Category Archives: Past Articles

Hearty Soup or Stew on the Menu? Try Serving it With a Red Wine

This article originally appeared in the October/November, 2015 issue of Bellingham Alive Magazine

What’s the first beverage you think of when serving that hearty soup or stew you’re preparing this fall? Sparkling water? Beer? Milk? Puh-lease! Be a little adventurous and expand your tasting horizons by serving a red wine with your soup or stew; you’re certain to be in for a true culinary treat.

nullWith just a bit of pre-planning, you’ll find that red wines are perfect pairing partners when soups and stews are either part of a multi-course dinner or served as the full-meal deal. Red wines are varied, flavorful, and great food enhancers because they can either complement or contrast the flavor profile of the base ingredients.

For cream-based soups, consider serving a light to medium-bodied red wine with a high acid content. Pinot Noir makes an excellent choice because the wine’s natural acidity cuts through the cream, allowing you to taste both the food and the wine.

In a world of sky-high priced pinots, the Mark West Willamette Valley 2013 Pinot Noir (about $22) is a tasty, reasonably priced alternative with considerable character and depth. Red plum and raspberry flavors lead off, with touches of spicy crabapple and brisk acidity on the finish. Try it with roasted vegetable soups or perhaps a creamy lobster bisque.


Also from Oregon and worth a try: the Willamette Valley Vineyards 2014 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir (about $22) and their 2013 Estate Pinot Noir (about $30). The Whole Cluster begins with a base of black and red plum that develops a nice, edgy quality with hints of bittersweet chocolate on the extreme finish. The Estate Pinot is vibrant, lean, and lighter in body, with expressive flavors of red currant, cranberry, and pie cherry.

For tomato-based soups, medium-body/medium-acid red wines such as Sangiovese, Barbera or Grenache are ideal. You’ll find that the acidity content of the tomatoes often matches and softens the astringency of these wines, allowing the complementary flavors of each to shine through.

Made from Sangiovese grapes, the Avignonesi 2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (about $29) should be on your must-try list to serve with minestrone soup. Gorgeous bright red cherry flavors predominate, framed by complex, spicy accents that suggest both slightly sweet and savory/earthy characteristics. The lengthy finish displays a harmonious compromise of lively acidity and soft tannins.

Sourced from Yakima Valley grapes, Walla Walla-based winery’s Palencia Wine Company 2012 Grenache (about $36) also makes a terrific choice. Aromas of toasted walnut fill the glass, with brighter strawberry and raspberry flavors to start. An underlying darker layer comes through on the finish with an artful flourish of dried black cherries.

For hearty stews, especially those calling for beef or pork, there are a number of red wines that make excellent, reliable choices – especially those with good tannic structure. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Zinfandel are just a few of the many options available.

From Spain’s Toro region, the 100-percent Tempranillo Pata Negra Toro Roble 2013 (about $15) should pair well with a variety of heartier soups and stews. A whiff of gingerbread on the nose, red berry flavors on the palate, and a slightly earthy/smoky finish capped with a hint of toasted oak highlight this affordable, “everyday” red.

And Oregon’s Raptor Ridge Winery 2013 Tempranillo (about $35) also has a current release of this Spanish varietal that’s drinking quite nicely. Sourced from the warmer Rogue Valley Appellation in the southwest region of the state, it’s beautifully balanced with understated blackberry fruit, a splash of acidity, supple tannins, and a spritz of black pepper on the finish.

Skillful winemaker Victor Palencia has handcrafted yet another gem with his Palencia Wine Company 2012 Syrah (about $30). It explodes with blueberry and black cherry flavors that seamlessly melt into an ultra-long finish of chocolate-cherry cordial and toasted hazelnut. This truly remarkable wine should pair well with the beef broth in a classic French onion soup recipe or it can be enjoyed simply on its own.

Comprised entirely of Nebbiolo grapes, the Damilano 2010 Barolo Cannubi (about $85) has plenty to offer. This amazing Italian wine features luscious red cherry and plum fruit upon entry while chalky, grippy tannins highlight a complex finish of tobacco, leather, mint, and a dusting of cocoa powder. It’s an impressive, full-bodied red that should stand up to the biggest, most robust soup or stew you can pair with it.null

California’s Renwood Winery has earned a reputation for producing solid, reliable Zinfandels year after year. A couple of their current releases worth searching out include the 2012 Clarion Red Wine (about $20) and the 2012 Fiddletown Zinfandel (about $25).
The Clarion is a delicious, unique blend of equal parts Zinfandel, Syrah, Petit Sirah, and the white varietal Marsanne. It displays a base of gentle, black plum and brambly berry with touches of white pepper and licorice. The Fiddletown is an exceptional Zinfandel; it’s quite jammy from the start, with flavors of spicy cherry and plum compote. The lovely finish is soft with just a trace of tannic texture along with accents of caramel and toffee.

One final notable red wine blend is Bellingham’s Dynasty Cellars 2012 Irresponsible (about $18). This easy-to-drink combination of Columbia Valley Merlot, Malbec and Sangiovese is certain to be a crowd-pleaser. Sensual crème brûlée aromatics, vibrant red berry and cherry fruit flavors, and a bit of chewy tannins to match the acidity give this wine excellent structure and balance. Add in nuances of roasted espresso on the finish and an under $20-a-bottle price tag and you’ve got a complete-package red wine…perfect for enjoying this fall as well as any other time of year.

Chill Down That White Wine or Rose for a Refreshing Change of Pace

This article originally appeared in the August/September, 2015 issue of Bellingham Alive Magazine

Summertime means chilled wine time; and nothing fits the bill better on a warm summer day than a chilled white wine or rosé.

There are plenty of options available with these wines, so narrowing down the field with the best choices before you purchase and serve them will make your life easier and keep your guests happy.

Start by selecting wines that are generally high in acidity, because these wines do best when properly chilled; not unlike a cold glass of lemonade.

nullRiesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris make excellent white wine choices and rosés made from Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, and Grenache are also ideal when served after a few hours in the fridge.

But be careful not to overchill these wines, because too much chilling has a tendency to mask the wine’s flavors and render it somewhat bland and tasteless.

If this happens, the solution is simple: either set the bottle on the counter for about 30 to 60 minutes to allow it to warm up just a bit, or, after pouring, cup the wine glass in the palms of your hands and gently rock it back and forth a minute or two to take the extreme chill off the wine.

And remember that just because it’s summertime doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon your red wines until autumn. Keep those on hand for outdoor barbequing, especially when preparing grilled meats such as steaks, burgers, bratwurst or ribs.

Here are some white wine and rosé suggestions that are ideal for the summer season. Serve them before you move on to your full-bodied wines, perhaps with mild cheeses or a sliced baguette. Or simply enjoy them on their own, lightly chilled, while sitting on the deck, patio, or enjoying the sunset after a warm summer day. Does it get any better than that?

Sourced from Yakima Valley grapes, the San Juan Vineyards 2014 Riesling (about $17) is a stunning Washington riesling that excels with ample chilling. The flavor profile carries a decidedly tropical fruit twist, along with plenty of ripe apple and pear flavors. The finish contributes subtle spicy accents and a whisper of sweetness.

nullIf you’re unfamiliar with grapes originating from Eastern Europe, Newburg, Oregon’s Raptor Ridge Winery currently produces a very impressive 2014 Grüner Veltliner (about $20) that should be on your “must-try” list. There’s a nice, mineral-like quality to this wine, with understated accents of lemon zest on the palate. The finish is refreshingly clean, suggesting slate and wet stone to accompany the laser-sharp acidity. A pairing with oysters on the half-shell is practically mandatory.

Also from Oregon, the Durant Vineyards at Red Ridge 2014 Pinot Gris (about $18) is another great choice for summertime sipping. This is a big pinot gris, with plenty of juicy green pear and citrus flavors to lead off. Bright acidity provides the wine with good structure and a tangy spritz of orange peel provides it with a memorable finish.

If Kiwi winemakers were baseball players, then New Zealand’s Trinity Hill 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (about $17) would be a grand slam. This incredible white wine is packed with a mouthful of white peach and nectarine stone fruits that transition into tart, Granny Smith apple flavors. Finishing notes of green herb and lemongrass complete the package. Outstanding!

The best descriptor for the Barnard Griffin Winery 2014 Rosé of Sangiovese (about $12) may simply be, “a subtle explosion of strawberry.” There’s much more to it than that, of course, including touches of watermelon and cranberry and the signature, vibrant acidity from the sangiovese grape. Another insanely underpriced wine from the perennial gold-winning Columbia Valley winery.

nullBased in Sheridan, Oregon, John and Jody Wrigley of J Wrigley Vineyards are producing some stellar wines from their estate grown, McMinnville Appellation grapes. Here are a trio of choices that can be enjoyed year-round but are especially good during the summer months:

The J Wrigley 2014 Pinot Gris (about $18) is “lean and mean,” with vibrant green melon flavors, dazzling acidity, and a clean, linen-crisp finish. Try it with fresh shellfish or lobster with clarified butter sauce.

Displaying a lovely salmon-pink hue, the 2014 Pinot Noir Rosé (about $20) was cold fermented using whole-cluster pressed grapes. Gentle strawberry and pie cherry flavors predominate, and a bright finish with great acidity makes this an outstanding wine when lightly chilled.

Finally, the 2014 Riesling (about $20) opens with an aroma faintly similar to a fine Sauterne before yielding green apple flavors in more of a German-style white that suggest it may be appropriate for aging. The wine’s two-percent residual sugar content is hardly perceptible; impeccably balanced by brisk acidity and accentuated with a hint of spiciness on the extreme finish.

The End of an Era

Dear Wine Enthusiasts:

As of today, the Bellingham Herald has discontinued my weekly wine column.

But rest assured that I’ll continue to provide you with coverage of wines from Washington, the Pacific Northwest, and to a smaller extent, around the world, albeit in other and new venues…including Bellingham Alive and North Sound Life magazines. It’s an exciting new stage in my career as a wine writer that will provide you with even better coverage of the industry’s wines and wineries.

It has been an absolute pleasure giving you the latest on the world of wine through the Herald for the past 16 years.

Here is my final column, printed in its entirety (photo below from Kiona Vineyards):


What does the future hold for the Washington wine industry? Today I’ll give you my insight on what you might expect.

For starters: more recognized wine regions and even more wineries. I don’t anticipate that we’ll keep up our 50-new-wineries-a-year pace (of course, I said that 10 years ago and I was wrong), but steady growth, especially from small, boutique wineries with annual production of 1,000 cases or less will keep that number climbing.

You can also expect to see more diversity among the types of wine grape varietals grown in Washington. When I attended my first Tri-Cities Wine Festival in 1985 the choices were miniscule: riesling, chenin blanc, and chardonnay for whites wines and merlot and cabernet sauvignon for the reds. That was about it.

Today you’ll find “newer” white varietals and blends that include viognier, albariño, roussanne, and marsanne much more commonplace. Red choices have become even more varied with once virtually non-existent varietals such as grenache, malbec, primitivo, sangiovese, mourvèdre, and carménère finding their niche among Washington wineries.

From the beginning, my charge has always been, “go taste wine.” Simply put, you can read all you want about wines, familiarize yourself with all sorts of snobby terminology, and know your local wine shop from top to bottom.

But until you experience a winery firsthand – traveling to the production facility, walking the vineyards, meeting with the winemaker, or perhaps participating in a barrel tasting, you’re missing out on a huge part of the Washington wine industry.

Fortunately, it’s easy to get started. With our state’s over 850 wineries, plus those in neighboring British Columbia, Oregon, and Idaho, the tasting possibilities are essentially all within a day’s drive of the Whatcom County area.

Today closes the book on my weekly wine column for the Herald. Since 1999, writing this column has been an incredible experience and introduced me to scores of remarkable people in the wine industry. I hope I’ve been able to do the same for you by using it as a forum to primarily promote Pacific Northwest wineries and encouraging you to go out and taste the wines they produce.

Moving forward, I’ll be working as a contributing writer to Whatcom Magazine, a slick, locally produced quarterly publication I urge you to check out.

You can also continue to follow me as a contributor to Wine Press Northwest Magazine, a wine educator at Bellingham Technical College, and on my “Washington Wine of the Week” spot on KGMI Radio’s PM Bellingham segment every Thursday. And of course, you can connect with me through my web site:

Thanks to the Herald for allowing me this opportunity and thank you loyal readers. Cheers!

Boom in Washington Wineries Has Its Roots in a Handful of Groundbreakers

Follow this column with any regularity and you’ll know that I’ve always been a big proponent of Washington wines. This week I’ll take a look back at just how far the state’s wine industry has progressed over the past 15 years and next week, we’ll look forward to what you might expect in the near future.

Up until 2000, the state saw a steady, but relatively small annual increase in the number of wineries. For example, according to the Washington Wine Commission, from 1999 to 2000, there was only a net increase of three wineries, bringing the statewide total to 163.

Then in the next 10 years, things started to go a little crazy.

By 2010, that number had more than quadrupled to around 700 wineries and today we’re at 850-plus. That’s an average increase of nearly 50 wineries each and every year for the past 15 years.

nullThe obvious question: why the explosion in Washington wineries?

Start with the grapes. The dry climate in Eastern Washington is ideal for many wine grape varietals with its extra hours of sunlight during the warm summer months; and cool evenings contribute to grapes with higher acidity levels that, “California wineries can only dream of,” so I’ve been told.

You’ve also got to give credit to the winemakers, whose skill level seems to be improving every year. Even in the cooler, testy 2010 and 2011 vintages, Washington winemakers pulled through with wines that were extremely well-balanced with excellent cellaring potential. It’s that level of consistency that makes local, domestic, and even international wine enthusiasts stand up and take notice.

But none of this growth and current popularity would have been possible without the groundbreaking work of Washington’s pioneer wineries decades ago.

A short list could include Casey and Vicki McClellan from Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla; Gail and Shirley Puryear from Bonair Winery and Paul Portteus from Portteus Winery in the Rattlesnake Hills region; Rob Griffin from Barnard Griffin Winery in the Tri-Cities; Clay Mackey and Kay Simon from Chinook Wines, Scott Pontin from Pontin del Roza Winery, and Dr. Wade Wolfe and Becky Yeaman from Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser; and from Red Mountain, John and Anna Williams of Kiona Vineyards and, more recently, Tim and Kelly Hightower of Hightower Cellars.

These folks, some by their own admission, may not have known exactly all the ins-and-outs of growing grapes and producing wines. But they all shared the same vision in that Washington had the potential to be a great wine producing region and relentlessly pursued that goal.

For that, we owe them and many others, a debt of gratitude every time we lift a glass of Washington wine today.

Pair of Spokane Boutique Wineries Focus on Red Wines

During a trip to Spokane in April I had the opportunity to visit a couple of smaller, “boutique” wineries; boutique being defined as those with annual production of around 1,000 cases or less.

nullFirst up is Nodland Cellars, where winemaker Tim Nodland (pictured at left) has taken a checkered career path from 1980’s big-haired rocker (with the photos to prove it) to still-practicing attorney, to jazz musician, to winemaker.

His tasting room is currently a bit off the beaten path in an industrial park in the city of Spokane Valley. But plans are in the works to keep that space as a production facility and move the tasting room to downtown Spokane by the fall of 2015.

Nodland impressed me with his ability to offer extremely reasonably priced wines while sourcing his fruit from some of the state’s finest vineyards including Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge, Gamache, and Kiona. His current releases are all drinking nicely and deserve a “must-try” recommendation.

The Bebop Dry Riesling (about $16) is the winery’s only white, and it shines with vibrant green apple and citrus flavors that conclude in a crisp, dry finish.

Two red Bordeaux blends are completely off the charts: the overachieving, underpriced 2012 Bad Attitude (about $15), with white pepper aromatics, red currant and cherry flavors and a twist of pepper and vanilla on the finish; and the 2008 Private Blend (about $28), an explosion of black currant, lardo, and smoky bacon aromas and flavors.

Other notable reds: the 2011 Avant Garde (about $28), a 100% carménère with dark fruits, black pepper accents, and a big mouthfeel that demands a steak entrée; and the 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (about $38) with elegant black plum flavors, finely integrated tannins and hints of toast and black olive on the finish.

nullFurther east of Spokane you’ll find Liberty Lake Wine Cellars, where husband and wife proprietors Doug and Shelly Smith admittedly let their hobby for making red wines get out of control to become a full-fledged winery that opened in 2008.

Located in a residential area south of I-90, their tasting room offers spectacular views of Mount Spokane and Liberty Lake and also provides a kitchen, seating area and outdoor deck that beckons visitors to lingering over a glass of wine.

My favorite current release is the 2008 Legacy (about $20), a gorgeous blend of merlot, cabernet franc and syrah from Red Mountain that displays big, round blackberry fruit and a touch of sweet cedar on the finish.

Also notable is the 2009 Syrah (about $25) with spicy persimmon aromas, dark fruit flavors, good tannic structure, and a dusting of cocoa powder; and a lighter-in-body 2011 Tempranillo (about $25), with strong earthy notes and strawberry and raspberry flavors that conclude in a bright, vibrant finish.