Rotary Club’s Grape & Gourmet a Huge Success

October 30th, 2006

The Bellingham Bay Rotary Club will host its third annual Grape and Gourmet food and wine event on Sunday, November 5 at the Best Western Lakeway Inn in Bellingham.

nullOver the past 25 years I’ve attended a number of wine festivals and this one certainly has to rate with the best of them. What makes this event special is that it combines wineries from the Pacific Northwest with restaurants from Whatcom County, providing the event with a nice, local flavor.

I had a chance to get a sneak preview of the 36 wineries and 25 restaurants that will be participating and the list is impressive. Featured wineries will includes some of the big players such as Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest, local wineries Mount Baker Vineyards, Chuckanut Ridge and Samson Estates, and even some smaller personal favorites such Bergevin Lane, L’Ecole No. 41, Chinook, Terra Blanca and Hightower Cellars.

The two-hour event begins at 6:30 pm and advance tickets can be purchased for $75 each. For an additional $25 you can buy one of the 250 premier tickets and begin your tasting and grazing an hour earlier.

Think the cost is a bit pricey? Then consider this: first, you’d spend countless more time and money trying to travel to all of these places for food and wine samples; second, a portion of the sales provide funding for charitable community projects supported by Bellingham Bay Rotary. Last year’s event raised over $55,000 and this year’s focus will be on rebuilding the facility for the Bellingham Food Bank.

Purchase your tickets by contacting any Bellingham Bay Rotary Club member or by calling Bob Yost at (360) 738-2747. Then mark your calendar, arrange for transportation home and prepare to have a great time for a good cause.

Host Your Own Wine Tasting Party

October 23rd, 2006

The holiday season is nearly upon us and wine tasting is a great indoor activity that just naturally seems to go well with the holidays.

Hosting your own wine tasting party can be a fun, easy, and relatively low-cost social event. Certainly, you can open up a few bottles of wine, toss in some munchies and call it good. But with a little imagination and a bit of advance planning, I guarantee that you and your guests will have a much better time.

With that in mind, choosing a theme is first and foremost to hosting a successful wine tasting party. For example, you can serve wines of the same varietal such as all fume blancs or all merlots. Or you can serve wines from a particular region – say, Tuscany, California’s Sonoma Valley or Southeastern Australia.

One of my favorite themes is a blind tasting. Each guest brings one bottle of same varietal. The host places each bottle in a paper bag, numbers it, and hands out score sheets where guests can rate and comment on the wines. There are several variations on this theme, but the bottom line is that everyone shares in the cost and is able to sample a variety of wines in a relaxed setting that’s conducive to socializing and exchanging opinions.

If you’d like to learn more about hosting your own wine tasting party, I’ll be teaching a class centered around this topic on Saturday, November 4 from 2:30 to 4:30 pm at Bellingham Technical College. The focus will be on Champagne and sparkling wines for the holidays and students will get a chance to participate in a blind tasting featuring three viogniers and three syrahs. Register by calling the college at 752-8350 or visit www.btc.ctc.edu.

Special thanks to Mrs. Kimberly Dooley, who co-hosted some of my first wine tasting parties in the early 1980′s. Kim has been a true and loyal friend for a long time. And I mean a really long time… :-)

2006 Harvest Update

October 22nd, 2006

The 2006 growing season turned out to be a bit of an odd duck. The weather in Eastern Washington fell into a stop/start-mode during the early part of the season before the temperatures really cranked up during the late summer months.

The result is that winemakers were scrambling a bit in early September as everything was beginning to ripen at the same time and a mass-harvest, of sorts, was starting to take shape. Fortunately, Mother Nature intervened with a cool period in mid-September. This slowed things down, gave the grapes a bit more hang time, and allowed the flavors to catch up with the fairly high sugar levels that were being measured.

null As the crush continues, I’m hearing more and more good news about the 2006 harvest. Jean-Francois Pellet (pictured at left) of Pepper Bridge Winery in Walla Walla says, “…all indicators point to a great harvest.” I also chatted with John Powers of Chuckanut Ridge, who purchased some of his fruit from Elephant Mountain Vineyard in Yakima Valley. He said that that this year’s Merlot was one of the most aromatic varietals he’d encountered and the Syrah was as dark and inky as you’ll ever see.

With reviews like that, 2006 may turn out to be more of a beautiful swan instead of an ugly duckling.

New Releases Can Hit the Market Any Time of Year

October 16th, 2006

It’s a busy, yet exciting time of the year for Pacific Northwest wineries as grapes from the 2006 vintage are being harvested and crushed.

So when do winemakers release their latest vintages? There’s no hard and fast rule on this one. White wines fermented in stainless steel are usually released in the spring following harvest, while reds and whites that are barrel fermented generally make their appearance anywhere from 12 to 24 months after harvesting.

Mount Baker Vineyards has a handful of very nice, new wines that hit the shelves in September. The 2005 Reserve Viognier (about $20) is an absolutely delicious, must-try white wine. It has a big, full-bodied mouth-feel with plump, lush peach and apricot flavors and a lengthy finish.

Also now available is their 2005 Reserve Pinot Gris (about $20). The wine begins with a nose of fresh pears, followed by more pear flavors and a pleasant, slightly mineral quality. Serve it with mild cheeses such as Muenster or fontina, and you may detect a scant bit of residual sugar. Toss in some fresh fruit and roasted walnuts and you’ve got an ideal food/wine pairing.

An outstanding Eastern Washington red wine that was just released a few months ago is the Lost River Winery 2004 Syrah (about $22). The wine has a lovely cherry aroma and flavors of red cherry, blackberry and hints of coffee and chocolate. This isn’t a big fruit bomb – like some Washington Syrahs – which makes it an excellent food wine. Try it with a lightly seasoned chicken or duck entrée or medium-aged cheeses.

Tasty Little Tuscan Blend is Only $10

October 9th, 2006

Several weeks ago I talked about the differences between Old World wines and New World wines.

Old World wines, you may recall, are European wines that are generally lighter in body and have subtle, earthy flavors. American palates tend to lean towards New World wines, which come primarily from the United States, Australia and Chile. These wines are bolder, fuller-bodied and more emphasis is placed on fruit flavors.

If you tend to be a New World wine drinker and have considered coloring outside the lines, let me suggest a wine with Old World origins that you might find appealing. The Badia a Coltibuono 2004 Cancelli (pronounced Can-chelly) is a terrific red wine from the Tuscany region of Italy.

Although it’s not a true Chianti, it does contain 70 percent of the requisite sangiovese grape. What makes it different is that it’s blended with 30 percent syrah. The syrah softens the acidity component of the sangiovese, making the wine more well-rounded and complex.

The end result: an Old World wine that’s surprisingly plump and full-bodied with plenty of black cherry and plum flavors and a long, silky finish.

Now here’s the best part. It only costs about $10 a bottle. With a price like this you can easily afford to provide your taste buds with a new adventure and give it a try. You’ll find it at most major grocers in Whatcom County including Haggen and Food Pavilion.

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