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.

Wines Becoming More Popular at Football and Tailgate Parties

September 30th, 2014

Wine? At a tailgate or football party? Alongside bloody marys, assorted other cocktails and the king of football beverages, beer?

I say, there’s absolutely no reason not to include wine and I’ve got a few theories as to why wines have become increasingly popular at football-related events.

nullFor starters, there’s simply more (and better) food being served. Go to a football party at someone’s home or a tailgate party in the parking lot of a stadium at game day. The tableful of chips and dips has expanded to include a sometimes massive spread of salads, carefully prepared side dishes and desserts.

That cool guy who fired up a hibachi and threw on some hot dogs? He’s been replaced by a master chef with a propane grill barbequing any cut of beef, pork or chicken you like.

It’s clear that we’ve become much more sophisticated with our football dining habits, and that allows for more beverage options, including wine.

Second, there’s the evolution of the metrosexual. These are the “in-touch-with-your-softer-side” men who aren’t afraid to wax their chest, put product in their hair, or go see a chick-flick with their girlfriend or spouse.

nullWhile some guys are still perfectly content with a six-pack of beer and a bag of Doritos on game day, metrosexuals aren’t buying it. They avoid pre-packaged foods and are more likely to have the occasional glass of wine rather than something out of an aluminum can – unless it’s a craft beer, of course.

And let’s not underestimate the increasing presence of women at these events. They too, often prefer wine over beer as their drink of choice. That influences the selection of beverages that party hosts have to take into consideration.

So what’s the best wine or wines to serve at these gatherings?

Because there are often so many different foods involved, it’s difficult to pin down the “perfect” wine. But parties of this kind usually involve pretty heady stuff; grilled brats with all the condiments, homemade chili, pasta and potato salads, spicy buffalo wings, and nachos with jalapeño peppers are just a few things that come to mind.

That said, it might be best to serve a slightly sweeter white wine. You’ll find that a sweet wine will compete and contrast nicely with the spice and heat components of these foods, while a basic chardonnay or light to medium-bodied red wine could be overwhelmed and rendered tasteless.

Riesling, gewürztraminer, muscat, and chenin blanc should make good choices and even a white zinfandel (gasp) might be a consideration. Not only are these wines sometimes enjoyed by well-seasoned wine drinkers, they may be the only thing that occasional, sweet wine drinkers will consume. That gives them broad-ranging appeal and makes them a solid addition to your next football party.

Mercer Wine Estates to Unveil Eagle & Plow Label

August 30th, 2014

The Mercer family, the first to plant vinifera in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills in 1972, announced the September 5 launch of the inaugural Eagle & Plow BLOCK 93 Cabernet Sauvignon, a new label created to support and benefit the servicemen and women and their families who have been impacted by the war on terrorism and those who continue to serve and protect.

Eagle & Plow is the Mercer family’s most recent charitable initiative inspired by the family’s close connections with the September 11, 2001 tragedies and history of service in the United States military. Mercer Vineyard Manager, John Derrick, lost his best friend, Richard Guadagno on United Airlines Flight 93. The 2012 Eagle & Plow BLOCK 93 Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from a one-acre block, on the family’s Cavalie vineyard.

BLOCK 93 contains 911 vines, 40 of which were hand-planted by Derrick’s vineyard team to represent the 40 innocent victims of Flight 93. The wine has a suggested retail price of $100 and $350 for 750 ml and 3L bottlings, respectively, and will be available in select markets including California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington State. All sales proceeds will be donated to commemorating organizations such as the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation and Friends of Flight 93.

The Journey of 30 Years of Wine Festivals Begins With a Single Sip

August 12th, 2014

Anyone with an interest in wines can probably recall the occasion or a particular wine that led to their wine tasting epiphany.

For me, it was sometime in the early 1980’s. Then Bellingham resident Marsha Kremen (cousin of current Whatcom County Councilmember Pete Kremen) introduced me to a beautiful white wine called Macon Fuissé.

At that time, my definition of a “good” wine was one that was sweet, made me feel happy, and fit nicely into my $2-a-bottle budget. I didn’t know exactly what Marsha had poured me, but I knew that it tasted much better than the Blue Nun I was introduced to during my college days.

About that same time I struck up a friendship with Kim and Jim Dooley, a couple of other locals who were just getting into something called “premium Washington wines.”

Jim’s brother-in-law, Maury Balcom, owned a new winery in Pasco, the now defunct Quarry Lake Winery (and if you remember that one, give yourself a gold star and don’t forget to renew your AARP membership). The Dooleys invited me along for a trip east of the Cascades for some wine tasting. I had no idea what I was in for.

Walking into the barrel room, I inhaled the intoxicating, baked-bread aroma of yeasts working their magic of turning sugars into alcohol. I also recall that Maury produced some pretty awesome wines, including chenin blanc, chardonnay and merlot.

That trip to Quarry Lake was essentially a life-changing experience, and it showed me that handcrafted wines, made right here in Washington, were a cut above anything that was mass-produced on a national level.

In 1985, the Dooleys and I travelled to Kennewick to attend something called the Tri-Cities Wine Festival, which was then in its seventh year. Sixty wineries were at the festival, which represented virtually everyone producing in the state at that time.

Like kids in a candy store, we eagerly attacked everything we could get our hands on. I don’t even remember sampling that year’s Best of Show winner, a 1983 Merlot from a little up-and-coming winery called Leonetti Cellar.

Fast forward to 2014, which is quite a landmark year for me. I’ll be attending that same Tri-Cities Wine Festival, this time for the 30th consecutive year. The Festival has had its ups and downs during its history (who hasn’t?), but recent improvements have gotten it back on track. And even after all this time, anticipating the wines and wineries in attendance still creates an air of excitement.

2014 also marks the 15th anniversary of my wine column for the Herald, which has been running nearly every week since August, 1999. During this retrospective, I’d like to thank the Herald for giving me the opportunity to use the column as a podium to promote wines, especially those from Washington, which is now home to an amazing 800+ wineries.

I’ll continue to do this as long as you’ll have me, because writing a weekly column has become so routine that it hardly seems like work. Visiting wineries, meeting with winemakers and tasting new wines is still as fresh as it was during that first trip to Eastern Washington over 30 years ago.

Pontin del Roza Celebrates 30 Years

April 9th, 2014

Pontin Del Roza Winery is celebrating thirty years in the Washington State wine industry. What began as winemaker Scott Pontin’s high school FFA project has culminated into a 30 year legacy of estate winemaking.

Pontin Del Roza translates roughly in Italian to mean “Pontin family farm on the Roza”. The winery uses the grapes grown only from “the Roza”, an area of south-facing slopes in north Prosser. The Pontin family is no stranger to farming. Beginning several centuries ago in northern Italy, a wine-growing tradition was established by the Pontin Family. A pioneering spirit brought some of the family, including Scott’s grandfather Angelo, to the Yakima Valley nearly 70 years ago. Since expanding in the 1950’s, Nesto, Delores, Scott and the Pontin family have been farming in the Prosser area for over 50 years.

nullIn 2012, a new facility including tasting room, case storage, warehouse and offices totalling 5,000 square feet was built next to the family farm on Hinzerling Road north of Prosser. In 2013, a beautiful new outdoor space was added, complete with bocce ball court, barbecue, and expansive room for private parties and corporate events. Last year, Pontin Del Roza also introduced their Privilege Wine Club which allows members exclusive releases, special offers and private party invitations.

Pontin Del Roza produces several wines, both whites and reds. The 2009 Angelo Pontin Sangiovese was recently touted as Outstanding during an Italian reds competition for its aromas of cherry, chocolate and oak. The 2010 Angelo Pontin Dolcetto was recently featured in the April issue of Tasting Room Magazine as a Spring wine pick. The wine is a tribute to winemaker Scott Pontin’s grandfather who immigrated to Yakima Valley and planted terraced vineyards as his family had done for centuries in Italy.

Spring Barrel weekend in Prosser is April 25-27th, all wine enthusiasts are welcome at Pontin Del Roza and no passport is required. Please join us in celebrating this kick-off to the spring and summer season at the winery.The Pontin Del Roza tasting room is open daily from 10-5 at 35502 N. Hinzerling Road in Prosser, WA.

For more information on the winery, to purchase wine or schedule a private event please visit http://www.pontindelroza.com.

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