Recommendation: Download this free wine app!

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 3.32.47 PMOur favorite app these days is Vivino. Its slogan is  “Never Pick Another Bad Wine” — and the process is very simple.

All you have to do is download the free app, and then use your smartphone or tablet to take a photo of the label on a bottle of wine. Vivino then scans through its database, and in seconds you will be shown details about the wine, including ratings, reviews and prices.

The information comes from Vivino’s 13-million users – making it the world’s largest community of wine drinkers. The app is easy to navigate, and also offers articles, regional guides and suggestions about where to buy wines nearby.

We use Vivino in so many ways; here are some recent examples:

  1. During a December trip to Washington, D.C., we wanted to pay corkage for a nice bottle of wine to celebrate a special event at an upscale restaurant. We went to a liquor store near our hotel and found a few bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon from four wineries we recognized. But we hadn’t tasted any recent vintages from those wineries, so we didn’t know which wine to buy. We took photos of the labels of all four bottles, read and compared the Vivino reviews and voila, it was easy to make a decision.
  2. Our friends had us over for dinner and poured several excellent wines. We wanted to remember our favorites, so out came Vivino. We took photos of the bottles, rated them and wrote notes to refer to later on. We will never forget another bottle of wine, thanks to Vivino.
  3. We were at Costco and decided to buy a few bottles of our favorite good-value red. We had enjoyed the 2012 vintage, but this time Costco only offered the 2013. So we took a photo with Vivino and found that the 2013 vintage was rated higher than the 2012. Out came our wallets!
  4. We went out for dinner with friends and didn’t recognize some of the offerings on the restaurant’s wine list. (We know many wines from Washington state, Oregon, California, British Columbia, France, Australia and New Zealand, and several from Italy, Spain, Argentina and Chile, but we’re not as familiar with wines from Germany, Portugal, Austria, South Africa and other countries.) So we scanned the restaurant’s wine list to see the ratings and reviews, and then made a decision about which ones to pair with our meals.
  5. Vivino also works with U.S. wine retailers to provide exclusive, discounted offers on high-quality wine to its users. We recently ordered four bottles of an excellent Cab Sauv from Napa Valley at a good price point. An extra bonus: shipping is often free when you purchase a few bottles.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 4.21.15 PMVivino also has social media attributes, so you can follow friends who use the app and see what they are drinking and enjoying. You can even like or comment on their reviews.

Of note, Vivino has excellent label recognition software and mostly gets labels immediately correct. But occasionally a different vintage or a different variety might be displayed from that same winery — when that happens, there is a super easy way to change it, and the correct label quickly shows up. And if the app can’t automatically identify a wine, Vivino’s team will manually do so for you — although it takes more than a few seconds.

You don’t have to wait as long if you upgrade to Vivino’s paid premium feature ($49.99), which fast-tracks the manual process for your unidentified labels. Another plus of the premium feature is cellar management. If it’s hard to remember where a specific bottle is located in your cellar (or in your wine coolers or wine racks), Vivino can help you out there too.

So whether you are an expert, enthusiast or simply enjoy wine, Vivino can help you find the best ones and remember them.

Vivino also recently released its 2016 Wine Style Awards, which you can read more about in our next blog post.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Cabernet Classic in Bellevue

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 3.41.10 PMAttention Cabernet lovers! The sixth annual Cabernet Classic, presented by Seattle Uncorked, will be held on Saturday Feb. 6 at the new Porsche Bellevue dealership — the first time this prestigious event has been held in Bellevue.

This is a perfect time to experience some of Washington state’s finest Cabs from 28 exclusive wineries. Current releases of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab-based blends will be poured as well as library selections. Light appetizers will be served by Bin On The Lake.

The special evening is from 6-9 p.m. The cost is $100, with net proceeds going to Talk It Up TV & The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Complimentary valet parking will be provided by Butler Valet.

Cabernet is King in our household, and if it is in yours too, this is one event you won’t want to miss.

Tickets are available from Stranger Tickets.

Here are the featured wineries:
Alleromb
Ambassador Vineyard
Betz Family Winery
Bunnell Family Cellar
Corliss/Tranche
Cote Bonnevile
DeLille Cellars
Dunham Cellars
Efeste
Fidelitas
Figgins Estate
Five Star Cellars
Hedges Family Estates
J.Bookwalter Winery
L’Ecole No. 41
Mullan Road
Obelisco Estate
Pepper Bridge Winery
Reininger Winery
Smasne Cellars
Sparkman Cellars
Upchurch Vineyard
Va Piano Vineyards
Walla Walla Vintners
Waters Winery
Woodward Canyon

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

All About That Corkage

Bordeaux RedWe often like to bring our own wine to restaurants for several reasons: We can drink wines that we know we like; we can pair one of our special wines with an excellent restaurant meal instead of our mediocre cooking; and we don’t have to pay the marked-up cost on restaurant wine lists. (Some wines can be marked up by 30%-100% above retail.)

Instead, we pay a corkage fee that a restaurant charges when you bring your own bottle. But prices vary, depending on the city, the type of restaurant (e.g., casual vs. fine dining) and other factors.

Some charge a small fee to cover their expenses to open and serve your wine, and to wash your glasses. Others charge a fee that is the same as the least expensive wine on their list. Yet others charge higher fees to discourage the practice or because their wine list contains high-end bottles with corresponding prices.

Some restaurants will waive the corkage on one bottle if you buy a bottle from the restaurant. This enables you to discover a new wine, while also enjoying your favorite bottle from home.

wine-glasses-photo-courtesy-Marcus-Whitman-Hotel-e1294811651743We’ve been charged anywhere from $5-$30 a bottle, depending on the restaurant’s policy. For example, last weekend we were at a Bellingham restaurant and corkage was $10. In Seattle, we’ve paid anywhere from $5-$20. Last month, a DC restaurant charged $30, which was a bargain compared to the price of wine on its list. We’ve heard that a couple of world-renowned, high-end restaurants in Napa Valley have been known to charge a $75-$150 corkage fee, and a posh Manhattan establishment charges $85.

If you are considering bringing your own wine to dinner, there are some simple rules of etiquette to make the experience a good one.

  • Phone the restaurant in advance to see if bringing your own wine is permitted, and then ask if they have a corkage fee.
  • On that same call, find out if your bottle is available at the restaurant. Never, never bring wine that is on a restaurant’s wine list.
  • If you wine isn’t on their list, let them know you are planning to bring your own bottle, when you make the reservation.
  • Along those same lines, never bring a cheap wine — at least $25 is best.
  • When you go to the restaurant, don’t carry the bottle in a paper bag. If you have a nice container, great. Otherwise, simply carry it on its own.
  • Let the host or hostess and your server know you brought your own bottle to drink, and then follow their lead on next steps.
  • If you bring a special bottle of wine, offer your server and/or the sommellier a taste. It will be appreciated.

Bottom line: It’s best to know a restaurant’s policy on corkage fees before showing up with a bottle of your own wine.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Run, Don’t Walk, for Tickets to SWFE!

You’d better move quickly – tickets are going fast for the eighth annual  Seattle Wine and Food Experience. If you like good wine, beer and food, mark your calendars for this delicious experience on Feb. 20-21.

The activities kick off Feb. 20 with Pop! Bubbles & Seafood at McCaw Hall from 6-9 p.m. On Feb. 21, the Grand Tasting takes place at Seattle Center Exhibition Hall from 1-5 p.m. — but once again there is a VIP experience, with a one-hour early entry.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 5.48.12 PMPop! Bubbles & Seafood offers more than 40 sparkling wines from around the world, to be paired with seafood — from salmon and clams to oysters and shrimp — prepared by 16 local chefs. And let’s not forget the caviar! Other beverages available are red and white wines, special cocktails, cold beer and chilled cider.

The Grand Tasting features more than 190 leading wine brands, craft brewers, cider makers, distillers and chefs.

“We’ve added some terrific new experiences this year,” said Jamie Peha, event producer and president of Peha Promotions. “The weekend is much more than a tasting. By working closely with our vendors we create unique ways for our guests to deeply engage with a variety of select offerings.”

The experiences include: Ste. Michelle Riesling Challenge, Northwest Wine Academy Wine School, Heritage Meats Butchery Block, and the Brews and Ewes by Stella Artois and the American Lamb Board.

In addition, Tim Kennedy, who started Tim’s Chips, has carved out an hour to greet fans and autograph limited edition bags of Tim’s chips to commemorate the brand’s 30th anniversary.

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 501c3 non-profit organization that focuses on raising funds for scholarships for women in the culinary, beverage, and hospitality industries, and also supports community-outreach programs and sustainable-agriculture projects based in Washington State.

Tickets are available at the Seattle Wine and Food Experience website $60 for the Grand Tasting; $75 for the VIP experience; and $75 for Pop! Bubbles & Seafood. Or you can get a weekend pass for $140.

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

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Our List of Top 60 Washington Wineries

NYE WineAs the new year begins, we want to reflect on the wineries in Washington state that made our list of Top 60 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 or at a major wine event such as Taste Washington, Taste of Tulalip or Seattle Wine and Food Experience. 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.

Why 60 wineries? The list grew to 60 from 50 last year, as we were introduced to new wineries or new wine experiences in 2015. We welcome the newcomers to the list, and thank you for the 2015 wine experiences you brought us — Andrew Will, B. Leighton, Cote Bonneville, Dynasty Cellars, Ensemble Cellars Kiona, Leonetti, Passing Time, Reynvaan, Seven Falls and Stottle Winery.

Write for Wine’s Top 60 Washington Wineries (in alphabetical order):

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

Cheers to a Wonderful 2016!

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 9.30.32 AMHappy New Year! May your best day in 2015 be your worst day in 2016!

That’s Margot’s favorite new year’s toast ever, one she has shared with her dear friend Kathie in Ottawa for more than 25 years.

And it’s our new year’s wish to you! May your year be filled with good health and happiness, and yes, fine wine!

We want to start 2016 with a shout out to our special friends in the Washington state wine industry who have gone out of their way to make our time with them, and their wines, special over the years.

Happy New Year from your friends at Write for Wine — It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere!

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Recent Releases We’ve Enjoyed-Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part post looking at some new wines that we discovered late this year. Part 1 can be found here. In this post, you’ll find a variety of holiday red wines that won’t make you dig deep in your pocket — Cabernet, Zinfandel, Chianti and Pinot Noir.

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 12.44.32 PMOak Ridge Winery OZV Red Blend 2012 ($14)
If you are a fan of big, lush, jammy Zinfandels, this blend is for you. We were not expecting such a robust Zinfandel-based blend when we opened the bottle, although we should have, since it comes from Lodi’s oldest operating winery, Oak Ridge. Wow, we were hit with strong aromatics of vanilla and blackberries immediately, which then transformed to a fruit-forward blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Merlot. This wine has a lot going on, with flavors of plum, licorice and blackberries. We had it with pasta, but this rich wine would also pair well with grilled steaks, smoked meats, chicken and pizza. By the way, Oak Ridge Winery first came to our attention with its Old Soul value-wines this summer.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 12.29.58 PMMark West 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($15-$25, depending on where you shop)
Mark West has been producing California Pinot Noir since 1978, but this is the first one crafted from grapes sourced in the esteemed Willamette Valley.

Representative of the Pinot characteristics in Oregon wine country, this wine is lighter, brighter and more delicate than its California counterparts, but it is definitely not a lightweight.

With notes of cranberry, cherry and apple, this Pinot will pair well with meats such as prime rib, but we think it would also be fabulous with salmon.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 11.42.09 AMSterling Vintner’s Collection 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($17) and 2013 Meritage ($14)
Sterling Vineyards introduced a few new releases for the holidays, including these two reds. The Cabernet Sauvignon is medium-bodied and juicy, filled with flavors of plum, cherries, blackberries and a touch of smoke and violets. If you can’t find the 2013, no worries – Sterling has already released the 2014 vintage.

The Meritage blends Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot into a good wine to pair with food. Both of these wines will go well with grilled steaks, meat pastas and even roasted chicken in a rich sauce.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 11.55.09 AMSanta Cristina 2013 Chianti Superiore ($16)
Santa Cristina produces Italy’s No. 1 selling red wine, Rosso; released its first wine in 1946; and is represented by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Washington state.

The 2013 Chianti Superiore is a ruby-colored blend of Sangiovese (95%) and Merlot (5%). This is a tasty, medium-bodied wine with aromas of plum and cherry that are also experienced on the palate.

We enjoyed it with pasta, but it would also go well with mushroom dishes, turkey or chicken.

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 12.41.15 PMRed Diamond 2012 Limited Release Mysterious Red Blend ($10)
This wine was released in time for Halloween, but it works well for this holiday season too.

A blend of 56% Syrah, 40% Merlot, 3% Viognier and 1% other red varieties, this bold wine is described as mysteriously dark, with a palate of dark red berries and a hint of spice.

It pairs well with hearty dishes such as grilled steaks, rich stews or strong cheeses, or with sweets such as chocolate peanut butter cups.

At this price, how can you go wrong?

 

Thank you to Oak Ridge Winery, Mark West, Sterling Vineyards, Santa Cristina and Red Diamond for samples of these wines.

Happy holidays and cheers!
Margot and Dave

Recent Releases We’ve Enjoyed-Part 1

As 2015 winds down, we are happy to share information about some new wines and wineries that we discovered late this year. As regular readers know, our palates prefer big reds, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Bordeaux-style blends. So it’s not surprising that these are most of the wines we are writing about today.

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 2.53.58 PMSeven Falls 2013 GPS Cabernet Sauvignon and 2013 GPS Zinfandel ($40 each)
Launched in October, these two new Seven Falls Cellars single vineyard “GPS” tier of wines rocked us, and when we shared them with our neighbors, they loved them too. The Cabernet Sauvignon is rich, bold and beautiful, just the way we like it — full of layers and complexities of black fruit, minerality, graphite, leather, tea and tobacco, which will showcase themselves differently as the wine ages. Our neighbors declared the Zinfindel one of the best they’ve tasted — jammy, fruit-forward and aromatic, with chocolate, raspberries and hints of nutmeg and other spices.

Why is the label called GPS? According to Seven Falls, “To highlight the unique sense of place where the wines are from, the vineyard block Global Positioning System coordinates are included on each of the Seven Falls single-vineyard labels, so everyone has an opportunity to visit the Wahluke Slope from anywhere in the world.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 12.07.40 PMStottle Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($34) and 2012 Big Eddie ($35)
Stottle Winery is based in Lacey, just north of Olympia,where owners Josh and Amy Stottlemyer recently opened a new tasting room and facility. (They also have a tasting room in Hoodsport on Highway 101.) This was our first opportunity to taste Stottle wines, which have won numerous Seattle Wine Awards. After tasting Stottle 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Big Eddie, we understand why. Stottle’s 2012 Cab also has a touch of Merlot (5%) and Malbec (2%), and is bursting with flavors of red and black berries, cherries vanilla and chocolate. With a great nose and structure, this wine can be opened now or cellared for a few years. Big Eddie is a medium-bodied blend of 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec, with juicy flavors of raspberry, blackberry and dark chocolate. What’s not to like, right?

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 12.10.30 PMColumbia Crest 2013 Limited Release “Gold” Red Wine Blend ($12)
We wrote about this wine back in September, but recently enjoyed it again and wanted to remind our readers about its good value. For only $12, this wine is a blend of 52% Cab Franc, 38% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Merlot. According to the winery, a couple barrels of wine that represent the “gold standard” of Columbia Valley grapes are blended into this limited release Gold Red Wine. Think spicy, rich and textured – and great to pair with grilled beef, lamb, rich stews or simply with strong cheese. We’ve been delighted to find a number of value wines this year from Columbia Crest that we really like! This one is right up there with 2012 and 2013 H3 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Thank you to Seven Falls, Stottle and Columbia Crest for samples of these wines. We plan on purchasing some in the weeks ahead.

Cheers,
Margot and Dave

 

Big Reds, Good Value

Looking for a reasonably priced big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon to take to that holiday party? Or maybe you want to serve it at your holiday open house? Perhaps you want to pour it before or during a holiday meal?

If so, you’ve come to the right place. Over the last few months we’ve found some big Cabs at good price points.

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Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 2.53.58 PM
Seven Falls Cellars 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Winemaker’s Notes: “Ripe black cherry and boysenberry layered with notes of caramel, mocha and black tea. Concentrated, full body with a smooth lasting finish.”

Wine Enthusiast“This wine has immediate appeal showing aromas of milk chocolate, cherry and dried herbs. The flavors are plump and rich in feel yet backed by soft tannins.”

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Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 2.55.18 PM
Columbia Crest 2012 and 2013 H3 Cabernet Sauvignon
($10-$14, depending on where you shop)
99% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc

Winemaker’s Notes: “This bold Cabernet opens with flavors of black cherries and blackberries with a touch of currants and vanilla, complemented by earth and mineral notes. Deep berry flavors lead to a soft tannin cocoa finish.”

Wine Spectator: 91 points (2013); 92 points (2012)

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Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 2.56.52 PMGiant Wine, 2013 Ghost of 413 Cabernet Sauvignon ($16-$19, depending on where you shop)
This is the fourth vintage of a great red wine created by Chris Gorman from Gorman Winery and Mark McNeill from Mark Ryan.

Full Pull Tasting Notes by Editor-in-Chief Paul Zitarelli: This begins with a nose of smoky crème de cassis fruit, complicated by notes of dried herb and soil. At its heart, it is a deep, black-fruit driven Cab, full of blackcurrants and blackberries and black plums.

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If you like your Cabernet Sauvignon big, bold and beautiful, don’t let these low prices fool you. We think some of them would surprise you in a blind tasting next to more expensive Cabs.

Of note, samples were provided by Seven Falls and Columbia Crest; however we enjoyed these wines so much, we purchased additional bottles.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Sneak Peek

wine-glasses-photo-courtesy-Marcus-Whitman-Hotel-e1294811651743Life has been so busy lately – with work (our day jobs), the holidays and most importantly, family.

So while we’ve done our fair share of tasting wines lately, there hasn’t been as much time to write about them as we had hoped. But we will soon!

Here’s your sneak peek at what we’ll be posting in the weeks ahead:

  • List of best good-value red wine for the holidays
  • List of special wines for the holidays
  • Our second annual list of our top 50 Washington state wineries

Some new wines that we’ll be writing about include:

  • Seven Falls 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 GPS Cabernet Sauvignon and 2013 GPS Zinfandel
  • Stottle 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Sterling Vintner’s Collection 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2013 Meritage
  • Oak Ridge Winery OZV Old Vine 2012 Zinfandel
  • Mark West 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
  • Nero D’Avola (Sicily)
  • Red Diamond 2012 Limited Release Mysterious Red Blend

So stay tuned to learn about some good red wines for the holidays!

Cheers,
Margot and Dave