Whatcom County Wineries Have You Covered With Red, White Choices

December 9th, 2014

Are you ready for the holidays and red wine season? Look no further than Whatcom County for plenty of good red wine choices…and white wines as well.

We’re fortunate to have a number of talented winemakers that source their grapes from vineyards across the state and then produce the wines here at home. Nearly all of the county’s wineries have tasting rooms that are open to the public and their wines are easy to find in local grocers and wine shops as well.

Mount Baker Vineyards has a number of newly released red wines that are currently available. Among my favorites is the easy-to-drink Proprietor’s Limited Release 2012 Tempranillo (about $16), a lighter body-style red with dark fruit flavors and a soft finish.

Also notable is the winery’s Non-Vintage Hierarchy Red (about $24). Four Rhone varietals: syrah, grenache, counoise, and mourvedre combine forces to produce a lovely, northwest pinot noir-style wine with earthy undertones, a splash of bright red cherry, and just the right amount of tannic structure.

And the Proprietor’s Limited Release 2012 Malbec (about $20) is also a winner. Complex aromatics of berries, toasted walnut, and meadow grasses lead off with blackberry flavors and nuances of black pepper and caramel. Nicely balanced with vibrant acidity and supple tannins, it’s an excellent Washington malbec at this price point.

null At Dynasty Cellars, winemaker Peter Osvaldik (his son, Eric, is pictured at left in the tasting room) shifts gears with his first ever dessert wine, the Amabile 2013 Late Harvest Zinfandel (about $18 for 375ml). It’s a stunning effort, with gobs of black plum and cherry fruits and some wonderfully grippy tannins that balance the sugar content to produce a lengthy, almost chewy finish. Try it with a slice of cheesecake, a swirl of caramel sauce and salted pecans.

Another just-released red comes from Coach House Cellars in their 2012 Syrah (about $30). Ultra-dark cherry and berry flavors are capped with a mind-numbing 15.9-percent alcohol content that makes the wine borderline port-like. This big, full-bodied syrah could be perfect for post-meal sipping in front of the fire.

And just because it’s red wine season doesn’t mean you should completely abandon your white wines this time of year.

Served well-chilled, the Dakota Creek Winery 2013 2nd Bottling Chenin Blanc (about $22), makes a refreshing lead-off wine. Mouthwatering melon, peach and pear flavors, tangy acidity and a steely, mineral-like finish highlight this tasty white from winemakers Ken and Jill Peck.

For chardonnay lovers, the Vartanyan Estate Winery 2012 Heavy Oaked Chardonnay (about $22) is a must. Winemaker/owner Margarita Vartanyan exercises a deft touch with eight months of American oak aging that doesn’t overwhelm the wine’s lovely baked apple and tropical fruit flavors. There’s also a prevailing toasty/nutty quality that’s accentuated with a round, creamy finish.

2014: Another Good Year for Washington Varietals and Boutique Wineries

December 2nd, 2014

As we move into December and begin winding down on 2014, here’s a quick look ahead before we take a look back.

Today and over the next three weeks, I’ll feature primarily red wines as we move into the heart of what I refer to as “red wine season.” Included will be some special splurge wines for the holidays and I’ll even throw in a few chardonnays for white wine drinkers.

Then as we approach New Year’s Eve, I’ll give you several recommendations of sparkling wines to help you begin 2015 with a festive touch.

As for 2014, the growing season for Washington vineyards was warm, long and beautiful. Harvests for many of the state’s varietals were a good two weeks or so ahead of the norm, and the wines you’re likely to see from this vintage will be big, flavorful and full-bodied.

This will be quite a contrast to the cooler 2010 and 2011 growing years but more in line with 2012, a vintage from which the red wines have been hitting the market in full force as of late.

nullI sampled several of these wines during my annual trek to the Tri-Cities Wine Festival in Kennewick last month. The 2012’s are drinking beautifully, with lush fruit flavors and plenty of character.

Another thing I noted at the festival was the proliferation of boutique wineries (by my definition producing around 500 to 1,000 cases annually) and ultra-boutique wineries (under 500 cases a year).

These wineries are making some truly remarkable wines and, recognizing they’re fighting for shelf space in the market of Washington’s ever-expanding wine industry, keeping their prices within reason.

Standout smaller wineries at the festival I was able to visit included Benton City’s Tucannon Cellars and their four varietal, 2011 Red Fusion blend (about $25); Pine Lake Cellars from Seattle, whose 2012 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (about $28) was exceptional; and Walla Walla Valley’s J & J Vintners, who poured an outstanding double gold and best of varietal 2012 Les Collines Vineyard Syrah (about $30).

Other notables that should be on your must-try list: Lodmell Cellars and their gorgeous, still available 2007 Merlot, Smasne Cellars’ 2012 Zinfandel and 2011 Reserve Malbec, and two other double gold winners, the DavenLore Winery 2011 Mourvèdre and a stunning 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Gingko Forest Winery.

And keep your eye on winemaker Jessica Munnell. Although she’s been around for several years and currently the head winemaker for Mercer Estates, she also has her own label in Wautoma Wines. I sampled two of her current releases, a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 El Prat Red Wine and thought they were among the festival’s finest.

Guidelines for Serving Wines at Thanksgiving That Will Keep the Holiday Stress-Free

November 25th, 2014

Serving wines with Thanksgiving dinner? Just follow a few simple guidelines and the selection process can be as stress-free as opening a can of cranberry jelly.

First and foremost, offer variety. I harp on this every year, but you can hardly go wrong if you use this as a starting point. With a variety of wines at the table, say, a sweet or off-dry and a dry white, and perhaps a light to medium-bodied red, you’ll cover all your bases.

Second, don’t fret over precise food and wine pairings. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner usually isn’t heavy on the seasonings and spices. That makes more wines easily adaptable to the basics of turkey, potatoes and gravy, and stuffing you’re likely to serve.

Third, ask others what they like. Don’t assume that just because you’re a big fan of chardonnay, others will be too. Here again, variety is the key.

Finally, don’t be too skimpy on cost. A bargain wine or two? No problem. Every wine at the table under $10? Come on, it’s Thanksgiving! Splurge a bit and use this as an opportunity to show off your wine-buying prowess to family and friends.

In keeping with the variety theme, I’d like to offer some European wine recommendations from France, Italy, and Spain that should be a welcome addition to your Thanksgiving Day meal.

nullLa Gioiosa Non-Vintage Prosecco DOC Treviso Spumante (about $11) – An outstanding sparkling wine for starters, this tasty Prosecco features luscious ripe pear and honeydew melon flavors with a creamy texture that hints at lemon custard. Guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser with its faintly sweet finish.

Domaine du Tariquet Classic (about $11) – This refreshing, four-varietal white wine blend offers citrusy and herbaceous aromas and flavors while the finish is clean and green and reminiscent of a vinho verde. It makes a nice pairing with seafood, shellfish or oyster stuffing.

Marchesi de Frescobaldi 2010 Nipozzano Riserva (about $19) – This incredibly well-priced, sangiovese-based Chianti is a great example of how practical it is to serve a red wine for Thanksgiving. Hints of licorice and spicy cherry on the nose, bright red currant and cranberry flavors on the palate, and supple tannins on the finish combine to provide a great compliment to dark meat.

Bodegas Shaya ‘Habis’ 2010 Old Vines Verdejo (about $26) – From Spain’s Rueda region, this stunning white wine opens with aromas of fresh peach and green herbs. Generous tropical and stone fruits fill the glass with a gentle kiss of ruby red grapefruit on the finish. My only quibble: it’s so good you may not want to share it with anyone else.

Damilano 2010 ‘Lecinquevigne’ Barolo DOCG (about $35) – This nicely complex nebbiolo is both elegant and muscular with floral aromas of rose and violet, red cherry flavors, and a splash of green tea on the finish. Grippy tannins are softened with a bit of aeration and decanting or easily complemented with an after-dinner cigar.

Bertelsen Winery Now Open in Skagit County

November 18th, 2014

If you travel the Interstate 5 corridor with any regularity you probably observed the “Coming Soon” sign for Bertelsen Winery at the Starbird Road exit near the top of Conway Hill for the past couple of years.

That sign was changed to “Now Open” in April, giving long-awaiting wineophiles in Skagit and nearby Whatcom County another tasting room option for locally produced premium wines.

nullThe winery is owned by retired Mount Vernon orthodontist Dr. Richard Bertelsen and managed by his son, Steve. Sarah Saya assists as the cheerful wine server you’re likely to see if you stop in for a visit.

The first thing that struck me about the tasting room is its open floor plan with semicircular tasting bar and an adjacent lounge with sofas and flat-screen television. According to Saya, the space will comfortably accommodate up to 50 guests, with an additional banquet-style area in the adjoining room plus seating on the outdoor patio, weather permitting.

Another interesting observation is that winery sources the grapes for its wines from five different Washington appellations: the Columbia, Yakima and Walla Walla Valleys, Wahluke Slope, and Red Mountain.

If you drop in just to taste, you have two choices: the Young Vines Flight costing $8 or the Reserve Flight, which runs $11. Each flight includes four pours of pre-selected wines from the current tasting menu.

Here are my tasting notes on a few of the wines I tried during a visit earlier this month:

2011 Riesling (about $16) – Luscious pear and crisp citrus flavors lead to a clean, off-dry finish with a whisper of sweetness.

2012 Merlot (about $27) – Aged in French oak for two years, this elegant merlot features raspberry and spicy red apple aromas and flavors that melt into a finish with hints of toasted caramel.

2012 Cabernet Franc (about $27) – Ample plum and cherry flavors are accentuated with a gentle twist of black pepper and crushed herbs in the latter stages along with a velvety-soft finish.

2012 Syrah Bulldog Reserve (about $29) – Black cherry flavors dusted with baking spice conclude in a plush finish wrapped in warm vanilla bean. The bulldog on the label of this fine effort is a nod to the Mount Vernon high school mascot.

2012 Malbec (about $32) – Sourced from Red Mountain’s Tapteil Vineyard, the wine’s brambly berry flavors commingle with mineral notes throughout, while chewy tannins suggest another year or two of cellaring for maximum enjoyment.

Bertelsen Winery is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 8:00 pm and Sunday from noon to 6:00 pm. The web site is still a work in progress, so if you need additional information I’d suggest calling the tasting room at (360) 540-2212.

McKinley Springs: Great Vineyard, Great Wines

November 11th, 2014

Designating the vineyard source for a wine – a practice that was once virtually unheard of – has become an increasingly important part of the wine label.

As Washington wine production has increased, so has the knowledge and sophistication level of the wine consumer. Not content to know only what they’re drinking, they want access to other information such as production notes, varietal composition, barrel aging and vineyard designation.

nullKnowing where the grapes are grown can be extremely important because, simply stated, each vineyard produces wines with unique characteristics, aromas and flavor profiles.

McKinley Springs is a vineyard you’re likely to see on the label of several other Washington wineries. Their current portfolio of 22 clients includes wineries such as Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle and 14 of these clients now produce wines that provide consumers with the vineyard designation on the label.

With over 2,000 planted acres, McKinley Spring Vineyards represents about five percent of all the state’s plantings. The first vineyard was planted in 1980 and 22 varieties of grapes are now grown there. Another 600 acres of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah will be added over the next three years, according to Vineyard Manager Rob Andrews.

The vineyard also produces 18-percent of the wine grapes grown within the Horse Heaven Hills Appellation where it is located. This includes wines bottled under their own estate label, McKinley Springs Winery, which turns out around 6,000 cases of wine annually.

Here are my tasting notes on three McKinley Springs Winery wines I recently enjoyed:

2011 Viognier (about $16) – Peach and vanilla cream flavors hit the palate, with a big, round quality to begin. On the finish, more of a crisp, edgy texture comes through, with touches of lemon zest. This wine paired perfectly with an entrée of roasted fingerling potatoes and poached salmon.

2010 Malbec (about $24) – Wonderfully complex and evolving aromas of ultra-dark plum, toasted almond, caramel, and sage lead off. Reserved wild blackberry flavors predominate, nicely balanced with gentle acidity and mineral notes on a soft finish. The wine was aged 18 months in 20-percent new French oak barrels.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $24) – The 2010 vintage, which some predicted would be an off year for Washington, is turning out some gorgeous wines, and this true-to-the-varietal cabernet is a perfect example. Caramel and baking spice on the nose, bright notes of red currant, and underlying layers of Ligurian cherry and boysenberry highlight this excellent wine. The finish hints at toasted oak with perfectly integrated tannins.

For more information on the McKinley Springs Vineyard and Winery, including ordering wines, go to mckinleysprings.com.

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