2008 Washington Wine Year in Review: More Blends, Varietals, and Another Promising Vintage

December 30th, 2008

As we wind down on 2008, this seems as good a time as any to do an assessment of the past year for Washington wineries and take a look at what lies ahead.

While I was sampling wines and schmoozing with winemakers during the Tri-Cities wine festival in Pasco last month, several things came to mind.

 Washington winemakers are continuing to reinvent themselves by producing wines that are considerably more food-friendly. The prevalence of the one-dimensional fruit bomb appears to be in decline; a good thing when you consider how much more versatile a wine becomes when the fruit component doesn’t overwhelm other characteristics such as acid, oak or tannins.

 Blends are becoming even more popular, particularly among white varietals. I’m finding that riesling is popping up in more and more blends, a fantastic ingredient that adds lift and brightness when combined with other white grapes that have lower acidity levels.

 The different kinds of both red and white varietals produced by Washington wineries is also exploding; not only in blends, but also as stand-alone varietals. Look for more viognier and roussanne among white wines and reds such as malbec (pictured above), petite sirah, and barbera – to name just a few – to get increased top billing on Washington wine labels.

With that in mind, I’d like to delve into more of these newer Washington varietals as we get into early 2009. Of course this doesn’t mean that I’ll be completely abandoning other domestic and international wines…and nor should you. In fact, I’ll be offering a few recommendations on some super affordable California wines in the next couple of weeks.

But there are some tremendous wines coming from our state, and the harvest from 2008 is shaping up to be quite possibly one of the best structured, well-balanced vintages on record. That’s continued good news for local wine drinkers – and the rest of the world as well.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Close Out the Year With a Versatile Champagne or Sparkling Wine

December 23rd, 2008

Many of us seem to restrict our buying of Champagne and sparkling wines to the last couple of weeks in December. That’s a shame, really, because the versatility and compatibility of these wines with a wide variety of foods makes them an ideal beverage virtually any time of year.

Prices can run the gamut from downright cheap sparkling wine (with quality to match) to borderline ridiculously expensive French Champagne; while styles and flavors can vary from fruity to sweet to bone dry. That’s reassuring news for nullinfrequent buyers, who can be relatively confident of having their needs fulfilled – no matter what their taste preferences or budgetary constraints might be.

Italy’s Banfi Vintners has a couple of excellent sparkling wine choices. The 2007 Rosa Regale (about $22) displays a lovely, light ruby color with aromas and flavors of fresh strawberries and a slightly sweet finish. The Non-Vintage Brut (about $24), available in scant quantities, is full of toasted apple flavors that melt into granny smith apple as the dry, crisp finish kicks in.

Mumm Napa Valley always seems to consistently produce a nice variety of delicious, well-priced sparkling wines. The Brut Prestige (about $20 – $24) has generous melon, citrus and lemon cream flavors, while the Brut Rosé (pictured at left, about $24 – $28) is a bit headier, with a beautiful, pale pink hue and touches of berry flavors. These wines can be paired with virtually everything on your hors d’oeuvres menu, from fried foods to creamy dips to paté.

If you’re a stickler for serving true Champagne and don’t want to break the bank, the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve (about $36 – $45) makes a great choice. Delicate floral aromas, flavors of pear and hazelnut, and a clean, dry finish combine to make this a wonderfully complex, yet elegant Champagne.

Winter Fun: Food, Friends and Good Washington Red Wines

December 16th, 2008

One of my favorite indoor winter activities is inviting over a group of friends and sharing a variety of red wines.

The preparation is fairly simple – provide a few easy to make appetizers or cheeses, a sliced baguette or two and several choices of good red wines.

Today I’d like to conclude my series on Washington’s Yakima Valley and Rattlesnake Hills Appellations by offering a few more recommendations from wineries in these regions that make excellent wintertime wines.

nullThe Airfield Estates 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (pictured at left, about $22) is a beautiful and easy to drink wine, with aromas and flavors of fresh raspberries that really shine through. Eighteen months of oak aging also provide additional depth and structure and keep it from being one dimensional and overly fruity.

I fell head over heels for the Portteus Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel (about $26), an astounding red wine that’s cram-packed with big, brambly, blackberry flavors that are capped by a distinctive dash of black pepper. The wine’s high 15 percent alcohol content is virtually unnoticeable – indicative of well-balanced, attention to detail winemaking.

Thurston Wolfe continues to roll out red wines that consistently put a smile on my face. Current releases include the 2006 Dr. Wolfe’s Family Red (about $16) a super delicious, full-bodied, syrah-based blend of five varietals that features a little pepper, a little smokiness, a little black cherry and plenty of spice. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $25) is big, yet elegant, with layers of subtle cherry and dark chocolate flavors and a finish of toasted oak.

For those with a bit more disposable income, try the Silver Lake Winery Grand Reserve series, which includes the 2005 vintages of Merlot, Cabernet and Claret for about $39 each. These are huge, intense red wines that are ideal candidates for cellaring. If you open one now, I’d suggest capping it a day or two first and then decanting it to allow the flavors to open up. They’re all good, but the Claret was my favorite, with nuances of black currant, chocolate and spice.

Warm Up This Winter With a Washington Red Wine

December 9th, 2008

Wine preferences seem to change with the seasons and as we head towards the winter months most people invariably drink more red wines.

This all makes perfect sense when you think about it. In the summer, a chilled bottle of, say, rosé or sauvignon blanc makes a terrific beverage on a hot day; but in the winter, we want to warm up, not cool down.

Most red wines are recommended for serving at between 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, so they make a good winter wine choice and can also add a nice touch to a variety of hibernal activities such as reading a book or perhaps just cuddling under a blanket in front of the fire.

Now that I’ve set the mood, let me give you a few red wine recommendations from Washington to enjoy this winter.

From the Red Mountain Appellation, the Terra Blanca 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $20) nullis a stunning, well-priced red wine that is really hitting its stride. Beautiful aromas and flavors of wild berries and dark plum melt into a silky finish with traces of chocolate and spice. Outstanding!

Omnipresent winemaker Charlie Hoppes has another nice effort with his Gamache Vintners 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $28). It’s fairly fruity, with plenty of plum and black cherry flavors and soft tannins that make it perfect for wintertime sipping.

If you prefer your reds to be less fruit-forward, try the Brian Carter Cellars 2005 Byzance (about $30), a southern Rhone-style blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre grapes from the Columbia Valley. It’s quite savory, with just a bit of reserved dark fruit flavors and a finish that hints at licorice and spice. This extremely food-friendly wine should pair well with pork, duck and hearty soups.

Wine Dinner Class at BTC

December 6th, 2008

6:00 to 9:00 pm – Whatcom County Wine Dinner. Join Dan as he discusses some of the best wineries in Whatcom County. Then sample their wines along with a five course dinner prepared by BTC Chef Marc Eilberg. Click on the Wine Classes Page for more information.

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