Wine Dinner at 9Nine Restaurant

January 30th, 2013

February 9, 2013 from 6:00 to 8:30 pm – Join Dan as he moderates a five-course dinner prepared by classically trained chef, Zacchoreli Frescobaldi-Grimaldi, along with wines served from a number of first-class Washington wineries.

Scheduled to attend will be winemakers from Dynasty Cellars, Terra Blanca Winery, Stephenson Cellars, Robert Karl, Treveri Cellars and Barrister Winery. 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. Advance reservations are required and can be made by phoning (360) 398-8300, extension 2. Don’t miss this great evening showcasing outstanding food and Washington wines!

Samish Island’s Golden Distillery Producting Stellar Brandies & Whiskeys

January 29th, 2013

People who live on Samish Island in Skagit County must know who lucky they are. Situated between Samish and Padilla Bays, this picturesque, somewhat isolated area is the site of oyster farms and estuaries teeming with bald eagles, hawks and herons.

And now, to add to their good fortune, it’s also home to one of Washington’s premiere distilleries.

When I considered visiting Golden Distillery I thought that including it in a wine column might be somewhat of a stretch. But once I learned that the brandy-making operation of the distillery requires the use of fruit wine, the segue between my beverage of choice and its higher-proof cousin was a slam dunk.

nullRetired restaurateurs and founders Jim Caudill and Bob Stillnovich started getting serious about distilling spirits in 2008, and after a series of stops, starts and according to Caudill, “making some pretty awful stuff,” opened their tasting and sales room in the fall of 2010.

The duo focuses on small batches of handcrafted brandies and whiskeys. In fact, everything is done by hand and starts with made-in-Washington ingredients; wine from apples, blackberries, and raspberries are utilized in making brandy and barley is used in brewing the beer that is later distilled into whiskey.

After distillation, everything is aged twelve to fifteen months in small, toasted white oak barrels, which lend color and flavor to the finished product.

Two award-winning whiskies are currently available, a Single Malt Whiskey ($39.95 for 750ml, including taxes) and an outstanding Single Malt Whiskey Reserve ($44.95) that’s aged a few months longer in red oak.

Caudill claims, “We sell more whiskey to people who don’t drink whiskey,” and the dreamy flavors of hazelnut, caramel and vanilla and smooth, rich finish I tasted were reason enough to believe him.

nullI also tried three brandies, which serve as excellent palate cleansers between courses and are also perfect at the end of a meal. The Blackberry Brandy and Raspberry Brandy ($24.95 each for 375 ml, including taxes) are sourced from wine produced by Pasek Cellars in Conway. I especially enjoyed the raspberry, where a bit more of the fruit came through on an ultra-long finish.

An Apple Brandy ($29.95) is also currently available and an additional release, made from apple wine produced by Mount Baker Vineyards, is scheduled for later this spring.

Golden Distillery is open Fridays and Saturdays from 11am to 5pm. Make time for a visit; you will not be disappointed. More information: or (360) 542-8332.

“Good Value for the Money” Wines Never Grow Old

January 22nd, 2013

“Fiscal cliff,” “superstorm,” “bucket list;” I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about enough of these overused buzz words and phrases that seem to pop up almost everywhere nowadays.

But when it comes to wine, there’s one phrase I never get tired of: good value for the money.

As I’ve noted in the past, the definition of “value” is highly subjective. Price points always seem to come into play here, and $10, $20 or $25 a bottle are common markers that many of us use as guidelines for determining good value.

Regardless of your budget, there’s one thing about value we should all agree upon. If a wine delivers by providing you with satisfaction or, better yet, exceeds your expectations relative to its price, then it most certainly earns the “good value for the money” label.

Over the past several weeks my it’s-a-tough-job-but-somebody’s-got-to-do-it quest for finding what I feel are good wine values has yielded the following recommendations:

Leese-Fitch 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $10) – Here’s a seriously good value cabernet from California that’s a lot of fun to drink. Big black cherry, ultra-ripe plum and cola berry flavors combine in a guilty pleasure wine that’s perfect for late-night sipping.

nullLost River Winery 2010 Rainshadow (about $15) – I enjoyed this wine while visiting Lost River’s tasting room near the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. A 60/40 semillon/sauvignon blanc blend, it explodes with tropical pineapple and ripe pear flavors. Partial malolactic fermentation gives the wine a bit of a creamy mouthfeel with a finish of lemon chiffon.

L’Ecole No. 41 Winery 2010 Semillon (about $16/ $10 for 375ml) – Blended with 14-percent sauvignon blanc, this Walla Walla white offers outstanding value, especially when compared to similar wines from France’s Bordeaux region. It’s filled with a sweet, rather than savory herbal profile, suggesting field flowers and sweet pea aromatics and notes of honeysuckle, wheat grass and clover with a touch of citrus. Simply put, I enjoyed this wine because it was so different.

Tamarack Cellars 2010 Firehouse Red (about $16) – Walla Walla Winemakers Ron Coleman and Danny Gordon have done it again with the latest release of this perennial favorite; a virtually unmatchable mixture of nine different red varietals with cabernet sauvignon and syrah leading the way. Dark, brooding and mind-bogglingly underpriced, it delivers a palate-pleasing smorgasbord of black currant, dark plum and blackstrap molasses flavors and a plush, lengthy finish with a dusting of cocoa and spice.

Gamache Vintners Produce Wines That Reflect Terrior, Quality Winemaking

January 15th, 2013

The story behind Gamache Vintners is a familiar one. After 20 years of providing grapes for other wineries from their vineyard north of the Tri-Cities, brothers Bob and Roger Gamache decided to establish their own label in 2002.

nullA tasting room in Prosser opened shortly thereafter, and it’s conveniently located just off Interstate 82 in the town’s Vintners Village along with a cluster of wineries that includes Willow Crest Winery, Milbrandt Vineyards, and Thurston Wolfe.

Gamache Vintners embodies everything right about Washington wines: initiative, dedication, and the desire to produce wines that display the unique terrior of the geographic area from which the grapes are grown.

It’s been a lot of fun for me to taste a number of Gamache wines over the past several days. Overall, I felt the fruit flavors of these wines really came through without compromising other characteristics such as tannins or acidity levels. In short, the rich history of superior grapes and classic winemaking techniques were clearly evident in every bottle.

Here are my tasting notes on the wines I enjoyed:

2011 Estate Riesling (about $15) – This wine was different from most rieslings in that the acidity seemed to jump out immediately. Luscious tangerine and citrus lead off, then melt into generous flavors of litchi and ripe apple. Finishing notes of honey make this an excellent wine to pair with spicy cuisine.

null2009 Boulder Red (about $17) – This red wine blend of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, malbec and merlot is packed with complexity and personality that make it an incredible value for the money. Well-structured flavors of dark berry, dried cherry, fig, and date are capped with a gentle spritz of savory herb and black pepper.

2008 Estate Malbec (about $25) – Beautiful flavors of thimbleberry, red cherry and raspberry predominate in this tasty, medium-bodied red. The tannins are faintly chalky, and a pleasant trace of minerality comes through on the finish.

2008 Estate Syrah (about $25) – Unmistakable, but certainly not overwhelming, the lead-off mouthful of fruity blackberry is nicely balanced with nuances of spicy, smoky coffee bean and a bit of brambly berry on the finish. This wine is superbly balanced, with acidity and tannins gently lingering in the background.

These wines, including newer vintages and other varietals are available on line at You’ll find Gamache Vintners wines locally in the wine section at area Haggen stores, where they can also be special-ordered upon request.

Masquerade Wine Co. Nets Double Gold at SF Chronicle Wine Competition

January 11th, 2013

Bellingham’s Masquerade Wine Company earned Double Gold honors at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for its recently released Effervescing Elephant Sparkling Wine.

Over 5500 wines were judged during the competition. Only eight wines were awarded Best of Class and nine received Double Golds.

A list of winners (along with approximate retail prices) include the following:

Best of Class:

Airfield Estates 2011 Barbera, Yakima Valley, $28
Barnard Griffin 2011 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $14
Gordon Brothers Cellars 2009 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $21
Hogue Cellars 2011 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $11
Kiona Vineyards Winery 2011 Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, $15
Marchesi Vineyards 2010 Nebbiolo, Columbia Valley, $35
Schmidt Family Vineyards 2009 Tempranillo, Southern Oregon, $36
South Stage Cellars 2008 Syrah, Rogue Valley, $26

Double Gold:

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2011 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Grenache, Horse Heaven Hills, $38
Brandborg 2011 Gewürztraminer, Umpqua Valley, $18
Del Rio Vineyards 2011 Viognier, Rogue Valley, $20
Diversion Wine NV Riesling, Washington, $15
Dusted Valley Vintners 2010 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $42
Maryhill Winery 2010 Les Collines Vineyard Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $32
Masquerade Wine Co. NV Effervescing Elephant, Columbia Valley, $35
Verve Wines 2011 Gewürztraminer Dessert, Oregon, $22
Willamette Valley Vineyards 2011 Riesling, Willamette Valley, $14

Masquerade Wine Company is located at 2001 Iowa Street in Bellingham and is currently open from 11am to 6pm Wednesday through Sunday. For more information:

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