New to Wines? Sweet, Pink and Cheap Might be the Place to Start

November 28th, 2005

One evening not too long ago there was a knock on my door. Two young women from a party across the street didn’t have a corkscrew and needed help opening a bottle of wine. I examined the bottle, which appeared to be something large, sweet and pink from a winery based in Modesto, California. I rolled my eyes, popped the cork and sent them on their way.

But then I started thinking about my own early wine tasting experiences. I cut my teeth on such gems as Blue Nun, Boone’s Farm and Spanada. A venture into Hearty Burgundy during my college years was so traumatic, it kept me away from red wines for another 10 years.

nullThe point I’d like to make is this; when you’re learning how to swim, you don’t immediately jump off the diving board into the deep end. You get your feet wet in the kiddie pool and work your way up from there. Wine tasting is very similar. You don’t start out by drinking big, bold Cabernets. Your early preferences are usually sweeter, lighter white wines. Then one day you get adventurous and try a Chardonnay, perhaps with food. The light bulb illuminates, and you’re on your way to discovering wines.

So the next time a young or inexperienced wine drinker orders a white Zinfandel, don’t scoff at them. Chances are they’re just exploring new wines and testing the waters. It may be sweet, pink and cheap, but it’s a start.

Winemaker’s Dinner at Bistecca Restaurant: Update

November 19th, 2005

This event has been sold out!

Here’s a perfect opportunity to see how important (and enjoyable) it is to have a good food/wine pairing for the optimal dining experience. I’ve chosen five premium Northwest wines and Bistecca Chef Marc Eilberg will design and prepare a five-course meal around those selections.

Featured wines will include; San Juan Vineyards Semillon/Chardonnay, Goose Ridge Chardonnay, Maryhill Zinfandel, Kiona Cabernet and Eola Hills Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.

Cost generally will be $38 per person with tax and gratuity extra. I think this a steal…I mean, really, where are you going to find a 5-course dinner and wines for this price? The dinner will get underway at 6:30 and wraps up around 9:00pm.

Bistecca Restaurant is located at 4156 Meridian Street in Bellingham near the Holiday Inn. Phone (360) 647-1060 for reservations.

Unpretentious Atmosphere at Paradisos del Sol

November 14th, 2005

When visiting Northwest wineries you’re never certain what you might find. From large, antiseptic corporate venues to rustic mom and pop operations, Washington truly has them all.

Last summer I came across Paradisos del Sol winery, located near Zillah, which is about a 15 minute drive east of Yakima. This has to be one of the most unpretentious wineries I’ve encountered. The tasting room is actually part of winemaker Paul Vandenberg’s house and is surrounded by orchards and gardens, with dogs, cats and chickens casually roaming about the premises.

Once inside, you’re treated to samples of homemade artichoke and crab dip along with current releases of red and white wines. My favorite, which I recently opened, was the Lot 2 Paradisos del Sol Red (about $18), a blend of Lemberger and Cabernet. The wine displays a tinge of bright cherry for starters and then plenty of spicy berry flavors – notably blackberry and raspberry – followed by a soft finish. The Cabernet gives the wine a bit of structure without being obtrusive.

In addition to the laid back atmosphere, one of the things that impressed me about the winery was their concern for the environment. Farming is done using natural methods with no synthetic pesticides and all of the wines are bottled in clear glass, which is 100 percent recyclable.

I wasn’t able to find Paradisos del Sol wines locally, but they can be ordered online at or by phoning (509) 829-9000. Better yet, pay the winery a visit. You’ll find it to be a unique and relaxing experience.

2005 Harvest Update

November 13th, 2005

After spending time chatting with Eastern Washington winemakers over the past several weeks the word on the 2005 harvest appears to be good. Of course we really won’t know the final verdict until everything is in the bottle and we start drinking the wines in another two to three years. But overall, everyone appears to be pleased with the quality of this years harvest.

The key to 2005 was a combination of warm days, cool evenings and minimal amounts of rain in the critical months of September and October. This scenario is one of the reasons why Washington continues to produce wines that rival those of other premiere grape growing regions from around the world.

I think Casey McClellan, winemaker for Walla Walla’s Seven Hils Winery sums it up nicely when he says, “Look for the 2005 wines as they are released; they will be worth waiting for and worth collecting for your cellar to enjoy in years to come.”

2005 Tri-Cities Wine Festival Gold Medal Winners

November 12th, 2005

Best of Show:
River’s Edge Winery 2003 Barrel Select Pinot Noir

Double Gold:
Columbia Crest 2002 Reserve Merlot
Pend d’Oreille Winery 2003 Syrah
Stephenson Cellars 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon

Apex II Cellars 2002 Merlot
Barnard Griffin 2003 Reserve Merlot
C.R. Sandidge 2004 KISS Pinot Noir
Canoe Ridge 2004 Chardonnay
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2002 Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot
Columbia Crest 2002 Walter Clore Reserve Red
Columbia Crest 2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Cote Bonneville 2003 Carriage House Red
Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Blanc de Blanc
Five Star Cellars 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon
Five Star Cellars 2003 Merlot **
Hedges Cellars 2004 CMS (Chardonnay, Marsanne and Sauvignon Blanc)
Hinzerling Winery NV White Port
Kestrel Vintners 2002 Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon
Nicholas Cole 2002 Camille Red Wine
Pasek Cellars NV Guava
Pasek Cellars 2004 Late Harvest Viognier
Pasek Cellars NV Syrah Port
Peller Estates 2004 Private Reserve Trinity Icewine
Preston Premium Wines 2002 Cabernet Franc
Reininger Winery 2003 Syrah
San Juan Vineyards 2003 Syrah
Spring Valley Vineyard 2003 Fredrick Cabernet Sauvignon
Three Rivers Winery 2003 Boushey Vineyards Syrah
Tualatin Estate 2004 Semi-Sparkling Muscat
Waving Tree Winery 2003 Syrah
Zefina Winery 2002 Zinfandel
Zerba Cellars 2003 Wild Thing Wine

People’s Choice:
Barrister Winery 2003 Red Mountain Merlot

** Dan’s personal favorite of those sampled during the festival.

For silver and bronze medal winners visit the Festival’s web site at

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