Optimum Wine from Fidelitas

We try to visit new tasting rooms on every trip to Washington wine country and last month, the Bordeaux blends at Fidelitas were calling my name. Yes, we had tasted and appreciated Charlie Hoppes’ hand-crafted fine wines at numerous events in the Seattle area over the last couple of years. But it was the first time we stopped at the tasting room on Red Mountain.

We had a wonderful time. The staff was friendly, the wines most definitely worth writing about, and the location – well, it’s Red Mountain!

It was one of those hot September days, so the 2008 Jaguar Pinot Gris was a refreshing opening to the many options on the Fidelitas tasting menu. Better yet, proceeds of this reasonably priced $15 wine go to the local Tri-Cities Prep High school.

On the other end of the price spectrum at $60, 2006 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was absolutely amazing. We were not surprised to find out that this intense and impressive wine was rated 93 points by Wine Spectator.

But the wine that we took home was 2006 Columbia Valley Optu Red. As the name indicates, this wine is optimum – a blend of fruit from six Columbia Valley vineyards made with Fidelitas finesse. This rich and classic wine blends 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot and 9% Cab Franc from these six vineyards: Champoux, Kiona, Weinbau, Stillwater, Conner-Lee and Boushey. Of course this wine would be magnificent!

And since it was magnificent when we tasted it at its release date (Sept. 2009), you know it’s going to be even more of a standout after a bit of time in the cellar.

While we were at the tasting room, we also discovered that Charlie worked with well-known grower Dick Boushey to plant Cabernet Sauvignon there. We will most definitely go back to Fidelitas, and we look forward to tasting Fidelitas’ first estate-grown and bottled wine in the future.


Attention Wine Bloggers: WBC-or-Bust

There’s very exciting news today from WineCHATr about a great contest for wine bloggers who are attending the North American Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla in 2010. And I (aka Write for Wine ) am honored to be a contest judge!

So please read and share the information below: blog about it, tweet about it, and most importantly – sign up with WineCHATr and start blogging about the fine wines of Washington state!


In conjunction with the third annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference, WineCHATr.com is offering 12 citizen wine writers the opportunity to catch a free ride across Washington to attend the WBC. The road trip will begin in Seattle on Wednesday, June 23 and end in Walla Walla two days later for the conference. Along the way participating wine bloggers will experience Washington wine country first hand as they wine and dine their way across the state.

In order to qualify for the “WBC-or-BUST” campaign wine bloggers need only signup on WineCHATr.com, add a contest badge to their website, and then blog about Washington wine. At the conclusion of the campaign 12 bloggers will win a seat on the all expenses paid road trip headed to Walla Walla and the 2010 WBC.

WBC-or-BUST contest begins Oct. 26 and runs through April 23.


Cellared in Canada, eh?

The wine industry in Canada has changed a lot since I moved from Vancouver in 1997. And life has been so busy in the Washington state wine industry that I haven’t kept as close an eye on my old stomping grounds. That changed recently with the considerable media attention given to the labelling “Cellared in Canada” (CIC).

The recent grapes-of-wrath controversy began on Aug. 17 in a blog post called The Canadian Con by influential British wine writer Jancis Robinson. She noted that the term “Cellared in Canada” – in small print on the back label of a bottle – revealed the wines contained a blend of Canadian and imported wine. (In many cases, CIC wines contain 60- to 100-percent juice from imported grapes.)

Robinson scolded the industry for shelving and marketing them as wines from B.C. or Ontario. “I think it is doing a disservice to real Canadian wine and its reputation abroad to continue with this misleading practice. It is just so difficult to take Canadian producers seriously when they are allowed to mislead the wine-buying public to this extent.”

Not surprisingly, her blog post generated widespread attention by leading industry writers such as Wines & Vines author Peter Mitham (Cellared in Canada Wines Under Seige), Canadian author John Schreiner (Cellared in Canada Controversy Blows Up), and also in influential publications such as Wine Spectator, The Financial Times and the Economist.

Demonstrations started popping up at liquor stores in Ontario. And faster than you could say “CIC,” a Facebook group was created called Boycott Cellared in Canada Wines – almost 1,250 fans belong as of today. Then yesterday, one of the most detailed explanations appeared in The Montreal Gazette by Bill Zacharkiw: When does a wine become Canadian? 

“Cellared in Canada (CiC) is a classification of wines blended and bottled in Canada, yet are made mostly with imported grapes, from such places as Chile, California and Washington State.” (Just think, for example, if Woodinville wines had to be labelled “Cellared in Woodinville” because the grapes came from Red Mountain.)

So questions continue to swirl around whether these wines should be made in the first place, what percentage of grapes should be from Canada, labelling, product placement, merchandizing, marketing and, of course, price points.

Somehow, I suspect this grapes-of-wrath debate will continue in the months ahead. And not only in Canada, eh?

Cab Classic, Sips N Shoes & More

David LeClaire puts on some awesome wine events in the northwest – we’ve attended too many to count and always have such a good time. That’s why I want to tell you about a few events he has planned for the next few weeks, so you can put them on your calendar!

We’ve always enjoyed Sexy Syrah at Salty’s, so we know we’ll have fun at a similar event, The Cabernet Classic, on Oct. 28 at Shilshole Bay Beach Club — a Grand Tasting of an amazing array Cabernets and Cab-based blends. If you love Cab, like we do, we hope to see you there!

So many wonderful Washington wineries will be offering their great Cabs at The Cabernet Classic, including Brian Carter Cellars, DiStefano, Forgeron Cellars, Gilbert Cellars, Otis Kenyon, Smasne Cellars and Windy Point. In addition, this is a fundraiser for CoCA, Center of Contemporary Art. (You can purchase tickets at that linked website.)

Other events that David has planned in the near future include:

  •  A Grand Tasting of Southern Oregon wineries (according to David, “the guys who don’t make Pinot!”) at the Governor Hotel on Nov. 1 in Portland
  • The very popular Sips N Shoes returns on Nov. 8 in Seattle
  • Another first-time event, The Grape Cup — “a Husky vs. Cougar Alumni winemaker taste-off for bragging rights the week before the Apple Cup” on Nov. 19

More information can be found at David’s Uncorked website.  


William Church Winery Gets Social Media

We’ve been fans of William Church Winery for a few years now, applauding their wines such as Bishop’s Blend, Malbec, Syrah and more recently 2 Spires. We’ve also cheered for founders Rod and Leslie Balsley, who have a strong belief of the integral role wine plays in the social fabric of life.

They also believe that social media has an integral role for Washington wineries. That was demonstrated last Saturday when they invited bloggers to their Woodinville tasting room for a special event and tweet-up to discuss the importance of social media and the best way to build relationships.

William Church Winery has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. They also set up a Twitter hashtag (#wcwine) for the blogger event last weekend, where they discussed how social media can be an extension of their tasting room – a way to meet people, learn about them, discuss a mutual appreciation of fine wine, and introduce them to William Church wines.

Leslie and Rod get that social media can help them build deeper relationships with their supporters and reach potential new fans and customers. And they also know that listening is key; the dialogue needs to be two-way and not just a one-way news stream about their winery events and releases. That was evident in the topics of discussion for the evening – which included asking bloggers what is important to us and how they can help us build our audience.

So, as you can imagine, we had a wide-ranging chat about social media last Saturday as we sampled their current releases – 2008 Viognier, 2007 2 Spires and 2007 Syrah – and a barrel sample of 2008 Syrah and 2008 Malbec, plus a pre-release sample of 2007 Bishop’s Blend. (Its release date is Nov. 14.)

If you look at the Twitter hashtag, you’ll see the wines generated positive comments from everyone. And we unanimously loved William Church’s 2007 Malbec, which won a Double Gold at the 2009 Seattle Wine Awards. (Also unanimous – some amazing ’07 Syrah sausage, but that’s another story.)

In the name of full disclosure, Leslie and Rod have become friends over the years that we’ve been visiting their tasting room. And, on occasion, they bounce ideas off me. I was excited when they told me that they were planning this bloggers-only event in Woodinville. And I  hope that other Washington wineries will soon follow suit.


Fall Events at Chateau Ste. Michelle

Many Washington state wineries have fall events to showcase their wines, and Chateau Ste. Michelle is no exception. From evenings of wine and cheese (or chocolate) to a wild game dinner, almost everyone should find something that suits their fancy.

  • Evenings of Wine & Cheese: Chateau Ste. Michelle’s wines are paired with gourmet cheeses, Nov. 18 and Dec. 16 
  • Wine & Chocolate Tasting: Learn how to pair wine with chocolate in a special event with experts from Queen Anne’s Chocolopolis and Chateau Ste. Michelle, Nov. 1
  • Wild Game Chef Dinner: Flavorful wild game paired with Chateau Ste. Michelle wines, Nov. 21;  seats are limited.

For more information, see the Chateau Ste. Michelle website or call 425-415-3300.


It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere

FB Wine OclockIf you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, or if you have a look at the Wine O’Clock tab on this blog, you will see that my motto is “It’s wine o’clock somewhere.”

It’s been my motto for about five or more years. In fact, you can also find this Write for Wine blog at http://wineoclock.us

I initially heard the phrase from Peter, a London friend and colleague. Every Friday, at 5:30 p.m. in London, Peter would tell me that it’s wine o’clock. In Seattle, it was the beginning of the day. So I decided to add “somewhere” to Peter’s phrase and adopted it as my own.

And the phrase “It’s wine o’clock somewhere” never fails to inspire creative responses from other wine enthusiasts on Facebook and Twitter.

One tweet – to my surprise and delight – flagged that a Wine O’Clock Wine Bar is in Prosser in central Washington. So of course we made a special trip to the Wine O’Clock Wine Bar when we visited Prosser at the end of September. Unfortunately, the wine bar was closed. But as you can see, we took photos by the sign! 

So thank you, Peter, and cheers! It’s wine o’clock somewhere!

Cab Franc from Gilbert Cellars

We recently stopped by Gilbert Cellars in Yakima, where we tasted a pre-release of one of the best Cab Francs we’ve ever experienced in Washington state. We also loved the pre-release of the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Both of these excellent wines will be released in mid-October.

The 2007 Cab Franc comes from grapes that were planted in the mid-1980s at Indian Wells Vineyard. Words can’t describe how amazing this wine tastes. The same goes for the 2007 Estate Cab. I’ve written favorably about previous vintages, but this new release supercedes them all.

While we were there, Sean Gilbert and his team were notified that they won “Best Tasting Room in Yakima Valley” from the Yakima Valley Times. We were not surprised – in the year since our last visit to the inviting tasting room, the wine list has grown, as has the menu. And Gilbert Cellars’ tasting room recently was featured in Wines and Vines.

Indeed, Gilbert Cellars has been in the news a lot lately, so it also wasn’t surprising to find out that in 2008, they had more than doubled their production from 2006. And while Cab Franc and Cab Sauv were our favorites, followed by 2006 Claret, Gilbert Cellars has also won rave reviews for its 2006 Malbec and 2006 Syrah.

Stop by if you are anywhere near Yakima – and if you’re in the Seattle area, seek them out at wine events – they’re at many of them!


Airfield Estates: Not Your Simple Merlot

We always have a wonderful time when we visit Airfield Estates and our recent stop at the Prosser winery was no exception. Winemaker and General Manager Marcus Miller and Amy Sonnichsen, assistant general manager, gave us a tour of the winery, where we saw grapes just harvested and others fermenting.

We also tasted several good wines – including the new release of Airfield’s very popular signature blend 2008 Bombshell Red ($16), 2007 Syrah, and the Reserve Cab. But our favorite – and I wish we had purchased more! – was the 2007 Merlot ($22).

As the bottle and tasting notes state, “this is not your ‘simple’ Merlot.” Indeed, this is one of the most complex Merlots we’ve ever tasted. We were not suprised to hear that it was awarded an “Outstanding” at the Seattle Wine awards.

We always enjoy the sights at Airfield Estates – located on a World War II airbase — including this airplane made of wine barrels and a chandelier of wine glasses. Airfield Estates has a fascinating history and stories to share – coupled with good wine and good people, it’s a must-visit on any trip to Prosser.

Barrel Planewineglass chandelier


Alexandria Nicole Cellars Harvest Party

Alexandria Nicole Cellars knows how to party! The winery’s Ring in the Harvest party on Sept. 26 was held at ANC’s Destiny Ridge Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, and we enjoyed every second of it, along with about 400 other people.

That’s because ANC knows how to put on a party. This event was so well planned – from the special hotel rate at the Marriott in Richland, to the party buses to take us on the 45-minute drive to the vineyard, to the steak-and-lobster dinner (yes, steak and lobster for 400 people!), two bands, and let’s not forget the incredible wines, a skeet-shooting contest, grape stomping and much much more.

The party also marked the release of ANC’s 2007 “Mr. Big” Petite Sirah. Regular readers of Write for Wine know that we are big fans of Jarrod Boyle’s wines, and Mr. Big just might top the list. We’re not alone in praise for “Mr. Big.” Here’s how Paul Gregutt described it in his PG blog:

It’s rare to find petite sirah in Washington, but lovers of the grape will want to snag a bottle of Mr. Big. Very dark and concentrated, it wraps its fruit-powered flavors in sweet baking spices. Big and brawny as it is, it does not seem aggressively tannic, and the sweet barrel flavors – vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar – cut through and surround the round, ripe fruit.

Also in agreement about “Mr. Big” were the wonderful people at our table at the Harvest party. We had such a great time meeting Martha, Carolyn, Jonathan, Stephen, Sandy, Mark, Patty and more!

The Harvest Party was just one of many wine club events held by Alexandria Nicole Cellars. If you’re thinking about joining a wine club that’s in both Prosser or Woodinville, be sure to check out ANC’s wine club.