Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Tale of Morrison Lane Syrah and the Little Man Scoffer

When I think of syrah from the Walla Walla Valley, I often think of Morrison Lane. The Morrison family was one of the first (or may be the very first) to have syrah in their vineyards - - and the grapes are well known. There are other wineries in the area who have received accolades and awards with the syrah grape from the Morrison Lane Vineyards, such as Charles Smith K-Vintners, Walla Walla Vintners, and Barrister Winery from Spokane, WA.

I got my hands on a few bottles of Morrison Lane Syrah - 2004. Recently I had some smarmy little man in a black hat scoff at the wine - - and the prig (Or should I say "some misinformed soul?" No - - "prig" works for me.) hadn't even tasted it! In a rather condescending voice, and especially to impress the woman he was with, the prig informed me that "... the wine wouldn't be any good because syrah doesn't hold up to age. I mean, everyone knows that - - right?" Scoff-scoff-scoff. The tone of his voice was rather offensive as if I was trying to cheat him or I was ignorant about wine.

It is true that, unlike a new tannic cabernet, some syrahs do not necessarily benefit from age, but then again - - not all syrahs are made equal. Scoff that remark (syrahs does not hold up to age ...) to the lover and bearer of an aged Penfolds "Grange" or Côte Rôtie. I dare ya. I double dog dare ya.

I knew the wine was worthy, besides being it was a Morrison Lane wine and they have proven to be solid, but I had also recently tasted an even older library wine from Morrison Lane that was still full of life.

Later that evening, in great defiance, I opened the bottle of 2004 Morrison Lane Syrah and I was not surprised one bit of what came out of the bottle. I knew it had held up. The color was still a beautiful inky purple and almost with a "thickness" as it gurgled into the glass. As I stuck my nose deep into the bowl of the glass, I immediately picked up what I refer to as "Walla Walla" or "Autumn."

Grapes from the Walla Walla Valley often have a smoky and earthy aroma. The taste was that of blackberries, bread and cloves. It still carried that light, but smoky quality - - like burning leaves. The finish left my mouth with a lot of spice and a bit of oak in the finish. Oh and let me say this - - these notes are overall from the second day of opening - and once again after I tasted the wine on its third day, these notes are still very much present. I would definitely recommend to enjoy this syrah with food.

The first and second day of opening I paired each glass with dinner. The first meal was baked potato and standing rib roast and the second day was a light dinner of cheese and crackers. The wine was even better on the second day. Third day? Two sips out of curiosity, but with a breakfast of scrambled eggs and coffee. I will finish the bottle this evening and sip it with confidence I am tasting a worthy wine. In fact, as I write this the empty glass is by my computer and still emits and wafts the fruity, yeasty and smoky remnants from the wine.

The moral of the story? Don't be priggish and judge a book - - or ummm ... a label and vintage by its cover. Isn't that the glory of wine? To open the bottle, experience and explore?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Eat Eat Walla Walla

Dinner's ready!

Shannon Smith-McKeown has been collecting recipes ever since she was a little girl growing up in Walla Walla. As she remembers, one of her favorite things was listening to her mother and aunts talk about the food they grew up with, especially on their ranch located in the Walla Walla area. Her family had picnics, potlucks and even Saturday night "Kitchen Dances." This was the time when friends and neighbors would bring their finest from the oven.

She read cookbooks as if they were novels. Shannon even enjoyed the history, preparation and the possibility of menus. The more outdated the recipe, and the simpler, often the better; as far as she was concerned.

Throughout the years family and friends would share some of their favorite recipes with Shannon. She also enjoyed passing her recipes on to others. Soon she would have a collection - - in fact, a collection big enough to fill her own "novel."

"Eat Eat Walla Walla" is a collection of recipes, not only from Shannon, but also from other sources in the Walla Walla Valley. Shannon makes note that some of the "contributors" may look somewhat fictional as she has taken historical people, places, and things from Walla Walla to cleverly design "nom de plumes" for recipes by such authors as: Baker Boil, Rose Street, Milton F. Water, and Gary Son (aka Baker Boyer Bank, Rose St., Milton-Freewater, and Garrison Middle School).

Just pouring through these recipes will inspire you to cook and will especially make you hungry. There are over 299 recipes and everything from appetizers, breads, soups, salads, sides, main dishes, and desserts. There is quite a variety, too: Irish Chicken (yes, made with Irish Cream) and even Southern Bread Pudding (made with bourbon).

From the homestyle comfort food such as Walla Walla Pea Salad and Cow Pie Cookies to the sophisticated such as Coquille St. Dakota and Left Bank French Silk Pie.

To all of you lovers of Walla Walla, to those of you who like to "eat eat," and even you collectors of cookbooks, there is something in this book for everyone and especially to share as gifts. For more information about Shannon's book, please visit her website at Eat Eat Walla Walla.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Bliss and Locati Cellars Sangiovese

It's been no secret I enjoy pondering food and wine pairings. I use to play it safe until a few years ago when I enjoyed an entree prepared by one of my favorite local chefs. The pairing was lobster in a saffron broth and accompanied with cabernet franc. Whoever said seafood and cabernet do not mix, never tried this memorable, yet unusual pairing. I've been inspired to explore "boldness" ever since.

Yesterday morning I went to Starbucks to get my usual. I had an early meeting so I didn't have time to have a little breakfast at home, other than my usual cup of coffee. The pastry shelves looked so tantalizing, as they often do, and there it was. It was rich, colorful and festive. The Cranberry Bliss Bar: a blonde brownie base, topped with a sweet cream cheese icing and tart dried cranberries, garnished with a white orange drizzle.

It turned out I had such a busy morning, I didn't even get an opportunity to eat my "Bliss" until later in the evening, after I returned home.

Locati Cellars Sangiovese - 2008
was also my wine of the evening. The wine is a blend of two vineyards from two different areas: the estate vineyard at Mission Hills in Walla Walla and Rosebud Vineyards from the Wahluke Slope.

Sangiovese is typically an excellent food wine with it's rich acidic finish. Locati Cellars Sangiovese is a fine example of why this wine grape has paired so well with tomato-base Italian cuisine for centuries.

When you hold the half-filled wine glass bowl to the light, you see a clear and brilliant garnet color from the Sangiovese. The aromatics are bold of cherries, cigar box, and vanilla.

As I was sipping the wine more cherries came through with a round mouthful of even more cherries, along with caramel, and a long finish of crisp bright acids.

I decided it was time to attack that colorful bar of Cranberry Bliss and what I found was a unique and luscious pairing with the Locati Cellars Sangiovese. The texture of the blonde and chewy caramel-like brownie and soft buttery white chocolate met the lush roundness of the wine. The sweet-tart acids from the dried cranberries and the bright acids from wine complimented each other.

It was - - bliss.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Wine Brawls and Debauchery

"Mom Ferguson" strikes again!

If you remember my previous article I posted in September, Rethinking Drinking, I wrote about "hate mail" I was receiving from a local woman. Her criticism was regarding a previous article I had written about wine being good for your health.

My critic felt I was overly excited about alcohol, that I was going to turn into an alcoholic, and that my professional moniker (Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman) suggested I was evil and literally “wild.”

She also implied that I would not substitute wine for fresh grapes if it meant I would have to leave the social wine “scene.” Further, my critic suggested that even though it was my doctor who had recommended a glass of wine a day, I would not have gotten nearly as excited about this “prescription” if he had told me to eat a handful of grapes a day, instead. Then of course, several Bible quotes later from her - - how convenient she forgot to list any biblical quotes about judging others.

Over a year later I receive another email from her. Last night's email, she suggests that we should be telling people that grapes are good for us (instead of wine) and not to ruin the grapes with any alcohol and without any "risky behavior." Then came the quote:

"Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise." - Proverbs 20:1

Brawls. What is a braaa-wwwl? Even the word itself sounds rather clumsy, coarse and ugly. The dictionary says: to quarrel or fight noisily.

I don't know about you, but I have never been to a wine function where the wine leads to "brawls" and "risky behavior." Typically the conversation is often very studious and wine geeky as we discuss the soil the vines are grown in, the nuances of the wine, how it pairs with food and even comparisons of similar wine grapes and vintages. The debauchery and brawls must happen way after I leave these wine events.

As far as when I drink a glass of wine at home, any debauchery that happens is usually on the evening TV news or on the Bravo channel, Housewives of New York City or Atlanta.

Perhaps my critic would like an insight to what goes on at a wine-related function to ease her inquisitive and possible salacious imagination. In fact, just the other night I attended such a function that was somewhat wine related - - or at least there were several guests who worked in the wine industry. And we drank? Wine, of course.

Everyone was dressed in their finest and of course, who would want to get involved in a brawl to possibly lose a sequin or feather from their evening attire, let alone dirty an expensive tuxedo? The only "risky behavior" I witnessed was wearing high heels while climbing a stair case to the top of the third-floor. Did we discuss and perform acts of Sodom and Gomorrah, the orgies of Caligula, and the sexual prowess of the cloven-hoofed Pan? Well, not in any of the rooms I was visiting.

The conversations I had with my peers were of the results of harvest, the new wines in the barrel, how did the 2011 Beaujolais Nouveau compare to other years, how to address unethical business practices, riding and training Morgan horses, beloved family dogs, Santa Claus, children, cookie recipes, cheese and wine pairings, Disneyworld, and social media for businesses. Pretty tame conversations I would say and even the majority of these topics you could discuss in the Fellowship Hall of most churches.

I even chatted, over a glass of wine, about the recent trip to the Wallowas I took my mother on for a few days to check out the fall colors. I even brought a couple of bottles of wine with me to the Wallowas and my mother enjoyed a few glasses, as well - - and no - - there were no brawls with my mother.

If there were any bacchanalia going on at this event, or any wine-related events that I attend, the brawls must happen - - well - - after I leave.

Here's the bottom line. "Mom Ferguson" is not going to change my mind nor will she convert me to her religion. I have tried to educate myself about wine and alcohol with the best tools and experiences as possible. Obviously I will not change "Mom Ferguson's" mind, either. It has become very apparent she is not educated in this topic because, not only does she suggest things that are not true, but she does not have first hand experience with wine and/or wine-related events.

However, it is important to understand I do not expect "Mom Ferguson" to start drinking wine, especially if it has never been a part of her diet or lifestyle. But the very least, I would expect for her to rid of her assumptions and become educated before she starts preaching and judging others. I respect her right not to drink wine, but unfortunately she does not respect my right to drink it.

So, it appears that "Mom F" and I are going to have to agree to disagree.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting and Wine Taste & Tote

The forecast for the weekend of our holiday barrel tasting looks like sunny skies ahead, however temperatures will be "nippleus erectus" (that's Latin for "cold"). So, be sure to dress warm and comfy. However, not too comfy if you are thinking about wearing one of those new flannel onesie "Forever Lazy" pajama suits as seen on infomercials.

This time of the year the Blue Mountains and downtown Walla Walla are always so holiday card perfect and the vines in the valley are getting ready for a long winter's nap. Winemakers have picked the perfect barrels to introduce their future nectar to wine lovers of all levels - from the novice to the aficionado. Every winery will show off the best of their wines, as well as something that will capture all five of the senses.

There will be everything from small bites of cheese, tamales, and bizcochitos to large bites of cheese, stew and even a chocolate fountain! Holiday lights, art and Christmas movies. Music, horse and buggy rides, and even a Macy's Christmas parade. New York City has nothing on us.

Now, here is the time where I lecture you all about the care and feeding of the wine tasting tourist. Skip the granola. Go for major biscuits and gravy. Your stomach will need something to soak up the wine. Think about packing some snacks in the car and most important, water-water-water. Hydrate-hydrate-hydrate! And remember to apply Robert Fulghum’s, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten:

Share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, say you are sorry when you hurt people, wash your hands before you eat, flush, hold hands and stick together, cookies and milk are good for you

Okay, so you can trade out the cookies and milk for cheese, crackers and red wine are good for you. Also, give your palate a break. Don't try to pack in 13 wineries and all of their wines in one day. Spread it out, slow down your pace and enjoy. You can come back to visit us again, right?


Now for what's new and oh so exciting for our wine tourists: Starting December 1 (yesterday), Alaska Airlines and the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance announced the launch of Walla Walla Wine Taste and Tote. This is a one of a kind program that provides waived tasting fees at over 70 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley - - and - - no check-in fee for the first case of wine (if properly packed in shipping cases) that accompanies any Walla Walla outbound Alaska Airlines passenger.

What does this mean? It means you will no longer have to leave behind all of your dirty underwear in the hotel room, forsake your favorite pair of Jimmy Choo heels, or wear three sets of clothing on the plane just so you can stuff all of your treasured bottles of Walla Walla wine into your check-in luggage.

For more information, check out the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance website (see above) and many thanks to them for all of their hard work.

Enjoy the weekend in Walla Walla and all of the wonderful things it has to offer and most of all - - be safe.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Stan Story

Below is an article I wrote for the 2009 December issue of Walla Walla Union Bulletin's Lifestyles magazine. It was four years ago today that Stan left us. Actually, he really didn't "leave us" as he seems to have a way of popping up when you least expect it.

In fact, just last month I was visiting with Joan, a friend/wine distributor and her significant other, Mark. We were sitting in the back of the shop sampling some new wines and Mark, happened to look up at a photo hanging on the wall. I noticed him staring at it a few times. Mark, who at this time is residing in California, finally said, "Can I ask who that man is in the photo?"

Well, the photo is one many of you are familiar with. It's a photo of Stan Clarke in his "Skipper/Gorton Fisherman" yellow rain gear. One of the originals hangs on a wall at the Enology Viticulture Institute at Walla Walla Community College. Mark kept commenting about how he had seen the photo before. Finally, he asked if the man in the photo was originally from California and had ever been a student at UC Davis. Of course, I answered that he had. Then Mark asked if Stan had a sister by the name of Judy. I answered I thought that he did.

All of a sudden, Mark's eyes lit up, "I know where I have seen that photo before! There is a copy of it at my neighbor's house." he said, "His sister Judy is my neighbor, and in fact, she is taking care of my cat while I am up here in Washington State!"

He immediately called Judy and told her where he was. Mark handed his cell phone to me and I had the pleasure of visiting with Judy. Of course, we talked about her brother Stan and she thanked me for writing about him. It was an honor that she had read my story about her brother.

Now, the cynic in me doesn't necessarily cling onto the beliefs that there are ghosts and guardian angels. However, I never discount them either. There have been some rough days in my life where I may even question if there is a heaven other than those "heavenly" days we have in our lives. But what I can tell you about my belief system is there are no coincidences. Everything happens for a reason.

"The Stan Story"
"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance…” - Flavia Weedn

In the last few months, while interviewing wine-industry people around the Valley, one name kept coming up in.

Stan Clarke was often the motivator behind many personal accomplishments in the local wine business. When I told people Stan figured prominently in my life, they would tell me  their “Stan Story.”

If there was one person who could weave people together, it was Stan Clarke.

Stan came into our lives in January, 2002 as the new associate director and viticulture instructor at the new Institute of Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. Former students at the college, now winemakers, recounted how before their first day at the college Stan had a job waiting for them, and sometimes even a place to live. A new student told me how he felt regret about not having Stan as an instructor, but felt his presence by the stories others shared.

Scott Wolfram (local attorney and county court commissioner) first met Stan at a home winemaking class at WWCC and when the class wasn’t offered again, Stan continued tutoring Wolfram. When 20-year-old Ben Wolfram became interested in his dad’s “science project,” he contacted Stan. The Wolfram’s had new neighbors - - Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe of SuLei Cellars - - who were getting into the wine business and Stan knew about the new neighbors before the Wolframs did. Stan introduced his neighbors, and Ben Wolfram got his wine project off the ground by using their grape crusher-destemmer.

Later, owners Woodley and Jomwe would dedicate their first wine release with proceeds donated to the Stan N. Clarke Memorial Scholarship Fund at Walla Walla Community College.

Me? I have my own Stan stories. One Saturday, Stan showed up at my front door with 100 pounds of crushed cabernet sauvignon announcing I was going to make wine in my dining room.

When I had anxiety about juggling a full load and intern hours at the college, besides working full-time at an office and part-time at a winery, all while recovering from major surgery, I sought Stan's counsel. He said, “If you fail, I fail. I am not going to fail.”

Oh sure, Stan had his prickly side, which made for even better stories.

Whenever a student, mentioned "pinot noir," we learned to duck because whatever was in Stan’s hand at the time would fly across the classroom. Pinot Noir was the bane of vineyards and cellars, as far as he was concerned.

Stan was known to wear socks that didn’t match and no chocolate chip cookie was safe in his presence. Sometimes he looked as if he slept in his clothes – and for awhile, he did – in a camper parked at the college, until his family could move from Grandview, WA.

The last words Stan said to me were at a reception at the college for a Wall Street Journal reporter who was writing an
article about the Institute. Stan had invited every student and former student of the program. I caught up with him while he was busy washing glasses. When I commented about the enthusiastic turnout. He said, “I thought this was a great opportunity for a reunion. Don’t you think we should do this more often?”

And we did. After that gathering, Stan Clarke left us on November 29, 2007 at the age of 57. All his students, current and former, gathered at the college to say goodbye.

Stan came into our lives and quickly left, but for the short time he was with us, he wove all of us together. He is still moving our souls and inspiring us every time we retell our own "Stan Story."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Only One Turkey at the Table: Thanksgiving Wines

Have we gotten over the "Pinot-Noir-is-the-only-wine-that-goes-with-Thanksgiving-dinner" mentality, yet? If not, it's time to be adventurous like a pilgrim landing on Plymouth Rock.

Traditionally, there is an assortment of foods at the Thanksgiving table and usually something for everyone, so why limit your wine choices?

Start your dinner guests with a glass of bubbly before dinner, whether domestic or authentic Champagne. Blanc or rosé - - or both. Also, look at other sparkly and affordable alternatives such as Cava or Prosecco. You can also continue the bubbles throughout the meal.

Make room for a bottle or two of white wine - preferably a Gewurztraminer or Riesling. If you want to "go Walla Walla" when it comes to your origin of wine, 2010 Dowsett Family Gewurztraminer (good luck if you can find it, but if you do, it will be something to be thankful for) and also Sleight of Hand Cellars "The Magician" white. The 2010 Magician is a blend of 85% Gewurztraminer and 15% Riesling. Perfect.

Long Shadows Poet's Leap is a classic Riesling with it's notes of floral and stone fruit. It will pair well with Aunt Doris's ambrosia salad. Also, Saviah Cellar's "The Jack" Riesling will pair well with from the cajun-injected spicy fried turkey to the apple pie with it's crisp acidity and subtle sweetness.

L'Ecole No 41 Chenin Blanc is an alternative white wine and an extra treat. It's aromatic, crisp. and with a light sweet finish. Sweet potatoes, anyone? Marshmallow or plain?

Rosés are not just for summer, anymore. I love how they pair with the guest bird of the evening and you can find them produced from Sangiovese to blends. "Dazzle," produced by Long Shadows, is not only elegant and delicious, but the bottle itself will bring a certain elegance to the table. 2010 Dusted Valley's "Ramblin' Rosé" is crisp and clean, while still showing off its fruit of 34% Mourvedre, 28% Cinsault, 26% Grenache, 12% Syrah.

And now a commercial announcement for Pinot Noir. Walla Walla isn't known for Pinot Noir, but I can make a few recommendations from Oregon. My go-to from the Willamette Valley are from Domaine Drouhin and Stoller Vineyards. Both wineries offer an affordable label or higher-end. Hey, go "high-end," it's Thanksgiving!

Grenache or even a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) is an alternative to Pinot Noir, especially paired with the darker meat from the turkey or other birds. Gramercy Cellars has that covered with their 2009 "Third Man" (GSM) or 2009 L'Idiot du Village (Grenache and Syrah). Also, 2008 Rotie Cellars Southern Blend (GSM) is a fine addition to the meal.

Another alternative to Pinot Noir is Sangiovese. This grape is typically higher in acids and will pair well with most foods, especially spicy ones. Mannina Cellars 2009 Sangiovese is amore' with the spicy Italian sausage that Uncle Pasquale puts in the stuffing every year.

There is always room for dessert and a sip of dessert wine is always a pleasant ending, whether you pair it with Grandma's pumpkin pie or not. Forgeron Cellars 2008 Late Harvest Semillion and 2010 Watermill Winery's Late Harvest Gewurztraminer both bring to the holiday table an abundance of flavors.

May you enjoy the true spirit of this glorious autumn day. Gobble.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Learning is Fun: The Wine Century Club

Now that school is back in session, the days are shorter and we are always looking for things to do when we cannot get outdoors. It’s time to work on your vocabulary. Learning new words can be fun like: Centesimino, Plavac Mali and Touriga Nacional.

Whether you are a wine newbie or a wine geek, learning about different grape varieties is not only stimulating, but tasty, too! There is more to tasting new varieties of wine grapes than just repeating the traditional ABC’s — “Anything But Cabernet or Chardonnay.”

Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch and Picpoul.

You don’t have to be a wine lover to enjoy the task. Gaining knowledge about grapes from various regions around the world, many with histories and stories dating back centuries, can be enjoyed if you are solely into history, botany or gardening. So, how do you organize such a task? Will there be homework?

There is going to be a lot of homework — probably the best homework you will ever have.

Glera, Monastrell, and Pedro Ximénez.

The Wine Century Club was formed in New York City in 2005. If you have tasted at least 100 different grape varieties, you are qualified to become a member. Members come from all areas of the wine community and include wine educators, wine writers and even just lovers of the grape. They are all “grape nuts,” if you will. Many members are from the United States, but many hail from all over the globe.

Bonarda, Kerner, and Madeleine Angevine.

It is important to understand that members of the Wine Century Club are not wine snobs. They are not advocates for single-varietal wines, nor do they favor single-varietals over blended wines. They are also not anti-chardonnay or anti-merlot. They are people who enjoy wine and are excited about tasting and learning about uncommon wine-grape varieties.

Assyrtiko, Tannat and Schioppettino.

So, how do you start? First of all you check out the Wine Century Club website and download the list of grapes. It sounds easy, but it’s very challenging in a fun way. Look at it like collecting scout merit badges. Every time you taste a wine produced with a new and different grape, you check it off on your list, adding any wine notes you may want for your own information, such as vintage, winery, country of origin, history and tasting notes. And while you are in search of the exotic, don’t forget to add the more everyday varieties — merlot, cabernet sauvignon and, of course, chardonnay – to your list.

Negroamaro, Xarello, and Tinto Cão.

Don’t be thinking that you are going to cinch this up in a day or two by walking into your local supermarket and grabbing all of these wines. It ain’t going to happen. It can take time, some research, opportunities and shopping to find many of these exotic wines. I will say that I found the first 50 fairly easily, and, after that, it became a slower process. The good news is that you can count each grape that is used in blended wines. You are also welcome to use the obscure grapes that one might find in fortified wines such as sherries, ports and cognacs. Even the Concord grapes in your jelly count.

Godello, Saperavi, and Rkatsiteli.

Once you have finally completed tasting your 100 grapes, you are ready to send a copy of your completed homework to the Wine Century Club (don’t forget to save a copy for future reference). You are even welcome to go over the count of 100 grapes, but don’t expect to be the teacher’s pet and get any extra credit. However, you can “roll those grapes over” and use them for the next level, if you dare. In addition to regular membership, the Wine Century Club also recognizes serious oenophiles who have tried at least 200 (Doppel), 300 (Treble) or 400 (Quattro) varieties. After your first 100 grapes are submitted, you will receive a certificate, suitable for framing and bragging about, along with privileges to attend various Wine Century Club functions and even local charter functions around the United States.

But beware! Be very afraid! Though application into the Wine Century Club works on the honor system, the fine print notes: “Should you lie, may the wrath of Bacchus curse your palate.”

(Note: It took me over two years to leisurely drink her way through 125 different grapes and obtain membership in the Wine Century Club.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Hallow-Wine: Wine and Candy Pairing!

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 pairings. 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 personally enjoy. My reason? So I won't be snacking on it. You know the kind: Dum-Dum's, bubble gum, and hard year-old taffy. If I am in my "I don't give a bat's ass-gimme-chocolate" mood, then I will give out the good stuff. And when I say good stuff I mean candy like Three Musketeers, Snickers, 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.

Wine and candy have so much in common. For years, scientists had interesting theories about the relation between munching on candy and indulging on alcohol. They have discovered that the sugars in candy ferments in the stomach in a manner that seemed similar to the fermentation of alcohol. The history of candy is also very much linked with that of alcohol. The candy industry experienced a boom during Prohibition. When bars and saloons were forced to close down and "bootleg" wasn't always and easily available, people flocked to soda and ice cream shops for their "fermented" fix.

So if you are going to really indulge, 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. I would choose Chardonnay from either Abeja, Don Carlo Vineyards or Forgeron Cellars. All three of these wines are very light in oak and will not mask that sweet candy corn goodness.

Caramel Apples: Sauvignon Blanc from Fjellene Cellars or Woodward Canyon. The clean and refreshing tastes from these wines bring out the crispness from the apple without feeling "bone dry" on the palate. However, you better have them already in your cellar or do some beggin' because these two wines disappear quickly like a vampire in daylight.

Mary Janes "Peanut Butter Kisses" (the taffy in the orange and black wax wrappers): I would recommend any good and affordable red blend, such as Ash Hollow's Headless Red in keeping with the holiday. Also, if you want to make yourself a candy and wine "peanut butter and jelly sammie," I would think about pairing a Malbec with the peanut butter kisses. Substance or Tertulia Cellars Malbec and also Ash Hollow's Malbec will do the trick - - or treat.

Almond Joy: Rieslings from Long Shadow's Poet’s Leap or Buty's Beast will pair nicely with the addition of the coconut and almonds from the candy. I would also get bold and try a Gewurztraminer. It will show off some exotic fruits from the wine and will still blend well with the fruit and nuts from the candy. I recommend Sleight of Hand Cellars Gewurztraminer.

Hershey Chocolate Bar (with or without almonds): So what yummy Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon isn't going to go with a chocolate bar? However, I would recommend a more mellow Cab with softer tannins that won't interfere, but blend with the chocolate. Trust me. I would also recommend a chocolatey and smooth Cabernet Franc from Tero Estates or Walla Walla Vintners.

Three Musketeers Bar: Any Walla Walla produced Merlot is going to pair well with one of my favorite candy bars! In fact, the first Merlots that comes to mind are from Otis Kenyon, L'Ecole No 41, and SuLei Cellars to name a few. Merlot does not seem to over-power the milk chocolate or the light and fluffy center.

Snickers Bar: Sangiovese makes for a great pairing. The earthy and dark cherry qualities from this grape work well with the peanuts, caramel and nougat. Once again, we need a red wine that is light in tannins and Sangiovese is perfect. Locati Cellars, Mannina Cellars and Russell Creek Cellars are three "original" Sangios that come to mind when I think of this grape.

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. Bergevin Lane She-Devil Syrah is a good pairing with the blue and yellow M&M’s. The green M&M's? I can only think of one syrah that is perfect for that notorious color, but a syrah produced from Kontos Cellars. Now, if you just want to shove a blend of colors in your mouth like a hungry werewolf, then go with a blended wine like "Devotion" from Dowsett Family Wines - a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache.

Petits Noirs Truffles and Brights Hand-Dipped Chocolates: These two local chocolatiers really deserve their own category because they produce chocolates for us "kids" with an adult palate. Petits Noirs truffles and mendiants and Bright's classic chocolate dipped handmade caramels, nuts, and chews are deserving of some of the finest local wines around. Where to start? For a few recommendations, I would check out Glencorrie Cuvee Marquis, Gramercy Cellars Inigo Montoya Tempranillo, Cougar Crest "Syrillo," and hell - just do it - - it's only once a year, go Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon.

Remember as with the M&M’s, all of the above wines will melt in your mouth and not in your hands. So have fun experimenting like Dr. Frankenstein and remember, it's not a perfect science and certainly nothing to be scared about or scream over. Trick 'r Treat!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Don't Lose Your Head. Buy Ash Hollow Headless Red

October is one of my favorite months here in the valley and it's also a very eerie month, as well. The weather changes, the evenings are crisp with a light smokiness in the air. It's the end of wheat harvest and the beginning of crush in the vineyards. The days are shorter and the sky is often magical with its full moon. The light from the bluish orb often creates shadows amongst the clouds in the dark blue-gray sky. Even the sunsets are magical, especially here in the Walla Walla Valley.

So, Hollywood may have its cult spooky film classics like Sleepy Hollow, but Walla Walla has its cult "spooky" wine classic.

Ash Hollow Winery
announced its third vintage release of its rather new and soon-to-be iconic wine label, “Headless Red.” I cannot think of a more appropriate wine to celebrate the summer's end and the arrival of fall.

Ash Hollow Winery started in 1998 when a small group of family and friends purchased a 287-acre farm to start a vineyard. Researching maps from one hundred years ago, they learned that the grounds at one time had a homestead with a large hollow of ash trees and appropriately named ‘Ash Hollow.’ In the mean time, there has been some changes at the winery, but mostly new and exciting growth. "Headless Red" is part of the Ash Hollow's "Legends" brand which was first introduced in 2009. The first release was 450 cases and sold out in three weeks. This new and third release will consist of 1,000 cases.

“More than a label, Headless Red epitomizes everything we believe in about making great wine,” said Jennifer Gregory, general manager of Ash Hollow. “We may be just a dot on the map in the remote tiny town of Walla Walla, but we have big ambitions. We know wine and we want the world to know us. After all, life is too short to drink bad wine.”

And with that said, "Headless Red" is not a bad wine, but it is "bad" as it's sinfully delicious! It's a unique blend of 58% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Syrah, and 3% Malbec grapes — all hand-harvested before the beautiful Walla Walla dusk from Ash Hollow’s Estate Vineyard. The wine floats aromatics of dark raspberry and bloody crimson cherries with whispering and haunting hints of dark black earth, heady (or is that headless?) spices, and with a subtle oak finish. Headless Red has a mid-palate that is as luxurious as it is accessible.

I attended the Headless Red VIP Release Party on Saturday, which was held outdoors complete with a view of the eastern Blue Mountain foothills. It was a wonderful way to kick-off a fall event complete with hay bales, a bonfire - - and yes, they even queued in the fog machine. Not only was there symphonic, yet eerie background music to get us in the mood, but we were also wined and dined. We sipped on Headless Red and dined on a feast of "small bites" including: mice, worms, bloody fingers, eyeballs, and brains (use your imagination here, folks). And the party got even better ...

The Headless Horseman and his trusty steed appeared out of the darkness and was the guest of honor.

The black horse rearing on the Headless Red label was imported in 2007 from Holland by Jennifer Gregory, Ash Hollow's general manager. The beautiful dark Grimm is a 10-year old trick-trained Friesian gelding. Grimm stands 16 ½ hands high and weighs about 1500 lbs. The gelding was taught to rear on command as shown on the label of Headless Red. Jennifer and Grimm are recognized figures as they frequently ride in local parades and exhibitions in the Walla Walla valley.

Ash Hollow’s new release kicks off with a haunting video depicting the Headless Horseman catching a thief in the act of stealing grapes. Beyond wine aficionados, entertainment junkies and filmmakers alike will appreciate the quality of the story-telling, the beautiful and haunting original score by Terrance May, and the hi-def production and sound effects all shot on location in Walla Walla without the advantage of Hollywood special effects.

Local photographers Don Fleming and Travis Wilton captured the astonishing photo for the label, but also produced and directed the new video. On Saturday evening, not only did the guests view the new goose-bumping video announcing the new release, but we were also privileged to view a slide show of the making of the video. It took Don and his team almost three months from start to finish.

“Its great to see a customer’s reaction when they find out the 'Headless Horseman' is real, and not created in Photoshop,” said Jennifer Gregory.

Ash Hollow is encouraging viewers to log in to YouTube (or see below) and watch the video carefully where a secret code will be revealed offering 1-cent shipping on orders of twelve bottles or more for the month of October. Additionally, people who join Ash Hollow’s Wine Club with the secret code will save 10-25% off the case. With Halloween around the corner, the timing is perfect for the video's tagline - -

"Don't lose your head. Buy estate grown Headless Red."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Five Ways to #*@% Up a Wine Pairing

In the August issue of Food & Wine Magazine is an article by Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor titled, Five Ways to Screw Up a Wine Pairing. It was a clever article and much I agreed with, but with a few exceptions.

1. Artichokes. Artichokes hate wine. They grow on their little stalks thinking, "I hate wine. Ooh, I hate it. I'm gonna grow here for a while, then I'm gonna go mess up some wine." The reason they do that is that artichokes have a compound called cynarin in them that basically makes wine taste awful. If you're dead set on eating artichokes and drinking wine with them, the best option is a light-bodied, unoaked white wine like a Grüner Veltliner from Austria. But you'd be best off with beer: a nice brown ale ought to work just fine.

I do not agree that artichokes actually hate wine. I think they are really just misunderstood. Artichokes really wanted to grow up and be a pretty thistle-type flower and adorn winemaker dinner tables. However, somewhere they got shorted in life. So yeah - - they may hold a grudge against wine, but I don't think they exactly hate wine. I mean, does anybody ever truly enjoy an artichoke without the butter, Bearnaise, mayo or pickled and spiced? The little leaf of the 'choke acts as the perfect shovel to allow us to look civilized so we scoop all of those delicious condiments to our lips instead of using our fingers.

Wine should be paired with the artichoke condiments of choice. I would try any of your favorite whites that are known for acidity like an Italian Pinot Grigio. Be brave and go Brut or when in doubt go Chenin Blanc.

2. Serve your wine too warm (if it's red) or too cold (if it's white).Warm red wine tastes alcoholic and flabby. Serve reds a little below room temperature and they're not only more pleasant to drink, but they taste better with food (throw them in the fridge for 30 minutes before you pour them). Icy cold whites don't taste like anything, so pull them out of the fridge a few minutes before serving.

I certainly agree with this one, especially about the icy cold whites. In fact, yesterday I tasted a very cold Oregon Pinot Gris that just put me off. The nose was "stiff" and a little dusty. The taste was bleak and flat. I later returned to the wine and the nose gave me citrus and stone fruit notes accented with a little bit of yeast. The flavors brought in more citrus, vanilla cookie and a bit of sea salt.

3. Try to make two stars share the table. This doesn't work in Hollywood, and it doesn't work at your house, either. If you have a truly extraordinary wine to pour, serve it with a simple dish. If you're spending 15 hours trying to re-create one of Thomas Keller's intricate recipes from The French Laundry Cookbook, pour something good—but not equally spectacular.

Ahhh - the star is in the eye of the beholder. One man's Julia Child boeuf bourguignon may be another man's canned Dinty Moore stew.

I like being adventurous when it comes to food and wine pairing. Pair Tim's Cascade potato chips or KFC with a pretty bottle of Perrier-Jouet or even a Leonetti Cellar Reserve with your local Ice Burg Drive-In cheeseburger deluxe (don't forget the fry sauce). I bet Beyoncé Giselle Knowles pairs anything she wants with Shawn Corey Carter's (Jay-Z) stash of Armand de Brignac Champagne.

4. Serve oily fish with tannic red wine. Fish oils react harshly with tannins, so don't, for instance, serve mackerel with Cabernet—unless you like the taste you get from licking a roll of pennies. With oily fish, skip the reds entirely and go white. Any of the crisp, minerally seaside wines: Albarino from Spain, Vermentino from Italy, Sauvignon Blanc from Chile's Pacific coast. All of those are good options.

Well, obviously Ray isn't from Washington State. One of the finest native northwest meals is a cedar-planked grilled salmon with a redux of a Washington State merlot, preferably a merlot from Walla Walla. Salmon is known as an oily fish and Walla Walla Merlot is often known as being a bit on the tannic side.

5. Overthink the whole thing. Really. This is the biggest way to screw up a wine pairing, not because the wine and food will taste bad together, but because you'll turn yourself into a neurotic mess who makes Woody Allen seem like a Zen buddhist. Most wines can happily live alongside most foods, in a kind of neutral you-go-your-way-and-I'll-go-mine state. Just stay away from those artichokes.

Hit nail on head. I don't know if I am becoming older and wiser about wine or just loosing patience and getting bored with the snobbery and name dropping about wine. Don't overthink. Just drink. Enjoy.

But about those artichokes - don't give up on them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rethinking Drinking

Some of my readers may not know that I have been a regular contributor to Walla Walla Lifestyles, a magazine about the valley's people, wine and food. It is distributed 11 times a year through subscription with the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. The following article is from the September 2011 issue.

Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment, because the last time I wrote an article about the benefits of wine for the health edition of this magazine, I received the very first hate mail of my very short writing career of seven years. But here I am, revisiting the subject.”

It was pointed out to me by a reader that, for health benefits, it was better to eat fresh grapes than it was to drink wine. My critic claimed that I was just looking for an excuse to drink alcohol, that my use of exclamation marks suggested I was overly excited about alcohol, that I was going to turn into an alcoholic, and that my professional moniker (Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman) suggested I was evil and literally “wild.”

It was implied that I probably wouldn’t substitute wine for fresh grapes if it meant I would have to leave the social wine “scene.” Further, my critic suggested that even though it was my doctor who had recommended a glass of wine a day, I would not have gotten nearly as excited about this “prescription” if he had told me to eat a handful of grapes a day, instead.

Also, I was informed that Jesus did not turn water into actual “alcoholic” wine (it was just grape juice), and there were several examples proved by my critic — and biblical quotes included on behalf of Christianity — to support these rather harsh judgments of me.

I know that in my lifetime I will never change someone’s closely held belief that drinking alcohol is evil, nor do I want to suggest that people turn toward alcohol for any health benefits, especially if they have already abstained from alcohol for most of their adult lives.

However, I am asking that we educate ourselves and lose the judgments against those who do enjoy a glass of wine. The stereotype that all people who drink wine are “winos” and drunks is absurd. All in moderation, and seriously — this is the key —moderation with everything.

Drinking an excess of any alcohol is definitely “evil” (if we must use the word) if it means it is interfering with your leading a productive and (mentally and physically) healthy life, but so is prescription drug abuse. This form of substance abuse is growing, especially among our youth. Perhaps the naysayer’s focus is on alcohol and not prescription drugs because there are no biblical passages specifically regarding “prescription drugs.” Besides, drugs are prescribed by the doctor. It’s okay to pop that extra pill, right?

I am not a doctor, but I wish I could play one on TV. And speaking of TV, have you seen the onslaught of commercials for prescription drugs? These commercials always include visuals of healthy-looking people laughing and taking walks on the beach, and the sun is always shining while the announcer in the background is reeling off warnings about, and all the possible side effects of these drugs. “Don’t drive, don’t take with milk, avoid sunshine (especially if you are a vampire). Do not take if you have kidney problems, liver problems, hang nails and freckles. If you notice symptoms such as shortness of breath, bleeding out your ears or growing a third eye, hang in there and don’t stop taking the drug until you communicate with your doctor at your next quarterly appointment …” I’ve never heard these kinds of FDA warnings on commercials about wine.

Alcohol, especially wine, has been used medicinally throughout recorded history; its medicinal properties are mentioned over 100 times in the Old and New Testaments. As early as the turn of the century, there was evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol was associated with a decrease in the risk of heart attack. According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate alcohol consumption may not only reduce your risk of heart disease, but might reduce your risk of strokes, gallstones and diabetes.

However, it is important to understand that alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks, and the addition of eating a healthy diet and exercising is an advantage.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends (if you choose to drink alcohol) up to one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men. Examples of one drink include: beer, 12 fluid ounces, wine, 5 fluid ounces; and distilled spirits (80 proof), 1.5 fluid ounces.

As Oprah Winfrey used to say after airing a controversial view point or show, “Don’t y’all be sending me any hate mail now.”

Once again, I am not advocating that everyone should stop all prescription drugs or pound down a double margarita with a six-pack beer chaser every night. However, it is also important to note that you can drink all the fresh grape juice you want, but it won’t necessarily make you wise and emotionally and spiritually healthy, either.

I always try to find the positive when faced with any negative, and there was one thing I did learn from the hate mail: Fresh grapes are wonderful and healthy! I especially enjoy them with a wedge of cheese and a glass of wine.

To your health, “physical, mental and spiritual.” May your grapes never be sour.

Friday, September 09, 2011

A Strategy for Wine Tasting: Map It Out!

Some of my readers may not know that I have been a regular contributor to Walla Walla Lifestyles, a magazine about the valley's people, wine and food. It is distributed 11 times a year through subscription with the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. The following article is from the August 2011 issue. Please note: at the time the original article was written, edited and set for publishing, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance's new Mobile Wine Tour had not been launched.

If you are a visitor to the Walla Walla Valley, or even a local showing your wine-loving friends around, you want to make the most of your time visiting the wineries. As I have always said, “So many Walla Walla wines, so little time.”

First of all, getting the most out of your wine touring means it’s okay not to visit all of the wineries in the Valley in a one- or two-day visit. You can always return to Walla Walla another time, right? We would love for you to come back. Tasting room assistants may have to force a smile at the customer who stumbles in at closing time and says loudly, often with pride, “Woo-hoo! Yours is the 19th winery we have visited today!”

I taste wine for a living and have judged wines at various competitions. What I can tell you about my palate is that after many wines, it becomes fatigued. I need to care for it by pacing myself, spitting and keeping hydrated. I even munch on special foods like unsalted crackers, bread and raw button mushrooms (which soak up the wine like a sponge) to keep my palate “refreshed.” Really, it is okay to visit only four to six wineries in a day.

Visiting with the winery’s staff, tasting the wines, enjoying the architecture and ambiance of a winery and the often-glorious views of the foothills and the vineyards are all part of the wine-touring experience.

Calm down. It’s your day off. Wine tasting is not a college frat party. It is about tasting the results of the art, science and craft of the winemaker and understanding the area’s terroir.

To get the most out of your wine touring, organize and strategize ahead of time.

First of all, you will need a list of the wineries that are open to the public. There are various publications in Walla Walla to assist you. Tourism Walla Walla, The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, Walla Walla Lifestyles and the Walla Walla Wine Guide have maps available and information on line you can print out.

Many of the wineries, as well as some of the downtown tourist agencies, will have the same complimentary maps and guides to Walla Walla wineries available.

Are you more likely to access information via your computer or smartphone? Website has printable wine maps and also has a downloadable application for your Android phone. Steve Roberts, author of “Wine Trails of Walla Walla,” offers a companion application through iTunes for your iPhone and iPad.

So, you have your list — now what?

Strategize! Luckily, there are specific areas around the Valley where there are clusters of wineries. Don’t spend time going from one end of the Valley to the other. Take a morning, afternoon or a full day, and concentrate on just one area.

The five key areas are: Downtown, Eastside/Airport, Westside, Southside and Oregon. Take advantage of your time and miles if you are coming east into Walla Walla via Highway 12. For example, before you check into your accommodations, you can visit a few of the Westside wineries, located on that old highway: Bunchgrass, Cougar Crest, Glencorrie, Grantwood, L’Ecole N° 41, Lowden Hills, Reininger, Skylite Cellars, Three Rivers, Waterbrook and Woodward Canyon. Be sure to check their hours to make the most of your time. You can also do the same if you are coming into town from the east or traveling north through Oregon — there are numerous wineries located off those routes.

See? There ya go. You’ve checked a few wineries off our list before you’ve even hit downtown, or you can visit them on your way out of town. Get the most out of your Walla Walla wine-tasting experience without having a fuzzy palate or fuzzy memories — the result of the “19 wineries we visited this morning!” Relax and make some memories — that is what wine tasting is all about.

Friday, September 02, 2011

From Walla Walla and Around the World: #CabernetDay

Author, Certified Sommelier and Brand Strategist Guru, Rick Bakas did it again! Last year, he convinced over 3,000 people in over six countries to join forces and celebrate Cabernet Day! This is the second year on the first Thursday of September that wine lovers all around the world converged online to celebrate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Dominant Blends - - the King of Grapes!

We used all kinds of social media from Facebook and especially Twitter to share the wines we were sipping. Smart phones, laptops and even live stream videos were all about in winery tasting rooms, wine bars, wine shops and even private parties from one to several!

Many thanks to Jaime at L'Ecole No.41, Muriel from Otis Kenyon, Vicky from Seven Hills Winery and Shari from Woodward Canyon for collaborating and for their enthusiasm! Now see for yourself what Cabernet Day is all about.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Once Upon A Time: Leonetti Cellar

It's exciting to, not only taste the wines of some of the new "Rising Star" wineries in Washington State and especially in Walla Walla, but it's just important to continue to enjoy the "Shining Stars," as well.

Leonetti Cellar is one of those shining stars of Washington State and especially of Walla Walla. It is known as the winery that "started it all" - meaning it was one of the earliest wineries producing limited wines that lovers and critics started to take notice of in the Walla Walla Valley. Something tells me that Gary Figgins, winemaker and creator of Leonetti, just didn't wake up one day and say, "I am going to become a 'cult' winemaker." It was probably the furthest thing from his mind.

Once upon a time ...

It started when Gary was a young father and in the army reserves. While in the reserves, he made treks to Northern California, and side trips to the wine country. But most of all, he was influenced by his maternal-grandparents who settled in the Walla Walla valley from Italy in 1905. As many European families did, they brought their wine making craft to America.

In the mid-70's, Gary would start home wine making and used a variety of local fruit. Other friends joined Gary's enthusiasm for home wine making, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon and Cliff Kontos of Fort Walla Walla Cellars. No doubt, at the time Rick and Cliff ever imagined they would also become significant winemakers in the valley.

In 1974 the family of Leonetti planted their first estate vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling and in 1978, Leonetti released their first wines and currently becoming the first winery in the valley. And as the story goes - - the rest is history.

Leonetti woke the sleepy giant of Walla Walla's agriculture who had relied on wheat and peas for so many generations, as well as small crops of asparagus and the famous Walla Walla Sweet Onions. As our nation started looking at our food differently, concentrating on more fresh and local, our canneries and frozen food processors started to pull out of Walla Walla leaving behind empty lots and buildings and unfortunately taking away seasonal employment that many in our community relied on.

In 1995, Leonetti was one of six wineries in the valley - - and in 5-7 years time, the Walla Walla Valley industry grew - - and grew! As Leonetti took lead, other wineries came along and opened their doors and more vineyards were planted. Walla Walla finally had an alternative crop and a new flourishing industry that brought new life to our downtown and most important revenue and jobs to our city and county.

Today, more than 100 wineries and over 2,000 acres of vineyards later, the wines of the Walla Walla Valley, and especially Leonetti Cellar, continue to receive national and international acclaim. A very happy ending.

Leonetti Cellar Wines currently available: 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Merlot, and 2008 Reserve (Bordeaux-style red blend).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gary Vaynerchuk: Thank You and Farewell

This afternoon many "Vayniacs" watched Gary Vaynerchuk bring to his audience his
final goodbye.

Gary came onto the wine scene through Wine Library TV in February 21, 2006 and from there he held us captive. This was a significant and controversial time in wine journalism as we watched, not only Gary come onto the scene, but many wine bloggers, as well. After 1,000 episodes of Wine Library TV, the show was retired in March 2011 and we followed him to his new video project called "The Daily Grape" for 89 episodes.

He was his own human infomercial with his strong enthusiastic New Jersey accent as he shrieked at his audience like a used car salesman or a mattress king, and those of us who were fortunate enough to meet Gary in person we found him to be soft-spoken, sweet and rather humble. He left us with the impression that he truly did care about his fans - - his "Vayniacs."

Gary had the ability to break those "snooty" wine barriers for novices and younger generations of wine lovers like no other wine critic could do. The proof that he really cared about wine and his fans was when he told his audience, with conviction that there was always going to be a wine bully and he wanted to "punch them in the face."

"The one person who did read the Wine Spectator, who tells you what to drink and why the '97 is better than the '98. I want to punch the wine bully in the face," he says. "I want to make sure this generation of wine drinkers isn't élitist and snotty. I want it to be about family and bringing people together."

Gary taught us a new set of wine vocabulary such as: sniffy-sniff, oak monster, and pop-pop-pop. He improvised wine tasting as we were introduced to non-traditional sensory and flavor profile names such as: sheep butt, road kill (dead deer on road ...cut off flesh), old dirty socks, sweat, rocks, dirt, Nerd candy and Big League Chew gum. He even went as far as to sniff armpits, lick rocks and eat dirt to get his point across.

Those of us who didn't know a thing about football, would soon be kept up on the scores and schedules of the New York Jets as, not only would he wear the Jet jerseys, but even his spit bucket was adorned with hunter green and white decals of his beloved football team.

"Gary Vay! Ner! Chuk!," as he often introduced himself at the beginning of his videos, inspired many of us wine geeks to film our own talking head videos, to author books, grasp social media and to seize the opportunity to become entrepreneurs. In August 06, 2008, I was thrilled to be able to interview Gary in Four Wine Questions For: Gary Vaynerchuk

We watched Gary on main stream TV such as "Ellen" and also "Conan." We kept up on his new books and we all awaited the birth of his first child in 2009 - a girl. His audience followed him around the world and he never forgot about Washington State Wine Country and even reminded his audience in one video with a handwritten poster behind him that said "Wash St. is REAL".

In one of the many videos he would eventually do about Washington State, Gary even filmed in front of the Qwest Field in Seattle in a smack down of Washington State vs New York Riesling (you'll have to watch to find out who the winner was).

Gary once said, "Walla Walla, Washington is the most exciting thing happening to wine in the country."

And Gary proved it with his many videos about Walla Walla wines, in particular Finding Walla Walla, Walla Walla College Cellars in Five Colleges Battle it Out and A Very Cool Winemaker - our very own Charles Smith.

Thank you Gary for blazing a trail for many of us wine bloggers, vloggers and pod casters. Thank you for giving wine lovers, and especially new wine lovers, the confidence to learn, to enjoy and the ability to express themselves about wine. No doubt, we will see you again. Best wishes in the next chapter of your life.

Photo By Amy Rootvik - 2008
Left to Right: Catie, journalist Steve Bjerklie and Gary Vaynerchuk

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pape Culture: Tranche Cellars

The dictionary says, the word "Tranche" is a French word meaning "slice" or "portion."

In 2004, Lauri and Michael Corliss, owners of the prestigious Corliss Estates, designed a second "slice" to add to their wine portfolio known as Tranche Cellars. Four years later, their slice became a reality when they opened the doors of their new winery at the base of their Blue Mountain Estate Vineyard on the old Berney Drive in Walla Walla.

The wines of Tranche Cellars were born out of the Corliss's curiosity to explore, not only unique blends in their cellar, but also varietals from their vineyards. The goal of Tranche Cellars is to craft wines to the same standards as their predecessor, Corliss Estates. However, it was equally important to produce quality wines with reasonable price tags. While the wines from each winery are of uncompromising quality, each label of Corliss and Tranche are produced at their own separate facilities. At this time Tranche Cellars produces around 2,000 cases per year.

I discovered my first slice of Tranche Cellars while perusing over a wine list at a local wine bar in January of 2010. It was the Tranche Cellars Red - 2004, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Obviously the wine was Tranche's first release and it definitely had some lovely age on it. A week later, I used my new discovery for a Wine Blogging Wednesday project. Wine bloggers from all over the world were asked to look out our windows and imagine snow and then imagine what wine we would like to enjoy during a "snow day." It wasn't a tough task to imagine, especially since it was January in Walla Walla and all around the valley were the snowy foothills and caps of the Blue Mountains.

Since that "snow day," I learned there are two series of wines that Tranche Cellars produces: The Slice of Pape Series and the Varietal Designation Series. I should note that I have also tasted through many of the wines from both series.

The Slice of Pape Series: Pape (pronounced "Pop") is reminiscent of those blends native to France's Southern Rhone Valley. Does Châteauneuf-du-Pape ring a bell? Slice of Pape (red), Slice of Pape Blanc, and Pink Pape (a dry rosé of Syrah and Cabernet Franc) are traditional blends using traditional Southern Rhone red varietals such as Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. White varietals include Roussanne and Viognier. These blends of the Slice of Pape Series reflect Old World style in a very New World of - - do I dare say "pop culture?"

Varietal Designation Series: Tranche Cellars also produces small quantities of single varietal wines. Tranche strives for purity of character in each grape varietal while allowing the wine to express the terroir of each Washington State vineyard. Grape varietals that have been used are Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Syrah and of course the original Red Blend that I first discovered.

Just like I did, discover your own slice of Tranche Cellars - - and don't wait for a "snow day."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Legendary: Walla Walla Vintners

People often ask me, "What is your favorite wine?" That's really a tough question. It depends on my mood, vintage, season and sometimes even a wine that is based on a past or recent memory or event. Sometimes I will even have a new favorite, "Wine of the Month."

Again, it always varies. However, I do have a wine that when people persist on me giving them answer of only one wine, I reach into the wine scrapbook of my brain and usually answer, "Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc."

Walla Walla Vintners, owned by Myles Anderson and Gordon Venneri, is a winery dedicated to making handcrafted red wines. It all started when Gordy took a trip to Calabria in Southern Italy to visit family and sampled his family's homemade wines. He returned with a desire to make wine and it was then Gordy and Myles started producing their own batches of wine. In 1995, they made it official and began their adventure in producing limited quantities of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cuvée, Malbec, Merlot, and Sangiovese. And like their title, they specialize in making wines from grapes grown in the Walla Walla AVA.

They are still crafting their wines like they did when they first started home winemaking using traditional, yet labor-intensive, techniques, such as fruit sorting and picking by hand, manual punch downs in open-top fermenters, gentle extracting in a basket press, individual topping off barrels and hand racking each barrel four times a year. The wines are unfiltered, unfined and cellared in separate vineyard lots. "Free run” and “pressed wines” are placed in separate barrels for aging, and then later blended by the team's "picky palates."

I believe that if I go back through my wine notes, I will have tasted every vintage of Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc starting with 1995. Cabernet Franc also happens to be the flagship wine for Walla Walla Vintners. Their recent 2009 vintage is 85% Cabernet Franc with 12% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose is definitely that of cigar box and candied walnuts. The mid-palate reminds me of the rich sticky toffee date cake that I savored in Sydney, Australia and have never been able to get out of my mind. The toffee continues on the palate along with flavors of cocoa. Each vintage of their Cabernet Franc often takes me back to the special moment when I was sipping on this particular wine. - - 2011 Seattle Wine Awards Gold Winner.


Legends of Washington Wine
2011 Legend Inductee

PROSSER, WA (Press Release) — Founding Director of the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College and owner/winemaker of Walla Walla Vintners, Dr. Myles J. Anderson was selected as the 2011 inductee to the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame.

The Walter Clore Wine and Culinary honored Dr. Anderson during the 2011 Legends of Washington Wine induction gala held on Friday, August 12, 2011 on the grounds of the Clore Center in Prosser.

A distinguished winemaker, Dr. Anderson and his partner, Gordon Venneri, launched Walla Walla Vintners in 1995. A boutique winery, Walla Walla Vintners was the eighth winery to be opened in the Walla Walla Valley.

A graduate of Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, Anderson earned his bachelor’s degree in elementary education. He also holds a master’s degree in counseling and educational psychology from Bucknell University and a doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Wyoming.

As the author of several instructional texts, Anderson was charged with developing and launching the enology and viticulture program at Walla Walla Community College in 2000. More than 1,600 students have completed enology and viticulture coursework since the program was launched. Dr. Anderson continues to consult with College Cellars and also serves on the advisory committee of the Institute for Enology and Viticulture. A 31-year employee, Anderson also served as counselor, instructor and administrator for Walla Walla Community College.

Legends of Washington Wine are selected for their contributions of historical and lasting significance to the community and the wine industry. Nominations are received from the public, and an industry-based selection committee evaluates and scores recommendations based on specific criteria.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Walla Walla Wine Brought to You Today by the Letter "T"

We didn't plan it that way, it just happened.

Friend and wine colleague, Joan Corsi of Vinum Distributing visited Walla Walla on Sunday. It was a day off for both of us, and looking for something to do, we decided to check out some wineries Joan was not familiar with. It was going to be a day of leisure for the both of us and not business. Now, a few wineries weren't opened on Sunday and we were had limited time (just in case a few of "youse guys" corner me and wonder why we didn't visit you). Our first stop was;

Tero Estates/Flying Trout: Not only does Tero Estates/Flying Trout have a winery and vineyards in the valley, but they also have a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla located at the corner of the Marcus Whitman Hotel at Second and Rose. We visited with Michelle Fletcher Hunt, super-pouring-assistant-extraordinaire and we could not have had better timing as co-owner-winemaker-vineyard-dude, Doug Roskelley was there, as well. (Note: the RO in ROskelley is the RO in TeRO).

Tero Estates Winery is located at Windrow Vineyard. They source as much of their fruit as possible from their estate. Windrow is a rolling 32 acre (25 acres are planted in vines) picturesque property surrounded with an amazing view of the foothills and other vineyards. Windrow is part of the first commercial vineyard planted in the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

Michelle poured us through a magical assortment of luscious deep reds: Flying Trout Malbec and Flying Trout Lake Blend. Tero Estate Cabernet, Tero ST (Super Tuscan), including some new releases, Tero Estates Herb's Block - Windrow Vineyard Merlot, and Tero Estates Windrow Vineyard Cabernet Franc. All beautiful and I could not decide my favorite.

Trust Cellars: This was the first visit for me since Steve and Lori Brooks left their old facility south of Walla Walla and moved to their new digs at the airport. Their new winery is a very comfortable space painted in a warm tone of peach and accented with still life paintings of fruit.

The charming Mr. Brooks was there to pour his repertoire of wines while he and I also caught up on news, quips and colorful stories. (A few weeks earlier, Steve, Sean Sullivan of the Washington Wine Report and I gathered for drinks one evening. The three of us caught up on news, quips and colorful stories before we were "kicked" out of the bar - long story - bartender wanted to close early - had a hot date- my glass of water was practically whisked from my hand while I was drinking. Thank goodness they let me finish my glass of bubbly. So Sunday was a continuation ... and of course every tidbit I learn is off the record - ahem.)

Steve poured for Joan and I the following: 2010 Riesling, 2010 Cabernet Franc Rosé, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 Syrah and T.A.T.T. (Tried and True - red blend). Steve's wines have always been on the top of my list. I was happy to see this year that the new vintages of Cabernet Franc Rosé and Riesling were still available as it seems as if I can never get it to them in time. They fly out of the winery. For once my timing wasn't off!

Tertulia Cellars: It's at the other end of town by the foothills and so worth the drive. As you come up the road, the building of Tertulia seems to appear as if it is an oasis. And as the afternoon reached higher temps, it definitely was. Joan and I were greeted by Michelle Aichele, tasting room manager.

Michelle poured for us her Sunday's line-up of: 2010 Viognier, 2010 Syrah du Rosé, Sobra Red Blend, Tempranillo, Malbec and Carmenere. Which one did I love the best? It was the Syrah du Rosé. No wait! It was the Malbec! No wait! It was the Tempranillo! No wait! It was the Carmenere! No wait ... It's tough to decide which one of winemaker, Ryan Raber's wines are my favorite.

Tertulia's signature "circle of friends" is not only a distinctive icon, but they also show it with their warm hospitality. Later, Michelle asked us to join her on the patio overlooking the gorgeous view. We sipped a glass of Syrah du Rosé while enjoying the fresh air, the view of the mountains, vineyards and even saw a few pheasant. It was a wonderful way to end a summer afternoon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fjellene Cellars

A few months ago, a friend sent me an email asking my help to solve a bet. He was told there were over 400 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley and my friend knew this claim was grossly incorrect. According to the Washington Wine Commission, there are just over 700 wineries in Washington State. In Walla Walla, depending on the day and the direction of the wind, there might be anywhere between 105 - 125 wineries in the Valley. One never knows when a new winery in Walla Walla will pop up and when they do, those that are out of the ordinary in their mission statement and of course, quality of their wines will capture my attention.

Fjellene Cellars (Fyel-LAY-Nuh) is one of those new wineries that has captured my attention. Fjellene Cellars was founded by Matthew and Sarah Erlandson in 2008. The winery gets its title from a Norwegian name for "mountains."

Matthew's mission is about planet earth and it is more than just words for him, as he was an outdoor educator and mountain guide across the globe for 13 years. Not only statewide, but internationally, as well. While employed at Northern Arizona University, he took a three month leave to come to Washington State to dabble in wine making. Shall we say the rest is history ... as he immediately went back down to Arizona, gave notice, and ... his first wines were released earlier this year.

The first vintages of Fjellene Cellars were 2007, 2008 and 2009 and produced while he was an assistant at Beresan and Balboa Wineries. Matthew is dedicated to crafting distinct, varietal-specific wines with sustainability in mind. The Erlandson's mission is to create elegant, approachable and food friendly wines that deliver back to the earth. And once again, these statements are more than just words as it shows from the very beginning to the grape pumice and stems reduced to compost by local farmers to the very end with natural cork closures and clean, yet elegant packaging.

Once the attractive bottle is opened, a wine enthusiast will find the wines of Fjellene Cellars are vineyard designated wines that showcase the fruit and terroir of Washington State from as far as Yakima and the Columbia Gorge to local vineyards in Walla Walla. The repertoire of Fjellene Cellar wines include: 2007 North Col Blend (50/50 Cab Franc/Merlot) and a 2007 Malbec. 2008 single varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah and 2008 South Col Blend (Bordeaux-style). 2010 Syrah Rosé and 2010 Sauvignon Blanc.

My personal favorites? 2007 North Col Blend (almost gone at the winery), 2008 Cabernet Franc (sold out), 2010 Syrah Rosé (swoon worthy and first place winner at the 9th Annual Rosé Revival in Seattle held at Ray's Boathouse) and the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (crisp and so refreshing).

This spring I was fortunate to be seated next to Sarah and Matthew at a local wine dinner. I so enjoyed listening to each side of their story about how Fjellene came to be, as well as their faith and pride in each other. I also knew Matthew was my kind of person during the before dinner "cocktail hour," as he "magically" pulled out from his back coat pocket a bottle of fine French bubbly he brought with and generously poured me a glass.

In turn, later I shared with Matthew my course of corn and morel mushroom salad with foam of foie gras. I have to admit, while I love all vegetables and fungus, I am not a huge fan of liver delicacies. Matthew enjoyed the foie gras more than I ever could and I took great delight watching him relish this fine fare, as he even ran his finger inside and around the petite casserole gathering every last bit of the rich foam. It was this exuberance that reminded me and confirmed the mission of Fjellene's wines; elegant, approachable and food friendly. Not only does Matthew take pleasure with fine food, but there isn't any doubt he brings the same enthusiasm to every bottle of Fjellene wine.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Summer Swooning Wine: Walla Walla Viognier

My first introduction to a domestic Viognier was from Cayuse Vineyards tasting room on Main Street in Walla Walla, several years ago. It was so long ago that Cayuse was actually opened to the public and there were no "lists." I have been spoiled, ever since, but always looking for one or more of the benchmark characterics my olfactory system has set. I will never forget the nose, the flavor on my tongue and - - of course, the moment. The moment was one of those memories that many a wine lover carries with them forever.

Viognier is typically known for it's floral aroma. Often stone fruit, pears, honeysuckle and orange blossoms exude from the glass. While it may be heady with aromas, it's a delicate wine with a hints of honey and soft spices, like nutmeg on the finish. Typically it is meant to be enjoyed young as it can lose its perfume as it ages. It has often been coined as a "swooning wine ... oozing sex and sensuality" - Oz Clarke, wine writer.

In the mid-to-late 19th century there was the historic decline of French vineyards due to phylloxera and with that came the abandonment of the vineyards due to World War I. By 1965, around 30 acres of Viognier vines merely existed in its Northern Rhône homeland appellation of Condrieu, France. Even as late as the mid-1980's, Viognier in France was endangered. Paralleling the growth of Viognier in the rest of the world, especially in the last ten years such as in the United States and Australia, the vines in France have grown dramatically ever since.

Walla Walla has certainly seen their share of growth with this delicate white grape, but two of the earlier Walla Walla producers of Viognier come to mind when I think about this cool summer favorite:

Bergevin Lane - Viognier 2010: It was a challenging year, but an extraordinary year, especially for the whites which brought complexity to this light nectar. Wafts of floral bouquets and hints of exotic spice come from the glass. At first sip there's a little bit of the peach orchard here and a little bit of the apricot orchard there. Little bit of lemon here and a little bit of Asian pear there. And the finish? A little bit of custard here with lots of voluptuous notes of honey all over there. Swoonworthy!

Cougar Crest - Viognier 2008: Typically Viogniers do not require heavy oaking to provide balance, so often use of neutral oak barrels or steel is used. The Viogniers of Cougar Crest are fermented dry without use of oak or even malolactic fermentation. Once again, a Viognier has been created that is so perfumey of orange blossoms and honeysuckle that you'll want to dab a bit behind each ear and pulse centers. A mouthful of white peaches, honeydew and star fruit dances around the mouth. The natural oily characteristics of the Viognier grape coats the palate with rich honey notes.

Swoon and sip these wines by themselves or enjoy with soft cow's milk cheese, chicken, sea food and especially fish prepared with cream and herbs.
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