Celebrate Malbec With Affordable Choices From Argentina

April 8th, 2014

These days there’s practically a special day for everything. World Smile Day, World Pasta Day, World Left-Handers Day … even World Malbec Day.

Did somebody say Malbec Day? Now that’s a day I’ll celebrate.

World Malbec Day was established a few years by an organization called Wines of Argentina (think Washington Wine Commission as a regional equivalent). April 17 is the day for this year’s events, which include tastings around the globe in recognition of this red wine grape that has really taken off during the last 20 to 25 years.

Malbec has shown promise in Washington State as well, but production has been nowhere near the quantity coming out of Argentina. You’ll find Washington malbec primarily as a component of a red wine blend or, if it is bottled as a single varietal, frequently costing somewhere around $25 to $30 a bottle.

That price range can be a bit steep for some people’s wine budgets, although I’d say that many Washington malbecs are well worth it.

But if you’re trying to be a bit more cost-conscious, look no further than Argentina for solid, reliable malbecs. It’s relatively easy to shop locally and find Argentinian malbecs that fit nicely within the $10 to $20 a bottle category.

nullWhatever the source, it’s good to know that malbec is an excellent wine to have on hand at the dinner table. It pairs well with most everything beef (prepared in practically any style) and also complements lamb, barbeque pork ribs, and roasted chicken.

Here are some Argentinian malbecs from the country’s critically acclaimed Mendoza region that I’ve tasted as of late for you to consider:

Árido 2011 Malbec (about $12) – This wine jumps out with black olive, pepper and dried herbs along with adequate acidity and somewhat firm tannins. Enjoy it with a juicy, medium-rare pepper-encrusted steak.

Argento 2012 Malbec (about $14) – A sip of this malbec is almost like sinking your teeth into a savory berry pie. Juicy blackberry fruits, with melt-in-your-mouth buttery, caramel and herbal accents on the finish. Fun, but sophisticated, this wine is a pleasure to taste.

Tomero Wines 2011 Malbec (about $19) – Understated boysenberry and blueberry flavors lead off, with a nice meaty texture in the mid-palate and a trailing hint of smokiness. If you like your malbecs more reserved without all the fruit-forwardness, this is the wine for you.

Argento Reserva 2011 Malbec (about $19) – Stunning violet and plum aromas are followed by perfectly balanced black currant, blackberry and black plum flavors. The nicely structured finish glides endlessly on a velvety note of bittersweet chocolate. This malbec is the complete package and one of the best I’ve tasted in quite some time.

With Wine Tasting it’s All About the Differences

April 1st, 2014

It’s time once again to eavesdrop in on a conversation between a novice Bellingham wine drinker and our Resident Wine Enthusiast.

Novice: So lately I’ve been checking out a few wine reviews and recommendations. I still don’t get how you guys come up with all those crazy adjectives. Bold, intriguing, seductive…are we talking about a soap opera story line or a wine tasting?

RWE: Well, I suppose we do get a little carried away. But if you continue to try new wines, especially with friends, where you can taste several wines side-by-side, you’ll start to come up with your own descriptors. And it really is easier to compare and contrast flavor components and styles when you have a number of different wines in front of you.

It also doesn’t hurt to try new wines with someone with a bit of tasting experience so they can point you in the right direction. Let’s just say the power of suggestion can be very helpful when you’re learning about wine.

nullNovice: But I don’t want suggestions. You wine people are always talking about hints of this and suggestions of that. Enough beating around the bush! I want answers!

RWE: As I’ve said before, the truth of the matter is that there are no definitive answers when you’re tasting wine. What you taste and what I taste can be two completely different things. The important thing is not to worry if our interpretations don’t agree. We’re only looking for a general consensus, not exactness.

Novice: This sounds like a cop-out to me. Why should I buy something you say tastes like one thing when I think it tastes like something else?

RWE: Actually, it’s those differences that make wine tasting fun. I mean, if everyone agreed about everything and we all liked the same thing, we’d all be drinking the same wine all the time. Boring!

Also remember there’s a lot more to wine than just flavors. Aromas, alcohol content, sweetness, acidity levels…these things can be much more important, especially when you’re trying to pair foods with wine.

And while we may not exactly agree on what a wine tastes like, we’re more likely to agree on whether or not it’s sweet, acidic, or even young and chalky tasting versus a smoother, rounder wine that’s had more time in the bottle. You don’t need to be an expert to taste those kinds of differences.

Novice: Well, I suppose you’re starting to make a little bit of sense. But there’s still one thing that bothers me. When are you guys ever going to write a wine review that says the wine “tastes like grapes?”

RWE: Probably when Welch’s decides to bottle a Concord grape wine.

California, Oregon Great Sources for Pinot Noir

March 25th, 2014

Finding pinot noir from Washington isn’t always easy. Finding a good pinot noir from the state can be even more difficult.

Close-to-home wineries Challenger Ridge and Mount Baker Vineyards come to mind as producers of this finicky grape, as well as a few wineries in Eastern Washington within the Lake Chelan Appellation and from Gingko Forest Winery in Mattawa.

But if you want an established domestic source for pinot noir, California and Oregon are unquestionably your best bets.

California’s Carneros, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast regions provide the perfectly cooler climate in which pinot noir flourishes; and in Oregon, the Willamette Valley has become world-renown as the quintessential producer of pinot noir in the United States.

nullOne sticking point I often have with this wine is its price. Although what you pay is purely discretionary, be forewarned that some pinots may cost you a small bundle. For most of us, this isn’t a problem as long as the wine delivers. The rule of thumb, simply stated: pay more, expect more.

Here are some suggestions of pinot noir from California and Oregon for you to consider:

Simi Winery Sonoma County 2011 Pinot Noir (about $24) – Pie cherry, raspberry and pomegranate flavors predominate, with slightly herbaceous undertones and a whisper of smokiness on the finish. Roast chicken or salmon come to find as first-rate food pairings.

Robert Mondovi Napa Valley 2012 Pinot Noir (about $26) – This is the style of pinot noir I prefer, with slightly darker berry fruits on the palate and a bit of a softer finish. Even those it’s more fruit forward, the wine’s underlying earthiness and minerality gently remind you that this is undeniably pinot noir.

J Vineyards Misterra 2012 Pinot Noir (about $50) – This Russian River Valley gem is even darker still, with a scant amount of pinotage and the red Champagne grape, pinot meunier, blended in for added complexity. Blueberry, dried black cherry and notes of roasted coffee shine through to a bright finish with nuances of toasted oak.

Hyland Estates 2010 Estate Pinot Noir (about $35) – Sourced from the McMinnville Appellation (a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA), this lovely pinot opens with floral aromas, luscious cherry and strawberry flavors and expressive acidity. The finish comes across as borderline velvety with spicy accents. Outstanding!

Hyland Estates 2011 Cloury Clone Pinot Noir (about $60) – From the same region’s more challenging 2011 vintage, this pinot offers leaner layers of cranberry, raspberry and red currant flavors with trailing notes of sweet cedar and toast. Serving suggestions include roast duck, pheasant or perhaps pork tenderloin in a sour cherry reduction sauce.

California Well Represented at Vancouver International Wine Festival

March 18th, 2014

Even though last month’s Vancouver, BC International Wine Festival had a decidedly European flavor, I found myself spending plenty of time around the California wine section.

One thing that’s always appealed to me about California is the broad range of varietals and styles this top-producing US wine area has to offer.

From its cooler coastal regions known for leaner, brighter wines to its warmer central valleys famous for big, expressive reds, California has you covered at virtually every point on the wine spectrum.

nullPersonal favorites at the Festival included the Hope Family’s 2011 Treana White Wine (about $23), a nutty, butterscotch-like 50/50 blend of marsanne and viognier; and the overachieving Truett-Hurst 2011 Colby Red (about $14), a delicious combination of cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, syrah, merlot and petit syrah.

Everything from Michael David Winery (producer of Seven Deadly Zins) was an over-the-top guilty pleasure I couldn’t ignore. The 2011 Petit Petit (about $18) was a standout, with mouthwatering blackberry and currant flavors and a vibrant, slightly edgy finish to balance out the fruit.

Back at home, I’ve also enjoyed a number of new releases from California. Here are my tasting notes:

William Hill Estate Winery North Coast Chardonnay and North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon (about $17 each) – The chardonnay is a lovely choice, with luscious Bartlett pear flavors to lead off and brighter citrus notes near the finish with accents of vanilla and toffee. In between, there’s a pleasant layer of meaty chestnut that lends a bit of texture to the mid-palate.

The cabernet could use a bit more cellaring time, but aeration opens up the wine’s dark fruits of berry and plum for current enjoyment. There’s also a dusting of cocoa powder and a whisper of mocha on the finish.

Simi Winery 2012 Chardonnay (about $18) – This is a lighter style chardonnay with touches of apple, pear and white peach. Oaky undertones linger on the finish as a complement to the fruit without overpowering it. The wine should pair beautifully with roasted chicken and root vegetables.

Seghesio Family Vineyards 2012 Sonoma Zinfandel (about $24) and 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel (about $38) – One can’t talk about California zinfandel without mentioning this pioneering winery. Both wines offer understated, food-friendly interpretations of the grape that are a nice break from heavier-handed alternatives.

The Sonoma Zinfandel offers bright red fruits of raspberry and boysenberry, with a dash of dried herbs, pepper and sage; while the Old Vine displays aromas and flavors of slightly darker berries, layers of red currant and caramel, and a lengthy finish with hints of anise and spice. Try either with a pork roast or veal entrée.

Keenan’s, The Fork Feature Wine Lists With Washington Options

March 11th, 2014

Like many of life’s greatest pleasures the formula is simple: When at home on the weekend, my partner and I stop what we’re doing late Saturday afternoon and take time out to enjoy a glass of wine.

This usually involves going out to some place in Bellingham…sometimes to meet friends, sometimes to enjoy a nosh, but always just to relax and reward ourselves for completing another work week and perhaps a list of Saturday morning chores.

A venue with a good wine list is always a consideration. We look for variety, adequate wine-by-the-glass options, and the opportunity to choose from several Washington wines. Two of our favorite places, Keenan’s at the Pier and The Fork at Agate Bay never fail to keep us happy.

nullKeenan’s (pictured at left) has greatly improved in the Washington wine department since its fairly recent makeover from Fino Wine Bar at the Chrysalis Inn & Spa.

Maybe it was just me, but the atmosphere at Fino seemed stuffy, the staff seldom cracked a smile and the wine list, although extensive, only had one selection each from Washington and California. We live in one of the best wine producing regions in the world. To see Washington so under-represented was a disappointing and annoying snub.

But Keenan’s has expanded its wine list to include a number of solid Washington wines in addition to a nice variety of choices from Europe, Australia, California and Oregon.

Boomtown, Three Rivers, Dunham, and Airfield Estates are just a few of the Washington wineries on the list. There are currently 20 different wines by the glass, ranging in price from $7 to $13, and bottle prices are quite reasonable with plenty of choices between $20 and $30.

If you lean towards sparkling wine, Keenan’s selection offers a small but impressive list as well. Three personal favorites, J Vineyards and Roederer Estate from California and Tattinger from Champagne are currently available.

At The Fork at Agate Bay, the Washington wine alternatives are even more impressive. Maison Bleue, Alexandria Nicole, J Bookwalter, and Dusted Valley Vintners are among the Washington winery choices. Again, you’ll find lots of $20 to $30-a-bottle options and glasses are in the nicely priced $6 to $9 range.

My “go to” wine at The Fork is the Brian Carter Cellars Oriana. This tasty, viognier-based white wine blend is perfect for sipping, perhaps on the restaurant patio when warmer weather prevails.

Some people might quibble that The Fork is too far from Bellingham. Really? Just think of the terrific wine list waiting for you at this gem of a restaurant on the east side of Lake Whatcom. That should be incentive enough to lure you away from home on any Saturday afternoon.

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