South African Wines Provide Great Choices for Wine Enthusiasts

May 5th, 2015

This week, I’ll venture outside of the Pacific Northwest to feature a number of wines from South Africa.

This part of the world of wine has really come into its own during the past decade or two, but its winemaking roots trace back to the 17th century.

European settlers, particularly the Dutch and French, brought the initial vines to this area and began making wines with the first recorded South African vintage in 1659.

Today you’ll find varietals such as riesling, chardonnay, chenin blanc sauvignon blanc, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, malbec, and merlot – to name a few – commonplace among South Africa vineyards. Also notable is pinotage, a pinot noir-esque grape that is the only grape variety authentic to the country.

The combination of winemaking history and diverse wine grapes has made South Africa a formidable player in the world market.

Here are some current releases I think you’ll enjoy:

nullMAN Family Wines 2014 Chenin Blanc (about $11) – Sourced from South Africa’s Paarl District, the vineyards for this wine are planted at higher altitudes in mostly shale soils. Gentle tropical fruit aromas lead to a zingy streak of ruby red grapefruit on the palate. There’s also plenty of steely minerality on a linen-crisp finish that allows it to pair with oysters, creamy pasta salad and roast poultry. Outstanding!

Seven Sisters Non-Vintage Odelia Sweet White Wine (about $12) – If you have an aversion to sweeter wines, don’t let the label deter you from giving this a try. A nice splash of acidity balances out the wine’s sweetness, making it instantly enjoyable when served well-chilled. Made from the bukettraube (pronounced bu-ke-traw-bah) grape, it’s packed with golden delicious apple flavors and a touch of tangerine on the extreme finish.

Indaba Wines 2014 Mosaic (about $12) – This cabernet sauvignon-based Bordeaux blend of five red varietals is released early in a Beaujolais style and might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Still, it’s an interesting and rather unique wine with big blackberry fruit, clove and spice undertones, and somewhat bright and tangy finishing notes.

De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill 2014 Chardonnay (about $20) – This chardonnay is grown in the higher elevations of South Africa’s Robertson District; an area that is known for its lime-rich soils. Baked apple flavors are rounded with a nice touch of toasted almond and then capped with lemon-citrus accents on a slightly earthy finish.

Reyneke Wines 2012 Capstone (about $25) – This superb blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc is made from biodynamically-farmed grapes without the use of yeasts, enzymes or added acidity. Gorgeous aromas of spiced berries fill the glass, with juicy black currant and berry flavors, hints of white pepper, and a dense, meaty/gamey texture that demands a pairing with anything beef.

Wine Sale and Tasting

May 1st, 2015

Event Date: June 12, 2015
Time: 5:00 to 9:00 pm

Sample wines from over 20 wineries and enjoy food selections from a number of local vendors at the Bellingham Ferry & Cruise Terminal in Bellingham’s Fairhaven District. Wines will also be available for purchase tax-free and at discounted prices.

All proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society.

Advance tickets are $30 per person and $35 at the door. Ticket price includes a souvenir wine glass. Only those age 21 and older are permitted to attend.

For more information and to purchase tickets visit any Yorky’s Market location or go to TeamYorkysMarket.org

Go to Chaberton Estate in Langley, BC for Excellent Food and Wine

April 28th, 2015

Have you ever had a great experience somewhere, only to return years later and find that things just weren’t the same?

I remember having an excellent visit at Chaberton Estate Winery three years ago, and not wanting to get my hopes up too much, set the bar a bit lower for my return earlier this month. After all, it couldn’t get much better than that first experience, could it?

Oh yes it could. In fact, it was exceptional.

General Manager Brian Ensor took me through a tour and tasting at the winery’s Langley, British Columbia facility that concluded with a first-class dinner and very reasonably priced wines that should have Whatcom County residents lining up for reservations.

But before I get too far, let’s start with the grapes.

Chaberton Estate is home to about 50 acres of estate grown grapes in its cooler climate, Fraser Valley location. The bacchus grape is responsible for about one-third of the total plantings and Ensor feels that the wines it yields are among Chaberton’s best.

The winery also produces wines from a number of warm-weather varietals, such as Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are sourced from the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys in Eastern British Columbia.

Together, they contribute to a sizable production totaling about 48,000 cases annually, making it the fourth largest winery in the province.

After spending time in the tasting room and retail store, visitors can have lunch or dinner at the adjacent Bacchus Bistro, where Executive Chef Ashley Chisham provides a small but sumptuous menu designed to complement a wine list that consists almost exclusively of Chaberton wines.

Here’s a small sample of some of the wines I tasted during my most recent visit. Note that all prices are in Canadian dollars at the tasting room, excluding taxes:

null2013 Reserve Bacchus ($15) – This lovely white wine displays stone fruit and white flower aromatics, generous flavors of peach, tangerine and citrus, and a spicy/semi-sweet finish. The 2013 Reserve Dry Bacchus ($15) replaces the sweetness with refreshing, laser-sharp acidity that is absolutely astounding.

2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($21) – Dark berry and plum flavors predominate, with touches of toasted oak and cocoa powder on the slightly textured finish. Try it with the restaurant’s signature dish, beef bourguignon.

2012 Reserve Meritage ($24) – This blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc is big on black cherry and currant aromas and flavors that extend into a surprisingly soft finish.

Chaberton Estate Winery and Bacchus Bistro are easily accessible via either the Blaine/SR-543 or Lynden/Aldergrove crossings and only about an hour’s drive, plus border wait times, from Bellingham.

For a complete list of the winery’s current releases, along with hours, directions, and restaurant information, go to chabertonwinery.com.

What’s My Favorite Wine? Here Are a Few Suggestions

April 21st, 2015

What’s your favorite wine?

That’s easily one of the most-asked questions I’ve encountered during the past 15 years as a wine columnist for the Herald.

The answer, of course, is always a moving target, as new wines are introduced into the market and older vintages go out of circulation as they’re consumed or cellared.

One of my goals at last month’s Taste Washington event in Seattle was to come up with a laundry list, of sorts, of some current “favorite” wines from the attending 200-plus wineries to pass along to consumers.

Given the time constraints and volume of wines at this event, first impressions mean everything. So with that in mind, here are my notes on some standout wines I sampled during my whirlwind tasting:

White Blends: COR Cellars poured an awesome 2014 Celilo Vineyard Alba COR, sourced from Columbia Gorge gewürztraminer and pinot gris grapes; Lake Chelan’s Charlie Lybecker had another winner with his Cairdeas Winery 2013 Southern White Rhône Blend; and Cloudlift Cellars continued to impress with a lovely Bordeaux blend in its 2012 Updraft White.

White Single Varietal Labels: The Ancestry Cellars 2014 Rejouissant Sauvignon Blanc piqued my taste buds with its laser-sharp acidity and crisp, clean finish, as did the Tempus Cellars 2013 Riesling; Victor Palencia scored again with his Palencia Winery 2014 Albariño; and two over-the-top 2013 Columbia Valley chardonnays I enjoyed included those from Walla Walla’s Forgeron Cellars and Guardian Cellars in Woodinville.

nullSparkling and Rosé Wines: Yakima’s Treveri Cellars’ two Non-Vintage Brut Methode Champenoise sparklers, a Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noir were both excellent, as was the 2011 Brut from Karma Vineyards in Chelan (albeit at over twice the price); while Seven Hills Winery served a gorgeous, pale pink 2014 Dry Rosé Cabernet Franc.

Red Blends: A pair of Woodinville winery red blends were amazing: the Brian Carter Cellars 2010 Byzance Red Rhône Blend and Robert Ramsey Cellars 2012 Le Mien Red Rhône Blend (pictured at left); Scott Southard of Selah’s Southard Winery poured a mind-blowing 2012 Red Blend that was insanely underpriced, as were two of Redmond’s Cinq Cellars’ selections, a 2012 “The Professors” Bordeaux Blend and 2012 “The Storm” Rhône Blend.

Red Single Varietal Labels: Spokane’s Barrister Winery featured a stunning 2012 Bacchus Vineyard Syrah that was probably near the top of my list of favorites; Des Voigne Cellars’ 2012 The Duke Zinfandel was unique, spicy and flavorful; relative newcomers J&J Vintners’ 2012 Malbec and 2012 Syrah represented Walla Walla Valley fruit at its finest.

Zillah’s Two Mountain Winery 2012 Estate Cabernet Franc was superb, as was the 2013 Cabernet Franc from Walla Walla Vintners; and the $89-a-bottle Doubleback 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon was so spectacular it nearly justified its stratospheric price.

Celebrate World Malbec Day With These Recommendations from Argentina

April 14th, 2015

April 17 is World Malbec Day, a celebration of the red wine grape that originated in France and is now grown in vineyards around the world.

The day was chosen to coincide with a reported declaration by the president of Argentina to acquire French vines, including malbec, and plant them in Argentinian soils in 1853.

Quantity-wise, the French version of the grape has been long overtaken by the large number of vineyards now grown in the Mendoza region of Argentina, where malbec is the region’s undisputed king of grapes. Malbec has also become increasingly popular in other wine-producing countries including Chile, Australia, and the United States.

In Washington, malbec only accounted for about two-percent of the state’s red wine grape production in 2014. But in spite of that small overall total percentage, its production here as a single varietal has doubled in just the last four years.

That’s good news to anyone who enjoys a solid, medium-bodied red wine – whether domestic or international – that generally features a good amount of fruit, balanced acidity, supple tannins, and spicy/peppery accents.

Here are several recommendations of Argentinian malbecs that can be found at or ordered through Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants in Bellingham:

Árido 2013 Malbec (about $11) – Nice, understated red cherry and berry fruits lead off, with a bit of an earthy finish and good tannic structure. This should make for a great “everyday” malbec, especially when paired with beef stew, burgers, or meat loaf.

nullArgento 2013 Malbec (about $11) – Here’s another good, bargain-priced malbec to keep on hand for the dinner table. Red plum flavors predominate with undertones of black olive and just a touch of herbaceousness on the finish.

Vistalba Corte C 2013 Malbec (about $15) – Spicy, brambly blackberry aromas and flavors fill the glass, with additional fruits of black cherry and fig and a slightly oaky finish. It’s blended with 20-percent cabernet sauvignon, which lends a bit of a heady character to top off an otherwise elegant wine. A great value at this price point.

Tomero 2011 Reserva Malbec (about $30) – This malbec displays considerable depth and complexity with raspberry and cherry fruit flavors to begin and then darker touches of anise, coffee, and black currant on the finish. Slightly grippy tannins suggest no harm in cellaring the wine for a few more years.

For malbecs from Washington, I’d suggest any of the current releases from Red Mountain’s Hamilton Cellars or the 2012 vintage from J&J Vintners in Walla Walla. Also, Bellingham’s Dynasty Cellars is planning to release its highly anticipated, first-ever malbec sometime this spring. Only 45 cases were produced and the wine will retail for $30 a bottle.

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