Thursday, December 28, 2006

December Cooking With Washington Wines

On Christmas Eve we had raclette. What is a raclette, you ask?

Raclette is a staple of wintertime in Switzerland. It is a cheese dish related to fondue, and perhaps the earliest form. The most famous and best Raclette cheese is made in the alpine villages in the Swiss Alps. A cow's milk cheese that is similar to Gruyere in texture (semi firm and with small holes) and the same mellow and nutty flavor with excellent melting qualities. I have found that most Swiss-styles of cheese works fine if you cannot locate the Raclette cheese. The cheese is brought to the table and melted in one of the raclette grill trays (or can be melted under a broiler) for making the dish. The melted gooey goodness is served with boiled potatoes and side dishes of tiny cocktail onions, dilled pickles, and gherkins. Diners scrape the melting portion of the cheese onto a bit of mashed potato, and add a spicy relish to each bite. The name raclette comes from the word racler -- means to scrape.

If you have the raclette grill (mine is a T-Fal from France -- note the little trays of melting cheese underneath) then the upper portion can be used as the "community grill." I served mushrooms, bell pepper chunks, zucchini slices, cherry tomatoes, an assortment of sausages (Italian and smoked Brats) and wooden skewers to prepare shish-ka-bobs. Along with Swiss-style cheeses, boiled baby red potatoes, gherkins, mustard, paprika, and sliced baguettes for toasting crostinis.

I wasn't sure how this new dining element would be received Christmas Eve amongst family and friends, but everyone got right into it and had fun designing their meal. I will definintely do it again and maybe even include the fondue pot for the real feeling of Swiss après-ski dining. In fact, it would be great to use for an informal New Year's Eve party. With the variety of meats and vegetables I made life easy for food-wine pairing and provided several wines (all Washington wines) for my guests to choose from (besides Tom & Jerry hot toddies).

Happy 2007 and may your new year be full of wine, cheese and chocolate!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Saviah Cellars - Star Meadows White - 2005

I have never been a fan of Semillon, but this Bordeaux-style blend works for me. A classic mix of 57% Sauvignon Blanc and 43% Semillon from Saviah Cellars was easy on my palate. Flavors of fresh stone fruit shows through with a background of citrus. Of course, this is a perfect wine to serve on a summer day, but I think it can be paired for holiday entertaining as well as those cold winter nights you just want to stay in front of the fireplace with comfort food and a good book.

Saviah's Star Meadows white blend makes a perfect pairing with an antipasto plate of artichokes, smoked salmon, prosciutto and sharp cheeses such as Gorgonzola and blue. Chicken soup and especially winter chowders of clams or oysters would also pair well. The crisp citrus of this wine would definitely favor crab legs with drawn butter. And if we are talking winter entertaining, cheese fondue is a natural with this wine! And -- I would even continue the wine with a dessert of creme brulee or a tart made of stone fruit or pears.

Okay - this talk of food and this elegant blend of wine is making me hungry. Sante!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Garrison Creek Winery - An Exercise In Perseverance

Winston Churchill said: "If you are going through hell, keep going."

It has been a five year battle with litigations over permit restrictions, but Michael Murr will finally build his winery.

It was a very controversial proposal, which ended in March 2005, when the Washington State Supreme Court turned down a final appeal by Murr for the winery to be located in Walla Walla County's southeast exclusive agriculture zone. The Garrison Creek Winery will be located at the Les Collines vineyard on Hood Road. While the original conditional-use permit required Murr to apply for a building permit within a year from the permit's approval, he received an extension.

In 2000 Murr asked that the county amend the zoning laws to allow wineries in the exclusive agriculture zone (the minimum lot size is 120 acres) and to allow his design for his proposed two-level, 15,000-sq-ft main floor and 10,000-sq-ft cellar. The current and approved design is much smaller. Opponents argued that it would open the exclusive ag-zone to increased traffic, litter, and changes to their rural view. Supporters countered that the winery with tasting room would be an addition to the local growing wine industry and would create minimal impact to the ag-zone. If I remember correctly, sitting in a few of the planning meetings, it is okay to have a pig farm, dairy, rock quarry, and private air strip in the lovely and exclusive ag zone, but you cannot have a winery. Hmmm -- for esthetic reasons and wind drift, I would pick a winery any day over a pig farm and a rock quarry.

Eventually a conditional-use permit was approved but the county commissioners in their wisdom decided to give Murr limits on the number of events allowed he could have at the winery and in fact that he could only sell wine - not the logo hats, glasses and other souveniers that wine lovers want to buy. Basically, Murr was not allowed to operate his winery like the other wineries in the valley and with conditions. From Walla Walla Superior Court to the Court of Appeals, to make a long five years short, last year the Washington State Supreme Court turned down Murr's final appeal.

I sat in on some of those planning meetings. If anything, it was an education on when people get an idea in their head, especially an idea that is not true, it is hard to get it out of their heads. If you have ever played the game of gossip, it indeed was in practice during those meetings. Some opponents needed to brush up on their homework. They had heard that Murr was going to turn his winery into a outdoor amptheatre and those "wine-os, drunken lovers of satanic rock and roll, would ruin the area!" Then the gossip-mongers claimed Murr was going to turn his winery into a reception hall for weddings and the farmers would have to halt all farm practices during the bridezilla's events. The question needed to be asked, "Why would someone like Murr want to fiddle with a high maintenance ventures like wedding receptions and concerts? He doesn't. All he wanted to do was make wine from vineyards that he co-owned in the exclusive ag-zone.

Then came the problem with litter - more untruths and hysteria. The wine tourists would litter the ever so pastoral area with their empty wine bottles! Umm -- I don't know about you, but how many wine afficianados drink $35-50 bottles of wine in their car and toss the empty out the window? I haven't met one yet! Besides, if you want to complain about litter, the opponents overlooked the constant litter of beer cans from high school kids who had been driving out in that area for decades - DECADES! In fact, to reassure I was correct, I took a drive out in the area the day after one of the planning meetings and viewed the usual display of empties myself -- the usual litter of beer bottles and cardboard beer containers. Then came the drunk driving allegations - those damn wine-os would be out on the roads driving drunk. To nip that comment in the bud, state patrol and local police reports were obtained on DUI arrests during the past wine event weekends when the area was full of wine tourists. No drunk driving arrests of wine-os were reported.

Okay - how about this complaint? The locals who lived in the ag-zone didn't want to hear semi's from California coming in all night long bringing grapes into the winery. HUH? That's right -- HUH? Then came the personal accusations about Michael Murr. The opponents didn't want some "slick Soprano, cigar smoking, three-piece suit from New York City ruining their county." His accusers didn't have a clue Murr was sitting in the audience -- quiet, unassuming in his jeans, jean jacket and boots. Michael, far from being a "slick cigar smoker", a youthful-looking, athletic-minded and a generous man whose roots are strong in Walla Walla. A philanthropist who gives to the Walla Walla community and a graduate of our local high school that he has been so generous to.

In rich historic farm communities, like Walla Walla, change is hard. The older I get, I am not near as flexible as I use to be and I need to stop this. Those things that we love so much I believe that to keep them perpetuating, we have to allow change - growth. Those of us who do not want change have to remember that someday we will die and we cannot smother what we love and we cannot take it with us. I am reminded of a fraternal organization where some of the older members bristled at change and fought tooth and nail to keep their lodge the way it had been for decades. As membership declined they were not willing to bend and make the concessions they needed to procure new and younger members to keep their lodge, the lodge they so loved, alive. Those who tried to make change were met with opposition and often it meant viscious and annonymous letters were sent to their employers and even wives. Ironically, those who fought change and willing to destroy livlihoods, they forgot their ritual promises of brotherhood.

The end result - change didn't happen. The older members, who did not want change, eventually got their way and the younger members gave up -- the lodge did not meet the change gracefully and now membership has dwindled - worse than ever. Many of the opponents of change are now dead and selfishly took what they loved so much with them. I hope to never do that to future generations. I want them to love what I loved.

Winston Churchill said: "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Precept Brands Buys Waterbrook

The largest privately held wine company in the state of Washington has acquired one of Walla Walla's largest and oldest producers, Waterbrook Winery.

Precept Brands in Seattle is the third-largest wine company in the state of Washington. Founded in 2003, Precept is known for affordable Washington state labels like Pine and Post, Washington Hills, Avery Lane, and WAWA (screw top for $2.99) and imports such as El Paseo and Ciao Bella. It recently partnered with Charles Smith of K Vintners in Walla Walla, to market his second label Magnificent Wine Co., which includes House Wine, a red table wine and a white table wine.

The Pendulum label, a red blend of eight varietals, is also a co-produced project by Allen Shoup of Long Shadows and Precept. Andrew Browne, CEO of Precept Brands and Shoup were rivals when Shoup was CEO of Ste. Michelle and Browne was CEO of Corus Brands (formerly Columbia Winery). And it just so happens that Columbia Winery is just across the street from Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, WA (note that Columbia Winery is not to be confused with Columbia Crest - a Ste Michelle label).

Precept Brands will take over sales and marketing for Waterbrook, but the tasting room on Main St. in Walla Walla will remain the same and Eric will remain involved in the production of the wines at the winery on McDonald Road in Lowden, WA.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Roll Out The Barrels - Holiday Barrel Tasting

Another Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting has come and gone -- I think this is my sixth, maybe seventh, barrel-tasting weekend. It was another very successful year. Compared to a couple of years ago, the weekend draws fewer customers per winery, but sales are higher. I think what this means is not that there are fewer people coming to Walla Walla for barrel-tasting, but that there are so many more wineries now to choose from. Also, the weekend seems to be drawing more serious wine lovers than ever before.

The Holiday Barrel Tasting is an excellent time for the novice wine consumer to learn more about wines, because the winemakers are usually on hand to answer questions and provide wine samples. It's also a great opportunity to taste and buy first releases, and quite a few wineries offer discounts on at least some of their wines. There are also winemaker dinners and other special events in town connected with the weekend.

This year many wineries charged each person a $5 tasting fee. At first I had some concerns that the fee would keep visitors away, but my concerns disappeared when I realized that if you put a $20 bill in your pocket and visited four $5-fee wineries, you would taste a lot more wine, and probably have a lot more fun, than if you spent $20 in a wine bar or restaurant. The $5 fee also covered the special foods that most of the wineries provided with their wines at barrel-tasting.

If you are in retail long enough you have lots of stories to tell no matter what you are selling. I have often said that the prerequisite before you receive your high school diploma is that every student should work as a cashier at K-Mart or Walmart, especially during the holiday season. I think it gives a great understanding and appreciation for the often under paid person who has to face the general public and their purchasing foibles. It could make us be a better customer.

Nothing surprises me anymore during these special event weekends, especially those that ask for the "Sixth Degrees from Kevin Bacon Discounts." An example from one visitor, "I work for Acme Chemicals and one time delivered some chemicals to a vineyard in the Willamette Valley and now I always get 30% discount from all of the wineries in the world and I want my discount on this bottle of red table wine." Another visitor: "I am a rollerskating car hop for Be-Boppers Drive-In in Kalamazoo and my bosses wife's brother's neighbor is thinking about carrying some wine some day in a new business. Can I get an industry discount?" The devil on my shoulder wants to say dripping with sarcasm, "Duh --- sure! Why don't we just give you 95% discount and in fact, here -- just take a couple of cases of wine for FREE because you are so damn special!" But the angel on my shoulder only allows me to smile.

How about the young man who informs me that he is very much an experienced wine drinker and knows just about everything there is to know about wine? When I begin to pour him a glass of the red, he puts his hand over his glass and exclaims, "No! I only drink whites. I cannot stand reds." Later I over-hear him tell his friends (who are not the wine experts that he is), "Wow! This is the second winery that I have been in where they use wood barrels." The devil on my shoulder thinks, "Amazing aint it? Who would have thought to put wine in wooden barrels? What will wineries think of next?"

I think it is important that winery staff members needs to chug a bottle of wine just before closing to prepare themselves for the customers who arrive during the "bewitching hour" (always 17 minutes after closing ) so we will think the late visitors jokes are funny. Why is it the more purple their teeth are they think they are Robin William's and Joan River's love child?

It sounds like I am complaining - right? Not at all. These are the stories that eventually make me laugh and makes me appreciate and love our visitors. I loved listening to our visitors from all over the United States telling me how beautiful the wines are in the Walla Walla Valley and lovely the city is. I love hearing about their experiences at our fine restaurants and B&B establishments. I love the wine newbies who are eager to learn and taste the wines. I love watching them as they leave with another notch on their wine glass - a notch of wine confidence and knowing I helped them. I loved meeting new friends and catching up with old friends.

I love the fact that while I viewed the mornings as miserable, gray and bone chilling, visitors to our valley reminded me how beautiful and perfect the day was in Walla Walla with the white and crystal flocked bare trees - like a scene out of Currier and Ives. I thank them for letting me see what they see and for getting me in the holiday spirit. I couldn't have done it without them.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Walla Walla On The Thanksgiving Table

We had some nice wine surprises on our Thanksgiving table. A friend dropped by to wish us some Thanksgiving cheer and brought a bottle of Isenhower Cellars Wild Thyme - 2004. I blogged about this wine back in June. It is Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc with flavors of chocolate-covered cherries. A real treat to the mouth.

My sister brought a couple of bottles of Cabernet Franc - 2004 from College Cellars of Walla Walla. Some earthy, yet floral tones coming out of that wine. Very soft tannins with a lot of dark berries showing through. The finish was creamy like caramel, but I did pick up undertones of "greenness" which is often a trait of Cabernet Franc. A very nice change from the usual Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots.

Did you try any Walla Walla wines for Thanksgiving that you want to tell about?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

November Cooking With Washington Wines

I know what you are thinking, "It is November and the most popular dish is turkey and therefore, she is going to write about Pinot Noir." Not so. (However, I do have a bottle of Washington Pinot Noir that was a wine trade from Joel at Wind River Cellars I may open) And I am not going to write about how the annual November release of the Beaujolais Nouveau (third Thursday of every year from France) goes well with turkey, either.

At my house, it seems like the most popular dishes are the sides. It's all about the sides! Some of our favorites are, lots of garlic smashed potatoes (of course), brussel sprouts with shallots and bacon, and a savory corn and basil pudding to name a few. And umm - no -- we do *not* do the canned mushroom soup and canned green bean thingie casserole either unless the sauce is made from scratch and the mushrooms are fresh.

Foodies will automatically tell you that Pinot Noir is the best choice to serve with turkey but let's get adventurous. There are many varietals and blends that will go well with the Thanksgiving meal. Why limit yourself? Reisling with Aunt Ginny's sweet potatoes and Merlot with the drumstick. The Walla Walla wineries still have some wonderful summer rose's available, like Waterbrook's Sangiovese rose, that would pair perfect with turkey or ham.

For the garlic smashed potatoes I would recommend the Chardonnay from Canoe Ridge. I had an opportunity to taste this Chardonnay when Steve introduced me to Canoe Ridge winemaker, Christophe Paubert, a native of the Bordeaux region. Kate Michaud, assistant winemaker, explained to me their approach to this white grape. They blend about 60 percent barrel fermented lots with tank fermented lots with very little malolactic fermentation. Average barrel aging is about six months in 100 percent French oak. I found flavors of honeysuckle, pear, stone fruits and a pleasant mineral quality in the finish. I commented that this wine was typical of the Old World style. This crisp Chardonnay is meant to be paired with food.

Here is one of my favorite sides that I will be preparing for the big meal. I cannot take all of the credit as the original recipe comes from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook, but I have made it my own.

Corn and Basil Pudding

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
5 cups frozen corn (or fresh off the cob if you can get it]
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil (or 1 Tbsp dried)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 cup (6 ounces) grated cheddar cheese (Or a blend of cheddar and mozzarella. Be sure add a generous amount to sprinkle on top)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease the inside of an 8 to 10-cup baking dish.
Melt butter in large pan and saute the corn and onion over medium-high heat for about four minutes. Cool slightly. Whisk together the eggs, milk, and half-and-half in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Then add the ricotta. Add the basil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Add the sauteed corn mixture and grated cheddar. Pour into the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with remaining grated cheddar.

Place the dish in a larger pan and fill the pan 1/2 way up the sides of the dish with hot tap water. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until a golden brown. Insert knife in the center. It should result with a clean knife. Serve warm.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Renaissance Man

Congratulations to Serge Laville for finding one of his beautiful wines on the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of the World list for 2006! Spring Valley's Uriah - 2003 from the Walla Walla Valley was given a place of 25 on the top 100 list.

A couple months ago we dined with Serge, his wife Madeleine and their adorable daughter Claire at the Laville home in Walla Walla, and he was generous with this outstanding Uriah. It is an elegant St-Emilion-style blend, mostly Merlot backed with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, harmonious with flavors of plum, chocolate and cherry, and a never-ending finish. When he originally reviewed the '03 Uriah for the Wine Spectator back in May, critic Harvey Steiman called the wine "supple, generous and beautifully structured to show off its currant, plum and blackberry flavors, gently supported by ultrarefined tannins to let the finish go on and on. " We agree!

But that night with Serge and his family was when I discovered that he is truly a Renaissance Man. Born and raised in France, Serge studied wine with Marie Laure Slyvestre for 10 years, then decided to visit the United States and become a wine tourist, toting just a knapsack and a camera. In 2000, his journey eventually brought him to Walla Walla and fortunately for us, he made Walla Walla his home.

The moment we walked through the Laville's front door we were on a journey of discovery ourselves, finding out about the many talents and skills of this gifted yet humble man. For starters, Serge is remodeling their charming 1940s style home, including some gorgeous tile and woodwork in the still-unfinished kitchen. But over the course of the evening we learned that winemaking and carpentry are just two among many crafts Serge has mastered.

From the first bite of the appetizers of foi gras on toast and asparagus with proscuitto served with Mumms Champagne to the last bite of the beautifully arranged dessert, we found out that he is an accomplished Chef as well. Indeed, Serge and Madeleine hosted us to a feast. Besides the wonderful appetizers we dined on perfectly prepared scallops, succulent beef and Roquefort-covered green beans. Later came individual fruit and cheese plates, and last but not least was a pyramid of chocolate mousse covered with a pink raspberry coating. Besides the food being heaven to the taste buds, the presentation on the plates were picture perfect -- very detailed.

Serge made sure ideally matched wine flowed through our meal. We tasted Christophe Baron's (Cayuse Vineyards) private-stock of Grenache Rose, Spring Valley's Marguaux-style Frederick blend (one of my favorites), Spring Valley's 100% Cabernet Sauvignon called Derby, a split of Forgeron Cellars Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, and of course the Uriah. Then Serge asked us to sample a split of Spring Valley Petit Verdot, and we all enjoyed a wine from Serge's childhood home, a bottle of Cotes du Rhone. The party extended well past the meal!

Not only is Serge a winemaker, chef and a artist-carpenter, he is a talented photographer, a hobbyist of remote-controlled autos and planes, and a conservationist. He recycles cooking grease (but only the finest grease -- from 26 Brix, in fact) into a clean smooth liquid source to power his diesel Mercedes.

As we were leaving the Laville home during the wee hours of the morning, Serge opened his refrigerator door to show us balls of pizza dough he had made earlier. He tossed me a ball of dough to take home and Madeleine gave me a bundle of fresh basil from their herb garden.

The next evening we were going to the home of Gilles Nicault of Long Shadows and Marie-Eve Gilla of Forgeron Cellars and I remembered I had the pizza dough and fresh basil in my fridge. Spur of the moment, I turned it into a pissaladière (French pizza ) with Fontina cheese, carmelized onions, black olives and lots of fresh basil. If I do say so myself, the toppings were perfect but it was the crust that gets the credit.

Again, congratulations to Serge and Spring Valley for the honor of making the Wine Spectator's list of the best 100 wines in the world for 2006. Thousands of wines are made across the globe, but only the best of the best of the best make the Top 100. Serge, who has been head winemaker at Spring Valley for just three years, has a long future ahead of him in the wine industry -- if he wants it. He's got so many other talents, he could make all kinds of Top 100 lists!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

November Cherry Pick

I know -- I know. I didn't blog an October Cherry Pick (Hey - I was busy moving and reorganizing my life!), but if I had I would have chosen SYZYGY Syrah - 2004. This is one of the many outstanding local wines we tasted at Entwine in October! Entwine is a wine tasting, dinner and auction supporting the Walla Walla arts, wine, and education sponsored by the Walla Walla Community College Foundation and held at the Marcus Whitman Hotel.

If you haven't been to Entwine it is the place to taste great wines, eat good food as well as have the opportunity to bid on fantastic wines, art, trips and packages you might not find any place else.

Kelsey and Zach of SYZYGY have located the big, the bold and only the beautiful fruit from some of the best Syrah vineyards in the Columbia Valley. This yummy dark Syrah was aged in 100% French oak with only 20% of it being new barrels, which explains the subtle oak in this wine. There was just enough oak to round out the wine and not interfere with the spicy cherry and deep berry flavors.

Like any good "cherry pick" worth picking, I would definitely not wait on buying this wine. Pretty limited and it will go fast! While you out during Holiday Barrel Tasting in December, don't forget to check out SYZYGY's new tasting room at the Airport.

(Kelsey Harmon for Sheriff 2010!)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Are Tasting Room Fees On The Way?

According to an article in the fall issue of Wine Press Northwest, fees to taste wine have become the norm in California winery tasting rooms. Is this the future for tasting rooms at Washington wineries, too? So far, Washington is almost free of tasting fees, except a few wineries are charging tasting fees for reserve wines and during some event weekends. Will tasting fees become a way of life as wine tourism in Washington State keeps growing?

I have been in retail now for almost 30 years, and one thing I've learned is that while retail items change, customers do not. I believe in customer service; we cannot sell our products without it. Yet over the past six months I have noticed there seems to be an increase in abuse of wine-tasting etiquette. This behavior can even make the best retailer wince as wine tasters walk through the doors.

My personal opinion is I hope we do not see Walla Walla wineries start charging tasting fees, but if and when they do I think I will understand why. It's not about making extra money. Down in California, tasting room fees were born because many browsers considered free wine tastings as a free "Happy Hour."

Who are these "Happy Hour" people? Are they happy? You bet they are happy --- and sometimes they can be very aggressive with rubber tongues. It can be a large group (six or more) who show up just before closing time and want to drink and socialize with each other. Often by the time they visit the last winery in a day of wine-tasting they are buzzed. This isn't just my experience; tasting-room colleagues from other wineries tell me they all see the same behavior. And just when you think you have heard or seen it all, someone surprises you. There was the man who complained that we didn't pour him a half glass of wine and the taste we did pour was not enough (it was at least worth four sips - enough to understand the nuances of the wine), but he also forgot what wine varietal we did pour for him.

Many the aggressive customer been irritated with me because I didn't have every vintage and varietal of wine that we sell opened for him or her to taste. Wineries do reserve the right to the wines they want to open for free tasting. Besides, that right cuts down on costs and those costs the winery can give back to their customers. In fact, the perfect example of cutting costs and giving back to the customers is not charging a tasting fee. Hey, think about it - where else can you taste something for free before you purchase? There isn't a lot of places.

Another thing to consider after a day of wine tasting is your taste buds. I consider myself a fairly savvy wine taster. My palette has been educated (that sounds snooty, doesn't it?) and sometimes after I have tasted more than six wines, even my palette can become fatigued.

Large groups can be too busy socializing to even listen to the tasting room attendents talk about a particular wine that is being poured. Recently, a woman in our tasting room leaned against the tasting room bar with her back towards me while I talked about the wine I was pouring. With her back to my face, she reached her arm behind her with glass in hand and tapped on the bar for me to pour her another glass of wine. She was too busy visiting with her friends to even find out what wine I was pouring for her. I could have poured from the spit bucket and she would not have known.

If you would like to be a good guest at a winery, the rules are pretty basic and not a lot to remember:

1. Be conscientious about your intake of alcohol. Learn to spit or pace yourself when visiting wineries. Remember: your objective in wine tasting is discover a great new wine or learn more about wines -- not to get drunk for free.

2. Don't wear fragances (yes, men - that also means you and your aftershaves) or use lotions with strong fragrances while wine tasting. Especially if it is a fragrance that we use every day, our noses become somewhat immune to the strength of the fragrance so we have a tendency to spray more fragrance on. Fragrances interfere not only with your own senses of smell and taste but also with those of the people around you. Nobody wants their wine glass of aromatic Syrah to taste like Ralph Lauren Polo or Evyan White Shoulders. The same goes for smokers -- try to leave about 20 minutes between your last cigarette and your first taste of wine.

I would like to see more education produced by wineries and wine alliances for wine lovers. And we could learn a thing or two from our southern neighbors -- California has this tasting room thing down; they have been doing it for years. The wineries in Washington are mere babies when it comes to managing the tasting-room environment. This time, instead of following California and applying tasting fees, let's learn from them and work on tasting-room etiquette so we can avoid those tasting fees. I want to continue to serve every customer that comes in our tasting room the same way I always have, but as a tasting-room attendent I need a little help from my customers. Let's make visiting wineries a positive experience for everyone.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Rule #3: Whatever you do, do not drink from the spit bucket.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Walla Walla French Winemakers Are News Worthy!

Once again, Walla Walla's French winemakers are in the news and once again the news is saying that Walla Walla wines rank with the world's best.

In the new Fall issue of Mid-Columbian, an Eastern Washington magazine, there is an article titled "People of the Terroir." It is about the French winemakers who have settled in the Walla Walla Valley and how they have contributed to making the valley's wine some of the best in the world (Ahem - the author of the article I have a fondness for. He also wrote an article about French winemakers, "The French Touch" for the Economist). If you haven't picked up a copy of the Mid-Columbian magazine, I recommend that you do. It is the second issue for this new beautiful glossy magazine with articles centered around Eastern Washington's local attractions, activities, and events. Also featuring local people, restaurants, wineries, shops, hotels, and even their homes.

KXLY - Channel 4 (ABC) from Spokane features an article on their website, along with the video that was aired on the news. If you click on the video and take a glance you might find your favorite Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman Blogger in the video. KXLY focuses on the wines, grapes and the French winemakers from Walla Walla.§ion_id=559&story_id=6027

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Sweet Smell of Revenge

In this case, the revenge smells of cherry and vanilla with the flavors of plum and cocoa and a long finish of spicy gingerbread.

Winemaker, Marie-Eve of Forgeron Cellars announces that her 2002 Merlot is now for sale on the shelves of the famous cafe', Los Olivos Cafe & Wine Merchant in Los Olivos, CA where character Miles Raymond of the movie "Sideways" exclaims, "... if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f***ing Merlot!"

Needless to say, a couple of years ago the movie "Sideways" hurt the sales of some excellent Merlot, while the wine-newbie masses were drinking some bad Pinot Noir. Meaning that not all Pinot Noirs (and Merlots) are created equal. It is obvious, our character Miles never tried any Merlot from Washington state.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Moveable Wine...

She's baaaackkk!!! With apologies to Ernest Hemingway.

A week ago I faced moving my wine collection. Now it isn't exactly a huge one - around 100 bottles or so. Now that I have more space I am looking at having some shelves built and I will have a wine closet, since I don't have a basement --- and this will also means with more room I can collect more wine!

Here is what I learned about moving my wine to a new house. First of all, be cautious the type of weather you are moving your collection in. October is a perfect month! If it is in the 90 - 100 degrees, move it in the evening when it is cooler and if you are facing freezing temps, pack and cover the boxes well. If you have a manageable wine collection, move the wine in your car. This will allow you to control the temperature in either hot or cold weather.

If it doesn't make sense for you to move the wine in your car because of the size of the collection and the distance of the move, you need to decide first, what the total value of the collection is. Then you can decide whether to ship it with a professional moving service provider in one of their traditional moving trailers, or on a climate controlled vehicle. Remember, your wine collection can represent a sizable investment.

Professional movers are qualified to correctly pack the bottles. If you are packing the wine yourself, you may want to give some consideration to obtaining the wine packing boxes that are used to transport wine by the case. Pack the bottles in the wine boxes upside down, since traditionally you place them on their side in the cellar. By turning bottles upside down, this assures you that the corks will stay wet.

One last thing to remember, even if extreme care has been used in packing and transporting your wine collection, bottle shock may occur. The wine will shake within the bottle as it is moved. If opened too soon, a loss if flavor may result. Allow the bottles to rest for seven days prior to opening.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wine Is Good For Me!

First of all, I apologize to my readers. I have not been ignoring you nor have I become disinterested in my blog. It's just that I've had a lot on my plate lately plus a case of writer's block. Distractions will do that to a writer. I've got quite a few draft posts, actually, but just haven't had the time to polish them.

Lately I took on the responsibility of a new mortgage and the organization of the move to a new home and all the paperwork and tasks involved. In the middle of all that, a strung-out druggie intruder tried to break into my old house while I was sleeping. Nothing like being stalked in your home to make you lose any buyer's remorse on the new place.

Then my doctor tells me my blood pressure is too high. Is this temporary? We are hoping so. He gave me a prescription of blood pressure medicine, baby aspirin and a glass of wine everyday. The doc is preaching to the choir when it comes to having a glass of wine a day.

We have all read the benefits of alcohol. Red wine is the most heart-healthy alcohol. The skin and seeds of red grapes contain a type of antioxidant called flavonoids. It's believed that flavonoids help your heart by reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol, increasing HDL (good) cholesterol and reducing blood clotting.

Another antioxidant, resveratrol, is found in the skin of red grapes. Researchers believe that resveratrol can slow tumor growth in some cancers. They also believe it can help prevent nerve cell damage and death, which could help treat diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. And according to a Canadian study, the antioxidants in red wine and grape seeds may protect against periodontal (tooth and gum) disease. Medicine never tasted so delicious!

As I said, I have lots of drafts coming around, but in the mean time I have to take some more time off. The next couple of weeks, I may be able to post a blog here and there, but if not you will understand I am not ignoring you. There is lots to blog about - a reader asked me about "wine diamonds", there is a fall recipe to post, tasting room fee controversy, wine tastings, and a report on the upcoming Entwine which is held this Friday, October 13 at the Marc.

Entwine is a wine tasting, dinner and auction supporting the Walla Walla arts, wine, and education sponsored by the Walla Walla Community College Foundation, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance and ArtWalla. Looking forward to a relaxing and fun evening with friends, Beth and Shawn Gallagher and my sweetie, Steve before the big "move" to the new house. The morning after Entwine the moving "crew" arrives and we make our move. Hopefully, we won't be drinking too much wine for our "health" the night before. Cheers!

Monday, September 25, 2006

26 Brix

It was the evening of the Walla Walla Frontier Days Demolition Derby. We could have hung with the pseudo cowboys and ate corn dogs for dinner, but we chose to dine at 26 Brix instead (like the two should be compared?). Having a quiet dinner, just the two of us, with a few glasses of good wine and impeccable service was alluring to us. Don't get me wrong, I love finding a reason to wear my cowboy hat and lots of mustard on my corndog, please. But this evening, we wanted to share our day's events with each other while sipping good wine and not having to stop and check the stove. We wanted to be spoiled and we wanted excellent service. We knew that 26 Brix would be an excellent choice.

Located in the historic Dacres Building, we found ourselves very comfortable in this cozy, yet elegant restaurant. We started our dining event with a cheese appetizer plate and glasses of local rose' and Semillon. I chose a very delicious and crisp Sangiovese rose' from Waterbrook Winery and Steve chose the L'Ecole #41 Barrel Fermented Semillon. Once I saw the compote of figs and slices of Manchego on the plate of cheese, I couldn't get beyond two of my favorite flavors - salty cheese and figs. I was in heaven with my glass of rose, sweet figs and Manchego.

For entrees, Steve chose the seared sea scallops. The scallops were layered on herb toasted brioche with heirloom tomato tartare, watercress puree with a Meyer lemon cream sauce. My choice was the fillet of Alaskan halibut. The top of this very adequate piece of fish was layered with a crispy potato like-gratin. It sat on a bed of roasted yellow and red beets and English peas with a fava bean and arugula pesto. Both plates were artistically designed -- almost too pretty to eat.

I told my handsome dining partner to surprise me with the dinner wine. Steve chose a white-wine blend to go with our meal. A proprietor's blend named "Serience" from Washington winery, Zefina. The blend was 50% Viognier and 50% Roussane. It had just enough acidity, and plenty of floral notes, to match the seafood.

Dessert followed - - you didn't think we would pass that up, do you? We chose the "three-stone fruits on almond cakes" and a basket of New Orleans style beignets -- light little cushions of fried dough dusted with powdered sugar. Yum! With our dessert, Steve chose a bottle of Chateau Graves Sauternes - a well known white dessert wine made in the commune of Sauternes located in the southeast corner of the Graves region of Bordeaux, France.

We left 26 Brix feeling relaxed, pampered and a bit giddy. I didn't miss the county fair corn dogs at all this year.

The Anniversary of Riedel at Dunham Cellars

Does the shape of the wine glass really make a difference in the taste of the wine? I sure think it does. The thickness of the glass lip to the size of the bowl - - it all makes a difference. Since I purchased my first Riedels, I can honestly say that I see the difference when using other wine glasses. I love my Riedels!

Ninth generation, Claus J. Riedel, of the Riedel glass-making family re-invented the wine glass. His father, recently released from his forced post-war employment in the USSR, started the family business again in Austria. The genius behind the Riedel as we know it, took two forms.

First, Claus changed the wine glass from colored and cut glass to a newer style. His glasses were plain and unadorned. Since he no longer used cut glass, the stemware could be thinner and long-stemmed. The art was the glass itself in it's simplistic form. Museums and collectors saw his glasses as works of art; the Museum of Modern Art in New York placed them in their collection.

The second form, Claus Riedel pioneered the study of the effect of shapes on the way humans would perceive wine, and other alcoholic beverages, through their senses. Working with professional wine tasters, Claus discovered that the professionals felt wine tasted better in the Riedel glasses. Compared to other wine glasses, they could taste and smell more of the nuances and depths of the wine in the Riedel glasses.

In celebration of Riedel's 250th Anniversary Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla is proud to host Maximilian Riedel. September 30, 2006 at 6:30-9:00 pm, it will be an evening of of wine and glassware education like nothing you have ever experienced.

Mr. Riedel, 11th generation Riedel and inventor of the "O" glass will walk you through a tasting using varietal specific stemware with Dunham Cellars' wines. Please book early as space is limisted. Dunham Cellars is one of only two locations in the Northwest that Maximilian will be visiting this year. $110 per person includes 4 Riedel glasses, Riedel booklet, wine for tasting, and an appetizer to be enjoyed after the tasting.

Monday, September 18, 2006

~ Andy ~

Andy Miller, one of our local wine personalities, died September 8, 2006 following an illness. Born February 28, 1961, Andrew W. Miller became involved in the Washington state wine industry as a young man. He was employed by Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodenville and eventually his love of wine brought him to Walla Walla. Andy proclaimed that Walla Walla was the "cutting edge" of the wine industry.

I had the opportunity to work with Andy at Forgeron Cellars in Walla Walla. Andy was our Hospitality Coordinator there until his death. I was impressed with his knowledge of the vineyards and the wines of the Walla Walla and Columbia Valleys. "Hospitality Coordinator" was the perfect title for him as he made the guests of Forgeron Cellars feel very welcome and special. Andy had a great smile and I took much pleasure laughing with him.

Andy's loved ones have requested donations be made to the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance in Andy's name. An appropriate honor for Andy because of his love and dedication to the valley and it's wines.

There will be a celebration of Andy's life at his home at 231 N. Bellevue Ave in Walla Walla on Saturday, September 30th at 4:00 pm.

Friday, September 15, 2006

September Cherry Pick

They love this wine! And why not? It is from the Walla Walla Valley, afterall!

Recently I have loved reading the wonderful reviews from magazines like the Wine Spectator regarding the Merlot's from Washington state, and especially those from the Walla Walla Valley. The scruffy embodiment of discontent and wine snobbery from the Merlot-hating-Sideway-Miles, did some damage and thank goodness we can prove that this piece of cinimotography fiction was really umm...uhh...fiction!

Northstar Walla Walla Valley Merlot - 2003, received 92 points from the Wine Advocate and 91 points from the Wine Spectator. Also the San Francisco Cronicle gave it their three stars saying -"Waves of flavor-luscious black plum, black raspberry, chocolate, vanilla and brown spice in this big yet balanced Merlot."

Northstar Winery is located in the Walla Walla Valley. They are dedicated to the production of ultra-premium Merlot and considered among the world’s best, showcasing Washington state's star grape -- Merlot.

~ September Cooking With Washington Wines ~

You might think that a white wine would be the best pairing for a chicken dish, but not always. This particular chicken recipe is rich, spicy, and fruity. It can handle a Merlot or a blend of Merlot from the Walla Walla Valley. In fact, I would suggest North Star's Stella Maris - Columbia Valley Red Wine 2003. This wine typifies the Walla Walla appellation, with it's full bodied and concentrated flavors. A unique blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 4% Malbec, and 4% Syrah.

Turn this easy Moroccan recipe into a theme night or dinner party. Have a CD of Moroccan music on the charger to create an exotic mood with candle light, low tables for eating and lots of pillows for sitting and lounging. Serve light appetizers of spiced nuts, marinated olives, crudite, and interesting tapenades or savory vegetable jams. Be the perfect host by providing perfumed rose water and hot towels for your guests to wash their hands with before dining - - well, you are going to be eating with your fingers, aren't you?


2 Tbsp olive oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 medium carrots, sliced 1/3 inch thick
1 cup (about 6 ounces) pitted dried plums
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup sliced green onions
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Couscous (follow directions on package)
Lemon wedges
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted

In large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Place chicken in skillet; cook 5 to 8 minutes or until browned, turning once. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes. Stir in broth, carrots, dried plums, cumin and cinnamon. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Remove cover; cook and stir 10 minutes or until chicken centers are no longer pink, carrots are tender and sauce is slightly reduced. Stir in green onions and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over hot couscous with lemon wedges. Sprinkle with toasted almonds. Will serve four people. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Taste Everything Once

Taste Everything Once is a great blog for foodies and also Spokane's source for food and restaurants. Jennifer and her team cover everything from taco trucks, the "bean" scene, and fine dining to the best college-town cheeseburger and local farmer's markets. The food photography is sinfully colorful and delicious looking. They often make me hungry.

TEO has a Wednesday Spotlight column which features chefs and other food lovers. I am flattered to be in their Wednesday TEO Spotlight column. She called me a "wine goddess" - heh-heh-heh.

If you live in the area or planning a visit to Spokane, definitely check out TEO. Thanks Jennifer!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Firehouse Red - Tamarack Cellars

We love it! The evening after Steve and I opened a bottle of Firehouse Red he was downtown at Vintage Cellars the next day and bought several more bottles. Firehouse Red is a great blend of Columbia and Walla Walla Valley grapes - 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, 15% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 2% Sangiovese, and 1% Carmenere.

Tamarack Cellars "Firehouse Red" has been noticed by Robert Parker. It was rated 61 in the Wine Spectator's list of top 100 wines in the world for 2004. That's a pretty good endorsement, huh?

Just like Tamarack Cellars tasting notes say, it is so good that it is difficult to separate all the flavors. We noticed the longer it sat opened the more interesting tastes came about. Full and lush with all of the my favorite flavors. I picked up chocolate covered cherries, vanilla, apple-pie spices and at the end of the bottle (and my glass) definitely lots of caramel came through. This is really an ultimate food wine that you could pair with most anything. I think the next bottle I open I will let it sit for an hour before tasting. Yum!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Out With the Old, In With the New...

I always look forward to the Labor Day weekend. It is a reminder that my favorite season, Autumn, is on the way. It also means I will be spending less time outdoors and more time writing. Crush has started! Lots going on in the valley. For some wineries, crush started last week.

It seems I am slower than usual to post anything. This week has been a test of my character and endurance as it is a wine-free week for me. My only drink, besides water, is Pepper MD vintage 2006 - a unique little blend of caramel color, phosphoric acid, assorted artificial fruit and spice flavors, but most of all -- caffeine! This is also a week of meager fare - dining on salad, Top Ramen and an occasional boring chicken-chest. You see -- last week I went a bit over-the-top when it came fine dining and good wines. But would you decline invitations to three different dinner parties given by three different French winemakers? Of course not! Then there was the fabulous dining experience at 26 Brix...

As soon as I recover from one (only one?) of the seven deadly sins, I will report every delicious morsel and decadent drop of Bacchus nectar that I had during the Labor Day weekend. Sante!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Waterbrook Sangiovese Rose'

Summer will soon be another memory, so in the mean time I am trying to taste as many roses as possible.

Waterbrook Winery's 100% Sangiovese Rose', from the Candy Mountain in the Columbia Valley, was one of those lovely pink wines. Sangiovese is my favorite grape to make a rose'/rosato out of. Rarely flimsy and always heady with fruit and floral nuances. The deep strawberry flavors of this beautiful pink wine didn't surprise me, but flavors of rhubarb sorbet and the elegant finish of ruby red grapefruit did. A very bright and crisp wine that was pure joy to sip while I dined on an artisanal cheese plate with candied hazelnuts and figs.

Aged and fermented in stainless steel tanks, this classic dry rose is the ultimate summer sipping wine and yet still pairs perfectly with picnique foods.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

They killed Kenny! Not from alcohol over the internet.

A few days ago I visited the set of South Park. Now that Chef is gone I thought the South Park kids needed an adult to make a difference in their lives, besides a lesson on how it is not cool to discriminate against interstate commerce -- a violation of the Commerce Clause, Art. I, §8, cl. 3 and the Twenty-First Amendment

This particular day of my visit the South Park kids were upset. Someone killed their poor little friend Kenny McCormick.

Stan: Oh my God! They killed Kenny.

Kyle: Those bastards!

Stan: Cartman, they killed Kenny! He died by drinking bad booze given to him by the guy who lives in a van behind the 24/7 South Park Mart.

Cartman: No! Wow, poor Kenny.

Kyle: My mom says it was the internet who killed Kenny. Kenny died of alcohol poisoning from buying wine over the internet.

Cartman: Kyle, your mom is a bitch. Everyone knows that Sheila Broflovski is always poking her nose in everyone elses business. She's just a big fat bitch.

Kyle: My Mom read an article by the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association (WSWA) and they said that millions of kids buy internet alcohol.

Cartman: Like I said Kyle. Your mom is a bitch. Carl Bialik from the Wall Street Journal said the WSWA's numbers were questionable. It is a bunch of crap! I tried to buy wine over the internet. It doesn't work. First of all I had to have a credit card. It isn't easy for a little kid like me to get a credit card. Kids do not want to pay over $25 or more for a bottle of wine, especially when beer is cheaper. Then you have to pay over $12 shipping and handling for the wine. UPS and FedX delivers and it is their policy that an adult over 21 years of age has to sign for the package. I'm too short to pass for an adult.

Stan: Cartman and I both took the online survey. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association gave us $5 to answer it. All the kids were doing it for the five bucks. Most of the kids probably used it to buy beer from the guy who lives in a van behind the 24/7 South Park Mart.

Cartman: That's right, Stan. Besides, what kid wants to wait three to five days for delivery on a bottle of hootch? None that I know. It's easier to sneak it out of the parent's liquor cabinet or Stan's red neck uncle says he will buy us beer anytime we want. Uncle Jimbo has a deep appreciation for the finer things in life - - like weapons and beer.

Stan: The WSWA's complaint is a sham. Everyone knows it isn't about protecting the children. Us little kids are their excuses so the wholesalers can cash in on the profits from independent wineries. Besides, Kenny couldn't afford to buy wine over the internet. He doesn't even own a computer. True, the McCormick family is poor, but Kenny could always snag a beer from his father. Poor Kenny. He's been to Hell, Heaven and Mexico.

Cartman: You guys, this is all Kyle's mom's fault. She started these false rumors about how easy it is for us kids to buy wine over the internet. It's just not true! Kyle's mom even started a club so other adults would rally about the Wholesale Wine and Spirits Association. This goes so against everything that Cabernet Catie taught us about the Twenty-First Amendment and the Commerce Clause. It's all Kyle's mom's fault!

Kyle: Shut up Cartman!

Cartman: Kyle's mom is the one that started that damn club and all because she is a big fat stupid bitch.

Kyle: Don't say it Cartman.

Cartman: Weeeelllll...

Kyle: Don't do it Cartman.

Cartman: Weeellllll...

Kyle: I'm warning you!

Cartman: Okay, okay.

Kyle: I'm getting sick of him calling my mom a...
Sing along with Cartman using the lyrics below and find out what he thinks of Mrs. Broflovski and her involvement with the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association.

South Park - Cartman - Kyle's Mom Is A Bitch - The funniest videos are a click away

Monday, August 28, 2006

College Cellars 2005 Syrah of Rose'

It was a lovely day in the neighborhood. Several friends and I were lollygagging in the front yard of the Dill-Berry Homestead. It was the early evening of a hot summer day and wearing large floppy hats for protection from the sun was a necessity. Swaying on yard swings, relaxing in wicker chairs, eating tapas and sipping on rose'. There wasn't a worry in the world. In fact, young and over-enthusiastic Tyrone, who was stalking the neighborhood going door-to-door soliciting magazine sales and eager to take donations, he would personally send to children's hospitals and cancer patients, didn't phase us. In fact, he entertained us with his yarns of his "other" jobs. When he isn't selling magazines he is a famous rapper for MTV and music video producer in Chicago.

Did I have "gullible" written on my forehead? No, but I did have a glass of rose' in my hand to make this little interuption of my fine evening bearable. And a fine rose' it was, too.

Released in June, the wine of this hot summer evening was the 2005 Rosé of Syrah (Columbia Valley) from the College Cellars. This lovely salmon-colored wine paired perfect with a cheese torte, olives, and hummus for appetizers. The pretty colored liquid in the glass hinted of summer berries and that is exactly what it was -- mouthful of strawberries. Crisp, bright and just the right amount of acidity to continue to pair with our assortment of summer salads. A great wine for $10. I would carry it through to fall entertaining. With 14.1 % alcohol, it was just enough to make me feel a bit fiddle-de-dee about Tyrone's song-and-dance.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Wine Prophet?

The other day I was reading through some wine periodicals and found some information on Andre Tschelistcheff (1901-1994). A talented winemaker who produced California's Beaulieu Vineyard’s first Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon in 1938. This wine established the benchmark of quality for all California wines and Washington state has certainly followed that standard.

Tschelistcheff was born in Russia and fought with the White Russian Army during the Russian Civil War. At the later age of thirty-six he studied wine. In California, Tchelistcheff set standards for improved winery hygiene, new fermentation techniques, and viticultural practices. Today his pioneer influence has a profound effect on contemporary winemakers.

His winemaking legacy continues to this day with Quilceda Creek Vintners. His nephew Alex Golitzin was born in France at the beginning of World War II. In 1946 his family immigrated to California where they settled close to his Uncle Andre. In 1974, with Uncle Andre’s help, Alex made his first barrel of Cabernet and more barrels followed. In 1978 Quilceda Creek Winery was established and in 1979 the first Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon was produced for sale. Four years later this wine received a Gold Medal and a Grand Prize at the Enological Society Festival in Seattle, the only Cabernet Sauvignon to achieve this honor to this day. And this world class wine continues to achieve greatness with their most recent vintage.

During Andre Tschelistcheff's wine making career he was asked, where the greatest wine in the United States is made and his answer was:

"It hasn't been made yet, but when it is, it will be made in the Pacific Northwest."

Friday, August 18, 2006

~August Cooking With Washington Wines~

The past several weeks it has been too hot to cook! I haven't done much other than making lots of salad fixin's and a casserole I can nuke in the microwave. I did make strawberry and blackberry jams, but does toast and jam go with wine? Hmm - it could happen.

Last weekend I went camping in the mountains by a river (secret family property. trespassers) with my sisters, cousins Eric and Melissa from the Tri-Cities, WA and their families. This is the third summer we have camped together. We take camping to a new level. I try to rough it the best I can with my mauve colored "two-room" tent and queen size air mattress. Lots of Washington state wine flows and this year Aunt Barbara made vodka martinis in her new Pottery Barn martini shaker. Do we know how to camp or what?

Therefore, with the weather I haven't done much in the way of finding a recipe that can be used for the month of August. But I can share the tastiest thing I have had all month and it was delicious with red wine. For our camp-out, cousin Eric was in charge of lunch and he really came through for us. He cooked tacos on his Coleman stove - delicious morsels of crispy fried goodness. Eric said he first tasted these tacos at hunting camp with friends. Often wild game was used, but for this weekend Eric used ground beef that comes with a cellophane cover (I know nothing about meat unless it comes with cellophane or butcher paper). Named after the cook who was the father of a good friend of Eric's, I present:

Rip Kirby's Hunting Camp Tacos

A dozen or more of fresh corn tortillas
1 lb or more of ground beef (or venison, buffalo, or any wild game)
Vegetable oil
Seasoning salt and pepper
Grated cheese
Shredded lettuce

In a deep skillet, heat 1-2 inches of oil (hot enough for a drop of water to sizzle). On each corn tortilla, spread (a fork works well) uncooked ground beef (not too thick) on one-half side of the tortilla (Eric made a high stack of these ahead of time until ready to fry). Sprinkle the uncooked ground beef with your favorite seasoning or seasoning salt and pepper. Slide each meat side of the tortilla into the heated oil (I noticed that Eric was able to get three - four in a pan at once) leaving the other half of tortilla, without the meat, laying on the side of the pan until ready to flip over. Fry the meat-tortilla side until done. When done, then flip and fold the empty side of the tortilla over the cooked meat. Turn the folded taco over and fry the other folded side. Repeat.

Remove folded and fully cooked tacos from oil and drain on paper plate or towels. Gently pull them apart and top with cheddar cheese and shredded lettuce. This is a filling and perfect recipe for camping instead of the usual hotdogs and hamburgers.

Keep it simple like we did or "fancy" them up with different seasonings and condiment toppings like cilantro, green onions, sour cream and mango salsa. These little half moons of fried crunchiness pair excellent with the red table wines that the Walla Walla Valley has to offer.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

August Cherry Pick

Since the release of his first wine in 1997, Chuck Reininger of Reininger Winery has been producing award winning wines. Located in the Walla Walla Valley, these elegant wines are produced from premium grapes in the state of Washington.

My "Cherry Pick" for the month of August is Reininger's 2003 Syrah from the Walla Walla Valley. This 100% traditional Rhone-style Syrah has been winning awards and receiving an amazing amount of press. It placed a gold medal at the 2006 Northwest Wine Summit and an award at the 2005 Jefferson Cup Invitational. The Wine and Spirits Magazine gave this Syrah a 93 points, Wine Advocate - 92 points, Wine Enthusiast - 91 points and Wine Spectator - 90 points. Out of 38 Washington State Syrahs, The San Francisco Chronicle chose it as one of their 16 favorites.

Aged in 100% used French oak, Reininger's 2003 Syrah has a mouth of ripe juicy blueberries and a lot of earthiness. Full bodied and a little smoky with structured tannins. The San Francisco Chronicle said it is a crowd pleaser.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Walla Walla Does Not Suffer From Pinot Envy

The other day while perusing Ebay, I noticed three bottles of Walla Walla Pinot Noir being offered for auction. This is rare - very rare to see Pinot Noir from Walla Walla.

I cannot count the times a tasting room visitor questions why Walla Walla does not have any Pinot Noir. That question became greater in numbers when the movie "Sideways" came out. Even though I enjoyed the movie, I have some issues with it. Sure, it made Pinot Noir sales climb, but I felt at a risk? Newbie Pinot Noir buyers didn't know what they were buying. A huge possibility they were bringing home grocery store "Pinot-Plonk and being left with a poor impression of Pinot Noir. Not all Pinot Noir is created equal.

When asked why we don't grow Pinot Noir, my reply has been, "Why should the Walla Walla Valley have Pinot Noir?" I'm not sure if that is the correct answer or not, but that is how I feel. Why should the Walla Walla Valley have a Pinot Noir when Oregon's Willamette Valley excels with that perplexing little grape. It is a grape that can be difficult for a vineyardist to grow and difficult for a winemaker to ferment.

The persnickity Pinot is thriving well with our neighbors, the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. Oregon is the new promise land for Pinot Noir and is producing some of the finest in the world. No other area in the world, except Burgundy, France, has a climate as ideal for producing this elegant and often complex red wine.

The Walla Walla Pinot Noir for auction was three bottles of 2000 from Woodward Canyon and the only Pinot Noir from the Walla Walla Valley. In 2003, a devastating freeze wiped out the Pinot Noir vineyard. It has since been replanted with Syrah. The local Syrah is a grape that the Walla Walla wineries can be proud of with it's many awards and favorable press.

Will we ever see any Pinot Noir in the Valley? Probably. Someone is going produce a Pinot Noir to distinguish their winery from others. In the mean time, Walla Walla produces plenty of outstanding and world class wines. We need to let our neighbor Oregon have some bragging rights, don't we? Walla Walla can't do everything great (she says with a malipert and smug tone).

Thursday, August 10, 2006

We Aint Got No Stinkin' Leftovers!

Brooke, from one of the local wineries, says if she hears one more person comment that Walla Walla table reds are made from "leftovers", she is going to SCREAMMM!!! And I happen to AGREE! Like Brooke, I really hate the term "leftovers" regarding the local red table blends. Leftovers seem to have a negative connotation, yet food (and wine) can taste its very best in that form. Haven't you noticed how leftover homemade soups, stews, and spaghetti sauce can taste better a day or two later? Who ever complained over a leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwich?

I am always-always telling the Walla Walla wine tourists that some of the tastiest values are Walla Walla's red table blends. The majority of these jewels are under $20 a bottle and while I haven't tried all of them, the ones I have tasted have become repeat performances for me.

So how does a red table blend come together? It all varies on the winemaker and the ultimate goal of the winery, but one thing to remember these wines are not done by accident. These so-called "leftovers" are done on purpose by the winery so they can offer their customers an affordable wine. These table blends are designed for all degrees of customers - - from the frugal, the wine newbie and the wine expert who is looking for an every day wine.

Some wines are used from second pressings and that is not a bad thing. It is usually the pressings of juice that is of a suitably high quality instead of using all free run juice. Think of free-run as the cream off of the top and the second pressing as the milk.

A non-vintage wine is made from the juice of grapes harvested from several years; there is no year noted on the label of such wine. Some of these wines may be the finest in the winery, but not chosen because of volume. It might be too much or not enough wine in volume to fit a specific bottling. Not enough to make a single varietal bottling or these wine may not be what the winemaker is looking for when producing other blends.

Blended wines are no way inferior to single varietal wines. And since many of them are full bodied you can drink them now or put a couple of years on them. Sometimes a red table wine can outshine some of the more expensive blends. I think it is important for wine consumers to understand that as long as a Walla Walla winery's name is on the label, the red table blends will not get any less attention from their winemaker.

For the price and quality the Walla Walla table reds are excellent bargains. These wines are for every day sipping and can be paired with hamburgers, taco wagon faire, and spaghetti Wednesdays. Kick the dining up a notch and serve it with a piece of prime rib or chocolate lava cake with raspberry sauce.

Here is an example of some of the fine table reds produced in the Walla Walla Valley: Bergevin Lane Winery "Calico Red", Forgeron Cellars "Anvil Red", Isenhower Cellars "Wild Thyme", L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red" (formerly School House Red), and Waterbrook Winery "Melange."

Also, Woodward Canyon's non-vintage table red is made primarily from grapes from prestigious Washington State Vineyards. It is a terrific buy at $17.00. If you can turn your nose up at Abeja's Beekeeper's Blend priced at $18.00, then you are a true Philistine and not deserving of this elegant blend.

The Wine and Spirits magazine and The Wine Enthusiast recognized Three Rivers Winery "Rivers Run" - 2003 at $13,00 and last but not least, Tamarack Cellars "Firehouse Red" has been noticed by Robert Parker. It was rated 61 in the Wine Spectator's list of top 100 wines in the world for 2004. In fact, I am taking a bottle of Fire House Red camping with me this weekend.

Now I ask you - - does a wine like Tamarack's "Firehouse Red" appear to be mere leftover to you?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Time In A Bottle

"If I could save wine in a bottle..." (with apologies to Jim Croce).

I have been asked the question, "How long should I age a bottle of wine before opening it?" Wow, this question is going to make my brain hurt because there is no pat answer. I think I would like to answer this question by saying that wine is a living thing and like humans some of us age better than others (Could our age factor have anything to do with how much wine we drink?).

From the day the wine is bottled it is always evolving. A winemaker normally does not release wine fresh from the bottling line until it has had at least six months of resting time. The wine will go through what is known as "bottle shock." Bottle shock is a temporary condition (or also known as "bottle sickness"). The wine may be a bit fragile and the flavors not quite what they should be - a bit disjointed, let's say.

About this whole aging process, I want to tell you there are so many variables. That would be the easy way to answer that question. It can depend on the winemaker's style and how the grapes were treated (such as a rigorous tannin extraction during fermentation). It can depend on the vintage and the association with the weather. It can depend on the varietal of the grape. Some grapes age better than others. The label on the wine bottle isn't going to give you much information, however tasting notes from a winery will often make suggestions.

How the wine is going to age can depend on how the bottle was sealed. Was the wine stoppered with a natural cork? While most winemakers prefer natural cork, they can dry out in time unless the bottles are stored properly. A dried cork can allow air to leak in and will ruin the wine very quickly (And no -- we do not want to use plastic corks. And that is another blog entry for another time) Storing bottles on their side will allow the cork to stay moist and assist in keeping the air out. Then there is the problem of the bottled wine and cork coming into contact with TCA -- known as "corked" and no -- "corked" does not mean there are tiny pieces of cork floating around the wine (And "corked"/TCA is another blog entry for another time).

Why do we even age bottles? Aging will often give a red wine a bit of silkiness by softening the tannins, oak and acidity in a bottle of wine. Aging can remove the fresh and fruitiness of a wine (think fresh and fruity equivalent to a teenager) and will soften the wine and add character. Think of that aged bottle of wine like a mature woman. Soft, elegant and with character. Ummm -- like me! Heh.

Now let's get to what kind of wines are going to age. That bottle you pick up at the grocery store for $8.99 might age okay for about a year or two depending on the vintage. Remember it is about the vintage and not the day you purchased it. So let's say today you purchased a $40 bottle of 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. There is a good chance you can age it for about seven to ten years. Sometime next year you could open that bottle and it would have a respectable age on it. It has been said that Americans age their wines in the car - from the grocery store shelf to the kitchen table.

White wines usually do not age as well as the reds because they contain little or no tannins However, there are a few exceptions such as Rieslings, better-made Chardonnays and Chenin Blancs. Personal experience has showed me that a well-made Chenin can really age quite lovely for several years. For inexpensive white wines, I say "drink up!" There really isn't much benefit to letting them age. Better-made whites can age anywhere from around 4-8 years. Rich dessert wines like Port, Sauternes and late-harvest whites will usually do very well with age. Color is important to understand about aged wines. The clear white or light yellow wine will turn a amber honey color with age. Red wines will often turn a rich copper color.

I am always telling people that if they want to truly see how a wine is going to age, then buy a case of that wine. For the first year or so, open a few bottles here and there and then open a bottle once a year. The most important thing is to journal your tasting notes and dates everytime you open a bottle of that wine. As you look back into the years you will see how the wine evolved. Remember, there is always the peak time for that wine and in later years it could become flat, brown in color and later "dead." (And no -- wine past its time rarely turns to vinegar - - and that's another blog entry for another time.) Again remembering that wine is a living thing.

And no - - there is nothing wrong with a wine that has sediment in the bottle. In fact, sediment can sometimes indicate a superior wine. Sediment (wine diamonds) is fine deposits that are found in wine once it has settled. It can be found on the bottom of the cork, on the side of the shoulders and bottom of the bottle. This settling is exhausted yeast cells and grape skins (tannins). It can also show that the wine has not been overly-processed or fined. Wines that have not been over-processed is a good thing.

Last but not least, to give your wine it's full aging power it is going to make a difference on how you stored it. Wine prefers the dark and temperatures of about 45 - 60 degrees. Remembering again that wine is a living thing and when you remember that and are considering storage - - how would you like to live in a small kitchen cupboard above your refrigerator?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Washington Wine Month - Passport to Paradise

August is here! That means the 21st annual Washington Wine Month celebration is happening at your local Washington State Liquor Store. Every year they expand the list of premier Washington wines being offered at great prices.

There will be a total of 112 featured wines! However, not every store will feature all of the wines. It makes sense this annual celebration sale grows every year because our number of vineyards and wineries do, too! At this time Washington State has more than 30,000 acres of land that is planted in wine grapes and the state has over 400 licensed wineries. The state says that more wine will be sold in August than in any other month except December, of course.

Check out Washington Wine Month - Passport to Paradise

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