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.

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.

Bergevin Lane: Dependable, Honored, Reasonably Priced Wines

November 4th, 2014

If you’ve yet to try wines from Bergevin Lane Vineyards here’s the capsulized version of what to expect: solid, dependable choices, good variety, and extremely reasonable prices.

Back that up with a boatload of accolades, awards and 90+ ratings and you could hardly ask for more from a Walla Walla winery.

Annette Bergevin and Amber Lane (hence the name, Bergevin Lane) partnered with Gary Bergevin to form the winery in 2002 – practically the Stone Age for the scores of Walla Walla wineries established in just the last five years.

Annette is a seventh generation Walla Walla native whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since nearly the winery’s inception. Without a doubt, she’s one of the nicest people in the industry and, along with her team headed by winemaker Dave Harvey, produces some truly memorable wines.

Here are my tasting notes on a handful of some of their current releases:

null2013 Linen Sauvignon Blanc (about $11) – “Linen” is a second label for Bergevin Lane and in this case, as the name suggests, perfectly describes this crisp, clean white wine. Explosive, mouthwatering stone fruit flavors of white peach and nectarine fill the glass, with trailing notes of lemongrass and minerality on a laser-sharp finish. An outstanding effort and worthy of a case purchase.

2011 Linen Red Wine (about $13) – Another insanely underpriced wine perfect for everyday enjoyment, this combination of 57-percent merlot and 43-percent syrah displays red cherry, red currant and subtle blueberry flavors. The finish shows a gentle splash of acidity, supple tannins and hints of toasted walnut.

2012 Calico Red (about $17) – Just released, this gorgeous, easy-to-drink red is a syrah-based blend that includes cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and petit verdot. Burnt caramel and crushed herbs on the nose, generous cherry, plum and blackberry flavors on the palate, and a whisper of white pepper and dark cocoa on a plush finish add up to what is certain to be an instant classic.

2012 She-Devil Chardonnay (about $22) – With a touch of roussanne and viognier blended in, this stunning, non-oaked chardonnay is wonderfully viscous in the glass and on the palate. Bartlett pear, pineapple, and baked apple flavors lead off before melting into a crisp finish with a flourish of Fuji apple and tangy citrus.

2011 She-Devil Syrah (about $24) – Aromatics and flavors of black plum, berries, and anise are showcased in this outstanding, true-to-the varietal Washington syrah sourced primarily from the Wahluke Slope Appellation. It’s super-dark, super-sultry and capped with seductive bittersweet chocolate and espresso undertones.

Bergevin Lane Vineyards wines are well distributed in the Whatcom County area, including Seifert and Jones Wine Merchants in Bellingham. A visit to the tasting room when in Walla Walla is a must. More information: bergevinlane.com.

Brad and Ruth Riordan Make Robison Ranch Cellars a Pleasure to Visit

October 21st, 2014

Good wines certainly make visiting a winery worthwhile. And connecting with warm, friendly people along the way who welcome you in and treat you like family? For me, that’s the icing on the cake.

nullA recent visit to Robison Ranch Cellars in Walla Walla left me with just that impression. As a pair of retirees from the San Francisco Bay Area, Brad Riordan and his wife Ruth launched their winery in 2008 after Brad elevated his winemaking skills from hobby status by completing Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program.

The Riordans partnered with the wheat-farming Robison family to establish the winery at a ranch the Robison’s have been operating since 1918.

The tasting and barrel rooms are housed in an expansive metal building that Brad refers to as “the old shallot shed,” and wines are poured at a tasting bar that was once owned by the now defunct Yellow Hawk Winery. Outdoor patio seating amidst containers brimming with flowers is also available.

If this all sounds like a folksy, bucolic and serene setting in which to enjoy a glass of wine, it most definitely is.

The Riordan’s grapes are primarily sourced from Walla Walla Valley’s Dwelley Vineyard and Airport Ranch Vineyard near Yakima. Their annual production of about 800 cases appropriately places this gem of a winery squarely in the mom and pop/boutique category.

Here are my tasting notes on a few current releases:

null2013 Viognier (about $19) – Gentle aromas and flavors of Bosc pear, stone fruits and green apple dominate this stunning white wine. The off-dry finish gives it a slightly lingering finish. Easily one of the best Washington viogniers I’ve tasted from this vintage.

2012 Eye of the Pheasant Pinot Gris (about $19) – Fermentation on the skins for 24 hours gives this refreshingly different wine a pale salmon hue. It opens with a splash of ruby red grapefruit before developing more of an herbaceous quality with lemongrass accents and a pleasant, light touch of celery seed on the extreme finish.

Non-Vintage Dinner Bell Red (about $19) – Spanning three vintages, this tasty, four-varietal blend is a lighter body-style red that’s perfect for everyday enjoyment. Delicious red cherry and berry flavors fill the glass on the way to a soft, velvety finish.

2009 Cuvée (about $27) – This cabernet sauvignon-based red, along with equal parts merlot and syrah, can easily be paired with anything beef. Black cherry, currant, and blackberry flavors are backed up with sturdy tannins that suggest ample aeration or additional cellaring.

Robison Ranch Cellars is just a five minute drive north of downtown Walla Walla and currently open Saturdays from 11 am to 4 pm or by appointment. For more information and to order wines: (509) 301-3480 or robisonranchcellars.com.

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