Guidelines for Serving Wines at Thanksgiving That Will Keep the Holiday Stress-Free

November 25th, 2014

Serving wines with Thanksgiving dinner? Just follow a few simple guidelines and the selection process can be as stress-free as opening a can of cranberry jelly.

First and foremost, offer variety. I harp on this every year, but you can hardly go wrong if you use this as a starting point. With a variety of wines at the table, say, a sweet or off-dry and a dry white, and perhaps a light to medium-bodied red, you’ll cover all your bases.

Second, don’t fret over precise food and wine pairings. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner usually isn’t heavy on the seasonings and spices. That makes more wines easily adaptable to the basics of turkey, potatoes and gravy, and stuffing you’re likely to serve.

Third, ask others what they like. Don’t assume that just because you’re a big fan of chardonnay, others will be too. Here again, variety is the key.

Finally, don’t be too skimpy on cost. A bargain wine or two? No problem. Every wine at the table under $10? Come on, it’s Thanksgiving! Splurge a bit and use this as an opportunity to show off your wine-buying prowess to family and friends.

In keeping with the variety theme, I’d like to offer some European wine recommendations from France, Italy, and Spain that should be a welcome addition to your Thanksgiving Day meal.

nullLa Gioiosa Non-Vintage Prosecco DOC Treviso Spumante (about $11) – An outstanding sparkling wine for starters, this tasty Prosecco features luscious ripe pear and honeydew melon flavors with a creamy texture that hints at lemon custard. Guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser with its faintly sweet finish.

Domaine du Tariquet Classic (about $11) – This refreshing, four-varietal white wine blend offers citrusy and herbaceous aromas and flavors while the finish is clean and green and reminiscent of a vinho verde. It makes a nice pairing with seafood, shellfish or oyster stuffing.

Marchesi de Frescobaldi 2010 Nipozzano Riserva (about $19) – This incredibly well-priced, sangiovese-based Chianti is a great example of how practical it is to serve a red wine for Thanksgiving. Hints of licorice and spicy cherry on the nose, bright red currant and cranberry flavors on the palate, and supple tannins on the finish combine to provide a great compliment to dark meat.

Bodegas Shaya ‘Habis’ 2010 Old Vines Verdejo (about $26) – From Spain’s Rueda region, this stunning white wine opens with aromas of fresh peach and green herbs. Generous tropical and stone fruits fill the glass with a gentle kiss of ruby red grapefruit on the finish. My only quibble: it’s so good you may not want to share it with anyone else.

Damilano 2010 ‘Lecinquevigne’ Barolo DOCG (about $35) – This nicely complex nebbiolo is both elegant and muscular with floral aromas of rose and violet, red cherry flavors, and a splash of green tea on the finish. Grippy tannins are softened with a bit of aeration and decanting or easily complemented with an after-dinner cigar.

Bertelsen Winery Now Open in Skagit County

November 18th, 2014

If you travel the Interstate 5 corridor with any regularity you probably observed the “Coming Soon” sign for Bertelsen Winery at the Starbird Road exit near the top of Conway Hill for the past couple of years.

That sign was changed to “Now Open” in April, giving long-awaiting wineophiles in Skagit and nearby Whatcom County another tasting room option for locally produced premium wines.

nullThe winery is owned by retired Mount Vernon orthodontist Dr. Richard Bertelsen and managed by his son, Steve. Sarah Saya assists as the cheerful wine server you’re likely to see if you stop in for a visit.

The first thing that struck me about the tasting room is its open floor plan with semicircular tasting bar and an adjacent lounge with sofas and flat-screen television. According to Saya, the space will comfortably accommodate up to 50 guests, with an additional banquet-style area in the adjoining room plus seating on the outdoor patio, weather permitting.

Another interesting observation is that winery sources the grapes for its wines from five different Washington appellations: the Columbia, Yakima and Walla Walla Valleys, Wahluke Slope, and Red Mountain.

If you drop in just to taste, you have two choices: the Young Vines Flight costing $8 or the Reserve Flight, which runs $11. Each flight includes four pours of pre-selected wines from the current tasting menu.

Here are my tasting notes on a few of the wines I tried during a visit earlier this month:

2011 Riesling (about $16) – Luscious pear and crisp citrus flavors lead to a clean, off-dry finish with a whisper of sweetness.

2012 Merlot (about $27) – Aged in French oak for two years, this elegant merlot features raspberry and spicy red apple aromas and flavors that melt into a finish with hints of toasted caramel.

2012 Cabernet Franc (about $27) – Ample plum and cherry flavors are accentuated with a gentle twist of black pepper and crushed herbs in the latter stages along with a velvety-soft finish.

2012 Syrah Bulldog Reserve (about $29) – Black cherry flavors dusted with baking spice conclude in a plush finish wrapped in warm vanilla bean. The bulldog on the label of this fine effort is a nod to the Mount Vernon high school mascot.

2012 Malbec (about $32) – Sourced from Red Mountain’s Tapteil Vineyard, the wine’s brambly berry flavors commingle with mineral notes throughout, while chewy tannins suggest another year or two of cellaring for maximum enjoyment.

Bertelsen Winery is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 8:00 pm and Sunday from noon to 6:00 pm. The web site is still a work in progress, so if you need additional information I’d suggest calling the tasting room at (360) 540-2212.

McKinley Springs: Great Vineyard, Great Wines

November 11th, 2014

Designating the vineyard source for a wine – a practice that was once virtually unheard of – has become an increasingly important part of the wine label.

As Washington wine production has increased, so has the knowledge and sophistication level of the wine consumer. Not content to know only what they’re drinking, they want access to other information such as production notes, varietal composition, barrel aging and vineyard designation.

nullKnowing where the grapes are grown can be extremely important because, simply stated, each vineyard produces wines with unique characteristics, aromas and flavor profiles.

McKinley Springs is a vineyard you’re likely to see on the label of several other Washington wineries. Their current portfolio of 22 clients includes wineries such as Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle and 14 of these clients now produce wines that provide consumers with the vineyard designation on the label.

With over 2,000 planted acres, McKinley Spring Vineyards represents about five percent of all the state’s plantings. The first vineyard was planted in 1980 and 22 varieties of grapes are now grown there. Another 600 acres of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah will be added over the next three years, according to Vineyard Manager Rob Andrews.

The vineyard also produces 18-percent of the wine grapes grown within the Horse Heaven Hills Appellation where it is located. This includes wines bottled under their own estate label, McKinley Springs Winery, which turns out around 6,000 cases of wine annually.

Here are my tasting notes on three McKinley Springs Winery wines I recently enjoyed:

2011 Viognier (about $16) – Peach and vanilla cream flavors hit the palate, with a big, round quality to begin. On the finish, more of a crisp, edgy texture comes through, with touches of lemon zest. This wine paired perfectly with an entrée of roasted fingerling potatoes and poached salmon.

2010 Malbec (about $24) – Wonderfully complex and evolving aromas of ultra-dark plum, toasted almond, caramel, and sage lead off. Reserved wild blackberry flavors predominate, nicely balanced with gentle acidity and mineral notes on a soft finish. The wine was aged 18 months in 20-percent new French oak barrels.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $24) – The 2010 vintage, which some predicted would be an off year for Washington, is turning out some gorgeous wines, and this true-to-the-varietal cabernet is a perfect example. Caramel and baking spice on the nose, bright notes of red currant, and underlying layers of Ligurian cherry and boysenberry highlight this excellent wine. The finish hints at toasted oak with perfectly integrated tannins.

For more information on the McKinley Springs Vineyard and Winery, including ordering wines, go to mckinleysprings.com.

Bergevin Lane: Dependable, Honored, Reasonably Priced Wines

November 4th, 2014

If you’ve yet to try wines from Bergevin Lane Vineyards here’s the capsulized version of what to expect: solid, dependable choices, good variety, and extremely reasonable prices.

Back that up with a boatload of accolades, awards and 90+ ratings and you could hardly ask for more from a Walla Walla winery.

Annette Bergevin and Amber Lane (hence the name, Bergevin Lane) partnered with Gary Bergevin to form the winery in 2002 – practically the Stone Age for the scores of Walla Walla wineries established in just the last five years.

Annette is a seventh generation Walla Walla native whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since nearly the winery’s inception. Without a doubt, she’s one of the nicest people in the industry and, along with her team headed by winemaker Dave Harvey, produces some truly memorable wines.

Here are my tasting notes on a handful of some of their current releases:

null2013 Linen Sauvignon Blanc (about $11) – “Linen” is a second label for Bergevin Lane and in this case, as the name suggests, perfectly describes this crisp, clean white wine. Explosive, mouthwatering stone fruit flavors of white peach and nectarine fill the glass, with trailing notes of lemongrass and minerality on a laser-sharp finish. An outstanding effort and worthy of a case purchase.

2011 Linen Red Wine (about $13) – Another insanely underpriced wine perfect for everyday enjoyment, this combination of 57-percent merlot and 43-percent syrah displays red cherry, red currant and subtle blueberry flavors. The finish shows a gentle splash of acidity, supple tannins and hints of toasted walnut.

2012 Calico Red (about $17) – Just released, this gorgeous, easy-to-drink red is a syrah-based blend that includes cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and petit verdot. Burnt caramel and crushed herbs on the nose, generous cherry, plum and blackberry flavors on the palate, and a whisper of white pepper and dark cocoa on a plush finish add up to what is certain to be an instant classic.

2012 She-Devil Chardonnay (about $22) – With a touch of roussanne and viognier blended in, this stunning, non-oaked chardonnay is wonderfully viscous in the glass and on the palate. Bartlett pear, pineapple, and baked apple flavors lead off before melting into a crisp finish with a flourish of Fuji apple and tangy citrus.

2011 She-Devil Syrah (about $24) – Aromatics and flavors of black plum, berries, and anise are showcased in this outstanding, true-to-the varietal Washington syrah sourced primarily from the Wahluke Slope Appellation. It’s super-dark, super-sultry and capped with seductive bittersweet chocolate and espresso undertones.

Bergevin Lane Vineyards wines are well distributed in the Whatcom County area, including Seifert and Jones Wine Merchants in Bellingham. A visit to the tasting room when in Walla Walla is a must. More information: bergevinlane.com.

In Memorium: Eric Dunham

October 30th, 2014

Eric Dunham, owner and winemaker of Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla, died tragically in Cannon Beach, Oregon on October 23 at the age of 44.

After working at notable Washington wineries including Hogue Cellars and L’Ecole No. 41, Eric founded Dunham Cellars with his father, Mike, in the mid-1990’s.

At the time, it was just the ninth winery in Walla Walla and one of the first to open a tasting room near the Walla Walla airport.

nullTo say that the Dunhams were pioneers in the Walla Walla Valley is an understatement. Today, over 20 wineries have tasting rooms at the airport and somewhere near 150 are located in and around the area.

Eric’s accomplishments were many. He is best known for his red wines and others have cited him for his energetic spirit and constant support and promotion of the state’s wine industry.

Dunham Cellars’ production was around 40,000 cases, an astoundingly high number considering the winery’s ability to maintain consistency and quality throughout the years.

My contacts with Eric in the past were limited to wine festivals and wine-related events, but one experience stands out.

nullMany years ago, Eric came to Bellingham to pour his wines at a dinner at the Hotel Bellwether. Somewhere during a post-dinner conversation, the topic of pet ownership came up and, not knowing what was in store, he asked if my partner and I would like to come with him to check on something.

He took us to his hotel room, and there, huddled on the floor in a blanket was his beloved border collie, Port.

Port was no ordinary dog. As a puppy, the dog had lost a leg in a fight with a pit bull. Eric rescued the dog, nurtured it, and gave it a home. He made sure the dog was with him, even if it was just for a one-night trip to Bellingham. He offered the dog compassion and hope.

That dog later became the inspiration for Dunham Cellars’ Three Legged Red…the flagship red wine blend for the winery and one which countless Washington wine drinkers have come to know and love.

Now in its 2012 vintage, the Three Legged Red is still available today and even though Port has since passed away the label for the wine continues to bear his photograph.

With Eric now gone as well, there is a void in the Washington wine industry that will be difficult to fill and not soon forgotten. However unpredictable the future may be, one thing is for certain…Eric Dunham’s mark upon Washington’s wines is indelible.

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