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!