Good Wine Tastes Even Better With the Proper Food Pairing

October 14th, 2014

As we move into the fall and winter months, wine-themed dinners become increasingly popular.

And why not? The weather has already begun to cool down, the rainy season (groan) is just around the corner, and indoor activities will soon be the norm.

I just wrapped up a wine dinner series at Bellingham Technical College that featured a number of top-notch Washington wines. These wines showcase the variety and depth of premium wines produced in the state and confirm what many of you already know: a good wine tastes even better when paired with the proper food.

Here is a summary of the highly recommended wines that were served:

nullTreveri Cellars Non-Vintage Sparkling Pinot Gris (about $15) – Winemaker Juergen Grieb does it again with this flavorful, extremely well-priced sparkler that makes an excellent aperitif. It explodes with Golden Delicious apple and Bartlett pear flavors that are perfectly balanced by a lemon-drop finish.

Rulo Winery Walla Walla Valley 2012 Chardonnay (about $25) – Kurt and Vicki Schlicker prove that good people make great wines with this stunning effort. Hazelnut, butterscotch, baked apple and toasted vanilla aromas and flavors melt into a mile-long finish with a hint of mandarin orange. Purchase their wines on line or take a U-Haul to the tasting room in Walla Walla and stock up.

Terra Blanca Winery Signature Series 2008 Merlot (about $40) – Keith Pilgrim provides another amazing interpretation of Red Mountain fruit with this estate-sourced merlot. Dried herbs, minerals and a whisper of smoke on the nose are followed by understated plum and black cherry flavors and a twist of black pepper. Try it with anything beef or a pork tenderloin.

Forgeron Cellars 2011 GSM (about $33) – This beautifully balanced blend from Walla Walla winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla hits all the right notes and pairs perfectly with leg of lamb. The flavor profile includes bright red plum from the grenache and intense dark fruits from the syrah. A splash of mourvèdre provides spicy accents on the finish along with perfectly integrated tannins.

Thurston Wolfe Non-Vintage Tawny Port (about $16 for 375 ml) – Dr. Wade Wolfe creates a masterpiece with this zinfandel port that spent eight years in the barrel. It’s brimming with complex layers of candied walnuts, toasted coconut, caramel, fig, and rum raisin that linger long after the first sip.

If you’re thinking about attending a wine dinner, consider reserving a space at North Bellingham Golf Course’s Nine Restaurant on October 18 at 6 pm. I’ll be moderating an exquisite five-course dinner that will feature Annette Bergevin from Walla Walla’s Bergevin Lane Vineyards.

Wines slated to be served include sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, two red wine blends and syrah. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (360) 398-8300, extension 2.

Obelisco Estate at the Pinnacle of Red Mountain’s Recognized Wineries

October 7th, 2014

When it comes to prestigious wine regions and wines, Washington has certainly done itself proud.

The state’s latest recognition: the nomination of the Red Mountain Appellation as Wine Enthusiast magazine’s wine region of the year. Other 2014 nominees include Champagne, Chianti, New York State and Sonoma, California…pretty impressive company by anyone’s standards. The winner will be announced in the magazine’s December 31 issue.

If you’re familiar with Washington wine then you’re familiar with Red Mountain, which is located about 15 miles west of the Tri-Cities. Its unique climate and soil conditions have made it ideal for growing wine grapes, especially red varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah.

Obelisco Estate is one of Red Mountain’s newer wineries that has quickly earned a reputation as one of the region’s finest. Owner/winemaker Doug Long planted his vineyards in 2004, added renowned winemakers Sarah Goedhart Hedges and Pete Hedges, and released his first vintage in 2007 with a focus on low yield fruit of the highest quality.

nullI recently had the pleasure of tasting some of Long’s price-worthy current releases and all of them are outstanding. Here are my tasting notes:

2010 Malbec (about $35) – This intensely dark-colored red displays a beautiful, brambly blackberry note throughout, and the fruit is prevalent without being overstated. The latter stages suggest brighter cherry and red currant with a lengthy finish accentuated with toasted vanilla.

2011 Syrah (about $40) – Gorgeous aromatics of crème brȗlée, brown sugar and dark berry fruits fill the glass. Black cherry, black olive and fig flavors subtly explode on the palate, with dreamy, smoky nuances on the finish. Exceptional!

2010 Merlot (about $45) – Intoxicating fragrances of rich plum, caramel and cola lead off, and the initial dark fruit flavors develop more of an herbaceous, mineral-like quality with a splash of espresso as the wine opens up. This is classic Red Mountain fruit at its finest.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $50) – Spicy plum on the nose carries over to the palate with big blackberry fruit and touches of cocoa powder, allspice and sweet cedar. The acidity shines through on this cooler-than-normal vintage, providing balance to the tannic structure. Enjoyable now but certain to improve with additional cellaring time.

Obelisco Estate wines have just become available in Whatcom County through local distribution. If you don’t see them in your favorite wine shop or major grocer, ask if they can be ordered for you.

In addition, the winery has a tasting room in Woodinville that is currently open from noon to 5 pm on Saturday, 1 pm to 4 pm on Sunday and Monday through Friday by appointment. For complete information as well as online purchases: obelisco.com.

Wines Becoming More Popular at Football and Tailgate Parties

September 30th, 2014

Wine? At a tailgate or football party? Alongside bloody marys, assorted other cocktails and the king of football beverages, beer?

I say, there’s absolutely no reason not to include wine and I’ve got a few theories as to why wines have become increasingly popular at football-related events.

nullFor starters, there’s simply more (and better) food being served. Go to a football party at someone’s home or a tailgate party in the parking lot of a stadium at game day. The tableful of chips and dips has expanded to include a sometimes massive spread of salads, carefully prepared side dishes and desserts.

That cool guy who fired up a hibachi and threw on some hot dogs? He’s been replaced by a master chef with a propane grill barbequing any cut of beef, pork or chicken you like.

It’s clear that we’ve become much more sophisticated with our football dining habits, and that allows for more beverage options, including wine.

Second, there’s the evolution of the metrosexual. These are the “in-touch-with-your-softer-side” men who aren’t afraid to wax their chest, put product in their hair, or go see a chick-flick with their girlfriend or spouse.

nullWhile some guys are still perfectly content with a six-pack of beer and a bag of Doritos on game day, metrosexuals aren’t buying it. They avoid pre-packaged foods and are more likely to have the occasional glass of wine rather than something out of an aluminum can – unless it’s a craft beer, of course.

And let’s not underestimate the increasing presence of women at these events. They too, often prefer wine over beer as their drink of choice. That influences the selection of beverages that party hosts have to take into consideration.

So what’s the best wine or wines to serve at these gatherings?

Because there are often so many different foods involved, it’s difficult to pin down the “perfect” wine. But parties of this kind usually involve pretty heady stuff; grilled brats with all the condiments, homemade chili, pasta and potato salads, spicy buffalo wings, and nachos with jalapeño peppers are just a few things that come to mind.

That said, it might be best to serve a slightly sweeter white wine. You’ll find that a sweet wine will compete and contrast nicely with the spice and heat components of these foods, while a basic chardonnay or light to medium-bodied red wine could be overwhelmed and rendered tasteless.

Riesling, gewürztraminer, muscat, and chenin blanc should make good choices and even a white zinfandel (gasp) might be a consideration. Not only are these wines sometimes enjoyed by well-seasoned wine drinkers, they may be the only thing that occasional, sweet wine drinkers will consume. That gives them broad-ranging appeal and makes them a solid addition to your next football party.

Watermill Winery a Standout Among Walla Walla Valley Appellation Wineries

September 23rd, 2014

Mention the words “Walla Walla Valley” in a wine-related conversation and you’re likely to receive a smile and a nod of approval.

Wines produced from this Washington wine region have developed quite a reputation over the last several years. And with that recognition you can expect to pay higher prices – some of it warranted and some of it, perhaps, based on what I refer to as a “reputation surcharge.”

nullThat’s why it’s so refreshing to taste and recommend wines from Watermill Winery. Not only are they absolutely stunning on every level, they’re extremely well-priced, considering the source.

The Walla Walla Valley Appellation straddles the Washington/ Oregon border, and Watermill is located on the Oregon side in the town of Milton-Freewater, which is about 10 miles south of the city of Walla Walla.

While it’s not uncommon for wineries in this area to charge $40 to $50 a bottle for red wines, nearly all of Watermill’s current offerings are priced in the much more reasonable $20 to $35 price range.

Winemaker Andrew Brown has done a masterful job with these wines. They’re expressive, true to the varietal and an absolute pleasure to taste. Here are my tasting notes:

2009 Estate Midnight Red (about $35) – This cabernet sauvignon-based Bordeaux blend includes four other red varietals sourced from McClellan Estate Vineyards (which is adjacent to Casey McClellan’s Seven Hills Vineyard). Red and black currant aromas and flavors predominate, with a touch of black cherry and roasted coffee on the extreme finish. The first food pairing that came to mind: gamey meats such as elk or venison.

2010 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley (about $24) – Dark plum, blackberry and rum raisin flavors lead off, followed by a lighter contrasting note of woodsy, sweet cedar and nuances of cocoa and vanilla bean on the finish. This wine opens big, and then shows beautiful finesse as each wonderfully complex layer reveals itself.

null2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley (about $24) – This drop-dead gorgeous cabernet features inky, jet-black currant flavors that melt into a chocolaty mocha swirl with accents of baking spice. I challenge you to find a comparable cabernet from the Walla Walla Valley at this price point.

2012 Viognier, Columbia Valley (about $16) – In addition to Walla Walla fruit, Brown uses 60-percent of his grapes from the Rattlesnake Hill Appellation’s Elephant Mountain Vineyard for this elegant viognier. It carries the characteristics of its Northern Rhone cousins, roussanne and marsanne, with its nutty, almond-like flavor, clover aromatics, and pleasantly unctuous full-bodied texture.

You’ll find Watermill Winery wines locally at the Barkley Village Haggen and The Market at Birch Bay, and occasionally on the menu at Dirty Dan Harris and LaFiamma restaurants. They can also be purchased on line at watermillwinery.com.

Take a Day Trip Drive and Visit Challenger Ridge Winery

September 16th, 2014

Looking for an afternoon getaway that includes good wines in a quiet, rural setting? A trip to Challenger Ridge Winery could be just what you need to fit the bill.

Located just west of the town of Concrete, the winery is a leisurely one-hour drive from Bellingham and a visit makes for a terrific day trip to neighboring Skagit County.

The tasting room is situated in an over 100-year-old farmhouse on 68 acres of land near the Skagit River. The facility includes seven acres of pinot noir grapes and plenty of area for picnicking. Overnight camping is also available at the creative, and very reasonable, cost of one bottle of the winery’s wine per adult per night.

The winery has had its share of ups and downs in the past, but it certainly seems to be on the right track with the recent addition of Robert Smasne as winemaker. Smasne has earned critical acclaim for wines produced under his own label as well as a number of other Washington wineries.

nullHere are my tasting notes on the wines I sampled during a visit to the winery last month:

Kiss Me Kate 2011 Rosé ($16) – A combination of estate pinot noir and a splash of Eastern Washington viognier, this rosé is practically guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The color, aroma and flavors are spot on with Jolly Rancher watermelon candy along with a smack of sweet strawberry on the finish.

2009 Savant ($18) – This completely underpriced, overachieving pinot noir-based blend includes grenache, merlot and tempranillo. Beautiful cherry and berry aromas lead off, carry over to the palate, and conclude with a soft, velvety finishing note.

2009 Diablo Red ($20) – Using the same varietal composition as the Savant, this red blend differs in its Columbia Valley vineyard sources. It features the same cherry and berry fruits, with more of an acidic edge and spicy accents.

2009 Estate Pinot Noir Block Three ($26) – Light and delicate with dried cherry flavors, this estate-grown pinot displays good minerality, a bit of earthiness and gentle smoky undertones. It’s a prime candidate to serve with an entrée of salmon or duck confit.

There are a number of other wines currently available for tasting including a white wine blend, two additional pinot noirs, a syrah and a cabernet sauvignon.

To get to the winery, follow Interstate 5 southbound to the Cook Road exit. Travel east until you connect with the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) in Sedro-Woolley and follow the highway to Concrete.

The tasting room is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 pm and weekdays by appointment. Contact tasting room manager Sandra Hambleton at (425) 422-6988 or sandra@challengerridge.com and she’ll be happy to make the necessary arrangements.

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