrah and also contract grapes to K-Vintners for a designated vineyard Syrah. Forgeron Cellars is so aromatic with a beautiful inky color! I have referred to it as my "breakfast wine." Why breakfast? The nose is deep and earthy like fresh ground coffee with the smell of toast in the background. The taste is like a lush mouthful of fresh blueberries and smokey like bacon. Very traditional aromas and tastes.

A few harvests back, I had the opportunity to know and work with one of the assistants at Glenn Fiona. Every so often he would bring me a sample of how their Syrah was coming along after their crush. The color was gorgeous! Deep and rich in dark fruit and often I would find a hint of violets in the nose. It impressed me so much, that I still remember.

Other Syrahs from the area I would recommend is Isenhower (the "Wild Alfalfa" has very generous dark fruit and spicy), Basel Cellars (very aromatic), most definitely Rulo (excellent prices and hospitality), Fort Walla Walla (elegant and traditional with Viognier added) and most recently Zerba Cellars (big and smokey). After this is printed, I know I will remember others that I enjoyed or that are not in my notes. These in particular have really made an impression on me.

A Syrah to keep an eye on in the valley is John Duval's "Sequel" from Longshadows. John is no stranger to Syrah, being he was a winemaker for Penfold's Grange in Australia. This is a Syrah I would definitely age for awhile. That is exactly what I plan on doing with mine.

Find out how sexy Syrah can be at the fifth annual "Sexy Syrah Festival", March 21 at http://www.saltys.com/seattle/"Salty's On Alki" in Seattle, celebrating Washington state's Syrahs.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

In Memory of Rodney Strong - Dancer Turned Winemaker

A farmboy raised in Washington state, he would eventually find himself on Broadway dancing in many of the great cities of the world. But even Broadway could not remove the soil that was deep in Strong's soul. That love of Washington's wild west soil eventually took him to Sonoma County to become a winemaker.

Through the years, Strong would say, "I knew I couldn't be an old dancer, but I would be an old winemaker.'' And that he did. He became one of Sonoma's best known winemakers - Rodney Strong Vineyards. Strong, along with his wife Charlotte, helped to define the wine country lifestyle - good food, fine wines and gracious living.

Strong credited his theatrical experiences in surviving the wine business. He claimed that the theater was a good preparation for rejection. His experiences in the theater and the wine business left him with a guiding philosophy. "... you are never going to please everybody, and if you try, it is the shortest route to mediocrity you will ever find,'' he said.

A wine career that lasted for four decades, Strong died Sunday, March 5 at the age of 78. A few decades short of the Washington state wine boom, I wish Rodney could have come back to the soil of his youth.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

~March Cooking With Washington Wines~

While looking through my personal recipe file and those from our family cookbook, that was printed a couple of summer's ago, I had trouble deciding what would be appropriate for March. First I thought about my jambalaya recipe with chicken, delicious sausage and shrimp. It would have been appropriate for the Mardi Gras week. But Fat Tuesday was the last day in February, so I forgot that idea. Then I thought about Saint Patrick's Day coming up and there was my father's corn beef and cabbage recipe that he would prepare every March. No. I didn't want to think about a wine that would pair with cabbage. As I looked through the family cookbook I immediately thought - Italian! Why not? In honor of my charming son-inlaw, Giancarlo and my beautiful granddaughter, Izabella. So, I thought I would post one of the recipes from Gianni's father, Emilio.

Emilio is a legend in Portsmouth, NH where he and Gianni's mom, Linda dishes up delicious lunches and sells imported Italian groceries to his customers at Emilio's. You do not tell him what you want to eat. He tells you. What are the store's hours if you happen to be in Portsmouth and want to check it out? It's open when Emilio feels like it. Emilio has been featured on the PBS program Ciao Italia hosted by Mary Ann Espisito. I have watched this show when the two of them have had wars on who makes the best pizza - him or her. And now I present - -


Emilio's Angel Hair Pasta
Capellini d'Angeli d'Emilio

This recipe was from Nonni Maddaloni. A quick and tasty meal and according to Emilio, even better at 3:00 am. If you want to keep the Italian theme going, you could pair it with a Pinot Grigio from Seven Hills Winery. Or if you aren't a fan of white, then check out the red Italian varietals from Morrison Lane. If you really want to be adventurous, try the Chenin Blanc from Lecole No. #41. That bit of residual sugar will blend with and sooth the spice from the peppers.

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp of jarred capers, rinsed and minced
7 or 8 black olives, oil-cured, pitted and chopped
4 or 5 anchovy fillets in olive oil. Drained, but reserving 1 tablespoon of the oil
2 small jalapeño peppers
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1/4 cup minced fresh Italian parsley
Fine sea salt or kosher salt to taste
1/2 pound angel hair pasta

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan. Add garlic and saute over medium heat until it softens. Stir in the capers, olives, anchovies and reserved oil, jalapeño peppers, red pepper flakes, and half of the parsley. Continue to saute until the anchovies melt into the oil. Add salt per taste. Remove the jalapeño peppers and set aside. Keep the sauce warm. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta and the reserved water to the saute pan. Over medium heat quickly stir the pasta and sauce together until it is mixed well. Pour the finished pasta mixture onto the platter over the jalapeño peppers. Sprinkle the remaining parsley over the top and serve with your favorite Italian hard cheese.

Buon appetito!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Two Unsophisticated Moms

I recently discovered this blog Two Unsophisticated Mom's Guide To Wine and Beer .

Jess and Christie may be unsophisticated in their wine lingo, but are very eager to share their wine and beer tasting journeys. I love it! They are two PTA moms that are honest in their descriptions of wines and what they like to drink.

They are a great example that wine is no longer for the distinguished older man wearing the tweed jacket with the tastevin and sash draped around his neck. While the world of wine has become broader and more intricate than ever before, it is important that it appeals to more than the old stereo-type wine drinker from years gone by. To keep wine sales flourishing, we need honesty from wine consumers on what they enjoy and it needs to be appealing, with no pretension, to any potential customer. Perhaps wine marketers should consider simplicity in selling their wines and use wine descriptions like Jess and Christie's:

"Okay", "Pretty darn good", and "WOW - you've got to try this wine!"

I Finally Met The Wine Expert

I finally met the "Wine Expert." I've heard rumors that such a person existed. I always thought it was another urban legend.

One day a man came into the tasting room announcing he was from Sonoma. He was here to teach this “lil’ lady” a thing or two about wine. In fact, he was here to teach the whole state of Washington about wine. He proudly wore a t-shirt that was especially made for his trip to the state of Washington. It said:


Sonoma Makes Wine
Napa Makes Auto Parts
Washington Makes Apples
.

I questioned him about Washington making apples. I thought we grew apples. Not so, said our Sonoma visitor. Washington “makes” apples. I soon learned that I was up against wine-brilliance-extraordinaire. A legend in his own mind. It was difficult, but I behaved myself. Afterall, he was my guest.

I offered the Wine Expert (WE) a taste of our various wines. He was only interested in the off-dry Reisling and enjoyed it. He sampled the unique Syrah Rose’ (dry), but it was not to his liking. It was not sweet. According to the WE, Washington has a lot to learn from Sonoma because we cannot seem to make a Rose’ sweet enough. Aiiiyiiiiiyiiii! I offered him the line up of our reds. That particular day was a rare one, because we were offering a taste of our $45.00 proprietor’s blend. Nope, he wasn't interested. Our usual varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Zinfandel? The WE wasn’t interested in any of them, other than the Zinfandel. He claimed that all of the red wines made his mouth "feel like cotton. "

The WE knew his stuff when it came to Zinfandel. Most of what he said was correct. The WE explained to me that California was the leader in Zinfandels and that Washington state was a mere babe in comparison. I agreed. As I poured the WE a sample of our Zinfandel, he commented it was red. What was wrong with this Zinfandel? He asked for a Zinfandel, not a Merlot. This Zin isn’t anything like the pink color of California Zinfandels? WE mentioned that he had not seen a pink Zinfandel in any of the wineries he visited in the State of Washington. According to WE it was apparent that we had a lot to learn about Zinfandels from California. He was correct about one thing - not seeing any "pink color" Zinfandels in the State of Washington and hopefully there will never be one.

The WE continued to educate me about wines. He told me how he enjoyed the wine made from Burgundy grapes. I asked him which Burgundy grapes? Chardonnay? Pinot Noir? Gamay? No, he informed me. "Those are not Burgundy grapes, especially Chardonnay. Chardonnay is a white grape, not Burgundy color." He informed me that in Sonoma there were rows and rows of Burgundy grapes. He said he liked Chablis. I asked, "So you enjoy Chardonnay?" "Yes," he said "and the Chablis from California." Silly me. All this time I thought Chablis was a Chardonnay from France. When I told him my small seedling of knowledge about Old World Burgundy and white Burgundy, I was quickly dismissed. Whatever “they” are teaching me in the State of Washington is wrong and I had a lot to learn from California, he informed me. Riiiiiight - and Gallo of California sells jugs of red plonk illegally labeled "Burgundy" and have led the grocery store wine consumer on for years that there is a grape by the name of Chablis.

It was time to bid our WE a farewell and I did it with a big smile. I bid him farewell and told him to keep up the good work spreading his knowledge of wines throughout our fair state.

That evening in bed, I woke up in a sweat remembering a snippet of my past. I remembered serving wine to a man that looked awfully familar to me, but could not place where I had seen him before. A pleasant, but quiet man who looked like he didn't want to be noticed (and no, it was not the "Sonoma Wine Expert"). I poured our selection of wine and did my sales pitch explaining all of the tasting notes and food pairing ideas - - all the time I kept wondering who he was. Later, on the drive home from the tasting room, it dawned on me. It was James Laube - the real wine expert, Senior Editor of the Wine Spectator magazine! I was sure of it!

I woke from my sleep in a panic. Did I blab on and on to Laube like the "Sonoma Wine Expert" did to me? Was Laube rolling his eyes at me in the back of his brain? Did I say anything stupid to the Senior Editor of the Wine Spectator? Will he write a column titled "The Walla Walla Wine Expert Hick" that blathered incessably about something she knew nothing about? Did I pronounce "Meritage" like "heritage" or was I trying to be cool and pronounce it like I was from France with "Mari-taaaahhhhjj?" Did I say "War-shington Murr-lott?" Paranoia was surging through my body and voices were running wild through my tin-foil cap and metal teeth fillings - -"They're laughing at you in the coffee room of the Wine Spectator!"

Since then, I have been soothed by my wine peers with pats on my head, pathetic stares and glasses of wine assuring me that I am going to be okay. The difference between me and the WE? While I woke up in a paranoia soaked sweat, he was probably sleeping very sound dreaming of being Superman saving the wine world in a gold lame' outfit trimmed with grapes.

I wish for a cold and frosty breeze to go up his toga skirt.

PS: Before the WE left the building, he signed the mailing list. For those of you who live in the Sonoma area or in any part of California wine country, would you like his address? You need to replace him and get a new representative for your California wines.

Gotta Love Those Wine Angels

About 15 minutes ago a "Wine Angel" brought me a bottle of wine. What a nice surprise! This particular wine angel got involved with this new winery and had some bottles of their first release. I have been wondering about this particular wine and here is one sitting on my desk.

The wine is from Gifford Hirlinger, a new winery in the valley and located on the Stateline Road. The wine, appropriately named, "Stateline Red" is a 2003 vintage and a blend of 58% and 42% Merlot. When I finally open it, I will report in.

The Wine Angel also gave me some exciting news that has happened to him in regards to the Washington wine industry, but darn it - - at the moment I am not at liberty to share.

Yeah, I'm a tease.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Moonlight Becomes You

One Sunday morning we received a phone call from Felicita at Woodward Canyon. Felicita has worked at Woodward now for over 18 years. I think she has done everything at that winery from punchdowns during crush to managing the tasting room. For the time being, she has decided to go into "retirement" and only works a couple days a week. She called to invite us out to the winery that afternoon. The tasting room had finally calmed down a bit after the holiday shopping and she was eager to have us taste Woodward's line-up of fine wines.

Steve and I couldn't pass up that invite and so we headed out to visit her. Woodward Canyon is located in Lowden in the Walla Walla Valley. The tasting room is a restored 1870's charming farm house. Winemaker Rick Small established Woodward Canyon Winery in 1981. Since that time, the winery has consistently produced premium and award-winning wines. We tasted through the beautiful reds, but the most unique wine for the valley was the Riesling. A bone dry Riesling, at that.

The Riesling was produced entirely from fruit grown by the DuBrul Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. DuBrul is a very old and very fine vineyard located north of Sunnyside, Washington. While a dry wine, it was ripe with peach flavor, yet flinty like the rocky soil from DuBrul. A very aromatic wine that was crisp with a perfect balance of acidity. Like it's German siblings, it would cellar very well. A few bottles had to be purchased!

While we were visiting, we noticed the series of artist posters that hung prominently on the walls. The series started from 1992 when Woodward created a label from a painting for their Cabernet Sauvignon and the artist series wine and posters have continued up to their most recent vintage. The 1993 pastel "Moonlight Becomes You" by local artist Elizabeth Harris caught our eye. It was a blend of the both of us. Me - the more formal checkered tile in the background and Steve, a collector of Native American blankets, where the red background with the Native American symbols blends into the two people drinking wine.

It looks perfect in it's new black and gold wooden frame next to the fireplace and we will have a nice keepsake long after the wine is gone.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Winemaker's Gallery

Andrew from the Walla Walla Winemaker's Gallery emailed me a few weeks ago and said that they had finally found a location for their gallery. It will be at the airport, adjacent to the new incubator wineries. Excellent!

It was announced today in the area newspaper.

How's Your Italian?

Do you know the difference between the DOCG and the DOC?

The Columbia Valley and sub-appellations are showing up with more and more Italian varietals at every crush. Don't be walking into a winery blabbing how you hate Chianti while sucking down the winery's finest Sangiovese or when you are offered a Barolo to taste, don't ask for a Nebbiolo instead. And no - - Piedmonte is not a town in Georgia.

Dean and Verdie Morrison of Morrison Lane Vineyards and Winery has truly been pioneers in growing Italian varietals. I visited their vineyard and looked at the very first Nebbiolo vine that was in the valley at the time. The Nebbiolo was probably the most virile, yet scruffy vine I had ever seen, too. Dean has family roots in the Piedmonte region so it was easy to see his fascination with this vitis vinifera. Morrison Lane also produces a Sangiovese, Dolcetto, and Barbera. Interesting enough, they also produce a Cinsault, while it's of French origin, it has important Italian roots to the Walla Walla Valley.

Take the test and you just might learn that Dolcetto is not the high singing pitch of Freddy Mercury and Barry Gibb.

http://www.italianmade.com/quiz/home.cfm

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Casting A Long Shadow

The other day I blogged about the Long Shadow's wine. It was just announced this morning that three miles from the city via Highway #12 on Ireland Road, Long Shadows broke ground to build a 4.2 million dollar 30,000 square foot winery to produce their premium wines.

The winery will be buried in the hillside and will include a glass-enclosed private event room, catering kitchen and 4,000-square-foot veranda. Outside, the facility will have a panoramic view of the Blue Mountains. Construction to be completed this fall. It will be a asset to the area.

Lemberger Is Not Stinky!

Lemberger is a wine that I have enjoyed for years even though it has been one of the Northwest's best kept secrets. Known as Blau Fränkisch (blue grape from France) in Europe, Lemberger hails from Germany where about 1000 acres are grown. Lemberger is also produced and bottled in Austria and Hungary.

Originally it was spelled, "Limberger" and then re-spelled “Lemberger” by a marketing group in an attempt to disassociate the grape from the stinky cheese. It has been speculated that the name and spelling had a connection to the Croatian capital of Lemberg.

The most extensive plantings of Lemberger are in Germany with over 3,000 acres. Washington state and the Finger Lakes area in New York are two of the few places in the United States where the Lemberger grape is being grown, with Washington state being the largest. I checked the WAWGG stats and Lemberger starts with the year of 1997 of 100 acres producing 500 tons and in the last crush of 2005, it came in at 500 tons with 103 acres.

The origin for Washington Lemberger begins when Drs. Eugene and Virgil Rittich brought it to British Columbia from Hungary and in 1941 it was introduced to Washington State when Dr. Walter Clore (Father of the Washington State wine industry) of WSU established it at the research station in Prosser. It also caught the interest of Julio Gallo, who spent considerable time in Washington state in the 70's, evaluating this new varietal. Apparently he preferred it to Washington’s Cabernet. The story goes that during one of Gallo's visits, Clore asked him if he’d be interested in the variety. Gallo responded with "Sure, but I want a whole trainload." As Gallo went on to explain he needed to have millions of gallons to put any of his wines on the market. There went our claim to fame - Gallo of Washington!

Producers of Lemberger wine at this time (or at least the ones that I am familar with) are Kiona, Thurston Wolfe, Covey Run, Latah Creek and most recently, while visiting the College Cellars at the Viticulture and Enology Institute at WWCC, I was delighted to see they had produced a Lemberger. Of course, I had to buy a bottle. The first new world commercial Lemberger planting was by Kiona in 1976 and in 1983 they released the first commercial vintage for 1980. Kiona produces about 3,000 cases of Lemberger each year. I often find Latah Creek and Covey Run labels of Lemberger at the supermarket and always very affordable.

So how does a Lemberger taste? First of all, it is more of a ruby red color than Merlot and Cabernet and often has an intense nose of cherry and strawberries. Always less tannic than a lot of reds, but with a nice crisp and balanced acidity. The flavors found can be brambleberry, strawberry and pomegranate with a spicy finish such as of black pepper and/or cloves. It is a very food friendly wine that I would pair with turkey, bar-be-que, lamb, and red sauces. And of course, unlike the cheese - - it ain't stinky!