Red Mountain Home to Vineyards for Corvus and Hightower Cellars

July 1st, 2014

Today’s focus is on two excellent wineries with vineyards in Washington’s Red Mountain Appellation, which is located just west of the Tri-Cities area.

Corvus Cellars was established in 2004 and although the winery tasting room and production facility have since moved to the Walla Walla, they still maintain their estate vineyards on Red Mountain.

Two of their current releases that I recently tried and thoroughly enjoyed included the 2010 Loceaux and the 2010 Syrah – Petit Sirah (about $28 each).

nullThe Loceaux (pronounced “loco”) is a 50/50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. This is a perfectly balanced red wine, with spicy aromatics, and big blackberry and black cherry fruits that display a bit of an acidic edge. There’s also a nice meaty texture to this wine, with just the right amount of tannic structure and a lingering finish of toasted oak.

I also loved the Syrah – Petit Sirah combination; particularly the smoky characteristics of the latter varietal that waft around the glass and carry through to the palate. Intense, dark notes of black currant, anise and chocolate predominate, with accents of black pepper and baking spice on the finish.

Hightower Cellars is a Red Mountain favorite of mine that gets a perennial visit due in large part to husband and wife owner/winemakers Tim and Kelly Hightower, who make touring and tasting wines in this area an absolute pleasure.

nullThe Hightowers had the foresight to purchase 15 acres of real estate in this now world-famous Washington appellation in 2002. I’ve followed the growth of their 10 acres of estate vineyards since they were planted in 2004 and it’s safe to say that these have now matured into some of the region’s finest.

Two Hightower wines I enjoyed as of late absolutely blew me away, especially the 2010 Murray Red (about $20). Despite the Columbia Valley label designation, all of the fruit for this wine was sourced from Red Mountain vineyards.

The 2010 Murray is a delicious Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, petit verdot, and cabernet franc. There’s a pleasant, wet stone, mineral-like aroma – indicative of Red Mountain terroir – that leads off and follows through to the finish. In between, this overachieving red wine offers generous, mouth-watering boysenberry and blueberry flavors that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Also a pleasure to taste is the 2010 Merlot (about $25). Subtle black cherry, plum and currant flavors are complemented with a fifteen-percent contribution of malbec, which gives it a gentle but distinct brambly, blackberry finish. Here, the Hightowers show how attention-to-detail winemaking can result in an excellent wine despite a challenging, cooler vintage.

For additional wines and winery information: or

Chateau Rollat, Otis Kenyon Give You Reason to Visit Walla Walla

June 24th, 2014

Looking for some good wines from the Walla Walla area? I’ve got a couple of wineries for you to check out that place special emphasis on red wines that are truly superb.

Better yet, for you wine region purists: three of the four recommendations for today are sourced completely from vineyards located within the Walla Walla Valley Appellation.

Chateau Rollat Winery has a few wines in current release that are drinking well now and should continue to age beautifully.

The 2009 Sophie de Rollat (about $25) is a Columbia Valley-based red blend that opens with a nose of blackberry and pie cherries and more red cherry on the palate coupled with ripe raspberry and strawberry fruits.

The finish displays a touch of toasted oak, mocha and baking spice. This is a soft, easy-to-drink wine that you can enjoy now or within the next one to three years.

Sourced from Walla Walla Valley grapes, the 2008 Rollat Cabernet Sauvignon (about $38) has reserved black cherry and black currant flavors with an underlying layer that hints at cinnamon, dark chocolate and anise.

nullThere’s a good bit of chalky tannins on the finish that refused to let go even after an hour or two of aerating, suggesting this wine could continue to benefit from additional cellaring time.

Otis Kenyon Wine is one of my favorite Walla Walla wineries. Steve Kenyon, grandson of the label namesake, made a great first impression when he drove from the Seattle area to my home to conduct a tasting several years ago. His daughter, Muriel, is frequently at the Walla Walla tasting room and never without a smile and great customer service.

Then add in Otis Kenyon’s accomplished winemaker, David Stephenson, and you’ve got all the makings for a first-class winery.

Stephenson’s 2009 Matchless (about $20) is a nicely priced blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot from three Walla Walla vineyards including Seven Hills. Big aromatics of spice and sweet cedar lead the way to dark berry and black plum flavors, with a whisper of coffee bean and bittersweet chocolate on a slightly grippy finish.

Another Otis Kenyon, Walla Walla-based red that should be on your must-try list is the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $35). There’s a pleasant woodsy aroma with sweet violet undertones for starters, followed by generous plum and cherry fruit-flavors. The trailing layer of red and black currant carries a bit of an acidic edge that complements the soft tannins. On the finish, spicy accents of cinnamon and clove complete the package on a wine that hits all the right notes.

Both wineries have tasting rooms that are conveniently located in downtown Walla Walla. More information: and

Lodmell, Tertulia Two Excellent Walla Walla-Based Wineries

June 17th, 2014

This week and next week I’ll feature four Walla Walla wineries with some stellar current releases that should be on your “wines to try” list.

First up is Lodmell Cellars, which features a tasting room inside the Marcus Whitman hotel in downtown Walla Walla.

nullWinemaker Andrew Lodmell is a fourth generation resident whose family settled in the area in the late 19th century. They own 30 acres of vineyards on the lower Snake River in Walla Walla County and give a nod to the region with a distinctive rendition of a coiled snake on the winery label.

The two Lodmell wines I tasted had an almost “opulent” quality about them and yet, the price point on these wines is amazingly reasonable.

A delicious 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (about $15) is viscous both in the glass and on the palate. The luscious pear, pineapple and guava flavors that lead off are accentuated by brighter fruits of green apple and Meyer lemon on the finish. This is a perfectly balanced, true-to-the-varietal white that performs best with ample chilling.

Rich, plum aromas explode from the first pour of the 2007 Merlot (about $25). There are more plum flavors on the palate along with layered dark fruits, sweet cedar, and candied cherry that melt into an ultra-plush finish.

I had to do a double-take on the vintage date for this wine. It’s not often you get the opportunity to find a seven-year-old merlot that’s still currently available…and drinking beautifully, I might add.

Tertulia Cellars is located south of Walla Walla near the Oregon border and features a contemporary facility with a very cool, semicircular tasting bar.

nullTertulia now owns over 40 acres of vineyards on both the Washington and Oregon sides of the Walla Walla Appellation. They also source grapes from Phinny Hill Vineyards in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills region.

The two Tertulia wines I recently tried were, without a doubt, completely over-the-top.

From the winery’s Whistling Hills Estate Vineyards, the 2012 Viognier (about $18) is blended with 25-percent roussanne. A pleasant aroma of fresh greens is followed by white peach and nectarine flavors to start, with a crisp finish of citrus and lemongrass. The texture transitions nicely from creamy to lean within the same sip.

I took a bottle of this wine to Keenan’s at the Pier in Bellingham and tried it with the restaurant’s mussels in saffron cream broth. The food/wine pairing was sublime.

Another “wow” wine is Tertulia’s 2009 Carménère (about $36). Big black currant, black plum and slightly chocolaty flavors are highlighted with touches of dried herb and white pepper on the finish. It’s a stunning example of the excellent red wines that are produced in the Walla Walla area.

Lullaby’s European Wines/Winemaker Highlight a Visit to Port Townsend

June 10th, 2014

The winemaking career of Virginie Bourgue began in France and has worked its way in a rather circuitous fashion to its present location in Port Townsend.

Originally from Provence, Bourgue lived and worked in Champagne for four years before coming to the United States in 2002. After a time at Chateau Ste. Michelle and then as winemaker for Bergevin Lane in Walla Walla, she established her own winery in 2007.

nullBourgue moved the winery to Port Townsend in 2010, primarily because of its relative proximity to the Seattle area while still allowing her to live in a somewhat rural, small-town atmosphere, which PT (as the locals refer to it) easily provides.

She currently produces a boutique-esque 750 cases per year under two lines, the de Virginie line and the “Butterfly” line which includes two labels, Lullaby and Lalayee (Persian for “lullaby”).

I’ve been a fan of Virginie’s wines for many years and think you’ll find them to be very Eurocentric, very clean on the palate, and very much designed to be food-complimentary.

2012 Rosé de Virginie ($17) – This blend of mourvèdre and grenache has brisk acidity, but also displays a softer side with gentle flavors of field berries. For a food pairing, try it with fresh crab or clams.

2012 Blanc de Virginie ($22) – 100-percent sauvignon blanc, this wine is like a palate cleanser in itself. It’s a bit green, with pleasant notes of lemongrass, oyster shell, cucumber and a laser-sharp finish.

Non-Vintage Rouge de Virginie ($25) – The combination of merlot and cabernet sauvignon comes from 2009 and 2010; hence the non-vintage date. It features lovely aromatics and flavors of black cherry and blackberry, with a warm, round finish and touches of espresso and cocoa nibs.

2010 Lullaby Viognier ($35) – From Walla Walla’s Dwelley Vineyard, this somewhat unique viognier opens with aromatics of lemon chiffon with orange zest on the palate. As it warms, flavors of white peach and apricot come through while the wine maintains a crisp edge. It should pair beautifully with fresh scallops. As a sweeter alternative, the 2012 Mi Amor Sweet Viognier ($22) is currently available from the same vineyard.

2010 Lullaby Syrah ($70) – Co-fermented with a touch of viognier, this Walla Walla-based gem opens with flavors of red plum that melt into lingering, complex layers of chocolate and coffee bean with a dusting of cocoa powder and slightly chewy tannins. In a word: spectacular.

A trip to the Port Townsend tasting room is an easy 90-minute drive from Bellingham to the Coupeville Ferry, with reservations recommended for the 35-minute crossing. Do not

expect a fancy facility; the tasting room is spartan, but Virginie is a knowledgeable host and her wines are excellent.

Phone (509) 386-1324 to make an appointment or for distribution information.

For Grilling Season: Try These Tips and Wines to Serve With Grilled Foods

June 3rd, 2014

Is there an official start to the outdoor grilling season? For some, it usually coincides with Memorial Day weekend; for others, the first day to hit 70 degrees or so usually seems about right.

Or, if you’re like me, you’ve already had the grill going for several weeks.

Whatever your time frame, I always feel that it’s good to remind you not to forget to have wines available to complement the foods on your grill.

Before I give you a few recommendations, here are some grilling suggestions to help enhance your culinary experience.

null• Try to work around the briquette and charcoal lighter combination. If you have to continually saturate those briquettes with fluid to keep them going, that chemical-like “flavor” will end up permeating your food. Pairing a wine with something that tastes like lighter fluid? It’s a no-win task.
• Don’t overdo the seasonings and barbeque sauces. Too much of these can drown out the flavors of your wine. The rule of thumb: gently seasoning and basting, good; saturating, not so good. When in doubt, serve some sauce on the side with the finished food, try it with the wine, and then add more sauce if you like.
• Don’t over-grill. This is a classic problem, especially with delicate fish entrées that only need minimal cooking time. Like too much sauce, too much char on the food can also mask the flavors of a potential wine pairing partner.

To get you started (or keep you going) this grilling season, here are a few wine and food combinations to consider:

San Juan Vineyards 2013 Chardonnay (about $14) – This is the winery’s first effort with an unoaked chardonnay and it really delivers at an unbeatable price. Delicious, crisp green melon, Fuji apple and citrusy flavors lead off, while a bit of a nutty, almond-like quality rounds out the finish. Try it with grilled corn-on-the-cob with plenty of butter and perhaps a squeeze of lime juice.

nullLazy River Vineyard 2009 Pinot Noir (about $40) – From Oregon’s Yamhill Carlton District, this exquisite pinot is worth every penny and it should pair beautifully with grilled salmon or slow-roasted pork. Fragrant cherry and floral aromatics, flavors of strawberry and black cherry, and just enough of a textured, smoky trailing note add up to a truly elegant wine. Available locally at Purple Smile Wines and Seifert and Jones Wine Merchants.

nullDouble Canyon 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $40) – Sourced from the vineyard of the same name in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills Appellation, this outstanding cab features woodsy, herbal aromas, intensely dark flavors of blackberry, currant and licorice and a finish of sweet walnut meats. Complex, layered and bold, it promises to pair up nicely with a big, juicy steak.

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