Take a Step Outside Your Wine Comfort Zone and Try Something Different

October 30th, 2012

It’s easy to fall into a rut when you’re buying wines. Like an after-work choice of clothes that’s often limited to a ratty old pair of sweats, we grab a familiar favorite and ignore virtually everything else within reach.

Today I’ll try to nudge you out of your comfort zone by offering a few wine suggestions you may have been hesitant to buy simply because they’re “different.”

Choosing a new wine can be daunting based on sheer volume alone…so first of all, relax. Don’t worry about mispronunciation; a good wine steward should gently provide any linguistic corrections and point you in the direction of a wine whose flavor profile you enjoy.

Second, know that there are a ton of good wines in the $10 to $19-a-bottle price range. This keeps your investment/risk factor low when exploring unfamiliar territory.

nullIf you enjoy medium-bodied, fruit-forward wines, malbec makes an excellent choice. Try the steal-of-a-deal Mountain Door 2011 Malbec (about $10) from Argentina. It’s loaded with plum and floral aromatics, more plum and blackberry on the palate, and a fairly plush finish.

Another good option along these lines is the Stemmari 2010 Nero D’Avola (about $11). This Sicilian red is packed with jammy dark berry and cherry flavors, a splash of acidity and nuances of eucalyptus and vanilla bean.

For a change of pace from cabernet sauvignon or merlot, consider a Chilean carménère. The Calina 2010 Carménère (about $10) leads off with dense black cherry flavors accented with touches of dried herbs, white pepper and supple tannins. This wine begs to be paired with burgers, roast beef or a charbroiled steak.

If your preferences lean towards dry white wines, the Tapeña 2010 Verdejo (about $10) may remind you of a sauvignon blanc. It’s bright and lean, with a touch of stone fruits on the front end and then plenty of brisk, key lime and citrus and a slightly herbaceous finish.

Finally, as an alternative to chardonnay try the Alexandria Nicole 2011 Shepherds Mark (about $19). This gorgeous combination of roussanne, marsanne, and viognier sourced from Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills Appellation may be on the high end of your price comfort range, but it’s well worth it.

Complex and layered with understated flavors of tropical fruits, peach and lemon meringue, this full-bodied wine is low in acidity and capped with a slightly nutty/savory finish. It’s no stretch to say this is one of the best white wines I’ve tried this year.

Two Great Wine Events Coming to the Northwest in November

October 23rd, 2012

If you enjoy attending northwest wine festivals as much as I do, I’ve got a couple of recommendations for upcoming events that are certain to whet your appetite.

For an excellent food and wine festival with a local flair, be sure to consider Bellingham Bay Rotary Club’s Grape & Gourmet on November 4. This is one of the key fundraising events for the Club, and a portion of the proceeds are used to benefit local charitable organizations.

Held at Bellingham’s Best Western Lakeway Inn from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, this culinary delight will feature wines from over 30 regional wineries and gourmet foods from a number of local restaurants.

I suggest purchasing the VIP ticket, which gets you in the door 1-1/2 hours earlier at 5:00 pm. This provides you with a better opportunity to make sure you don’t miss out on anything, and besides, who doesn’t enjoy having VIP status?

According to the Rotary web site, advance tickets can be purchased by phoning Mike Werner at 815-4269 or at BellinghamBayRotary.com. Regular tickets cost $75 and the VIP option will run you $125.

nullThe Taste of Tulalip at the Tulalip Resort & Casino near Marysville is scheduled for November 9 and 10. Last year I suggested you mark your calendar and purchase your tickets in advance because this increasingly popular, top-of-the-line food and wine event will likely sell out.

That’s indeed the case with the multi-course Celebration Dinner slated for Friday, November 9 and the following day’s all access pass. But there are still plenty of tickets available for the November 10 Grand Taste, which I think is the highlight of the weekend.

I love this event because it includes some of Washington’s premiere wineries – such as Abeja and Leonetti Cellars – which you’re unlikely to find at any other public tasting.

In addition to the 65 Washington wineries scheduled to be on hand there will also be a number of fine wines from Napa Valley, Oregon, Italy and France. For those who like to bend the elbow on an occasional pint of ale, a selection of craft beers from 14 regional breweries will also be on tap.

The 5-hour Grand Taste begins at 2:30 pm and includes unlimited tasting along with a wide selection of cuisine prepared by the Resort’s staff. Tickets are $85 in advance, $95 the day of the event, but don’t expect them to last that long. For purchase information visit tasteoftulalip.com.

Artisan Wine Gallery a Great Place To Visit While on Lummi Island

October 16th, 2012

Washingtonians know that we live in a fairly spectacular little corner of the world. And in the northwest corner of that little corner, Whatcom County is home to a diverse, vibrant population, stunning natural resources and excellent opportunities for wine tasting.

You just knew I was going to fit the wine tasting thing in there, didn’t you?

A few weeks ago I took the 10-minute ferry ride to Lummi Island and spent the afternoon at an absolute gem of a wine shop, the Artisan Wine Gallery. With a good selection of wines in a serene setting, it offers wine enthusiasts a perfect day-trip getaway from nearby cities on the mainland.

Husband and wife proprietors Rich Frye and Pat Hayes started their one-of-a-kind wine/art establishment in 2005 and it’s evolved into a great meeting place for locals and friendly stop-in spot for vacationers and people like me who should make the trek from Bellingham more often.

Rich has been an acquaintance of mine for several years and his knowledgeable yet laid-back approach to wines is both refreshing and perfectly suited to unruffled island life. As a recent retiree, he’s been travelling a bit more to Europe to do some firsthand tasting and is even considering starting an online store and wine club at the Gallery.

nullAlthough the wine shop is small, it houses an excellent variety of extremely affordable domestic and international choices, many in the $9 to $15-a-bottle price range.

An example of the assortment of wines you’ll find include those I sampled (for a nominal $5 tasting fee) during my visit. A lean, appley Chilean Marquest de Casa Concha 2009 Chardonnay ($15) started things off, followed by a L’Hortus 2011 Rosé de Saignee ($17) with accents of tart, dried cherry and a Monte Oton 2010 Garnacha (pictured at left, $9), with huge raspberry aromas and spicy black cherry flavors at an unbeatable price. An excellent Masquerade 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Troika ($22) was the perfect finalé, with notes of black plum and chocolate on the soft finish.

After a stop at the Beach Store Café for dinner, my return trip on a glass-like Lummi Bay featured a full moon just above Mount Baker to the east and magenta-fringed clouds on the western sunset. Washingtonians know that it doesn’t get much better than that.

Artisan Wine Gallery is open from 4 to 7 pm Friday, 2 to 6 pm Saturday, “anytime for wine emergencies,” and during the upcoming Lummi Island Artists Studio Tour scheduled for November 10 and 11. More information: artisanwineclub.com.

Planning a Trip to Oregon Wineries? Start with the Portland Area

October 9th, 2012

Occasionally I get a request to feature a winery from Oregon, where, as in Washington, the wine industry has increased dramatically over the past decade.

Oregon now boasts over 400 wineries, but because production is relatively small – generally running about 20 to 25-percent of Washington’s annual production – it’s often difficult to find Oregon wines distributed in Whatcom County.

Fortunately, a drive from Bellingham to Portland only takes about 4-1/2 hours. If you use the Rose City as a “home base,” you’re within easy reach of scores of Oregon wineries located in the Willamette Valley.

During the last several years I’ve traveled to this area as well as three other Oregon wine regions that are shared with Washington: the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley, and Walla Walla Valley Appellations. Although you won’t find anywhere near the variety of wines we produce here, you’re certain to come across some world-class pinot noir and pinot gris, which, by the way, account for nearly three-fourths of all the wine produced in Oregon.

A few Oregon wineries I’ve enjoyed include The Pines 1852 Vineyard & Winery in Hood River. The tasting room features a gallery with works from Pacific Northwest artists and the wine list includes a number of less-common Oregon varietals including viognier, syrah and zinfandel.

Downtown McMinnville is home to Twelve Wine, where there are several exquisite pinot noirs in a price range to suit nearly every budget. Further south is Noble Estate Vineyard, located just a few miles outside of Eugene. The tasting room currently offers a merlot that I thought was absolutely dreamy and the adjacent deck provides outdoor seating with peerless views of the surrounding forests.

I have yet to travel as far south Abacela, located in Roseburg, but I have tried their wines at regional wine festivals. You can also sometimes find them available for sale in Bellingham wine shops and grocers. Of particular note are their albariño white and tempranillo red wines; difficult to find among northwest wineries and superbly produced here.

On October 27, I’ll moderate a multi-course dinner at Nine Restaurant at North Bellingham Golf Course featuring Oregon’s largest winery, King Estate. Put aside any preconceived notions you may have about big wineries and prepare yourself for a memorable evening of beautifully crafted wines. A representative from the winery will also be on hand to provide information and answer questions.

Prepaid reservations are required. Phone (360) 398-8300 extension 2 for complete details.

Pullman’s Merry Cellars Gets Better With Age

October 2nd, 2012

My first visit to Merry Cellars in Pullman was about three years ago. I recall there were a few good wines and some that were so-so and overall it was a perfectly average experience.

But a return trip to the new tasting room last month turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. People were stopping in to purchase bottles of wine without sampling them first, and that’s always a good sign. After I tried a full slate of current releases, it became clear that winemaker Patrick Merry has come a long way and made the proper adjustments to come up with some truly memorable wines.

nullOne thing that impressed me is Merry’s ability to coax slightly off-the-wall, yet likable flavor profiles from many of the varietals he uses. This makes tasting his wines a surprising and enjoyable experience with an emphasis on the “unique factor” that can separate a Washington winery from scores of others.

White wines I sampled included the 2011 Semillon (about $22) a full-bodied choice with slightly smoky aromatics and a bit of Braeburn apple on the palate; and the 2010 Harvest White (about $16), a semillon/chardonnay blend with intriguing floral notes, flavors of jasmine rice and a trace of licorice on the finish.

Also notable is the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (about $20), with distinctive layers of almond and hazelnut that melt into a dry finish. It reminded me of local winery Samson Estate’s Oro Hazelnut Dessert wine without any of the sweetness.

Merry’s red wine options include the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $30) with herbaceous touches to complement a big hit of red cherry fruit, and the 2010 Carmenere (about $34), sourced from Seven Hills Vineyard and framed with dashes of cocoa powder and white pepper.

The winery’s signature red is the 2010 Crimson (about $25). With a nod to Washington State University football on the label, this Bordeaux blend features complex flavors of black plum, cola, smoky espresso bean and a silky finish.

Wines can be purchased through the winery website at merrycellars.com or at the tasting room, which also sells very generous glass pours of current releases. Open noon to 6pm Tuesday through Saturday and 11am to 4pm Sunday.

One final note: Merry Cellars is part of a number of wineries participating in “Wine by Cougars,” a club that offers four different membership levels and features shipments of wines that have a connection to WSU. More information: winebycougars.com.

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