Monday, December 31, 2007

Thank Goodness Gary V Loves Washington Wines!

Once again, Washington State Wines are on display on the ever-so-popular Wine Library!

In episode #380 Gary Vay-ner-chuk sippy-sips four Washington State wines and three of them are from Walla Walla! Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series - 2004, Nicholas Cole Cellars Camille - 2003 (Red Meritage), Cougar Crest Reserve Syrah - 2003 and Chateau Ste Michelle Ethos Syrah - 2004 from Woodenville.

Yesterday, I was catching up on a few food and wine industry magazines and the very first thing I noticed in the magazines that none of them mentioned any food products or restaurants from the State of Washington. And most important I noticed in the back of the magazines where they reviewed wines, all the wines reviewed were from California and New York. Where were the wines from Washington State? Just because we are second in the nation when it comes to wine production, doesn't mean we have to act like we are in second place. We should be on top! And thanks to people like Gary V for recognizing this. Hey Washington Wine Commission, it's good to know that we have Gary V on our side.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Holidays!

The Christmas tree is decorated (has been for a few weeks) and the shopping is almost done. Hopefully I will complete everything by tomorrow evening. We still have four days before the festivities and I am already exhausted. Oh and by the way, the tree ornaments are a sprinkling of old 1950's bird ornaments, glass pine cones and acorns and even glass grapes, wine bottles and adorable little wine glasses.

One of the last things to do is go through the wine closet and find a couple of good bottles to celebrate the holidays with. But it won't be all wine as I will bend the elbow a bit taking part in some hot Tom & Jerry’s spiked with a dash of rum and a dash of brandy. Therefore, I will be taking a holiday break from the blogging machine. I need time to recover from all of the festivities, you know!

I’m including a little gift from Bing and Frank. Yeah, it’s a little schmaltz, but if you can’t have schmaltz at Christmas, when can you? Happy Holidays and I hope that Santa fills a few bare spots in your wine cellar or maybe even drops off that dusty bottle of 1787 Chateau d'Yquem that you've been dreaming about. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Man Named Stan and a Bottle of Lemberger

The first time I tasted a glass of Lemberger was about twenty years ago. I had never heard of such a name for a wine, let alone a grape. Of course, I first associated it to Limburger cheese and Lemberger wine was nothing like the smelly cheese. The first label of Lemberger I purchased was from Quail Run, now known as Covey Run Winery.

Today, flashback almost seven years ago and I am visiting with a man who inspired Quail Run to take a gamble on such a grape with such a funny name. In fact, it was Quail Run Winery who had the first label approval for a Washington state Lemberger.

The man’s name was Stan Clarke. I was one of his first viticulture students at the college and this was his first quarter to teach at the Center for Enology and Viticulture. Our classroom was discussing various grapes and their origins. Stan mentioned Lemberger and everyone in the class started laughing about the funny name and some couldn't believe there was such a grape - - but I knew and believed. I was familiar with the grape that was also known as Blaufrankish in Austria. Many bottles of the Lemberger I owned...and of course, drank.

Stan and I later visited about the grape that was his favorite and was pleased he had met another lover of the Lemberger. Stan told me about his vineyard and winemaking history at various wineries in the Zillah area, such as Quail Run, Hyatt and Zillah Oakes. We knew that somewhere, those many moons ago, our paths had crossed. Perhaps he poured the first glass of Lemberger for me and even the seasonal May Wine from Zillah Oakes (now a defunct winery) that I purchased every spring release.

Last Saturday at the Institute for Enology and Viticulture building in Walla Walla, we toasted a glass or two of Stan’s favorite wine - - Lemberger. You see, it was Stan’s memorial reception and the building bulged with people, laughter, tears and memories. Many attending were associated with the wine industry and so were their memories - their memories of Stan Clarke and how they had met him because of the Washington state wine industry. This man, Stan Clarke had brought us all together and once again, his purple hand had been involved with the wine they were sharing. A 2005 College Cellars Lemberger - 2005. It was fruity with flavor bites of Bing cherries, chocolate and finished with spice. It made me smile through the tears.

From the time I discovered that Stan and I both loved Lemberger, every time I picked up a bottle of Covey Run Lemberger, I always thought of Stan. Now - - even more - - I’ll never forget.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wine Spectator's Top 100

I took a glance at the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 At A Glance.

I was surprised and then again, I don’t know why I wasn’t surprised to see zero Walla Walla wines on the list. Often, we have seen Leonetti Cellars, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole and of course, Cayuse – the wineries that I have often referred to as the “Darlings of Harvey Steiman.” And yes Harvey, I have always agreed with your Walla Walla choices.

Washington showed on the list, of course, Quilceda Creek, including: Owen Roe, Columbia Crest, and DeLille. Fiddle-dee-dee – 2008 is another year!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Trust Cellars Riesling - 2006

Last week Steve went to Trust Cellars to visit Steve - Steve Brooks at Trust Cellars, that is. What is there to say about Trust Cellars that hasn't already been noted? Well, let’s see - - everybody has pointed out that Brooks left his CNN job in Atlanta to come to Walla Walla to make wine. Okay, what else? He was a cellar rat at various wineries and in fact, even at the Long Shadows winery. Which leads me to - -

Steve Brook’s Trust Cellar Riesling. Not sure what has been said about Trust Cellar Riesling, but here is where I can finally have my say. Steve bought a bottle from Steve for me to check out. The 2006 was the first vintage for the Trust Cellars Riesling and my-oh-my did that time for Steve Brooks of being a cellar rat at Long Shadows pay off. Trust Cellars Riesling was very reminiscent of the Poet’s Leap Riesling executed by Armin Diel, one the leading Riesling producers in Germany. Which means - - this is a good thing Martha!

We decided to check out the new location of Pacific Express restaurant and brought the bottle of Riesling to dinner. Riesling always pairs quite nice with any Asian influenced meal and we certainly could not beat the P.E. $5 corkage fee, either. What a perfect pairing the Riesling was with the food we ordered! The Riesling nose was floral and the taste of early summer orchard fruits came through such as peaches, apricots and the crispness of a Granny Smith apple. It was a delicate wine, yet undertones of mineral came through. This off-dry wine enhanced the flavors of the sweet ‘n sour pork and almond sub-gum and vice-versa. No Cab or Merlot could have done that.

I am always telling those white wine drinkers when they want to learn to drink the reds, pair it with food first. Eat-sip-eat-sip-eat-sip. Same thing with whites. For those of you who think your taste buds are refined and look down at the whites - come on - you know who you are. You know, those who hiss, “I only dooo redsss," like you own a pedigreed tongue or something - - anyways - -(okay, I’m off my soap box) same thing! Learn to enjoy whites with food. There are so many spicy, yet light and flavorful foods that deserve a good white wine, such as the elegant Trust Cellars Riesling. Try it!

Friday, December 07, 2007

The 2007 Barrel Tasting Diaries - The PM

We did the downtown scene in the morning and off we went up to the airport. The streets and paths up there were getting a bit slippery due to numerous rubber treads and feet. Our first visit for the afternoon was Dunham Cellars. There is no doubt that Dunham Cellars is a pro at these parties. There were definitely little signs they’ve done this gig before. We were tickled to see a young woman, bundled up and prepared for the elements, in a golf cart driving visitors from the slippery parking lot to the cellar’s door. Appreciative, but we declined the drive and skated our way to the door. Once inside the winery it was warm, cozy and decorated for the holidays. If Dunham’s holiday decor can’t get you in the holiday spirit, then you’re a lost cause.

Steve was taken with Dunham's Morrocan lamb stew. No thanks, none for me. Lamb does not touch these lips. Baaa! We didn’t taste through all the wines, practicing moderation, but one wine that really stood out for me was the Trutina 2005. A Bordeaux-style red blend that I thought was really bright, ripe and juicy. Like a mouthful of cherries with a light lavender finish. This is a good solid wine that could be enjoyed anytime with anything or nothing at all.

Dunham was just packed with people, but we were able to find a table to lean against and sip. One thing we observed, as our eyes scanned the crowd, it was filled with over-aged "youngsters," which made us feel like old dinosaurs. It was apparent to us that winemaker, Eric Dunham is a legend amongst the Gen-X crowd. Move over old stodgy wine drinkers or get with it because these are the new faces of wine.

We slid on down the road to SYZYGY. It was good to see the friendly faces of Kelsey, Zach and Armand greeting us at the door. If you want solid wines that really show off the true varietals, I have always found them at SYZYGY. Killer Syrah! Not sure else how to describe it - killer! SYZYGY Syrah is one of those Syrahs that reminds me of a good Rhone - the "real" stuff. But then again, it has to be good considering Zach chose some of the best grapes around the valley for his Syrah - - Walla Walla's Seven Hills, Les Colllines and Morrison Lane Vineyards.

Just about every event, Kelsey arranges for the student chefs from Walla Walla Community College Culinary Arts program to be at the winery serving some of their tastiest BBQ pork ribs made with SYZYGY’s own wine. Served with a side of roasted potato wedges, the ribs were tasty, spicy, and so tender you could cut them with a paper spoon. They really hit the spot. Our compliments to the chefs.

Now that the slight void was filled with tasty morsels, our last stop was JLC Winery. We visited with Lynn’s family and one of my former winery tasting room co-workers, Vicki Kibler. It was good to see Vicki and also good to hear that she has started her own winery compliance and bookkeeping business. We went into the barrel room to see the star of the JLC show - Lynn Chamberlain herself. Ya gotta love, JLC - "Just Lynn Chamberlain." She kept our interest as she poured for us her amazing assortment of Syrahs and shared her high points, low points and now back to the high points of her wine career. Last, but certainly not least from JLC, Lynn poured for us a barrel taste of her rich Carmenere. It had such a wonderful black pepper nose and a light, but on-going pepper finish. Something tells me that once this wine is bottled, Lynn won't have it around for long.

Baby, it was cold outside and slippery. By then our excitement for the Macy’s Christmas light parade had dwindled and all we could think about was getting out of the cold and cruel elements. A roasted rosemary and garlic chicken and a Caesar salad was waiting for us at home. I could tell that Steve had his fill of Barrel Tasting when he was content to go home, curl up on the couch to dinner, a bottle of wine and the Young and Restless Saturday night marathon on channel Soapnet.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The 2007 Barrel Tasting Diaries - The AM

The 2007 Walla Walla Barrel Tasting event was the first for me as a visitor since I can’t remember when - maybe seven years ago? I've been stuck working in a tasting room! What a glorious event it was! The weekend started for us Friday evening at a wine club event. The snow gave the event that bit of ambiance that really made for a winter party. We kicked it into four-wheel and off we went!

During the weekend I followed my own advise: we started our Saturday morning at home around the kitchen island revisiting the happenings and dialogue of the night before, pondering our list of wineries to visit, while I made pancakes and fried up slices of bacon. "Big breakfast." I tell everyone, "eat a big meal if you are going to taste a lot of wine."

A girl has her priorities and the crush-worthy male French winemakers were at the top of this girl’s list. Gilles Nicault at Long Shadows Winery was the first stop Saturday morning. This isn’t the first time for Steve and me to visit Long Shadows. However, we had no idea about the name change of the road. It use to be Ireland Road and in the last six months it has changed to Frenchtown Road and neither one of us had a clue. Where was the road? Our chatter about what road to turn on reminded me of a few years back as I attempted to give Steve the directions to Waterville, WA from Leavenworth, WA. To make a long story short - - men and women should never discuss directions and I will never design a GPS - heh.

To sum it up - we tasted through the new releases of Long Shadows - Poet’s Leap, Chester Kidder and Sequel. Wonderful as always. We were in awe of the new Dale Chihuly glass pieces that had not arrived during our last visit. This was an excellent move for Long Shadows to be included in the Barrel Tasting and to allow the public inside. A previous news article had coined the new winery, "The Most Beautiful Winery That You Will Never See." Now, many of the wine-loving public can finally feel included.

French winemaker, Serge Laville at Spring Valley Vineyard was our next stop. Their new tasting room on Second Avenue is gorgeous! Dean and Shari were on hand to greet guests and the spirit of their family history, using old photos, was displayed deep into the walls as if the photos had been ingrained there forever. The room had an elegant feel, yet warm and inviting. We tasted through the wines with Serge and as the Frederick blend always does - it made my tongue happy! But then again - so did the Derby and the Uriah and...and...

I must admit this: the Nina Lee Syrah has never really woke up my old taste buds like the other Spring Valley wines. Now don’t get me wrong, I never, ever turned down a glass, but there were other Walla Walla Syrahs I preferred. However, the 2005 Nina Lee made me happy! Nina Lee romanced my taste buds! This is one of my new favorite Syrahs! I am a tough one when it comes to Syrah. They must scream, "Old World Rhone" and Nina Lee screamed. She sang! It just so happened that Australian winemaker, Jeff Martin and his wife Niva, owners of La Frenz Winery in Okanagan, BC, were visiting the tasting room at the same time. Jeff is high on the list of making more Shiraz/Syrah than anybody during his wine making days in Australia, so Steve sent Jeff to the tasting bar to sample the Nina Lee. We wanted Jeff's opinion. Jeff agreed that the beauty of the Nina Lee Syrah was matched by her beautiful profile on the label.

Yes-yes-yes - we did half pours, shared pours, turned down some pours, spit-a-bit, noshed as much as we could on the assortments of cheeses, meats, breads and chocolates that were offered by the various wineries and most important, we kept ourselves hydrated. Next door to Spring Valley is the new tasting room of Sleight of Hand Cellars, owned by winemaker Trey Busch (former Basel Cellars winemaker). We visited with Trey and his business partner, Jerry Solomon as they poured their "magical" offerings. The "Magician" is an off-dry Gerwurztraminer. Crisp, aromatic and if paired with a plate of Thai food or curry it's guaranteed that the contents of the plate and glass will disappear like a rabbit in a hat (groan). The "Spellbinder," a red blend of Cabernet Franc, Cab Sauv and Sangio is a great wine for every day sipping or casual entertaining and most of all - priced right! The Sleight of Hand is worth a visit, of course to taste the wines, but to view the vintage-style Houdini and other magic posters.

Down a couple of blocks we caught up with Don and Nicole Redman at Mannina Cellars. It is no secret that I love their wine varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese (one of the best in the State) and their red blend, "Cali." Don’s wines are elegant, rich and structured. We barrel sampled a 2006 Merlot and I am here to tell you it was perfect. So perfect I wanted my own barrel of it. Why wait for it to be bottled?

David McDaniels of Sweet Valley Wines (the 500th winery to register in the State of WA) shared the tasting bar with Mannina and we were able to sample Sweet Valley’s newest red blend release, "Double Barrel" - 2005 and a barrel sample of their 2006. The 2006 Double Barrel is going to be winner! We really liked it and will keep our eyes and ears tuned to Double Barrel's future.

Okay boys and girls - that was our morning. Stay tuned to our afternoon...

Monday, December 03, 2007

San Francisco Chronicle - Top 100 Wines

Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle picked their Top 100 Wines. It is what the Chron refers to as "Best of the West."

I am happy to see that the Chron has at least recognized 12 wines from Washington State and out of the 12, five of them were from Walla Walla. Of course, this is my opinion, but I think it has been a difficult move on many of the merchants and wine writers out of Northern California to give much recognition to the great wines that are coming out of the State of Washington. But it isn't just my opinion - San Francisco-ite Alder Yarrow of Vineography pointed out the same in his blog of June 2007 with how ashamed he was with his city of San Francisco for not giving Washington wines the recognition they deserve.

Overall, Washington and Oregon wines made up about 21% of the wine list. Okay. Not bad. Considering the list was put together by Jon Bonné, who use to work for MSNBC in Seattle and wrote the following in his former blog, Amuse-Bouche: "I’m rather sick of Walla Walla stories. I think it’s been overexposed..."

I wonder who in Walla Walla gave Bonné an atomic wedgie when he was visiting our fair city before he wrote that article? Excuse the pun - sour grapes! Anyways - - congratulations to the following Walla Walla wines for getting the SF Chronicle's attention that you deserve:

Otis Kenyon Syrah - 2005
Feather (Long Shadows) Cabernet Sauvignon - 2004
Helix (Reininger) Cabernet Sauvignon - 2004
Walla Walla Vintners Sagemoor Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - 2004
Leonetti Cellar (Bordeaux-Style Red Reserve) - 2004

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Tribute To My Wine Guru

There are very few moments in my life where I am at a loss for words and this is one of those rare moments:

Today the Washingston State Wine Industry, Walla Walla Institute for Enology and Viticulture and for everyone whose life he made a difference, we have lost one of the best - -

Stan Clarke


Perhaps this article I wrote a couple of years ago will tell you about the man I referred to as my Wine Guru.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Holiday Barrel Tasting in Walla Walla - Dec 1 & 2

Yup, Holiday Barrel Tasting this weekend in Walla Walla and what can I say about this event that hasn’t already been said?

For more information definitely check out Walla Walla Wine Alliance. They provide a list of the participating wineries, hours and tasting fees. Heather at Walla Walla Wine News gives a summary of her "must see" wineries.

Check out what a couple of my wine blogging colleagues have to say about the weekend. Andy at The Wine Knows gives his list of recommendations. Most of the wineries on Andy’s list are newer wineries to consider, besides your personal favorites.

Thad at Beyond the Bottle gives a list of his personal recommendations of Walla Walla wineries he has visited in the last six months. Thad also gives suggestions on how to survive wine tasting weekend. Such as: eat solid meals, drink water, spit wine...

Umm..., so listen to Thad’s suggestions... yeah, you know who you are you limosine-riding-people. You may have a designated driver, but it doesn't mean you have to deaden your tastebuds. From personal experience after four wineries my taste buds begin to get a little fatigued. The point of these events is to "taste" the wine and to remember what you tasted...ahem...(yeah and so what if I am getting surly in my old age?)

Me? My favorites and recommendations? I like ‘em all - - of course! ;-)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Can anybody recommend a Walla Walla wine that pairs well with Triscuit, Vienna Sausage stuffing and donut garnish?

Tomorrow, we will have an assortment of local wines to choose from. I will even have the canonical bottle of Pinot Noir (Stoller from Willamette Valley) standing by for the turkey. I will report back next week on the line-up of what Walla Walla wines we consumed.

And no - - we won't be making Pilgrim Ray's stuffing. Instead it will be a traditional sage-celery-onion stuffing. Sometimes I leave the recipe as is or sometimes I add cashews and/or sausage. This year it will be sausage. Thank goodness I picked the sage yesterday from my herb garden before the frost hit it this morning.

I decided not to do a full turkey. Bought a breast and a couple of turkey legs, free-range of course. All will be brined using Alice Waters Chez Panisse brine recipe. Been using that recipe for awhile now. A keeper! After brining over night, my sis, Chefy Chefferton will put on her grillardin chef hat and will smoke the legs on the grill using apple wood. A sage pesto will go under the skin of the turkey breast before oven roasting. Keeps the breast moist, besides adding flavor.

No traditional green bean casserole in my kitchen. That stuff makes me burp. Gah - a mouthful of sodium! Instead we will have cream corn. Not that canned crap, but fresh using real cream and butter. It's a recipe I picked up when visiting Lawry's Prime Rib House in Chicago. The potatoes? Mashed of course, but to garlic and not to garlic is the question and if we go garlic - how many cloves? Cranberries? I usually make my own relish using fresh cranberries, apples, walnuts and add a touch (or two touches) of Grand Marnier. This is where I decided to be lazy this year and not be a Martha about the cranberries. Instead I'll tell everyone that I hand carved the cranberry jelly to make it look like a tin can. But I am making up for it with the stuffed celery. No Cheese-Whiz jar-junk. I make my own pimento cheese spread using cheddar and cream cheeses. Yeah, the menu is kind of reminiscent of Grandma's, but maybe a little fresher and with a slight twist.

My sis, Chefy Chefferton will next be putting on her patisserie chef hat and will bake the pies and a few loaves of challah. I understand the pies will include a pear custard pie and the traditional pumpkin.

After all of that, come Friday morning I am looking forward to resting and maybe sleeping in and drinking my cup of coffee in bed. There is no way in hell you will see me standing in line at 4:00 am in front of one of those big roof stores with all of those crazy people just to buy a $5 football-shape slow cooker and an inflatible manger scene for the yard. Cheers!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Red Wine Headache Discussions Give Me A Pain In The... umm...Head!

Every time I hear someone utter, "I only drink white wine because the sulfites in red wine give me headaches." And of course, the first thing I want to say is, "You dumb door knob (my apologies to you smarter door knobs - don’t bother sending me hate mail)! There are more sulfites in a glass of white wine than red and further more, there are more sulfites in your entire body than any single bottle of wine! No wonder you’re such a big pain in the...!"

But - - I don’t say that. Instead I smile and calmly try to give some friendly sulfite education, but usually it's too late. Once those naysayers of sulfites in wine get fixated on the mis-lead and uninformed subject, there is no turning back for them.

Back in the early 80's I took a wine mini-course and tour at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodenville, Washington and I remember then our tour guide informed us about those red wine headaches. We were told most headaches were caused from the natural histamines found in fruit and vegetables. Like many allergies, we can become immune to them, but in the mean time a solution to the problem was taking an antihistamine (especially one that doesn’t make the individual groggy) before consuming red wine. It seemed to solve the red wine headache problem for me and eventually I "grew" out of it.

Earlier this month, the AP reported that UC at Berkeley recently discovered new facts regarding red wine headaches. The headache inducing chemicals are called biogenic amines which occur naturally in a wide variety of aged, pickled and fermented foods, including wine, chocolate, cheese, olives, nuts and cured meats. Damn! All of my six major food groups! These amines found in my favorite foods include tyramines and histamines - bingo! Over twenty-years earlier, Ste. Michelle was right on with their red wine headache info.

Those wild 'n wacky chemists over at Berkeley have also designed a devise (a prototype for now) that can measure amines in your food and drink ahead of time. Eventually it may become a small devise that a diner could keep in their pocket or purse and take to a restaurant to analyze those pesky amines in their wines. However, if you have a headache after consuming several glasses of wine - perhaps it has nothing to do with amines. Like I tell anybody who sanctimoniously preaches to me about the evil chemicals and so-called additives found in wine and the need for more organic wines - - I remind them about the naturally made substance that has a higher percentage of anything else in a bottle of wine - alcohol. Alcohol has caused more aches and pain and created more fatalities than any sulfite or amines ever will. Duh!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Homie Makes Wine - Drew Bledsoe

On October 23, I wrote a blog regarding celebrities opening up their own wineries, Celebrity Wine - Porn, Sports and Rock 'n Roll! And it just so happens a celebrity with strong roots from Walla Walla, is starting a winery here in the Valley.

With Walla Walla being the Washington state capital of world class wines, it seems only natural that homies-done-good come back to open their own wineries. Retired NFL player, Drew Bledsoe is opening up a small (under 250,000 liters) winery, Flying B Vineyards. It appears at this time, Flying B Vineyards wine will be produced at Artifex Wine Company. Artifex, located at the former Crown Cork and Seal Building, is a winery that offers custom crush services here in the Walla Walla Valley.

I remember attending many home games when Bledsoe was playing football for Walla Walla High School. At Wa-Hi, he was a letterman not only for football, but also basketball. I would continue to watch Bledsoe at home games while he was attending Washington State University at Pullman (Go Cougs!). In his junior season, Bledsoe broke multiple school records and later was named offensive player of the year after his junior season. I also remember bitter-sweet feelings from his fans when he decided to skip his senior year at WSU to enter the NFL draft.

Bledsoe was drafted by the New England Patriots and played for them from 1993 - 2001. Later he moved to the Buffalo Bills from 2002-2004 and from 2005-2006 he played for the Dallas Cowboys. However, after the 2006 season, Bledsoe retired from the NFL and since his "retirement" he is owner of a coffee roasting company and now opening up a new winery! It's good to see a part of him back at "home."

It makes me wonder when another "homie", TV 60's star Adam West will open up his own winery - Batman Bordeaux, anyone?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cabernet Sauvignon - Head of the Class

I love Cabernet Sauvignon. It seems to be my "signature" wine and when in doubt - I go Cabernet. Now, its not that I don’t drink other red wines. I do. In fact, sitting on my kitchen island last week was a bottle of Cotes du Rhone and a bottle of Spanish Rioja. One likes to be prepared for visitors and most of all, my daily "heart medicine" as prescribed by the doctor (boy, was he preaching to the choir when he told me to start drinking a glass of red wine a day). I love the red table blends, cuvees and some of the hard to find single varietals like Malbec, but I usually find my way back to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Last week I had an opportunity to taste three newly released Cabernet Sauvignons that just happened to have a lot in common - all three Cabernets were produced in the Walla Walla Valley, all three are of the same vintage - 2005, and most of all -- all three Cabernets were produced by three winemakers that were my viticulture/enology classmates! It was exciting for me to taste their different styles and all three I recommend.

A true "509" wine (meaning all of the grapes are from the 509 area code - Walla Walla). This Cabernet Sauvignon was produced by winemaker, Troy Ledwick of Hence Cellars. At first glance of the bottle, as it was being poured, I noticed the thick glass and masculine style of the bottle that was appropriate for this masculine and hearty wine. Lots of dark fruit came through, as well of tones of dark cocoa. The tannins were definitely there, but not overpowering. A wine that I would be anxious to cellar, as I can image it is going to be very age worthy to the finest. Definitely a wine meant for pairing with beef.

Mostly "509" grapes (Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills), with a touch of Horse Heaven Hills appellation, went into this Cabernet Sauvignon made by Ryan Raber winemaker and owner of Tertulia Cellars. A touch of the Bordeaux-style with 12% Cabernet Franc and a touch of Merlot made this Cabernet Sauvignon full-bodied and very interesting. There were definite flavors of dark cherry, chocolate, spice and a bit of the cigar box. Soft tannins with a smooth finish that is going to pair quite nice with a variety of foods - prime rib to a meatball sandwich. This wine makes me think Black Forest chocolate cake with cherries - yum!

This is the second vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon for Jill Noble, owner and winemaker of Couvillion. And once again, Jill produces an elegant, yet full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. Flavors of caramel, milk chocolate and a mouthful of blackberries make this wine definitely food friendly. We discovered exactly how food friendly the Couvillion Cabernet was as I enjoyed a glass outdoors paired with a beef Polish sausage on a sour dough bun and in the company of Jill and her husband Craig in front of a nice toasty fire. But honestly, although Craig grills up a mean sausage - I would suggest a smoky grilled hanger steak sprinkled with some bleu cheese. Cheers!

Friday, November 09, 2007

WHAT? There’s nothing to do in Walla Walla?

I have heard this comment for over 45 years and then some. And every time I hear those words, frankly speaking - - it makes my butt ache. And chances are those doing the complaining have a numb butt because they're not motivated enough to get off their dead bum and find something to do. Even before the wine boom, there was always something to do in Walla Walla - - if you took the time to look.

Just alone this week, where else in a small town of 30,000+ can you stop for a plate of spaghetti at a downtown deli, listen to live jazz during dinner and then head out to a lecture given by Salman Rushdie? In Walla Walla you can. And if you haven't noticed, none of the events have anything to do with the promotion of Walla Walla wines (Of course, if you are a wine lover and you add Walla Walla wine to your evening of events, it’s the icing on the cake).

Whitman College and Walla Walla University always have public lectures going on with stimulating speakers. The colleges, including Walla Walla Community College, provide on-going theatre and concerts. Walla Walla is home to the oldest symphony this side of the Mississippi and the Walla Walla Symphony is celebrating their 101st year. There are opportunities to check out live jazz, blues, rock or country music at various restaurants, bars, and wineries. The Little Theatre of Walla Walla is a community theatre of volunteers who have been producing plays since 1944. There are museums to catch up on such as Fort Walla Walla, Kirkman House and the Whitman Mission.

Walla Walla is a very sports oriented town and big supporters of their youth - high school and college sports. There are always seasonal sports going on. A couple of golf courses can be found, several walking trails and even a few bowling alleys, casinos, bingo and card rooms if you prefer just to exercise your fingers.

Community classes at the local colleges and at Carnegie Art Center are on-going - pottery, watercolors, jewelry making, writing, woodcarving, cooking, yoga, wine making, welding, horse grooming...and the list goes on. Want to learn how to dance? You can choose from ballroom to belly dancing. Clubs? How many do you want to join? Fraternal, community service, kennel, prop twisters, gun, yacht, synchronized swimming, gem and mineral, and the arts. Not enough clubs for you? How about horses, kitefliers, civil air patrol, quilters, muzzle loaders, car (Corvette, Corvair, antique and four-wheel drives), books, fishing and hunting organizations. And grandmother's in Walla Walla can remain busy (and vocal) at the Grandmother's Roundtable - a group of women dedicated to community discussions and finding the answers to help shape it.

If you prefer the great outdoors, again hiking and walking trails, bicycle enthusiast groups, and bird watchers. The Columbia and Snake Rivers are less than 30 miles from the city and we are nestled around the Blue Mountains that provide us with winter and summer recreation. Bennington Lake is about five miles from downtown.

So now your argument is money. How about all of the local art galleries downtown? Carnegie Art Center provides monthly new exhibits with free admission. A total of 18 city parks and free tennis courts. And there is always volunteer work to be done - the museums, humane society, senior citizen center, children’s programs/sports, three hospitals, and numerous non-profits that need volunteers for their fund-raising committees. The Downtown Foundation offers free concerts in the summer and also at the Farmers Market.

Now if you want to start adding all of the wine events (there is always free wine to taste), that alone is another blog. Every winery has their own special events, besides the Walla Walla Wine Alliance annual events. Other businesses provide events that are wine related - in fact, just last night a local deli held a Chardonnay tasting.

And as I re-read this list, I have barely skimmed the surface. In conclusion, if you are still convinced that there is nothing to do in Walla Walla, then enjoy your TV. Or perhaps you should move to a big city like Portland or Seattle. The opportunities are endless there, but something tells me that sooner or later out of your mouth you’ll be saying - - "There’s nothin’ to do in..."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Precious Wine Diamonds

Yesterday, there was a message on my voice mail. It was from my sister's friend. She was concerned about the creamy lavender-grayish colored residue that was on the bottom of the wine cork from a bottle of red wine she had just opened. In fact, she noticed the residue inside the bottle lip as well. "What is this stuff?" she asked, "I don't think it is anything bad because the wine tastes excellent, but I was curious. Am I going to die if I drink this wine?"

Good news! She isn't going to die from drinking the wine! That "stuff" has a name - tartaric acid. Tartaric acid is an organic acid that naturally occurs in several plants, especially found in grapes. It can take form of a creamy residue, tiny crystals or flakes. You can place it on your finger tips and it will dissipate from the heat from your body. Taste it and it has the familiar taste and texture of "Sweet Tart" candies, but without the sugar. When the creamy residue dries on the bottom of the cork from a red wine, it will take form of tiny amethyst-looking crystals. Those sparkly little crystals, known as "wine diamonds", means nothing more than a natural evolution of tartaric acid in the wine. As the wine ages, tartaric acid (potassium bitartrate) can no longer be dissolved and so it solidifies. This acid doesn't hurt a thing and chemically it can create an environment where spoilage bacteria cannot live and can also act as a natural preservative.

And have you noticed clear crystals in the bottom of a bottle of white wine that has been in the refrigerator for awhile? No - - it isn't broken glass. That is also tartaric acid and some wineries will place the white wine in cold stabilization to prevent the crystals from appearing. So naturally a few might show up if you do your own stabilization in the fridge - or more like you forgot the white wine was stuffed in the back of your refrigerator.

Are traces of tartaric acids in wine considered a fault? Absolutely not! In our earlier New World wines, we have not seen many traces of tartaric acids as many of those wines have been overly fined and processed. In America, as we often do, we tend to over process something until it is perfect! In the mean time, America's largest producers of wine have been messing with the wine’s colloidal structure all in the name of "visual perfection." As the USA has progressed in the last 30 years in their winemaking craft, producing quality wines, chances are great that the wine consumer is seeing more traces of tartaric acids in their wines. Especially those wines that have been given some age. Many winemakers will tell you that the signs are tartaric acids are signs of high quality wines. And yes, it is the same "stuff" that you see in the bottom of a wine that has aged - sediments.

Wine connoisseurs will actually seek out wines with "wine diamonds." As an example, while working at a winery, I waited on a customer who had dinner the night before at a local restaurant. He ordered a bottle of wine from the winery of where I was employed. The wine attendant gave the customer the cork upon opening the bottle and the customer noticed the lavender-grayish colored residue on the cork and was thrilled! So thrilled that he came into the winery the next morning and bought a case of the wine from me! And in my opinion - he was right to choose that particular wine. It was a beauty of a red and I have never seen a happier wine customer.

And one more thing - have you ever used a substance found in the spice aisle at the market labeled as "Cream of Tartar?" Originally discovered by the French, bakers use cream of tartar to give volume to meringues, souffles, angel food cakes and Snickerdoodle cookies. Well, those merchants of cream of tartar actually scoop the potassium bitartrites from the bottom of empty large holding tanks that once held wine.

"Wine diamonds" are indeed an indicator that grapes were given extra hang time on the vine for maximum sweetness and acids. It is also an indicator the winemaker crafted the wine slowly and very carefully. Therefore, when you are opening a bottle of wine and find the signs of wine diamonds, you can be sure that you are opening a great bottle of wine and most of all - - at the right time. The only bad thing I can say about wine diamonds is that you cannot wear them on a finger. Cheers!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Malbec in Walla Walla

In France, it is often labeled as Côt and primarily used as a blending grape in Bordeaux. In Argentina, it is their signature grape and often labeled, “Malbeck.” In California, it has typically been a minor player and used as a blending grape in their Meritage® or other Bordeaux-style blends. But in Washington State - - it is finding a home and if the predictions are true, we are going to see more of this dark red grape in the state and not limited as a blending grape, but produced as a single varietal. Malbec loves the soil in Washington state as the climate and soil composition are similar to France.

Malbec is a medium to full-bodied wine and often very jammy in flavor. Usually flavors of dark fruit comes through, such as plums and blackberry. The tannins are there, but not so much like a Cabernet Sauvignon - - a bit tighter. And because this wine is often a bit rustic, it pairs well with the same type of "homey-style" foods such as - spaghetti, pizza, sausages, beef tacos, cajun dishes like jambalaya, and even beef stew. A French-style stew like Beef Bourguignon would make for a perfect pairing, especially if you used Malbec to marinade the beef instead of the traditional Burgandy.

Malbec is cropping up all over Walla Walla. In fact, this weekend I tasted two fine examples of Malbec - one from Walla Walla Vintners and also from their Mill Creek Upland neighbor, aˋMaurice Cellars.

The 2005 Malbec from Walla Walla Vintners was typical of the style of wine they produce - always dark in color, full-bodied and lots of flavor going on. Three vineyards were used (and in equal amounts) in the production of this 100% Malbec - Frazier Bluff, Sagemoor and Pepper Bridge. It was inky! It was spicy! It was jammy! Lots of plum and blackberry came through but it finished so velvety and kept on going. Nice - very nice.

Newly released, aˋMaurice Cellars Malbec - 2005, was deep red in color with aromas of bramble berries and vanilla jumping out of the glass. With one sip, you know the blackberries are definitely there, but so were the flavors of cassis and currants. Another sip gave me flavors of Chambord (raspberry liquor). A very delicate and elegant wine. A different style of Malbec from their neighbor's Malbec, but just as worthy.

There are other wineries in the Walla Walla Valley producing Malbec and if I could make a prediction - I would predict there are vineyards in Washington State pulling out their Merlot vines to make room for Malbec. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Hallo-wine!

It’s Trick 'r Drinking time. If you’ve been a consistent reader of this blog you know I am all about pairing food and wine together. I love this time of year in the Walla Walla Valley and I love Halloween. And the question I have is - - what kind of candy to hand out to the little ghouls and goblins? Every year varies. If I am in my healthy self-righteous diet mode then I will give out candy I do not care for (so I won't be snacking on it). If I am in my "I don't give a bat's ass-gimme-chocolate, then I will give out the good stuff. And when I say good stuff I mean candy like Three Musketeers and Hershey bars. Of course, while I am waiting on the lil' monsters to ring the door bell, I need to be sipping on a little wine. So what kind of wine pairs with Halloween candy?

Candy Corn: Chardonnay makes for a good pairing with these little nuggets of white, yellow and orange (or known in my house as West Virginia vampire teeth). I would choose either Canoe Ridge or Forgeron Cellars Chardonnay. Both wines are very light in oak and will not mask that sweet candy corn goodness.

Caramel Apples: "Hoobie" Sauvignon Blanc from Couvillion Winery or Three Rivers Meritage White. The clean and refreshing tastes from these wines bring out the crispness from the apple.

Mary Janes "Peanut Butter Kisses (the taffy in the orange and black wax wrappers): Okay this particular pairing is painful as I dislike the Hiney Wine jokes, but the Hiney Winery Tiny Hiney makes for a perfect pairing - very reminiscent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Tiny Hiney is a dessert wine made with Concord grapes (jelly and juice grapes) and Riesling.

Almond Joy: Long Shadow's Poet’s Leap Riesling or Walla Walla Village Gewurztraminer. The fruit of pear, melon and honey from the Riesling pairs nicely with the addition of the coconut and almonds from the candy. If you are wanting a semi-sweet wine, the Gewurztraminer still has some residual sugar and the exotic fruits from the wine would blend well with the fruit and nuts from the candy.

Hershey Chocolate Bar (with or without almonds): Waterbrook Winery Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely a more mellow Cabernet with softer tannins and does not interfere with the chocolate. Also, Waterbrook’s Melange - a red blend that is one of my all-time regulars when I want an every day sipping wine. Melange works quite well with any chocolate - - trust me.

Three Musketeers Bar: Any Walla Walla produced Merlot is going to pair well with one of my favorite candy bars! In fact, the first Merlot that comes to mind is from Lowden Hills Winery. Merlot does not seem to over-power the milk chocolate and fluffy center.

Snickers Bar: Mannina Cellars Sangiovese or even Mannina’s Cali red table makes for a great pairing. The earthy and dark cherry qualities from both wines work well with the peanuts, caramel and nougat.

M&M's: A handful of these color-assorted candies pair nicely (peanut or plain) with a glass of Syrah. Choose your Syrah like you do your favorite M&M colors such as Morrison Lane Vineyard Syrah pairs nicely with the red and brown ones and Isenhower Cellars Wild Alfalfa Syrah or even their Wild Thyme (with 60% Syrah) is a good pairing with the blue and green M&M’s in your candy dish.

Remember as with the M&M’s, all of the above wines will melt in your mouth and not in your hands. Cheers!

Friday, October 26, 2007

We Want Wine Without Borders!

Okay people - - hunker down for awhile. She's on a rant. You've been warned.

If there was a local sit-down or picket line about this subject, I would be there. As a "child of the 60's and 70's" the closest I came to a rally was during a high school band trip to Seattle. A few of us strayed and found ourselves downtown at a Vietnam war protest (we were suppose to be checking out museums and the Space Needle). Of course, I had to get in the middle of it, but quickly found a way out of the crowd when a passer-by gave me a pamphlet on what to do in case of tear-gas and I noticed an army of police with masks standing by. I would later cringe when the news and photos of the rally appeared on the NBC news. My father never missed Huntley and Brinkley. My inner-voice would chant, as I watched the news with Dad, "Please do not recognize me in the crowd of 10,000 people." (Hmm - now that I think about this, I don't think my mother knows about this - - oh well, she might now!)

So, what is this wine shipping-foo all about? First and foremost, it is not cool to discriminate against interstate commerce - a direct violation of the Commerce Clause, Art. I, §8, cl. 3 and the Twenty-First Amendment. And the truth is that alcohol wholesale/distributors around the country are violating this act every day.

Picture this: you live in Pennsylvania and you want to purchase wines from the state of Washington. You’ve read a lot about the wonderful wines of Walla Walla, so you surf the internet and there they are - world class Walla Walla wines - all within the reach of your keyboard and credit card. How easy would it to be to finally add those wines to your wine collection. Well tough! Snap out of it! You can’t! You cannot buy any Walla Walla wines because your state has restricted what kind of wines you can and cannot purchase. If you want to purchase any wines from Walla Walla, then you are going to have to purchase them from your local store who will purchase them from their wholesale distributor. And chances are great that the wholesale distributor will not have these wines in their inventory, especially if it is an award winning wine from a small Washington State winery. Too bad - so sad - you are out of luck and you can thank your politicians for accepting the hand-outs from the local wholesale distributors. In North Carolina alone, the North Carolina Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association donated more than $85,000 to their local politicians in 2006.

Now the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, Inc. (WSWA) want you to believe that the three tiered system needs to stay in place because it is all about the safety of the children. The truth is that the WSWA wants to control wine shipments and especially wine sales on the internet because the WSWA does not make a penny from the small wineries who self-distribute (and often through the internet). In fact, the WSWA has been trying to push through legislation for years to abolish winery self-distribution. Every time I read the WSWA quote, "it’s for the children" it reminds me of something out of the mouth of pop-rocker-perv, Michael Jackson. Yeah right, and if you believe their "selfless act" - - have I got a deal for you - a case of 1787 Chateau Lafite I’ll sell you for $99.95.

When will the WSWA ever learn that their tired old debate of "protecting the children from alcohol internet sales" is losing momentum? Any under-ager can buy a liter of cheap beer from the "guy" that hangs in the alley behind the neighborhood convenience store a lot cheaper and quicker than buying a bottle of wine on the internet (for you South Park fans, check out how Cartman feels about the WSWA). How many kids do you know that will order $30 wines on the internet including at least $20 for shipping, pay for it with a credit card, and wait for 3-5 days for delivery? If I remember right back in my youth, it was all about instant gratification when it came to underage drinking. Umm - of course, I was referring to my old friends from high school days...they use to tell me about it...

Furthermore, shippers like FedEx and UPS have made it very difficult (yet easier for the wineries to stay in compliance) for anybody under 21 years of age to receive alcohol. Their policies state that all alcohol shipments must have an adult-over-21 signature before receipt of package. I recently had a FedEx driver tell me that he has known drivers who have lost their jobs for delivering wine without an adult signature. And it is against federal law to ship alcohol through the US Postal System.

Besides individual wineries using their efforts, The Specialty Wine Retailers Association is an organization working to keep the wine market without borders so that consumers can purchase and receive wine directly from any retailer in the United States. There are other organizations that work with consumer and wineries, such as Free the Grapes, a coalition whose goal is to ensure the consumer a choice of where to purchase wine.

And last but certainly not least, blogs are exercising their voices and assisting to educate their readers on retailer-to-consumer shipping issues. The Ship Compliant Blog is an online site for wineries to use and to help them stay current on interstate shipping rules. Organizations like these are truly needed, especially when the wholesale cartel have threatened consumers and wineries with jail time if they bypass the middleman. Also out there, voicing the importance of freeing the grape is REthink Wine Blog and now Wine Without Borders. Tom Wark, the tireless and fearless, of Fermentation - the Daily Wine Blog will be managing Wine Without Borders regarding wine to consumer shipping issues.

As of today, wine retailers can only ship legally into 15 states and wineries may ship into 35 depending on offsite or onsite sales (meaning if you visited the winery then you can have your wine sent to you via shipper). Doesn’t sound right, does it? We live in the United States of America. Shouldn’t the number of states that both wine retailer and winery can ship into be a total of all 50 states? Wine sales are bigger than ever and the number is sales keep growing - - meaning there are enough sales to go around for all - wineries around the nation and for the wholesale/distributors!

(And let me be very, very clear that I have nothing against the actual services of what a wholesale/distributor provides. In some areas of the country and for some alcohol related businesses the wholesaler/distributor provides a convenient service for many stores, restaurants/hotels and other retailers of alcohol. For many wineries, the wholesale distributor plays an important role in assisting them to reach specific areas and businesses that the winery may not be able to reach on their own based on their volume and manpower. But the point is - - the wineries should have a choice and not be bullied of whether or not to use the services of the wholesale/distributors. )

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Celebrity Wine - Porn, Sports and Rock 'n Roll!

What do Grammy Award winning musician Carlos Santana and race track star, Jeff Gordon have in common? Their own wine labels. First it started with 60's TV star Fred MacMurray of My Three Sons (who would later sell the vineyard to E& J Gallo) and later Fess Parker, who is probably just as well known for his destination winery, spa and soon to be seaside hotel, than he is for the roles he played as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. Other TV stars of the 60's came along like the Smothers Brothers who own Smothers Winery and Remick Ridge Vineyards of Sonoma.

There are big distinctions behind those labels - the celebs who take active roles in their vineyards and/or wineries (like Smothers and Parker) and those who pay negociants to fetch the wine from various wineries, such as three of my favorite rock legends: Santana, Bob Dylan and Mick Fleetwood. Then we have posthumous labels of rock legends such as Jerry Garcia and of course, Elvis.

One of the more famous wineries, especially seen all over northern California grocery stores is from famed film director of the "Godfather" trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola’s wine label. Yes, this Walla Walla Wine Woman has been known to enjoy a bottle here and there - the Zinfandels are quite nice. However, let’s not forget (no wait - - let's forget) about daughter, Sofia Coppola's Gen-X spin on wine. The stuff in the can that is marketed "for the person who lives like there is no tomorrow." Who thinks like that? There should be no tomorrow when we start drinking wine out of a can.

The Gallo Winery found a "good thing" when they announced last month their partnership with MSO to develop a brand of wines under the "Martha Stewart Vintage" label. Now your dinner party will be complete with the meal prepared from your MS cookbook and MS cookware, your table set with MS plates and linens (umm...even the dining table can be from the MS Katonah or MS Turkey Hill collection) and of course you will need the MS wine glasses from Macy*s to drink the MS vintage from.

Last but not least, golfing legends like Greg Norman and Arnold Palmer. Norman actually owns an estate winery and vineyard and the Palmer label is a partnership with a winery.

So what got me started on this rant? Yesterday, in one of my many wine-related emails was the announcement of the new "Mamietage Collection of Fine Wines." This collection of "fine wines" is named after screen legend and notorious blond bombshell Mamie Van Doren. Huh? I thought she was dead! I must have confused her with the other two blond "Bombshells" of the 50's. Okay, so how do I know about the "The Three M's — Mamie, Monroe and Mansfield?" Umm...my mother told me?

"Mamietage" is produced in 1.5 liter bottles featuring three images of Mamie. Two of the images are of Mamie as she is today, and the third image is from Mamie at the age of 21. The wine labels all feature nude poses of Mamie covered up by a top, clear "peel away" label that has stars strategically placed. Once you peel the label away - - a nude Mamie! The peel away portion is attached, and can be replaced to it's original form. How special - like paper dolls!

Last year I blogged "Porn Wine" regarding porn star Savanna Samson launching her own brand of Italian wine. Wine critic, Robert Parker gave the wine 90 points and claimed Samson’s wine to be "luscious and oppulent." Oh reee-ally Mr. Parker. "Luscious and oppulent," you say?

So, all of these celebrity wines got me to thinking - I need my own wine label. Hey! I’m a celebrity - a wine blogging celebrity - the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman - a celebrity in my own mind! I could have peel away labels like paper dolls. Your choice of bare umm - - feet or Birkenstocks. Purple and red reading glasses or no eyeglasses. Fountain pen behind my ears or laptop computer. Toga with belly dancing scarves or Washington State University sweat shirt with Sponge Bob Squarepants sweat pants? Ain't she purty? My paperdoll image can be holding your choice of wine. Red or white, but never a glass of White Zin. Cheers!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Flying Trout Crush

The word from Ashley at Flying Trout Winery is she's keeping busy with crush and it appears there is a rainbow at the end of her '07 crush journey! I recently interviewed Ashley back in August for an article to be part of my new column, "The Tasting Room" in Walla Walla’s newest magazine," Lifestyles." At that time, the only wine she had available for sale was her Deep River Red - 2004. And during that visit, I discovered that Ashley is truly a one-woman-show. Winemaker, marketing director and tasting room attendant and if that isn’t enough, after this crush she will head-down to Mendoza!

Which reminds me - as of this week she is sold out of her Deep River Red blend and is officially closing the tasting room except on event weekends. The Flying Trout Winery door will reopen in May, 2008.

I am so ready to taste her 2007 vintages and they’re not even in the bottle! So far, she has a Malbec from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. In fact, the Malbec is from 21 year-old vines. She is also pressing Phinny Hill Syrah from the Horse Heaven Hills and Syrah from Patina Vineyards in Walla Walla.

Keeping close to old world traditions, Ashley has planned her version of a Beaujolais party for November 17 at the Flying Trout Tasting Room/Winery. Known as "wine for the peasants" many centuries ago, Beaujolais Nouveau may not be released earlier than the third Thursday of November, according to French law passed in 1985. A traditional (and legal) bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau means grapes were handpicked from the Burgundy growing region, then followed by carbonic maceration, pressing, fermentation and then moved quickly to bottling and this all has to be done (only in France and to keep the Beaujolais Nouveau name) in time for the traditional release at midnight on the third Thursday of November. Hmmm - could this be the reason why Beaujolais Nouveau has often been the popular choice with the American Thanksgiving turkey? Good timing or planned by nouveau King of Beaujolais marketer - George Duboeuf (and that my readers sounds like another blog topic)?

Anyways - Ashley has put a new twist on her Beaujolais Nouveau party. Instead of the traditional Gamay grape that is normally used, Ashley will be producing a carbonically macerated Lemburger. There is only one barrel and what isn’t consumed at the party will be available for purchase until the end of November. I must be there! You don't see too many Beaujolais parties in Walla Walla.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Great Value - A Great Merlot

Lately, I have been in this mode of sampling Walla Walla wines priced under $30 a bottle and is it ever paying off! The good news is I keep discovering wines that are top quality for the dollar.

One of the Valley’s great value is from Lowden Hills Winery. Lowden Hills is a family winery owned by Jim and Sonja Henderson. A highlight about the Walla Walla Valley is if you were born and/or raised here, you just about know or related to everyone. Back in high school, Sonja and I co-chaired a high school girl’s league committee together. And have continued to keep in touch.

Besides a family winery, Lowden Hills also produces estate wines from their Win Chester Vineyards located outside of Lowden, WA. Named after Sonja’s late stepfather, Win Estes, the Estes family were wheat farmers and homesteaded in the Walla Walla Valley since the late 1800's.

The historic barn, now winery, seems fitting considering the Lowden Hills Winery’s family history. The barn was built in 1938 and has been the home to livestock, crops stored by the local truck farmers, and at one time, even an old dance hall.

So - - would you like to know more about their Merlot? Lowden Hills Winery Merlot - 2002 is a blend of fruit from their estate Win Chester Vineyards and the Alder Ridge Vineyard. Alder Ridge is one of the oldest and highly regarded vineyards in Washington State. I discovered this Lowden Hills Merlot not to be a whimp, but a real full-bodied Merlot that I feel should be honored with a good meal. It is a force to be reckoned with when ney-sayers comment that Merlot is merely a blending grape - NOT! Dark and dense in color along with aromas of dark fruit from the orchard. Just that bit of age has given it a well rounded structure with flavors of dark cherries and prune-plums. I even picked up a bit of cocoa in the finish.

After opening, the bottle didn't get finished and was held over for the next day. Just as lovely! And you cannot beat the price for such an exceptional Merlot - - $20!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Garrison Creek Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - 2002

Okay, I am on a roll and it is all about Cabernet Sauvignon - -

It’s been a long time coming, but we are finally seeing wines for purchase from Garrison Creek Cellars. If you read my blog on Garrison Creek Winery - An Exercise In Perseverance, you will remember the five year battle that owner and Walla Walla native, Michael Murr went through for his winery to receive the same treatment as the rest of the wineries in Walla Walla County. The battle is now slowly fading into the sunset and Michael will be victorious. In spite of the frustrations that the winery was put through by the county, the wine did not suffer.

I had an opportunity to enjoy a bottle of Garrison Creek Cellars Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - 2002. Pouring the dark liquid into my glass from the long slender and distinct bottle, I could immediately smell the aroma from the Cabernet. A nose of chocolate and bramble berries. I was "warned" ahead of time that I would be seduced by the velvety liquid. Indeed. It was dark, fudgy and yummy. Reminded me of a fresh-baked fudge brownie with walnuts with a side of raspberry coulee. It was dense, well balanced and yet one could probably lay down for a couple of years - - but why? Enjoy it now.

Visiting with Michael, I told him how much I enjoyed the Cabernet and loved the dense and "chocolatety" characteristics of this wine. Of course, he reminded me that it was a 2002 vintage and they discovered that it's best not to release a wine immediately - give it some time in the bottle. So in a sense, Garrison Creek is going to do the aging for the customer. My way of thinking on this is that the wine is going to have more characteristics of an Old World wine and less of the jammy-fruit bombs that often see in New World wines. But then again - - since when have Walla Walla wineries been known to produce a lot of jammy fruit-bomb Cabernet Sauvignons?

Garrison Creek Cellars wines can be found at Walla Walla Wine Woman.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Northstar Cabernet Sauvignon - 2003

It's Fall. My favorite time of the year in the Walla Walla Valley. If you are visiting the area or a local, now is the time to get in your car and take a drive through the foothills of the Blues and especially check out some of the wineries off of JB George and Pepper Bridge Roads. The view is spectacular with all of the colors from the mountains as well as the trees.

It is an especially beautiful drive to Northstar Winery on JB George Road as you pass the row of grapevines lining the drive. Clusters of dark fruit hanging from the vines so close you can almost reach out and grab them. The canopies have been trimmed flat like hedges and the fruit is perfectly spaced in their picking zone. Our timing on visiting Northstar could not have been more perfect as it was the beginning of crush and you could smell the sweet grapes in the air.

Okay, so yesterday I blabbed about expensive Cabernets v. affordable Cabernets, but I actually tasted Northstars first release of Cabernet Sauvignon priced at $60. While Merlot is Northstar's flagship wine (both Walla Walla and Columbia Valley Merlots), they have graduated to other Bordeaux-rooted varietals. I did not rely on another palate, price, or points to tell me it was indeed a worthy Cabernet Sauvignon. My tastebuds sang "Huzzah-huzzah!"

Not a lot of this Cabernet Sauvignon, with a splash of Merlot and Petit Verdot, was produced - only 496 cases. It was first released exclusively for their wine club members and now available to the public. In the glass, a big aroma of cherry juice came through. The dark wine met my tongue with a sophisticated smoothness. Very balanced with flavors of a big chocolate-covered cherry, blackberry jam and a hint of vanilla in the finish. Would I pay $60 for this wine? Yes. My tastebuds gave me persmission and my tastebuds do not know how to read points.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bergevin Lane Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - 2004

Hey, I don't need an expensive $95 bottle of wine with lots of Parker Points to feel cool about the wine I pour in my wine glass. The most important thing to me is how does the wine taste? If the $95 bottle with 95 points make 95% of my tastebuds sing, than what a joy! However, if it does not wow my palate, why do I want it? Accolades are important for wineries to have and it's exciting to be noticed for all of their hard work, but as a consumer I have to reach deep inside and ponder my motives. Do I want to pay $95 for a bottle of wine that I have relied on someone else's palate because I do not trust my own? Do I buy it to impress my friends? Phhhhttttt!

Sure, in the Walla Walla Valley we have our share of mighty tasty wines with mighty prices, but if you do your shopping and take off the Parker Point blinders, you can find some excellent wines at affordable prices. Of course you will almost have to take a second look and say, "A quality Walla Walla wine for under $25? How can this be true?"

And I found just the wine. I am a big fan of Cabernet Sauvignon and this Cab from Bergevin Lane Vineyards fits the profile. Not a heavy tannic Cabernet, but heavy tannins aside gives you the opportunity to taste the fruit. The Columbia Valley grapes, along with skill, brings forth all of the good fruit like cherries and berries that is typical of a Cabernet, but I also picked up chocolate and Coca-Cola flavors. Can't complain about those flavors.

This 2004 vintage from Bergevin Lane is priced at $20. A smooth price for a smooth Cabernet that allows you to enjoy it as an every-day-sipping wine. And it also makes for a perfect pairing for appetizers like smoked salmon and especially entrees such as Sunday pot roast, grilled beef fajitas or any favorite chocolate dessert. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Simply said - Walla Walla Syrah

Okay, so it's not a catchy title, but I think we are all tired of the "Que Sera-Sera" reference and with no offense to Doris Day (okay, I know I am dating myself here - - ahem). It doesn't need much explaining other than, Walla Walla Syrah. That rather sums it up. So with that behind us, let's go down the list of Syrahs I have tasted in the last three weeks.

Wine lovers and critics from all over the nation are keeping an eye on Washington State Syrahs and in the last few weeks I understand why. Of course, being a proud native of Washington, that's a no-brainer, but I gotta say here - - we grow and produce some of the best!

Now I know this isn't a winery from Walla Walla, but the grapes sure are native. Barrister Winery from Spokane bottled a Syrah that received a gold medal at the 2007 Indy International Wine Competition and these winning grapes were from Morrison Lane Vineyard in Walla Walla. Morrison Lane Vineyards have been providing Syrah grapes to area wineries for several years. We were really fortunate not to have to go very far to taste this medal winner. Dean Morrison had a bottle of the award-winning Spokane-produced wine that he was sharing. Barrister only produced 115 cases and at a reasonable price of $26.

Barrister Winery co-fermented the small lot of Morrison Lane Vineyard Syrah with a touch of Viognier, making this wine a traditional Rhone-style wine. Aromatic with flavors of blueberries and plums. And best of all - - it tastes like Walla Walla fruit.

Just barely released, Forgeron Cellars is sure to come in first with their newly-released Syrah. For the short time this Syrah has been released, it is already gaining in accolades and favorable press. With two vintages behind them, this 2003 Syrah is going to be everything, if not more than the last two. I always love the smokiness of the Syrahs that Marie-Eve produces. To me, they seem so typical of well-made Rhones from France.

Last week I opened a bottle of Forgeron Cellars 2001 Syrah that I've been holding onto for a few years. Oh my! It was like drinking pure blueberry velvet, if you can imagine. And I feel that my timing for pulling that cork could not have been more perfect. In fact, I almost cried as I finally emptied the bottle. I can honestly say that every wine should be that elegant and smooth after seven years.
Cannot beat the bang for the buck with Syrah from winemaker Charles Smith (K-Vintners) of Magnificent Wine Company in Walla Walla. It's a quality wine with an affordable price. Perhaps they save their dollars by not using an expensive label? Kidding ...

So what can I say about Long Shadows Vintner's Sequel that hasn't already been said? Besides, that Long Shadows Vintners has been given the Best Winery of the Year award by Food & Wine magazine, the proof of the award is in the wines. I recently shared a bottle of Sequel - 2004 from my stash with long-time Walla Walla resident and wine connoisseur, H.H. "Dutch" Hayner. Dutch collects some of Walla Walla's finest wines and has been collecting since pioneer wineries, like Leonetti Cellars first opened. He thought Sequel was a wonderful wine and in fact, he went on the internet and ordered more! So how's that for a good reference?

Last, but certainly not least - Isenhower Cellars Syrah. We never seem to plan it but Isenhower Cellars Syrah or their Wild Thyme blend always shows up on our Thanksgiving table. It just seems to magically appear!

Two weeks ago we dined at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, one of Walla Walla's newest restaurants. It was just the very beginning of crush and yet the intimate dining room was filled with winemakers. I think they knew it was the time to party because in the next few weeks their days and nights would be limited. Norm McKibben of Pepper Bridge Winery sat at a table next to us and shared his bottle of Isenhower Cellars Wild Thyme - a blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Cabernet. Yes - - wine makers like to drink other wine maker's wine. It was yummy, jammy and paired perfect with the rich mezze spreads and wood grilled hanger steak we were enjoying.

Whether the grapes are from the major Columbia Valley region or the smaller region of Walla Walla, or even a combination of all, no matter. If the grapes come from Washington State and the Syrah is made in Walla Walla, chances are great that they are rich, aromatic and most of all - - world class!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Washington Wines at Wine Library - Again!

This week in Wine Library Episode #324, Gary Vay-ner-chuk is trying to feel better after a huge Jets loss. To help make him feel better, he claims that Washington wines puts him in a good mood. In this episode he isn’t reviewing any Walla Walla wines, but still reviewing three excellent reds from Washington State.

However, he did make the comment, “Walla Walla will surpass Napa as the place for red wine in America.”

Yay Gary!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ferguson

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to taste this commemorative wine that was named after two local wine pioneers. In fact, not only pioneers in the Walla Walla Valley, but also in the State of Washington.

This 2004 Bordeaux-style reserve was named after Jean and Baker Ferguson. The Ferguson’s founded L’Ecole No. 41 at Lowden, WA. Lowden, located in Walla Walla County, is a small farm community and also known as "Frenchtown" to the locals. Obviously the name comes from the fact that it was founded by French-Canadian settlers in the 1800s. Believe it or not, there was actually a small war in Frenchtown, known as the Battle of Frenchtown/Walla Walla, back in 1855. Local historians tell us that Lecole No. 41 and other wineries in that area, are not the first to be producing wine. Besides fur trapping, nurseries, vineyards and wine production became an important part to Frenchtown's economy. And of course like other communities of wine producers in our nation, prohibition of alcohol stopped the growing economy back in the 1920's.

In 1983, Jean and Baker purchased Lowden’s grand old school house that has been located on highway #12 into Walla Walla, since the turn of the century. Now the school house holds some of the most prestigious wines coming out of the state of Washington. The Ferguson's returned the art of winemaking to that historical area.

How did the 2004 Ferguson Commemorative Reserve taste? This classic was perfect on my tongue - it is a blend that I happen to love. The richness of dense chocolate bouchan and some chewiness came through with the 48% Cabernet Sauvignon. Berries and plums showed well with the 42% Merlot, and 5% each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot was just enough to make the red blend interesting adding a touch of violets, pepper and chocolate orange stick candy. A velvety combination that I think will perform well with an assortment of food from a wood grilled hanger steak or salmon to a plate of fresh chocolate chip cookies. This wine is worthy in any collection and like many of Lecole's wines, it should age well. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Adopt A Grape

For less than a penny a day, you can adopt a grape in a foreign country called Napa Valley, CA. Won't you please help?

Ever dream of making wine in Napa Valley, CA? Nah - - me neither. But the dream of making wine in Walla Walla or any place in the state of Washington is an attractive thought. However, no matter where it's from, this idea just tickles me - - very clever, educational and fun.

You can now Adopt a Grape for free and follow it from bud break through harvest, complete with a series of fun and educational notes from the vineyard crew. Remember in my last blog how I chastised those of you who gets all "romantical" and dreamy about owning your own winery and/or vineyard with no idea of how hard the work is? Now’s your chance to be a part of a winery and you won’t have to leave your Lazyboy, bucket-o-chicken and The Soprano's re-runs.

Best of all, you don’t need a huge bank account, or a degree in viticulture or enology. Any white-zinfandel drinker can adopt a grape. If you can use a computer, you can adopt a grape. You can choose a little grape from any block in the vineyard, and you will receive a series of short film updates on the progress of your grape throughout the growing season and harvest. I'm going to make holiday cards with my little grape. If you adopt a grape before it’s harvested, you will be notified by email so that you can be part of your grape’s fall journey. Aww...

So, won't you make a difference in a little Merlot grape's life?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Crush - A Labor of Love

Ahh - - the signs of Fall are among us. The evenings are cool and crisp with a smell of the forth-coming autumnal equinox in the air. The berries on the clusters have reached their ripeness. Last week, the Walla Walla Valley started their annual tradition, a tradition for many parts of the world that goes back to Biblical history, thousands of years ago - - crush.

If you are in the wine industry, winemaker to tasting room attendant, there are days when you begin to think that everyone you talk to wants to be a winemaker. It’s an easy "romantical" thought to get into. Visions of Bacchus dancing in their heads. The dream of going out to the open air vineyard amongst the green vines darted with colored fruit. The sun greets you and a light wind kisses your face. Like in dreams, slow and with animation, running to the perfect cluster, as if it were a lover. Extending your hand out to lovingly pick the rachus of colorful jewels. Like a small child, you hold the cluster on your lap all the way to the winery (there are no seat belts in dreams) where you sprinkle some sugar plum (oops - I mean grape) fairy dust on it and within minutes a magical bottle of wine appears! And what do you know, lo and behold it just happens to have a label with your name on it! Admirers come from near and far to "ooh and ahh" over the bottle you gave birth to.

SCREEECH!!!....step on the dream brakes! Dream is over people. Now get to work! Get out in the vineyard and cut those grapes! There are hundreds of two-ton bins to fill and you better do it fast. And while you’re at it, make sure you don’t slice your hand with the knife. We need that hand and don't bleed all over the grapes! Yeah, it’s back breaking work, but grapes don’t wait unless you think you can get a rating with your Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon from the boys at the Wine Spectator. They'll laugh their ass off at you while those over-riped grapes haunt you later in your dream saying, "We told you man." Pull out all MOG (matter other than grapes) from the bins before crush. Feathers, bugs, grape leaves, whatever, and move it - move it - move it!

So you want to be a winemaker do you? Plan on early mornings and late nights during crush. Grapes don’t wait people. They are not on your schedule. The grapes rule and you are at their mercy. Those intensely flavored little berries will tell you when it is time to make wine. Crush grapes, move bins, crush grapes, move and clean bins, clean some more bins and it goes on and on. Punch downs and taking temperatures and testing brix. It’s like caring for a sick infant 24/7. Plan on being wet. A pair of waders will help keep you dry. A bit of juice splatters on the wall, you have to be there to clean it up - - now! The last thing you need is bacteria crawling on your walls, let alone all the fruit flies that have surrounded your winery like a SWAT team during a bank robbery. They're here along with the lovely pungent smell of acetobacter coming from your alley dumpster. Oh and the cellar rats you hired to give you a break - don’t get too comfy. There are always illnesses and cellar accidents. Tough! Grapes don’t wait and don’t care about the hierarchy of owner down to cellar rat. So forget about your restaurant reservations, football box seats, your weekend at the cabin and your sleep. It’s your winery - it's your dream - so get to it!

And the story of crush goes on and on. and I have just barely touched on the story of wine making. Plan on having a rest around the December holidays and kiss your wine goodbye for a couple of years, because it still has a long journey to go before admirers come near and far to "ooh and ahh" over your bottle of wine that you gave birth to.

Me? I’ve done it. I’ve worked my crush and I even have the wet t-shirt (pants, socks and purple hands to prove it). Yes - I proudly wore my purple badge of honor. Grapes are slippery and wineries need to be kept clean during crush. It seemed like I was always wet. I watched a winery worker get almost crushed to death when a near two-tons of grapes fell on him. It was a petrifying and helpless moment. Thank goodness he survived. Thankfully he recovered a little slippery, wet, and covered with grapes skins and humility. He’s now a young and upcoming winemaker in the State of Washington who had definitely paid his dues with that accident - - but his name is safe with me.

I don’t need to dream "romantical" thoughts about handpicking my grapes and caressing every little berry or sitting on my gilded throne in my chateau with the view of the vineyard while I watch my workers pick my harvest of gold and royal purple. I know that it takes at least two years of hard work and more for grapes to make their way into the bottle that holds the magic elixir. However, I am not without guilt of holding my own dreams of vines and wines. I was a fan of the night-time TV soap, "Falcon Crest," also known as "Dallas with Grapes. " I vowed I would become the next Angela Channing, but without the murder, treachery and deceit to my family and friends. I even traveled to Napa to buy bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon with the one-time label, "Falcon Crest" from the 850-acre estate of Spring Mountain Vineyard where the outdoor shots of the TV soap was filmed.

Okay - so here I am and the truth of my experience with crush is I never care to do it again. Okay, well maybe for one non-committal hour. Umm - maybe two non-committal hours. At this time of my life, my contribution to the crush is to enjoy the fruits of the labor, write about the wine and maybe even sell a few bottles. Yeah, I still get happy chills when I see the Hysters loading the fruit-filled bins onto the crush pad and also when my nose meets the fragrance of crushed purple fruit topped with bright pink foam during fermentation. All of these senses remind me that a new vintage is on the way, but not without respect and observation of the love and labor that went into each and every bottle. With every bottle I am reminded of the caretakers of the vines and 365 days of their diligence and trust of the terroir. I am reminded by those in the cellar who put more than their backs into the wine. Their heart and their soul and most of all, a huge commitment.

Crush - - it is truly a labor of love.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Don't Wear Whites After Labor Day - Drink Them!

An old custom and rule of etiquette eschewed wearing white after Labor Day. Who knows where it came from, but after the three-day weekend holiday, we are "told" to put away our summer white shoes and other white accessories. And - - if you are a man, you have no business with white shoes and especially a white belt anyways. They should have been tossed a few decades ago with John Travolta and Barry Gibb's disco garments. However, there is one white you can keep out long after Labor Day and that is - - white wine.

In September, the Walla Walla Valley still has some warm summer days and cool nights. Some excellent examples of whites to pair for those late summer harvest meals - Skylite Cellars "Sierra " is a refreshing, crisp and fruit driven blend of 63% Sauvignon Blanc and 37% Pinot Gris. Walla Walla grapes gives this wine floral notes, structure and for food with a spicy kick, it pairs great with a clean finish. I really enjoyed this white blend and paired it with spicy pork verde wrapped in lettuce leaves and wedges of tangy chicken quesadillas with melty and gooey cheese topped with mango salsa.

Ask Lynn Chamberlain of JLC Winery about her Semillon. She is very proud of it and with good reason. It's her new vine estate Semillon and it is another white wine that embraces food. Crisp, clean with floral notes and very lightly oaked so the nuances of the young fruit really came through. I paired it with roasted red bell pepper hummus and a spicy crab dip. This white really stood up to the spiciness of both appetizers.

In the summer months, one of my favorite styles of wine is rose'. And not just any rose'. They must be crisp, dry and still showing the full flavors of the red grape. I tell wine-lovers to drink these wines even up to Thanksgiving. I personally think they pair very well with turkey, cranberries and sweet potatoes. Get beyond the Pinot Noir tradition for Thanksgiving people and go rose'! You know what else I like about these rose'-beauties from the Walla Walla Valley - - very affordable!

Again, Skylite Cellars Rose - 2006 is a blend of 58% Sangiovese and 42% Cabernet Franc. Lots of good fruit going on with layers of berries and tart cranberries. I paired this chilled rose' with a big juicy strawberry dipped in white chocolate. The juiciness of the wine really came out.

JLC Winery also has a Rose, "The Muse" made with Walla Walla Valley grapes. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot brings to this wine cherries and strawberries. I just sipped this without a bite of food and I sipped and sipped. So good. Lynn suggests a range of foods from the spicy to sea food and absolutely suggests it with the Thanksgiving bird.

This week I wanted a good ol' home cooked meal and someone else to do the dishes. The Whoopemup Hollow Cafe was the answer. When I heard the special for the evening, I bit. They had me. I mean, how can one overlook a special of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, biscuits and huckleberry gravy? Okay, so I didn't need that heavy food but I had to try this huckleberry gravy. Yes - - it was wonderful. But since it was still warm outside, in the low 80's, with rich food, a full bodied red wine was not appealing for me, so Waterbrook's Sangiovese Rose - 2006 was a great choice for me. 100% Sangiovese that offered a summer berry salad in the nose and it continued in the taste. Lots of berries, crisp and with a bright ruby red grapefruit finish. But most of all it finished clean.

So, if you've put away your summer whites and not quite ready for winter, you can keep the summer alive in your wine glass by looking for ways to pair whites and roses' with food or just for leisurely sipping. Cheers!

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