Monday, November 27, 2006

Walla Walla On The Thanksgiving Table

We had some nice wine surprises on our Thanksgiving table. A friend dropped by to wish us some Thanksgiving cheer and brought a bottle of Isenhower Cellars Wild Thyme - 2004. I blogged about this wine back in June. It is Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc with flavors of chocolate-covered cherries. A real treat to the mouth.

My sister brought a couple of bottles of Cabernet Franc - 2004 from College Cellars of Walla Walla. Some earthy, yet floral tones coming out of that wine. Very soft tannins with a lot of dark berries showing through. The finish was creamy like caramel, but I did pick up undertones of "greenness" which is often a trait of Cabernet Franc. A very nice change from the usual Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots.

Did you try any Walla Walla wines for Thanksgiving that you want to tell about?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

November Cooking With Washington Wines

I know what you are thinking, "It is November and the most popular dish is turkey and therefore, she is going to write about Pinot Noir." Not so. (However, I do have a bottle of Washington Pinot Noir that was a wine trade from Joel at Wind River Cellars I may open) And I am not going to write about how the annual November release of the Beaujolais Nouveau (third Thursday of every year from France) goes well with turkey, either.

At my house, it seems like the most popular dishes are the sides. It's all about the sides! Some of our favorites are, lots of garlic smashed potatoes (of course), brussel sprouts with shallots and bacon, and a savory corn and basil pudding to name a few. And umm - no -- we do *not* do the canned mushroom soup and canned green bean thingie casserole either unless the sauce is made from scratch and the mushrooms are fresh.

Foodies will automatically tell you that Pinot Noir is the best choice to serve with turkey but let's get adventurous. There are many varietals and blends that will go well with the Thanksgiving meal. Why limit yourself? Reisling with Aunt Ginny's sweet potatoes and Merlot with the drumstick. The Walla Walla wineries still have some wonderful summer rose's available, like Waterbrook's Sangiovese rose, that would pair perfect with turkey or ham.

For the garlic smashed potatoes I would recommend the Chardonnay from Canoe Ridge. I had an opportunity to taste this Chardonnay when Steve introduced me to Canoe Ridge winemaker, Christophe Paubert, a native of the Bordeaux region. Kate Michaud, assistant winemaker, explained to me their approach to this white grape. They blend about 60 percent barrel fermented lots with tank fermented lots with very little malolactic fermentation. Average barrel aging is about six months in 100 percent French oak. I found flavors of honeysuckle, pear, stone fruits and a pleasant mineral quality in the finish. I commented that this wine was typical of the Old World style. This crisp Chardonnay is meant to be paired with food.

Here is one of my favorite sides that I will be preparing for the big meal. I cannot take all of the credit as the original recipe comes from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook, but I have made it my own.

Corn and Basil Pudding

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
5 cups frozen corn (or fresh off the cob if you can get it]
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil (or 1 Tbsp dried)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 cup (6 ounces) grated cheddar cheese (Or a blend of cheddar and mozzarella. Be sure add a generous amount to sprinkle on top)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease the inside of an 8 to 10-cup baking dish.
Melt butter in large pan and saute the corn and onion over medium-high heat for about four minutes. Cool slightly. Whisk together the eggs, milk, and half-and-half in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Then add the ricotta. Add the basil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Add the sauteed corn mixture and grated cheddar. Pour into the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with remaining grated cheddar.

Place the dish in a larger pan and fill the pan 1/2 way up the sides of the dish with hot tap water. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until a golden brown. Insert knife in the center. It should result with a clean knife. Serve warm.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Renaissance Man

Congratulations to Serge Laville for finding one of his beautiful wines on the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of the World list for 2006! Spring Valley's Uriah - 2003 from the Walla Walla Valley was given a place of 25 on the top 100 list.

A couple months ago we dined with Serge, his wife Madeleine and their adorable daughter Claire at the Laville home in Walla Walla, and he was generous with this outstanding Uriah. It is an elegant St-Emilion-style blend, mostly Merlot backed with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, harmonious with flavors of plum, chocolate and cherry, and a never-ending finish. When he originally reviewed the '03 Uriah for the Wine Spectator back in May, critic Harvey Steiman called the wine "supple, generous and beautifully structured to show off its currant, plum and blackberry flavors, gently supported by ultrarefined tannins to let the finish go on and on. " We agree!

But that night with Serge and his family was when I discovered that he is truly a Renaissance Man. Born and raised in France, Serge studied wine with Marie Laure Slyvestre for 10 years, then decided to visit the United States and become a wine tourist, toting just a knapsack and a camera. In 2000, his journey eventually brought him to Walla Walla and fortunately for us, he made Walla Walla his home.

The moment we walked through the Laville's front door we were on a journey of discovery ourselves, finding out about the many talents and skills of this gifted yet humble man. For starters, Serge is remodeling their charming 1940s style home, including some gorgeous tile and woodwork in the still-unfinished kitchen. But over the course of the evening we learned that winemaking and carpentry are just two among many crafts Serge has mastered.

From the first bite of the appetizers of foi gras on toast and asparagus with proscuitto served with Mumms Champagne to the last bite of the beautifully arranged dessert, we found out that he is an accomplished Chef as well. Indeed, Serge and Madeleine hosted us to a feast. Besides the wonderful appetizers we dined on perfectly prepared scallops, succulent beef and Roquefort-covered green beans. Later came individual fruit and cheese plates, and last but not least was a pyramid of chocolate mousse covered with a pink raspberry coating. Besides the food being heaven to the taste buds, the presentation on the plates were picture perfect -- very detailed.

Serge made sure ideally matched wine flowed through our meal. We tasted Christophe Baron's (Cayuse Vineyards) private-stock of Grenache Rose, Spring Valley's Marguaux-style Frederick blend (one of my favorites), Spring Valley's 100% Cabernet Sauvignon called Derby, a split of Forgeron Cellars Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, and of course the Uriah. Then Serge asked us to sample a split of Spring Valley Petit Verdot, and we all enjoyed a wine from Serge's childhood home, a bottle of Cotes du Rhone. The party extended well past the meal!

Not only is Serge a winemaker, chef and a artist-carpenter, he is a talented photographer, a hobbyist of remote-controlled autos and planes, and a conservationist. He recycles cooking grease (but only the finest grease -- from 26 Brix, in fact) into a clean smooth liquid source to power his diesel Mercedes.

As we were leaving the Laville home during the wee hours of the morning, Serge opened his refrigerator door to show us balls of pizza dough he had made earlier. He tossed me a ball of dough to take home and Madeleine gave me a bundle of fresh basil from their herb garden.

The next evening we were going to the home of Gilles Nicault of Long Shadows and Marie-Eve Gilla of Forgeron Cellars and I remembered I had the pizza dough and fresh basil in my fridge. Spur of the moment, I turned it into a pissaladière (French pizza ) with Fontina cheese, carmelized onions, black olives and lots of fresh basil. If I do say so myself, the toppings were perfect but it was the crust that gets the credit.

Again, congratulations to Serge and Spring Valley for the honor of making the Wine Spectator's list of the best 100 wines in the world for 2006. Thousands of wines are made across the globe, but only the best of the best of the best make the Top 100. Serge, who has been head winemaker at Spring Valley for just three years, has a long future ahead of him in the wine industry -- if he wants it. He's got so many other talents, he could make all kinds of Top 100 lists!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

November Cherry Pick

I know -- I know. I didn't blog an October Cherry Pick (Hey - I was busy moving and reorganizing my life!), but if I had I would have chosen SYZYGY Syrah - 2004. This is one of the many outstanding local wines we tasted at Entwine in October! Entwine is a wine tasting, dinner and auction supporting the Walla Walla arts, wine, and education sponsored by the Walla Walla Community College Foundation and held at the Marcus Whitman Hotel.

If you haven't been to Entwine it is the place to taste great wines, eat good food as well as have the opportunity to bid on fantastic wines, art, trips and packages you might not find any place else.

Kelsey and Zach of SYZYGY have located the big, the bold and only the beautiful fruit from some of the best Syrah vineyards in the Columbia Valley. This yummy dark Syrah was aged in 100% French oak with only 20% of it being new barrels, which explains the subtle oak in this wine. There was just enough oak to round out the wine and not interfere with the spicy cherry and deep berry flavors.

Like any good "cherry pick" worth picking, I would definitely not wait on buying this wine. Pretty limited and it will go fast! While you out during Holiday Barrel Tasting in December, don't forget to check out SYZYGY's new tasting room at the Airport.

(Kelsey Harmon for Sheriff 2010!)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Are Tasting Room Fees On The Way?

According to an article in the fall issue of Wine Press Northwest, fees to taste wine have become the norm in California winery tasting rooms. Is this the future for tasting rooms at Washington wineries, too? So far, Washington is almost free of tasting fees, except a few wineries are charging tasting fees for reserve wines and during some event weekends. Will tasting fees become a way of life as wine tourism in Washington State keeps growing?

I have been in retail now for almost 30 years, and one thing I've learned is that while retail items change, customers do not. I believe in customer service; we cannot sell our products without it. Yet over the past six months I have noticed there seems to be an increase in abuse of wine-tasting etiquette. This behavior can even make the best retailer wince as wine tasters walk through the doors.

My personal opinion is I hope we do not see Walla Walla wineries start charging tasting fees, but if and when they do I think I will understand why. It's not about making extra money. Down in California, tasting room fees were born because many browsers considered free wine tastings as a free "Happy Hour."

Who are these "Happy Hour" people? Are they happy? You bet they are happy --- and sometimes they can be very aggressive with rubber tongues. It can be a large group (six or more) who show up just before closing time and want to drink and socialize with each other. Often by the time they visit the last winery in a day of wine-tasting they are buzzed. This isn't just my experience; tasting-room colleagues from other wineries tell me they all see the same behavior. And just when you think you have heard or seen it all, someone surprises you. There was the man who complained that we didn't pour him a half glass of wine and the taste we did pour was not enough (it was at least worth four sips - enough to understand the nuances of the wine), but he also forgot what wine varietal we did pour for him.

Many the aggressive customer been irritated with me because I didn't have every vintage and varietal of wine that we sell opened for him or her to taste. Wineries do reserve the right to the wines they want to open for free tasting. Besides, that right cuts down on costs and those costs the winery can give back to their customers. In fact, the perfect example of cutting costs and giving back to the customers is not charging a tasting fee. Hey, think about it - where else can you taste something for free before you purchase? There isn't a lot of places.

Another thing to consider after a day of wine tasting is your taste buds. I consider myself a fairly savvy wine taster. My palette has been educated (that sounds snooty, doesn't it?) and sometimes after I have tasted more than six wines, even my palette can become fatigued.

Large groups can be too busy socializing to even listen to the tasting room attendents talk about a particular wine that is being poured. Recently, a woman in our tasting room leaned against the tasting room bar with her back towards me while I talked about the wine I was pouring. With her back to my face, she reached her arm behind her with glass in hand and tapped on the bar for me to pour her another glass of wine. She was too busy visiting with her friends to even find out what wine I was pouring for her. I could have poured from the spit bucket and she would not have known.

If you would like to be a good guest at a winery, the rules are pretty basic and not a lot to remember:

1. Be conscientious about your intake of alcohol. Learn to spit or pace yourself when visiting wineries. Remember: your objective in wine tasting is discover a great new wine or learn more about wines -- not to get drunk for free.

2. Don't wear fragances (yes, men - that also means you and your aftershaves) or use lotions with strong fragrances while wine tasting. Especially if it is a fragrance that we use every day, our noses become somewhat immune to the strength of the fragrance so we have a tendency to spray more fragrance on. Fragrances interfere not only with your own senses of smell and taste but also with those of the people around you. Nobody wants their wine glass of aromatic Syrah to taste like Ralph Lauren Polo or Evyan White Shoulders. The same goes for smokers -- try to leave about 20 minutes between your last cigarette and your first taste of wine.

I would like to see more education produced by wineries and wine alliances for wine lovers. And we could learn a thing or two from our southern neighbors -- California has this tasting room thing down; they have been doing it for years. The wineries in Washington are mere babies when it comes to managing the tasting-room environment. This time, instead of following California and applying tasting fees, let's learn from them and work on tasting-room etiquette so we can avoid those tasting fees. I want to continue to serve every customer that comes in our tasting room the same way I always have, but as a tasting-room attendent I need a little help from my customers. Let's make visiting wineries a positive experience for everyone.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Rule #3: Whatever you do, do not drink from the spit bucket.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Walla Walla French Winemakers Are News Worthy!

Once again, Walla Walla's French winemakers are in the news and once again the news is saying that Walla Walla wines rank with the world's best.

In the new Fall issue of Mid-Columbian, an Eastern Washington magazine, there is an article titled "People of the Terroir." It is about the French winemakers who have settled in the Walla Walla Valley and how they have contributed to making the valley's wine some of the best in the world (Ahem - the author of the article I have a fondness for. He also wrote an article about French winemakers, "The French Touch" for the Economist). If you haven't picked up a copy of the Mid-Columbian magazine, I recommend that you do. It is the second issue for this new beautiful glossy magazine with articles centered around Eastern Washington's local attractions, activities, and events. Also featuring local people, restaurants, wineries, shops, hotels, and even their homes.

KXLY - Channel 4 (ABC) from Spokane features an article on their website, along with the video that was aired on the news. If you click on the video and take a glance you might find your favorite Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman Blogger in the video. KXLY focuses on the wines, grapes and the French winemakers from Walla Walla.§ion_id=559&story_id=6027

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