Go to Chaberton Estate in Langley, BC for Excellent Food and Wine

April 28th, 2015

Have you ever had a great experience somewhere, only to return years later and find that things just weren’t the same?

I remember having an excellent visit at Chaberton Estate Winery three years ago, and not wanting to get my hopes up too much, set the bar a bit lower for my return earlier this month. After all, it couldn’t get much better than that first experience, could it?

Oh yes it could. In fact, it was exceptional.

General Manager Brian Ensor took me through a tour and tasting at the winery’s Langley, British Columbia facility that concluded with a first-class dinner and very reasonably priced wines that should have Whatcom County residents lining up for reservations.

But before I get too far, let’s start with the grapes.

Chaberton Estate is home to about 50 acres of estate grown grapes in its cooler climate, Fraser Valley location. The bacchus grape is responsible for about one-third of the total plantings and Ensor feels that the wines it yields are among Chaberton’s best.

The winery also produces wines from a number of warm-weather varietals, such as Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are sourced from the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys in Eastern British Columbia.

Together, they contribute to a sizable production totaling about 48,000 cases annually, making it the fourth largest winery in the province.

After spending time in the tasting room and retail store, visitors can have lunch or dinner at the adjacent Bacchus Bistro, where Executive Chef Ashley Chisham provides a small but sumptuous menu designed to complement a wine list that consists almost exclusively of Chaberton wines.

Here’s a small sample of some of the wines I tasted during my most recent visit. Note that all prices are in Canadian dollars at the tasting room, excluding taxes:

null2013 Reserve Bacchus ($15) – This lovely white wine displays stone fruit and white flower aromatics, generous flavors of peach, tangerine and citrus, and a spicy/semi-sweet finish. The 2013 Reserve Dry Bacchus ($15) replaces the sweetness with refreshing, laser-sharp acidity that is absolutely astounding.

2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($21) – Dark berry and plum flavors predominate, with touches of toasted oak and cocoa powder on the slightly textured finish. Try it with the restaurant’s signature dish, beef bourguignon.

2012 Reserve Meritage ($24) – This blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc is big on black cherry and currant aromas and flavors that extend into a surprisingly soft finish.

Chaberton Estate Winery and Bacchus Bistro are easily accessible via either the Blaine/SR-543 or Lynden/Aldergrove crossings and only about an hour’s drive, plus border wait times, from Bellingham.

For a complete list of the winery’s current releases, along with hours, directions, and restaurant information, go to chabertonwinery.com.

Celebrate World Malbec Day With These Recommendations from Argentina

April 14th, 2015

April 17 is World Malbec Day, a celebration of the red wine grape that originated in France and is now grown in vineyards around the world.

The day was chosen to coincide with a reported declaration by the president of Argentina to acquire French vines, including malbec, and plant them in Argentinian soils in 1853.

Quantity-wise, the French version of the grape has been long overtaken by the large number of vineyards now grown in the Mendoza region of Argentina, where malbec is the region’s undisputed king of grapes. Malbec has also become increasingly popular in other wine-producing countries including Chile, Australia, and the United States.

In Washington, malbec only accounted for about two-percent of the state’s red wine grape production in 2014. But in spite of that small overall total percentage, its production here as a single varietal has doubled in just the last four years.

That’s good news to anyone who enjoys a solid, medium-bodied red wine – whether domestic or international – that generally features a good amount of fruit, balanced acidity, supple tannins, and spicy/peppery accents.

Here are several recommendations of Argentinian malbecs that can be found at or ordered through Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants in Bellingham:

Árido 2013 Malbec (about $11) – Nice, understated red cherry and berry fruits lead off, with a bit of an earthy finish and good tannic structure. This should make for a great “everyday” malbec, especially when paired with beef stew, burgers, or meat loaf.

nullArgento 2013 Malbec (about $11) – Here’s another good, bargain-priced malbec to keep on hand for the dinner table. Red plum flavors predominate with undertones of black olive and just a touch of herbaceousness on the finish.

Vistalba Corte C 2013 Malbec (about $15) – Spicy, brambly blackberry aromas and flavors fill the glass, with additional fruits of black cherry and fig and a slightly oaky finish. It’s blended with 20-percent cabernet sauvignon, which lends a bit of a heady character to top off an otherwise elegant wine. A great value at this price point.

Tomero 2011 Reserva Malbec (about $30) – This malbec displays considerable depth and complexity with raspberry and cherry fruit flavors to begin and then darker touches of anise, coffee, and black currant on the finish. Slightly grippy tannins suggest no harm in cellaring the wine for a few more years.

For malbecs from Washington, I’d suggest any of the current releases from Red Mountain’s Hamilton Cellars or the 2012 vintage from J&J Vintners in Walla Walla. Also, Bellingham’s Dynasty Cellars is planning to release its highly anticipated, first-ever malbec sometime this spring. Only 45 cases were produced and the wine will retail for $30 a bottle.

Don’t Assume That Red Wine You Bought Will Automatically Pair With Chocolate

February 10th, 2015

Valentine’s Day is Saturday and I’m guessing that many of you are still mulling about a list of possibilities on what do to with your special someone.

For those of us lacking in creativity, the tried-and-true ways to celebrate the day usually seem to work best. Dinner out with a bottle of something sparkling? A solid choice. Flowers delivered to the home or workplace? Always a nice touch. Stay at home with a movie, some chocolate truffles and an exquisite bottle of red wine? Not so fast!

nullSomehow, some way, the coupling of red wine and chocolate has worked its way into the minds of love struck sweethearts as the quintessential Valentine’s Day combination.

Let me warn you that more often than not, this pairing can be perfectly awful.

The culprit is usually the chocolate, which sets the bar so high with its cocoa, sugar and fat contents it can render many red wines tasteless.

The solution is to beat the chocolate at its own game by choosing a wine that’s just as bold or sweet. A big, full-bodied cabernet sauvignon or a spicy, smoky syrah or zinfandel might do the trick; but I’ve found even better choices to be fortified sweet reds, Sherries, or a tawny Port or port-style wine.

Here a few wine recommendations that should work well with chocolate or for sipping simply on their own:

Maryhill Winery 2008 Vintage Port (about $18 for 580 ml) – A blend of traditional Port grapes – tinto cão, tempranillo, sousão, and touriga nacional – this wine was aged 32 months in oak barrels at the Goldendale winery. Rum raisin aromas and flavors are accompanied by extra-ripe cherry along with a hint of caramel and butterscotch. A somewhat sweet finish nicely balances the Brobdingnagian 19.3-percent alcohol content.

nullDynasty Cellars 2013 Amabile Late Harvest Zinfandel (about $18 for 375 ml) – This fortified zinfandel from the Bellingham winery has a stunning chocolate cherry bouquet that carries over to the palate with a subtle finishing flourish of white pepper. There’s also plenty of sweetness to balance out the underlying tannins. Amabile, by the way, translates to “sweet” or “lovable” in Italian.

BarSol Perfecto Amor (about $19) – This unique and amazing amber-colored aperitif is a combination of pisco (a Peruvian brandy) and three white varietals. Intoxicating aromas of baked raisin bread and maple nut lead to flavors of butterscotch and dried fruits on the palate. The finish is soft, elegant and lingering with touches of toasted almond. Superb!

Gonzalez Byass “Nectar” Sherry (about $25) – Sourced from Spain and made from the Pedro Ximenez grape, I’m tempted to describe this wine as a liquid fig newton for adults. But it’s much more than that, with ultra-dark plum, date, and dried apricot flavors and a nice nuttiness on the super-sweet, incredibly lengthy finish. This wine will stand up to virtually any dessert as well as an after-dinner cigar.

Explore International Wines from New and Old World Sources

January 20th, 2015

The focus of my column has always been on Washington wine – and with good reason. Our state produces all the essentials a wine enthusiast could ask for: white wines ranging from crisp, vibrant riesling to full-bodied chardonnay and a wide array of red wines from velvety merlot to big, bold cabernet sauvignon.

But even if all your taste-preference bases are covered by Washington wineries, you’d be foolish not to enjoy wines from other parts of the United States and around the world.

Old World wine-producing countries of France, Spain, and Italy and New World sources such as South Africa, Australia, Chile, and Argentina offer an immense variety of styles to complement and contrast anything from Washington in your on-hand wine supply.

nullToday I’ll give you several international recommendations I’ve recently enjoyed that make great choices for wineophiles looking to venture outside the Pacific Northwest.

Borgo M 2013 Pinot Grigio (about $12) – This refreshing Italian white has a lightly floral and fruity aroma with plenty of crisp citrus flavors and a lemon-drop finish. It pairs well with manila clams in butter broth and is currently on the menu at Keenan’s at the Pier Restaurant in Bellingham.

Montes Twins 2012 Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon (about $15) – This 50/50 blend is sourced from the Colchagua Valley in Chile. It’s loaded with dark berry, plum, and black currant fruits followed by a layer of even darker bittersweet chocolate and espresso. The soft finish makes it instantly enjoyable and a pleasure to taste.

Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva 2008 (about $19) – This beautiful Spanish red is comprised almost entirely of tempranillo and its opening cherry flavors are accentuated with subtle clove and cinnamon spice. The lingering, complex finish suggests caramel and hazelnut with a dusting of cocoa powder. It pairs nicely with a variety of tapas from octopus to linguiça.

nullKaiken 2012 Ultra Malbec (about $24) – Another excellent Chilean malbec, this one is filled with reserved blueberry and blackberry flavors and underscored with an earthy, mineral-like quality and supple tannins. The 14.5-percent alcohol content comes off as slightly hot; a quibble quickly tempered by the dollop of vanilla bean on the finish.

Antonelli San Marco 2010 Montefalco Rosso and Arnaldo-Caprai 2012 Montefalco Rosso (between $19 to $25 each) – Montefalco is a subdivision within central Italy’s Umbria region and known for its big, heady red wines.

Both of these wines have a sangiovese base and 15-percent sagrantino. The Antonelli also blends in cabernet sauvignon and merlot and its cherry, red plum, and toasted oak profile is perfectly balanced with grippy tannins.

The Arnaldo-Caprai is finished with just a bit of merlot. It’s a touch lighter in body, with red currant and berry flavors, firm tannins and a pleasant splash of green tea on the finish.

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.

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