Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wine Dinners: Fat Duck Inn in Walla Walla

If you are a visitor to wine country in Eastern Washington, a must for your "to do" list is attend a winemaker's dinner. You can find them scheduled at the many wineries, Marcus Whitman Hotel, Andrae's La Porte Brune "Underground" Dinners, and now at the Fat Duck Inn

Alexa Palmer, owner; Richard Lane, manager; and Chef Rich Koby at the Fat Duck Inn have teamed with some of the area's best wineries to bring together a list of wine dinners throughout the year.

As featured in Wine Spectator magazine, "The Fat Duck Inn ... occupies a lovely old Craftstman-style residence a few blocks from downtown ... and serves a convivial multicourse dinner around its large table."

Chef Rich Koby and Catie
New to the Fat Duck Inn team joins Chef Rich Koby. He received his culinary training from the Sonoma California area and brings to the inn over 28 years of culinary experience from Tuscon, Arizona to the Orcas Islands in Washington State. His cooking style reflects fresh "farm to table" foods which is ever so appropriate in our lush and fertile valley of Walla Walla. 

I was thrilled when asked to host one of the first wine dinners at the inn. However,  I broke "tradition" from the Walla Walla wines and extended the wine palate to "wines from around the world."  The experience started for me when I sat down with Chef Koby and Richard, manager of the inn to plan for the event and we tasted through the wines. Chef only "sniffed" through the line-up of wines and got a great sense of how to pair each one - - and he did - - so perfectly. 

Wines Around The World Dinner
Featuring the W5
Oysters 2 Ways:  
On the Half Shell with Citrus Mignonette
Baked with Pernon Infused Glacage
Nigl Sekt (Sparkling) Zweigelt Rose - 2009 (Austria)

Chorizo and Potato Soup 
Red Pepper Creme Fraiche
Campo Viejo Rioja Gran Reserva - 2003 (Spain)

Smoked Chicken and Root Vegetable "Pot Pie"
Domaine Moulinier St-Chinian - 2008 (France) 

Chicken Pot Pie
Balsamic and Garlic Braised Beef Brisket
Herbed Potato Puree
Alain Graillot Domaine des Ouleb Thaleb "Syrocco" Syrah - 2009 (Morocco)

Pear and Cornmeal Bread Pudding
Pear William Whipped Cream
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Muscat - 2009 (Alsace)

After the last sip of wine and the final fork was laid down, I could not have been more pleased and our guests left full and content. The plating of each course alone was a feast for the eyes. The surroundings were elegant and intimate. The staff was attentive as we were never without an empty glass nor did an empty plate linger. During the meal I heard moans and sighs of happiness.

Future dinners are planned at the Fat Duck Inn  featuring many of the wineries of the Walla Walla Valley, and I would recommend any one of them: Amavi, KVintners, Couvillion Winery, Northstar, Tempus, Don Carlo Vineyards, Tamarack Cellars,  Waterbrook, Castillo de Feliciano, Fjellene Cellars, Balboa, Forgeron Cellars, Tertulia Cellars, Flying Trout & Tero Estates, Sinclair Estate, Otis Kenyon, Kerloo Cellars, Walla Walla Vintners, Woodward Canyon, Trust Cellars, Spring Valley Vineyards, Zerba Cellars, Ensemble Cellars, Seven Hills Winery, Isenhower, and Dusted Valley. 

For more information, please contact Richard Lane at Fat Duck Inn

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Walla Walla Wine For Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Lemberger

No silly peep-holes, "Lemberger" is not a stinky cheese.  The stink-monster cheese is called Limberger (with an "i" and instead of an "e").

Lemberger is a dark-skinned variety of a grape that is produced into a red wine. The origin of this grape is from Germany, including Austria. It's original old world name is known as Blaufränkisch. In Austria, it is one of the second most important red grapes.  

In the USA, Washington State is one of the few major wine regions in North America to have significant plantings of Lemberger. The first commercial Lemberger planting in the new world was in 1976 in the Yakima area of Washington State.

How does Lemberger taste? The red wine is often light in color like a Pinot Noir with aromas of berries and spice. The wine is very mild in tannins, but with great structure and fruit forward.  It's an easy sippin' wine and easy to pair with food. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Good Ol' Girls ...

I want to introduce you to a group of women who write about wine.

Picture this - it is the late 1800's - early 1900's and the men are downstairs in the wine cellar or at an elaborate lodge dining room smoking cigars and sipping Bordeaux. In the mean time, their women-folk are drinking tea in a hot kitchen. 

Boy oh boy (or should I say, "Girl oh girl?") how times have changed!

Did you know that in America and in the UK, women are the largest group of wine buyers, especially those in their 40's and even the women of the boomer generation? Also, women are playing a central role in the future of  wine consumption in China, according to  research by Vinexpo and the same research found that over 40% of female consumers in Japan, the most established wine market in Asia, drank wine more than twice a week.

In the last 10 years we have seen a growing amount of women winemakers, as well as women wine writers; which brings me to my point - -

On March 30, Paul Mabry of Vintank posted a blog on the 9 Most Important Wine Bloggers in the US and there was one very important thing that many of us noticed - - there was not one woman blogger on the list (It is important to note that I am not diminishing this list as there are several men on the list who are notable bloggers and worthy of such title). Was Paul being a male chauvinist?  Is he president of the Good ol' Boys Wine Bloggers Club?  Of course not.

I've known Paul as long as I have been blogging about wine. I've even chatted with Paul on the phone and picked his brain about the new frontier of wine blogging. There isn't a doubt in my mind that Paul would very much like to see a list of  9 or More Important Wine Bloggers in the US with a shift of a list that is dominated by women wine writers/bloggers. 

So, how come none of my female wine blogging comrades made the list?  I understand it had something to do with a special math formula and computer science (an algorithm) to arrive at the list of the most important wine bloggers in the US. 

There are a few skeptics regarding the algorithm and those who feel it is the curse of the Good Ol' Boys Club.  Well, perhaps the timing of the list was a bit inconvenient especially when there has been so much political chatter and mud slinging in the media lately regarding women and their rights. I believe there are many women who are wondering what is next for us in the political arena when it comes to our health care. So,  perhaps we  are feeling we've had more than our share of  not feeling equal in the political spotlight - - or anywhere ...

Or maybe the algorithm just thinks that girls are stupid.  

Well no matter the silly gender biased algorithm, as I want to introduce to you a group of the Important Wine Bloggers in the US - The Good Ol' Girls. Please show the ol' algorithm that women are wine writers, too.  (If you are a woman wine blogger/writer and you do not see your link, I apologize. It is not my intent to leave you out, so please post your title and link to the comment section) . 

Enobytes - Pamela Heiligenthal

Wine Peeps - Kori Voorhees

Sunday, April 22, 2012

From Woodinville to Walla Walla: Mark Ryan Winery

News travels fast in downtown Walla Walla. No sooner did owner Chad Diltz of Tru Cellars announce he was giving up his space at 26 E Main Street due to being sold out and waiting for upcoming bubbly vintages to release; word on the street was that Starbuck patio gazers had seen Woodinville "rock star" winemakers, Mark McNeilly (Mark Ryan Winery) and Chris Gorman (Gorman Winery) checking out the soon-to-be empty space. 

Sure enough - the patio gazers hadn't overdosed on too many double Americanos and sugary apple fritters. The Washington State Liquor Board just announced a new liquor application for Mark Ryan Winery at the same space where McNeilly had been spotted. (Were there paparazzi?) It will be interesting to see the final business plan revealed.  My instinct is this will be a second tasting room for him, besides the Woodinville winery/tasting toom.

So who is Mark Ryan Winery?  Mark Ryan McNeilly founded Mark Ryan Winery in 1999 with the goal of making the finest wines in Washington State. Mostly self-taught, McNeilly studied the craft of winemaking and took to heart the advice of some of the state's most experienced wine producers.

In the early years McNeilly's winery was "transient," as his first vintages were crushed and pressed in garages of friends and family. Later the barrels were aged in warehouses around the Seattle Area, and in 2003 the winery finally took root in Woodinville, WA.

According to the recent press in the last year, McNeilly's goal has come to fruition as  Mark Ryan Winery was named in the list of Top 100 Wineries of the 2011 by Wine & Sprits Magazine, Paul Gregutt of The Wine Enthusiast named Mark Ryan Winery one of the new "Cult Wineries" of Washington State, and Seattle Magazine named McNeilly as 2011 Winemaker of the Year.

The Mark Ryan line-up of wines include: "Dead Horse" (a Left Bank Bordeaux-style blend), "Long Haul" (Right Bank Bordeaux-style blend), "Lonely Heart" Cabernet Sauvignon, "Wild Eyed" Syrah, Viognier, and "The Dissident" (Bordeaux-style blend).  Of course, grapes are sourced from some of the finest vineyards in the state such as Ciel du Cheval, Grand Reve, Kiona, and Klipsun, to name a few. 

This will be quite a switch from the usual as in the past several Walla Walla wineries have opened up tasting rooms in Woodinville and now Walla Walla will finally welcome a downtown tasting room from Woodinville.   

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Walla Walla Wine for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

My favorite wine reference book is from the "Dummies" series - "Wine For Dummies." This reference book has sold over 25 million copies and received a nomination for the "James Beard Award for Excellence."  Join me for a weekly new wine word that you may have heard in the Walla Walla Valley while visiting a tasting room, but not sure what it meant. 

I guarantee I won't make it your typical boring vocab word and since you all know my love of "W" acronyms, a new "weekly wine word will appear every Wednesday . 

The Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Bung

A bung is a hard rubber or silicon stopper (closure) that is used to seal the bunghole of a cask, keg, or wine barrel that is either filled or emptied. Many of the older bungs were produced out of wood.  (She said "bunghole" ... that's right boys and girls, a bunghole is a real term used in winemaking and not just a term used by Beevis and Butthead.) 

A bunghole is a hole bored in a liquid-tight barrel to remove or fill the wine in a barrel. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Froggy Went a Courtin' and He Did Find a Cayuse

Ahh yes, the old Scottish folk song that has been sung to children by many from Elvis to Bob Dylan to even Kermit the Frog,  - - of course.  Now days, when I think of the wines of Cayuse Vineyards, I cannot help but think of that song due to the Bionic Frog Syrah label.

This holiday weekend the town of Walla Walla will be filled with wine lovers picking up their allotments of the obscure, the remote, and the revered biodynamic wines of Cayuse produced by French born vigneron, Christophe Baron.  However, when I put all of these thoughts together from the old folk song and this release weekend, I cannot help thinking back to the blogging controversy of Cayuse back in November of 2010. Was the wine of Cayuse flawed or just good ol' "French" funk that migrated to the United States along with it's French winemaker? Was it truly terroir, the results of biodynamic farming, or a misunderstanding of someone's style of European winemaking?

So no doubt a few of you are thinking, "Why are you bringing this controversy up?"  Why, because it has weighed on my mind since the day the controversy was brought up and especially when the wine is in my "backyard," so to speak.  Cayuse-Cayuse-Cayuse has been pummeled in my brain for the last two weeks by customers, press and professional retail and tourism colleagues . 

In fact, I think about that controversy every time I taste a French wine and in the last 20 months I have tasted more French wines than I have in my whole life. It seems to me that almost every French wine I have tasted lately, and if they were to be compared to the wines of Cayuse, they would be in the same camp - - supposedly "flawed" or perhaps just misunderstood. The so-called "flawed" and funky French wines I usually purchase and the mundane, clean and clinical - and very "Americanized" wines from France, I typically do not purchase. 

When it was all said and done of the Cayuse controversy, the lab concluded the sample vials of the wine had levels of volatile acidity that were "slightly" above the normal sensory threshold and the wine had a high pH level, which can make the wine more susceptible to bacteria. However, it is my understanding that the lab never said the wine was actually "flawed." That was the terminology given by the blog  in question of the wine's stability and credibility. 

While I had trusted the source of where the vials came from and I trusted that the vials had not been tampered with, the practical former legal assistant side of me (two years with the county defense attorney and 10 years with a private practice) could not get past the point of the liability of placing someone's wine into vials to prove a point ("Neener-neener-neener, I told you so"). To me the wise thing  to remove oneself of liability, would have been to have sent an unopened bottle (label removed) to the lab instead. With only a empty bottle (and without a dead body and an autopsy report) sitting in a court of law you would be hard pressed to prove that the wine you drank and the one you sent to the lab was of the same.  

So with the lab results, I guess one cannot fight with right of science - - right? However, can one fight with personal palates and - - just the romance and the personal experiences of wine? No.

The proof is that ultimately you cannot fight with personal palates no matter what a lab findings may be. For hundreds of years, and especially since Thomas Jefferson brought to America the wines from France, we have become enamoured with wines. More than likely, in the earlier wines that the wealthy Americans were coveting, the very same or similar lab conclusions as the Cayuse would have also been found. High levels of volatile acidity and high pH levels that are probably due to either yeast strains, fermentation tanks and barrels, and even extended lees contact -- or maybe even the vineyard practices of biodynamics. My bet is the majority of what we refer to as French "funk" is more than likely due to the yeast strains.

The proof is also that there are hundreds of wine lovers from all over the state and beyond who have made reservations at hotel, motel, B&B accommodations - - and even rented houses for this long Passover/Easter weekend - - known as the Cayuse Release Weekend. Reservations have been made at all of the popular restaurants. The majority of all of the other wineries in the Walla Walla Valley will benefit, as well as our grocery stores and gas stations  - - and even some of our downtown speciality shops, bakeries and bars. The bottom line of this Cayuse controversy is I compare it to cheese. Explain please?

Take two wedges of cheese, one traditional imported Roquefort and the other a domestic Wisconsin cheddar. The cheddar from Wisconsin is produced from the finest milk that the Wisconsin heifers have to offer. The cheese is firm and dry to the touch. The taste is rich, creamy and smooth to the palate. The Wisconsin Cheddar is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture and is produced in modern, high tech efficient plants.

Now as you know, the traditional Roquefort cheese of France is moldy. The  lamb's white milk cheese is very tangy, crumbly, a little moist and it has these very distinctive veins of green mold (aka penicillium roqueforti) running through it. Good lord, this stinky cheese is being aged in old caves probably dated back to Pliny the Elder! If we didn't know any better and in comparison to the cheddar, one could think that the Roquefort cheese appears to have flaws ...

As they say, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" or in this case, "taste is in the palate of the beholder" and it is very apparent that wine lovers of vigneron Christophe Baron and his wines  are not going to let a lab and their clinical findings or even bloggers tell them any different than what their palates already know and love.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Mourvèdre in Walla Walla: Trio Vintners

So how do you pronouce it? It depends on who you ask. Moo-ved - - Moo-ved-dray - - More-ved - - More-ved-dray - - Moor-ved - - Moor-ved-dray.  As the ol' song goes, "You say potato and I say po-tah-toe, you say tomato and I say - - whatev ... I'm bored now"  However, not bored with the taste of this dark blue-black grape.
Mourvèdre (France), Mataró (Portugal), or Monastrell (Spain) has many names and  is the same depending on where you live. It's a grape variety producing deep dark red wines and also rosés, as well as an international variety grown in many regions around the world.

Mourvèdre (and here we go again with another name, as it is sometimes known as Balzac and also known as Bandol dependent on the area) is widespread across the Mediterranean coast of southern France, where it is a notable component of the very much coveted and international Châteauneuf-du-Pape, along with its other red counterparts: Grenache and Syrah.

We are now seeing and will be seeing more of the popular red blend, "GSM" on the American wine shelves and beginning to see it here in Walla Walla.   

The acronym, GSM was started in Australia for their version of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The blend of these three grapes are brought together with grenache producing a light berry nose with a bit of spice, syrah bringing in full-bodied flavors of dark berries, smoke, and pepper and last but not least, mourvèdre contributing elegance, backbone, ripe plums and hints of cigar box. 

Trio Vintners of Walla Walla has a wonderful example of 100% Mourvèdre. The 2009 vintage will make this the winery's third vintage of Mourvèdre from the  Far Away Vineyard (Art den Hoed) in the Yakima Valley AVA. This wine can also tout itself as being one of the few single Mourvèdre vineyard designated that has been released  in the state of Washington.   

I've been tasting a lot of wines lately and this glass of wine was difficult to put down - - so I didn't. I didn't spit or dump. I enjoyed - - and enjoyed a second glass.  The nose was of violets, smoke and spice like incense. The color was dark, viscous and inky. Rich and lush on the palate with dark fruits and a bit on the gamey smoky side.  

The evening I  tasted this wine, I had the pleasure the week before of being introduced to a glass of the Trio Vintners  Mourvèdre 2009 at the Wine Writer's Dinner  at the Enology and Viticulture Institute at Walla Walla.  It was paired with a pepper crusted lamb chop, goat crepinette, potatoes roasted with fennel and a tomato chutney and herb demi-glace. While I am not a big meat eater, and especially one of small animals like goat and lamb, one also could have paired the wine with a big ol' piece of chocolate cake and I would have been happy with the pairing. 
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