Smaller Wineries Like Hightower Cellars Can Provide Great Service

December 26th, 2005

I’d like to close out the year by acknowledging the scores of smaller wineries in the Pacific Northwest.

I always struggle with how to classify these wineries. Mom and Pop operation sounds like a casual hobby that got out of control. Boutique winery gives the impression of something inaccessible and standoffish. I think “handcrafted” fits the bill. It lets consumers know that the winery pays attention to small details and provides a product that can compete with the high volume production of larger operations.

nullA perfect example is Hightower Cellars, located in Eastern Washington’s Red Mountain appellation. Husband and wife Tim and Kelly Hightower literally run the entire winemaking process from start to finish. They’re also wonderful hosts and you’ll be hard pressed to find a nicer pair of people in the wine business.

Last month a group of friends and I paid them a visit. We spent almost two hours barrel tasting, sampling new releases and chatting with them about the fall crush. This is the kind of service that only a smaller winery can provide and it’s one of the things that makes taking a wine tasting tour so enjoyable.

nullNew releases include the 2003 Murray Cuvee Red Wine (about $16), named for the Hightower’s Yellow Labrador and the 2003 Walla Walla Blend (about $22). Also currently available are the 2003 Merlot (about $23), a big wine loaded with dark cherry flavors and the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $31) which is drinking awfully well right now. It also displays cherry fruit with subtle tannins and a velvety finish.

Quantities are limited but they can usually be found locally at the Fairhaven Food Pavilion, Community Food Co-op and the newly opened Purple Smile at 1143 11th Street. More information: www.hightowercellars.com.

Wine Tasting at the Zephyr Bistro

December 23rd, 2005

I’ll be hosting a wine tasting event at the Zephyr Bistro on Bellwether Way in Bellingham from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. Included in the tasting will be a selection of gold medal winners from this years Tri-Cities Wine Festival. Cost will be $10 per person.

Try a Sparkling Wine From Spokane’s Mountain Dome

December 19th, 2005

Any time is a good time to enjoy champagne and sparkling wines, but as we approach New Year’s Eve even more people seem to pop the cork on a bottle or two as a matter of tradition. If that’s the case for you, let me suggest a couple of selections from a Pacific Northwest winery that should help enhance any festive occasion.

nullMountain Dome Winery, located near Spokane, has been producing some very nice sparkling wines since 1984. I met with owner/winemaker Michael Manz at his production facility last September. It’s about 30 minutes north of Spokane in a fairly isolated location, but well worth the drive.

Along with his son, Erik, Manz has taken the art of sparkling winemaking and, with years of experience, crafted it to near perfection. The end result: remarkable sparkling wines at reasonable prices that are comparable to champagnes costing several dollars more.

My current recommendations include the Non-Vintage Brut (about $15). It has plenty of apple flavors and a nice, crisp finish. This is a great “everyday” sparkler that is well distributed and easy to spot…just look for the gnomes on the label.

Also notable is the Non-Vintage Cuvee Forte (about $27) which displays generous green apple flavors followed by toasted caramel and a yeasty, creamy finish. Exquisite and delicious.

More information: www.mountiandome.com or phone (509) 928-BRUT.

Cabernet/Merlot

December 18th, 2005

March, 2006 Update: Bad news! I received word from Michael Burnett that the ’03 vintage has sold out (although you might find a stray bottle here and there)! But look for the ’04 vintage to be released sometime during spring, 2006.

Chuckanut Ridge 2003 Bad Bunny (about $18): Winemakers John Powers and Michael Burnett smash any hint of a sophomore jinx with this awesome new release in only their second year of production. They also somehow managed to get approval for a label featuring a cigarette toking rabbit! Talk about charmed lives!

History aside, this is a wine that commands your attention. It’s a blend of 70 percent Cab and 30 percent Merlot and cram-packed with dark red fruit flavors and noticeable but unobtrusive tannins. A steal at this price for a wine that will only continue to get better over time.

Claret

December 18th, 2005

Basel Cellars 2002 (about $24): This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc absolutely rocked my world. Gobs of big, lush, jammy berry fruit flavors and a touch of spice on the finish make it one of the best wines I tasted in calendar year 2005.

This is the type of red wine from Walla Walla that has been earning worldwide recognition. Kudos to Basel winemaker Trey Busch for an outstanding job. Go buy this wine now!

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