Why I love Washington state wines

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Much of the art of winemaking is in blending. I first realized that a few years ago when we had the fortune to visit Bordeaux. Ah, mais oui, we adored the Bordeaux blends. We couldn’t visit all 7,000 chateaux, naturellement, but we did explore the famous “Road of the Chateaux.” From Chateau Margaux to Chateau Lynch-Bages, we found some fabulous blends.

Washington state wine country is located on approximately the same latitude as Bordeaux, and shortly after our trip to France, we set out to discover our state’s Bordeaux-style wines. And we were delighted to find many Washington state winemakers who excel at the art of blending. From Fall Line’s 100% blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from different three different vineyards to 2003 Meritage (Columbia Valley) from Three Rivers Winery, Washington state winemakers know their craft.

The number of  Washington wineries increased 400% in the last decade, attracting two million annual visitors to Washington wine country and creating a multi-million dollar wine-tourism industry. Whether you live in the state or if you’re from the northwest — from British Columbia to Oregon — think about taking the short trip to Washington wine country on your next vacation.

Cheers!

Red Willow Vineyard: Part IV

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When we visited Red Willow Vineyard in early September, Mike Sauer talked passionately about the history of the land in the Yakima Valley and how it was affected by the repeated Lake Missoula floods at the end of the ice age. The area that became his peninsula vineyard, with its high elevation, was above the water level and not affected by the water-deposited silt and sand like much of the valley floor. By the time the first wine grapes were planted in 1973 at Red Willow Vineyard, the lasting lesson learned was wine grapes do best on poor soil and vines love the hillsides. The success of Red Willow Vineyard, where those 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon vines are still in production, demonstrates that.

Mike told the amazing story of Red Willow Vineyard to us that day. Rather than paraphrasing it here, I will point you to it on the Red Willow Vineyard Web site. However, I will share this, which is quoted on the Web site from An Illustrated Guide to Wine:

Four things go into the making of wine, whether it be good, bad or indifferent. First of all, the soil from which the vine grows; second, the climate, particularly the sun or the amount of sunshine which shines upon the vine in any given year; third, the type of grape used in the making of the wine; and last, but by no means least, the hand of the vigneron who makes the wine. The first is immovable and permanent, the second variable, the third important, and the last human. When these four come into alignment, the result can be a near miracle, and by the grace of God this sometimes happens.

Cheers!

What’s going on …

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Saturday, Sept. 29:

Sunday, Sept. 30:

  • Januik and Novelty Hill Wineries host “Fall Harvest” from Noon to 3 p.m. with a fall cooking class, a cozy meal, a selection of wine from both wineries and a tour of the winery. Cost: $90 per person. Call 425-481-5502.

  • Fall Harvest Wine Tasting, hosted by Precept Wine Brands, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Shilshole Bay Beach Club, 6413 Seaview Ave. NW. Cost is $5 and includes a complimentary wine glass, wine tasting and light appetizers. RSVP by Sept. 24 to allym@preceptbrands.com

Tuesday, Oct. 2 and Wednesday, Oct. 3

  •  Wilridge Winery’s popular Vintage Release Party returns again this year on these two nights–it’s the only time this winery is open to the public!  Winemaker Paul Beveridge will be on hand to showcase his new wines and tell you all about his new vineyard near Yakima. 1416 34th Avenue in Seattle. 206-850-2098.

Saturday, Oct. 6

  • Don’t miss  Alexandria Nicole Cellars Puget Sound Wine Dinner in Prosser on Oct. 6. It sounds like a great event for $75 per person – starting at the tasting room at 11 a.m., moving on to a vineyard tour and cellar tasting, and then back to the tasting room for dinner. 

Tuesday, Oct. 9

 Thursday, Oct. 11

  • Wine of Europe Tasting at The Wine Alley in Renton from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Four wine samples, salami and cheese for $10 per person.

Saturday, Nov. 10 and Sunday, Nov. 1

  • Taste of Red, Columbia Winery’s premier wine tasting and social event will be held from noon to 6 p.m. on both days. Taste an extensive collection of red wine, including wine pulled directly from the barrel. Samples of northwest food will also be available. Admission is $20 per person ($10 for Cellar Club members) and includes a logo tasting glass.

Tuesday, Nov. 13

Thanksgiving Weekend:

  •  Grand Opening of Wilridge Vineyard Tasting Room near Yakima over Thanksgiving Weekend (November 23, 24 and 25). Be the first to visit Wilridge’s organic and biodynamic vineyard oasis and Tasting Room on the Naches Heights, five minutes west of Yakima.

Tuesday, Dec. 11

Red Willow Vineyard: Part III

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The terroir — what exactly does that mean? According to Wikipedia’s definition, terroir is loosely translated as “a sense of place”– the type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and winemaking, all of which contribute to give a specific personality to the wine. At Red Willow Vineyard, terroir is all of the above and then some. As mentioned in a previous post, Red Willow owner and self-proclaimed farmer, Mike Sauer defines wine as bringing the soil, the site, the season and the efforts of many people together into a single vintage.

We visited Red Willow Vineyard in early September as part of a group of visitors from Columbia Winery’s Cellar Club. Mike talked passionately to us about the terroir which he, too, described as a sense of place. He told us the story of a Texas couple who enjoyed his wine so much in Dallas that the man brought his girlfriend up to Yakima Valley to visit Red Willow Vineyard, where he proposed to her in the vineyard’s distinct chapel on a hillside surrounded by vines. Mike then told us: “Hopefully, the terroir is also part of the special memories of your life.”

In our case, it most definitely is. We were engaged at a winery — Maurice Carrie Winery in Temecula, California –long before Washington wines became my passion. We go back to Maurice Carrie because it’s a special place for us, just like Red Willow Vineyard is a special place for that Dallas couple. But something tells me that we’ll also be going back to Red Willow Vineyard for one of our future anniversaries because it became a special place to us during our visit there.

Cheers!

“Outstanding” in The Wine Advocate

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This is the first year that Brian Carter Cellars submitted wine to The Wine Advocate and the results are superlative! Mike Stevens, BCC’s business manager, proudly showed us The Wine Advocate August 2007 ratings when we recently stopped by the Woodinville tasting room.

And Mike has every reason to be proud — four wines by winemaker Brian Carter were described as “outstanding” by Robert Parker: the 2005 Oriana, 2003 Tuttorosso, 2003 L’Etalon and the winery’s flagship 2001 Solesce.

Our favorite is the 2001 Solesce–we are keeping several bottles in our cellar based on Mike’s recommendation that this wine demands 3-5 years of further bottle age. The 1999 Solece was a blend of more Merlot than the 2001 Solece, which has 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 12% Cab Franc and 3% Malbec. We have a bottle or two of the 1999 in our cellar too.

We’re also looking forward to a vertical that will soon be sold by the winery: a package of signed bottles of three vintages of Solece — 1999, 2000 and 2001. See which one you like best — let them age and you’re in for a fabulous experience with any of them.

Cheers!

This cab just keeps getting better!

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I love Cabernets. Years ago, I bought my husband a mouse-pad with the then-little-known statement: “Life is a Cabernet. ” These days, you can find the saying on hats, aprons and t-shirts, too.

But I digress. What I really want to talk about is the pleasant surprise we had during a recent trip to one of our favorite wineries, Woodhouse Family Cellars. We’ve always loved their Maghee Merlot-one of the best we’ve ever tasted. But this time, we visited the Woodinville tasting room to place our pre-order for the elegant flagship wine, 2002 Darighe.

While we were there, we sampled some wines from their tasting menu, including the 2001 Kennedy Shah Cabernet Sauvignon. It was not our first time with this fine Cab. But it was the best time! This bold Cab just keeps getting better and better with age. This old-World style wine is a plush blend of 75% Cab, 15% Merlot and 10% Cab Franc.

The tasting notes state: “A bold, ripe and plush wine with tiers of black currant, boysenberry and bing cherry. Herbs, cedar and spices linger in the finish.” My taste doesn’t always mirror tasting notes, but in this case, I could really taste the cherry in addition to the spices in the finish. I always liked the 2001 Kennedy Shah Cab. But now, I absolutely love it!

Cheers!

What’s going on …

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Saturday, Sept. 22:

  • Don’t miss Taste of the Harvest (formerly the annual Apple Harvest Festival) from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in downtown Wenatchee. The festival offers wine tastings from nine local wineries with food pairings from local restaurants.

  • Wines from France at Vino Bello from 4 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. $10 tasting fee. Call 206-244-VINO.

  • Welcome Alexandria Nicole Cellars and Darby Cellars to Woodinville at the grand opening of their shared tasting room. Tasting and tapas starts at 4:30 p.m. for wine club members and 6 p.m. for the general public. 19501 144th Ave. NE.

  • Wines from Washington state winery Canyon’s Edge  at Vino Bello from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. $10 tasting fee. Call 206-244-VINO.

Sunday, Sept. 30:

  • Januik and Novelty Hill Wineries host “Fall Harvest” from Noon to 3 p.m. with a fall cooking class, a cozy meal, a selection of wine from both wineries and a tour of the winery. Cost: $90 per person. Call 425-481-5502.
  • Fall Harvest Wine Tasting, hosted by Precept Wine Brands, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Shilshole Bay Beach Club, 6413 Seaview Ave. NW. Cost is $5 and includes a complimentary wine glass, wine tasting and light appetizers. RSVP by Sept. 24 to allym@preceptbrands.com

Tuesday, Oct. 2 and Wednesday, Oct. 3

  •  Wilridge Winery’s popular Vintage Release Party returns again this year on these two nights–it’s the only time this winery is open to the public!  Winemaker Paul Beveridge will be on hand to showcase his new wines and tell you all about his new vineyard near Yakima. 1416 34th Avenue in Seattle. 206-850-2098.

Saturday, Oct. 6

  • Don’t miss  Alexandria Nicole Cellars Puget Sound Wine Dinner in Prosser on Oct. 6. It sounds like a great event for $75 per person – starting at the tasting room at 11 a.m., moving on to a vineyard tour and cellar tasting, and then back to the tasting room for dinner. 

Tuesday, Oct. 9

Saturday, Nov. 10 and Sunday, Nov. 11

  • Taste of Red, Columbia Winery’s premier wine tasting and social event will be held from noon to 6 p.m. on both days. Taste an extensive collection of red wine, including wine pulled directly from the barrel. Samples of northwest food will also be available. Admission is $20 per person ($10 for Cellar Club members) and includes a logo tasting glass.

Tuesday, Nov. 13

Thanksgiving Weekend:

  •  Grand Opening of Wilridge Vineyard Tasting Room near Yakima over Thanksgiving Weekend (November 23, 24 and 25). Be the first to visit Wilridge’s organic and biodynamic vineyard oasis and Tasting Room on the Naches Heights, five minutes west of Yakima.

Tuesday, Dec. 11

Time to tour Walla Walla

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It’s official — it’s Crush! And that’s hot off the presses from Walla Walla News. “It’s Crush throughout the valley — the best time to tour Walla Walla wine country. The weather is sunny with moderate temperatures, and there is activity at every winery so that visitors can feel the excitement of the harvest firsthand.”

Of course, the same goes for the Yakima Valley and other parts of Washington wine country. So in honor of Crush, here are some links for you:

 And for everything wine in the Northwest, visit my friends at Wines Northwest, too!

Cheers!

Red Willow Vineyard: Part II

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In an earlier post, I described the wonderful people, the Sauer family, at Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. In the weeks ahead, I am going to write about the grapes, the terroir and more about the incredible story of the Sauer family. Right now, I’m going to tell you about how we met them in the first place.

As members of Columbia Winery’s Cellar Club, we signed up for a trip last weekend to visit Red Willow Vineyard and to join in the 25th anniversary celebrations at The Hogue Cellars in Prosser. (I’ll write about the Hogue visit in a future post.) The wine club makes this pilgrammage every year, and we highly recommend that you sign up next year. We had a fabulous time with a great group of people — wine enthusiasts from Edmonds through the Tri-Cities — and the club organizers, Michele Rennie and Dianna Murray.

The trip started in Yakima, where we gathered to take a short bus ride to Red Willow Vineyard. As I’ve mentioned before, Mike Sauer, his wife Karen and son Jon made this experience one we will always remember. First, we watched a film and a presentation about the Yakima Valley’s growth and history as a wine region. As we tasted Columbia Winery’s 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Red Willow and 2001 Syrah Red Willow and nibbled on ripe huckleberries, we learned about the terroir and the passion of grape growing. The respect that the Sauer family has for the soil, the slope and the climate was evident throughout the evening.

On we went to toast the vineyards with Columbia Winery’s 2000 Peninsula Red Willow, which we preferred even more than the previous vintage that we tasted last year. A fantastic BBQ in the vineyard was followed by a wagon ride to the hillside chapel, where we toasted the beautiful sunset with more excellent Red Willow wines. The chapel was built with stones from the farm and took three years to build. It proudly and distinctly stands, surrounded by hillside vines of Syrah and Viognier–both grapes were first grown in Washington state right there at Red Willow Vineyard.

The beauty of the vineyard took our breath away. The spirit of the land and the passion of the people who grow the grapes intensified our experience. At the top of that hillside, and throughout the evening, the wine club members, the organizers and our hosts, the Sauer family–all of us–shared a comraderie, a joy of the grape and the land where it grows, a love of the wine, and a deep pride in Washington state’s wine industry.

Cheers!

The Cellar Club Rocks

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We can’t say enough good things about the Columbia Winery Cellar Club. The people who work for the club and in the tasting room are friendly and helpful; the wine is consistently good; the discounts are big (30% off reorders of each release); and there’s a host of events to attend throughout the year. (Shout out to Michele, Diana and Suzanne!)

In addition, our club releases are accompanied by an interesting and informative newsletter. (No, I don’t write it, although–shameless plug–my company, Write for Wine, does exactly that–creates newsletters, e-newsletters and Web content for wineries and others in the wine industry.)

For example, next to Columbia Winery’s tasting notes and technical data about each bottle in the August release is a pairing recipe. So our newsletter tells us about 2002 Covey Run Reserve Merlot–“a powerful wine packed with classic cherry, raspberry and dark fruit flavors overlain with leather and dusty notes. Its intensely dark, red-purple color and youthful structure show great potential for cellaring.” (Oops, we already drank our bottle!) And it also gives us a mouth-watering recipe for fresh figs with manchego cheese, balsemic vinegar and pine nuts. And if the recipe alone didn’t get the taste buds’ attention, we are treated to these words of wisdom from Andrea Immer, author of Everyday Dining with Wine: “The cheese softens the tannins of the Merlot, the fig flavor mirrors their fruit, and the toasted nuts echo their oakiness.” Yum!

The Columbia Winery newsletter also tells us that the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon from Otis Vineyard has “aromatics of cedar, toasty oak and earth on the nose. Supple tannins deliver a clean finish.” This time the food pairing is linguine with walnuts, arugula and olives. “This vegetarian dish echoes the earthy, slightly herbaceious notes that Washington Cabs are known for. The toasted walnuts highlight the toastiness of oak in the wine, while the olives and arugula pick up on the cedar notes.”

Now if only Andrea Immer could do the cooking while we drink!

Cheers!

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