Whatcom County Wineries Producing Noteworthy Releases

February 25th, 2014

Today I’d like to focus on a few local wineries and some of the more notable wines they’ve been producing as of late.

Located at 2001 Iowa Street in Bellingham, Bill and Jennifer Kimmerly at Masquerade Wine Company have several current releases worth checking out…at price points to fit nearly every budget.

Their white wine selection has expanded over the past few years to include everything from sparkling to crisp and dry to full-bodied and now even semi-sweet.

Their 2012 Chenin Blanc and 2012 Pinot Gris (about $14 each) offer contrasting styles while displaying true-to-the-varietal features you’d expect from these delicious everyday choices.

nullThe chenin blanc includes touches of lush tropical fruits and an off-dry finish, while the pinot gris really shines with brisk citrus and lime flavors that make it a prime candidate to pair with oysters or shellfish.

The latest version of the winery’s signature wine, the award-winning Effervescing Elephant II Brut Sparkling Wine (about $35) is better than ever. Bill has toned down the sweetness to a whisper at .8-percent residual sugar, allowing more of the baked bread and appley flavors to take command. Ultra-fine bubbles add a note of creaminess to complete the package.

My favorite of the current lineup is the 2012 Roussanne (about $20), a rich, viscous full-bodied white with an ultra-long, slightly buttery finish. Despite a toasty/nutty quality one would expect from fermentation in oak barrels, this muscular yet elegant wine was fermented in stainless steel.

At Bellingham’s Dynasty Cellars, Peter and Olga Osvaldik have turned out another excellent effort with their 2010 DCZ Zinfandel (about $28).

Sourced from Walla Walla’s Les Collines Vineyard, this is the type of big, bold wine Dynasty lovers have come to expect. Aromas of cherry and spice, dark cherry and understated licorice flavors on the palate, and artful accents of black pepper highlight this intensely flavored, full-bodied red.

Now in release and certain to sell out quickly, you’ll find the zinfandel and other red wines at the tasting room located at 2169 East Bakerview Road.

Finally, special recognition is due to the winemaking staff at Mount Baker Vineyards. Their 2012 Madeleine Angevine (about $16) was awarded Best of Class honors at the San Francisco Chronicle 2013 Wine Competition. The grapes for this outstanding white wine were sourced from the winery’s estate vineyards near Everson.

Winery sales rep Tim Fuller tells me there are about 80 to 90 cases of this wine still available. You’ll find it at the winery tasting room at 4298 Mount Baker Highway as well as all Whatcom County Haggen stores. Buy it now, drink it now and enjoy one of the best of this region’s 2012 vintage.

Columbia Winery Rolls Out New Label, New Wines

February 24th, 2014

Woodinville’s Columbia Winery has a new label and four nicely priced wines produced by winemaker Sean Hails that have recently been released.

Hails is an Ontario, Canada native who gained experience in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and California before moving to Columbia in 2012.

Here are my tasting notes on the wines, each of which retails for about $14:

null2012 Cabernet Sauvignon: This approachable, flavorful cab is filled with beautiful dark, black fruit aromas and flavors including cherry, berry, and currant. It’s a natural to pair with almost anything beef.

2012 Chardonnay: Do you like your Chardonnays big, buttery and full-bodied? This one easily has you covered with a mouthful of pineapple, baked apple and tropical fruits. The finish is round and lengthy with accents of toasted coconut and vanilla.

Non-Vintage Composition: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and a handful of other varietals join forces to produce this bold, hefty red wine blend. Aromas of coffee bean and chocolate lead off, with somewhat brighter red fruits of cherry, cranberry and raspberry on the palate.

2012 Merlot: Lovely blueberry and floral aromatics along with cranberry and pomegranate flavors highlight this Columbia Valley Merlot. The wine carries a bit of the plush, classic Merlot character you’d expect with just a bit of an edgy finish to provide it with a bit of lift.

LaConner’s Silver Bell is Everything a Boutique Winery Should Be

February 11th, 2014

Located about 45 minutes south of Bellingham, the town of LaConner has a variety of amenities that make it a great day-trip destination.

There’s a nice folksy/artsy feel to this community, with a handful of bed and breakfasts, inns and restaurants and, most importantly for us wineophiles, a terrific little winery.

I first visited Alan Holtzheimer and his wife, Diane, nearly two years ago when they were still getting Silver Bell Winery up and running from their garage in Burlington. Since then, they’ve established a tasting room in downtown LaConner that features a warm, dark wood interior, some really cool custom-made lighting, and a number of tasty, well-crafted wines.

nullLast year’s production only totaled about 600 cases – up from the initial output of 180 cases in 2010 – but still at a level to comfortably keep it in the “boutique winery” classification.

“When we make and sell 1,000 cases, I quit my day job, so I’m pushing it as fast as I can,” Alan notes with a tone somewhere between half-joking and serious that seems to lean towards the latter. That’s a good thing for all of us, because Silver Bell Winery wines have become more impressive with each new release.

Wines currently available include a same-lot pair of contrasting chardonnays from Rattlesnake Hills’ Copeland Vineyards. The 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay ($19) was cold-fermented in stainless steel while the 2012 Oaked Chardonnay ($22) was barrel fermented and aged sur lie one year in new American oak.

The unoaked version carries an aroma of brioche and crisp Fuji apple flavors, while the oaked chardonnay has a gorgeous fragrance of jasmine and tropical fruit, with light toffee and caramel flavors that melt into a finish that suggests a faint sweetness. Although I enjoyed them both, I thought the oaked style was over the top.

Two red wine options include the 2011 Copeland Vineyard Merlot ($27) and the 2011 Dineen Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($34). A whiff of the merlot is like walking through a field of raspberries, with more fresh red berries on the palate as well as a spritz of dried herbs.

The cabernet franc is also a winner with velvety dark fruits to lead off and then brighter pie cherry flavors towards the finish along with mild, pleasant background notes of gingerbread and baking spice.

For finishing up, try the 2012 Syrah Forté ($27 for 375 ml). This port-like dessert wine has an intriguing nose of caramel and graphite and its 20-percent alcohol content is kept in check with a splash of residual sugar and black pepper accents. Here’s a wine that could easily stand up to that box of Valentine’s chocolates or, perhaps, a good after-dinner cigar.

Stand-Alone Varietal or Blend: Washington Syrah Finds its Niche

February 4th, 2014

Last February I wrote about the virtues of Washington syrah, a somewhat underappreciated varietal that still takes a back seat to cabernet sauvignon and merlot as a distant third in the state’s red wine production.

That isn’t to say the grape hasn’t continued to grow in popularity and earn its share of recognition. There’s been a slow but steady increase in production over the past five years and I think it’s safe to say that syrah has found its niche among Washington winemakers.

You may not always find the grape as a stand-alone varietal, but syrah has increasingly become a staple for blending purposes, particularly as an enhancement to a cabernet base.

nullSyrah is generally characterized as medium to full-bodied with low to medium acidity and medium to high tannins. Compared to other red wine grapes, its ultra-dark color and flavor intensity level often set it apart.

Syrah frequently carries a nice smoky, spicy quality in addition to a number of dark, berry-like fruit flavors. That makes it an excellent choice to pair up with lamb, burgers, or just about anything barbequed.

Here are a few Washington syrahs and red blends with syrah that I think you’ll enjoy:

Gingko Forest Winery 2010 Gingko Red (about $15) – Sourced from estate vineyards in the Wahluke Slope, winemaker Mike Thiede hits all the right notes with this combination of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot.

Darker cherry and black plum flavors lead off and then transition into brighter notes of red currant and raspberry. What impressed me most about this wine, other than its incredibly reasonable price, was the seamless balance of fruit, acidity, soft tannins and trace of minerality it displayed. An extremely fine effort, this wine is a must-buy.

Lost River Winery 2010 Côte Wall Syrah (about $26) – Winemaker John Morgan continues to impress with this seductive, inky interpretation of Washington Syrah. Black currant, espresso, and bittersweet chocolate glide into a lengthy finish, capped with a whisper of black pepper. Co-fermentation with eight-percent viognier provides a lovely fragrance of stone fruit on the bouquet.

Mackey Vineyards 2009 Syrah (about $32) and 2009 Concordia (about $38) – The Walla Walla area has earned its reputation as a notable producer of Washington syrah. Brothers Philip and Roger Mackey currently offer a couple of choices sourced primarily from their own vineyards.

The 100-percent syrah shows understated flavors of blackberry, vanilla and a pleasant note of oatmeal stout on the extreme finish. The Concordia is comprised of 77-percent syrah along with some grenache and mourvèdre. Its smoky blueberry base is supported within a framework of dark chocolate and pleasant notes of caramel, vanilla, and spice throughout. Tasty, complex, and completely over-the-top.

Ginkgo Forest a Key Winery in Washington’s Wahluke Slope Region

January 28th, 2014

Washington’s isolated Wahluke Slope Appellation probably doesn’t get as much press as it deserves. Today, I’ll do what I can to help correct that.

It’s easy to get to: follow Interstate 90 eastbound past Ellensburg, take a right after you cross the Columbia River, and head south about 20 miles to the tiny town of Mattawa, which is located in both the heart of the appellation and, literally, the middle of nowhere.

nullIt’s also home to Gingko Forest Winery, named for the petrified ginkgo trees discovered there in the 1950’s. Owner/winemaker Mike Thiede (pictured at left) produces a number of solid, boldly-flavored yet balanced wines indicative of this warm growing region.

I recently had the opportunity to taste a variety of Thiede’s award-winning wines from a number of different vintages and enjoyed each and every one. This is a label you should look for, along with the Wahluke Slope Appellation, and you’ll almost certainly be rewarded with reliable wines that won’t cost you a small fortune.

nullHere are my tasting notes (and next week I’ll give you my favorite, mind-numbingly low-priced Ginkgo Forest wine):

2012 Ginkgo Blanco (about $15) – This blend of gewürztraminer, riesling and viognier is loaded with honeysuckle, pineapple and pear flavors and plenty of honey, almost reminiscent of a late harvest. A pairing with spicy General Tso’s chicken toned down the sweetness and provided a nice contrast to this wine.

2012 Riesling (about $15) – In a word: pluot. This tasty wine is the perfect hybrid of white plum and apricot flavors, highlighted with a hint of orange citrus. A beautiful, ultra-long, off-dry finish hints at dried apricot with a trace of almond.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $18) – Taste this wine blind and I dare you not to draw comparisons with a cabernet from Bellingham’s Dynasty Cellars. This differs in that it’s a lighter interpretation, with brighter cherry and red plum along with a touch of caramel and spice. Since Dynasty sources its fruit from Walla Walla, it might be the oak that provides some similarity between the two.

2009 Wildwood Blend (about $24) – Over half of this five-varietal Bordeaux blend is comprised of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, but for me, the 20-percent malbec content stands out. The malbec’s ripe blackberry and blueberry flavors make their way to the forefront while supple tannins linger in the background.

2009 Grenache (about $26) – Opulent flavors of fig, dark chocolate and black cherry lead off, with a perfectly balanced trailing note of bright red currant on the finish. This is classic “wow” wine you can expect from the Wahluke Slope. Outstanding!

The winery web site lists local availability at the Cordata Community Food Co-op, Purple Smile Wines, and Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants.

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