Washington Wine Month-Our Faves

We love Washington state wine. So to us, every month is Washington Wine Month. But there is an official month to celebrate this state’s amazing wines – March — and it comes with its own website and promotions from participating wine shops, tasting rooms, restaurants and hotels.

In honor of Washington Wine Month, here is a list of some of our favorite reds (in alphabetical order).

  • 21 Grams 2008 Red Blend
  • Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2008 Destiny Bordeaux Blend; 2007 Mr. Big Petit Sirah; 2009 Petite Verdot
  • Barrage Cellars 2007 Outcast Cabernet Franc; 2007 Double Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon; 2008 Secret Weapon Cab Sauv
  • Cooper Wine Company 2007 L’Inizio; 2007 Cooper Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla
  • Darby 2009 Dark Side Syrah; 2008 Chaos
  • DiStefano 2007 Sogno Cabernet Franc Reserve; 2005 Sogno Cab Franc
  • EFESTE 2008 Big Papa Cabernet Sauvignon; 2009 Jolie Bouche Syrah; 2008 Ceidleigh Syrah
  • Fall Line 2009 El Otro Yakima Valley Tempranillo;  2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Fidelitas 2007 and 2008 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; 2008 Red Mountain Red Wine
  • Fielding Hills 2008, 2007 and 2005 Cabernet Franc
  • Forgeron Cellars 2006 Zinfandel; 2003 Vinfinity
  • Gilbert Cellars 2007 Cabernet Franc; 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Gorman Winery 2009 Evil Twin Syrah-Cab blend; 2008 Bully Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with Petit Verdot)
  • Hard Row to Hoe 2008 Burning Desire Estate Cabernet Franc; 2008 Pinot Noir
  • Heaven’s Cave 2009 Two Degrees Barbera; 2005 Angel’s Blend.
  • JM Cellars 2009 Boushey Vineyard Syrah; 2009 Tre; 2009 Margaret’s Vineyard Estate Red
  • L’Ecole 41 2008 Apogee Pepper Bridge; 2008 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon; 2001 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Northwest Totem Cellars 2008 Qo-ne’ Cab Franc blend; 2006 Cab Franc
  • Otis Kenyon 2008 Syrah
  • Ross Andrews 2006 Syrah-Cab blend
  • Va Piano 2008 Walla Walla Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Vin du Lac 2007 Barrel Select Cab Franc
  • Walla Walla Vintners 2008 Columbia Valley Cab Franc
  • Watermill Winery 2007 Estate Cab Franc
  • Waters 2009 Forgotten Hills Syrah
  • The Woodhouse Wine Estates 2006 and 2004 Dussek Cabernet Sauvignon; every vintage of Darighe
  • Woodward Canyon 2009 and 2007 “Artist Series” Cabernet Sauvignon; 2003 Charbonneau
  • William Church 2009 and 2008 Bishop’s Blend; 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • We are really looking forward to tasting new releases from these wineries and trying pours from wineries that are new to us too at Taste Washington, the Super Bowl of wine events, March 31-April 1.

    We hope to see you there!


    Head Out to JM Cellars

    If you’ve never been to JM Cellars in Woodinville, you are missing out on many wonderful Washington wines. Located on a hillside called Bramble Bump, JM Cellars offers first-class wines with a view.

    Luck was with us a couple of weeks ago, when we stumbled upon an unexpected release party at JM Cellars. Winemaker/co-owner John Bigelow was pouring with a smile and our friend Paige Leighton welcomed us with hugs. And the wines – oh my.

    We’ve been fans of JM Cellars signature blend Tre Fanciulli for years, so it was no surprise that we went home with the latest 2009 release. Tre Fanciulli is Italian for “three treasured lads” and named for John and Peggy Bigelow’s sons in 1999. With this new release, and the eleventh vintage, the name has been shortened to simply Tre. Love it!

    Of the 11 vintages, this was the fifth we have savored. The 2009 Tre is a rich blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 18% Syrah – simply heaven in a glass.

    The JM Cellars 2009 Boushey Vineyard Syrah is also outstanding. John told us the single-vineyard grapes came from old vines near the house of viticulturalist Dick Boushey, one of Washington’s finest grapegrowers. After Matt Sauer’s Red Willow Vineyard, Boushey was the next to plant Syrah grapes in Washington state. If you like big, peppery, savory Syrah, you simply must try this one.

    Another one of John’s wines that we’re particularly fond of is the 2009 Margaret’s Vineyard Estate Red. We first tried this stellar wine as a pre-release at the Taste of Tulalip last November, and couldn’t wait to taste it a few months later at its official release party.

    It’s the inaugural vintage of a Bordeaux blend from vines that were planted in 2007 on the southern border of the Walla Walla appellation at the then-newly named Margaret’s Vineyard. The wine blends 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 17% Cab Franc, 17% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot and 6% Carmenere.

    JM Cellars is known for elegant blended reds. And regular readers know my preference for Cab-based Bordeaux blends, so you know we took this beauty home with us!


    Sogno Superbo

    The first time we ever tasted Cabernet Franc is stamped in our memories because we immediately fell in love with this grape. The year was 1999, when we had just moved to Seattle and took our first drive to Woodinville wine country. The winery was DiStefano. We became instant fans and remain so today.

    Slightly more than a year ago, we included DiStefano’s 2005 Sogno Cab Franc in our Top 11 Washington state wineries that produce the Cab Franc grape as a shining single-varietal wine.

    We now add 2007 Sogno Reserve to the list. Wow!

    Released in July 2011, only 150 cases were made of this powerful 100% Cab Franc. From the tasting notes:

    “Intense dark chocolate, raspberry and toasted hazelnut push their way out of the glass. The palate is rich with silky chocolate and dried cherries, with hints of spicy oak, black pepper on the finish.”

    Cab Franc is typically used as a blending wine to add more complexity to Cabernet Sauvignon or more structure to Merlot.

    But when Cab Franc is created as a stand-alone wine and done well, like 2007 Sogno Reserve, it’s magic. Glorious. Superbo!

    Did we mention only 150 cases were produced? What are you waiting for?


    What We’ve Opened Lately

    We’ve had the pleasure of enjoying many wonderful Washington, Oregon and California 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 wines that we’ve celebrated in the last couple of months – they are sourced from Washington grapes, unless noted otherwise:

    Happy New Year – may your best day of 2011 be your worst day of 2012! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are ready to delve into ’12!


    An Evening with the Grape Killers

    Six of seven Woodinville wineries that make up the Grape Killers generated lots of fans and fun at their annual “Holiday in the ‘Hood” wine tasting event last night in Woodinville’s Wine Warehouse District.

    Winemakers, and friends, from Gorman Winery (Chris Gorman), Mark Ryan Winery (Mark Ryan McNeilly), Darby Winery (Darby English), Guardian Cellars (Jerry Riener), Baer Winery (Lisa Baer) and Sparkman Cellars  (Chris Sparkman) offered some amazing wines, appetizers and good cheer. Perfect example? Chris Sparkman appeared dressed as Elvis. (Photo courtesy of our friend Taryn Miller)

    Not surprisingly, we enjoyed all the wines we tasted at Grape Killers Holiday in the ‘Hood party. But these were our favorites:

    • Gorman Winery 2008 Bully Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with Petit Verdot), Red Mountain
    • Sparkman Cellars 2009 Kingpin Old Vine Cab (blended with Petit Verdot), Red Mountain
    • Darby Winery 2009 Dark Side Syrah (100% Syrah), Yakima Valley
    • Baer Winery 2009 Arctos, a Cabernet-driven blend, Columbia Valley
    • Guardian Cellars 2008 The Rookie Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain
    • Mark Ryan Winery 2009 Dead Horse Red, Bordeaux blend, Red Mountain

    Do you sense a trend here? Indeed, our palates prefer Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, and as Dave said, “I never met a grape from Red Mountain that I didn’t like.”

    You could tell the six winemakers (plus Tim Stevens of Stevens Winery who couldn’t participate this time) are pals who hang out together in their spare time. Their camaraderie was evident at each of their tasting rooms. This was a night full of smiles and laughter!

    And to top off the good fun, a portion of all wine sales will benefit Woodinville’s Homeward Pet Adoption Shelter.

    If you didn’t make it to the Grape Killers event last night, be sure to stop by these wineries in the future. They make good juice!


    Love Tempranillo? Head to Fall Line in Seattle Now!

    Fall Line Winery just released one of the best Washington state Tempranillos we have ever tasted.

    This 2009 Yakima Valley Tempranillo is a new addition to Fall Line’s lineup, appropriately called El Otro (“The Other One”) because it’s a departure from the other red wines beautifully crafted by Tim Sorenson.

    El Otro is 100% Tempranillo planted specially for Fall Line at Boushey Vineyard; it’s also 100% drinkable now. Believe me, this dark ruby wine has the WOW factor – it is silky, structured and so layered, I actually said “wow” when I tasted it. Seriously.

    Wine Advocate awarded it 92 points last month: “Spice box, cedar, rose petal, and black cherry aromas set the stage for a lingering, already complex, lengthy offering that is a fine example of the potential for Tempranillo in eastern Washington. Drink this outstanding wine from 2012 to 2021.”

    Only 166 cases were made, with a low price point of $25 for a wine this elegant. So if you are a big fan of Tempranillo, head to Fall Line soon, because this beauty will sell out quickly.

    While you’re there, try some of Fall Line’s other red wines too. We’ve been fans of Tim’s wine for years – my first post about Fall Line was on June 9, 2007, just six days after I started this blog (and when people still referred to “the blogosphere”)!

    I fell in love with his 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon — 100% Cab sourced from Boushey Vineyards in Yakima Valley, Artz Vineyards in Red Mountain, and Destiny Ridge Vineyards in Horse Heaven Hills. To my surprise, the next vintage was even better, as I wrote on Feb. 18, 2008: Fall Line Does It Again.

    Fast forward to November 2011, and I am once again applauding Fall Line’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Not surprisingly, this enticing wine was also awarded 92 points from Wine Advocate last month: “A hint of mint, exotic spices, incense, violets, and assorted black fruits lead to a firm, sweetly-fruited, elegant offering. This well-balanced, lengthy effort will benefit from another 2-3 years of cellaring and will be at its best from 2013 to 2024.”

    Fall Line’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo are joined by four unique blends – Yakima Valley Boushey Vineyard Bordeaux-style blend (91 points), Red Mountain Artz Bordeaux-style blend (90 points), Yakima Valley Exhibition Red, and Yakima Valley Red Willow Bordeaux-style blend – to round out the 2009 lineup.

    You can taste Fall Line wines and join Tim at West Seattle Cellars on Dec. 3 or at his Georgetown winery for a holiday tasting on Dec. 10. More details are available on the Fall Line website.

    Once you sip these fantastic-value reds (and find out their price points), you likely will want to buy some for your holiday dinner or to take with you to a special holiday party.


    Tweets from Taste of Tulalip

    We had an exceptional time at Taste of Tulalip, where we were guests of the Tulalip Resort. In the next couple of weeks, I plan to write a full blog post about our two days there – from the Celebratory dinner to the Magnum Party of elite wines and the Grand Tasting. Until then, here is a sample of some of my tweets live from Taste of Tulalip.

    Friday Night Celebratory Dinner

    Saturday Magnum Party

    Grand Tasting

    As you can see, there was an explosion of tastes and flavors at Taste of Tulalip. The resort is beautiful and the staff superb. Special thanks to Allan, Norma, Cheryl Kyle, Chef Perry Mascitti and his fabulous team, Sommelier Tommy Thompson, and Lisa Severn.

    We will be back!



    A Slice of Heaven (Heaven’s Cave)

    We tasted a slice of heaven this weekend – two very different but noteworthy wines from Heaven’s Cave Cellars in Prosser: 2009 Two Degrees Barbera and 2005 Angel’s Blend.

    Both of us appreciated both wines, but my preference was the Angel’s Blend, and Dave’s was the Barbera. Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised at that – my palate adores Bordeaux blends, while Dave searches high and low for a solid Barbera – not as easy to find in Washington state.

    The 2005 Angel’s Blend combines 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 3% Cab Franc and just a touch of Petit Verdot to round things off. This robust, full-bodied red stands beautifully on its own, but also pairs well with hamburgers, steaks, lamb and teriyaki beef. The grapes are sourced from Destiny Ridge Estate Vineyard, owned by Jarrod and Ali Boyle of Alexandria Nicole Cellars.

    The 2009 Two Degrees Barbera was sourced from vines at Alder Ridge. Unlike its light-bodied Italian counterparts, this 100% Barbera is a warm, earthy, well-balanced wine that is also rich and smooth. Again, it’s good enough to drink on its own, but it pairs very well with pizza, pasta and chicken parmesan, or even lamb or turkey.

    In addition, 100% of the profit from the sale of Two Degrees Barbera goes to the Make The DASH Count Foundation, dedicated to delevoping the next generation of community leaders and benefitting at-risk youth. The foundation was created in 2003 by Hope Moore, proprietor of Heaven’s Cave.

    The DASH refers to the little horizontal line on our gravestones; the one between the date we are born and the date we pass away. The DASH represents everything in between and how we chose to live it.”

    As fall sets in and the weather turns colder, sipping on either one of these reds in front of a toasty fire is a great way to spend the evening.


    It’s a Perfect Time to Visit Swiftwater Cellars

    The summer tourists have gone home and the skiiers are waiting for the season to kick off, so now is the time to visit Swiftwater Cellars, a destination within a destination at Suncadia Resort – a one-hour drive from Seattle in the heart of the Cascade Mountains.

    We visited a couple of months ago, and it was gorgeous – mountain views, a 360-degree bar, a two-story stone fireplace, a shop with unique gifts and collectibles, and Swiftwater Cellars premium wine – what’s not to like? If you’re lucky, owners Don and Lori Watts, both consummate storytellers, will regale you with anecdotes about their lives and about the former Roslyn Coal Mine No. 9 that the winery sits atop.

    And let’s not forget the wine! Veteran winemakers Tony Rynders and Linda Trotta create a number of outstanding wines with fruit sourced from a selection of vineyards in Washington and Oregon. The Watts family also owns Zephyr Ridge in Horse Heaven Hills.

    Not surprisingly to regular readers of this blog, my favorite was Swiftwater’s Proprietary Red – a beautiful Bordeaux blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cab Franc, 16% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot and 10% Syrah. But full props also go to Swiftwater’s Syrah and Pinot Noir (sourced from Willamette Valley).

    We also enjoyed some white wines from their second label, Number 9, naturally named after the coal mine. At the moment, Switfwater Cellars produces a total of 2,500 cases of wine, with plans to double that in the future.

    But Swiftwater Cellars is more than fine wine – the Fireside Lounge offers an all-day menu and The Hoist House dinner menu has many mouth-watering choices.

    And there are frequent events; for example, this weekend you’ll find live music and “Experience the Crush.”

    Did I mention this destination winery would also be an awesome location for a wedding or holiday party?

    Whether you’re looking for a day-trip, a wonderful weekend or a unique place to hold an event, we recommend checking out Swiftwater Cellars. We plan on going back!


    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!