Latah Creek Continues to Improve With Age

June 29th, 2008

My first experience with Latah Creek Wine Cellars included a visit to their Spokane tasting room about 15 to 20 years ago. I seem to recall that they had several pretty decent white wines, some adequate reds, and something called Maywine, a mildy spicy offering that could best be described as “unique”.

Like many Washington wineries that have had a couple of decades of experience to do some fine tuning, Latah Creek has markedly improved the quality of their wines. Mike Conway has been the head winemaker since the company’s incetpion in 1982, and his daughter, Natalie Conway-Barnes, now works with him as assistant winemaker. Their current releases reflect the extra effort and dedication that goes into elevating the status of one’s wines from simply ordinary to premium.

nullTheir 2006 Semillon is a grand slam, and it makes me wonder why more Washington winemakers aren’t producing this varietal. Beginning with a pleasant aroma of fresh cut rhubarb, the flavors seem to change from stone fruits to a nice, mineral-like quality. It’s remarkably complex for a white wine at this price point (only about $10 a bottle) and it should pair perfectly with shellfish and seafood.

The 2005 Merlot (about $15) from Washington’s Wahluke Slope region is also quite nice, although it was a bit lighter in body with a touch more acdity that I expected. The wine is highlighted with bright red furit flavors of cherry and cranberry and ample tannins that make it a great match with a range of foods from creamy pastas to roast pork.

Another winner is the 2005 Cabernet-Syrah (about $20), the winery’s first effort at this 50-50 red wine blend. This beautiful wine displays depth and character, with intense dark fruit flavors and a touch of chocolate on a lenghtly, elegant finish. Outstanding!

You should be able to purchase or order Latah Creek wines from selected area Haggen stores. They can also be ordered online at

Be Sure to Include Wine at Your Next Barbeque

June 22nd, 2008

2008 has been kind of a bizarre year for weather in the Northwest, hasn’t it? Snowfall in April, a fairly gloomy spring, and then plenty of cool, drizzly days earlier this month. To top it off, skyrocketing gas prices make it difficult to justify any kind of travel to a warm-weather getaway.

But summer has arrived – at least the calendar says so – and one way to make it at least feel summery is to fire up the barbeque and pop the cork on a good bottle of wine. Before you begin, keep this barbequing tip in mind: don’t slather too much hickory smoke sauce on your meats or overdo your other seasonings and spices. By keeping these down to a reasonable level, you’ll be able to enjoy a much broader range of wines to accompany the foods you serve.

For starters, grill up some vegetables such as zucchini or corn on the cob and pair them with a chilled white wine. I suggest the Waterbrook Winery 2007 Pinot Gris (about $12) from the Columbia Valley. It has a beautiful aroma of fresh pears, plenty of bright, melon flavors, and a big, brisk finish. The wine is well distributed and available at several local grocers.

nullThe Gouguenheim 2006 Malbec (about $12) from Argentina’s Mendoza region is a super barbeque wine. Loaded with dark, spicy fruit flavors and backed by firm tannins, it pairs nicely with a variety of grilled meats such as burgers, steaks or ribs. I picked up my bottle at the Old World Deli in Bellingham, located at 1140 North State Street.

And what would a barbeque be without a nice bottle of syrah? Dusted Valley Vintners 2006 Stained Tooth Syrah (about $24) is a real treat from the Walla Walla winery. This tasty, medium-bodied red wine has layers of dried cherry flavors followed by nuances of smoke and spice. It’s a natural to pair with lamb chops or can easily be enjoyed on it’s own; so kick back and dream about sunny days to come. Dusted Valley wines can be ordered through Compass Wines in Anacortes and area Haggen stores.

Wine Dinner Class at BTC

June 21st, 2008

6:00 to 9:00 pm – Dan teams up with BTC Chef Marc Eilberg for an evening of Northwest food and wines that will showcase several Oregon wineries. Click on the Wine Classes Page for more information.

Spectacular Alder Ridge Vineyards Yields Grapes for Zefina, Six Prong and Many Other Wineries

June 8th, 2008

One of the best things about my job as a wine columnist is traveling to wineries and meeting with the people who are responsible for putting some great juice in my wine glass. A few weeks ago, I had another memorable experience when I spent some time with Rob Chowanietz, who oversees the operations of Alder Ridge Vineyards (pictured below).

To say that Alder Ridge is isolated would be a bit of an understatement. It’s located near the banks of the Columbia River in the Horse Heaven Hills Appellation, about 15 miles west of the tiny town of Paterson, Washington. A tour through the 800-plus acre vineyard is nothing short of magnificent, with countless rows of meticulously maintained grapes and gorgeous views of the river below.

The first plantings in the vineyard were completed in the 1997, and despite the fact that it’s literally in the middle of nowhere, the selection of the setting was no mistake. Rain is scarce, the winds nearly constant and the overall location is ideal for protecting the grapes from harsh weather conditions. Many regard this area as one of the finest vineyard sites in the state, and over 30 wineries use it as a source for their wines.

Chowanietz does the winemaking himself for the Zefina, Six Prong, and Alder Ridge Vineyard labels. Cabernet Sauvignon is his passion, but he’s also growing a number of other red wine varietals that include zinfandel, malbec, merlot, and sangiovese along with white wines varietals such as chardonnay, viognier, and roussanne. He treated me to a barrel tasting of some of his 2007 vintage reds and although they won’t be released for quite some time, it’s clear that they’re going to be outstanding wines.

After the tasting and tour, I was treated to a lunch prepared by Chowanietz’s wife, Jeanie, and admired the views from their home that sits atop a ridge overlooking the vineyards. For anyone who enjoys premium wines, beautiful scenery and good company, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Zefina and Six Prong wines are well distributed at Bellingham wine shops and grocers with additional information available at and

Conversation With a Wine Novice

June 1st, 2008

Today we drop in on a conversation between a Bellingham wine tasting novice and our resident wine enthusiast (RWE).

Novice: Lately I’ve been spending time with people who regularly drink wines and trying some new ones. Overall, I’m enjoying it, but when they throw out terminology like tannins, balance, and acidity, I get overwhelmed and start feeling a little intimidated.
RWE: First of all, congratulations on venturing out into new wines. Second, relax. Yes, it can be a little scary talking about wines, but trust me, it’ll get easier as you go along.
Novice: But I’m worried that when they ask for my opinion I’m going to say the wrong thing.
RWE: Well, I have some earth-shattering news for you.
Novice: What’s that?
RWE: When it comes to wine tasting there are no right or wrong answers.
nullNovice: You’re kidding.
RWE: Nope, wine tasting is purely subjective. So what you taste and I taste could be two completely different things. Granted, most people with wine tasting experience will usually come up with relatively similar conclusions about flavors and aromas, but not always. The bottom line is that when we taste wines we don’t look for definitive answers, we just try to come to a consensus.
Novice: So if I try a wine and feel that it tastes like berries, and everyone else says it’s more plummy, then that’s not a bad thing?
RWE: Of course not. Most people should welcome your thoughts. In fact, I think it’s always interesting to get a second or third opinion on how a wine tastes, because sometimes someone will suggest a flavor or characteristic that I didn’t initially pick up.
Novice: And what if I don’t like the wine at all, but they love it.
RWE: So what? No one says that everyone has to like the same thing. So if you prefer white zinfandel over merlot, then you should drink a white zinfandel.
Novice: But how do I become better at picking up flavor characteristics and using the right terminology….you know, words like “bouquet” or “finish”?
RWE: Like everything else, you practice. Take wine classes, do some reading on the subject, and continue to hang out with people who enjoy wine. You’ll find that the more wines you sample, the more adept you’ll become.
Novice: So you’re saying I should drink more wine? This sounds like it could be a lot of fun.
RWE: You bet it is!

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