Buying Local? Northwest Washington Wineries Have You Covered

February 24th, 2015

If you prefer your food and beverages produced closer to home, our regional and local-area wineries have plenty to offer.

Whatcom, Skagit, Island, and San Juan counties boast many award-winning wineries that source their grapes from either estate vineyards or those located in Eastern Washington. These grapes are made into wines at local production facilities and available for purchase primarily in area tasting rooms, grocers, wine shops.

For starters, consider Silver Bell Winery in LaConner, where husband and wife owners/ winemakers Alan and Diane Holtzheimer have established a must-visit tasting room.

Newly-released selections include their 2012 Merlot (about $29), sourced from Copeland Vineyards near Zillah. This wine has a lovely, almost perfume-like air about it, with brambly berry aromatics and flavors, a sprinkle of crushed herbs, and a gentle splash of acidity. The finish has plenty of grip and a touch of toasted oak.

Also notable is the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $34), with an intriguing bouquet of spice box, violets, and field berries. The Red Mountain Appellation fruit really shines through with its understated currant and blackberry flavors and a streak of minerality. Potentially ideal food pairings include burgers, steak or roast beef.

nullWinemaker Chris Primus (pictured at left) of San Juan Vineyards in Friday Harbor has really come into his own the past few years. Case in point: his 2013 Siegerrebe received five unanimous double golds from five different sets of judges. The wine has already sold out, but the 2014 vintage is scheduled for bottling in April.

Primus has also skillfully crafted several other wines including a trio of just-released reds:

2011 Cabernet-Merlot (about $19, currently on sale for $14) – This blend of cab franc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon features distinctive anise aromatics, gorgeous plum fruit, and accents of white pepper and vanilla bean. It’s instantly enjoyable at a steal of a price.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $19) – There’s a bit of an herbal note on the nose accompanied by savory cherry tomato to start. As the wine opens, more of the dark, black plum and berry fruit comes through with firm tannins on the finish. An excellent wine to pair with beef tenderloin.

2011 Cabernet Franc (about $27) – Red fruits of cherry, currant and cranberry lead off with an underlying whisper of smoky/earthy coffee bean. It’s perfectly balanced with a near-elegant quality that makes it a pleasure to taste.

A final note: the newly opened Safeway store on Sunset Drive in Bellingham has generously dedicated a floor display and aisle end-cap to exclusively promote six Whatcom County wineries: Dakota Creek Winery, Dynasty Cellars, GLM Wine Co., Legoe Bay Winery, Masquerade Wine Co., and Vartanyan Estate Winery. For those who like to support the locals, it’s a one-stop shopping opportunity worth checking out.

Rhone Varietals Increasingly Popular With Washington Wineries

February 17th, 2015

Rhône varietals have certainly found their niche among Washington wineries and wine enthusiasts. Once produced in scant quantities and used primarily for blending purposes, they’ve shown an increasing presence in the market, especially as stand-alone products.

So what exactly is a Rhône varietal? It’s one of 22 grapes designated for wine production within France’s Rhône Valley. Although some of these grapes remain fairly obscure, many are now commonplace in vineyards throughout Washington and the United States.

The Rhône Valley has two very distinct climates. The southern portion is characterized as Mediterranean, with hot summers and mild winters, while the north has warm summers with winters that are much more austere. As you might expect, each region’s climate has a profound influence on the types of wine grapes that can be grown there.

Eastern Washington’s climate more closely aligns with that of the Northern Rhône, and the four varietals permitted in the French region – syrah, viognier, roussanne, and marsanne – have, not surprisingly, also been grown here with good success.

Heat-loving Southern Rhône varietals, such as grenache and mourvèdre, are more adverse to our sometimes brutal winters. And yet, planted wisely and maintained properly, these grapes have also found a home in Washington, albeit to a much smaller extent.

Here’s a primer of a few Rhône varietals you’re likely to find from Washington wineries in stores and at winery tasting rooms:

Viognier – Sometimes mentioned as an alternative to chardonnay, this fragrant, full-bodied, low-acid white often carries flavors of stone fruits such as peach and apricot.

nullRoussanne – This viscous wine has common flavor descriptors of pear, apple, and nutty, with a round, creamy finish. It’s one of the few white wines that can benefit from long-term cellaring.

Marsanne – This full-bodied white is similar to roussanne, with the same nut-like quality, a rich, oily texture and oftentimes savory/spicy finish.

Grenache (grapes pictured at left) – This up-and-coming medium-bodied red varietal often features red fruits of raspberry and currant with refreshingly vibrant acidity. Often blended with Syrah and Mourvedre as a “GSM” wine.

Syrah – King among Rhône varietals in Washington, this is the third most planted red wine grape in the state. Low to medium acidity with medium to high tannins, it’s usually characterized as having dark berry and plum fruits and spicy/smoky accents.

Mourvèdre – Frequently blended with other red varietals, it’s darkly colored with a somewhat gamey/meaty quality and generally high in tannins.

Don’t Assume That Red Wine You Bought Will Automatically Pair With Chocolate

February 10th, 2015

Valentine’s Day is Saturday and I’m guessing that many of you are still mulling about a list of possibilities on what do to with your special someone.

For those of us lacking in creativity, the tried-and-true ways to celebrate the day usually seem to work best. Dinner out with a bottle of something sparkling? A solid choice. Flowers delivered to the home or workplace? Always a nice touch. Stay at home with a movie, some chocolate truffles and an exquisite bottle of red wine? Not so fast!

nullSomehow, some way, the coupling of red wine and chocolate has worked its way into the minds of love struck sweethearts as the quintessential Valentine’s Day combination.

Let me warn you that more often than not, this pairing can be perfectly awful.

The culprit is usually the chocolate, which sets the bar so high with its cocoa, sugar and fat contents it can render many red wines tasteless.

The solution is to beat the chocolate at its own game by choosing a wine that’s just as bold or sweet. A big, full-bodied cabernet sauvignon or a spicy, smoky syrah or zinfandel might do the trick; but I’ve found even better choices to be fortified sweet reds, Sherries, or a tawny Port or port-style wine.

Here a few wine recommendations that should work well with chocolate or for sipping simply on their own:

Maryhill Winery 2008 Vintage Port (about $18 for 580 ml) – A blend of traditional Port grapes – tinto cão, tempranillo, sousão, and touriga nacional – this wine was aged 32 months in oak barrels at the Goldendale winery. Rum raisin aromas and flavors are accompanied by extra-ripe cherry along with a hint of caramel and butterscotch. A somewhat sweet finish nicely balances the Brobdingnagian 19.3-percent alcohol content.

nullDynasty Cellars 2013 Amabile Late Harvest Zinfandel (about $18 for 375 ml) – This fortified zinfandel from the Bellingham winery has a stunning chocolate cherry bouquet that carries over to the palate with a subtle finishing flourish of white pepper. There’s also plenty of sweetness to balance out the underlying tannins. Amabile, by the way, translates to “sweet” or “lovable” in Italian.

BarSol Perfecto Amor (about $19) – This unique and amazing amber-colored aperitif is a combination of pisco (a Peruvian brandy) and three white varietals. Intoxicating aromas of baked raisin bread and maple nut lead to flavors of butterscotch and dried fruits on the palate. The finish is soft, elegant and lingering with touches of toasted almond. Superb!

Gonzalez Byass “Nectar” Sherry (about $25) – Sourced from Spain and made from the Pedro Ximenez grape, I’m tempted to describe this wine as a liquid fig newton for adults. But it’s much more than that, with ultra-dark plum, date, and dried apricot flavors and a nice nuttiness on the super-sweet, incredibly lengthy finish. This wine will stand up to virtually any dessert as well as an after-dinner cigar.

Maryhill Evolves Into More Than Just a Destination Winery

February 3rd, 2015

There’s a lot to like about Maryhill Winery: a tasting room facility on the Columbia Gorge with some of the most spectacular views of any winery I’ve visited; an on-site, 4,000-seat amphitheater for outdoor concerts; and a huge portfolio of wines that’s certain to satisfy virtually any taste preference or budget.

In 2007 I wrote, “Warning: wines from Maryhill Winery are not for the faint of heart. (They’re) big and bold with complex, massive fruit flavors…”

Things have certainly changed since then. The Maryhill wines I recently tasted seemed to place much less emphasis on the high fruit and alcohol content. The result: wines that display superior balance, more character, and far better food-pairing capability.

nullIt’s probably no mystery that this evolution of Maryhill wines coincides with the hiring of Richard Batchelor as winemaker.

Originally from New Zealand, Batchelor came on board with Maryhill in 2009, and the number of awards his wines have earned since that time is staggering…including seven platinums at Wine Press Northwest magazine’s Best of the Best in the Pacific Northwest Competition last year.

Today’s recommendations include several choices nicely priced in the under-$20-a-bottle category. These wines are well distributed and easy to find in local grocers and wine shops, including Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants in Bellingham.

2012 Winemaker’s White (about $11) – This tasty blend of chardonnay, viognier, semillon, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc has just the right balance between viscous and crispness with flavors of granny smith apple, pear, and lemon tart. Prefer red blends instead? A 2012 Winemaker’s Red is also currently available for about $15.

2013 Rosé of Sangiovese (about $11) – Batchelor hits a grand slam with this pretty-in-pink, gem of a wine. Wild strawberry aromatics and flavors fill the glass from start to finish, with a closing note of red currant and beautiful, bracing acidity. Outstanding!

2013 Viognier (about $13) – Flavor profile-wise, there’s a bit of a throwback to the Maryhill of old with this full-bodied white wine. Toasted marshmallow on the nose, a mouthful of tropical fruit and baked apple flavors and a creamy texture with great mouthfeel all add up to this somewhat guilty pleasure.

2009 Zinfandel (about $18) – Spicy aromas and tastes predominate, with understated flavors of raspberry and crabapple and a faintly peppery finish. With the fruit, alcohol and acidity in check, this makes an excellent red to serve with roast beef or pork tenderloin.

2011 Sangiovese (about $18) – Lovely caramel and red cherry aromas start you off along with a hint of smokiness that carries through to the palate. Pie cherry, pomegranate and cranberry flavors are perfectly balanced with nice acidity and salmon or duck come to mind as food-pairing options.

Washington Wines: Big on Quality and Variety

January 27th, 2015

Last week I ventured outside the state to feature several international wine recommendations for you to consider. Today we return to Washington, with a number of terrific wines that are equally certain to please.

As I tasted these wines, it struck me how diverse Washington has become in the number of varietals we now produce.

The key to all of this is our climate in the eastern half of the state, where nearly all of our wine grapes are grown.

Long summer days, abundant sunshine, and cool autumn evenings that allow the grapes to maintain high acidity levels with extended hang times all play a part in why we do wines so well in this part of the world.

For today’s column, there’s no particular regional or varietal theme, just more recommendations that showcase a few of the increasingly varied choices that wine enthusiasts have when considering Washington wines.

L’Ecole No. 41 2013 Semillon (about $15) – This is one of my favorite white varietals, and although it can be difficult to find, winemaker Marty Clubb has, thankfully, been making it for as long as I can remember. The wine’s nicely reserved layer of pineapple and tropical fruit is also underscored with stone fruit, lemon chiffon and floral accents. An excellent wine at an incredibly reasonable price.

Otis Kenyon 2013 Riesling (about $18) – Up until a few years ago, this Walla Walla winery only made red wines; but they’ve expanded their current releases to include this refreshing white. Racy, vibrant flavors of lemon and lime zest are capped by a clean, bone-dry finish. It’s quite possibly the perfect wine to pair with oysters on the half-shell.

nullFoxy Roxy Wines 2008 Vixen Red (about $22) – A gorgeous Bordeaux blend of estate-grown cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and carménerè, this opulent red is brimming with cola, black cherry and blackberry fruit that melt into a plush, lengthy finish. The winery is located in the middle of nowhere between the towns of Royal City and Othello, but the wines, fortunately, can be purchased on line.

Rulo Winery 2013 Sundance Chardonnay (about $25) – Honeysuckle, sweet pea and clover aromatics lead to generous flavors of Macintosh apple and green melon. The finish is textured with a slightly crisp trailing note. Another stunning wine from Kurt and Vicki Schlicker, who continue to do a remarkable job at their Walla Walla winery.

Coach House Cellars 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $30) – Produced by Bellingham winemakers Scott Whitman and Paxton Rembert, this current release doesn’t have quite the power and depth of their 2010 cab, but it’s still a fine effort. Black plum, roasted coffee, some nice acidity and supple tannins combine in a well-balanced red that can be enjoyed now or cellared three to five years for future enjoyment.

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