Don’t Be Afraid to Give Wines Outside Your Price and Taste Preferences a Try

December 31st, 2007

As we get ready to roll into 2008, let me offer a wine-related suggestion or two for the new year. Resolutions? No, but definitely a few things to keep in mind the next time you think about purchasing a bottle of wine.

Don’t be intimidated by wines. If you can’t pronounce the name of a wine, ask for help. Talk to a wine steward or wine shop proprietor. Point to a selection on your restaurant wine list and inquire. Is it red, white, fruity, sweet, dry…? Wine industry people are there to help answer your questions and direct you to wines that should match your personal taste preferences. Just ask.

nullSpend a few dollars more. $10 a bottle still seems to be a sticking point for many people; paying anything more makes them break out into a cold sweat. You don’t have to plunk down $50 every time you shop for wine, but something in the $10 to $20 a bottle price range can open up the door to better variety and better quality. Will you always get more? No, but you should expect it, and more often than not, the wine will deliver.

Drink what you like, but don’t be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone. There’s a big, diverse world of wine waiting to be explored. So if you only drink white wines, why not broaden your wine tasting horizons to include a few reds, perhaps with something lighter in body, like a pinot noir, to start? If your red wine experience is limited to the ubiquitous Yellow Tail Shiraz, think about a California Zinfandel or a Washington Syrah for a slightly different change of pace.

Then consider paying a visit to Northwest wineries for some firsthand tasting experience. We live in a part of the country that’s just a few hours drive from literally hundreds of wineries. Can’t find the time? Then choose from a wide selection that’s no further than your local wine shop or grocer. Now, get started and remember – enjoy yourself!

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Maryhill: Great Wines, Spectacular Destination

December 24th, 2007

Warning: Wines from Maryhill Winery are not for the faint of heart.

However, if you prefer your wines big and bold, with complex, massive fruit flavors then Maryhill will almost certainly have something to offer. Their red wines are also sometimes made with a fairly high alcohol content and a touch of residual sugar that gives them a borderline port-like quality.

I call them a guilty pleasure.

Current releases include the 2004 Syrah (about $20), which is a bit less intense on the fruit, but still displays plenty of spicy black cherry and plum flavors. The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $24), is outstanding, with concentrated cassis and dark berry flavors and a finish of dark chocolate.

My personal favorite is the 2005 Proprietor’s Reserve Zinfandel (about $38) which is easily the crown jewel of Maryhill. It’s incredibly plush with blackberry and ultra-ripe plum flavors followed by a lengthy, layered finish of clove and mocha. If I had to choose only one zin to take on a desert island, this could well be it.

The winery also produces several white wines and the 2006 Proprietor’s Reserve Chardonnay (about $20) is just one example. It’s fairly oaky, so if you prefer chardonnays of this type it’s certain to please. It’s also quite tropical, with pineapple flavors and touches of apple and vanilla on the finish.

A final note about Maryhill – the tasting room facility is nothing short of fantastic. Located about 100 miles east of Portland, it sits atop a hillside with serene, breathtaking views of the Columbia Gorge. Throw in a stop at the nearby Maryhill Museum and you’ve got a great getaway package. Plan to make a visit – you will not be disappointed.

Riesling Makes A Comeback

December 17th, 2007

Like clothing and hairstyles, wines seem to fall in and out of fashion. Pinot noir has been a popular choice as of late. A decade ago, merlot was the “in” wine to be drinking, and in the 80’s chardonnay was the undisputed favorite of any wine fashionista.

Now it’s rieslings turn.

Back in the 70’s, sweeter, fruity wines were the order of the day and Washington riesling was a perfect fit. Then as wine drinkers tastes matured and moved towards drier white and red wines, riesling was viewed by many as too one-dimensional and fell out of favor.

But today’s riesling is much more diverse in terms of style and taste. While it is sometimes still made with a fairly high sugar content, more often it’s produced in a dry to off-dry (slightly sweet) style. This transformation has made the wine attractive to many who are rediscovering it as well as a new generation of wine drinkers trying it for the first time.

Riesling is also an incredibly versatile food wine. It provides a nice contrast to well-aged cheeses and spicy Asian cuisine and complements a wide range of foods from salmon to roasted chicken to fresh fruit. It’s also a great starter wine, served chilled for sipping before the first course.

Here are some Washington rieslings I’ve tried as of late and think you might enjoy:

Columbia Winery 2006 Cellarmasters Riesling (about $11) – Bursting with peach and apricot flavors and backed by a surprising but pleasant touch of spice; this wine is reminiscent of a Gewurztraminer. The finish is also fairly sweet, but not overwhelming.

Nefarious Cellars 2006 Riesling (about $18) – Gentle flavors of baked apple, pear and tangerine melt into an off-dry finish. This elegant wine is a fine effort from the relatively new Chelan winery.

nullMilbrandt Vineyards 2006 Traditions Riesling (about $12) – Lovely orange blossom aromas are followed by delicate orange flavors, and an underlying mineral quality with a faintly sweet finish. This unique riesling is indicative of just how far the varietal has evolved over the past 30 years.

Wine Festival Showcases Great Northwest Wines…And a Few Surprises

December 10th, 2007

Last month’s Tri-Cities Wine Festival in Pasco was like an early Christmas present for the Northwest wine lover; a festive atmosphere, a few pleasant surprises and, naturally, plenty of good wine.

Maybe it was just my imagination but everywhere I turned there seemed to be a new winery from the Chelan area. Notable participants included Tsillan Cellars, Chelan Estate Winery, and Vin du Lac Winery. Watch for this up and coming Washington wine region, which will probably receive appellation status in the near future.

Local winery Mount Baker Vineyards had another banner year at this year’s festival. Their 2003 Reserve Syrah scored a silver medal while their 2006 Roussanne and 2006 Reserve Chardonnay each earned a gold. In addition, the Chardonnay was named best of varietal, one of only 10 such awards presented.

nullA couple of personal favorites included the Russell Creek 2005 Tributary, a Cabernet-Merlot blend (and best of varietal[!] winner) packed with black currant and plum flavors, and the 2006 Viognier from Barnard Griffin, a tasty little white wine with ample stone fruit flavors and an off-dry finish.

One thing for certain at this year’s festival was the expanding presence of Washington red wines. Varietals such as zinfandel, malbec and sangiovese were well represented in the competition, whereas five to ten years ago these wines would have been virtually non-existent.

Despite the proliferation of reds, a white wine, the 2006 Riesling from Tsillan Cellars took best of show honors. Next week I’ll feature some Riesling recommendations and talk more about Washington’s original white wine varietal – seemingly forgotten but now enjoying a resurgence among a new generation of wine drinkers.

Wine Class at BTC

December 8th, 2007

2:00 to 4:30 pm – Beginning Wine Tasting. The perfect class for those just getting started with wines. The format will be relaxed, yet informative, with plenty of wines to sample. No wine snob attitudes permitted! Click on the Wine Classes Page for more information.

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