Taste of Tulalip, Tri-Cities Wine Festivals Showcase Washington Wines

November 27th, 2012

Earlier this month I attended a couple of my favorite Washington wine festivals. Amid the tasting, noshing and schmoozing at these events, I like to look for standout wines as well as potential trends I see in the wines that are presented.

On November 3, 62 northwest wineries poured over 400 wines at the Tri-Cities Wine Festival in Kennewick.

nullThe new darling at this year’s event appeared to be malbec, and nearly 25-percent of the festival wineries were pouring it. That’s a fairly amazing statistic when you consider this varietal only accounts for about 2-percent of the state’s total red wine production.

Outstanding malbecs I tried included Woondinville’s Convergence Zone Cellars 2010 Black Cloud Malbec, Yakima Valley’s Upland Estates Winery 2009 Malbec, and Kennewick’s Smasne Cellars 2008 Phinny Hill Malbec, which displays structured layers of blueberry and subtle spices that earned it Best of Varietal Double Gold honors.

Another small-quantity, up-and-coming varietal also poured by what seemed to be a disproportionately large number of wineries was zinfandel (and its Italian clone, primitivo). The Thurston Wolfe 2010 Howling Wolfe Zinfandel from Prosser was especially noteworthy, as was Chelan’s Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards 2010 Primitivo.

Best of show honors went to the Apex Cellars 2010 Grenache. I didn’t get to try this wine, but Festival originator Coke Roth, who was a judge at the competition, likened it to “…Grenache from Spain or the south of France,” and called it “superb.”

On November 10, another great event, the Grand Taste at the Tulalip Resort and Casino featured wines from Washington, Oregon, Napa Valley, Italy and France.

I chose to focus most of my attention on the 65 Washington wineries in attendance and wasn’t surprised to find that the quality of the wines served at this non-judged tasting was absolutely remarkable.

The Taste was dominated by red wines, and although small in number, the white wines available were equally impressive.

A couple of Walla Walla whites really stood out for me; a stunning, slightly creamy Abeja 2010 Chardonnay and the refreshing Otis Kenyon 2011 Roussanne, which displayed lovely nuances of hazelnut and dried apricot.

nullTop-caliber red wines included the Stephenson Cellars Stellar Syrah, sourced from the winery’s Walla Walla estate vineyard; the Pont 21 2010 Tempranillo, a stunning fruit-forward mouthful of dried cherry with hints of smoky spice; and the rich, plush, insanely priced Doubleback 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon produced by Chris Figgins and former WSU/NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

Plenty of Options Will Take the Stress Out of Choosing a Thanksgiving Wine

November 20th, 2012

It’s that time of year for my traditional Thanksgiving column or, as some may perceive it, the kickoff of “wine shopping anxiety season.”

Really now, if you’d paid attention for even part of the first ten-plus months of the year you wouldn’t have to worry about what wine to serve Aunt Tilly and Uncle Horace this coming Thursday. But since you may have forgotten the useful tips and tricks of food and wine pairing, let me offer up some suggestions that should help reduce your stress level.

nullWith relatively no serious seasonings, spices or sassy sauces to get in the way, your Thanksgiving dinner shouldn’t pose a threat to many of the wines you might choose to serve with your meal.

If your guests prefer dry white wines, a chardonnay, roussanne, marsanne, or even a viognier should pair just fine with your turkey and mashed potatoes. A pinot gris or a sauvignon blanc might also work, but be aware that these wines have a higher acidity level that not everyone may find pleasing.

Riesling and gewürztraminer can also be great white wines to serve because they come in a range of styles including dry (no sugar), semi-dry (faintly sweet), sweet or even late harvest (super-sweet).

I’d reserve the sweeter options as pumpkin pie choices, although you may find that some folks – usually those who seldom drink wine – might like to imbibe in them throughout the entire day. (This may be a good time to remember to book that spa day for yourself for next week.)

Some red wines can be a bit too bold to serve with Thanksgiving dinner and they’ll drown out the flavors of your food. Along these lines, I’d steer clear of full-bodied cabernet sauvignons and probably syrah and merlot as well.

Pinot noir makes an excellent red wine choice for dinner with its trademark brisk acidity and savory, earthy characteristics. Sangiovese and grenache are a couple of other medium-bodied red wines you might consider as well.

And don’t forget rosés, which can also come in a huge array of flavor profiles and sweetness levels. I’d stick to the more food-friendly drier versions and don’t forget to chill these slightly before serving for best results.

Unquestionably, the best advice I can give is to have enough different choices on hand so that there’s something almost certain to please everyone. Pop the cork (or unscrew the cap), enjoy some good food and wine and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Washington Cabernet Franc Beginning to Come Into Its Own

November 13th, 2012

In the world of wine, cabernet franc seldom takes center stage. It seems perfectly content to play a supporting role, most often in a red wine blend with a smattering of other varietals backing up cabernet sauvignon or merlot as the lead character.

Cabernet Franc is one of six red grapes permitted for use in France’s Bordeaux region. As with many European wines, cab francs from this area generally place less emphasis on fruit flavors and display more of an earthy/herbaceous quality.

In terms of body style and acidity, cabernet franc usually falls in the middle-of-the-road, although you’re likely to encounter some fuller-bodied domestic versions from warmer growing regions and as the product of winemaker and consumer taste preferences.

Despite its primary use as a blending agent, it’s not difficult to find cabernet franc as a stand-alone varietal and the grape is particularly well represented by an increasing number of Washington wineries.

nullHere are some Washington cabernet francs I’ve enjoyed as of late that are worth checking out:

Willow Crest Winery 2009 Cabernet Franc (about $15) – Winemaker David Minick hits this one out of the park with an easy drinking, completely underpriced cab franc from the Yakima Valley. Lots of black plummy flavors on the palate glide into a finish that’s slightly spicy and herby with a hint of minerality.

San Juan Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Franc (about $19) – A friend of mine, who’s no slouch when it comes to wines, took one sip of this and proclaimed it was “one of the best cab francs she’d tasted.” Lovely cedar aromatics, understated cherry and blackberry flavors, and a trace of butterscotch on the finish highlight this nicely crafted wine from winemaker Chris Primus.

El Corazon Winery 2010 First Crush Cabernet Franc (about $28) – Although the alcohol level is a bit steep (14.8 percent), Walla Walla winemaker Spencer Sievers does a terrific job of balancing this out by producing a flavorful, full-bodied wine. The base suggests black tea, with layers of dark cherry, bittersweet chocolate and currant, and a smack of red licorice on the finish.

Barrister Winery 2009 Cabernet Franc (about $28) – Spokane winemakers Greg Lipsker and Michael White have done it again with this huge, expressive wine. Dark berry fruits lead off, while the mid-palate of black currant, espresso, and anise finish with a dusting of dark chocolate and chalky tannins. Enjoy now or cellar for later; this is definitely one kickass cabernet franc.

Robert Karl and Barrister Are Two of Spokane’s Best Wineries

November 6th, 2012

During a recent stopover in downtown Spokane, I made certain to visit what are arguably two of the best wineries in the city.

nullRobert Karl Cellars has been a long-time favorite of mine. Winemaker Joe Gunselman and his wife Rebecca were on hand the day I dropped by and even though they were in the middle of the 2012 crush, the always personable Rebecca took time to meet and chat about their wines.

The winery specializes in red wines and but now also serves a sauvignon blanc. (Rebecca recalled on a warm summer day her desire for this crisp white wine, so Joe said, “I’ll make you one.” We should all be so lucky.)

Current releases include the 2009 Claret (about $20), an over-achieving cabernet sauvignon-based Bordeaux blend with red berry and cherry flavors, nuances of toasted oak and just a bit of grip for perfect balance.

The 2009 Merlot (about $22) is also excellent, with chocolaty, coffee notes and a nice dense, chewy quality; and the huge, cellar-worthy 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $30) is a must-try with fragrant violet aromatics, understated black currant flavors, firm tannins and a finish with a burst of blackberry.

nullAt nearby Barrister Winery, Greg Lipsker and Michael White offer 10-plus years of quality winemaking and show no signs of letting up.

Red wines are again the specialty here, but recently they’ve turned out a bit of white wine as well. Their current effort, a beautiful 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (about $19) begins with everything lemon: lemon zest, lemon chiffon, Limoncello…but it’s much more complex than that.

There’s also a lovely layer of white peach and honeydew, a lengthy finish with a touch of residual sugar, and brisk acidity for balance that makes this a standout wine.

Red wine choices include the Rough Justice VII Red Blend (about $21), a well-priced non-vintage combination of cabernet, merlot, syrah and cabernet franc that features a mouthful of dark berry and plum flavors and supple tannins.

Another blend, the gorgeous, five-varietal Barrister’s Block (about $32) is sourced from Pepper Bridge, Bacchus and Seven Hills Vineyards. This stunning wine, which spans three vintages, is jammy without being overly fruity and melts into a long, plush finish.

Next week I’ll review Barrister’s signature wine, Cabernet Franc, along with some other recommendations of this varietal from Washington wineries.

For more information including ordering, tasting room hours and locations, visit each winery’s website at robertkarl.com and barristerwinery.com.

Whatcom County Wine Dinner at 9Nine Restaurant

November 2nd, 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012 from 6:00 to 8:30 pm – Enjoy a five-course dinner prepared by Chef Zacchoreli Frescobaldi-Grimaldi with wines from a number of Whatcom County wineries.

Scheduled to attend will be winemakers from Dakota Creek Winery, Dynasty Cellars, Mount Baker Vineyards, and Masquerade Wine Company. Cost is $65 per person (tax included) with a 10% discount for couples.

9Nine Restaurant is located at North Bellingham Golf Course, 205 West Smith Road. Reservations are required and can be made by phoning (360) 398-8300, extension 2.

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