UPDATE on Taste Washington & Washington Wine Month

Taste WA 2015Welcome to March, Taste Washington Wine Month, an annual celebration of the excellent juice made in this fine state.

The entire month is full of special deals and promotions by restaurants, wineries, hotels and retailers to honor more than 850 wineries in our exciting Washington state industry.

For example, discounts, flights and bonus pours of Washington state wines will be offered at many local wineries and tasting rooms across the state. Winemaker dinners will take place at various restaurants. There is a full calendar of Wine Month activities available, so you can plan ahead.

The momentum builds until the end of the month when the Super Bowl of wine events in Seattle, Taste Washington, is held on March 26-29 — the largest single-region wine and food event in the U.S.

New this year is Taste Washington on the Farm, a series of lunches on local farms, so you can meet the talented people who grow and produce northwest gourmet products. The lunches take place on March 27, right before Taste Washington’s Grand Tasting on March 29.

Three lunch experiences are available:

  • Cheese bliss at Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island
  • Exploring the lush Snohomish Valley at Willie Greens Organic
  • A Deep Dive into Oyster Growing at Taylor Shellfish on Samish Bay

Tickets are $165 per person and include transportation by Evergreen Escapes. For more details about the lunch experiences and tickets, visit Taste Washington on the Farm.

Other events featuring more than 225 Washington state wineries and more than 70 northwest restaurants add up to make Taste Washington a special four-day happening that you don’t want to miss:

  • March 26: VIP Red & White party is held on the Seattle waterfront, where exclusive pours come from magnums of 90+ point Washington wines.
  • March 27: The New Vintage offers a fantastic opportunity to interact with premier winemakers in a boutique downtown setting, sip great wine, eat gourmet bites and dance the night away.
  • March 28 & 29: Educational Seminars are led by top national wine personalities and sommeliers about topics that showcase various aspects of Washington wine, as well as wine and food pairing demonstrations by renowned chefs.
  • March 29: The Grand Tasting, the Super Bowl of wine events, which is so big that we highly recommend developing a plan before you enter the doors.

We recommend planning ahead for the Grand Tasting because once there, you will be hit with an explosion of taste potentials — and it can be overwhelming. For example, one year we decided to only taste wines made from 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.

We also 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, there are hotels nearby. 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

There’s nothing like a stellar Cab Franc from Washington State

Cab FrancOne of our favorite wines is Cabernet Franc, which is one of the main varieties in Bordeaux blends.

Many people don’t realize that Cab Franc is one of the genetic parents to Cabernet Sauvignon; the other is Sauvignon Blanc. In addition to Washington state, you can find it planted in California and in the Bordeaux and Loire regions in France.

Cab Franc is typically used as a blending wine to add more complexity to the robust Cabernet Sauvignon or more structure to the softer Merlot. But Cab Franc is also created as a single-varietal wine; in other words, a stand-alone wine.

When blended, it adds both a subtly and an “oomph” to Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties. But on its own, quite simply, Cabernet Franc is amazing.

Cab Franc is known for its complex aromas of cherry and berry, with notes of herbs, spices, chocolate, cedar, and even violets. Frequently wine enthusiasts describe the nose as a peppery perfume.

The hot climate in Walla Walla and Yakima Valley is perfectly suited to ripen the Cab Franc fruit. Wineries in Lake Chelan have also produced some fine vintages.

We’ve enjoyed many excellent stand-alone Washington state Cab Francs over the years, including a beautiful Matthews Estate 2003 Conner Lee Cab Franc, an elegant 2004 from Corliss Estates, a robust 2012 Outcast from Barrage Cellars, and a rich 2012 Cooper Estate Red Mountain Cabernet Franc.

Here are some other Washington state wineries that, in our opinion, produce the Cab Franc grape as a shining single-varietal wine.

What Cab Francs do you like best from Washington state? Please share your favorites with us!

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Our List of Top 50 Washington Wineries

NYE WineAs 2014 winds down and a new year begins, we want to reflect on the wineries in Washington state that made our list of Top 50 Washington Wineries.

The way to get on our list is fairly simple; we only have two criteria: wineries must offer good juice and good people who provide an excellent wine experience. Perhaps we had fun or learned something in a tasting room. Perhaps someone from the winery gave us a call, sent us a personal note or samples. Or perhaps we were invited to an incredible wine event.

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.

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

Top 50 Washington Wineries (in alphabetical order):

  • Airfield Estates
  • Alexandria Nicole Cellars
  • Avennia
  • Baer
  • Barrage Cellars
  • Barrister
  • Bartholomew
  • Betz Family
  • Boudreaux Cellars
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle
  • Columbia Crest
  • Cooper Wine Company
  • Darby
  • DiStefano
  • Double Canyon
  • Dunham Cellars
  • Efeste
  • Fall Line
  • Fidelitas
  • Fielding Hills
  • Figgins
  • Force Majeure
  • Forgeron Cellars
  • 14 Hands
  • Gard Vintners
  • Gilbert Cellars
  • Gorman Winery
  • Guardian Cellars
  • Hard Row to Hoe
  • JM Cellars
  • L’Ecole
  • Lauren Ashton
  • Long Shadows
  • Maryhill
  • Mercer Estates
  • Northstar
  • Northwest Totem Cellars
  • Obelisco Estate
  • Otis Kenyon
  • Quilceda Creek
  • Ross Andrew
  • Sleight of Hand
  • Sparkman Cellars
  • Va Piano
  • Vin du Lac
  • Walla Walla Vintners
  • William Church
  • Windy Point
  • Woodward Canyon
  • Woodhouse Wine Estates

We wanted to add Leonetti, Reynvaan, Cayuse, Andrew Will, Abeja, Amavi and others to the list because of their stellar wines, but we haven’t yet experienced their tasting rooms or met people from those wineries. Hopefully in 2015!

Cheers – happy holidays and happy new year!

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

What’s in Our Glasses Lately?

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 9.31.42 AMWe’ve had many reasons to celebrate in the last few months — birthdays, anniversaries and vacations — and what better time to pull out a bottle of fine Washington state wine from our cellar?

We also found some good-value reds lately — how can you miss at $14-$16 for Washington state juice?

So here is a mix of Washington state wine, at a wide range of prices — from $14-$75 — in alphabetical order. (Note: Some of these were small pours at the Woodinville Wine Country event, Reserve; others were bottles shared with friends.)

We hope you also have a chance to taste some of these beauties; if the above vintages are sold out, chances are the next ones are very drinkable too.

Special thanks to Angel Vine, Columbia Winery and McKinley Springs for the samples to taste.

Cheers!

Another Successful Taste Washington

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 12.02.07 PMEvery year, we find more things to rave about Washington state wine, celebrated in all its glory last week at Taste Washington.

Taste Washington is the country’s largest single-region wine and food event, which we like to describe as ”the Super Bowl of Washington state wine events.”

More than 200 wineries poured at Century Link Field, 70 restaurants shared tasty bites, and there were all kinds of ways to discover more about the state’s wine industry.

Our plan this year was to visit friends at wineries we know well and try some new wines. We decided to only taste red wines this year, because there were so very many wines to sample.

These our the highlights of our experience:

Top three favorite new (to us) wines, with brief descriptors

  • Walla Walla Vintners 2012 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley — Sassy, stunning, stellar, superlative
  • Double Canyon 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills — Velvety, vibrant, vivacious, victorious
  • Boudreaux Cellars 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon — Lovely, luscious, luxurious, luxe

Other favorites (in alphabetical order)

Longtime favorites (in alphabetical order)

Best bites (there were so many, but we only sampled a few)

Congratulations and thank you to the Washington Wine Commission and Visit Seattle for a such an excellent event and experience.

Cheers!

Get Ready for Washington Wine Month!

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 12.02.23 PMAs far as we’re concerned, every month is Washington wine month, because we are major supporters of our state’s abundance of good juice.

From Woodinville to Walla Walla, vineyards (where it all begins) and wineries come together to produce exceptional wines to please every palate.

But March is officially Washington Wine Month, so please celebrate with us. If you haven’t joined the parade yet, now is a perfect time.

In addition to celebrating our state’s award-winning wine, the Washington Wine Commission offers March promotions at participating restaurants, wine shops, winery tasting rooms and even some hotels. The Commission’s website provides a calendar to see what is going on any day of the month.

The festivities culminate in what we call “the Super Bowl of Washington state wine events,” Taste Washington on March 29-30. (And you know how well the real one turned out! Go Hawks!)

Taste Washington is the country’s largest single-region wine and food event. More than 200 wineries will be pouring at Century Link Field, 70 restaurants will be preparing tasty bites, and you can learn more about Washington wine at special seminars about the state’s one industry, wine-and-food pairings, wine blending and cooking with wine.

It is important to note that we recommend tasting and spitting wine during your time 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.

We’ll be writing more about Taste Washington in the weeks ahead but until then, stop by some of the 750+ wineries in our state and celebrate Washington Wine Month.

Cheers!

 

Mackey Vineyards, Walla Walla

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 5.34.39 PMWe recently had the opportunity to taste wine described as “hidden gems” from Walla Walla: Mackey Vineyards 2009 Syrah ($32), 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($32) and 2009 Concordia ($38). We give a thumbs up to all three.

Mackey Vineyards was launched in 2010 by Philip and Roger Mackey, who collaborated with winemaker Billo Naravane of Rasa Vineyards. Although gaining some local acclaim, the portfolio is not very well known across the state. As a result, Write for Wine received these samples to taste – and we are glad.

2009 Mackey Vineyards Syrah, Walla Walla Valley

This wine manages to pack a wallop, while being silky and elegant at the same time. Big and beautiful, this Syrah has a lovely nose with aromas of blackberry, vanilla and minerals, and is full of flavors of spice, black pepper and smoked meat — a showcase of the way this grape is crafted in Washington state. We enjoyed it with Dave’s amazing spaghetti, but this robust wine would also go well with grilled meats, game, beef stew and meat lover’s pizza. This Mackey Syrah is strong enough to simply pair with some tasty cheese, too – a mild but smokey blue cheese or a white cheddar.

2009 Mackey Vineyards Concordia, Columbia Valley

This deep, dark red wine is a Rhone blend of 77.4% Syrah, 12.9% Grenache, and 9.7% Mourvedre. In some circles, this big, peppery combination is known as GSM. Frankly, unlike many of our friends and colleagues, we are not big fans of Mouvedre or Grenache as stand-alone wines; there are many good ones in Washington state, but they aren’t to our palates. So we were always hesitant to taste a wine that blends those two grapes with Syrah. That is, until about a year ago, when Seven of Hearts in Carlton, Oregon encouraged us to stretch our palates and wowed us with their version. Thanks to Seven of Hearts, we decided to try again with this Concordia, and we loved it. The 2009 Mackey Vineyards Concordia showcases flavors of white pepper, black fruits, dark chocolate and vanilla. Mackey describes it as complex and decadent, and we agree.

2009 Mackey Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley

Our palates favor Bordeaux-style wines, so how could we not enjoy  a Cabernet Sauvignon that is rounded off with 15.8% Cabernet Franc and 5.3% Petit Verdot? This wine features a silky texture and good complexity, and we both talked about how it is a good every day wine to pair with some of our favorite home-cooked meals. But notably, we both also think it will age to become a special-occasion wine, if we cellar it for 5-8 years. In other words, it definitely is drinkable now, but has the potential to be be really powerful a few years down the road.

By the way, both the 2009 Mackey Vineyards Cab Sauv and Syrah won a gold at the 2012 Seattle Wine Awards and silver at the 2013 Tri-Cities Wine Festival last month. The 2009 Concordia received 92 points from The Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast, and 91 points from Wine Spectator.

Give all three a try and let us know what you think!

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

L’Ecole 41 Scores Again: Estate Cab Franc

We’ve been fans of L’Ecole No. 41 premium wines for decades. As the third-oldest winery in Washington state, L’Ecole No. 41 has been making consistently good wine since long before the state became home to more than 700 wineries.

Making good wine consistently, year over year, is a major feat.

L’Ecole 41 produces wine in the cellars of the historic Frenchtown School in Lowden, Washington, just outside Walla Walla. L’Ecole is French for school, and we first visited the winery in the turn-of-the-century schoolhouse — with original chalkboards, light fixtures and fir floors — in April 2007.

A few months later, this blog was born and one of our first posts, titled Who knew that “back to school” could be so much fun?, described a L’Ecole tasting at Vino Bello.

We have reveled in L’Ecole’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Apogee and Perigee blends for many vintages. You can tell by our blog post, written after a vertical tasting in 2010:

“What an experience tasting side-by-side verticals of these Bordeaux-style blends – the ’99, ’03 and ’07 Apogee from Pepper Bridge Vineyard and the ’03 and ’07 Estate Perigee from Seven Hills Vineyard. Apogee was rich, bold and earthy, while Perigee was elegant and complex. Comparing them over time sent me to Bordeaux heaven!”

Now we are adding L’Ecole’s Estate Cabernet Franc to our list of favorites.

The 2010 Estate Cabernet Franc, Seven Hills Vineyard, is one of L’Ecole’s exclusive bottlings. From time to time, with the right conditions, L’Ecole produces a limited amount of unique wines focusing on a specific block of fruit or a unique vineyard blend.  These wines are limited in quantity, a few hundred cases or less, and are typically available exclusively from the winery.

We opened a bottle (okay, let’s be honest, two bottles) on Friday night, and wow – L’Ecole’s 2010 Estate Cab Franc is one big, bold and beautiful red wine. From the winemaker and owner, Marty Clubb:

“Our Block 8 Cabernet Franc (planted 1997) from Seven Hills Vineyard historically played a blending role in our Estate Perigee and Estate Merlot. However with vines maturing, we had sufficient production to produce in addition, a small specialty bottling of this varietal beginning in 2006. In 14th leaf with this vintage, this robustly balanced and integrated wine shows a rich concentration of complex flavors that demanded to be bottled on its own.”

The acclaimed Seven Hills Vineyard, located in the south central portion of the Walla Walla Valley appellation, is co-owned by L’Ecole,  Leonetti Cellars and Pepper Bridge Winery. Approximately one-third of L’Ecole’s red wine production comes from Seven Hills, which was originally planted in 1981 and expanded to more than 230 acres.

There is still some of this luscious Cab Franc available on L’Ecole’s website – so what are you waiting for?

Cheers!

What’s in Our Glass?

Summertime means warm, lazy evenings on the deck and tasty weekend BBQs. And what better accompaniment than a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, a medium-bodied Pinot Noir or a robust Cabernet Sauvignon?

Yes, those have been in our glasses so far this summer – refreshing whites with prawns or humus on the deck, medium-bodied reds with unique, flavorful salads, and big and beautiful reds with hamburgers or on occasion, steaks.

Here are the wines in our glasses — at home or in tasting rooms — that we’ve loved in the past couple of months.

What’s in your glass this summer?

Cheers!

 

Mike Dunham, R.I.P.

Washington state’s wine industry lost a great man last week — Mike Dunham, 69, co-owner of Dunham Cellars, passed away May 18 after a four-year battle with kidney cancer.

In 1995, Mike and his son Eric created one of the most respected wineries in Walla Walla and in the state. Mike was the general manager, a businessman and loved by many people.

He will be remembered fondly and deeply by so many, including Trey Busch, one of the first employees at Dunham Cellars, and now owner and winemaker of Sleight of Hand Cellars in Walla Walla.

Trey posted this photo of Mike on Facebook, and kindly agreed to let me repost it here. Thank you, Trey.

We were fortunate to share a table with Mike and his wife, Joanne a couple of years ago at the Washington Wines Festival at Waterfront Seafood Grill in Seattle. As I wrote then:

We also talked about their winery in the remodeled World War II-era airplane hangar in Walla Walla, and we shared many, many tales of all of our dogs. The two of them had us laughing throughout the delicious dinner and prestigious auction. We had met Mike and Joanne briefly at their winery and at several wine events in the last 10 years or so. But we never had the luxury of time to talk to them at length, particularly over good food and delicious wine …

… We’ve always said that Washington wine is about so much more than the juice itself – it’s about the people, the stories and the spirit. Mike and Joanne Dunham, and their award-winning wines, exemplify the passion of the wine industry in this state.

We experienced great sadness to learn of Mike’s passing last weekend. He will be remembered for his graciousness, his humor, his smarts and his love for his family. He will be missed by so many who were fortunate enough to know him.

Mike is survived by his loving wife, Joanne, his son, Eric, and daughters Katy Dunham in Colorado and Michelle Sikma in Alaska.

R.I.P. Mike. We lift a glass of Dunham Cellars wine in your honor.

Cheers!