Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center: Great Facility, Great Washington Wines

January 6th, 2015

Here’s a great idea for anyone who enjoys visiting wineries in Eastern Washington: go to the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser.

I’ve travelled to scores of tasting rooms over the past three decades and, simply stated, a visit to the Clore Center is unlike any other.

nullThe facility opened to the public in May of last year and is named for the late Dr. Walter Clore. Dr. Clore was a viticultural researcher whose work was instrumental in determining that Washington’s soil and climate could support vineyard growth and the production of premium wines.

Clore Center includes exhibits, meeting rooms, a state-of-the art kitchen for cooking classes and demonstrations, an adjacent 2,000 square foot pavilion (pictured above) that can accommodate special events and weddings, and a patio and beautifully landscaped grounds overlooking the Yakima River.

Even with all these amenities, the focal point of the Center is the tasting room and lounge area, and I’d make the trip over for this alone. It’s spacious and contemporary with floor-to-ceiling windows, a substantial tasting bar, helpful staff, and a seating area with sofas and high-back chairs that invite guests to relax and linger over a glass of wine.

The tasting room offers a different lineup of Washington wines each month that almost always features one of the State’s 13 American Viticultural Areas (AVA). With the focus on the grape-growing AVA rather than an individual winery, you’re able to taste and compare wines that share a common geographic source but are produced by different wineries.

Tasting Room Manager, April Reddout, says, “Our monthly wines are as unique as the AVAs. We feel that good varietal representation and good price point representation are (most) important. (Wines are) determined by a committee that includes the tasting room staff, wine industry personnel, and members of the Center’s Board of Directors.”

In addition to wine tastes for a small $5 fee, visitors can purchase wine by the bottle and food items from a small menu that currently includes cheese plates, soup, sandwiches and paninis…perfect for lunch or an afternoon nosh.

Reddout said the Center also has plans to launch a wine club sometime later in January. This unique club will include some of the Center’s most popular selling wines from the prior month as well as exclusive offers of older vintages rather than new releases. This gives you “more exposure to wines you might not normally find,” she notes.

The tasting room is open daily from 11 am to 5 pm and additional information can be found online at

Go, learn a bit about the agricultural wine regions of Washington, and taste some good wines in the process. I can hardly think of a better way to start the New Year.

Champagne and Sparkling Wines Deserve to be Served Year Round

December 30th, 2014

Tomorrow night is New Year’s Eve and if you’re like most wine drinkers, you’ll be celebrating the occasion with something bubbly in your glass.

As we close out 2014, keep in mind that Champagne and sparkling wines are something that should be enjoyed throughout the year, not just on December 31.

These beverages are delicious on their own when well-chilled, and many of them are made in a dry or off-dry style with high acidity, which also makes them excellent food pairing partners. Fresh shellfish, sushi, eggs benedict and deep-fried foods are just a few of the endless possibilities.

nullResolve to make next year one in which you discover the virtues of sparkling wine by serving them more often. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their broad range of flavors and styles as well as their overall versatility.

For today, let me offer a few suggestions to get you started:

Riondo Non-Vintage Prosecco Spago Nero (about $11) – This nicely priced sparkler is made in a lighter, almost delicate frizzante style with ultra-fine bubbles. Fuji apple and bright pear flavors shine through along with a kiss of vibrant acidity on an off-dry finish.

Berlucchi ’61 Franciacorta Non-Vintage Rosé
(about $35) – This Italian sparkling wine is comprised of 60-percent pinot noir and 40-percent chardonnay and its pale peach/coral color looks exquisite in the glass. Aromas of freshly baked bread and crisp flavors of red apple, ruby grapefruit and green pear predominate, while the finish is refreshingly abrupt and clean with a trace of minerality.

If you’d like to try a sparkling wine made in Washington be sure to put Yakima’s Treveri Cellars on your must-try list. Every one of the winery’s current releases is highly recommended and their entire portfolio is amazingly well-priced at $19-a-bottle or less.

Mountain Dome Winery in Spokane is another Washington-produced choice for good sparklers. This long-standing winery celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this year.

Closer to home, consider sparkling wines from Masquerade Wine Company in Bellingham or GLM Wine Co. in Blaine. According to GLM owner and winemaker Tom Davis, the winery will be featuring its first-ever limited release (just 40 cases total) of two sparkling wines sourced from Oregon grapes.

The 2011 La Reine Brut Sparkling Wine is a white wine made from chardonnay and gamay noir juice, while the 2011 La Robe Brut Red Sparkling Wine is made from chardonnay juice and the skins of the gamay noir grape, which give it its red color.

Each wine retails for $45 but will be available to wine club members for only $36. For additional information:

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Whatever Your Splurge Level, Consider These Great Red Wines

December 23rd, 2014

For many of us, the holiday season means it’s time to splurge. From food to gifts to good wine, this is the time when spending a few extra dollars becomes a guilt-free, cut-loose practice we might otherwise shelve for the other eleven months of the year.

Although splurge levels are relative to the individual consumer, they can generally be defined as anything over-and-above your customary price range. So, for example, if you normally spend no more than $10 to $15 on a bottle of wine, then paying even $20 to $25 could be classified as a “splurge.”

Today I’ll offer a few red wine suggestions for those who might consider breaking into the $20 to $30-a-bottle category a splurge and then a couple more in the $50-and-up price range.

Milbrandt Vineyards has a number of excellent reds that I sampled during a visit to their tasting room in Prosser last month:

The Estates 2012 Malbec (about $26) – Explosive, wild berries on the nose and complementary flavors of plump blackberry and blueberry highlight this full-bodied red. A soft, lingering finish belies the wine’s 15.5-percent alcohol content.

Vineyard Series 2011 Primitivo (about $28) – This relative of the zinfandel grape carries all of its classic characteristics: jammy/brambly berry flavors, spicy accents, and a spritz of white pepper on the finish. Outstanding!

Vineyard Series 2011 Mosaic (about $28) – This brilliant grenache, syrah, mourvèdre blend displays blackberry fruit, hints of smoky spice, and a touch of licorice root. Best of Class and double gold medalist at this year’s Tri-Cities Wine Festival.

Mendocino County, California’s Parducci Wine Cellars also has a couple of nice current releases from their “True Grit” line that are worth a try:

2012 Reserve Petit Sirah (about $29) – Reserved flavors of berries and red plum are capped with a flourish of toasted vanilla. The lighter-than-expected body style was a pleasant surprise.

2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (about $30) – Chocolate cherry, black plum and a splash of espresso are backed by supple tannins on the slightly chewy finish.

nullFinally, be sure to spend the extra dollars for two pinot noirs from Durant Vineyards in Dayton, Oregon. Their 2012 Olivia Grace Pinot Noir (about $60) and the 2012 Bishop Pinot Noir (about $65) are completely over-the-top in terms of quality and elegance.

The Olivia Grace shows expressive flavors of strawberry, raspberry, rhubarb and cranberry without any trace of harsh acidity. While the Bishop displays essentially the same flavor profile, I’d give it a preferential nod only because it’s slightly headier and perhaps a touch jammier.

Both wines carry a seemingly endless finishing note with a dreamy, velvety texture and each represent a superb winemaking effort. Buy them now…you will not be disappointed.

Go To Red Mountain for Terrific Red Wines

December 16th, 2014

Looking for some good red wines to serve this holiday season? Be sure to consider Washington’s Red Mountain Appellation, which has plenty to offer in terms of varietals and body styles at price points to suit most any budget.

Red Mountain is just a 20-minute drive west of Richland in the Tri-Cities and it’s now home to over 15 wineries and a number of top-tier vineyards including Klipsun, Tapteil, and Hedges Estate.

nullHamilton Cellars recently opened a new tasting room on Red Mountain, and following an afternoon outing there last month, I’d conclude that this is a must-visit winery if you’re planning to be near the area.

Husband and wife owners Russ and Stacie Hamilton have done a first-class job with a facility that carries an appealing, friendly vibe while offering panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards and fantastic wines produced by omnipresent winemaker Charlie Hoppes.

If malbec is your passion then Hamilton has you covered. I thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 Malbec (about $30), and the gorgeous 2010 Red Mountain Malbec (about $40) with its intense fruit flavors of blackberry and black cherry, spicy/peppery accents and velvety soft finish.

Two other highly recommended choices include the 2009 Merlot (about $28) and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $28) which is drinking beautifully with layers of dark fruits and a plush finish enveloped with round, warm notes of toasted vanilla.

Another newcomer to Red Mountain is Frichette Winery, where you’ll find a warm and inviting atmosphere from another husband and wife team, Greg and Shae Frichette (pictured below).

nullGreg is a Pasco native while Shae hails from South Carolina. Together they’ve created a comfortable tasting room with promising wines that lay the groundwork for a boutique winery worth watching.

Notable current releases include a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $35) and the well-crafted/well-priced 2011 Red Wine (about $25), with blueberry aromas and flavors, supple tannins, and a slightly sultry, smoky finish.

And no mention of Red Mountain would be complete without including two of my old favorites, Kiona Vineyards and Hightower Cellars.

The Kiona Vineyards & Winery 2012 Estate Red Mountain Malbec just scored best of varietal honors and a gold medal at this year’s Tri-Cities Wine Festival while their 2012 Lemberger is hard to beat as a great lighter-bodied “everyday red” at about $15 a bottle.

At Hightower Cellars, the 2012 Murray Cabernet Sauvignon (about $20) features a new label with a Celtic rose that should be on your must-try list. The wine’s delicate floral aromatics are almost perfume-like, and delicious red fruits are backed with plenty of structure and a slightly herbaceous finish.

Whatcom County Wineries Have You Covered With Red, White Choices

December 9th, 2014

Are you ready for the holidays and red wine season? Look no further than Whatcom County for plenty of good red wine choices…and white wines as well.

We’re fortunate to have a number of talented winemakers that source their grapes from vineyards across the state and then produce the wines here at home. Nearly all of the county’s wineries have tasting rooms that are open to the public and their wines are easy to find in local grocers and wine shops as well.

Mount Baker Vineyards has a number of newly released red wines that are currently available. Among my favorites is the easy-to-drink Proprietor’s Limited Release 2012 Tempranillo (about $16), a lighter body-style red with dark fruit flavors and a soft finish.

Also notable is the winery’s Non-Vintage Hierarchy Red (about $24). Four Rhone varietals: syrah, grenache, counoise, and mourvedre combine forces to produce a lovely, northwest pinot noir-style wine with earthy undertones, a splash of bright red cherry, and just the right amount of tannic structure.

And the Proprietor’s Limited Release 2012 Malbec (about $20) is also a winner. Complex aromatics of berries, toasted walnut, and meadow grasses lead off with blackberry flavors and nuances of black pepper and caramel. Nicely balanced with vibrant acidity and supple tannins, it’s an excellent Washington malbec at this price point.

null At Dynasty Cellars, winemaker Peter Osvaldik (his son, Eric, is pictured at left in the tasting room) shifts gears with his first ever dessert wine, the Amabile 2013 Late Harvest Zinfandel (about $18 for 375ml). It’s a stunning effort, with gobs of black plum and cherry fruits and some wonderfully grippy tannins that balance the sugar content to produce a lengthy, almost chewy finish. Try it with a slice of cheesecake, a swirl of caramel sauce and salted pecans.

Another just-released red comes from Coach House Cellars in their 2012 Syrah (about $30). Ultra-dark cherry and berry flavors are capped with a mind-numbing 15.9-percent alcohol content that makes the wine borderline port-like. This big, full-bodied syrah could be perfect for post-meal sipping in front of the fire.

And just because it’s red wine season doesn’t mean you should completely abandon your white wines this time of year.

Served well-chilled, the Dakota Creek Winery 2013 2nd Bottling Chenin Blanc (about $22), makes a refreshing lead-off wine. Mouthwatering melon, peach and pear flavors, tangy acidity and a steely, mineral-like finish highlight this tasty white from winemakers Ken and Jill Peck.

For chardonnay lovers, the Vartanyan Estate Winery 2012 Heavy Oaked Chardonnay (about $22) is a must. Winemaker/owner Margarita Vartanyan exercises a deft touch with eight months of American oak aging that doesn’t overwhelm the wine’s lovely baked apple and tropical fruit flavors. There’s also a prevailing toasty/nutty quality that’s accentuated with a round, creamy finish.

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