Friday, April 28, 2006

Welcome to Walla Walla Spring Wine Release!

The valley of Walla Walla will be bursting at the seams next week as Spring Release will start the weekend of May 6th & 7th, 2006. There will be winemaker dinners, wine club parties,and other wine-oriented gatherings that will keep many locals and visitors busy on Friday, May 5.

What Spring Release Weekend means to the wineries is that it highlights the first release of their new vintages. The Valley's winemakers will be available to introduce their new wines and our visitors will be the first to taste and purchase the new vintages. Not only will new wines be released, but many wineries will enhance the day with special foods to go with their newly released wines, as well as art and entertainment to make the day extra special. For a list of offerings, check out Walla Walla Spring Release.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Winemaker and Her Wine - Up-close and Very Personal

Jill Noble has lived just outside of Walla Walla for almost twenty years, and I have known her for most of them. We met when Jill was pregnant with her first child -- a couple of "newbies" together in a local charitable organization. Later we were classmates in Walla Walla Community College's Viticulture and Enology program; in fact, we were among the program's "pioneer" students, before the college's Wine Institute was built. Through these years of classes and projects, Jill has been one of my biggest cheerleaders, so I was heart-warmed when she told me a few weeks ago that she felt I had been one of hers.

Life is personal and passionate for Jill, and it shows in her work, in her personal relationships and now in her winemaking. The work of a winemaker is not a job for her but an avocation, a calling. She is a hands-on winemaker from grape to bottle; her wine is very much a labor of love.

Jill's love extends to her winery's name. Couvillion is the family name of a close personal friend, Connie from Louisiana. “It’s French-Canadian," Jill told me, "and I wanted to honor her because she is so dear to my heart.” One of her wines, a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon, carries the unusual name of "Hoobie" -- again, after a dear, now departed friend. She told me she's planning to name other wines in the future to honor those people who have touched her life.

Jill’s interest in the wine industry came from a desire to help diversify her family's wheat farm. This time of year the drive out to Couvillion, which is north of Walla Walla a few miles, in the Spring Valley area, is all about colors and aroma: hills bright green with spring grass and the air sharp and fresh with growth. North of the family farm is Jill's vineyard; her small but efficient winery is part of the farm itself (she is already planning on expanding the new structure). The great views of the rolling hillsides and the sounds of birds made my visit quiet and relaxing...a perfect spot to sip Jill's wines, which are made with so much passion. When you visit, doubtless you, too, will want to take some Couvillion wine home with you to recapture that memory!

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to ones courage." That's Jill's philosophy of life -- and of winemaking.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Walla Walla - The Best Place To Live

The April 2006 issue of Men's Journal magazine included Walla Walla in its annual "50 Best Places to Live." It was quoted: 'The techno elite in Seattle might scoff, but "the town so nice they named it twice", is actually a sophisficated oasis on rolling plains. More than 65 wineries now dot the Walla Walla Valley. A recent $53 million renovation has sparked a boom, and the town's three colleges feed thriving music and art scenes. And unlike the coast, you won't always need rain gear while biking in the nearby Blue Mountains...'

Walla Walla was also cited in the 'Up and Coming' section under the headline, "Make a move on these below-the-radar spots before word gets out. WALLA WALLA -- Wine, arts and music, mountain biking and fly-fishing all make Walla Walla a nice place to live."

Duh - - The word is already out and the majority of us, born and raised Walla Wallan's, have been trying to tell people this for years. They finally believe it when they read it in print from a stranger.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Couvillion Cabernet Sauvignon

Another great wine from Couvillion! I had an opportunity to taste this wine with Jill Noble, the winemaker, and our mutual friend Sharyl. When Sharyl heard I had an interview with Jill, she offered to not only chauffeur me to the winery, but to write my wine notes down for me as well. Now that's a friend -- but wait, could it have been the opportunity to taste Jill's wonderful wines? Surely not! Pure friendship must've been the motive!

In any case, we agreed - what an elegant wine this Cabernet is. I think this one actually resembles Jill's personality: it's a rich and silky wine with aromas of dark cherry and plum -- and it is spicy! Yet it's robust, too, with soft tannins. All in all, this is a well-structured Cabernet, that can be paired with something rich and dense like prime rib or steak topped with blue cheese or as Sharyl noted, a wine that can hold its own.

On the label Jill writes, "This Cabernet speaks to my heart and soul. It has rich fruit in the mid -palate with lovely black currant notes. This balances the acidity and oak favorably.”

Just 390 cases of this wine were produced. The price is $25 per bottle -- another great Couvillion deal.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Rock Stars of Syrah

Start the beginning of Walla Walla Valley Spring Wine Release week-end right with a spectacular-Syrah filled Winemaker's Dinner at the Marcus Whitman Hotel featuring Syrahs from the Walla Walla Valley. This dinner will include perfect pairings of Syrah with innovative and unforgettable courses by Executive Chef Bear Ullman. Dinner prices are $125 per person and will be held Thursday, May 4 at 7:00 pm.

'Rock Stars of Syrah' featured are Amavi Cellars, Dunham Cellars, SYZYGY, Bergevin Lane, Saviah Cellars and Va Piano. Call early for reservations as space is limited - (509)525-2200 or toll free 1- 866-826-9422.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Why are you into wine?

Can you answer that question honestly? (If you can, please leave your reason under comments. I would love to hear your answer.) There are dozens of reasons to love wine -- no, probably hundreds. And yet, too, there's just one.

Is it wine's taste that appeals to you most, or -- be honest, now! -- is it wine's association with the good life, with status and education and refinement? Perhaps it's the science of wine-making, which is indeed fascinating: all that chemistry, all those elements -- all those yeasts! Or perhaps it's the agricultural aspect of wine that interests you; as the cliche' has it, great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the winery (a cliche' I happen to think is true, for the most part). Even a short list of wine-grape names can sound like poetry: Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sangiovese and Syrah; Zinfandel, Muscadet, Merlot, Shiraz; Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer; Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier; Roussane, Nebbiolo, Barbarossa, Primitivo, Bastardo.

Or consider the words used to describe the various flavors your tongue discovers in well-made wine: jammy, buttery, oakey, smokey, cinnamon-y, pear, apricot, plum, lychee, grassy, asparagus, straw, chocolate, raspberry, blackberry, raisin, cigar-box, cedar, pine, tar, etc. etc. (My honeyman thinks a lot of these words are, as he calls them, "froo-froo." He'll describe a wine he likes as "tasting like Jerry Garcia's guitar sounds," while I'll describe a wine that "tastes like Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream.")

Or dream of the picture-postcard places associated with wine: Tuscany, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace, the Val Loire, the Valley of the Moon, the Walla Walla Valley -- to name but a very, very few among hundreds.

Or remember the ancient, stoney smells of wineries you've visited: perhaps it is these old, mossy, earthy, faintly moist aromas that open your imagination to the long history of wine and wine-making and the peoples and cultures of the world that have learned to create art from a few sour grapes.

Why do we love wine? Maya, the character in the film "Sideways," sums it up for me:

MILES: ...Why are you into wine?

MAYA: I suppose I got really into wine originally through my ex-husband. He had a big, kind of show-off cellar. But then I found out that I have a really sharp palate, and the more I drank, the more I liked what it made me think about.

MILES: Yeah? Like what?

MAYA: Like what a fraud he was.
(Miles laughs.)

MAYA: No, but I do like to think about the life of wine, how it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing, how the sun was shining that summer or if it rained... what the weather was like. I think about all those people who tended and picked the grapes, and if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle its going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive -- it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks -- like your ‘61 -- and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so fucking good.

Yep. It tastes so f---ing good.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

"...and it prevents cavities, too"

In March, dental researchers in Canada revealed the discovery that there are compounds in red wine that may help prevent and treat gum disease. Evidence in the lab shows that compounds called polyphenols remove the free radicals, which are molecules that cause the kind of inflammation that is often associated with gum disease.

Gum disease is believed to be a risk factor for heart disease, and while a number of studies suggest that moderate consumption of red wine may help protect the heart, the American Heart Association has not endorsed wine as a heart-disease prevention strategy.

Note that red wine gives us the purple stained teeth, which can be good thing or a bad thing. Bad in that neon-white teeth is now a fashion statement -- but good in that when you are out on a Saturday afternoon wine tasting, you can flash your purple teeth to other wine tasters and know that you all belong to the Purple Badge of Honor Club. The other good thing is that with purple teeth, we tend to be more conscientious about brushing our teeth.

Evidence also suggests that, if you don't happen to be a wine drinker, the same polyphenols are found in cranberries. But I ask you, what kind of fun preventative medicine is eating cranberries -- unless, that is, the cranberries are fermented?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

There's a new Merlot in town.

You will soon be hearing alot about Couvillion Cellars. The winery will celebrate a grand opening during Walla Walla's Spring Release Weekend, May 5-7.

I feel so fortunate to have had a private tasting recently and tour of the winery. Couvillion Cellars is owned by its winemaker, Jill Noble. We enjoyed a long visit the other day, which included tasting her wines, so in the next couple of weeks I will be posting here about her wines and, best of all, about her -- an up-close-and-personal view. I think Jill is destined to become one of Walla Walla's most sought-after winemakers. Soon I'll be able to say, "I knew her when..."

For now, though, let's talk about her 2004 Merlot, which is not one of the Walla Walla "tannic-monster" Merlots. This one's much more elegant yet assertive: It said, "Pay attention to me!" My nose could barely take in all the wonderful aromas coming from the bowl of the wine glass. This Merlot, blended with 24% Cabernet, has mocha and spicy notes, which graduate to flavors of mocha, spice, berries and plums on the palate. In the finish there's a quick sparkle of the green vine to let you know it is a new Merlot, but this left as quick as it arrived, and the finish continued with a long slow grand flourish of caramel. It made me want to smack my lips -- so I did!

Jill writes on her wine's label: “My Merlot is a pleasure to share with friends and your favorite music, or to enhance your favorite meals. It is ready to drink now through 2010, and we will continue to taste it throughout its life and update the cellar notes on the website.” Nice touch, that last bit.

I agree about drinking this Merlot with music. It is a wine I would curl up with over a good book and soft music or over a campfire with good friends. This particular Merlot is made to be shared during a time that will become a memory. I would definitely pair it with grilled salmon or grilled portabello mushrooms.

This Merlot is also not going to be around long. Jill produced just 53 cases and is charging just $15 a bottle -- an incredible deal -- so it will soon be a memory, too.

Abeja Beekeeper's Blend

First of all, I apologize for sharing my thoughts about a wine that may not be widely available, though I am fairly sure later vintages of this wine will be just as wonderful as the bottle I tasted.

The other night I had an opportunity to share a bottle of 2002 Abeja's Beekeeper's Blend with some friends. Abeja is located in the rolling foothills of the Blue Mountains, about four miles east from downtown Walla Walla. The century-old farmstead sits on 22 acres and is now home to the winery as well as restored and well-appointed out-buildings (carriage house, summer kitchen, chicken house and bunk house), which have been combined into a bed and breakfast.

John Abbott, the winemaker, is a familiar name and face to those in the valley who frequented Canoe Ridge Vineyard Winery. I remember John for his wine tasting notes. He would pair food and music to go with his wine. As an example, say maybe fish tacos with Merlot and Van Halen with David Lee Roth (because Sammy Hagar goes better with fish tacos and tequila).

Rumor is that John's wines are moving fast out of the Abeja's old mule and horse barn door, so if you want them, you better speak up soon. His Beekeeper's Blend is easier to find than his Cabernet, Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier. My notes for the 2002 Beekeeper's Blend describe the wine as velvety on the tongue with rich berries, soft tannins and a long (very long) caramel finish. This Bordeaux-style blend is just $18 a bottle -- a real bargain for such a beautiful wine.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Wha'cha fixin' for supper Billy?

What does the world's richest man serve for dinner to the President of China? He serves them food with a Walla Walla flair, of course. This evening, Chinese President Hu Jintao and his wife, Madame Liu Yonqing, will dine at the Washington state home of Bill and Melinda Gates. Their menu will be:

First Course
Smoked guinea fowl salad with hazelnuts, spring radishes and Granny Smith apples.

Entree (three choices offered)
Fillet of beef with Walla Walla onions, local asparagus, celeriac puree and chervil glace'.

Alaskan halibut and spot prawns with spring vegetables, fingerling potatoes and a smoked tomato-infused olive oil.

An understated, but well appointed vegetarian plate.

Dessert
Rhubarb brown butter almond cake

Wines
2002 Leonetti Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
2003 Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay - Canoe Ridge Estate

Governor Christine Gregoire will officially host the dinner and no...this dinner will not be paid by the tax payers.

Towanda - The Wine Avenger!

Last week one of my evenings was spent in the company of some dear friends -- women I have known for more than 10 years along with women I have gotten to know in the past five years. One of the many things we have in common is our involvement in the wine business, from working bottling lines to being tasting-room attendants to winery marketing director to vineyard owner to winemaker. The experience of this group of friends pretty much covers the full spectrum of the wine business.

Talking together and sipping wine, we shared our personal stories about the gender war in the wine industry. Can men and women function together in this business? Would it have made a difference if these women hadn't begun their wine careers in their 40s and 50s? Would a young woman of 20 or 30 have it easier?

The battle between the sexes is an old story, of course. The natural physical and emotional differences separating men from women can't be denied. Dogs fight with cats and cats eat birds and birds eat worms - there's a natural pecking order. But are men and women truly that different from each other? Even in the animal world a domestic cat can have a silent truce with a canine housemate.

As with many occupations, men have dominated the wine business for centuries and across cultures, so it's no surprise the gender wine-war has found its way to Walla Walla. As I listened to my friends' stories and heard their anger, frustration and, sometimes, laughter, I realized I actually had nothing new to contribute to this discussion. Sure, I have my own war stories, but my stories were no different than theirs. Same stories but with different faces and names. So I just sat and listened. My attitude has been that karma is in action. While I sipped my wine, I became distracted with my own thoughts...

She... always been terrified of displeasing men, terrified of the names she would be called if she did. She had spent her life tiptoeing around them like someone lifting her skirt stepping through a cow pasture...Everybody had a group to protest and stick up for them. But women were still being called names by men. Why? Where was our group? Few people saw this plump, pleasant-looking middle-aged, middle-class housewife...she would make up a secret code name for herself...a name feared around the world: TOWANDA THE AVENGER!

Towanda was able to do anything she wanted. She went back in time and punched out the apostle Paul for writing that women should remain silent. Towanda appeared on "Meet the Press" and with a calm voice, a cool eye, and a wry smile, debated every man who disagreed with her until they became so defeated by her brilliance they burst into tears and ran off the show. She went to Hollywood and ordered all the leading men to act opposite women of their own age...she sent food and birth control methods, for men as well as women, to the poor people of the world.

Towanda ordained that: an equal number of men and women would be in government and sit in on peace talks...teachers and nurses would receive the same salary as professional football players...just yesterday Towanda had marched into the Pentagon, taken all the bombs and missles away and given the generals toys to play with instead while her sisters in other parts of the world did the same. And she'd personally see to it that all the sweet men and daddies, who had worked so hard, would each receive a trip to Hawaii and an outboard motor to go with it. And because of her vision and insight, she became known the world over as Towanda the Magnanimous, Righter of Wrongs and Queen without Compare. --"Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe."

"TOWANDA!" I was shaken from my thoughts to the sound of her name being yelled and clinks of wine glasses around the table. "To Towanda," my wine women comrades toasted, "To Towanda - The Avenger!"

My thoughts had been with the men who believed in us. I knew my friends' husbands and significant others. I knew how they supported the women in their lives and saw the pride from their faces and heard it in their voices. I knew my friend's stories about the men in the wine industry who believed in them. And I had my own. It was my sweetheart who encouraged me to go back to school and trust my wine-sensory evaluations, and while he is a professional journalist he has supported and encouraged me through my wine blog rants. There's my wine guru who believed in me during a wine chemistry final when I froze and for a few seconds didn't believe in myself. There are my son, son-in-law and brother who are proud that I took the steps I did to get into this industry, and they will often call me for my wine opinions or answers to a wine-related question. Even my ex-husband has told me he is proud of my accomplishments. I will never forget some of the young male viticulture/enology classmates who considered me one of their wine peers. But most of all support started with my own father, who would ferment anything he could get his hands on. I remember helping him with his wine. If he was alive today, he would be active in the wine community. I use to say that my dad was the first male feminist in the 1950s. He believed that women could do anything they wanted and encouraged his daughters to do so.

To sum it up, I believe that the supportive men in our lives outweight those who may have feared and dismissed our goals, talents and determination - - and as the saying goes, "that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger" and also makes us Magnanimous Women of Wine, Righter of Wrongs and Queens without Compare.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Winemaker's Series - The Marc

The Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla has announced their series of winemaker's dinners. Each dinner event gives their guests an opportunity to meet the featured winemaker and enjoy a delicious meal paired with the local wines. The Winemaker's Weekend packages are also available, which includes lodging for Friday and Saturday nights, Friday night reception with winemaker, Saturday wine tasting at winery and dinner with winemaker.

For the weekend of April 21-22, Casey McClellan of Seven Hills Winery will be the featured winemaker. For more information contact the Marcus Whitman.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Appellation America and Signorina Primitivo

In Europe's wine industry, wines are known first by their specific place of origin (appellation), then by producer or shipper, and by grape variety. Sometimes the order varies slightly, but in general the region comes first, which is helpful to know, because in North America appellation seems to be unfinished business. Our wines almost always are identified by grape-type or, if a blend, by the blend's name. With more than 200 federally designated winegrowing regions in North America, just a few of these appellations receive much common public recognition -- Napa Valley is certainly one, and, up here in the north, the Columbia Valley. Appellation America is an online publication that serves the North American wine industry through promotion of our growing number of distinct winegrowing regions. It is their goal to reach the wine industry and wine consumer and to educate and raise the consciousness of the American wine consumer about terroir and the other elements that make appellations unique. The goal is to build interest in the diversity and distinctiveness of North American wines.

What is more, Appellation America's approach to terroir and varietal education is fun! I received an email from them asking me to check out their "Varietal Characters." This is a project where writers turn a grape into a personality based on the varietal's distinctive color, tasting notes, history and growing environment. This project intrigued me, so I perused the list of varietals, chose one and put a personality to this grape. I had been thinking about Primitivo after a discussion about it with Dean Morrison of Morrison Lane Vineyards here in Walla Walla; we talked quite a bit about Primitivo's relationship to Zinfandel. I also happened to discover a stash of award-winning, and rather obscure, California Primitivo in a local store, and bought every bottle available. It was magnifico!

Yesterday, I received an email from Adam at Appellation America directing me to their site - Grapes. My Primitivo came to life! I introduce to you... Signorina Primitivo!
Signorina Primitivo, in the arid flat lands of Apulia you played violin in the Italian Symphony. But since childhood, you dreamed of performing solo, hoping your talents would someday lead you to America where stardom awaited. While dreary of playing ‘second fiddle’ to your zesty brother, Zinfandel, and his New World legacy, you were more staid than your flamboyant sibling, never wanting America to take you lightly, dressing you in pink. Yet you desired more from life than just a minor player in a vast orchestra. You wanted to stand alone as an enigma! At last you are proving that your chords are explosive and the notes from your bow are passionate and spicy. Your violin, resting on full breasts, smokes with allegros that are feral and succulent like wild berries, erupting into a crescendo that is heady and exhilarating. Signorina Primitivo, we give you a standing ovation!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

WineBid.Com - Fine Wine For The Privileged Many

Have you checked out this site?

Okay, I am acting like I found it on my own, but the truth is I didn't. A while ago my name somehow got placed on WineBid.com's mailing list, but I never paid attention to it until my honeyman told me that I should check it out. For the past couple of years he's been a regular on e-Bay, adding to his collections of Native American trade blankets, fountain pens, Sixties rock and roll posters and (too much) other stuff. Now, thanks to WineBid, he's working on his French wine collection as well as keeping track of what Washington state wines are being offered.

For a bidding site I am surprised at the variety WineBid offers. I hunted around for some obscurities from Argentina and St. Helena and I found them. Will I bid? Maybe. Will I get in a bidding war? No.

But if you are looking for Walla Walla wines that are hard to come by, WineBid might be just the place for you. It doesn't have an abundance of Washington wines on offer at this point, but what it does have is pretty terrific. There are a few bottles offered of 2002 Basel Cellars Reserve Syrah, which in my opinion is a very fine Syrah but no longer available at the winery. WineBid also has up for bid various older vintages of Leonetti, Pepper Bridge and Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignons -- none of these wines are easy to find either, especially the older bottlings. Yet if you bid carefully and patiently, you could pick them all up and make yourself a nice package of Cabernet horizontals and verticals. There is also a vertical of Leonetti Merlot with a reasonable starting bid. Also available is a 2003 Copain Cailloux-Coccinelle Syrah made from Walla Walla Valley Cayuse Vineyard grapes that were shipped to a facility in California. WineBid secures its inventory by buying collections, then offering up the parts for auction.

Bear in mind: While the starting prices can represent real values, the starting price is just that: the beginning. What the successful bidder actually pays may be higher, depending on whether there was a lot of bidding action on a particular bottle or bottles on offer. Also, WineBid, like all auction houses, adds a commission (14%) and insurance (1%) to the successful bid price, plus tax. On the other hand, if you're in the neighborhood you can pick up the wine at WineBid's warehouse in Napa, Calif., or at its other warehouse in Illinois to avoid shipping costs.

My honeyman (Ummm - - his name is Steve) and I agree WineBid is user-friendly and particularly easy to navigate. The other thing we were both quick to notice is the integrity and professionalism of the site's hosts. The bidder is given full details on the condition of the bottle as well as its provenance. With all of the wine and auction sites out there, it's good to know that this is one wine site the wine-shopper can put their full faith in. If you're looking vintage wines from the major wine-producing regions of the world, including Walla Walla, WineBid is an ideal place to start.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Wine Blog Wednesday #20 - Isenhower Cellars

Today is Wine Blogging Wednesday #20 --"Off-the-Beaten-Path Whites." I have to admit, I have not been the best at participating on WBW. Why? Sometimes I forget when Wednesday is! What are "Wine Blogging Wednesdays?" They were started by Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours - New York Vines, Wines and Dines. Wine bloggers are given a theme and this week with Summer around the corner, we are to choose a crisp, cool white wine. I think we get to choose anything with the exception of Chardonnay, Rieslings and Sauvignon Blanc. So, as soon as I saw the theme, I knew exactly what wine I would choose. Not only does it follow the theme, but the label is just as summery and bright.

Last summer, I visited Isenhower Cellars and was delighted to taste this Rhone-style blend of Viognier (53%) and Roussanne (48%) known as "Snapdragon." This was their 2004 vintage and the aromatic and light colored Viognier paired with the gold color of the rich Roussanne was unique. The taste was full bodied with pear and honey notes, but spicy like Seattle's Market Spice Tea. The 2004 vintage is still available through Avalon Wine.

Isenhower has released the 2005 "Snapdragon" which will be their fourth vintage of Washington state's most unique white wine. This is definitely a great summer wine for those afternoons by the pool and for backyard entertaining. I would pair it with grilled oysters, shrimp ka-bobs, spicy oyster shooters, Phad Thai noodles or cheese quesadillas topped with mango salsa. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

~April Cooking With Washington Wines~

"Why is this night different from all other nights?" The seder.

Passover, the eight day Jewish holiday, remembers the Biblical exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom of the Israelites during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II. Passover is celebrated in the spring (starts tomorrow, April 12 at sun-down). The seder meal is celebrated with a feast of traditional foods (a menu such as matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, chicken, brisket and potato knishes) and fine wine, koser of course.

Only two percent of the U.S. population is Jewish (according to the Jewish Virtual Library - 2005), but kosher wines are growing into a large market. More than $27 million in kosher wine was sold in 2005 in U.S. supermarkets -- almost exactly the same dollar amount as wines from the Burgundy region in France (figures provided by Manischewitz and ACNielsen). The bad news is that at this time there is no kosher wine made in Washington state. The good news is that finally kosher keepers don't have to settle for cheap syrupy sweet brands like Manischewitz and Mogen David - - which still accounts for $23.7 million (88 percent) of that $27 million in kosher wine sales! Quality dry kosher wines are now being produced in Israel, France, Spain, Australia and Chile, as well as California and are available through your local Costco, Kosher Wine.Com or Wine.Com.

This is one of my favorite soups and I make all year round. I can make it as easy or as extensive as I want. Extensive is boiling a whole chicken to make my own stock or as easy as using packaged stock. If you are not a kosher-keeper, you can use can or boxed stock or "cheat" by poaching boneless chicken breasts in liquid made of water, aromatic veggies (onions, celery stalks and leaves, and carrots) and herbs such as sage and thyme. You can even add packaged stock, chicken bouillon for richness and white wine to the poaching liquid. If you are going to enjoy this soup with a glass of white wine, I would recommend to use the same wine to poach with. Kosher ingredients are getting easier to find and becoming regulars in the grocery aisles of super stores like Albertson's and Safeway.

My white wine recommendations, based on value and quality (not for kosher keepers), are Three Rivers Meritage White 2004 at $19. The blend of this white Bordeaux-style wine is 63% Sauvignon Blanc and 37% Semillon. A real value is the Waterbrook Sauvignon Blanc 2003 at $12.

Matzo Ball Soup

½ cup Matzo Meal (Streits or Manischewitz brand)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil or if you want to keep authentic, use “schmaltz” (chicken fat)
2 eggs
1 tsp kosher salt or to taste
1½ - 2 quarts of chicken broth/stock (home made or packaged)
2-3 carrots (sliced)
½ cup onion or shallots - finely chopped
1 finely chopped clove of garlic
1 sage leaf and/or thyme
cooked chicken meat (optional)

Lightly saute chopped onion and garlic (don't let it brown) with a bit of oil in a 2-3 quart soup pot. Add chicken broth, sliced carrots, and herbs. Bring to boil and let simmer. This is the broth that you will be cooking the matzo balls in. You may make it just before you are ready to drop the matzos into the soup or make it ahead of time. Some cook their matzo balls in water and add to broth before serving, but it all depends on what your Yiddish Bubbe did.

Make matzo balls: in a mixing bowl, blend vegetable oil and eggs together. Add salt (or adjust to taste) to matzo meal. Add matzo meal and salt mixture to egg and vegetable oil mixture and blend well. If too thick, add a few drops or 1-2 teaspoons of water or stock to mixture. Cover mixing bowl and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes. Sometimes I make the matzo ball mixture the night before or in the morning before I plan on serving for dinner. Form the chilled matzo dough into 8 -12 walnut size balls. Oil hands before rolling the dough and also the less you handle it the lighter the matzo balls will be. Heat chicken broth if needed. Reduce heat and into the slightly boiling broth drop the matzo balls. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes. While cooking matzo balls should have floated to the top (unless you prefer "sinkers", but I like the light and fluffy "floaters"). When serving - about 2-3 matzo balls per person. A yummy Jewish dumpling!

Extra matzo meal can be used for breading fish and poultry with. Also makes a good filler for meatloaf and meat balls. Won’t go to waste.

"Next Year in Jerusalem!"

Monday, April 10, 2006

Rulo Viognier


This weekend I had an opportunity to enjoy Rulo WineryViognier 2004. Viognier is one of my favorite whites and while it is a favorite, I am picky. My opinion is that there are exceptional Viogniers or very mediocre ones. Rulo's captures all of the qualities of an exceptional Viognier. Before my lips touched the glass an amazing aroma of honeysuckle surprised me. I let my nose linger for awhile in the wine glass bowl just to breath in the aromatic qualities. This Viognier was crisp and clean to the palate, yet tastes of melon and pears filled the mouth.

I would pair this wine with a cheese plate of Manchego and Dry Jack accompanied by prosciutto, such as we did. I also snuck in a bite of garlicy hummus on pita bread with a sip of this wine and it worked! This Viognier would also be fitting for a plate full of chilled cracked crab or spicy crab cakes. A quality wine that can be enjoyed for under $20.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Winemaker Dinners

This is the time of year and all through the summer that Walla Walla restaurants will have winemaker dinners featuring some of the top winemaker's in the Walla Walla Valley.

CreekTown Cafe will have their very first winemaker dinner featuring Forgeron Cellars on Tuesday, April 18 at 6:30 pm. Contact (509)522-4777 for reservations. Limited seating - $65 pp + tax and gratuities. 48 hour cancellation policy.
Menu
Starter
Alsation onion flatbreads with local Monteillet's fresh chevre
Forgeron Cellars 2004 Chardonnay
First
Foie Gras Raviolis w/ sweet pea sauce and spring radish salad
Forgeron Cellars 2004 Chardonnay
Second
Boudin Blanc Sausage with brioche, fresh arugula and maple-verjus dressing
Forgeron Cellars 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon
Third
Pomegranate duck breast with pan friend butternut squash spaetzle and steamed green beans
Forgeron Cellars 2002 Syrah
Dessert
Caramel apple upside down cake with creme fraiche
Forgeron Cellars 2004 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer

Friday, April 07, 2006

Real Men Drink Merlot With Their Quiche

A winery in California called Ray's Station is pitching its new Merlots as "Hearty Red Wines for Men" -- macho Merlot for the Y-chromosome group, in other words. The winery claims there's an overlooked target group for wine: the backyard barbecuer and NASCAR fan. "These guys, they're married, they've got a couple of kids," Brian Hilliard, who is the marketing chief for the winery, told the Associated Press. "Wine is part of their lives, but it's not integrated in a way that they really force themselves to be knowledgeable."

Okay, but what I don't understand is this: Is it about a macho label or a macho style of wine? Will wine-shoppers face a decision of what cute (oops, I mean "macho") and catchy label to buy -- one that shows, say, two men toasting each other in the NASCAR bleachers? Maybe there will be seasonal labels: during hunting season we might see a label with a man holding a Merlot bottle out the window of his 1978 Ford pickup with a dead deer roped to the truck's grill. The summer label might be a man holding a glass of Merlot in one hand and a long garden hose in the other: nothing like sipping wine while you water the lawn. How about a Christmas label of a man standing on the roof tacking up Christmas lights with a bottle of his macho Merlot close by?

Okay, I'm being persnickity, but I have to say I was pretty offended when last year Beringer tried to bluff women with their "White Lies" Chardonnay -- the wine they claimed had half the calories and less alcohol than typical Chardonnay. Women can't handle any wine with an alcohol over 9%, or so they said. Hmmm. I wonder if the truth was actually that Beringer got stuck with some Chardonnay grapes that got a low brix reading and they couldn't ferment it past 9.8%. No problem: Clever marketing to the rescue!

If you want to get past the cutsie labels and want a true "macho" Merlot, then turn to Washington's Merlots -- especially Walla Walla's. The state has been making hearty, full-bodied Merlots for nearly 30 years. Is the "Macho Merlot" from California going to equal Washington's big Merlots, or will it be just another light, jammy "fighting varietal" priced at $8-$12?

Meanwhile the song "Macho Man" keeps going through my mind. Wouldn't a picture of the Village People make a great label?

Macho, macho Merlot
I want to drink, a macho Merlot
Macho, macho Merlot
I've got to drink a macho Merlot!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

~April Cherry Pick~

The month of April is definitely a month for Merlots. Tomorrow, April 8, brings Washington Wine Commission’s Taste Washington wine festival in Seattle. Many events are sold out, but there is still room for “Confessions of a Winemaker” at 9 am, in which Walla Walla winemakers, Caleb Foster of Buty Winery, Chuck Reininger of Reininger Winery and other Washington winemakers will talk about their adventures in winemaking.

Tomorrow afternoon “Tasting with the Masters” rounds out the afternoon as guests will enjoy a seated blind tasting of Washington and other world class Merlots led by a panel of Master Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, and wine editors.

Earlier I posted about NW Palate magazine recommending some great Walla Walla Merlot's, so my "April Cherry Pick" is one of those Merlots. Canoe Ridge Merlot 2002 was produced in small lots, which allowed the winemaker to acquire the true expressions of the vineyard. A variety of fermentation practices, yeast strains, barrel coopers (85% French for 20 months), along with 23% Cabernet Sauvignon to give it extra body and 2% Cabernet Franc to make it interesting, all of the above resulted in a elegant and classic Merlot. A minimum of fining and filtration, this velvety wine has flavors of raspberry, black cherry and chocolate. The balanced acids makes it a perfect pairing for fatty meats and fish such as game and salmon. I think a redux of this Merlot over meat and garlic smashed red potatoes would be delicious.

This affordable wine, at $25, is getting noticed by winning a silver medal at the 2006 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and a gold at the Grand Harvest Awards

Miles, Step away from the Pinot Noir and taste these Merlots!

As long as wine-drinking people talk enthusiastically about the film Sideways, I will add my persnickety rant to the conversation. Oh, the film was fine -- very good, in fact. The acting and writing, in particular, were terrific. The scene in which the character Maya describes why she likes wine, older vintages in particular, should be iconic among wine lovers. But... for a movie to impact percentages of wine sales, well, that says a lot, I think, about how people will believe just about anything and use it as a basis for their shopping decisions. As you will recall from the movie, the character Miles Raymond, played by Paul Giamatti, loves Pinot Noir to the point of worship. And he dislikes -- loathes, even -- Merlot! As a result of the film's popularity, Pinot sales in the United States soared and Merlot sales dropped substantially. But the film is fiction! It's a story. Miles doesn't even exist!

In the March/April issue of Northwest Palate, the magazine reviewed some of Washington state's best Merlot, that "...even Miles would love." Out of the standout four Merlots mentioned in the story, three were produced in the Walla Walla Valley: Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2002 , Northstar Winery 2003, and Leonetti Cellar 2003.

If Miles Raymond ever turns down a bottle of Leonetti Merlot, he's definitely a fictional character.