Bellingham Grape and Gourmet

Grape & GourmetThe 12th annual Bellingham Grape and Gourmet is less than a month away, and we are really looking forward to attending. This year, the event will be held at Silver Reef Casino on Nov. 1. 

The evening of “sensational wines and exquisite food” is hosted by Bellingham Bay Rotary Club.

The event is also a fundraiser — all proceeds will be donated to local non-profits.

Almost 40 Washington and Oregon wineries will be pouring — including our friends at William Church, Forgeron Cellars, L’Ecole 41, Walla Walla Vintners, Dunham Cellars, Airfield Estates and Hightower. Wines range from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Viognier to Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir. And there’s more, including both white and red blends.

If you find a wine that’s a real palate pleaser, you can purchase it at a 20% discount right on site. You can also sample tasty bites from local restaurants, including one of our favorites, The Steakhouse at Silver Reef Casino.

Last week, we were fortunate to be invited to a pre-tasting, hosted by BB Rotary Club event organizer Bryant Engebretson and his wife Hillary. Our two favorites were William Church Winery’s 2 Spires and Walla Walla Vintners Cuvee, but we know there will be more to add to that list on Nov. 1 at Bellingham Grape and Gourmet.

Grape & Gourmet 1So what are you waiting for – get your tickets now!

Sunday, Nov. 1 at Silver Reef Casino, 5:00 – 8:30 p.m.

VIP Tickets ($100) give you early admission at 5 p.m., which means 90 minutes without the crowds!

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for regular admission ($80).

We hope to see you there!

Margot and Dave


Good-Value Wines

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 5.19.49 PMAs the summer winds down, we’re taking a look at some good-value wines that we and/or our neighbors enjoyed in the last five months. Summer sippers make us think of white wine on the deck or the patio, paired with tasty cheeses, seafood or chicken. But let’s not forget about robust reds to accompany delicious BBQs during the warm weather!

First, let’s talk about the featured wineries:

In 1836, Wente Vineyards began with 48 acres in Livermore Valley, California. Today the winery draws from approximately 3,000 acres of sustainably farmed Estate vineyards. While we’ve written about their reds in the past, Wente is known as California’s First Family of Chardonnay. In 1912, the Wente family brought Chardonnay cuttings from France and planted them in the Livermore Valley. Their 1936 vintage was the first varietally labeled Chardonnay in the United States. During crab season, we enjoyed 2013 Small Lot Eric’s Chardonnay, which was fermented and aged in stainless steel. But our neighbors preferred 2012 Riva Ranch Chard.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 5.18.18 PMFor five generations, two families — the Maggios and Reynolds — have grown grapes and made wine in the historic Lodi region of California. They transformed the oldest winery in Lodi, Oak Ridge Winery, into a state-of-art facility, where Old Soul wines were crafted because “the winery has an old soul.” You can definitely taste it in the rich 2012 Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon, with a price point of $14.

Launched by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in 2005 as a restaurant-only brand, 14 Hands introduced its “The Reserve” label of wines sourced from the Horse Heaven Hills appellation in Washington state in 2012.

Santa Cristina produces Italy’s No. 1 selling red wine, Rosso, and is also represented by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. This Tuscan winery released its first wine in 1946 and has become a “benchmark” in Italian wines.

Motto Wines debuted this June, with a collection of distinct, dark, rich wines from California that offer a new take on that state’s wine. Motto is made by the renowned winemaking team at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, “putting a Washington spin” on California grapes. According to the winery, “the Motto winemaking team defies ordinary and makes it their motto.”

Of note, many of these wines are so reasonably priced that you can pour them at any time of the year. Just make sure to decant first for a few hours.

Summer Sipper Whites

  • Old Soul 2013 Lodi Chardonnay, $14
  • Wente Vineyards 2012 Morning Fog Chardonnay, $22
  • Wente Vineyards 2012 Riva Ranch Chardonnay, $22
  • Wente Vineyards 2013 Small Lot Eric’s Chardonnay, Small Lot (Unoaked) $25
  • Other good-value summer sippers

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 5.17.23 PMBBQ Reds

  • Santa Cristina 2013 Rosso, $12
  • 14 Hands 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, $12
  • 14 Hands 2013 Merlot Columbia Valley, $12
  • Old Soul 2012 Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon, $14
  • Old Soul 2012 Lodi “Pure Red” Blend, $14
  • Motto Wines 2013 Unabashed Zinfandel, $15
  • Motto Wines 2013 Gung Ho Red Blend, $15
  • Wente Vineyards 2012 Southern Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, $19
  • Wente Vineyards Charles Wetmore 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon $30
  • 14 Hands 2012 The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills, $30
  • Other good-value BBQ Reds

 Thanks to Wente, Oak Ridge Winery and Ste. Michelle Estates for these and other samples provided in the last five months.

Margot and Dave


A Deeper Look at Sauvignon Blanc

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 1.26.51 PMWe love Sauvignon Blanc in the summer months, and after sharing our views on four bottles that we recently enjoyed, we decided to take a deeper look at this warm-weather wine.

Sauvignon Blanc is both an old-world and new-world wine, grown and produced in Washington state, California, British Columbia, Ontario, France, New Zealand and other wine regions.

The typical descriptions are crisp, refreshing and elegant. The most popular price point is $20 and below; however some Sauv Blancs are in the range of $40-$80, and you can even find an occasional bottle priced above $80.

While the most popular style is “light and crisp,” other styles include “fruity and smooth,”  “rich and creamy” and “elegant.” The flavors can range from grassy to tropical.

  • Fruit – Citrus (Grapefruit, Lemon), Melon, Tropical
  • Grassy – Grass, Herbs, Mineral
  • Oak – Vanilla, Spice, Smoke

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 1.27.04 PMSauvignon Blanc pairs well with shellfish such as prawns, scallops, crabs and oysters, in addition to other seafood dishes, sushi, some cheeses and grilled veggies such as asparagus.


Fun Facts:
Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc are the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. During the 18th century in Bordeaux, the Sauvignon Blanc vine paired with Cabernet Franc to parent the Cabernet Sauvignon vine.

International Sauvignon Blanc Day has been held on April 24, since 2010.


We love to sip on chilled, refreshing Sauvignon Blanc on warm sunny evenings on the deck or the patio. What is your favorite place or time?

Margot and Dave

Summer Sauvignon Blancs

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 11.46.58 AMSauvignon Blanc is our favorite summer-time white wine and these days, Washington state and California are producing some excellent juice that rivals the world-famous Bordeaux and New Zealand production.

Fun fact:
Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc are the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. During the 18th century in Bordeaux, the Sauvignon Blanc vine paired with Cabernet Franc to parent the Cabernet Sauvignon vine.

Here are some excellent Sauvignon Blancs that we recently tasted.

2014 Columbia Crest H3 Sauvignon Blanc Horse Heaven Hills, $15
This rich wine from Columbia Crest in Washington state features some of the well-known characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc — tropical flavors of passion fruit, combined with citrus, pears and peaches. Crisp, fresh, clean with a layer of minerality means H3 pairs well with seafood, mild-flavored meats and even some richer dishes.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 11.39.15 AM2014 Sbragia Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $22
Sauv Blanc is the signature grape of Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. Of the three we tasted from this area, this one from Zbragia was our favorite. Elegant, yet refreshing, and brimming with aromas and flavors of grapefruit, green apple and minerality, this beauty is tart, tangy and grassy – some classic features of an excellent Sauv Blanc. We adore this wine and just want to savor it with shrimp or prawn dishes.

2013 Gustafson Estate Sauvignon Blanc, $22
A blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Sauvignon Musque (an aromatic Sauvignon Blanc clone), this wine has a remarkable creamy texture with notes of peaches and melon, and is more floral and tropical than citrusy. The Gustafson is more complex than a typical Sauv Blanc, but still pairs well with shellfish — crabs, scallops, prawns and oysters.

2013 Dry Creek Vineyard DCV3 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, $25
The most expensive of the four Sauvignon Blancs that we tasted, the powerful DCV3 from Dry Creek Vineyard is still a value at $25. Mineralogy is prominent on the palate, along with peaches and apples, and lemon on the finish. This medium-bodied wine bursts with flavors, and goes well with shellfish and light chicken dishes. It also pairs with asparagus and other veggies on the grill.

Many thanks to these wineries for the samples to taste.

Margot and Dave

Summer Sippers

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 9.08.12 AMOur recent sunny May weather makes us think of summer sippers while it is still spring. So here are some recent releases of good-value whites and rosés that pair perfectly with warm evenings on the deck or patio.

14 Hands 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Washington State
Our favorite white wine is Sauvignon Blanc, particularly when it shows aromas and flavors of grapefruit. This beauty does just that, and pairs nicely with prawns or other fresh seafood dishes. It also is a refreshing crisp taste of summer to sip and savor on its own on the deck. ($10)

14 Hands 2014 Pinot Gris Washington State
After Sauv Blanc, our second favorite white wine is Pinot Gris, which also pairs best with seafood. Similarly refreshing, this Pinot Gris is rounded with flavors of pears and honeysuckle, and contains 2.5% Pinot Blanc. We recommend it to accompany seafood pasta. ($10)

Santa Cristina 2014 Pinot Grigio
This wine comes from an established growing region outside Venice, Italy. Think of orange blossoms and tropical fruit, and you’ll travel to the Tuscan sun without leaving your patio. In addition to seafood, this elegant and fragrant wine also pairs with chicken salad — or any salad, actually. ($12)

Santa Cristina 2014 Cipresseto Toscana Rosato
Cipresseto is one of the first rosés produced in Italy. Named for the Cyprus trees near the vineyards, this dry rosé blends Sangiovese and Canaiolo. Fermentation and time in stainless steel tanks generated a crisp wine with distinctive aromas of raspberry and jasmine. According to the tasting notes, its savory undertones mean it will pair well with tomato dishes or calamari.  ($14)

Other Summer Sippers from 14 Hands and Santa Cristina

  • Santa Cristina 2014 Campogrande, $12
  • 14 Hands 2013 Chardonnay Washington State, $12
  • 14 Hands 2013 Hot to Trot White Blend Washington State, $10

Samples were provided by 14 Hands and Santa Christina, both of which are part of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

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!

Margot and Dave

Fairview Cellars-Beautiful British Columbia Part 3

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 1.38.52 PMSome of the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends in British Columbia can be found at Fairview Cellars, a small unassuming winery in Oliver, which we recommend as a stop in any tour of B.C. wine country.

While many wineries in B.C. (and Washington state) have become gorgeous destination resorts, Fairview Cellars has a rustic tasting room in a tiny log cabin about five minutes into the hills off the north end of the Benches of the Golden Mile. Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek suggested we stop by during our September visit, and we now know why.

In 1993, half Fairview’s 10-acre property was planted with Cabernet Sauvignon. The remainder was split equally with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Later, one row of Syrah and one row of Petit Verdot were added; Sauvignon Blanc was planted on a lower terraced bench in 2007.

We found the Cabs and Bordeaux blends the best. But we also enjoyed Fairview Cellars 2013 Sauvignon Blanc on the hot end-of-summer day we visited; it was crisp, well-balanced and delightful.

And the stories from winemaker/owner Bill Eggert and his brother, Chuck, were an entertaining accompaniment to our tastings.

Fairview Cellars 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
This is an amazing wine that is drinking beautifully right now and still has about 10 more years left in it. This classic cab is a special-occasion wine that will pair marvelously with savory and/or smoky meats. We loved it.

Iconoclast Premier Series
Bill only makes Iconoclast when he thinks the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are near perfect – the most recent vintage is 2009, and the next release is 2012. This is another special wine, rich, silky and with great structure and balance. This is one big cab, which would pair so very well with a big, juicy steak.

2011 & 2012 Two Hoots
The flagship Cab-Merlot-Cab Franc blend is “produced for daily consumption,” according to Bill. He also says that while there are many reasons for the name, the main one is “to honour the return every year of the Great-Horned Owls to nest on the Fairview property.”  This is a medium-weight blend with a flavorful punch. The 2011 vintage has floral notes and is one of the winery’s best sellers. The 2012 has the same blend, but is bigger and bolder, and we really enjoyed it.

2011 The Bear
Another favorite, The Bear is Cab-based (50-75%, depending on the vintage) with Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot to round it off. This is a classic Bordeaux blend, with grapes from the best barrels chosen, and stored from 14-20 months. Thinking of pairing? Think prime rib.

For our friends in B.C., you can find Fairview Cellars wines in a number of places, although we still recommend a visit to BC wine country.

As a young child, my family visited the Okanagan every summer, swimming in the numerous lakes and picking cherries. I said this in Part 1 of this series, and I’ll say it again now: Beautiful British Columbia, you’ve come a long way, baby!


It’s Not Too Late For Summer Sippers! Five Whites for $16-$25

Who says summer is over with Labour Day? No way – there is still a month left for summer sippers on the deck in Washington state!

Here are five white Washington state wines to enjoy in the weeks ahead.

2012 Wysling Band of Sisters, Parejas  Cellars: $16

This refreshing white wine “bands” together a unique blend of 55% Marsanne, 34% Roussanne and 11% Grenache Blanc. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if we’d like it because our choice in whites tends to favor Sauvignon Blancs and Viogniers. But this dry white was a pleasant surprise and is well worth the price point. According to the tasting notes: “Band of Sisters has “exotic & refreshing perfumed aromas of spiced herbal tea, spring blossoms, Asian pears, Greengages, and honeysuckle.” Interestingly, we experienced grapefruit, which is one of the reasons we enjoyed it so much. We also appreciated its full body – this wine drinks well alone or with food. (Note: We were sent this wine to sample; as stated in our sample policy, we accept free samples with the understanding that we only write about wine that we like.)

2012 Feral Sauvignon Blanc, Efeste: $20; 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, JM Cellars: $25

2012 Efeste Feral follows in the footsteps of previous award-winning vintages by a different winemaker. Brennon Leighton created Feral using indigenous, wild yeast, which showcases the crisp, clean minerality pure to this varietal. Current winemaker Peter Devison continued this style, crafting another winner for Efeste. From the tasting notes: “On the palate lemon, yellow grapefruit, and sugarcane flavors are supported by ripe phenolics and gooseberry-like acidity, which is persistent and mouthwatering. The finish is long and elegant. This wine demands shellfish.”

2012 JM Cellars Sauv Blanc is another stellar white from winemaker John Bigelow. We have enjoyed several bottles of this beauty on our deck throughout the summer and saved one for the perfect warm September evening ahead. It is thoroughly refreshing alone or paired with prawns or some excellent cheese. From the tasting notes: “We ferment the juice in stainless steel tanks to show off beautiful tropical fruit aromas and flavors found in Klipsun Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp and dry, our Sauvignon Blanc pairs perfectly with a summer picnic.”

A few years ago, these two Washington Sauvignon Blancs, along with one from Goosecross in Napa Valley, brought us back to loving white wine in the summer after a decade of strictly reds.

2012 Viognier, Alexandria Nicole Cellars: $20; 2012 Viognier, William Church Winery: $23

Jarrod Boyle, ANC’s winemaker and co-owner, describes his 2012 Alexandria Nicole Viognier as a “golden gem,” and we couldn’t agree more. The lavender, peach and citrus aromas are gorgeously summer. This Viognier has generated numerous accolades with its textured mouth-feel and luscious flavors. We found it pairs well with grilled seafood or some chicken dishes. From the tasting notes: “Beautifully balanced it lingers with the richness of apricot and orange blossom, with a lively mouth feel of crisp granny smith apple and a touch of pear on the finish. A clean and refreshing wine that pairs well with food or a summertime patio.”

William Church Viognier is known as the winery’s signature, winning many awards over the years. Winemaker Rod Balsley recommends pairing this fragrant, lush wine with creamy cheeses or foods with a dash of asian spice. We’ve also appreciated it without food. From the tasting notes: “Our flagship Viognier has beautiful aromatics of fresh pear and honeysuckle. What follows are rich peach flavors and citrus with enough acidity to keep the wine fresh and lively.”

So raise a glass of refreshing Washington wine to Summer 2013 – and its continuation into September.


Big Papa, Big Red Wine

It’s no secret that over the years, we’ve become friends with the wonderful folks at Efeste. And it’s also not a secret that we love Efeste wines.

So when we opened a bottle of 2010 Big Papa Old Block Cabernet Sauvignon the other night, we raised a glass to both fine Washington wine and friendship:

— to Brennon Leighton, who made the rich, complex 100% Cab Sauv

— to Daniel and Helen Ferrelli, Patrick Smith, and Kevin and Angie Taylor, the dedicated, passionate owners of Efeste (pronounced F-S-T for the first initials of their last names)

— and to Peter Devison, who joined the team as winemaker last year

We have many favorite Efeste wines, ranging from a superb Syrah, Jolie Bouche, to a crisp Feral Sauvignon Blanc, a perennial summertime winner.

But Big Papa has always topped the list — in 2011, I called the 2007 Big Papa a “Must-Have Cabernet Sauvignon” in my article, Must-Have Bottles of Wine in Seattlelite Magazine.

The 2010 vintage is no exception.

This is one beautiful wine. We first started drinking Big Papa with the 2005 vintage, and it’s won awards and/or recognition every year.

For example, 2010 Big Papa Cab Sauv earned 94 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate in June, naming it a Cellar Selection with this description:

“It’s vivid and textural, with terrific acidity, backbone, and length.”

Brennon used his signature minimalist approach with native fermentation, which encourages more complexity and produces fuller, richer wines than those inoculated with commercial yeast. The grapes were sourced from mature vines in five vineyards.

Although just released this year, Big Papa is already drinkable, and will continue to shine  until 2025.

We doubt it will be around that long though, so we recommend you buy it at the Woodinville winery or online soon!


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?