Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Winding Down the Walla Walla Vine - 2008

As always, I was blessed with the opportunity to share with friends and family good food and especially good wines from the Walla Walla Valley during this holiday season. And along with a beautiful and extensive selection of wines, "Raclette" has become a standing Christmas Eve tradition for us.

What is Raclette? Of course, raclette is a semi-firm cow's cheese originating from Switzerland and also produced in certain regions of France. Typically the round of cheese is heated in front of a fire and then scraped onto diners' plates. The term, raclette derives from the French racler, meaning "to scrape." Traditionally, raclette is accompanied by small potatoes, smoked meats and sausages, mushrooms, peppers, onions and we also enjoy zucchini.

Now - - I don't place the cheese in front of a fire nor do I build a camp fire outside like the Swiss cow herders use to do. Thank goodness there is a modern way of serving raclette that involves an specially-made electric table-top grill with small pans, known as "coupelles," to heat slices of raclette cheese in. I have a large island in my kitchen and it is a perfect set-up for the raclette grill. To the island I bring a platter of sliced cheeses, such as raclette and other semi-firm Swiss and French cheeses. Other platters of food such as a platter of smoked meats and sausages and a platter of raw vegetables to be grilled. Accompanied is a bowl of steamed baby red potatoes. Also, cornichons (gherkins) and other pickled vegetables make a nice accent.

My guests create their own plates by cooking small amounts of meat and vegetables on the grill, while coupelles filled with cheese are placed under the grill to melt and get all toasty and bubbly. The melted cheese may be poured over the potatoes or over all of the food on the plate. This is one of the things I love - everyone gets to create their own!

No matter how fancy of a table I set in the dining room, it seems like eventually everyone is drawn to the kitchen. It's the kitchen that becomes the social spot. So, the art of raclette at one end of the kitchen island and a large assortment of wine at the other end makes this style of dining relaxed and sociable and often running into several hours.

~~ ~~~ ~~

There are many new and wonderful Walla Walla wines that I was able to imbide in during this holiday season and one of them was Saviah Cellars Malbec - 2006 (and in the days ahead I will continue to write about more wines).

I am always so drawn to a cluster of "berries in a bottle" that I know is the result of Walla Walla soil. The Saviah Cellars Malbec started in silt-loam soil from the McClellan Estate Vineyard located in the Walla Walla Valley appellation. The nose was sweet and reminded me of blackberry jelly spread on a graham cracker. However, the palate graduated for me from the days of being a kid eating the treat of jelly and crackers to an elegant blackberry cobbler. The Malbec was rich and concentrated like the filling of a oven-baked cobbler with a spicy, but not overwhelming, finish of cinnamon and nutmeg. This bottle of Saviah Cellars didn't disappoint me, as it had everything that I look for in a Malbec.

If you're not quite captured and mesmerized to a cluster of Walla Walla "berries in a bottle" like I am, then the beautifully colored and artistic label from Saviah Cellars will surely draw you to this wine.

Here's to a year of peace and may you prosper - Peace, Paix, Paz, Shalom!

Monday, December 29, 2008

College Cellars of Walla Walla: Clarke's Blend - 2005

Opening a bottle of wine is like opening a scrapbook. Wine can tell a story: from the label on the bottle to the nose and palate of the splendid nectar. I think there is no other intoxicating liquid quite like wine that has the power to wrap us in remembrances and recollections.

Wine is meant to share with others and I wanted just the right moment to share the new bottle of Clarke’s Blend – 2005. You see, it was a limited bottling by the students of College Cellars. Only 70 cases were made of this one-time release and it was offered by invitation only. This special blend was dedicated to Stan Clarke, former Associate Director at the Center for Enology and Viticulture at WWCC.

It was a year ago at Stan Clarke’s memorial service that I remember Stan’s wife, Dr. Carol Clarke, shared with us their last Thanksgiving together. Dr. Clarke told the crowd how on Thanksgiving Stan had commented that the upcoming Christmas was going to be the best one ever. However, Stan died a week after that Thanksgiving on November 29, 2007. I thought this year’s Christmas, with a house full of family and friends, would be the perfect time to share a bottle of Clarke’s Blend – 2005 (Bottle No. 0398).

The blend of 64% Merlot and 36% Cabernet Sauvignon truly stood out amongst the many exceptional wines we shared throughout the evening. The nose reminded me of Christmas candy, of jellied orange slices, chocolate covered cherries and creamy vanilla centered chocolate bon-bons that I often found in my Christmas stocking. More chocolate, cherries and vanilla came through on the palate and rested on the tongue like silky milk chocolate. The tannins were firm, but not overwhelming. Everyone commented it was their favorite wine of the evening.

Clarke’s Blend - 2005 was produced from the first crop of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon planted under the direction of our late mentor and friend. As we sipped the red blend from the Walla Walla Valley, I recalled to my guests my personal memory of planting the first crop of Merlot

It was the first winter of the program and Stan Clarke was our new instructor. The ground had just barely thawed and Stan had us out in the late afternoon until early dark measuring and staking out what would be the first vineyard for the Center for Enology & Viticulture. Besides being a full-time student, I was working two jobs: my Mon-Fri office job and my weekend job at a winery. I shared with Stan that I had almost zero time to plant my portion of the vineyard that was to be completed on our own time during our week of finals. He asked me what a smart business woman and vineyard owner would do, faced with a deadline, to get her vineyard planted? I told him “she” would hire out. Stan said it sounded like a wise solution to him.

So, I “hired” a couple of fellow students to dig the holes where my assigned portion of the new vineyard was. The pay-off for them was a sweet deal as they were paid with bottles of wine and I was able to squeeze in some early morning time to plant my vines instead of digging holes. I knew how to dig holes, but I wanted the opportunity to plant the young Merlot rootstocks. It was important for me to tuck in those young vines and cover them with the blanket of soil.

This Christmas Eve I felt a huge connection with the first crop of Merlot that went into this bottle of Clarke’s Blend. But most of all, that evening I felt a connection to a friend - - my “wine guru.”
To you, Stan.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

This is one of my favorite Christmas songs and especially when it is sung by the angelic voice of the young Judy Garland. My other favorite Christmas song is "White Christmas," sung by Bing Crosby. However, we won't be dreaming of a white Christmas this year as this is no dream here people - our white Christmas is real! About two feet of real and growing...

My wish for all of you is to have yourself Merry Little Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah, as well as a safe and peaceful holiday. And may Santa or Hanukkah Harry fill a few bare spots in your wine cellar during this magical week of holidays.

Peace, Paix, Paz, Shalom!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Of Heart Attacks and Hysterectomies and Unforgotten Youth

Last Friday I spent the evening with two old friends - actually friends I had known since junior high. They were high school sweethearts and after college they eventually married and I was the maid of honor for their wedding.

In the year of 1975, I was maid of honor for three weddings. At the time I was beginning to think, "Always the bride’s maid and never the bride." And out of those three weddings, the "high school sweethearts" happen to be the only couple still married - - over 30 years now.

You see, that day was a bitter-sweet event. Sweet for the evening of being with old friends while sharing memories and catching up on family news. But, bitter for the day that brought us together for a memorial service for one of their parents.

That evening, we talked of family trips when we were teenagers. She went with us on our family summer trips to Montana and I went with her family to their cabin in the Wallowas. After my own father had died, her father was very kind to me. At the time, he was president of the school board and when he had to attend a meeting in Seattle, he and his wife would include me so I could visit and stay with their daughter, my friend, who was going to college in Seattle.

We shared our memories over delivery pizza and wine: rock concerts of Jethro Tull, Grateful Dead, CSN & Y and Maria Muldaur. We commented, how the middle-aged often do, about the changing world remembering when there was a day we would pick up other concert-going hitchhikers in our friend’s VW van and now, he wouldn’t think of picking up a stranger in his Subaru SUV. We laughed at how we would torture our older siblings, especially the professional violinist sister and how we made coyote calls of "yip-yip-yip-yeeeooowwww" whenever she was practicing.

We talked about our current life. Me, starting my life over after a divorce and her current frustrations of being diagnosed with a crippling disease. The three of us chatted of our personal experiences of heart attacks and hysterectomies, but how our brains were still in the mode of free spirited youths.

And during our time together, we realized it was an evening that was no different than the many we shared together in our youth over delivery pizza and wine - except with one very distinct difference - the wine. Those days of Spanada and Annie Green Springs are long behind us as we shared bottles of Forgeron Cellars Klipsun Vineyard Merlot and Woodward Canyon Estate Red.

If we couldn't have our youthful bodies back and some of those idealistic times, at least it was the wine that changed for the better.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lowden Hills - "See You There" Syrah!

When I first saw the label and even before the wine was bottled, I told Sonja and Jim Henderson, owners of Lowden Hills Winery, I had to have this wine! You see, the label is one of those great labels that tells a story - - in fact, a story about a strong woman. And one could say this label is about another Walla Walla Wine Woman.

Susanne Estes, Sonja's mom is on the label. The photo was taken back in the 1940's during World War II in Norway. Susanne is perched upon the Model A Ford and waving, "See you there!" During the war, if one was fortunate enough to have a vehicle, they had to hide them in the mountains from Hitler and his armies.

“See You There Syrah” is a tribute to Susanne and other strong women of character and charm like her. And just like women with strong character and charm, this wine is complex. The addition of Viognier makes this Syrah reminiscent of the traditional and fine Côte-Rôtie’s from the Rhone region of France.

This Syrah is produced from 100% Walla Walla Valley grapes from the Win Chester Vineyards, which is Lowden Hill's Estate Vineyard in the Lowden area about a mile northwest on Woodward Canyon Road. The land is family owned and named to honor Sonja’s mom, Susanne and Susanne's late husband Win Chester Estes. Win was a well respected wheat farmer with a true pioneering spirit, whose family homesteaded in the Clyde area of Walla Walla County in the 1860’s.

And how does the wine taste? Does it complete the story? Once the cork is removed, the aroma of caramelized sugar wafts from the bottle. In the glass this Syrah is inky, showing shades of black and dark purple. The nose is full and lush like a bowl of fresh picked blueberries. The flavor follows through with more blueberries and a hint of creamy espresso. These flavors continue and once again picks up juicy and mouth-watering dark berry flavors. It continues to linger leaving a spicy finish of cloves and nutmeg.

“See You There” Syrah is a memorable wine just like Susanne and other women like her.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting - The Aftermath

Take one magazine editor, two viticulture/enology students and - - me! Then toss all four into a SUV with a map of the Walla Walla wineries and it becomes the recipe for a journey. There was really no schedule or list that one had to adhere to. The day was meant for an adventure and indeed it was.

Some of the wineries we visited were my reliable and go-to wineries who never fail to bring my palate pleasure. Other wineries, we may have tasted the wines, but had never visited the winery and for the enology/viticulture students, many of the wines and wineries were all new to them! Here is a summary of the highlights from every winery we visited during Barrel Tasting Weekend:

Forgeron Cellars: The single vineyard Merlot - 2004, made with Klipsun fruit from Red Mountain AVA really gave me a happy mouth. Big and bright! The Orange Muscat - 2007 was a nice treat and appropriately paired with little "MEGS" - tiny nibbles of gingerbread women named after winemaker, Marie-Eve Gilla.

Lowden Hills: A lifesaver in this economy, Lowden Hills offers many affordable and tasty wines produced by owner and winemaker, Jim Henderson. The real show stopper for the weekend was the "See You There" Syrah - 2005. It's a serious wine that demands attention, besides a beautiful presentation (more on this wine in a future blog).

Kontos Cellars: If you had an opportunity to barrel sample their powerful Malbec and if that doesn't get you to join their future wine club, then I don't know what will. While I had toured their new facility a few weeks before, I still wanted to check out the final touches that Kelli Kontos (wife of Chris) had envisioned for their winery. From the label to the brilliant green walls to the final splashes of well appointed black and white - it's beautiful, Kelli!

Mannina Cellars: Does one ever really need an excuse to go visit Nicole and Don? Their new winery is beautiful and especially festive this time of the year with Nicole's special holiday touches. Anybody who reads my blog knows that Don's wines are some of my favorites. The barrel sampling of Cabernet was so aromatic and delicious, I wanted to roll the whole barrel home.

Trust Cellars: It was a must that my friends, who are students of enology/viticulture at WWCC, meet Steve Brooks and have an opportunity to taste his wines. We sampled from the barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon and were able to compare it with the current and very bold and intense 2005 Cabernet. Equally as rich. It was great catching up with Lori Brooks. The shared parking lot of Trust Cellars and Chateau Rollat gave us a sunny and colorful view of the Blue Mountains.

Chateau Rollat: Earlier this summer, I had tasted through their very ageworthy red beauties but winemaker and old friend, Mike Golden kept telling me I needed to taste the Ardenvoir Semillon he was pouring. But - - but, Semillon is not one of my favorite grapes. Bowin Lindgren, owner and winemaker of Chateau Rollat said, "Did you taste the Semillon? You have to taste the Ardenvoir Semillion - 2007!" I was told by both Mike and Bowin that I would love it. With some arm twisting, I finally tasted the bight yellow wine. Pineapple! Starfruit! Honey! I loved it!

Glen Fiona: I was surprised to see a "Claret," as Rhone-style wines have typically come out of this winery. In fact the Claret had also won some very nice medals. Also offered was a good solid Viognier. Standing in front of the winery, the view was large and the Blue Mountains wrapped around us.

Gifford Hirlinger: A couple of years ago, I had a bottle of their first Stateline Red - 2003. On Stateline Road, you can just see the winery roof, but once we turned into the graveled stoop, all four of us let out "ooo's" and "ahhh's" The winery structure was unexpected, yet extremely attractive.

We relaxed in front of the outdoor fireplace while watching the sunset that the Berghan family told us they "made" just for us. Chewy and Charlie, their Border Collies, kept us company as we sipped on a show stopper of a wine - The L.V. - 2006. Much to our surprise, the L.V. is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley - yes, you read this right - - Napa Valley from California with 10% Merlot from their estate vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. Wow!

VaPiano: The winery was packed and of course, the tasting room staff had been on their feet all day. But in spite of it all, Kathleen Powers, tasting room manager and her staff had to be one the friendliest tasting rooms (Kirsten Telander - left photo) we encountered - - and they were always smiling! The winery is beautiful, scenic and it seems remote especially with a sundown in the distance. The outside patio is inviting while guests were bundled around it. It was the exquisite VaPiano Cabernet Sauvignon that kept me warm.

And then - - we ran out of time, and it's okay. Because after all, we are the lucky ones as we live in the Walla Walla Valley and can take in this wealth of wine, talented people, and the beautiful scenery that surrounds us any time we want.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

On Dragonfly Wings - Kontos Cellars

Kontos Cellars, with their elegant black label adorned with a dragonfly, takes their first official flight this upcoming Barrel Tasting Weekend.

Brothers, Chris and Cameron Kontos are no strangers to the wine industry. Their father, Cliff Kontos is co-owner of Fort Walla Walla Cellars and Cameron (photo) is the winemaker's assistant at Forgeron Cellars. With these deep vines already planted, this team of brothers are off to a great start as Chris will be manage the business and of course, Cameron will produce the wines.

A few weeks ago, Cameron invited me to their new winery for a tour and just as important, to taste their wines. Their winery is located in one of the brand new buildings located at the Port of Walla Walla winery incubators on Piper Avenue at the airport. The yellow butter-cream exterior is welcoming and the interior is lively and bright, yet presents touches of elegance from their black and white labels.

At this time, the wines are bottled under two different labels - Kontos Cellars and LeeVeLooLee. Single varieties, such as their Merlot and Syrah are labeled with the Kontos family name and blends will be bottled with the LeeVeLooLee label. Okay - - so, how do the wines taste?

To sum it up - smooth, silky, well-defined, keeping with varietal character and just like their labels - - elegant. I know - I seem to be using that word a lot, but when you see the labels and taste the wine - - you’ll understand.

"Gossamer" - 2007 is a white blend of 67% Chardonnay and 33% Viognier. However, when you place your nose to the bowl, you would think the blends are opposite. The Viognier immediately unleases notes of floral and stone fruit. Trust me, this blend is going to sell fast and so fast that you will only be able to buy it directly from the winery.

The fruit for the Kontos Cellars Syrah - 2006 comes from Boushey Vineyard in Columbia Valley. Dick Boushey is known for being one of the finest growers of Syrah in Washington State and Kontos Cellars knows how to show off this fruit. It screams food! While tasting it, I told Cameron that the glass of inky purple liquid made me hungry for a piece of bloody prime rib - - and I usually don't order my prime rib rare, but I was craving it with every sip of Syrah. Cameron knew exactly what I was referring to as he commented the Kontos Cellars Syrah was "meaty." Tones of ripe blueberries were also very visible.

Ahhh - - Alatus. The LeeVeLooLee Alatus (species name: means “with wings") 2006 is a 1/3 blend of each: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. I could have sipped this blend all night! Ummm...and I did... for a few hours, anyway. Notes of chocolate covered cherries, dark cocoa and licorice were dancing in my glass. It was luscious and rich. I also tasted their Merlot - 2006, but Cam tells me the Merlot will not be released until Spring of '09. So, we'll save those notes for later.

Traditionally, the dragonfly is the symbol of transformation and life's ever-constant process of change. I think the dragonfly is a fitting symbol for the Kontos brother's new adventure. It will be exciting to watch them transform fruit to wine with the ever-constant change of the vintages, as well as their own transformation and exciting changes for many years to come.

Best wishes Chris and Cameron!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Holiday Barrel Tasting in Walla Walla - Dec 4 - 7

Yup, it's here. The Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting is this weekend and what can I say about this event that hasn’t already been said? In fact, this is almost a repeat from what I blogged last year regarding this festive Walla Walla wine occasion. This is truly the one time of the year that the "angels" won't be blamed for taking their share of the barrel.

What's really cool this year is, not only the Winemaker's Fete will kick off the event on Thursday evening, but Friday evening this town is going to be rocking - from the various wine club events, a wine dinner by one of Bravo TV's Top Chef and even great music! On Friday night, one of my favorite blues artists, Lloyd Jones (of Lloyd Jones Struggle - Portland, Or) will be singing live and unplugged at Sapolil Cellars, downtown Walla Walla with former lead singer/harmonica player from Roomful of Blues, Mark DuFresne. Do I dare say this will be an evening you can "rock out with your cork out."?

And New York City isn't the only place to see a Macy's parade - the Macy’s 13th annual Parade of Lights is this Saturday at 6pm. The parade travels down Alder starting from Palouse Street and back to Main from Fifth Street. If this parade doesn't get you in the holiday spirit, then nothing will - but bundle up. It's often pretty chilly.

For more information about this exciting weekend in Walla Walla, definitely check out Walla Walla Wine Alliance and their handy and printable information sheet listing participating wineries, hours and tasting fees. Heather at Walla Walla Wine News gives a summary of local wineries and also the many Barrel Tasting events, as well as other holiday season events in Walla Walla.

So how will you survive such a busy weekend? My first suggestion is to relax and have a good time. Seriously - r-e-l-a-x. Put your cell phone on voice mail and don't be looking at your watch all the time, especially if you are standing in a line to buy or taste wine. Seriously - that wine isn't going anywhere and there's plenty of it. You give good karma and good karma will find you.

The mornings you have planned to go wine tasting, eat a hearty breakfast and hydrate-hydrate-hydrate! Hydrate with H2O all day! Don't forget to take the time through the day to have a nosh here and there. Many of the wineries will be serving lunch throughout the day for a small fee, so take advantage of these delicious offerings.

Also learn how to spit and get comfortable spitting. And don't make it a goal to visit a dozen or more wineries in one day and then taste through all of their wines. The point of these events is to "taste" the wine and to remember what you tasted...ahem. It's always a good idea to have a designated driver, but having a designated driver doesn't mean you have to deaden your tastebuds. Often, by your sixth winery visit, your taste buds become a bit fatigued and fuzzy. So the 35th wine you tasted that day and thought was so delicious, may taste a whole lot different the next time you taste it on a fresh palate - -

And besides, give yourself a reason to come back to Walla Walla. Cheers and have a wonderful time!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Obligatory Thanksgiving Wine Pairing

Now, I told myself I wasn’t going to blog about it – naa-aah. Not me. No way this year. I was not going to tell my readers what wines make for a perfect pairing with their Thanksgiving turkey. I mean we’ve been reading about it for years from the LA Times to the Seattle Times to the New York Times and back to the LA Times, again. And let's not forget the glossies - perfectly poised and basted birds on the covers of food and wine magazines and between their pages are "perfect wine pairing" suggestions. And needless to say, there's usually a big shiny wine photo advertising the chosen wine pairing suggestion. Whooaaaa - what a coincidence that the ad manager chose the same wine as the wine writer!

Unfortunately, I fell – I fell to the peer pressure of my fellow wine bloggers reminding me it was time - - time to give out my suggestions for Thanksgiving wine pairings. So here I am. Now, for several years it seemed to me that everyone got stuck in a rut when it came to the perfect wine pairing for their Butterball or else they bought into the rant of the fictitious character from the movie, "Sideways." I can't tell you how many wine message boards I have read where someone would ask about turkey and wine pairing and the standard answer was always, "Pinot Noir - - the only wine to serve with turkey." And on one of those wine message boards, I was told I was "wine-ignorant" for suggesting a crisp dry French rose' for Thanksgiving. And let's not forget - -

The marketing scheme of Georges Duboeuf and his annual Beaujolais Nouveau "phenomenon" - - a bottle of young Gamay produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It's fermented for just a few weeks and the new vintage is officially released for sale on the third Thursday of November. The young Gamay production can be traced back to the 19th century, but became a marketing tradition since 1985. Off the distributors will race to see who will bring the first bottles of the vintage to their markets. And what a coincidence that it falls just a few days before the American Thanksgiving! In fact, today is "Beaujolais Nouveau Day 2008!"

So you ask, "Well Miss Smarty-Pants-Walla-Walla-Wine-Blogger-Woman," what wines are you going to recommend to pair with my Thanksgiving meal? My recommendation for the perfect food and wine pairing for your Thanksgiving table is: choose your favorite wines and be conscious about how many carbon footprints you take = go local!

Thanksgiving is about friends, family and giving thanks – who cares what some "big-city" magazine or newspaper says you should be drinking with your holiday meal! Open your favorites and open many! If Uncle John Pilgrim wants a Cabernet Sauvignon with his turkey and Aunt Priscilla Pilgrim would prefer an off-dry Riesling - - it's all good! This is the best time to enjoy and share your favorite wines with your loved ones.

Also, think local. Okay, so I will bring out that bottle of French rose' I've been hanging onto for a few months and I will bring out a few bottles of Spanish Cava for the sparkling factor, but the majority of the wines at our table will be local - - wines produced in the Walla Walla Valley.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Four Wine Questions For: Erika Strum

Welcome to my fourth interview in my 4WQ4 blog feature. If you are not familiar, this is an article where I ask four Q&A’s with a “celebrity” in the wine industry. And it just so happens, since we are coming to the end of the year – only four features a year seems appropriate – a “Quarterly Four Wine Questions For: - - a Q4WQ4:?

One could say that Erika Strum was born with a silver corkscrew… and if the last name Strum sounds familiar to you, yes - - her father is Adam Strum, publisher and editor of the Wine Enthusiast Magazine located in Mt. Kisco, New York – 30 minutes outside of Manhattan. But Strum knows all too well what it’s like to start and work in the wine business from the ground floor. When she was a 21-year old newbie she hosted winery tours and led tourists through wine tastings in Napa Valley and later she would be involved in retail sales for a large wine store.

Erika Strum is now the Internet Marketing Manager at the Wine Enthusiast Companies. The Wine Enthusiast Companies, founded in 1979, started as a direct mail business featuring wine accessories. In 1988 Wine Enthusiast Magazine was founded and is now one of the world’s largest periodicals devoted to wine and spirits. They also founded the “Toast of the Town,” a premier wine tasting event located in four cities throughout the US. Erika is involved in all divisions of the business from online marketing through email marketing plus editing and writing for the UnReserved blogs and Winstons’ Wisdoms, the catalog blog.

When Strum isn’t working on search engine optimization, writing company online articles and managing the company’s internet marketing, in her spare time she's been studying for her WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) and completed her Advanced Certification. She also writes about wine and food on her own personal blog at StrumErika. I also found out she is fluent in French! That always comes in handy when it comes to wine - -

W5: Most wine lovers have picked up a copy of the familiar Wine Enthusiast Magazine or ran across the online version. The print magazine is a beautiful glossy featuring the best of wine and spirits, covering old world to new world wine regions including wine education, food and travel. How did it all happen for your family and at what point did you make your entrance into the family business?

ES: The story of how the family got started is sort of a sweet one. My Dad was doing wine sales for Gallo and my Mom was a commercial producer. Soon after getting married they were at a dinner party and the household they were at was missing a corkscrew. A light bulb went off and they figured, perhaps this could be a great business idea. They started working in the attic of our old house and launched the first catalog which was only a handful of pages of wine accessories. They took a pretty big risk, not knowing how big the wine market really was, and it paid off. The business began to grow over the years and a decade later they expanded to the magazine. The tricky thing is that wine has really expanded beyond the niche market that it once was. As more people offer wine accessories and wine reviews we have to determine how to separate ourselves from the pack.

I started in the business three years ago after working at an SEO firm. I put off joining the family biz for a bit after college. For some reason it felt like joining the company was the easy way out. I wanted to earn a spot in the company and bring some additional skills beyond a typical entry-level kid. Now that I’m here, I’m not goin’ anywhere!

W5: Right up front Erika, I have to ask you - - what you know about Walla Walla wines? You live in New York, so I know that our wines are not your focus nor are they easily accessible! But I have to say that I have read a many a good review about the wines from Walla Walla, WA in the Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

ES: In terms of Walla Walla wines—that’s a tricky one! I’ll admit that my experience with Washington wines is limited though I traveled to Seattle last year when my Dad was speaking at Taste Washington. We spent some time at Chateau Ste Michelle and at a couple of tastings throughout the conference and I sampled some nice Rieslings, Syrahs, and Cabernets. (W5: I’ll bet Erika will be paying a bit more attention to the wines of Walla Walla now.)

W5: Lately, several members of the wine media, including another wine magazine, has been criticizing the recent growing movement of independent wine bloggers aka “self appointed wine critics.” How do you see yourself in the middle of all of this, especially since you are so involved in internet marketing and owner of a personal wine blog?

ES: There are so many things to discuss but I guess there has been quite a bit of buzz lately about glossies vs. blogs and the idea of people being more empowered to rate wines themselves. People wonder if critics feel threatened by this new influx of reviewers (bloggers) out there and I think ultimately vilify previously established critics. I know that one of my biggest projects since starting at the Wine Enthusiast Companies has been to revise our buying guide, which is launching soon (fingers crossed). One of the major features it will have is the ability for online users to rate wines themselves, alongside the expert reviews. When I proposed this idea I was elated with how it was received. Our tasting panel was thirsty for the feature! They were excited to start hearing people’s opinions and in fact, said it was a feature they’d yearned for, for quite some time. I can’t speak to other publications but this is a sentiment I’ve felt around here a lot.

So I started getting into blogs with my personal blog, StrumErika. At my old SEO firm, a bunch of us started different blogs with various focuses. I started StrumErika doing mainly restaurants reviews and then throwing in some silly videos, and some basic wine knowledge stuff. Then I started at Wine Enthusiast and got involved in the Twitter wine community and started to make it really a restaurant/recipe/wine blog. I’m still trying to determine if I really need to pick one of those things, or if it’s OK to be all three. I try not to take it too seriously though.

I also handle the catalog blog which is called Winston’s Wisdoms. I write posts on wine storage, glassare, corkscrews and the like and also edit posts from contributors in various departments at the company. It’s a great outlet for us to dispel customer confusion about wine accessories and to show some expertise. We also have a group of blogs for the magazine called UnReserved written by Steve Heimoff, Mike Shachner, and our in-house editorial team. I do some writing and editing there as well.

W5: Erika, I have to be honest here – when it came to my last 4WQ4 for the year 2008, I had a list of two other people to interview - and both men! But it occurred to me – “Hey! The last three 4WQ4 interviews were with men! I keep preaching about the power of women in the wine industry and I need to practice what I preach.” And with that said, based on your own experiences Erika, how do you see women in the wine industry, whether it is a woman winemaker, wine writer or the woman behind the tasting room bar and are you seeing any advancement or do we have a long way to go to receive 100% acceptance?

ES: Ah, women in wine. I don’t think we have 100% acceptance and I do think it’s still a male dominated industry but I don’t blame anybody for that. Wine collecting, is sort of a masculine hobby. Masculinity often involves collecting and showing off. Think: baseball cards, comic books. By nature, it’s not a feminine trait. So in the past, men have been more involved in maintaining cellars and paying attention to reviews which in the past, were largely written by men. But nowadays, studies have shown that the women are the ones purchasing wine for the household and women are getting into collecting too. The female consumer is becoming more important and who better to target women than a woman? We also can’t forget Jancis Robinson and lots of new female bloggers emerging on the scene, so I see things changing. At the magazine we have three female critics on staff: Monica Larner, Susan Kostrzewa, and Lauren Buzzeo.

I took a trip recently to Bedell Cellars in Long Island where I met their new female winemaker, Kelly Urbanik, who is a young woman my age. The oenology program at UC Davis is now 50% women, for the first time. I caught up with Kim Stare Wallace last weekend who is an old friend of the family and the talent behind Dry Creek Vineyards. Another great one is my Mom! A lot of people aren’t aware that my Mom has always been an equal partner in the business, along with my Dad. There are countless examples. I think there’s hope, and it’s an exciting time for women in wine.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Malbec: Old Vines vs. New Vines

Malbec, known as one of the six red grapes allowed in a bottle of Bordeaux, has been found mostly in the Cahors region of Southwestern France. This dark and inky juiced grape was later introduced to Argentina in 1868. Often referred to as Côt in France, lost it's popularity in the 1950's when a frost devastated about 75% of the vineyards. However, Malbec remained the premier grape in Argentina and eventually found it's way to California and Washington and especially in Walla Walla, Washington.

If you have been keeping up with the 89 Project blog, I blogged an article for the project regarding aMaurice Cellars Malbec - 2005. aMaurice is a winery from the Walla Walla Valley and I actually craved this wine after the first sip at the winery. It was "s_w_o_o_n" worthy! I rationed my first bottle for three evenings and every evening it became more interesting. The color was an inky plum color and the nose wafted out dark fruit - reminding me of a treasured family recipe of huckleberry coffee cake made from the berries we picked during our summers in Montana. The other nice surprise was the finish - graham crackers! The second evening it was if the flavors built up and became even more intense but with dark deep cocoa added. The third evening, the intense flavors remained but with a pleasant bit of spice in the finish.

So as Teddy Roosevelt once said over a cup of coffee served to him in Nashville, Tennessee - - "it was good to the last drop." And unfortunately Dr. Jay Miller never asked my opinion about the wine, because Parker pointed it an 89 - only 89.

Last week, we celebrated the evening of the election with another Malbec - - one from Mendoza, Argentina. And to make this even more interesting, the Malbec fruit was hand picked from vines that were over 90 years old.

Gourlart Grand Vin Malbec was also a 2005 vintage like the Malbec from aMaurice Cellars. The color was a deep red. There wasn't quite an inkiness going on, but definite shades of violet came through in the color. At first I thought it had an extemely complex nose - it was almost difficult to define. Perhaps due to terroir that was not directly familiar to me? But later notes of ripe dark berries, chocolate and spice came out of the glass. The tannins were balanced and the acids were "juicy." I also picked up a familiar spiciness that was heavy on the oak - - in fact this wine had spent 14 months in 100% new French oak. I also noticed that in another year or six-months this wine would be needing some decanting - which is not a bad thing.

How did I feel about this particular Malbec from Argentina? It wasn't quite "s_w_o_o_n" worthy of the local Malbec, but it was definitely "crush" worthy (And remember, my "crush"worthy and "s_w_o_o_n" worthy may be different than your idea of "crush" worthy and "s_w_o_o_n" worthy). One very important thing: at first sip, I knew it was not of familiar terroir and would have almost guessed this Malbec to be a French wine.

While both wines are Malbecs and of the same vintage, it is very difficult to say which one is the better wine. It's all about taste and style - each wine bringing something different to the person savoring the liquid. Comparing the two wines could also depend on how you pair them with particular foods. The Goulart Grand Vin definitely screamed for some spicy foods such as Tex-Mex and Cajun influenced food. The aMaurice Cellars would be accented wonderfully with a charcuterie and/or cheese plate, or an herbal induced rich beef stew, beef stroganoff or even a tomato sauce enhanced pasta dish.

And when it came to points how did the Goulart Grand Vin - 2005 from Mendoza, Argentina with fruit picked from 90 year old vines compare with the aMaurice Cellars - 2005 from Walla Walla, WA picked from relatively newer vines? Well, the Wine Spectator gave the Goulart Grand Vin - - drum roll - - 89 points.

Now this is where you will allow me to jump up on my soap box. As we know, 89 points can kill the sale of a very delicious and well-made wine. Personally, I feel that those who over look a wine because it received a 89 are really missing out on some well-made and interesting wines. And for argument's sake, let's say if the Malbec from aMaurice Cellars received 90 or 91 points, some "narrow-pointed minded" people might over look the Goulart Grand Vin because of it's mere 89 points. Or if the Goulart Grand Vin received a 90 or 91, the aMaurice Cellars Malbec with it's 89 points could also be forsaken. How can you pit each wine against each other - it's like the flaw of the Oscars. How do you give an Oscar to the best movie of the year when your choices are a comedy, romance, western and a sci-fi? To sum it up - -

To choose one of these Malbecs over the other - - it can't be done because missing out on either wine - - well, you are just missing out - - period.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Stay Green - Dispose of Green

So after a weekend of tasting a lot of great Walla Walla wines from over 100 different wineries and after the wineries pour several bottles every week to all of their customers - what happens to the empty bottles?

Many Walla Walla wineries are now working with Walla Walla 2020 Recycling and recycling their own bottles and cardboard. While glass cannot be recycled in the City of Walla Walla's curbside home containers, clean green, brown and clear glass can be recycled at several special drop boxes. The locations for these bright yellow containers in Walla Walla are:

· City Service Center, 55 Moore Street at the end of the cul-de-sac on Moore Street
· Sudbury Road Landfill, near the scale house
· Fire Station No. 1, 12th Avenue and Poplar Street, in the southwest corner of the parking lot off Birch Street
· Fire Station No. 2, Wilbur Avenue and Tacoma Street, in the parking spot adjacent to the basketball court
· Walla Walla Recycling, Inc., 827 N. 12th Avenue

Also many thanks to Sonja and Jim at Lowden Hills Winery, who not only recycles their glass and cardboard to help make our community a little more green, but they also offer their customers and community to feel free to bring their rinsed wine bottles, regardless of brand, to Lowden Hills Winery for recycling.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Happy Walla Walla Halloween!

My childhood memories of Halloween in Walla Walla are many. Eagerly wanting to visit the haunted houses sponsored by the local Jaycees, but once there wishing I was home safe and sound. I remember placing my hand into a boxes of peeled grapes and cold cooked spaghetti at junior high Halloween parties and screaming! But most of all, I remember Trick 'r Treating.

We lived out in the "sticks" surrounded by onion fields and horses, so there weren't too many houses close by to go Trick 'r Treating. My parents packed us in the car during the chilly fall evenings and off we went to our Grandparent's house on School Avenue (near Leonetti Cellars) where we were paraded up and down School and Bryant Avenues to neighbors and nearby church and garden club friends so they could "ooo and aww" over Grace and Walter's grandchildren.

These Halloween memories got me to thinking about the wine labels from the Walla Walla Valley and how many of them were appropriately themed for Halloween. The best wine labels for Halloween goes to Charles Smith Wines for his Skull Syrah and Old Bones Syrah. Unfortunately these wines sold out - - fast! And it wasn't just about the label, but the coveted content inside the bottles.

Of course, who doesn't love the Sleight of Hand Cellars with their labels of magic and spells offering wines named Spellbinder and Levitation? Names that are very reminiscent of the Great Houdini, who died on Halloween.

Mother Nature plays a part of mystery and magic when the perfect alignment between three celestial bodies makes for a total solar eclipse. The feeling is of awe and yet very eerie. The wine labels from SYZYGY are impressive and reminds us of natural, yet mystical forces beyond a mere mortal.

When Halloween comes around every October, lovers of Walla Walla wines won't have to travel all the way to Transylvania to collect their boo-tiful labels covering their favorite red drink - - the blood of the vine.

B O O!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Helix Merlot - 2005

(In August, I reviewed this wine for the 89 Project blog and had an opportunity to taste it again last night. This wine truly deserves to have another blog - - - an encore!)

There’s a lot of Merlot that comes out of Washington State, and especially Walla Walla. I can remember the day when Walla Walla received all kinds of accolades and high scores for their Merlot. In the mean time, other red grapes from the Walla Walla Valley have appeared: Syrah, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, Nebbiolo, and Cinsault have taken some of the attention away from our faithful and steady Merlot. It’s been a grape that has not let us down, and when California was talking smack about "merlot is only a blending grape" we proved differently producing a single variety (attn: wine blogging police - or is it "varietal?") wines and have received world acclaim.

Reininger Winery made a smart move creating their second label, Helix, in 2004. (And yes, Helix is a genus of a large air-breathing land snail aka terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusc. And yes, this garden pest also includes the Roman snail and the Burgundy snail. The Burgundy snail is considered the edible snail, but whatever you do - - don't confuse this Bordeaux-style wine with Burgundy - shall we?)

For the Helix label, Reininger sources fruit from the larger Columbia Valley. This allows Reininger to increase production and expand distribution. This also allows the Reininger label to continue to maintain a limited production. The Reininger label is produced with fruit that is sourced from only the Walla Walla Valley. Helix can target a new group of wine lovers while keeping costs down. When I discovered the Helix Merlot - 2005 received a 89 from the Wine Enthusiast, I had to wonder why? Is it because of a second label thinking it should not be as good or is the real problem here - - another Merlot? I also thought about those "pointy people" who walk into a winery or wine store only wanting to buy 90+ scored wine, and often without tasting. What wines do they drink for every day sipping and especially when their pointy-friends are not around? Do they drink costly 90+ scored wines? Perhaps they are secret 89 secret sippers when nobody is looking.

My opinion: this is a Merlot that you could take to a dinner party and still be proud of it at $22. Overall, it is 97% Merlot with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. At the first sip of this dark wine, the taste is full bodied with hints of cherries. It’s a mouthful with just a hint of spice and cedar. This Helix Merlot should definitely paired and enjoyed with foods, such as a native Washington State salmon to grilled vegetables or beef. A pocket full of Hershey kisses works for me (or my pumpkin chocolate chip cookies). This ain't no blending grape. It’s a Merlot that can stand up to the best - - even stand up to a Merlot with 90 or 91 points! Cheers!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cookies Are Not Just For Milk Anymore: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip

This is the time of the year when I turn on the oven and start baking. In fact, just tonight one of my sisters called and asked if I was going to bake her favorite pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and if I would deliver. Last week a co-worker sent an email and asked if I would bring pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to work this week. The answers are: yes, yes and yes.

If you haven't smelled Fall yet, the smell of these cookies baking in the oven will awaken your senses and remind you that Fall is here. It is now! And ya know - - milk isn't the only beverage that pairs great with cookies. So does wine. I discovered a silky Merlot with notes of cocoa and cigar box or a spicy Syrah with mocha and blueberry notes really makes for a perfect pairing with pumpkin and dark chocolate - - especially with the chocolate. And of course, a late harvest wine or even a sparkler will make a happy pairing if you prefer a white wine.

I suppose you could mull the wine if you want, which sometimes can add a bit of warm and rosy cheer, but if you are going for hot spiced wine whatever you do - - DO NOT use wines from Walla Walla! GASP! SHOCK! Clutching my pearls! The horrors and humanity of it all!!! I think most winemakers in the valley would feel verklempt for having their wines abused over heat and then muddled and masked with spices and fruit. That's why my dear, Bacchus invented cheap California and Italian jug wines - - to make hot spiced wine with.

Enjoy my Fall recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies. They are moist and cake-like!

1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin (not the pie filling with sugar)
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice)
1 tsp vanilla
1 (6 0z) pkg dark chocolate chips (1 cup)

Beat shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg and pumpkin, mixing thoroughly. Combine flour and next four ingredients adding to pumpkin mixture. Stir in vanilla and chocolate chips. If you wish, here is where you may add 1/2 cup of chopped pecans (optional). Drop dough by tablespoons onto lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 13 minutes. Let set a minute before removing from cookie sheet to cool. Yields about five dozen.

Don't forget the wine or milk!

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Very Cool Walla Walla Winemaker With the Very Cool GaryV

There is nothing more I can add. The video speaks for itself. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Investment tip for the day: Drink your profits

By Steve Bjerklie

So the economy’s tanking and even successful investors these days -- both of them -- are looking in their closets and sock drawers for hidden investment opportunities. Investment-minded wine lovers are naturally tempted by the profit possibilities residing cork-down in their cellars.

Understandably so. Wine has a long history as an investment vehicle. Those bottles of Roaring Twenties-era Bordeaux that occasionally show up at auction didn’t survive that era’s excesses because someone forgot they were in the cellar. No, they were secreted away for future sale. Back in 1928 a first-growth Bordeaux might’ve cost no more than several francs; at auction today they bring tens of thousands of dollars (or, even better, euros). The profit can be measured in tens of thousands of percent.

But if you’re thinking you’re sitting on investment gold with your carefully put together collection of fine Washington and/or Oregon and/or California wines, think again. Chances are the only profits you’ll realize are the profits to be gained from enjoying your wines with great friends and fine food.

For one thing, wine-investing is an expensive game -- very expensive. A bottle of $50 or $60 cabernet sauvignon, even from a good vintage and from a well-established, award-winning, high-scoring vintner, will not double or triple in value in 10 or 15 years. Investment-grade wines begin at around $200-$250 a bottle and go up -- way up -- from there, and it’s difficult to sell a quantity smaller than a case of 12 bottles. You’ll need an expendable 10 grand, at the very least, to get into wine as an investment, and that’s money that’s not going to do a thing for you for several years except collect dust. It’s not even tax deductible unless wine-investing is your primary business.

For another thing, only a handful of wines in the world are investment-grade. In France, the regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone and Champagne each produce only a small handful of wines that are auction-worthy and that will, in time, increase in value. Same thing’s true in California: In contemporary vintages, only wines from Harlan, Screaming Eagle, Colgin, Opus One, Dominus and perhaps two or three other estates will gain value over time (by the way, a single bottle of the most recently released Screaming Eagle, if you can possibly find one, will cost you $750). Among Washington wines, only Quilceda Creek, with a $100-per-bottle starting point, has a track record of building value over time. A good auction market just hasn’t developed yet for the likes of Leonetti, Cayuse and Long Shadows.

But let’s say you’ve got the cash and you were able to buy a case of Petrus or Ch. D’Yquem or Caymus Special Selection for four grand and now you want to lay it away for five or 10 years and then sell for the big money. Where did you buy the wine from? Who did you buy it from? Your investment will have to have perfect provenance, as they say, and don’t count it getting it from an eBay seller. How and where are you going to store your wine? Your hall closet, garage or even your own wine cellar, however fancy, isn’t good enough. You’ll need to keep your investment waiting for its payday in a commercial, climate-controlled cellar that will provide documentation to the buyer -- an additional expense you’ll need to earn back if you’re planning on a profit. And no matter how well your wines are stored, you’re going to lose one or more bottles to corking. That’s the hard fact of life of aging quantities of wine, even (or especially) great wine. Are you ready to lose a few hundred bucks or a couple of thou to bad corks?

Finally, as anyone who invests in collectibles with an intent to sell for profit will tell you, the worst thing you can do is fall in love with your investment. If you love wine, invest in coins or stamps or antique hair pins or old postcards with cows on them. You’ll keep your heart intact when the winning bid is made and your precious possessions become someone else‘s.

Not that loving wine, even expensive, wonderful wine (and Leonetti, Cayuse and Long Shadows, among several other Walla Walla beauties, come immediately to mind), is a bad thing. Love your wine -- and, to borrow a phrase and turn in on its head, drink the profits. Do so with friends, food and gusto, because those are the only profits you’re ever likely to see from investing in wine.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wine Spectator - Wine Talk: Drew Bledsoe

Drew Bledsoe, former NFL quarterback grew up in Walla Walla and not too far from the famous Leonetti Cellars. He talks with Robert Taylor of the Wine Spectator from his home in Whitefish, Montana.

Bledsoe tells the Wine Spectator about his football journey, his wine cellar, how he almost became a vineyard owner with famed quarterback Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins and how he came to purchase property, which is now the Flying B Vineyard in the Columbia Valley appellation located at Echo, Oregon.

Bledsoe's Walla Walla vineyard, McQueen, is located in Walla Walla. The majority of the 50 acre vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and five acres of it is Merlot. Chris Figgins of Leonetti is the winemaker for Bledsoe's winery, the Doubleback. Their first bottling will be a Cabernet blend with 2007 fruit.

Read the interview. It's a good read about a "homie" doing well.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Soup Stock - The Safe Stock to Purchase.

The one thing I will never forget from reading about America’s Depression (1920 – 1929), that when it came to alcohol, tobacco, cosmetics and silk hosiery sales, they could not have been better and the other thing I will never forget is that in 1920, women voted for the very first time.

With Wall Street having a brutal time, I keep reminding myself about how alcohol sales remained strong during America’s Depression. Am I delusional to think that today and in the future, wine sales will remain status quo? No, I don’t believe I am delusional or even naive. I think sales in wine and all alcohol products will remain strong, but I also believe that our buying habits will alter a bit.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way - - investing in wine is not the way to go at this time, unless you are an educated oneophile, have invested in the right wines and have all of the proper storage certification. And if you are going to get the high price, guess who you will probably receive it from? Another educated oneophile. So if you think you can get your hands on a bottle of Quilceda Creek or a bottle of Screaming Eagle, toss it in the dark broom closet and in about 10 years - - voila! - - you're going to make a few hundred dollars from that bottle - - you are very wrong. And no, a case of Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet or Merlot that's been in your makeshift wine cellar for ten years will have no return, either. Not all aged wines are going to give you a return. The gains from recent prices of six leading Bordeaux properties have been modest and these are the top of the collectibles (how to invest in wines is another blog - - soon to come from guest blogger). Drink your wines, share them and enjoy them!

At this time, the only stock I would advocate to purchase is soup stock. Having people over for dinner doesn’t mean we always have to have Copper River salmon or filet mignon. Rich and creamy clam chowder, home-made fresh wild mushroom soup or beef bourguignon are soups/stews that can be paired deliciously with an affordable wine. Soups and stews may take a bit of time to prepare from scratch - - but oh so worth the effort. Add a loaf of French-style bread from the local bakery, a green salad and dessert and your guests will be impressed. It's a great way to entertain! Or be very communal by using a raclette grill and/or fondue pot. I love having opportunities to bring out my French raclette grill and what I found it's one of the easiest and affordable ways to entertain - - besides everyone is guaranteed of eating something they like. And dessert is easy - who doesn't like dipping fresh fruit and cake in chocolate fondue?

In spite of the economy, it's even more important that we entertain and especially now that we are heading into winter. While Wall Street is having their woes, we need to take care of ourselves and treat ourselves "nice." And it can still be done affordably. Now is the time to be with friends and family, but we can adjust our way of thinking. This doesn’t mean that we have to stay home all of the time and never go out to our favorite dining places either. Don't totally remove dining-out from your budget! There are several fine dining establishments in Walla Walla where we can still dine by taking advantage of the happy hour and bar menus. Or even just coffee and dessert! You may find you are frequenting your favorite restaurants more often instead of the usual once in awhile expensive full-meal-deal.

The wines we purchase do not always have to be the most expensive. And most important - - when you are serving wines to your guests, be sure to serve the most expensive wine first or second. Serve your best wine at the beginning of your party while your guests still have alive and sharp taste buds. How can you appreciate the best with a tired tongue? You can't.

There are some great wine buys in Walla Walla. From $25 and under you can find tasty cabernets, merlots, whites, roses', and especially the red blends that are often at $20 and under. Soon we will have quite a selection of “Walla Walla produced” affordable wines when Seattle-based Precept Wine Brand's, "Walla Walla Wine Works," located at Highway 12 in the Walla Walla Valley, open's their doors. They will feature affordable wine brands such as Waterbrook (one of the older wineries in the Walla Walla Valley), Pendulum Winery, Shimmer Wines and The Magnificent Wine Company (former labels of Charles Smith, K-Vintners). These are wines that I advocate to use for your everyday sippers aka “heart medicine.” In fact, I advocate that we consider all of the affordable wines from the State of Washington.

Of course, I want you to purchase your great wine buys from Walla Walla Wine Woman, but that isn't always convenient, especially when you are buying dinner and wine at the same market on your way home from work. Local supermarkets and the liquor store has a good selection of Walla Walla and Washington State wines. Remember - great buys of great wines are out there and we don’t have to settle for the Southern 2BuckChuck. Keep our dollars in our Washington State wineries. And in the mean time, keep our fingers crossed and keep thinking - - this too shall pass (the economy). Just think of the stories we can tell our grandchildren. "I remember the day when we only paid $4 for a gallon of gas and..."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Keep It Local! October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

That's right - keep it local! While I appreciate the impact of what a larger non-profit can do for the cure of breast cancer and assist in spreading education, the strings of my heart really get tugged when I hear there are dollars being raised for this cause that will actually stay in Walla Walla. When I heard that Isenhower Cellars was directly sponsoring a fundraiser with the proceeds going to St. Mary's Cancer Center, it definitely peeked my interest.

Last year Denise Isenhower's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Denise, along with her two small daughters, Keegan (16 months) and Olivia (3 1/2 years), made three flights on the "red-eye" back to Indianna to help Denise's Mom after the chemo treatments. Denise was also pregnant at the time and during one of the trips, while waiting at the Chicago airport to catch a flight, Denise thought she was having a miscarriage and had to be rushed to the nearest hospital. In the mean time, the good news is Denise's mother is a survivor of breast cancer and in March, after many weeks of bed rest and pre-term labor, Denise delivered daughter Eliana.

As Denise says, "Everyone knows someone who has battled cancer." Denise and even her daughters have had more than their share, as Denise's sister also had two different experiences of skin cancer this past year. The impression of this disease was even left on small Olivia who told many people during their travels "they were going to go help Nana with her chemo because she has cancer." Of course, it was Denise who experienced the looks of sadness from these stranger's faces. Olivia even experienced the hairdresser shaving her "Nana's" head. Olivia liked rubbing her Nana's shaved head and watching Nana trying on the different wigs - - very bittersweet moments.

During this time, Denise was walking with Beth Swanson and other member's of the Mom's Network of Walla Walla on Saturday mornings. From these walks inspiration came to have a Cancer Walk and to sell some "pink." The Second Annual Cancer Walk will take place Saturday, October 25 and many thanks to Isenhower Cellars for sponsoring very pink and very cute caps for $19.50! These caps are the excellent Port Authority brand with the Isenhower logo on the side and an embroidered pink ribbon on the front.

Here is what I like so much about this pink cap fund raiser: for every pink cap sold, $10 will go directly to the St. Mary’s Breast Community Center in Walla Walla for their "Special Needs Fund." This is an "at need" non-judgmental, no paper work required funding for patients. An "at need" example could be a new bra, body lotion or lip balm, or even a taxi-ride home from the hospital - - the kind of needs that many of us take for granted. What's even more important about these proceeds - - all of the money will go directly to cancer patients and not to administrative costs as needed by some of the larger non-profits.

For more information on the Second Annual Mom's Network Breast Cancer Walk, please contact Beth Swanson. Hats may be purchased from Beth, Isenhower Cellars or Me. I will also have the hats available at Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman Wednesday, October 15 from 5:30-7:00 pm. Please also contact me about that event for more information.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #50: Which Wine, Which Wilderness?

Or also known as: Wine Blogging Wednesday #50: Which Wine, Which Wilderness for the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman? Sorry, I had to take advantage of all of the "W's"

My wine blogging friend, Russ Beebee (aka Wine Hiker) at Winehiker Witiculture is the host for WBW #50 this glorious fall month of October. For this significant number 50, Russ has asked his fellow wine bloggers to get outdoors and celebrate the season with a hike 50 miles of our home and finish with a post-picnic and a good bottle of wine.

Sorry Russ, unfortunately, the last few weekends have not allowed me an extra 50 miles, so I made this WBW easy - - so easy it was a walk in the park. Oh wait - -it was a walk in the park - - the grand dame of all Walla Walla parks - - Pioneer Park!

Autumn is my favorite time of the year and especially in Walla Walla. As I tickle through my Rolodex full of memories I have taken many walks through this beautiful 58-acres (and no matter the season, it's always beautiful), since I first learned how to walk. I have looked through the assortment of colored leaves and nuts on the ground left by Mother Nature. I have taken in the silence under an old tree only to hear the cracking of bark from a nearby sycamore. Pioneer Park is home to many of Washington State’s record trees, some planted around the turn of the 20th Century and many recorded as the largest known of their species in the state.

The crowning glory of the park is the gazebo in the center of the park and now a city landmark that was built in 1910 at a cost of $1,250. The land for the park was purchased in 1901 and John C. Olmstead, the architect who was also responsible for the design of New York City’s Central Park, arrived in Walla Walla in 1906 and influenced the designs of Walla Walla’s first city parks. Besides a water fountain, community center, rose garden, playground, whimsical Tom Otterness sculpture and duck ponds, Pioneer Park also has an aviary that is home to approximately 200 exotic birds.

After a walk in the park with Chloe, my four-legged companion, we had our post pic-nic and wine (Chloe had water) at home due to the city codes regarding alcohol - - and besides, rain was on the way. A nosh from an assortment of charcuterie and imported cheese, a few nibbles of pecans with a glaze tasting similiar to pecan pie filling, and crisp bites of juicy Asian pear slices, along with my wine of choice.

100% Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite varietals for rose' and Steve Brooks from Trust Cellars Rose - 2007 has produced such a glorious pink wine. It's a full bodied wine showing flavors of cherry pie and spicy notes of cinnamon. cherry pie out of the oven! The spiciness of the flavors and the cool temperature of the wine was such a perfect match with the selection of salami and cheese and seemed to add a tart, yet extra juicy flavor to my mouthful of crunchy fruit and nuts.

When I asked Steve if he had used the saignee method for his rose production, he looked amusingly shocked and laughed while telling me, "No," his rose' was the real deal! He had deliberately set out to make a rose and did not "bleed" out the juice from a fermenting Cabernet Franc to improve the original red wine. Yup, there's a good reason the name on this bottle of wine is "Trust." And Trust Rose' is a great example that rosados, rosatos, and roses' have caught on and they are no longer the "blush" that we use to know. Even the color of the wine in the glass is elegant, yet showing a bit of whimsy from the label. And no bother, now that summer is behind us, this refreshing bottle of pink will continue be a perfect match for the Thanksgiving turkey - - that is if one can leave it alone until the holidays! Cheers!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Girl Power and the Muleskinner!

Don’t ask why, but for some reason as soon as Autumn begins to tease with a bit of chill in the Walla Walla air, I often think of the Merlot produced in the Walla Walla Valley. It’s like I’m not quite ready to hunker down for the winter and be committed to a stout rich wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon. Instead I am looking for red wine that’s a bit softer, but with just as much flavor.

Last Friday evening was all about "Girl Power!" The Autumn wind and rain moved a few leaves from the trees outside, while inside we moved a few cases of wine around and a few pieces of furniture. Actually, my generous helpers did the bulk of the moving while I kicked a few empty case boxes around and pointed where I wanted pictures hung. But, it was me who ultimately opened a bottle of wine – so that counts for something, right? The wine of choice was a Spring Valley Vineyard Muleskinner 2004 - - a 100% Merlot! Perhaps, this was an appropriate wine for the working evening as after all, the term “muleskinner” is: one who drives mules. No doubt by the end of the evening the team of “Girl Power" movers were feeling as if they were driving one lame mule (moi) - - and a stubborn one at that.

There’s a reason why the winemaker’s of Walla Walla haven't traditionally used Merlot strictly as a blending grape. Merlot, a grape which often takes a back seat to Cabernet Sauvignon, has become one of the popular single red varieties in the valley and one of the reasons is the fruit from the Walla Walla Valley is like no other – complex and rich, with mineral and earth tones visible in the flavors and the nose. Spring Valley Vineyard in Walla Walla County is an excellent example of rich and complex wines from their farm land which dates back to the mid 1800’s. This particular vintage of Spring Valley Muleskinner - 2004, has a few years on it and since that release, Spring Valley has released their 2005 (the winery is sold out of the '04, but email me if you are interested in a bottle or two).

The extra time in the bottle made the tannins slightly visible, while still keeping structure to the wine. The dark plum color and the rich mouth feel had an elegance about it like sipping a black currant cassis aperitif, yet a familiarity as inviting as Grandma’s blackberry pie - from the filling of the dark fruit to the crust reminiscent of the grains of wheat from the past. The sweet finish continued long after our glasses were set down, while we remarked about the complexity of this fine Merlot and smacking our lips. Cheers to Girl Power and the Muleskinner!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Spirits Among Us

Former Walla Walla winemaker, Berle W. "Rusty" Figgins has added a new chapter to his career - from viticulturist to winemaker and now a distiller. Many wine lovers and locals may remember Figgins as one of the first to introduce Syrah to the State of Washington, especially Eastern Washington. From syrah in the vineyard, later Figgins was one of the founders and the winemaker for Glen Fiona Winery in Walla Walla. Glen Fiona is known for producing Rhone-style wines.

After producing wines for North Star in Walla Walla and Cave B Estate Winery located at George, WA, Figgin’s newest project is distilled spirits - - which is a natural progression for those who want to explore beyond fermentation. Thinking beyond wine, the next natural step is to distill brandy, since brandy is distilled directly from wine. Figgins feels there is a place for brandy where ever there is a prosperous wine industry. In the mean time, Figgins has left the winery at George and will operate Dynamic Alambic Artisan Distillers located in Eastern Washington's Grant County at Mattawa.

Future products will include a style of "Limoncello," a lemon digestivo liqueur with Italian roots, and style of "Sambuca," an anise liqueur also with Italian roots. Figgins feels the potential is there to include an apple brandy, like France's Calvados, since Washington is the apple capital of the world. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Canines & Wines

Rolling from September into the new month of October, dogs have been on my mind and especially one in particular, my little "Chloe-Bird." Chloe is a little white/beige Yorki-Poo who will be going on her 10-month of her little 7 lb four-legged life. You see, she has kept me up at night recently, every night since Friday. Lots of "barfies and runnies," no appetite, swollen eye lids, splotchy red marks on an ear, two trips to Doggie ER and a mortgage payment later...

Chloe is now bouncing off the walls and once again herself. All of her tests came out fine and the latest medical prediction is perhaps she may have been bit by a spider or more like - - ate one. She is now bright-eyed and bushy tailed, but I am not. I am dragging...and this morning on my way to work, after watching her exuberantly taking her first bite of kibble since Thursday night and still wanting more, it made me reflect on all of the great dogs I have owned (and grieved for) in my adult life: Valentino (aka Poopus), Rosebud Lee-Marie, Lady Mae of Green Gables, and my finest companion in the best of times and the worst of times, Lucy Baines Johnson Walker. In fact, Lucy's best friend was Salsa, the black lab from Forgeron Cellars (and sometimes Salsa can be seen hanging at Long Shadows Winery). Salsa kept Lucy company during Lucy's "golden years." After two-years of being without a dog in almost 30 years - - now enters: Chloe-Bird Cristina Barcelona.

October is definitely the month for canines and wines in the Walla Walla Valley. One of October’s observances is "Adopt a Shelter Dog" and Walla Walla wineries are in the middle of their harvest – crush. We love our pets in Walla Walla and it is only fitting that during the month of October is the Annual Fall Furr Ball, a benefit for the Blue Mountain Humane Society on October 25. It’s a waggin’ tail of a good time with dinner, auction, gaming and dancing. For more info contact: BMHS.

This coming Saturday, October 4 is the Second Annual Dog Stampede that kicks off the Grand Opening of the Walla Walla Dog Park at Fort Walla Walla Park. Check here for a complete schedule.

October 10 is Walla Walla's signature benefit dinner auction - "Entwine." I love this event! It's held at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, featuring more than 70 wineries with regional art, great escapes packages and other treasures to bid on. It is co-sponsored by ArtWalla, Walla Walla Community College Foundation, and the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.

On behalf of the great "woofers" in Walla Walla, now is the time to celebrate with some Walla Walla wine. If you are a wine aficionado who has a "crush" on canines, you can view the many photos of the great dogs who hang out with their winemakers at the local wineries. Winery Dogs of Walla Walla is a color-filled hardback book featuring beautiful photographs of 77 winery dogs associated with 47 local wineries and over 100 photos of dogs in their winery and vineyard environment. And while you're reading you'll want to be sipping on a glass of any of the Walla Walla wines, especially those featuring a winery dog label such as: Dunham Cellar's Four Legged White or Three Legged Red. Go fetch and chase down what Lowden Hills has to offer: Merlin's Winemaker's Reserve Red or their LuLu Red, a secret blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon named after the winery's guard dog, LuLu the Yorkie.

October - it's the month to celebrate man's (or woman's) best friend and to celebrate the harvest of Walla Walla's fine wines. Sante!

(...and yes, Chloe has one blue eye and one brown eye.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Wine Blogger: aka Self-Proclaimed Wine Critic

First of all, exactly what is "blogging?" Wikipedia describes it as:

A blog (a contraction of the term "Web log") is a Web site, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.

So, what wine subject do you want to read about? Only Washington State Wines? Wines from Long Island, New York? Need to follow a budget of Wines Under $20? Care about the politics and marketing of wine? Want to learn about the wines from Spain and Portugal? Are you a wine drinking hiker ? A Pinot Noir enthusiast? Want to read a blog with a wine magazine point of view? A specific winery? Prefer to take in wine blog reviews via video, instead of reading?

When I first started blogging about wine, over three years ago, there were an average of 300 wine bloggers around the world and of course in the mean time, the numbers have grown - - even wine magazines, newspaper wine columnists, wineries and even retail wine stores are getting into the blogging action - - a very smart move and in some instances, I think, met with the mindset of "if you can't beat them..."

There are now even wine blogging conventions held in the United States and internationally. All I know is from my own experience when I first started blogging: I felt alone. I was one of the few women wine bloggers out there. I was also the only wine blogger in Walla Walla, WA and the only one at the time just blogging about Walla Walla wines - - and even one of the few blogging about Washington State wines. I was met with: "Walla Wall-where did you say? Washington DC makes wine? Oh, you have that little blaaawg. Isn't that cute (pat-pat-pat), she's writing about wines from her little home town."

It was either not knowing any better or stubbornness, but I hung in there like a small yapping terrier dog chewing on whatever bare ankle was visible (hmm...I think I just described my little dog, Chloe...), and my marks must have left some toothy impressions, as the stubbornness is beginning to pay off for me.

Blogging, especially wine blogging, sounds easy doesn't it? It's certainly easy to start one, as there are various free and inexpensive blog publishing tools available to us. And far too often, as soon as we make the decision to blog and the fingers hit the key board, it's even easier to think, "This will become one of the best wine blogs around..."

That thinking is not an impossible goal, but it takes more than matching thoughts to fingers on a key board. I discovered you have to put yourself out there if you want readers, because it is going to be a readership that will make you "the best." You have to be consistent and if people are going to take you serious, you must have patience and wait it out until you get an audience. This is where consistency, and being persistent (or being stubborn) is important. The World Wide Web is huge and you just don't wait for people to come to you! And while I was waiting, I read other wine blogs and was pro-active. I didn't expect any of the wine bloggers to come to me with the wine blog welcome wagon. I introduced myself to other wine bloggers and even found the courage to ask some of them to exchange links. Some wine bloggers wouldn't talk to me about exchanging links until I had a few months of blogging behind me and they knew I was serious.

For many wine bloggers, blogging has become a life - a serious hobby and one they do out of love. It's their art, their craft, their personal expression - - the wine blog is their baby. They give their blog-baby love and watch it grow by feeding it with words. Alas, I am not a perfect wine blog parent, but I am protective about my wine blog baby, and my feelings of protection extends to many of my wine blogging colleagues. In fact, a few months ago several of us wine bloggers "took down" a wine column from a newspaper in Florida because it plagiarized one of our own. And my feelings of protection also includes my readers. Some of my readers have commented they wish I would blog everyday. I wish I could! At the very least, I try to publish a blog or two every ten days. Yup, real life happens, but if for some reason "real life" gets in the way of wine blogging or I meet with writer's block, and end up ten days or more without a blog, I try my best to let my readers know - - I owe it to them. However, I want my readers to know that when I am away from the computer I am always thinking, no matter if I am on vacation, having personal time alone, driving in the car, working in the garden, or with family and friends, the following goes through my mind, "How can I share this single experience with my readers?"

Like anything new and unfamiliar, the explosion of wine blogs have been met with controversy. The "word" on the "wine blogging street" is it's about old guard vs new guard - - meaning traditional print/journalists vs blogs/"self-proclaimed wine critics." Wine bloggers are wondering if food bloggers get as much crap from traditional food magazines and if not, is it due to wine being a high profile subject? Wine bloggers really felt the jab of the cellar rat baton recently when a prominent wine magazine was exposed for not doing their research. When caught, the magazine skirted around the issue in one of their chat rooms and ultimately it was the wine bloggers who took the heat for letting their readers know about the magazine's faux pas. Their senior editor said, "This is the problem with the 'blogosphere'. It's a lazy person's journalism. No one does any real research..."

Umm...okay...and who didn't do any real research when handing out their restaurant awards to a restaurant that didn't exist? Explain to me again about lazy person's journalism and real research? And then - - within a week of that stamping of tiny feet, the wine bloggers took another hit: a wine blogger arranged for several wine and food bloggers to take part in a wine review. The wine and food bloggers, who agreed to take part in the tasting and review, were sent a bottle of wine to taste and review all within a certain amount of time. On came more controversy and this time the emphasis was on "ethics." The critics came out pounding their tiny fists, charging that agreeing to accept free wine with review time conditions was unethical and very unprofessional. The critics claimed they would never agree to...blah-blah and blah and have never agreed to...blah-blah and bigger blaaaaaaaaah.

But...but...when a magazine or newspaper receives new books sent to their book editor, new tunes sent to their music editor and wine to their wine editor, isn't it rather "understood" - - an "unwritten code" that if you are going to be the very best reporter/editor you can't let these reviews slide with no time period set for a printed review? The PR firm and/or winery that sent out the items are betting these reviews will be accomplished immediately for them to be effective. What reporter, writer, critic or editor wants to be the last to report a review? Uh huh - yeah - sure - - and movie critics and sports writers always sit in the worst seats (note mocking and sarcastic tone). I questioned what I felt was double-standards, I was told, "No. You're wrong. When we, 'real journalists' receive wine, books, theatre tickets, that's different." Interesting enough, through all of the finger pointing and hypocrisy, I never read a thing about the ethics of the food bloggers who reviewed the same wine.

Here is what I think about these recent controversies, and no doubt there will be more: Ralph Waldo Emmerson said, "Fear always springs from ignorance." I smell fear. Wine blogs have arrived and finally taken seriously and so serious that the naysayers of wine blogs are speaking a lot of ignorance and double standards. Wine blogs are being used as scape goats and being put down as not being equals to the masters in print, instead of being accepted as another media tool. Wine blogging is another way to promote the most beloved, historical, cultural, archaeological, and scientific nectar of them all. The unconventional wine lover turned blogger, no matter the generation or lifestyle, should be used to capture other unconventional and potential wine lovers. To those who are willing to open their minds to something different should look to this new concept of reporting about wine and make it fit in their own lifestyle or business. The criticism and parental finger pointing towards the wine bloggers is getting tedious and most of all, oh--so--transparent.

In the future, I suspect the wine blogosphere will settle down and everyone will find their own niche in the World Wide Wine Web, if they really want it. Sure, there will be those who won't give at least 75% and will fail and unfortunately there will be several. There will be those with life changes and other opportunities who will put their wine blog to rest with intentions of waking it up at another time. Then will be the wine blogger who is passionate about their craft who will succeed and then there is the stubborn...who knows what will happen to the stubborn.

So let me end this missive with: If I have heard it once I have heard it several times, and always with a dismissive tone, "Anybody can start a blogs are nothing special. You're all just self-proclaimed wine critics."

Yeah, that's right. If you don't like my wine blog or my wine blogging missive and have something to say about it, then start your own blog- - because after all, anybody can start a blog, right? But can you keep it fresh by being consistent in your blogging? Can you do it for almost little to zero dollars and still make your blog a viable wine information source and gain a readership? Are you willing to put yourself out there? If anybody can do all of this - then do it. I dare you. As the old saying goes, "Put up or shut up."

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