To carafe, or not to carafe….

It’s been too long…back to wine stories!

Last week, Peter and I took a short trip down to LA. We visited friends, family and the B-52’s. The last night of the trip, we went from our hotel, to a restaurant next door for a bite to eat. We weren’t very hungry, so we ordered a couple of small plates and a salad. We chose to buy wine by the glass to complement our food. Now, this was a moderately expensive restaurant, with a nice selection of wines by the glass. Peter wanted light red, so we chose a french Burgundy. I chose a Alsatian white blend. The wines were delicious and not cheap, by any means.

They arrived in individual small carafes. This is a practice used by the bartender for portion control. My problem was that we were never shown the bottles. I don’t honestly believe they swapped with a cheaper wine. It’s just that as a consumer, having a portion of wine served in a carafe, gave me absolutely no satisfaction of knowing what I was being poured.

I’m a visual person. I love to read wine labels. If I’m watching a movie or TV, and there is a wine bottle in the background, I will try to figure out what it is. It’s like a game!

Not being presented the bottle, took a lot away from the experience of enjoying the glass of wine. Granted this is not a problem I’ve run into before (rarely order just one glass!), I would love to know what experiences other wine drinking folk have encountered. Couldn’t they take the time in a white linen tablecloth restaurant, to train their waitstaff to pour the correct amount at the table?

Besides…I can’t post any pictures!

A week of rest….rolled into two days, at Edgefield

Edgefield is a simply put, a destination. It is 74 acres of tranquility just east of Portland, that houses a hotel, winery, brewery, distillery, a golf course and much IMG_6496more. I came down this weekend with my girlfriends, for a Celebration of Syrah dinner.

IMG_6454This place was built in 1911, to be a poor farm. It housed 600 residents at one point. They grow their own hops grapes and vegetables. Mike and Brian McMenamin bought the place in the early nineties and made it in to a fabulous hotel. Every nook is covered in art that reflects the history of this place. A lot of history summed up into a restful, peaceful place to spend time with good people.

We started with an afternoon Bloody Mary. Everything is better with bacon! And, by the way, the perfect way to start a weekend away! We walked the IMG_6474grounds to get a lay of the land, rested and toasted the weekend with Prosecco on the patio.

Friday morning, we took a drive along the Columbia River IMG_6457taking in numerous waterfalls and trees. We rested up for the dinner by taking a turn in the outdoor saltwater soaking pool.

The dinner started with a reception of Viognier with appetizers in the reception hall. The best part of the event for me, was the introduction to a number of small Southern Oregon producers that made me want to learn more IMG_6508about the area. Bridgeview Vineyards from Applegate Valley brought a clean crisp wine, that piqued my interest in these Southern Oregon appellations. Left Coast Cellars brought a late harvest Viognier, not my favorite style, but one of my favorite wineries. Edgefield was obviously featured, as well as The Pines, J. Scott and Folin Cellars.

IMG_6511The dinner featured seven Syrahs paired with four courses. They were all very unique and interesting to taste with the different courses. Chatter Creek brought a 2007 Syrah that had aged in barrel for three years– a unique treatment for Syrah. It paired very well with the tuna carpaccio. The Pines Syrah wasn’t as tasty with the tuna, but ended up better with the main course. They supplied zin grapes for Edgefield for years, until they decided to keep them and make wine for themselves!

The third Syrah, was the offering from Folin Cellars. We were honored to be seated at a table with the husband and wife winemaking team from Folin. We had a number of awesome discussions with them, along with thoroughly IMG_6512enjoying their wines, including Tempranillo, Viognier and GSM blend that were sneaked in under their coats. Their Syrah was perfectly paired with the cauliflower black truffle dumpling with pork belly sugo. Yum!

The main course was a Spice Venison Filet with celery root puree, spring onion confit and red currant jus. We tried the Left Coast and Edgefield with this course. We also were going back to try the earlier wines as well. It is always very interesting to me how a wine can change the food, and vice versa. It makes such a huge difference in both. Big earthy flavors of the venison, that changed with every sip of the different Syrahs.

IMG_6517The last wine was the youngest Syrah, offered by Season Cellars (part of the Henry family from Umpqua). It was also the only Syrah Grenache blend. It was paired with the dessert. Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Panna Cotta with Rhubarb compote and Syrah glaze. The blend was a bit lighter than the others, but it went well with the panna cotta. Edgefield brought out a surprise Syrah Port. In my opinion, the Port paired better with the Panna Cotta.

After dinner, we had a wonderful time hanging out with Jonathan Scott, the winemaker/owner of J. Scott and another gentleman we met along the way. Suffice it to say, the night lasted late into the night and fun was had by all.

As we left the next morning, we set a plan in motion to return in September. Anytime you can leave home for two days and return feeling like you were gone for a week….you know that the trip was a success.

All photographs for this post, were supplied by Sindelar Communications & Marketing

Friendship, a classic pairing…

I confess. I have let life interfere with my blogging.  I spent a wonderful holiday with my girlfriends last weekend, that I will write about… but in the meantime, I had an experience before that, which has stuck with me.

SauternesOne evening, Peter was working and I felt like company, so I invited one of my favorite ladies up to chat. After we settled in, her with a Coke and Vodka, me with a glass of “Tuesday night”  wine, I remembered an open leftover bottle of Sauternes.

I asked my friend if she wanted to try it. She assured me that she wasn’t a fan of sweet wine. Now… one of the things I love the most about wine, is that with an open mind and an opportunity, there is always a new experience waiting for you.

Sauternes is a very special dessert wine. It is made from grapes that have grown a mold called botrytis, that bring a unique complexity, along with the sugar. If you’ve never had a Sauternes, I highly recommend it.

Luckily, my friend has an open mind and one of the most adventurous spirits I know.  I poured us each a small taste and waited for her reaction. Not bad, she said. I had her take another small sip with a bite of blue cheese. That did it! She exclaimed about how amazing the taste was.  Sauternes and blue cheese is considered a classic pairing. Both are wonderful on their own and completely heightened to another level with each other. Kind of like a good friendship!

Cheers, my friends!

Taste Washington Geek-end Sunday

Sunday morning, I headed back to the seminars. This one was called Yakima Valley 30th Anniversary. It involved an interesting discussion about the history and evolution of the Yakima Valley.

First things first, the wines that were supplied: Domaine Ste Michelle Brut Rose (honestly, it was hard at first, to know why this was included…turns out all of the 100% Pinot Noir grapes used in this are from the Yakima Valley), Owen Roe Red Willow Vineyard, DeLille Cellars Harrison Hill, Smasne Cellars Ancient Rocks, Soos Creek Ciel du Cheval and Betz La Serenne Syrah.

Each wine, save the bubbly, was specific to a particular vineyard in the Valley. The discussion about these vineyards was very specific and compelling…which brings me to my rant.

There was no map. Nothing visual at all. Specific points, specific vineyards…are completely fascinating to me, but it was impossible to follow without being able to see where they were talking about! I was not the only one. The people around me were in the same boat. With all of the seminars I’ve done in the past that dealt with a specific place, there were always either handouts pertaining to the subject, or a projection. Mind you, there was a projector waiting at the side of the room.

Being the direct person I am, I went up to the WA wine commision person responsible for this seminar after it was done (there are no breaks, so I had to wait) and asked him why there were no visual aids for the discussion. His response was “good point”.

Really?!

If the reason the wine commision sponsors these seminars is to educate the participants that are interested enough to shell out this kind of money, why am I having to make “a good point” when it’s done, in order for them to think about this?

just sayin’!

All this being said, I still look forward to next year’s experience.

Kind of as a side note, yesterday I drove up to Woodinville to pick up some Avennia wines that I bought of the internet, as soon as I tasted them last weekend. I had the pleasure of a really nice one on one talk with the very down to earth, unassuming winemaker that had been on the stage for the Saturday seminar. I told him about this issue I had with the Yakima seminar. He asked if the depth/detail some of the winemakers get into, is over the layman’s head. I told him it can be, but if the interest in learning and soaking the information in exists, it is a shame that such a seemingly simple visual aid could not have been offered.

Taste Washington Geek-end…Saturday

Of all my geeky activities, Taste Washington is probably my favorite. All though, I have to admit up front, that I had never done the “Grand Tasting”, until this year.

Wa vs the worldWhen we moved to Seattle, almost six years ago, I knew how weak my Washington wine knowledge was, and how important it was to learn it. The seminars that are part of the Taste Washington weekend, have always been a unique experience that I look forward to every year. The forum is made of top-notch winemakers, journalists, sommeliers…and anybody else that might have opinions on the given topic. Some of the memorable seminars have involved Rieslings (paired with food), second generation winemakers sharing the stage with their fathers, and specific vineyards, with winemakers discussing the different wines they make from the same grapes.

This year, the seminar I chose for Saturday, was “Washington VS the World”. Five top Washington wines, poured alongside top French, Australian and California wines. The wines were set up blind, not as a contest, but as a way to judge without prejudice.

The Washington wines were: 1999 Woodward Cyn. Special Select, 2005 Quilceda Creek Cab, 2005 Leonetti Rsv Cab, 2010 Betz La Cote Patriarche and a young upstart 2010 Avennia Arnaut Syrah. The world wines were: 2000 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, 2005 Chateau Cos d’Estournel, 2006 Araujo Cab, 2009 The Standish and 2006 Chapoutier Ermitage. The panel was made up with the winemakers from all over Washington, journalists and sommeliers for the world wines. The Washington wines were for the most part, pretty distinguishable and very well done. For an example, it was pointed out that the 2000 Las Cases was given a 100 point rating. Angels should sing…a halo should be around this bottle! The Woodward Canyon held its own. In some respects, had more fruit and depth at this point, then the Las Cases. The Syrah flight was also interesting. The Chapoutier was easily distinguishable, along with the Standish. Maybe our Washington palette is skued towards the Washington wines, but they were noticeably very balanced in comparison.

I think the most interesting thing to me, after years of participation, is the opportunity the seminars provide for learning about the wines from the people who know them best. The passion that comes from sharing these wines is always prevalent and a truly unique experience. You never know who may be sitting next to you: a grower, a winemaker… all there to share their prospective on the topic.

In a lot of respects, this is a very young winegrowing/winemaking region. It is still evolving and the people involved are on the cutting edge of an amazing wine revolution. You can really tell with the panels, that they understand and appreciate the experience. Taste 2013

After the seminar, Peter met up with me and we attended the grand tasting. As I alluded to in the beginning, this was new for me. I had heard it could be a big drunk fest and that it was so crowded you couldn’t get to the wineries you wanted to try.

They moved the format to a two day event last year. It was the only year that I didn’t attend the seminars, because my daughter was getting her master’s degree that weekend. Apparently, this change in format has worked. I have to say, we were pleasantly surprised. There was plenty of room to move around, we had enough time to try the food and wine we wanted. We were able to say hello to any friends we saw.

Since I had tried the Avennia at the seminar, I was interested is tasting more of the wines. The winemaker came from Delille to start his own winery. The first release was two years ago. A good new one to try, if you get the chance. Another new one for me, was the Maison Bleue wines. They had a really nice Mourvedre Rose that I am dying to put up next to the Kennedy Shah Mourvedre Rose.

While we were at the Maison Bleue table, I overheard a conversation between the winemaker and somebody else at the table. The winemaker was asked where the Mourvedre came from. He responded with the vineyard name, but was asked more specifically what block from that vineyard! What other kind of event do you encounter that level of geekiness?! I loved it!

When all was said and done, Saturday at Taste Washington did not disappoint.

Did anybody else attend? What were your experiences? Was there a discovery that can be shared?

A tale of two wineries…

Bob Betz

Friday night, I was invited to the Betz family winery release party.

Bob Betz is one of the well respected men of our state’s wine business. He holds the degreee of Master of Wine, a high accomplishment on its own. Last year, he sold his winery but has retained “patriarch” and winemaker status.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of connections to Bob and our shared passion. Within the first couple of months I moved here, there was a Kirkland Signature Syrah released, that he had made. My friend Lori and I were invited to a party that he was at, and I was able to get an autographed bottle of it. He has also been a frequent contributor to the Taste Washington seminars I have attended.Betz wine

Lori is now a member of the wine club and therefore, invited me to the release party. One of the interesting things about the wine club, is that you choose how much and what you want to buy, upon the release. We walked around and tried about four of the releases.  There was a blend, a couple of Syrahs and a Cab. Lori had her eyes on one of the Cabernet magnums. I really liked the Red Mountain Syrah. A beautiful wine to put down for awhile.

Saturday, the tale continued….

I saw a facebook message that my dear friend and winemaker, Jean Claude Beck, was signing bottles at the Shoreline Costco. I hadn’t seen him recently and decided that a nice sunny day, deserved a trip north to Shoreline. Jean Claude is the Alsatian winemaker for Woodhouse Family Estates.

Woodhouse Family Estates is a different kind of winery than Betz. Betz winery only release a few wines a year, all are red…most involve Syrah. Woodhouse has a wide variety of wines, covering everything but bubbles. They also have different levels of wines. Most are named for the owner’s children, Kennedy and Hudson Shah. They also have the Darighe, Maghee and Dussek wines.

woodhouse lineupJean Claude, jealous of my freedom on the sunny day, invited me to head back to the winery to taste through the latest releases. It was a great idea. I sat out on the patio in the sun, and went through about eight of his wines. To start, there was the 2011 Mourvedre Rose. Beautiful, dry, light with a definite white pepper kick on the back palate. Next was one of my all time favorites, Jean Claude’s Alsatian style 2010 Reserve Riesling. If you’ve never had an Alsatian Riesling (or it’s been awhile!), do yourself a favor. Lovely floral notes on the nose, with a dry unctuous taste that you won’t soon forget. Next was a very tropical 2010 Reserve Hudson Shah Viognier, followed by the 2007 Reserve Malbec, 2007 Reserve La Vie en Rouge (Bordeaux style blend) and  2006 Dussek Cabernet. They pulled out the last two, 2007 Reserve Tempranillo and 2007 Reserve Syrah, from under the counter, bonus for being FOJC (friend of Jean Claude!). They are all spectacular wines with very different characteristics. The La Vie en Rouge was sophisticated and subtle. The Tempranillo was spicy and racy. The Syrah was sublime.

These two wineries, in my opinion of course, are an excellent study of what Washington wines are all about, in this 2013 Washington Wine Month.

So unique, so special, so different…and yet all made right here in our backyard.

Good night, bad pairing…and a touch of Grace.

photo (9)

Grace 

First of all, I know….it’s a wine blog! I’ll get to that. So, let me introduce you to possibly the most beautiful baby in the world. This is Grace. She is my adopted granddaughter. She and her father came over for dinner Sunday night. I made a kicked up macaroni and cheese (with cottage bacon, caramelized onions, broccoli and a mix of smoked cheddar and a mustard/ale cheddar).  We also served mixed greens with Peter’s homemade lingonberry vinaigrette.

The day before, while I was at the big box store, I found a Sancerre Rouge (Loire Pinot Noir) that piqued my interest.  2011 Les Hospices to be exact ($14.99 at the big box store). Because I had been thinking about it, I opened it to serve with the macaroni and cheese. If I had thought about it, I would have known how bad it was.  The food was very rich, with the wine being light and soft. It did nothing for the taste of the food, and made the wine taste sour.

The Sancerre has a screw top, a clue to the fact that it couldn’t have been corked! Quickly, I pulled out a Kirkland Signature Sonoma County Zinfandel. The bigger, smoky taste 0f the Zin worked much better! We simply put the Sancerre aside until the food was gone, and it was perfectly fine.photo (10)

One of the schools of pairings is the regional food/regional wine theory. If they make wine, they usually make it to go with their food. The other common way to pair is acidic food with high acid wines, rich foods with big body wines,  and to avoid combining oily or very salty food with highly tannic wines.

Years ago, when I was wine stewarding, I had a customer ask what wine to pair with pumpkin cheesecake. I suggested Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling. A beautiful off dry Riesling with the cheesecake. He came back the next week to tell me how awesome it was.

Good food, good wine…with the special touch of Grace.

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