Data Science to Easily Pair Wine and Cheese? Yes!

How many times have you wondered which cheeses pair well with your favorite wines? Or perhaps you’ve debated which wines complement your favorite cheeses.

You might have conducted online searches or looked at books for advice. Ultimately you probably found the answers, but how long did it take?

Now, thanks to data science and a Canadian professor, you can find results in an instant.

University of Toronto professor Gary Bader specializes in biological network analysis; he and a team of computer scientists and molecular geneticists developed a free interactive website, Wine and Cheese Map, to suggest pairings for about 100 red and white wines, and about 270 cheeses.

“You just quickly look at a picture and see patterns that would be very difficult to find if you were looking through data spreadsheets one row at a time,” Bader told the BBC.

The website process is very simple. To find which wines pair best with your favorite cheese, just type the name of the cheese in the search box. In an instant, you will be shown red and white wines that pair well with it. Similar cheeses will also be identified.

For example, if you have some delicious Gorgonzola in your fridge, and wonder what wine to drink with it, simply type in “Gorgonzola.” You will discover that it goes very well with California Cabernet Sauvignon, as do three similar cheeses, Cashel Blue, Stilton and Fourme d’Ambert.

Or if you have a bottle of Shiraz ready to pour, and want to know what cheese to pair with it, simply type in “Shiraz” and you will see the answer (as shown in the map below): Gruyere, Winchester Aged Gouda and many other cheeses.

In addition, the map’s interactive features allow you to move between different wines and cheeses. For example, if you click on “Gruyere” in the above map about Shiraz, you will be shown a new map (below); and you will discover that Gruyere also goes well with California Sauvignon Blanc, Tuscan Sangiovese, Syrah and California Zinfandel. Again, other similar cheeses are also noted.

The map can be used for planning parties or even when you’re shopping. So next time you are visiting a cheese bar in your favorite grocery or specialty store, or choosing wine from your cellar to go with that special cheese in your fridge, open up Wine and Cheese Map on your mobile device to help make your selections.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Lauren Ashton Scores Again

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 4.17.09 PM The motto of Lauren Ashton Cellars — “True Washington Character” — has been noticeable in every sip we have tasted of Kit Singh’s elegant wines in the last five years.

This continues to be the case in his two recent releases, which we were fortunate enough to sample last week, courtesy of the winery: 2013 Proprietor’s Cuvée and 2013 Cuvée Estelle.

As with any new release, the wines are still young; but both are very approachable with decanting. They also have great aging potential.

Lauren Ashton Cellars 2013 Proprietor’s Cuvée ($65)
This is an elegant, complex and impressive Cab-based Bordeaux-style blend — 70.4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.3% Merlot, 13.3% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec — showing structure and balance immediately, followed by plush tannins after opening up. Luscious dark-fruit flavors follow a nose of violets, black cherries and plums. Pair this wine with beef, pork, lamb or any rich meat dishes. Kit wowed fans with the 2009 and 2011 vintages, and we predict that he is set to do the same with this stellar release.

Lauren Ashton Cellars 2013 Cuvée Estelle ($40)
This is another elegant Bordeaux-style blend, with Merlot (64%), Cabernet Sauvignon (27%) and Petit Verdot (9%). The Merlot brings aromas of violets and black fruit, the Cab Sauv adds depth and weight, and the Petit Verdot offers hint of spice to sweet cherry flavors. Enjoy this wine with grilled meats, or pour it as a stand-alone wine to enjoy with friends.

The bottom line: We highly recommend stopping by Lauren Ashton Cellars Tasting Studio in the Hollywood District of Woodinville or finding out more about these notable wines at their website.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

It’s Back! The Northwest Wine Encounter at Semiahmoo

The second annual Northwest Wine Encounter at Semiahmoo Resort will be held April 28-30, when some of the northwest’s most talented winemakers and viticulturists will be holding seminars, tastings and attending a gala dinner:

We have had the pleasure of meeting Mike Sauer, Chris Upchurch and Walter Gehringer in the past, and have tasted wines from all of the attending wineries and vineyards. We also attended last year’s inaugural Northwest Wine Encounter — so we can personally attest to the experiences awaiting you this year at Semiahmoo Resort.

The event is packed with educational and fun times, opening on Friday, April 28 with a “Winemaker’s Reception,” followed by a private beach bonfire with gourmet s’mores at the spectacular resort.

Saturday’s activities include educational seminars hosted by Andy Perdue of Wine Press Northwest, who is also a wine columnist for The Seattle Times. Keynote speaker will be retailer and collector Doug Charles of Compass Wines.

Participants will also have the unique opportunity to taste wines one-on-one with participating winemakers at Saturday’s “Wine Speed Dating.”

Saturday culminates with an intimate Vintner’s Dinner Gala — a five-course meal crafted by Bruno Feldeisen, executive chef at Semiahmoo Resort’s Pierside Kitchen, and celebrity chef Roy Breiman of Coastal Hotels. The courses will be paired by wines from all wineries in attendance.

Sunday’s seminar, “Importance of Place,” looks at the importance of a vineyard’s location (or a location within a vineyard) to the grape-growing process.

The entire weekend package — including two nights at the gorgeous resort — starts at $475 per person. Local residents can phone for more details: (360) 318-2000. Further information is available at Semiahmoo Resort’s website.

We hope to see you there!

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

 

Happy 50th Anniversary to Chateau Ste. Michelle

This year marks an historical milestone for Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Washington wine industry — it’s the 50th anniversary of the oldest winery in the state, so let the celebrations begin!

Ste. Michelle’s anniversary activities include a commemorative Cabernet bottling, library wine releases, a special anniversary Summer Concert Series, the opening of a newly expanded visitor center and other events to honor the state’s founding winery.

According to the winery, “Chateau Ste. Michelle has become the number two premium domestic wine brand sold in the U.S. (Nielsen-Dollars), with wines available in all 50 states and more than 100 countries.”

“It is truly remarkable what Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Washington wine industry have accomplished in a relatively short period of time through a pioneering spirit, collaboration and hard work,” said Ted Baseler, President and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “With significant new vineyard plantings, industry investment in research and the education of future grape growers and winemakers, we can honestly say the best is yet to come.”

Here are the “50 cheers to 50 years” events and projects planned by the winery this year; you can also view the winery’s 50th Anniversary video or view a Celebration page on its website.

Special Bottling Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley 
In April, to kick off the anniversary celebrations, the winery will release a commemorative label 50th Anniversary special bottling of its Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (750ml, SRP: $15), which will pay tribute to the first 1967 vintage. In addition, a one-time magnum (1.5L) bottling will be released for retail and restaurants and serve as a great collector’s item.

Golden Cork Sweepstakes
From April 1 to Sept. 30, inside every 50th Anniversary special bottling of Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a chance to win one of 50 prizes. Four Grand Prize winners will be selected to win a trip for two to visit Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville.

2017 Summer Concert Series
From June to September, the winery will host its popular annual Summer Concert Series with special artists to be announced in April 2017. Launched in 1984, the Summer Concert Series has featured top artists including Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, John Legend, Harry Connick, Jr. and many more.

IMPETUS
In September, the winery will release 4,800 numbered bottles of IMPETUS (750ml, SRP $125) by Chateau Ste. Michelle, the brand’s wine showcasing the three varieties that are stellar in the Washington region but are not traditionally blended together (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec).

Chateau Ste. Michelle History Book
The winery will release a highly illustrated coffee-table style book to tell the rich story of the Washington wine industry and Ste. Michelle’s role in bringing it to the forefront, commemorating the winery’s five decades of tradition and innovation.

Newly Expanded Visitor Center
Targeted for August 2017, Chateau Ste. Michelle will unveil an expansion of the winery’s visitor center — the largest in the company’s history. Doubling the size to 22,731 sq. ft., the new visitor center will feature a modern 70-seat theater, an interactive blending room (where guests create their own bottle of wine from the winery’s iconic estate vineyards), private tasting salons, a Club Room, an Enoteca to sell wines from sister wineries in the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates portfolio, a new outdoor terrace and more. A grand opening celebration will take place during Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-3.

Congratulations and thank you, Chateau Ste. Michelle!

50 Cheers to 50 Years!
Margot and Dave

 

The Super Bowl of Wine Events Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

Taste Washington celebrates its 20th anniversary in Seattle on March 23-26, with almost 300 wineries, more than 70 restaurants and top national chefs. It’s an explosion of tastes, fun and education, all rolled into one.

As far back as we can remember, we’ve always called Taste Washington “the Super Bowl of Wine Events” because it is the country’s largest single-region wine and food event. Period.

And this year’s expanded lineup offers four days packed with diverse activities. First up is “super-exclusive wine pours” at the VIP Red & White Party.

Taste Washington on the Farm gives you an opportunity to explore the northwest’s bounty, alongside farmers, chefs and winemakers. And then there’s The New Vintage with its trendy Rosé Lounge.

Don’t forget the super-informative and fun wine seminars, which include tastings and interactive panels, where you can find out — from top winemakers, Master Sommeliers and national wine personalities — why Washington state is a world-class wine region.

We love to go every year and encourage you to run, don’t walk, to get your tickets. If you’re planning to attend multiple Taste Washington events, you might be interested in The Connoisseur festival pass for four days of VIP access.

Note: Before you enter the Grand Tasting doors, we highly recommend that you develop a plan. Because once there, you will be hit with a massive amount of taste potentials — and it can be overwhelming.

For example, one year we decided to only taste Cabernet Franc, as a standalone varietal. Another year, we decided to visit booths of some of our tried and favorite wineries plus five new ones.

But we always leave room for some flexibility; chances are something will catch our eye as we walk through the aisles, and we’ll make an on-the-spot decision to deviate from the plan. There could be a new wine release that grabbed our attention or a mouth-watering dish, whose scent wafted our way.

Of note, we recommend tasting and spitting wine (or pouring it into the buckets at each booth) at this major event, but if you think you might want more than a sip or two, many hotels in the area are offering special weekend packages. Otherwise, be sure to have a designated driver, or take cabs or local transit home.

We hope to see you there!

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Run, Don’t Walk, for Tickets to Seattle Wine and Food Experience

Whether you live in Washington state, Oregon or British Columbia, you’d better move quickly – tickets are going fast for the ninth annual  Seattle Wine and Food Experience. If you like good wine, beer and food, mark your calendars for this taste explosion on Feb. 24-26.

“The Seattle Wine and Food Experience curates an incredible list of makers and producers and supports the community,” according to Jamie Peha, executive producer and president of Peha Promotions, who has been running the event since 2010More than 600 wines are available for tasting throughout the weekend, along with a huge selection of breweries, ciders and distilleries. And with three days at a variety of price options, guests can attend just one event or splurge and enjoy the whole weekend.

The activities kick off Feb. 24 with Pop! Bubbles & Seafood at McCaw Hall from 6-9 p.m., followed by Comfort on Feb. 25 at the Fremont Foundry from 5-8 p.m., and the popular  Grand Tasting on Feb. 26 at Seattle Center Exhibition Hall from 1-5 p.m. — but once again there is a VIP experience, with a one-hour early entry.

Pop! Bubbles & Seafood offers more than 30 sparkling wines from around the world, paired with delicious seafood prepared by local chefs. A wonderful Seattle experience!

Comfort features comfort food such as mac and cheese and burgers, along with beer and cider. Oh, and did we mention a Fry Bar? How cool is that?

The Grand Tasting is the largest of the three events, with 25 chefs, 100 wineries and dozens of beer, cider and spirits purveyors. You can find a full list of wineries that will be pouring, along with beer and cider and spirits, in addition to information about numerous restaurants serving gourmet bites.

The event benefits Les Dames d’Escoffier Seattle, a philanthropic organization that provides scholarships and mentoring for women in the culinary, beverage, and hospitality industries.

Tickets are available at the Seattle Wine and Food Experience website.

So run, don’t walk to get your tickets! We hope to see you there.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Our Top 65 Washington Wineries

NYE WineHappy New Year! As we begin 2017, it’s time for our annual Top Washington Wineries List. Why 65 wineries? The list grew to 65 from 60 last year, and from 50 the year before, as we were introduced to new wines or new wine experiences.

The way to get on our list is fairly simple; we only have two criteria: wineries must offer great juice and good people who provide an excellent wine experience. Perhaps we had fun or learned something in a tasting room or at a wine event such as Taste Washington, Taste of Tulalip, Seattle Wine and Food Experience, Bellingham Bay Rotary Grape and Gourmet or Bellingham Northwest Wine Festival. Perhaps someone from the winery gave us a call, or sent us a personal note or samples. Or perhaps we were invited to an incredible winery party.

These people might be the winemakers or the winery owners; in some cases, they are the hard-working staff in a tasting room who went out of their way to make us feel welcome or the amazing workers in the vineyards where it all begins.

We welcome ten newcomers to our list this year, and thank you for the 2016 wine experiences you brought us — Ambassador Wines of Washington, CanvasbackDeLille Cellars, Matthews Winery, Mullan Road CellarsSavage GraceSpring Valley VineyardTildio Winery, Upchurch Vineyard and Two Vintners.

Write for Wine’s Top 70 Washington Wineries (in alphabetical order):

  1. Alexandria Nicole Cellars
  2. Ambassador Wines of Washington
  3. Andrew Will
  4. Avennia
  5. B. Leighton
  6. Barrage Cellars
  7. Barrister Winery
  8. Bartholomew Winery
  9. Betz Family Winery
  10. Boudreaux Cellars
  11. Buty Winery
  12. Canvasback
  13. Chateau Ste. Michelle
  14. Columbia Crest
  15. Cooper Wine Company
  16. Cote Bonneville
  17. Darby
  18. DeLille Cellars
  19. DiStefano
  20. Double Canyon
  21. Dunham Cellars
  22. Dynasty Winery
  23. Efeste
  24. Ensemble Cellars
  25. Fall Line
  26. Fidelitas
  27. Fielding Hills
  28. Figgins
  29. Force Majeure
  30. Forgeron Cellars
  31. Gard
  32. Gorman Winery
  33. Guardian Cellars
  34. Hard Row to Hoe
  35. JM Cellars
  36. L’Ecole 41
  37. Lauren Ashton
  38. Leonetti
  39. Long Shadows
  40. Maryhill
  41. Matthews Winery
  42. Mercer Estates
  43. Mullan Road Cellars
  44. Obelisco Estate
  45. Otis Kenyon
  46. Passing Time
  47. Quilceda Creek
  48. Reynvaan
  49. Ross Andrew
  50. Savage Grace
  51. Seven Falls Cellars
  52. Sinclair Estate
  53. Sleight of Hand
  54. Spring Valley Vineyard
  55. Stottle Winery
  56. Tildio
  57. Two Vintners
  58. Upchurch Vineyard
  59. Va Piano
  60. Vin du Lac
  61. Walla Walla Vintners
  62. William Church
  63. Windy Point
  64. Woodward Canyon
  65. Woodhouse Wine Estates

To these people, we thank you; we support you. Cheers to Washington state wine!

Happy new year!
Margot and Dave
Write for Wine — it’s Wine O’clock Somewhere!

Little Black Dress

The dress code for your holiday party doesn’t call for your little black dress, but there’s no reason you can’t bring a bottle of Little Black Dress (LBD) wines from Mendocino County.

According to LBD Wines (of California), “a good bottle of wine is your best accessory” and their wines  are “the perfect fit for every palate, party or holiday meal.”

To demonstrate it, the winery kindly sent us four samples to taste. While we don’t think these wines are for every palate, they are crowd-pleasers for those who like basic, simple, easy-drinking and affordable wines.

LBD Pinot Grigio ($11.99)
The predominant Pinot Grigio is blended with a bit of Chardonnay, Muscat and Viognier, which provides a pleasant combination of citrus and floral flavors. It pairs well with salads, sushi (or any soy-sauce-based dishes) or fish with lemon, to complement the citrus flavors of the wine. From the tasting notes: “Aromas of apple, melon and lemongrass before a zesty tangerine finish.”

LBD Cabernet Sauvignon ($11.99)
Cabernet Sauvignon is rounded off with Petite Sirah, Syrah and other red varietals to provide multi-layers to a medium-bodied wine. As with most Cab Sauvs, this goes well with juicy burgers and other grilling meats. Or you could try it with strong cheeses or chocolate. From the tasting notes: “Rich aromas of dark berries and toasted oak, a hint of vanilla spice and a lasting finish.”

LBD Diva Red ($11.99)
This Cab-based red blend contains a medley of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Petite Sirah, with small amounts of Zinfandel, Tannat, Mouvedre, Garnacha, Malbec and “other red grapes.” A fruit-forward wine, the Diva not surprisingly has a juicy finish. From the tasting notes: “Decadent notes of dark plum, cocoa and caramel leading to a finish accented by hints of cinnamon and chocolate-dipped strawberries.”

LBD Merlot ($11.99)
A small amount of Petite Sirah rounds off this rich Merlot, which has aromas of red licorice and plum, moving into flavors of berries and vanilla. Like the Cab, this wine pairs with meats and hearty dishes. From the tasting notes: “Plush aromas of ripe black cherry, rich mocha and spicy plum before a seductive vanilla and oak finish.”

Be sure to decant all of these wines before pouring, and enjoy!

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Locations Wine by Dave Phinney

You might have heard of Dave Phinney because of his popular red blend, The Prisoner, or through Orin Swift Cellars, which he recently sold as a premium brand to E. & J. Gallo.

In addition to remaining with Orin Swift, his latest focus is on Locations Wine — as the name suggests, he is making the best value wines possible across the locations of all of the major wine-producing regions of the world.

In Dave Phinney’s words: “I seek out high-quality vineyards, and forward-thinking growers, across appellations to create a wine that proudly represents the best viticultural parcels of that country or location. Our quest is for old vines with low yields, to bring out the best of a specific vineyard and area. We then combine these parcels of place to craft a wine that pays homage to the country of origin; a wine that makes all of us proud.”

And better yet – these attractive wines are also affordable and approachable. Accolades for Phinney have been swift.

“Dave Phinney might be my “value winemaker of the year” candidate … If there are better wines for under $20 a bottle in the world today, please share that information with The Wine Advocate. These are all remarkable efforts. Kudos to Dave Phinney!” — Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate, July 27, 2016

We were fortunate to be provided with samples of six Locations wines, which have basic labels (the letters of the region) and a release number — in this case, the numbers 4 and 5 represent the most recent vintages. We’ve only tasted two so far, and were impressed.

WA4 – Washington Red Wine, $19.99
A unique blend of Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah, we knew immediately this would be a big Washington state red that our palates favor. We were right.  A beautiful nose of blueberries, almonds and licorice was followed by flavors of dark fruit, chocolate and spices on the finish. There is a lot going on with this complex wine.

CA4 – California Red Wine, $19.99
This is another unusual blend — Petite Sirah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Syrah and Grenache, from California’s diverse appellations: Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and the Sierra Foothills. Deep ruby in color, this is a robust red, offering flavors of intense berries, black fruits, smoke and savory notes, with a peppery finish that one might expect from Syrah.

These two wines were delightful, and we are looking forward to experiencing the remaining four samples. Until then, here are their tasting notes and price points.

OR4 – Oregon Red Wine, $23.99
“100% Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley; vivid red with a deep purple core, the nose is generous with ripe cherry, black raspberry, acacia flowers and hint of forest floor. Immediately, the palate is treated to a textural mélange of sweet cherry, pomegranate, rose petal and sappy strawberry. A lively mid-palate reveals a mineral twist and exotic spice notes juxtaposed with fine tannins and superb clarity on the finish.”

F4 – French Red Wine, $18.99
“A blend of Grenache, Syrah and assorted Bordeaux varieties; a dominant nose of raspberry, rhubarb and wild strawberry are complemented by savory aromas of humid tobacco, lavender and rose petal. An immediate entry of cranberry and other red fruit leads to a touch of savoriness. the wine is fresh and lively with great acidity and approachable tannins.”

E4 – Spanish Red Wine, $18.99
“A blend of Grenache/Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell and Carignan/Carinena; the wine presents a dark, polished amethyst with aromatic notes of white pepper, tobacco and black currant emerging from the glass. A silky mouthfeel with a palate of dark plums, black raspberry and hints of French vanilla closes with subtle tart black cherry and a lengthy, structural finish.”

AR5 – Argentinian Red Wine, $17.99
“A blend primarily of Malbec with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon; garnet in the glass, the wine exudes aromas of brambly boysenberry complemented by hints of antique rosewood and lavender. Immediately, the wine presents a rich entry of ripe red currant, hints of dark berries and subtle minerality, which transitions into an elegant and lingering finish of thyme and sage.>

The vision of Locations Wines is “Simple. Complex. Fun.”

Simple: “Make the best possible wine from a given country or location”

Complex: “Going out and tracking down the vineyards which are capable of delivering the quality of wine needed”

Fun: “Traveling the world to visit incredible sites and meeting amazing people that challenge each other to make the best wine possible”

Our final note: At this price point, we highly recommend that you try some, if not all, of the wines in this unique portfolio.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Adler Fels

Just in time for the holidays, Adler Fels has a reenergized vision and new releases of 2014 Pinot Noir and 2015 Chardonnay.

Although Adler Fels has been producing award-winning wines in California for more than 35 years, the winery decided on a rebirth in 2016 by focusing on “artisan wines with intense varietal character.” To do this, winemakers Aaron Bader and Linda Trotta “searched for the best vineyards in the best regions, grown by interesting people in interesting places.”

We joined the celebration by tasting samples, provided by the winery, of these two new releases.

Adler Fels 2014 The Eagle Rock Pinot Noir ($27.99)
Adler Fels is German for “Eagle Rock” — a fitting name since the winery is high on a crest in the Mayacamas mountains, with a fantastic view of many of California’s Napa and Sonoma vineyards.

This luscious wine is sourced from grapes in the Santa Rita Hills (76%) and the Russian River Valley (24%), and shows the true character of Pinot Noir. It features notes of black olives, earth, cedar, cherries, licorice and smoke, with a hint of caramel, vanilla and spices. We recommend decanting for a few hours, or cellaring this wine for a couple of years to truly bring out the flavors.

This lovely Pinot could be paired with turkey, mushroom dishes and hearty salads. Adler Fels recommends pairing it with grilled portobello mushrooms with garlic and baked brie. Yum!

Winemaker Aaron Bader says: “Making good Pinot is both a physical and mental exercise. And then it’s so darn delicious. It’s sexy, luscious, with that sweet perfume, a hint of maple syrup and lush fruit.”

Adler Fels 2015 The Eagle Rock Chardonnay ($19.99)
Also from grapes in the Russian River Valley (50%) in addition to Monterey County (50%), this is a wonderful wine for Chardonnay lovers. Well balanced, complex, creamy, yet fruit-forward, this true-to-character California Chardonnay features aromas and flavors of mango, peaches, pears and  honey comb.

You could pair this full-bodied, easy-drinking Chard with with tuna, salmon, vegetarian dishes or even pork chops. Adler Fels recommends pairing it with salmon rillettes.

Winemaker Linda Trotta says: “Subtlety is key for well-made Chardonnay — a challenge I relish.” She describes this vintage as refreshing, balanced and rich on the palate. “The bright acidity makes it a delicious and food-friendly wine.”

You can enjoy both wines for any occasion, including your holiday meals or parties.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave