Monthly Archives: July 2006
You’ve probably heard the term “blend” when people talk about a particular wine, but what exactly are they really referring to? It’s simply a combination of two or more varietals, with a varietal being the equivalent of a purebred grape. Think of crossing a labrador (varietal) with a poodle (varietal) to come up with a labradoodle (blend) and you’ve got the picture.
It’s interesting to note that in the Pacific Northwest, blends were almost non-existent fifteen to twenty years ago. I recall Hedges Cellars producing a semillon/chardonnay in the late 1980’s that raised more than a few eyebrows. How could they possibly imagine commingling the flavors of these two varietals that were perfectly fine on their own?
Well, by doing so they got the nice herbaceousness characteristics of a semillon to complement the fruity, toasty qualities of a chardonnay. In short, they ended up with a more complex wine that gave consumers the best of both varietals, which I think is one of the best features that blends have to offer.
So how do you know if you’re buying a blend? In Washington, any wine label that refers to the name of only one grape must be at least 75 percent of that grape. In other words, winemakers can blend in up to 25 percent of other varietals before they cross the regulatory threshold, meaning you’re probably drinking more blends than you might have expected.
Fortunately, some wineries now list the percentages of grapes they use on the back label, which can take some of the guesswork out of determining what’s inside the bottle. In addition, many wineries now have web sites that include winemaker notes that discuss details such as a wine’s acidity level, residual sugar content and varietal composition, providing consumers with even more useful information.
One of the highlights of my recent trip to the Okanagan Valley was a visit to Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, located just north of Summerland, British Columbia and now in its 25th year of operation.
Sumac Ridge treats its guests like royalty by greeting them with a sample of wine before they even enter the door. Once inside, a friendly and knowledgeable staff will provide a wide variety of additional wines to taste while fielding questions about the winery and its surrounding vineyards. A bistro adjacent to the tasting room is open daily and offers a menu that changes each month.
Here are some noteworthy Sumac Ridge wines that I sampled during my visit (all prices Canadian dollars):
Stellar’s Jay Brut (about $25) – A truly remarkable sparkling wine with lovely strawberry/rhubarb aromas, creamy granny smith apple flavors and a crisp, clean finish. It’s also available by the split (375 milliliters) for about $14.
Sauvignon Blanc, Black Sage Vineyard (about $17) – A beautifully complex white wine with lots of tropical fruit aromas and flavors that suggest pineapple, papaya and melon.
Meritage, Black Sage Vineyard (about $25) – This well-balanced blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot and 25 percent Cabernet Franc is packed with dark fruit flavors a touch of black pepper on the finish.
Tours of the Sumac Ridge facility are also available for a small fee that is refundable with a purchase of wine. Although some might find this to be a viable option, my suggestion is to spend your time at the tasting bar chatting with winery personnel and sipping some wines; I think you’ll find it to be a real treat.
More information: www.sumacridge.com.
I’ve always felt that one of the best ways to learn about and experience what Washington wineries have to offer is to visit them firsthand.
But organizing a trip centered on wineries – particularly those in Eastern Washington – can take a bit of time and effort for those of us living on the western side of the state.
It may require time off from work, or at the very least, blocking out several weekends. It’s also necessary to plan ahead by calling wineries to make sure they’ll be open and pouring the wines you enjoy. And as of late, the soaring price of gasoline has made the overall cost of traveling across the Cascades considerably more expensive.
If these sound like excuses you’ve been using to postpone your trip, I’d like to offer a solution. Let the wineries come to you.
On Monday, July 24, the Yakima Valley Showcase of Wines will be featured at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, located at 355 Harris Avenue. Nineteen wineries from the region will be serving wines, first at an afternoon tasting for trade and media representatives, and then for the general public from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. Included at the event will be some of my personal favorites including Chinook Wines, Pontin del Roza, Hightower Cellars, Thurston Wolfe Winery and Kiona Vineyards.
This is a great way to sample Washington wines – without having to spend too much time or a small fortune – and enjoy the best of what the Yakima Valley currently has to offer.
Cost for the public tasting is $35 per person, which includes light appetizers. Tickets must be purchased online prior to the event at www.wineyakimavalley.org/events.
Covey Run 2004 (about $9): A nice, medium-bodied Chard from Columbia Valley with ample green apple and pear flavors and a dollop of toasty oak on the finish. It’s nice to know you can still buy a decent Washington Chardonnay for under $10 a bottle and serve it to guests without reservation. Great with seafood, chicken and lighter pasta dishes.
2:00 to 4:30 pm – Hosting a Wine Tasting Party. Participate in a blind tasting and learn how to set one up on your own with plenty of tips and other useful information. Emphasis will also be placed on special occasion wines such as Champagne. Guaranteed to be a fun class! Click on the Wine Classes Page for more information.