Category Archives: Past Articles

Light to Medium to Full Body-Style Options are Enough to Keep Any Red Wine Drinker Happy

This article originally appeared in the February/March, 2016 issue of Bellingham Alive magazine.

“Body style” is one of those wine descriptors you hear frequently, but may ignore all together when sifting through the wine section in search of the perfect bottle to serve with tonight’s meal.

Body styles range from light to medium to full, and refer to the richness or weight of the wine on the palate. Confused? Think of the difference between thin, flavorless bottled water and the mouthfeel of sweet, acidic, and flavorful fresh-squeezed orange juice and you’ll get the idea.

Categorizing a wine with a certain body style depends on a number of factors including its fruitiness, acidity, sugar, alcohol, oak, and tannins – that astringent, chalky texture you sometimes find on the wine’s finish. Red wines are especially influenced by these latter two factors, because, unlike most white wines, they are fermented with their high-tannin skins and seeds and then aged in oak barrels.

In addition to making the wine darker in color and more fuller in body, this process also adds complexity to the flavor profile…just one reason why red wines are often both the source of spirited discussion and so much fun to drink.

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE

Pinot Noir should be at or near the top of the list for those who prefer lighter to medium-bodied red wines. The grape’s natural acidity makes it an excellent food-pairing choice, especially with nullhigh fat-content foods such as salmon, duck or lamb.

Sourced from 15 acres of the winery’s original plantings, the Willamette Valley Vineyards 2012 Bernau Block Pinot Noir (about $55) is an exquisitely crafted, must-try Oregon Pinot. Slightly edgy, ripe pie cherry and pomegranate flavors lead off, while a velvety soft finish provides both balance and elegance.

The Stoller Family Estate 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir (about $45) is another representation of Oregon Pinot at its finest.

“Meticulous sorting and attentive winemaking were essential,” according to the winery website and this attention-to-detail approach is evident from the first sip. Fragrant raspberry and strawberry aromas carry over to the palate along with just a touch of earthiness. Seamless and silky, a flourish of dried cherry appears on the extreme finish.

MID-RANGE CHOICES

Bobal is one of Spain’s most widely grown red wine grapes and it offers wine drinkers plenty of fresh, deep-colored fruit flavors and good acidity that place it squarely in the medium-bodied wine category.

A couple of options: The Isaac Fernandez 2012 Bovale (about $14), a 100-percent Bobal sourced from vines at least 60 years old. Lovely dark berry and cherry aromas and flavors fill the glass, with spicy/peppery accents and a whisper of vanilla on a soft finish; and the Bodegas Mustiguillo 2013 Mestizaje Tinto (about $15) a Bobal-based red blended with touches of Garnacha, Merlot and Syrah. It’s a bit more dense and gritty with reserved blackberry and black currant fruits along with a spritz of white pepper on the finish. Serve it with practically anything beef.

nullA trio of selections from Walla Walla’s Vino La Monarcha also make solid, medium-bodied red wine choices and offer good value at about $20-a-bottle each. (Winemaker Victor Palencia, pictured at right.)

The 2012 Wahluke Slope Merlot features a soft entry of plummy fruit and a pleasant, darker layer near the finish with a touch of bittersweet chocolate; the 2013 Sangiovese opens with bright raspberry and boysenberry flavors that are perfectly balanced with toasted oak and supple tannins; and the 2013 Malbec is a delicious fruit-forward wine with a mouthful of brambly berries, hints of clove, cinnamon and pepper, and a slightly structured finish that make it an absolute pleasure to taste.

Also from Washington is the Thurston Wolfe 2012 Howling Wolfe Zinfandel (about $20) in Prosser. Red currant and berry flavors are capped with a bit of baking spice, toasted caramel, and a nicely textured finish. It’s a artfully crafted Zinfandel that offers a pleasant break from some of California’s heavy-handed alternatives.

HEAVIER HITTERS

Sagrantino is an Italian wine grape that produces extremely dark, inky, tannic red wines that fall into the full-bodied category. A prime example is the Scacciadiavoli 2008 Montefalco Sagrantino (about $39). It opens with a stunning fragrance of violets and ultra-dark plums followed by flavors of red plum, green tea, a trace of minerality, and chewy tannins. This wine can easily hold up to a medium-rare steak or gamey meats such as elk or venison.

And be sure to consider the current red wine releases from Walla Walla’s Dunham Cellars. These wines are truly the complete package by carrying a full-bodied, yet elegant quality in terms of their flavor profile and taste.

“‘The passion is in the bottle’ is our slogan,” notes Bellingham resident and Dunham Co-Owner/Chairman, David Blair. “We want to celebrate the relationship between fine food and wine (and) deliver a product we’re proud to put our name on.”

Start with the 2013 Three Legged Red (about $19), Dunham’s perennial red-blend favorite that makes for terrific everyday enjoyment. Then take a step up to the 2012 Trutina(about $29), a beautiful, five-varietal blend with a base of juicy blackberry and red cherry fruit, gentle notes of caramel and rose hips, and a slightly herbaceous finish.

nullSingle-varietal wine enthusiasts will love the Dunham 2012 Syrah (about $35), with vanilla bean aromatics, blueberry and spiced black plum flavors, and a finish with a touch more vanilla and a dusting of cocoa powder; and the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon XVIII (about $45), with a wonderfully complex bouquet of meadow grasses and hazelnuts, reserved flavors of cassis and espresso, and nicely integrated tannins. It’s a superb pairing partner with osso buco.

Dunham’s crown jewel: the 2011 Lewis Vineyard Syrah (about $75). Wild blackberry and graphite on the nose, luscious dark fruit flavors on the palate, and underlying notes of slate and spice box highlight this incredible, faultless wine. It’s luxurious from start to finish and undeniably worth the price.

Compare and Contrast Old World and New World Wines for a Wide Range of Flavors and Tastes

This article originally appeared, in part, in the December, 2015/January, 2016 issue of Bellingham Alive magazine.

Everyone has their taste preferences when it comes to wines…red versus white, Chardonnay versus Merlot, sweet versus dry.

But there’s another potential division among wine drinkers that falls along nullgeographic lines: “Old World” versus “New World.”

Old World wines refer to those with European roots; most notably originating from France, Italy, and Spain, and to a lesser extent, Portugal and Germany.

The New World essentially refers to everywhere else outside this region, with big players coming from the United States and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Argentine and Chile, and South Africa.

Wines from Old World countries are generally characterized as having understated, leaner fruit flavors, higher acidity, and lower alcohol levels; while New World wines are more likely to display full-bodied, robust fruit flavors and a slightly higher alcohol content.

Over the past few decades, the lines have blurred a bit between Old World and New World wines. For example, Super Tuscan wines from Italy have enhanced a lighter Sangiovese base with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; once over-oaked Chardonnays from California and Washington are now fermented in stainless steel for a brighter, leaner finished product.

But overall, you’re still likely to find subtle, but noticeable differences between these wine regions. In a word, that means variety, with plenty of wines to suit everyone’s taste preference.

VIVA ITALIA!

Nothing kicks off a festive event better than a glass of sparkling wine from Italy. A couple of purchase-worthy selections: The Jeio Prosecco Spumante Brut (about $17), with lemon wafer and green pear flavors and a crisp, bone-dry finish with a trace of steely minerality; or the Bisol Crede Prosecco Superiore (about $25) with floral aromatics, a touch of citrus and green apple, and an elegant, slightly creamy finish. Both wines are perfect for a mid-morning brunch or holiday tastings.

If you’d rather go sans bubbles, Italy’s Soave growing region offers white wines that also make great event-starters. The Rocca Sveva 2013 Cantina di Soave (about $15) is vibrant, lively and certain to be a crowd-pleaser. It’s packed with white peach, Fuji apple, and green melon flavors that are capped with bracing acidity on a clean finish. Try it with lighter seafood dishes or oysters on the half-shell.

nullWinemaker David Volmut of Wind Rose Cellars is doing an excellent job with Italian varietals such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Dolcetto at his winery in Sequim on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. His wines are made in a very Eurocentric style with reserved fruit flavors and good acidity that make them great food-pairing choices.

To lead off, try the 2014 Pinot Grigio (about $16). This virtually colorless white wine is sourced from Yakima Valley grapes and features a hint of lemon citrus and green pear, meadow grasses, nice minerality, and a linen-crisp finish.

Red wine notables include the 2013 Primitivo (about $25), with understated red berry and cherry fruits, spicy accents, and just a bit of tannic lift on an otherwise silky-smooth finish; and the 2012 Barbera (about $27) with lovely raspberry aromatics, dark plum fruit on the mid-palate, and a bright finish with a dusting of cocoa powder. Outstanding!

Wind Rose Cellars produces roughly 1,800 cases a year and wines can be purchased in select retail outlets ( visit http://www.windrosecellars.com/retail/), at the tasting room, or on line at windrosecellars.com.

A VOTRE SANTÉ

France’s Bordeaux region exemplifies centuries of skillful winemaking within strict, regulated standards. Cru Bourgeois wines are traditional Bordeaux blends grown on a single château from the area’s Left Bank and comprised primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The Château Meyre 2012 Haut-Médoc (about $30) combines these two varietals along with a splash of Petit Verdot to produce an intriguing red Bordeaux with classic features. Green herb, slate and berry aromas, black currant flavors, and a well-structured finish naturally suggest a pairing with a beef entrée.

Owen Roe in Yakima also currently offers a stunningnull Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec in its 2012 Red Wine (about $28). Nutty, caramel aromatics fill the glass while initial flavors of black plum give way to leaner red fruits and nuances of mocha on the finish. It’s an exquisitely balanced and beautifully crafted wine.

Although Pinot Noir originated in France’s Burgundy region, South Africa offers a worthy competitor with its only native grape, Pinotage. The Kanonkop 2013 Estate Pinotage (about $34) is an impressive effort, with seductive blackberry and rich plum fruit and underlying notes of licorice and espresso. The finish carries a whisper of smoke and trace of earthiness.

If French white varietals are your preference, check out Qupé Wine Cellars 2014 A Modern White (about $17) from California’s Central Coast region. Viognier, Chardonnay, and Marsanne grapes combine to bring you nicely complex, layered flavors of Golden Delicious apple, apricot, and citrus, followed by a slightly herbaceous finish.

VIÑO DE ESPANA

From the foothills of the Pyrenees in Northeast Spain, the Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla 2013 Garnacha Blanca and 2013 Tinto (about $15 each) offer Spanish wine lovers two overachieving options that deliver quality at an extremely reasonable price.

The Garnacha Blanca is a refreshing white wine with gentle stone fruit and green melon flavors, while the finish is crisp and dry with a flourish of lemon zest. The Tinto is primarily comprised of Garnacha grapes and offers a mouthful of spicy, brambly berry flavors and a warm, round finish of cola and licorice. It’s a perfect pairing partner with grilled meats, lamb, or a hearty beef stew.

Walla Walla’s Palencia Wine Company currently has a pair of Spanish-based varietals that are completely over-the-top in terms of complexity and taste. The 2014 Albariño (about $18) has lovely aromas of allspice and clove that carry over to the palate along with subtle flavors of peach, baked apple and Bartlett pear; and the ever-evolving 2013 Tempranillo (about $50) opens with velvety currant and black tea flavors that melt into ultra-dark cherry and bittersweet chocolate. An extended, textured finish is framed by toasted vanilla bean. Bold, yet refined, this exceptional red wine is worth every penny.

nullBLENDED COUNTRIES

Can’t decide on a favorite? Then choose a wine that includes varietals from across-the-border sources. New Zealand’s Trinity Hill “The Trinity” (about $17) combines Merlot, Tempranillo, Malbec, Touriga Nacional, and Cabernet Franc. The nose suggests cherry and black olive with intense, dark fruit flavors and a soft finish that carries an inky, velvety quality.

Finally, be sure to consider the Gifford-Hirlinger Winery 2013 Stateline Red (about $18) from Walla Walla. This blend of four French varietals and a touch of Tempranillo yield a full-bodied red with dense, compact berry flavors, a twist of black pepper, and sturdy tannins. Incredibly well priced, it can be served now or easily cellared another three to five years for future enjoyment.

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.

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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):

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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: danthewineguy.com.

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