Explore International Wines from New and Old World Sources

January 20th, 2015

The focus of my column has always been on Washington wine – and with good reason. Our state produces all the essentials a wine enthusiast could ask for: white wines ranging from crisp, vibrant riesling to full-bodied chardonnay and a wide array of red wines from velvety merlot to big, bold cabernet sauvignon.

But even if all your taste-preference bases are covered by Washington wineries, you’d be foolish not to enjoy wines from other parts of the United States and around the world.

Old World wine-producing countries of France, Spain, and Italy and New World sources such as South Africa, Australia, Chile, and Argentina offer an immense variety of styles to complement and contrast anything from Washington in your on-hand wine supply.

nullToday I’ll give you several international recommendations I’ve recently enjoyed that make great choices for wineophiles looking to venture outside the Pacific Northwest.

Borgo M 2013 Pinot Grigio (about $12) – This refreshing Italian white has a lightly floral and fruity aroma with plenty of crisp citrus flavors and a lemon-drop finish. It pairs well with manila clams in butter broth and is currently on the menu at Keenan’s at the Pier Restaurant in Bellingham.

Montes Twins 2012 Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon (about $15) – This 50/50 blend is sourced from the Colchagua Valley in Chile. It’s loaded with dark berry, plum, and black currant fruits followed by a layer of even darker bittersweet chocolate and espresso. The soft finish makes it instantly enjoyable and a pleasure to taste.

Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva 2008 (about $19) – This beautiful Spanish red is comprised almost entirely of tempranillo and its opening cherry flavors are accentuated with subtle clove and cinnamon spice. The lingering, complex finish suggests caramel and hazelnut with a dusting of cocoa powder. It pairs nicely with a variety of tapas from octopus to linguiça.

nullKaiken 2012 Ultra Malbec (about $24) – Another excellent Chilean malbec, this one is filled with reserved blueberry and blackberry flavors and underscored with an earthy, mineral-like quality and supple tannins. The 14.5-percent alcohol content comes off as slightly hot; a quibble quickly tempered by the dollop of vanilla bean on the finish.

Antonelli San Marco 2010 Montefalco Rosso and Arnaldo-Caprai 2012 Montefalco Rosso (between $19 to $25 each) – Montefalco is a subdivision within central Italy’s Umbria region and known for its big, heady red wines.

Both of these wines have a sangiovese base and 15-percent sagrantino. The Antonelli also blends in cabernet sauvignon and merlot and its cherry, red plum, and toasted oak profile is perfectly balanced with grippy tannins.

The Arnaldo-Caprai is finished with just a bit of merlot. It’s a touch lighter in body, with red currant and berry flavors, firm tannins and a pleasant splash of green tea on the finish.

Jones of Washington Provides Solid, Affordable Wines

January 13th, 2015

Even though it was just a few short weeks ago, Christmas, 2014 seems likes a distant memory. Well, at least it does until we receive those credit card bills in the mail to remind us of our weak-moment (but almost certainly justified), holiday spending binges.

That’s why January always seems like a fitting time to talk about wines for those trying to be a bit more cost-conscious. A winery with solid, consistently good wines that are affordably priced is a must, and Jones of Washington is one that delivers on all counts.

nullThis isn’t to suggest that Jones wines should be limited to those on a budget. On the contrary, these wines should be enjoyed year-round, with plenty of choices at both the lower and mid-range price points and overachieving quality on every level.

Here are a number of recommendations of current releases to get you started:

2013 Estate Riesling (about $12) – Refreshing pear and honeydew melon flavors lead off with a whisper of spicy, lychee fruit on the extreme finish. Winemaker Victor Palencia seems to have used a bit of a lighter touch with this riesling, and it earned the winery a coveted double platinum award from Wine Press Northwest magazine.

2013 Chardonnay (about $15) – Ambrosia-like aromatics fill the glass, followed by a mouthful of tropical pineapple, papaya and banana fruit flavors. As it warms, Golden Delicious apple and touches of peach shine through on the finish. This is a big, fruit-forward chardonnay that’s certain to put a smile on your face.

2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (about $15) – Delicious cherry and berry flavors, a touch of toasted oak, and slightly chewy tannins highlight this nicely balanced red wine. It’s an absolute steal at this price and perfect for everyday enjoyment or for those who want to impress without spending a bundle.

2011 Late Harvest Riesling (about $20 for the 375ml bottle) – Mouthwatering peach and gently spiced pear and apple flavors are accentuated with zesty citrus notes of lemon and tangerine. The wine’s 10-percent residual sugar content adds a lengthy, honey-like finish.

Jack’s Reserve 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $30) – For a step up in price, try this beautifully crafted cabernet. It opens with blackberry and dark cherry flavors and the layered, complex finish suggests white pepper, cocoa powder and fresh herbs. It’s bold, yet refined, with the fruit, tannins and acidity levels in perfect balance.

Other well-priced Jones of Washington wines currently available include the 2013 Pinot Gris (about $13), and the 2013 Viognier, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, and 2013 Estate Merlot (all priced at about $15 each).

Jones of Washington wines are easy to find in Whatcom County grocers and wine shops and can also be purchased on line at jonesofwashington.com.

Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center: Great Facility, Great Washington Wines

January 6th, 2015

Here’s a great idea for anyone who enjoys visiting wineries in Eastern Washington: go to the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser.

I’ve travelled to scores of tasting rooms over the past three decades and, simply stated, a visit to the Clore Center is unlike any other.

nullThe facility opened to the public in May of last year and is named for the late Dr. Walter Clore. Dr. Clore was a viticultural researcher whose work was instrumental in determining that Washington’s soil and climate could support vineyard growth and the production of premium wines.

Clore Center includes exhibits, meeting rooms, a state-of-the art kitchen for cooking classes and demonstrations, an adjacent 2,000 square foot pavilion (pictured above) that can accommodate special events and weddings, and a patio and beautifully landscaped grounds overlooking the Yakima River.

Even with all these amenities, the focal point of the Center is the tasting room and lounge area, and I’d make the trip over for this alone. It’s spacious and contemporary with floor-to-ceiling windows, a substantial tasting bar, helpful staff, and a seating area with sofas and high-back chairs that invite guests to relax and linger over a glass of wine.

The tasting room offers a different lineup of Washington wines each month that almost always features one of the State’s 13 American Viticultural Areas (AVA). With the focus on the grape-growing AVA rather than an individual winery, you’re able to taste and compare wines that share a common geographic source but are produced by different wineries.

Tasting Room Manager, April Reddout, says, “Our monthly wines are as unique as the AVAs. We feel that good varietal representation and good price point representation are (most) important. (Wines are) determined by a committee that includes the tasting room staff, wine industry personnel, and members of the Center’s Board of Directors.”

In addition to wine tastes for a small $5 fee, visitors can purchase wine by the bottle and food items from a small menu that currently includes cheese plates, soup, sandwiches and paninis…perfect for lunch or an afternoon nosh.

Reddout said the Center also has plans to launch a wine club sometime later in January. This unique club will include some of the Center’s most popular selling wines from the prior month as well as exclusive offers of older vintages rather than new releases. This gives you “more exposure to wines you might not normally find,” she notes.

The tasting room is open daily from 11 am to 5 pm and additional information can be found online at theclorecenter.org.

Go, learn a bit about the agricultural wine regions of Washington, and taste some good wines in the process. I can hardly think of a better way to start the New Year.

Champagne and Sparkling Wines Deserve to be Served Year Round

December 30th, 2014

Tomorrow night is New Year’s Eve and if you’re like most wine drinkers, you’ll be celebrating the occasion with something bubbly in your glass.

As we close out 2014, keep in mind that Champagne and sparkling wines are something that should be enjoyed throughout the year, not just on December 31.

These beverages are delicious on their own when well-chilled, and many of them are made in a dry or off-dry style with high acidity, which also makes them excellent food pairing partners. Fresh shellfish, sushi, eggs benedict and deep-fried foods are just a few of the endless possibilities.

nullResolve to make next year one in which you discover the virtues of sparkling wine by serving them more often. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their broad range of flavors and styles as well as their overall versatility.

For today, let me offer a few suggestions to get you started:

Riondo Non-Vintage Prosecco Spago Nero (about $11) – This nicely priced sparkler is made in a lighter, almost delicate frizzante style with ultra-fine bubbles. Fuji apple and bright pear flavors shine through along with a kiss of vibrant acidity on an off-dry finish.

Berlucchi ’61 Franciacorta Non-Vintage Rosé
(about $35) – This Italian sparkling wine is comprised of 60-percent pinot noir and 40-percent chardonnay and its pale peach/coral color looks exquisite in the glass. Aromas of freshly baked bread and crisp flavors of red apple, ruby grapefruit and green pear predominate, while the finish is refreshingly abrupt and clean with a trace of minerality.

If you’d like to try a sparkling wine made in Washington be sure to put Yakima’s Treveri Cellars on your must-try list. Every one of the winery’s current releases is highly recommended and their entire portfolio is amazingly well-priced at $19-a-bottle or less.

Mountain Dome Winery in Spokane is another Washington-produced choice for good sparklers. This long-standing winery celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this year.

Closer to home, consider sparkling wines from Masquerade Wine Company in Bellingham or GLM Wine Co. in Blaine. According to GLM owner and winemaker Tom Davis, the winery will be featuring its first-ever limited release (just 40 cases total) of two sparkling wines sourced from Oregon grapes.

The 2011 La Reine Brut Sparkling Wine is a white wine made from chardonnay and gamay noir juice, while the 2011 La Robe Brut Red Sparkling Wine is made from chardonnay juice and the skins of the gamay noir grape, which give it its red color.

Each wine retails for $45 but will be available to wine club members for only $36. For additional information: glmwine.com.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Whatever Your Splurge Level, Consider These Great Red Wines

December 23rd, 2014

For many of us, the holiday season means it’s time to splurge. From food to gifts to good wine, this is the time when spending a few extra dollars becomes a guilt-free, cut-loose practice we might otherwise shelve for the other eleven months of the year.

Although splurge levels are relative to the individual consumer, they can generally be defined as anything over-and-above your customary price range. So, for example, if you normally spend no more than $10 to $15 on a bottle of wine, then paying even $20 to $25 could be classified as a “splurge.”

Today I’ll offer a few red wine suggestions for those who might consider breaking into the $20 to $30-a-bottle category a splurge and then a couple more in the $50-and-up price range.

Milbrandt Vineyards has a number of excellent reds that I sampled during a visit to their tasting room in Prosser last month:

The Estates 2012 Malbec (about $26) – Explosive, wild berries on the nose and complementary flavors of plump blackberry and blueberry highlight this full-bodied red. A soft, lingering finish belies the wine’s 15.5-percent alcohol content.

Vineyard Series 2011 Primitivo (about $28) – This relative of the zinfandel grape carries all of its classic characteristics: jammy/brambly berry flavors, spicy accents, and a spritz of white pepper on the finish. Outstanding!

Vineyard Series 2011 Mosaic (about $28) – This brilliant grenache, syrah, mourvèdre blend displays blackberry fruit, hints of smoky spice, and a touch of licorice root. Best of Class and double gold medalist at this year’s Tri-Cities Wine Festival.

Mendocino County, California’s Parducci Wine Cellars also has a couple of nice current releases from their “True Grit” line that are worth a try:

2012 Reserve Petit Sirah (about $29) – Reserved flavors of berries and red plum are capped with a flourish of toasted vanilla. The lighter-than-expected body style was a pleasant surprise.

2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (about $30) – Chocolate cherry, black plum and a splash of espresso are backed by supple tannins on the slightly chewy finish.

nullFinally, be sure to spend the extra dollars for two pinot noirs from Durant Vineyards in Dayton, Oregon. Their 2012 Olivia Grace Pinot Noir (about $60) and the 2012 Bishop Pinot Noir (about $65) are completely over-the-top in terms of quality and elegance.

The Olivia Grace shows expressive flavors of strawberry, raspberry, rhubarb and cranberry without any trace of harsh acidity. While the Bishop displays essentially the same flavor profile, I’d give it a preferential nod only because it’s slightly headier and perhaps a touch jammier.

Both wines carry a seemingly endless finishing note with a dreamy, velvety texture and each represent a superb winemaking effort. Buy them now…you will not be disappointed.

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