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!
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