Wednesday, May 31, 2006

New Releases at the College Cellars

During Spring Release weekend we visited my "alma mater", the College Cellars at the Center for Enology and Viticulture, to catch up with instructors, Stan Clarke and Mike Moyer. This was also an excellent time to see what types of wine the students were producing. First of all, I could not believe the assortment. Second of all, the prices for these quality wines are excellent buys. Guiding and working along with the students is the knowledge and talents of their two instructors, with many years in the cellar between them.

When I was taking the enology portion of the program, Stan Clarke (Stan-with-the-patience-of-Job) guided us while we learned the roles of cellar rat (the only way to learn winemaking, even if I never want to rack again - zzzzzz). While visiting with Stan, he mentioned that Mike Moyer and his class of students were responsible for making many of the exciting array of wines we tasted. Mike and his students have a great touch! They were terrific, even the Semillon which is about the only varietal in the world that is not a favorite of mine. The 2004 Semillon tasted just like what a hearty and rich Semillon should be with a rich lemony custard taste. We also tasted their 2004 Rose of Syrah (a great picnic wine) and a very unique 2005 "Lemberger Carbonique" - an experiment of carbonic maceration that came out fruity as can be like a fresh new wine.

Two outstanding wines (besides their Chardonnay that I wrote about in Wine Blog Wednesday #21), were the 2003 Klipsun Merlot and the 2004 Governor's Blend. Mike reminded me that the Governors Blend I worked on. I believe I was part of the blending committee. I remember spending a few evenings checking temps and brix during fermention and doing some punch downs. I am thinking that was for the 2003 Klipsun Merlot and the 2003 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

The students were very fortunate to be able to produce a Cabernet Sauvignon from the famous Pepper Bridge Vineyard fruit. A bold wine with cherries, chocolate and big tannins makes this wine food friendly. Aged for 24 months in 100% new oak. A terrific price at $22.

The 2003 Klipsun Vineyard Merlot is from the revered Washington State Klipsun Vineyard of the Red Mountain Appellation. This deep and crimsoned color Merlot is bold with blackberry and chocolate flavors. I thought the finish was just remarkable with a roundness of buttery caramel in the long finish. Fairly high in alcohol at 15.9% and the price at $22.

The 2004 Governor's Blend is a very elegant wine of 27% Syrah, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot and 9% Petite Sirah. Lots of toast and tobacco hits the nose with aromas of brambleberries. However, as bold as the nose is, the wine itself is light and structured well with the right amount of acidity. I think these qualities make for a great food wine. An excellent price for a sophisticated wine - $13.

Proceeds from the sale of wine supports the wine education program. College Cellars is the first teaching/commercial winery at a two-year college in the US.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Spring Valley Family Reunion

During the Spring Release Weekend, Spring Valley Vineyard had an afternoon gathering for family and friends of their wine, appropriately titled "Family Reunion." Steve received an invitation and he was a smart man to include me (ahem!). The Spring Valley Estate is one of his favorite local wineries for many reasons. He loves the drive out to the vineyards, which are a dozen or so miles north of Walla Walla in hilly wheat country with the Blue Mountains rising behind; he loves visiting with Serge Laville, Spring Valley's expert young winemaker who was born in Paris and who learned the wine business in the Rhone; and he loves Spring Valley's wine, especially the two blends, "Frederick" and "Uriah." These are Bordeaux-style blends, and even though Steve's from California and has tasted his fair share of great California wine, he always says the Frederick and Uriah rank as two of the best red wines now being made in North America. Who am I to argue?

The reunion was held behind the winery building in a clearing by a pond with a beautiful view of the hillside vineyards. It was really a lovely day. If you didn't want to walk from your car across a mowed field to the clearing, one of the Corkrum/Derby family members would happily transport you to the picnic via utility vehicle. Out by the pond there were tables of wine to be tasted and food to enjoy -- a beautiful assortment of French cheeses, Italian salumis, smoked salmon, fresh asparagus, artisan breads, pickled condiments and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate truffles. We were quick to notice that the foods paired beautiful with the wines we sampled.

The first wine I tasted was the 2004 Uriah (60% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 4.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3.5% Petit Verdot), and boy, I was overwhelmed by the flavors that sparkled in my mouth: dark plum and blackberry with an essence of spices. Some say that crushed stone and harvested wheat can be found on the tongue after a sip of this wine, which makes sense considering the history of the Spring Valley terroir.

Then we tried the 2003 Frederick (71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc). Thick and dense! A very inky-colored wine with a ripe fruit-forward taste of blackberry pie and licorice. It finishes with a sweet, yet tannic vanilla finish. It it so rich it makes your mouth purple!

The 2003 Derby is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and is an intense and rich wine of blackberry, spices and brown sugar - like blackberry cobbler! We visited with owner Dean Derby (former football player with the Steelers) about this wine -- his namesake. Dean, with a cowboy's amiable humility, admitted to us that he is still a newbie about wine, but the first day he tasted this wine he said he actually noticed the rich blackberries on his palate and how proud he felt as even he, an old beer drinker, that he could detect this delightful sensory evaluation. A couple days later Steve was back out at Spring Valley to interview Serge for The Economist (while I was home pulling weeds! Harrumph!), and together they barrel-sample the 2004 Derby. Steve says it's an unbelievably good wine -- complex and layered without being over-bearing, full of flavors and aromas that just go on and on. Spring Valley will bottle it later this summer and release it in the fall.

Those naysayers of Merlot would be begging forgiveness if their lips ever landed on Spring Valley's beautiful and very well-balanced 2004 Merlot, called Muleskinner. Scents of bramble berries and cassis mixed with cigar box and hay (again, the terroir of the past) is inviting. A mouth of plums and other dark fruit and finishes with coffee and chocolate covered cherries. This was another wine that made the palate come alive.

After visiting with Serge and members of the Corkrum/Derby family, our visited ended in one of the old rustic out buildings where a large collage-scrapbook stood with pictures and documents of the the family's rich farm heritage from 1865 to present. A very lovely afternoon.

Vintage Walla Walla

What is Vintage Walla Walla? It is an annual tasting sponsored by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance that celebrates the art of the Walla Walla Valley. The event will be Saturday, June 3 at the Reid Center at Whitman College. The event features wines of the present, but the real plus of the event is many winemakers will be bringing special library wines from their own private cellars.

The best of the valley's winemakers will be on hand to visit with, along with fine cheeses and artisan breads to accompany the fine wines they will be pouring. Live music will be featured along with art to view provided by the Blue Mountain Arts Alliance. Another highlight of the evening is guests will be able to bid on large format bottles during a silent auction and four one-of-a-kind lots of wine during the flash live auction. These wonderful wines are donated by the area's winemakers and vineyard owners. Proceeds of these auctions will benefit the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance and the Blue Mountain Arts Alliance.

Last week I heard there are still tickets available at Walla Walla Wine Alliance.

Friday, May 26, 2006

June Winemaker Dinners

June 1 will be a busy evening for Walla Walla Winemaker Dinners, as well as an appropriate kick off for Vintage Walla Walla.

Chef Bear Ullman will demonstrate his culinary skills at the Marcus Whitman Hotel Winemaker Dinner featuring Long Shadows Vineyards. Chef Bear will select only the freshest, organically produced ingredients for these equisite world class wines. Winemaker Gilles Nicault will be representing the Long Shadows Consortium and the wines presented will be mostly library wines - a rare treat. The cost for this special evening is only $125 per person (exclusive of tax and gratuity). For more information please call: 866-826-9422 ext. 5139.

Chef-owner Mike Davis and Chef de Cuisine Michael Kline of Walla Walla's fine dining destination 26brix Restaurant, will prepare an exquisite seven-course menu paired with Woodward Canyon's finest wines. There will be only 20 guests to join winemaker and owner, Rick Small and his assistant winemaker, Kevin Mott. The price of this feast is $200 per person (exclusive of tax and gratuity). Woodward Canyon's Sager Small (second generation), currently pursuing a degree in culinary arts at Seattle's Art Institute, will be joining Chef Davis in the kitchen for this special evening. For reservations call (509)-526-4075.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Morrison Lane Vineyards

Friday, during the Spring Release weekend, we had lunch at Stone Soup Cafe and from there visited Dean and Verdie Morrison at their Morrison Lane tasting room in the historic Dacres Building. I always enjoy visiting this charming couple, who give a good name to "soulmates." Verdie has decorated the corner shop in lovely pink Tuscan walls and with her collection of 1940s pottery. The day we visited she had what I think was an old collectible piece of Hull pottery filled with a bouquet of beautiful flowers from her garden, centered on the piano. They were really stunning.

Morrison Lane Vineyard has been growing grapes for Walla Walla wineries since 1994, when Dean and Verdie planted five acres of Syrah, and since then several local wineries have used the Morrison Lane Vineyard grapes to make award-winning Syrahs.

The vineyard has now grown to 23 acres of Rhone (to include Syrah, Viognier, and Counoise) and Italian varieties, as well as Carmenère. They are one of just two Carmenere producers in the Walla Walla area, and the first vineyard in the valley to grow Counoise, a red Rhone varietal. In 2002, Morrison Lane started producing their own estate wine under their own label. Their first releases were Syrah, Counoise and Sangiovese. Later releases included Reserve Syrah, Carmenère, Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Cinsault.

With the start of Spring Release weekend, Verdie had opened up their Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Syrah for tasting. Wines made from Morrison Lane Syrah grapes have always been a favorite of mine and their Estate Syrah didn't disappoint me: it brings a mouth of blueberries, with chocolate and licorice in the finish. The Italian varietals - - Sangiovese (very nicely balanced and rich) Barbera (a very full and lush wine) and Nebbiolo (floral and cherry notes) -- would be the perfect pairing to any tomato-based Italian entree, as these wines are balanced with just the right amount of acidity. I will be very anxious to try their future vintages as those grapes mature more.

The real star of our Friday tasting, however, at least for me, was the Cinsault. It wasn't part of the tasting line-up and Verdie offered to open a bottle for us. We couldn't resist. I was anxious to taste this new varietal to Morrison Lane. The most interesting news about this grape is that as unusual as it is, it is not new at all to the Walla Walla Valley; it was one of the first grapes planted in the area back in the late 1800s. It was known to the Italian immigrants as "Black Prince." My taste of Morrison Lane's Cinsault was the last piece of an uncompleted puzzle for me. While in wine school I did some research and a report on Black Prince, and later I assisted in tending the Cinsault vines at Fort Walla Walla Museum. Back then no local winery produced a Cinsault.

The taste of the Morrison Lane Cinsault had a bright strawberry flavor. There were few noticeable tannins, yet, again, as with the other Morrison Lane wines, just the right amount of acidity. The Cinsault continued with a huge clove, nutmeg and pepper finish. I mentioned that I could see why the Italians in our community grew this grape, since it would pair very well with food. Again, I am going to be anxious to try the Cinsault when those vines get older.

By the way, one of the many things that makes Morrison Lane unique is live music. You never know when a local muscian is going to stop by to make live, impromptu sounds from the piano and other various instruments that have a permanent home in the tasting room. This is a tasting room that I always tell visitors to be sure to check out.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Deja Vu - From French, Meaning “Already Seen.”


While visiting with Serge LaVille, French winemaker for Spring Valley Vineyard, he held up a bottle of Frederick 2003 and started to pour a sampling for us - - all of a sudden we saw the resemblance! We couldn't resist asking Serge if he had posed for the bottle. Of course, we knew he hadn't, but he said that it wasn't the first time he has been asked this.

Frederick is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) and the name stems from Frederick Corkrum who farmed the five generation wheat land that is now known as the Spring Valley Vineyard.

Serge commented, "Perhaps it was fate that I came to work for this winery."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Wine Competition For Local Wineries

How the valley's wineries fared during the 2006 L.A. County Fair Wines of the World Competition that was held May 17-19:

Gold
Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2002 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $25 (My April Cherry Pick )
Colvin Vineyards 2002 Allegresse, Walla Walla Valley, $36

Silver
Cougar Crest Winery 2003 Anniversary Cuvee Meritage, Walla Walla Valley
Three Rivers Winery 2003 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $24

Bronze
Cougar Crest Winery 2003 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $32
Cougar Crest Winery 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $32
Northstar 2003 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $52
Three Rivers Winery 2005 Biscuit Ridge Vineyard Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Walla Walla Valley, $15

How the valley's wineries fared at the 2006 Dallas Morning News Wine Competition that was held May 3-7:

Gold
Dusted Valley Vintners 2004 Stained Tooth Syrah, Columbia Valley, $24

Silver
Colvin Vineyards 2003 Carmenere, Walla Walla Valley, $23
Colvin Vineyards 2002 Allegresse, Walla Walla Valley, $36
Forgeron Cellars 2002 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $30
Reininger Winery 2003 Helix Syrah, Columbia Valley, $20
Woodward Canyon Winery 2002 Artist Series #11 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $44

Bronze
Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2002 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $25
Reininger Winery 2003 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $32
Reininger Winery 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $32
Three Rivers Winery 2003 Meritage, Columbia Valley, $50
Whitman Cellars 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $36
Woodward Canyon Winery 2002 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $39
Woodward Canyon Winery 2004 Nelms Road Merlot, Columbia Valley, $21

The Armoire and a Bottle of Wine

An old family friend, Don dropped by last night to help me with a project. I recently acquired an armoire and I am putting it to use as the "entertainment center." I am tired of all of the cords and machines that one has to have now days to enjoy a TV program. What ever happened to the old Magnavox console televisions that my Dad use to buy? Not only did I want to hide the TV, the cable box, the DVD player and the old 1981 Panasonic top loader VCR ( the 1950's Buick of all VCR's), but also wanted to remove the stacks of DVD's and videos from the bulging book case. The purpose of this large piece of wooden furniture is so I can sit in the living room and read and/or listen to music without having the TV staring at me. The goal is to close the doors of the armoire and all of that electronic, shiny silvery looking stuff will be hidden and won't clash with the antique parlor style of furniture I inherited.

Of course anybody kind enough to help me with this project of moving the armoire, placing the heavy 32" TV and equipment just right, hooking cords up, etc deserves to be treated to a bottle of wine and appetizers (and of course a little gossip). I lightly blanched (still crisp) fresh asparagus and wrapped each chilled stalk with a slice of Genoa salami. Another plate of goodies was prepared with wedges of Greek flatbread spread with chick pea and black olive hummus and in the middle of the plate was a bowl of assorted green and black olives marinated in olive oil, herbs and Merlot. I closed my eyes and reached into my wine stash and pulled out a bottle of wine -- a Woodward Canyon Columbia Valley Merlot 2001.

I opened the bottle to let it breath for about 30 minutes before Donnie arrived. The imprinted "Get Woody" cork came out and the bottom of the cork was covered with purple "wine diamonds." For me, this is always a good sign as it is often telling that the wine has not been overly fined and filtered. Before Donnie and I started to work, we sat, gossiped and made some wine notes. Here is what we have:

The nose at first seemed a bit yeasty, but later we could gradually smell dark fruit and chocolate. At first taste we found almond, cherry and pomegranate. We came to the conclusion that this was a very layered wine because as soon as we tasted the first layer of fruit, the second layer was of currant and dried plum with a hint of licorice, followed by an overwhelming taste of cloves to the palate! Like the old Adam's Clove chewing gum. Then the Merlot finished long with lots of black pepper -- a very spicy finish! Don said it best, "a very dramatic ending." We decided that this six year-old wine paired very well with the salami that was wrapped around the asparagus. However, if we had been prepared and knowing more about this wine, we think it would pair perfect with a steak or a blackened Cajun-seasoned piece of salmon. Oven-roasted sweet potatoes, too. This 2001 Merlot is still available through Woodward Canyon.

By the way, we still found time to get the project completed. The electronics have found a good home in the fancy wooden closet. I wonder how many bottles of wine it would hold?

Monday, May 22, 2006

The French Touch - The Economist

If you are a subscriber to The Economist (or online subscriber) you will be able to read the article, "The French Touch", May 18th edition. The article tells of the history of Walla Walla's winemaking and the French winemakers, who have recently settled in the valley, and their influence on the area's wine.

If you aren't familar with The Economist, it is a weekly magazine focusing on international politics and business news and opinion. They have offices in New York, London and San Francisco, and it just so happens my "honey man" (at The Economist, they call him Steve) is one of their journalists. If you can't get to your favorite news stand or magazine shop, you can subscribe online.

Getting High On Low Gas Prices

This was downtown Walla Walla in the late 40's. Gas was around .25 cents a gallon. Now gas prices in the valley are over $3.00 a gallon!

In the mean time, I will stick to my old adage - - instead of bitching, do something. So, instead of me griping about the price of gas, I think I have found a solution.

Australia wine grower, Angelo Puglisi has found a solution to the world's gas problems. Puglisi says that leaded or unleaded petrol could be laced with ethanol produced from excess Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Puglisi, winemaker at Ballandean Estate in Queensland, says, a worldwide glut of wine is forcing prices down and Australian grape growers need alternative markets. Growers could follow the lead of French and Italian winemakers who have found markets for substandard wines in the fuel industry.

In France, the worldwide wine glut forced winemakers to make 100 million litres of wine into ethanol last year for selling to oil refineries to mix into fuel. Mr Puglisi says he would be willing for a distillery to be built on part of his land at Ballandean. He claims a distillery could be productive all year, processing wine into ethanol for use in brandy, muscat, ports and sherries as well as for production of ethanol for fuel. While ethanol is easy to make and relatively cheap, it gets expensive because of the excise duty when it is used for a spirit.

So, my solution to high gas prices? California keeps making that awful "White Zin" in a box and their reason for making "White Zinfandel" in the first place was because of a glut of Zinfandel in California. Let's turn all of the White Zinfandel into fuel! That goes for any wine that Fred Franzia is making (Two Buck Chuck). No longer will we be served White Zin in a box at bunco and bridge games or we can refuse to drink it by explaining that we are doing our part for America by sending it to wine/oil refineries. Chardonnay in your Chevrolet?

Fill 'er up with Cabernet, please (my wine glass, not the gas tank).

Friday, May 19, 2006

Wine Blog Wednesday #21 Meets Food Blog Friday.

No, today isn't Wednesday. But today, wine bloggers around the world will be teaming up with the food bloggers around the world with assistance from the ultimate guide to food blogging, Is My Blog Burning? Both group of bloggers have collaborated and will blog about food and wine together. The hopes is that it will attract the largest group of participants ever for any culinary blog event. The goal is: Pick a favorite bottle of wine from your cellar and create/cook a dish that goes with it. Pick a favorite dish in your culinary repertoire and seek out a wine that will pair will it. Or, if you’re feeling really ambitious, create an entire wine-pairing menu of favorites.

My contribution to this day of world wide food and wine blogging is my chicken pot pie recipe. And I have found a wine that will pair perfect with it. To start you will need about 1 - 1.5 lbs. of cooked chicken breasts. They can be left-over, grilled or baked, but I prefer to poach them fresh. I often poach chicken breasts in chicken stock with a bit of water and if I have some white wine opened, even better with a touch of wine in the poaching liquid. Also, I will spice up the liquid with a couple of peppercorns, a bay leaf, thyme, sage and kosher salt to taste.

This recipe is really a basic spring board for future recipes. The veggie amount doesn't have to be exact. If you really like peas, then add more. You can also add mushrooms, use leftover turkey instead of chicken, remove the peas, add red potatoes, chopped shallots or whatever your little heart desires. Remember, be creative - - this ain't yo' mama's frozen Banquet pot pie.

Chicken Pot Pie
1 cup carrots
1 cup celery
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into large bite size chunks
1/4 pound butter (one stick)
1 cup flour
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup frozen peas
1 - 1.5 pounds cooked white chicken breast (see above)
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 pkg of frozen puff pastry (thawed)

Directions: Dice cooked chicken and put aside. Place butter, carrots, celery and potatoes into a pot and sauté until the vegetables are al dente. Next, add the flour to make a roux, making sure the flour and butter are combined together well and leaving no lumps. Add the chicken stock. Continue stirring until mixture is smooth. Bring this mixture to a boil, then turn down to simmer. Cook until it becomes thick (you can add more stock if too thick) and the flour cooks out of the chicken gravy (about 15-20 minutes). Add the diced chicken and thawed peas. Mix well, adding salt and pepper to taste. Place the chicken filling into one large casserole or individual ones. Cover with puff pastry and trim (or not) according to the size of the casserole(s). You can get creative and cut the pastry into strips and weave a lattice top like the photo if you want to impress your friends (or not - leave the pastry as is). Bake at 350 degrees, until the puff pastry rises and turns golden brown.

For a wine pairing and also to poach the chicken with, I chose a 2004 Columbia Valley Chardonnay from the College Cellars in Walla Walla. I am picky about my Chardonnay, but this one made me smile and later left with a case of it. It is a big Chardonnay that does not exhibit a lot of oak. The acidity comes through with flavors of lemon and definitely toasted marshmallow (without being sweet). This Chardonnay is round and satisfying, but finishes very bright and crisp. Priced at $10.00.
College Cellars of Walla Walla is a non-profit teaching winery located at the Center for Enology and Viticulture. It is the first teaching/commercial winery at a two-year college in the United States. Proceeds from the sale of wine support the wine education program through the Walla Walla Community College Foundation.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Friendly Wine Tasting of the Big and Bold

Friends, David and Anne Hull invited us over the other night for a tasting of a 1996 Leonetti Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Steve and I thought it would be fun to add to this tasting with either a horizontal or a vertical tasting from our wines. At first, we were thinking about a vertical tasting of Spring Valley's Uriah, but chose to do the horizontal (kind of a horizontal, but not exact) with the 2003 Frederick from Spring Valley Vineyard and the 2003 Pirouette from Long Shadows Vintners.

When we arrived, David had the Leonetti decanted and waiting. Steve thought the Leonetti was a little past its prime, feeling it's once-rich and complex flavors had thinned, and the nose was slightly dying. However, he thought it still exhibited the Leonetti's remarkable (and typical) notes. It's still a wonderful wine, he thought, an ideal accompaniment to prime rib. I noted that there was still a lot of oak going on in the Leonetti, besides the leather and cherry notes which seems typical for a Cabernet Sauvignon of this age.

We moved onto the Long Shadows Pirouette and the Spring Valley Frederick. The Frederick is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Harvey from the Wine Spectator gave this wine a 92. The Pirouette is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 10% Syrah, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. Parker gave the Pirouette a 93 and Harvey gave it a 91. Looks like an average of points to me (If you really care about the point system).

To sum it up, we thought Long Shadow's Pirouette was the real star of the evening. Right out of the bottle, not having breathed at all, its nose was overwhelming cappucino, just an amazing blend of coffee and cream and cinnamon. Let me say it again - - overwhelming cappucino! The wine's flavor was very rich, too, with a beautiful blend of strawberry, dark chocolate and some caramel. Spring Valley's Frederick tasted just as great as the Pirouette, we thought, with an emphasis on cherry and dark bittersweet chocolate with a long silky finish, but its nose -- with licorice and anise. However, the Frederick took some time to develop, especially the nose. At first the nose carried a hint of yeastiness, but about a half hour later the nose was there.

Okay, forgive me as I change gears to California wines (I will try not to do this too often). Later in the evening our hosts, David and Anne, brought up a real treat from their cellar. I have heard Annie mention her fondness for these wines before and we finally had the opportunity to try them. David brought up from the cellar a 2000 and a 2001 Lamborn Family Vineyards Howell Mountain Zinfandels. Yikes, these were spicy wines -- Holy Pepper Batman! (umm - I can say that because afterall, Batman is from Walla Walla) The 2000 especially smelled and tasted as if someone had ground a pound of peppercorns into the barrel. Not a bad flavor, and not a bad wine at all, but you'd want to pair it carefully with food. Beneath the pepper in both vintages was a lovely strawberry-raspberry flavor. Later, as Steve and I would discuss these Zins, we kept referring to bar-be-que pork spareribs. Mmmmm - a perfect pairing.

Our conclusion about the Walla Walla wines? All three of these wines were - well Steve commented they were "pretty damn terrific. " I felt they were "luxurious and oh-so-satisfying."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

~May Cooking With Washington Wines~

This is the time of year when we would wander up to our recreational property in the Blue Mountains and tend to our "garden" of mushrooms. These delectable little fungus-among-us could be found anywhere around the 10 acres. We had our favorite spots for hunting, but once in awhile we would be surprised to locate a new spot every mushroom season. We pulled out a lot of the cauliflower shaped mushrooms, but we struck gold when we could harvest some of the prized morels (that is if the "professional pickers" weren't trespassing and beat us to them).

A couple of years ago, exactly at this time, myself and other students at the Institute of Viticulture and Enology went mushroom hunting and it was as easy as outside of our classroom windows. The school had just laid untreated cedar bark around the building and those delicious tiny spores of mushroom goodness found it's way into the bark. I took a handful home one afternoon and sauteed them with butter - a delicious lunch.

If you like mushrooms as much as I do, you will love this woodsy and timely dish, with its deep rich flavors. It is wonderful over steaks, cheeseburgers, and even use as a dip with crostini. Hey, my favorite? Over garlic mashed potatoes. Pair this dish with the same Walla Walla Valley Merlot that you have chosen to cook with. You might need two bottles - one for the recipe and one for the cook. With the addition of one of our local Merlots, you really have an authentic dish of the Northwest.

Wild Mushroom Ragout
3 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
4 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 cups of wild mushrooms (morels if you can find them or you may vary on mushrooms that are available such as shitake, chanterelle, oyster, etc)
1 cup quartered button and/or cremini mushrooms
1/3 cup Chinese dried black mushrooms, (soak in warm water for about 20 minutes to soften) stemmed and quartered
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup (or a skoosh more) of your favorite Walla Walla Valley Merlot (and one full glass of Merlot for the cook to sip on)
1 cup chicken stock or canned broth (you may use vegetable broth to keep it vegetarian).
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 Tbsp of dried thyme

Heat a saucepan over medium heat and add a tablespoon of butter until melted (careful, don't burn). Add garlic and shallots and saute until soft (about 3-5 minutes). Add all of the mushrooms and saute again for about 8-10 minutes until soft. Season with salt and pepper.

Add your favorite Walla Walla Valley Merlot, stir and cook until the wine is reduced by half (about five minutes). Add stock, soy sauce, and thyme and again simmer until this mixture is reduced by half (about 25-30 minutes). Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Correct the seasonings to your taste. Ready to serve over that side of hot garlic mashers or layered on top of that cheeseburger you have on the grill. Sante!

Monday, May 15, 2006

~May Cherry Pick~

I decided that my May Cherry Pick of the Month would be a wine that I tasted during Spring Release Weekend -- a tough choice indeed, as I tasted many standout wines.

One of the wineries on our itinerary was Fort Walla Walla Cellars. We tasted through their weekend lineup while visiting with owner-partner Jim Moyer. My "honeyman" (okay, his name is Steve) mentioned that he had just visited on the phone with Harvey Steiman from the Wine Spectator, and Harvey had spoken of the great Merlots to be found in the Walla Walla Valley. Harvey, in fact, gave 92 points to Fort Walla Walla Cellars for their 2003 Merlot. Generally, the protocol among wineries, especially on a busy weekend like Spring Release, is that after you receive a great score on a wine and great publicity, you don't pour free tastings of that particular wine for the masses.

Jim told us how all of a sudden he received requests for his Merlot, and big sales orders, from back east. He wondered what was going on and then he finally received the news that the Fort Walla Walla Cellars 2003 Merlot was rated a 92 from Harvey. On the Spectator's scale, that puts this wine in the "Outstanding" category as "a wine of superior character and style." While we visited, Jim said, "What the hell" and opened a bottle for us to taste.

I think Harvey himself sums up this Merlot best: "Deep, rich and aromatic, generous with its black pepper-accented cherry, currant and licorice flavors, lingering beautifully on the plush finish. Tannins are well integrated already. Drink now through 2013."

Both Steve and I thought it was indeed deep, rich and aromatic. The cherry, currant and licorice notes are prominent, chocolate and cocoa too. There's 10% Cabernet Sauvignon to give the wine some backbone, strength and aging potential. By the way, all of the grapes for this wine, both the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon, come from the famous Pepper Bridge vineyard south of Walla Walla. Just 605 cases were made; $28 per bottle.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Happy Mother's Day

With Mother's Day around the corner, I wanted to give tribute to someone's mother in the wine industry. I found the perfect mother and the perfect wine to recognize.

2005 Shirley Mays Chardonnay from Dunham Cellars is a tribute to winemaker Eric Dunham's grandmother, Shirley Mays. Shirley was born in the County of Walla Walla in 1920. She was a life long resident of the area and was married to Wendall Dunham (I love this black and white photo of Shirley Mays with her bright infectious smile). Mrs. Dunham died in 1983 of breast cancer. A portion of the proceeds from this limited wine are donated to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and makes a special gift all year round.

This hand harvested and very special white wine is from the Dunham's Lewis Estate vineyard. Whole clustered Chardonnay was pressed on the first day of autumn in 2005. The wine was aged in 60% French oak (20% new barrels) and 40% of the wine was unoaked, so when blended it makes for a lightly oaked, more fruit forward style. Shirley Mays Chardonnay was released last week during Spring Release weekend. This Chardonnay is $35 a bottle and well worth it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Washington Wine Expo Brings Buyers To Walla Walla

Yesterday more than 65 wine buyers, from all over the world, came to Walla Walla as part of the Fifth Annual Washington State Wine Expo. Twenty nations were represented, including buyers from Europe and Asia. The agenda for the buyers included a discussion from local winemakers, tours of local vineyards and wineries, and of course, a sampling of the area's wines. A buyer from Switzerland was overheard saying, "I don't remember when I last tasted such a high quality of Syrah."

The tour for the buyers started in the Puget Sound Appellation earlier in the week and will continue through the Columbia Valley Appellations.

Walla Walla Balloon Stampede

The Walla Walla Valley will barely be able to catch it's breath after Spring Wine Release finishes and the Walla Walla Balloon Stampede will be in full force! This year the exciting hot air ballooning will start their 32nd Annual year in Walla Walla Valley from May 12 -14, 2006. Among balloon enthusiasts, it is the Pacific Northwest's first and most prestigious hot air balloon rally of the season and brings around 40 pilots and their balloons from around the nation to the Walla Walla Valley.

The weekend features memorable flights (and I am here to tell you how memorable my flight was!), lots of food-on-a-stick, arts and craft fair, antique and car shows - - all will be held at the County Fairgrounds. Saturday evening will be the "Nite Glow Show."

The valley's wineries will also be opened for those who are interested in wine tasting and purchasing the new spring releases. It is a beautiful time of the year to drink some of the world's finest wines under balloon filled skies.

"I'm being followed by a balloon shadow - balloon shadow, balloon shadow. "

(A photographer I am not and because I am not a photographer, I am satisfied with disposable cameras. I got lucky this time when I shot this moment from "up, up and away in my beautiful balloon." Okay, I'll cut the 60-70 tunes.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Future of Wine Blogging continued...

Well, it looks like while I was out and about enjoying Walla Walla's Spring Wine Release Weekend, on Friday USA Today announced they will be launching a wine blog. Cheers will premiere on May 12.

Also, it appears that I may have a future in wine blogging. Thanks to the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, they did an article about me - Local Blogger Turns Wine Into Words. Like Warhol said, "...everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." However, my 15 minutes seems to have extended to seven days and now I have lots of wonderful emails to answer. I also have lots to say about a great weekend of wine tasting.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

On Spring Release Hiatus

Friday is almost here - the start of the Spring Release Wine Weekend in the Walla Walla Valley! I am taking a five day break, but will be back on Wednesday. I will be working the Spring Release, but who considers that work? At these wine events I enjoy chatting with our visitors who are eager to taste the new wines and happy to be in the beautiful green valley. Of course, I won't just be working. I am taking some time off to visit and check out what the wineries have to offer and accepting those special event wine party invitations. It's a tough job, but somebody...

Drink wine, this is life eternal,
This, all that youth will give you.
It is the season for wine, roses, and friends drinking together,
Be happy for this moment - - it is all life is.
--Omar Khayyam

The Future of Wine Blogging

Tom Wark of Fermentation brought up some excellent food for thought (or should I say wine for thought?) the other day about the future of wine blogging in his post, "The Wine Media's Feast." Tom is a public relations professional working in the wine industry and partner of Wark Communications. He is Sonoma-based down in California, and since 1990 he has assisted wineries, media companies and other wine-related firms on how to be heard. The point of his post is: wine-blogging could very well be the future of wine-writing and even wine journalism. In any case, it's got a lot of value for the industry, according to Tom.

When I first started my wine blog, not quite a year ago, I wasn't taken too seriously, I suppose. Sometimes I still feel that I am not taken seriously, but this has little to do with wine or even me: One reason blogs in general have sometimes been dismissed because they have often been associated with the daily journals of teen-aged girls. You know: gossip gossp, giggle giggle. But in fact, since 2003 or so web-logging, or blogging, has become a highly influential journal tool, especially in the realms of political coverage and current events.

My objective for this blog was to keep my viticulture/enology education active, and I chose to focus on the wine industry in the Walla Walla area because this lovely town has been my home for many years. I grew up here, in fact, and have watched Walla Walla grow and prosper from wine since Rick Small established one of the first wineries, Woodward Canyon, in our area back in the 1970s. Now there are more than 70 wineries in and surrounding Walla Walla. Also, writing has been a hobby for me and I thought a blog was a way to put my interest in writing to good use, plus I wanted to use my Web Design 101 class tools to see what I could come up with.

Tom from Fermentation says there are now about 300 "Citizen Wine Writers" around the world blogging about the beverage they love -- wine. They are often hobby-writers rather than journalists, but while they may not be professional writers they are, in at least a sense, wine professionals. Citizen Wine Writers bring up to date news to wine consumers as well as to the trade; indeed, the news from a wine blog is often fresher than printed news and easier and quicker to obtain.

There must be something to wine blogging, as we are seeing more and more wineries blog about their wine business and their wines. Even the wine media is blogging. Eric Asimov, wine critic of the New York Times, started a blog last March called The Pour. I was recently in touch with Paul Gregutt, wine writer for the Seattle Times and the Walla Walla Union Bulletin and also a contributing editor to Wine Enthusiast magazine, and he told me he will be starting his own wine blog this summer (Paul, you didn't tell me to keep this exciting news to myself!).

As Tom Wark points out, that the rise of Citizen Wine Writers and the potential for a new kind of successful wine media is now an important part of the story of wine in America.

P.S. Thank you, Tom, for giving me a link on your blog under "Wine Blogs You Need To Read."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Hoobie" - Couvillion Sauvignon Blanc

“Hoobie” is the name of a truly unique Sauvignon Blanc from Jill Noble's Couvillion Winery. The grapes in this blend -- 76% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Semillon -- come from Sagemoor Vineyard in the Columbia Valley region. Like the weather these grapes were grown in, this wine is meant for lazy and warm summer days and cool summer nights. The Semillon adds balance and complexity, and the result is a wine that expresses pear, pineapple, kiwi, and citrus aromas with a hint of floral notes. I also enjoyed the crisp, fresh, bright finish. It would be ideally paired with white cheddar cheese, grilled fish, sweet and spicy Thai entrees, or even with a fresh fruit dessert. It's pretty tasty on its own, too.

Fewer than 100 cases of this delicious, unusually named wine were produced. Hoobie was the nickname of a family friend; he "taught us the meaning of true friendship and the importance of a good belly laugh," describes Jill on her wine's label. She told me Hoobie was the kind of guy who loved serenading his friends with a harmonica around a campfire -- a man of companionship, of soul, of art (he was a terrific black and white photographer and graphic artist), of the natural elements. Jill put all of those things into this wine, so you'll want to look out for "Hoobie" right now. Retail is $18.00.

Russell Creek Winery - 2004 Sangiovese

Sangiovese is recognized in Italy as a superior varietal. This red medium-bodied grape, used to make Chiantis, has found its way to the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla. Sangiovese is a great wine to pair with pizza and tomato-based pasta dishes because of the acidity. It can also stand-up to meatballs, spicy sausages and pan-fried steaks (Call me loco, but cheese enchiladas with a red sauce would make a perfect pairing, too). I think that Sangiovese often gets overlooked as a red wine, while Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots are on the front lines.

Last evening I took the opportunity to try a Sangiovese from Russell Creek Cellars. As soon as I plunged my nose into the bowl of the glass, the aroma of cherry and toasty oak came through. With the first sip, the cherry and toasty oak continued with a taste of mocha up front. Then the palate began to taste the juicy and rich fruit of raspberry and cherry. The background of this wine brought my palate hints of violet and licorice. It was smooth and light in tannins. It had the right amount of acid to blend well with traditional Italian foods and the finish was very full and balanced. To sum it up - - I liked this wine! I would be interested in cellaring this wine to see if those fruit flavors would evolve the same as their Tuscan cousins. Delizioso!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Forgeron Cellars Pepper Bridge Vineyard Cabernet

It's a beauty!

This is a first for Forgeron Cellars - - a designated vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the grapes are from one of the premiere vineyards in Walla Walla County - Pepper Bridge. Only 308 cases of this fine 2003 vintage and I think it will move fast, even with the $46 tag.

I had a sneak taste about a month ago and again last week. This Cabernet Sauvignon will be one of the many wines released during the Valley's Spring Release Weekend. A dark rich color with a nose of violets and aromatic cigar box. The taste is dense with a mouthful of dark fruit of brambleberries and cherry. Tannins are alive, yet balanced, with a long spicy finish. It will be interesting to watch this wine as it ages. This Cabernet Sauvignon deserves a filet mignon topped with morel mushrooms. Like many of Marie-Eve's wines, this wine is approachable now and very food friendly.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Everything Is Coming Up Rose's

Okay, okay, so my title has been overused when it comes to roses -- but I'm talking about rose'. This is the time of the year to be looking for rose' to stock up on, and you'll find several during the Walla Walla Spring Wine Release weekend coming up May 6-7.

Remember, we are not talking about the jug blush from California. We are talking about true rose' - the French word for pink.

Every country has their pink wine. In Italy it's rosato and in Spain it's rosado. Even in the land of Blush, California, serious rose' is now being made by some wineries -- in Oregon and Washington, too. The good news is that much New World rose' is great wine, a return to true Old World style.

Some of the best American rose' is made from Grenache; I also like rose' from Cabernet Franc. You can find rose' made from Mourvedre and Syrah, too, even Pinot Noir. Rosato in Italy is made from varietals such as Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. Rosado in Spain comes from Garnacha and Tempranillio, typically.

A true vin rose is not a blend of red and white wines, but made from red grapes. It owes its lovely light color to the fact that it was neither fermented entirely with grape skins (like all red wines) nor entirely without (like all white wines). What I enjoy about a good dry rose is the crispness and lightness. It makes a perfect summer wine, and is easy to pair with outdoor-type foods. I have found that a rose', when matched well with food, isn't out of place on any table from Spring all the way to Thanksgiving. Indeed, turkey tastes great with rose'. Sweet potatoes, too.

Last week the woman's wine-tasting group I belong to tasted several different styles of rose'. It was a blind tasting, and all we were told about the eight wines was that three were from France, one was from Italy, one was from California and three were from the Pacific Northwest. What was so amazing is looking at the very distinctive colors of the eight wines - from a pale beige-pink to a hot pink - to a light red.

Since Walla Walla Valley's Spring Release is just around the corner and my blog is mostly about the valley and its wines, I'll concentrate here on the two rose's we tasted that came from two Walla Walla wineries - Dunham Cellar and Rulo Cellars. The 2005 rose' from Dunham was very light in color, almost a light honey beige with a hint of pink. It's made from 100 % Cabernet Franc, and shows a floral nose and spice on the palate. It's a wine I would like to try again, but the next time with food. Rulo's rose' was bright rouge in color and full of strawberry flavor with a crisp citrus finish. We couldn't find on the label what grape was used, but since Rulo makes some outstanding Rhone-style varietals, we assume it is made from Syrah. I took the bottle home.

Other roses' available in the valley include Three Rivers Estate Rose', Basel Cellars Caspia Rose, Syrah Rose' from the students at the College Cellars and a Sangiovese Rosato from Yellow Hawk Cellars. Ash Hollow will offer a 2005 Rose during Spring Release, as well as Waterbrook has a Sangiovese Rose' (Rosato). If you have an opportunity to try any of them, keep an open mind. None of these wines will remind you of that old high-school California jug blush.