Monthly Archives: March 2009

Wine Drinkers Bring Viognier Back From the Brink of Extinction

Add viognier to the list of white wine varietals that are becoming increasingly popular among Northwest wine drinkers.

nullOriginating in France, viognier was virtually non-existent in the United States as little as 20 years ago, but it has gradually gained a foothold here – particularly in California and Washington. It’s an amazing comeback, considering that the grape was on the verge of extinction in the 1960’s when less than 10 acres survived in France’s Rhone Valley.

Viognier produced in the Northwest is generally characterized by a light golden color, floral aromas, and luscious flavors ranging from peach to tangerine to apricot. It tends to be fairly high in alcohol and is usually made in a drier style, although off-dry and sweeter late harvest options are also available.

Compared to other white wine varietals, the viognier grape produces lower yields per acre, and the simple economics of supply and demand mean that you’ll likely see it in the higher end price range. But when you factor in what viognier has to offer in terms of flavor, tastes and variety of styles, the few extra dollars are easily worth it.

Next week I’ll offer a few recommendations of viognier produced by Washington wineries.

Wine Note: Taste Washington, touted as “the ultimate wine experience” will be held in Seattle this coming weekend. Saturday, April 4, features a day-long slate of wine-related seminars at Bell Harbor International Harbor Conference Center, while Sunday, April 5, showcases over 200 Washington wineries and 60 Seattle-area restaurants in the Grand Tasting at Qwest Field Events Center. This is a must-attend event for anyone with even a passing interest in good food and great wine.

For more information including ticket purchases visit

Umami Provides a Savory Element of Taste in Both Food & Wine

The basic elements of taste in food – sweet, sour, salty and bitter – are familiar to most everyone, but did you know there’s a fifth element as well?

Discovered by a Japanese scientist, umami (oo-MAH-mee) is a taste sensation that’s best described as meaty or savory and is produced by several amino acids. You can experience umami in foods such as anchovies, mushrooms, aged cheeses and, if you like to go that route, foods prepared with MSG.

nullFactoring the umami element into the foods we serve can be helpful in selecting a wine to go with them. This is because wines can also display an umami, or savory characteristic, which enables them to better complement and enhance the flavors of similar foods.

Although white wines really don’t fall into the savory category, several red wines do, including sangiovese, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon and especially pinot noir. This can be particularly useful when trying to serve a food that ordinarily doesn’t pair well with a red wine.

For example, vegetarian dishes that usually fair better with white wines can be enhanced with intensely flavored mushrooms and then served with a pinot noir. A Caesar salad, normally reserved for a chardonnay, can be a nice complement to a lighter style sangiovese after you toss in a few anchovy filets.

Just keep in mind that not all red wines display the umami element of taste. So when in doubt, read the wine label to look for clues from the winemaker on qualities the wine displays, such as savory or earthy rather than overly fruity.

If the label is non-descript, do the next best thing – buy it and try it and then if you experience umami you’ll have a much better idea of what foods to serve with the wine at a future meal.

Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival

March 23 to March 29 – A week long schedule of wine-related events including seminars, tastings, lunches and dinners. The highlight of the festival is the international tasting; a three hour extravaganza of wines from around the world beginning at 7:00 pm each evening on March 26, 27, and 28.

British Columbia will be the theme region for 2009, and 58 BC wineries represented. With over 1,600 wines from 15 countries being served during the week, this is undoubtedly one of the largest and best wine festivals in North America.

For more details including specific events and ticket purchase information go to

Wine Class at BTC

3:00 to 5:00 pm – Viognier & Malbec. Learn more about these two up and coming varietals that are becoming increasingly popular while tasting several samples of each. Click on the Wine Classes Page for more information.

Eagle Haven – Fun, Folksy, and Good Wines

A recent outing to Eagle Haven Winery, located on the North Cascades Highway about 4 miles east of Sedro Woolley, turned out to be much more fun than I anticipated.

The tasting room is apparently quite popular with the local crowd, and in fact, a few of them dropped by for a glass of wine during my visit. It’s a warm, inviting room lined in knotty pine and includes something you rarely find at a winery – swivel chairs to sit in while you sample wines at the tasting bar. Think Dick Cavett meets the Deming Logging Show and you’ve got the idea.

nullCurrent releases include four white wines, all priced at $16 each. They include a 2006 Madeleine Angevine that displays a beautiful nectarine aroma and a bone dry finish, and a 2006 Madeleine Angevine Reserve, that’s slightly peachy and resembles a lighter style viognier. Also available are the 2007 Siegerrebe and a 50/50 blend of Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe that features a hint of spice and a faint sweetness on the finish.

A couple of the red wine offerings really shine and I’m pleased to give them a must-try recommendation. The 2006 Yakima Valley Sangiovese ($20) makes an excellent food wine with red cherry flavors, nice acidity, medium tannins and a zesty finish of oak and allspice. The 2004 Syrah ($20) is drinking extremely well, with a lovely aroma of sweet alfalfa, and a round, elegant texture and flavors of chocolate cherry.

The winery also features several fruit wines that I didn’t sample including red apple, pear, and blackberry.

A bit of bad news: with the exception of a few Skagit County locations, including Compass Wines in Anacortes, the only place you’re likely to find these wines is at the winery. But that’s not such a bad thing. It’s only about a 40 minute drive from Bellingham, and the homey tasting room atmosphere easily makes the trip worthwhile.

Current hours are 11:00 am to 5:00 pm Saturday and Sunday, expanding to Thursday through Monday beginning in April. More information: