Vars & Sundry

“Vars & Sundry” is an old wire service term that refers to various and sundry news stories that don’t necessarily fit in with other stories. So it seemed a fitting title for this blog post, which is about a number of wine samples that were sent to us from different wineries. They come from Washington state, of course, British Columbia, California and New Zealand.

L’Ecole No. 41 2008 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Regular readers know that L’Ecole 41 is one of our favorite wineries in Washington state, and this rich, layered Cab Sauv exemplifies why. This is a classic  — 100% Cabernet Sauvignon blended from several premium vineyards into one fine juice, sip after sip.

This robust red is showcased beautifully by the new elegant label unveiled by L’Ecole 41 earlier this year. If you missed the story about the new label, be sure to read it – and you’ll understand how this wonderful Walla Walla winery has grown from a small family-run favorite to one known as an enduring, sophisticated creator of quality wine. ($29)

Gnekow Family Winery 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel Reserve, Lodi:  Located about an hour from Napa Valley, Gnekow prides itself on producing wines that showcase the grapes from the region. This 05 Zin is drinking nicely, a mellow but jammy wine with structure and the complexity that comes from old vines. ($25)

Mission Hill Five Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Merlot Bin 88: This beautiful winery in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia is a pioneer in Canada’s wine industry. This is a medium-bodied, everyday wine that could be paired nicely with any red meat dish. ($17)

Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010: We loved this refreshing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with prawns on the deck during the warm weather. Bursting with grapefruit and citrus flavors, we were not surprised to discover it won gold at the International Wine Show in 2010. ($14)

Thanks for the samples! Cheers!

Dunham Cellars

We recently had the fortune to sit at a dinner table with Mike and Joanne Dunham of Dunham Cellars. We were at the 20th annual Washington Wines Festival at Waterfront Seafood Grill in Seattle, and we couldn’t have asked for more delightful company.

Mike and Joanne are so down-to-earth and so much fun, with so many stories to tell. We talked about wine, of course — Dunham Cellars wines and other Washington wines that we tasted at the festival. And we jokingly tried to identify some of the more obscure ingredients in the many tasty courses that were placed in front of us.

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 enjoyed Dunham Cellars wines for years – my first blog post about their Three Legged Red blend was in 2007 – a price-friendly wine packed with flavors and named after their wonderful dog, Port.

We met Port when we first stopped by the Dunham Cellars tasting room – he was as adorable as his photo on the wine bottle. When he passed away in 2008, I wrote a tribute.

Since then, we’ve sipped several vintages of Dunham Cellars Trutina, a delightful blend of Cab Sauv, Syrah, Merlot and Cab Franc, and we love 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon XII, which received a 93 rating from Wine Spectator.

We haven’t yet tasted 2007 Pursued by Bear Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a creative collaboration by their winemaker son, Eric Dunham and actor Kyle MacLachlan of Desperate Housewives. And we’re looking forward to trying the recently released 2007 Cab and Syrah from Lewis Vineyard.

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.

Cheers!

Glorious Cabernet Franc

Cab FrancOne of my favorite wines is Cabernet Franc, which is one of the main varieties in Bordeaux blends. Cab Franc is typically used as a blending wine to add more complexity to Cabernet Sauvignon or more structure to Merlot.

But Cab Franc is also created as a single-varietal wine; in other words, a stand-alone wine. And one of the best we’ve tasted recently was a 2004 Cab Franc from Corliss Estates in Walla Walla.

This beauty was elegant and balanced, with a complex bouquet of cherry, spice, cassis, pepper and cocoa. We found it so rich that it was excellent without food. However, parmesan cheese went well with it, and later, we paired it nicely with a slow-cooked savory stew.

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

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 glorious.

Corliss 2004 Columbia Valley Cab Franc is a prime example.

Cheers!

Second Tasting Room for William Church Winery

Regular readers know that we have long been fans of William Church Winery, and its owners Rod and Leslie Balsley.

I first wrote about William Church 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon in March 2008. Since then, I’ve frequently written about Rod, Leslie and assistant winemaker, Marcus Rafanelli, and raved about many of their wines, from Bishop’s Blend to Two Spires to Sur La Mer, and from Viognier to Malbec to Syrah.

So you can imagine our delight to hear that William Church is opening a second tasting room on July 16. Now we – and you – can enjoy William Church wines in the Hollywood School area of Woodinville, in addition to their existing location in the wine warehouse district.

The grand opening of the new tasting room —  located right next to Purple Cafe — is from noon to 6 p.m. on July 16. And, in addition to Leslie, Rod and Marcus, another good friend has joined the wonderful William Church team – Cheryl Cardwell is the new tasting room manager. How cool is that?

We will definitely be there to celebrate with all of them – and we hope to see you there too.

Cheers!

Happy Canada Day, Happy 4th of July!

What a great weekend – Friday is Canada Day and Monday is the Fourth of July! And the weather is sunny, which means wine on the deck and BBQ’ing.

First, Dave and I wish all our Canadian family and friends a Happy Canada Day today. Tonight, we shall sip on both white and red wine (the colour of the flag) in your honour.

Then on Monday, we wish all our American family and friends a wonderful Fourth of July. In your honor, we plan to start with white wine on the deck, moving to a robust red later with some blue steak (the color of the flag).

What wines will you be drinking this holiday weekend on both sides of the border? Sauv Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Marsanne, Riesling, Chard? Cabernet, Cab Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Zinfandel, Primitivo, Counoise or perhaps a nice Bordeaux blend? Let us know in the comments below.

We hope your holiday is wonderful and safe.

Cheers!

Margot & Dave

Va Piano, Va Delicious

I never met a wine from Va Piano Estate Vineyards that I didn’t like. A lot. Or love.

We first went to Va Piano Vineyards after the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla one year ago.

Our dear friend Melanie, aka Dallas Wine Chick, suggested we start at Va Piano, south of downtown Walla Walla, for our apres-conference tour of Washington state wineries.

At the time, I wrote that we had so many superlatives for Va Piano wines that we all joined their estate wine club.

One year later, we still feel the same way. And winemaker Justin Wylie remains an honorary member of Write for Wine’s “Favorite Winemakers Club.”

This weekend, we enjoyed a late spring barbeque, accompanied by the luscious 2008 Va Piano Uniti. This robust Bordeaux-style wine is a  blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cab Franc, 14% Merlot and 14% Petit Verdot. Smooth, elegant, rich and expressive, this is one standout wine. As regular readers know, my palate prefers Bordeaux blends, and the 08 Uniti is right at the top of my list.

In addition, Va Piano’s 2008 Estate Merlot rises far above most Merlots we’ve tasted, both in Washington and elsewhere. And let’s not forget the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; we tasted it at one of Justin’s winemaker dinners, and immediately recognized its “wow factor.” We put a couple of bottles in our cellar for a special occasion.

The fruit for all wine for Va Piano’s estate club program comes from the estate vineyard that surrounds the winery. These wines — Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Bordeaux Blend — are not sold in their tasting room, wine shops or restaurants; the only way to get them is to join the Va Piano Vineyards Estate Club.

We highly recommend it!

Cheers!

Fantastic Fidelitas

If you have never tasted Fidelitas wines crafted by Charlie Hoppes, you don’t know what you’re missing. I’ve never met a Fidelitas wine that I didn’t like.

And when I saw this statement on their website recently, my palate fell in love all over again.

“We are faithful to Cabernet Sauvignon, loyal to Bordeaux winemaking techniques and true to Washington state’s unique terroir.”


One of my favorites is Fidelitas 2007 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which, not surprisingly, received 95 points from Wine Advocate. This 100% Cab, which was aged for 24 months, changes every time I taste it – it evolves over time and keeps getting more expressive and more luxurious.

Words that come to mind are lush, polished, big, bold, sensual, intense and rich. According to Charlie, it will drink well through 2032, but we couldn’t wait that long!

We paired it with rib-eye steaks, which was a perfect match. But I could also sip on this wine with gorgonzola and sourdough bread, or frankly, without food at all.

Now, don’t be too disappointed that the 2007 vintage of this most-excellent Cab is sold out. Because April 29-May 1 is Spring Fling at Urban Enotecha in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood, where you can taste the new release of Champoux Cabernet, along with the new releases of Fidelitas Ciel du Cheval Cabernet and Merlot.

We hope to see you there!

Or you can visit their tasting room at Red Mountain, as we did last September.

Cheers!

What Have We Opened Lately?

We’ve had the pleasure of enjoying many, many wonderful Washington wines lately – and in a less-busy world, I would write separate posts about each of them. Unfortunately, busy is my middle name these days.

So here is a list (in alphabetical order) of Washington wines that we’ve celebrated in the last couple of months, and recommend — plus three of our Napa Valley and Sonoma faves too!

Wait – there’s more! For my list of favorite wines at Taste Washington, see my post in Seattleite Magazine.

Cheers!