Rosé Release and More from Lauren Ashton Cellars

There’s a reason we talk a lot about Lauren Ashton Cellars — Kit Singh makes great wine. It’s that simple.

His recent rosé release is solid proof, and two June releases — 2013 Cuvée Arlette and 2016 Cuvée Meline — seal the deal.

2016 Lauren Ashton Rosé ($21)
Just released on April 22, this is a perfect rosé for spring and summer. The blend of Grenache (52%), Counoise (28%) and Mourvedre (20%) features berry notes and some citrus and spices. This wine is bright, lively and fruity, yet dry. Pair it with salads, pasta and rice dishes, seafood, shellfish and cheesy dishes. Or simply drink it without food, pairing it with your patio or deck on a warm afternoon or evening.

A portion of proceeds during the Rosé release weekend will be donated to Susan G. Komen Puget Sound. “We have a belief in this community and a passion for giving back,” said Singh. “We are able to provide our wine and our time to recipients we believe in. With our Rosé release becoming so popular, we love doing something to get the community involved too.”

2013 Cuvée Arlette ($55)
We have loved every vintage of this beautiful, elegant red wine, and the upcoming June release somehow even exceeds previous years. Cuvée Arlette is a rich and complex blend of Merlot (59%), Cabernet Franc (23%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), rounded off with a splash of Malbec (1.5%) and Petit Verdot (1.5%). Arlette is a layered, luxurious and structured wine with notes of dark fruit, cocoa and caramel, and hints of spiciness. Pair this beauty with steak, grilled meats, pork or lamb dishes.

2016 Cuvée Meline ($28)
Also to be released in June, Cuvée Meline is a clean, crisp blend of Sémillon (55%) and Sauvignon Blanc (45%), featuring freshness, balance, high acidity and some minerality. The opening notes are floral and tropical, turning into grapefruit and citrus zest on the finish. Another super summer sipper, serve Meline with cheeses and prawns on the deck, or pair it with fresh seafood. We served it with ling cod cheeks that had lots of garlic and zesty lemon — a delicious pairing!

Samples provided by Lauren Ashton Cellars. Of note, it is rare that we adore all samples from one winery, but that was definitely the case this time.

Cheers,
Margot and Dave

Columbia Crest Wines: Good Juice, Great Value

We’ve been fans of Columbia Crest Winery for at least a decade — the winery produces good, easy-drinking wines at bargain prices. We’ve purchased cases over the years, and we were delighted to receive samples of their recent releases.

Columbia Crest 2014 Grand Estates Merlot Columbia Valley ($12)
Merlot (87%) is blended with small amounts of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon; all fruit was sourced from Horse Heaven Hills for texture and body, and from the Wahluke Slope for aromatics and complexity. This is a rich Merlot with a balance of fruit and earthiness, punctuated by notes of dark cherries and chocolate. Pair this with blue cheese, dark chocolate, pork, grilled salmon or beef.

Columbia Crest 2014 Grand Estates Red Blend Columbia Valley ($12)
This vintage’s blend combines Merlot (55%), Cabernet Franc (36%), Petit Verdot (8%) and a splash of other red varieties. The result is layers of dark berry flavors, with more layers of spice and caramel on the finish. Pair this with grilled meats or tomato-based meat dishes such as lasagne.

Columbia Crest 2014 H3 Merlot Horse Heaven Hills ($15)
This is a medium-bodied Merlot, lighter than the Grand Estates. The nose is beautiful with aromas of spice and blackberry, followed by cherry and cocoa on the palate. We have enjoyed several vintages of H3 Merlot, paired with cedar-plank barbecued salmon and grilled meats.

Columbia Crest 2015 Grand Estates Unoaked Chardonnay Columbia Valley ($12)
We much prefer unoaked Chardonnay like this one, which was fermented only in stainless steel. This is a refreshing summer sipper on the deck – or pour it any time of the year to accompany seafood dishes. Tart and crisp, this Chard has aromas of lemon, pear and orange blossoms, followed by citrus fruit and lively acidity. Where we live, Chardonnay pairs well with fresh crab in August and September, or crab cakes all year round, along with other shellfish, halibut or salmon, with a dash of lemon.

Other wines that we’ve tasted recently from Columbia Crest Winery:

Columbia Crest 2013 H3 Les Chevaux Red Wine Horse Heaven Hills ($15)
Named after the horses (Les Chevaux in French) that once roamed Horse Heaven Hills, this is a lovely, vibrant red blend of Merlot (59%), Syrah ($36%), Viognier (4%) and Cab Franc (1%). You can enjoy this with strong cheeses such as blue or stilton, or with well-seasoned pepper steaks, beef stew or lamb.

Columbia Crest 2014 Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley ($12)
This is a great value estate Cab to pair with beef tenderloin, hearty pasta, blue cheese or chocolate. This wine features dark fruit, a wonderful mouthfeel, and a smoothness, complexity and structure not often seen at this price point.

Columbia Crest 2015 H3 Sauvignon Blanc Horse Heaven Hills ($15)
We’ve enjoyed previous vintages of this Sauv Blanc as a summer sipper on the deck, but we recently tasted it on a rainy, windy day, paired with garlic prawns, and it was delicious. The Sauv Blanc features citrus notes and crisp minerality, just the way we like it. You can also pair it with halibut, crab or quiche.

With summer around the corner, we might open these wines with BBQ hamburger or fresh seafood. But at these prices, you can stock up for any season!

Cheers,
Margot and Dave

Another Successful Taste Washington

Congratulations to the Washington State Wine Commission and Visit Seattle for another successful Taste Washington March 23-26, capping off Washington state Wine Month.

Thousands of people participated in the annual celebration of the excellent juice made in this state — at the Grand Tasting, educational seminars, lunches on local farms, and at restaurants, wineries, hotels and retailers that offered special deals and promotions throughout the month.

But we hope that people did more than taste the fine wine of Washington. We hope they appreciated it, and the hard work by people in our state’s wine industry – from farmers to vineyard managers to those in the production facilities, winemakers, distributors, marketing specialists, tasting room staff and more.

In particular, we applaud the workers in the vineyard who toil over the grapes and the terroir, the winemakers who balance creativity and science in every barrel and bottle, and their families who support this extreme effort.

We definitely appreciated every taste that was poured for us at the Grand Tasting.

And there were some delicious bites too. Our favorite was these amazing Salted Caramel Fudge Brownies from Blazing Bagels. (Their bagels were mouth-watering too, of course!)

We also enjoyed seafood from Anthony’s Pier 66, Ivar’s, Ray’s Boathouse and The Crab Pot. We munched on a lot of crab cakes this year!

Here are some of our favorite wines, in alphabetical order:

      • Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2014 Quarry Butte Red Bordeaux Blend ($26)
      • Ambassador Wines of Washington 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($38)
      • Andrew Will 2013 Champoux Vineyard Red Blend ($74)
      • Avennia 2015 Oliane Sauvignon Blanc ($28)
      • Barrage Cellars 2012 “Cease and Desist” Cabernet Franc ($35)
      • Barrister Winery 2013 Cabernet Franc ($31), pictured left with Petit Verdot & Barrister’s Block
      • Bartholomew Winery 2014 Tannat ($32)
      • Betz Family Winery 2013 Pere de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon ($75)
      • Boudreaux Cellars 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($115); winemaker Rob Newsom and his daughter Keely are pictured below
      • Canvasback 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($40)
      • Cooper Wine Company 2014 L’inizio Bordeaux Blend, Red Mountain ($55)
      • Double Canyon 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($65)
      • Efeste 2013 Big Papa Cabernet Sauvignon ($60)
      • Fidelitas 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($50)
      • Figgins 2013 Estate Red Bordeaux Blend ($85)
      • Lauren Ashton Cellars 2013 Cuvee Estelle Red Bordeaux Blend ($50)
      • Maison Bleue 2014 Voyageur Syrah ($50)
      • Obelisco 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($50)
      • Saviah Cellars 2013 “The Stones Speak” Syrah ($55)
      • Secret Squirrel 2013 Red Bordeaux Blend ($25)
      • William Church 2014 Keystone Reserve Series, Reserve Syrah ($55)

There were so many other wonderful wineries pouring at Taste Washington, but we unfortunately could not visit every table.

As far as we’re concerned, every month is a good time to celebrate Washington state wine.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Washington State Crushes Wine Grape Harvest Record

The state’s record for its wine grape harvest was crushed in 2016, according to a report released by the Washington State Wine Commission.

The commission’s Annual Grape Production Report showed 2016 had the biggest wine grape harvest in the state’s history: the 2016 harvest totaled 270,000 tons, a 22-percent increase over 2015 and easily surpassing the previous record harvest of 227,000 tons in 2014.

The largest growth came from Cabernet Sauvignon, with a 23,700-ton increase. This also meant that Cab Sauv was the top-producing variety grown in the state — 71,100 tons or 26% of the total. Merlot was ranked second, at 48,400 tons or 18% of the total. Syrah came in third of the reds, at 21,300 tons, followed by Cab Franc at 4,300. Malbec rounded off the top five reds at 2,700.

Overall, red varieties accounted for 58% of the total production, compared to 51% in 2015.

Chardonnay was the top white grape and third overall at 45,000 tons, while Riesling was right behind it at 41,300 tons. Sauvignon Blanc was ranked third among whites, trailing with 9,800 tons, followed by Pinot Gris at 8,700 and Gewurtztraminer at 2,600.

A sign of further growth — there are now more than 900 winery licenses in Washington State.

“2016 was a year for the record books,” said Steve Warner, president of the Washington State Wine Commission, which represents every licensed winery and grape grower in the state. “Not only did we see our biggest harvest ever – but it was a great harvest. The weather in Eastern Washington cooled down a bit to extend the growing season and allow the grapes some extra time to mature on the vine. Our growers and winemakers are extremely excited about these wines.”

Further details are available in Annual Grape Production Report.

Cheers,
Margot and Dave

Data Science to Easily Pair Wine and Cheese? Yes!

How many times have you wondered which cheeses pair well with your favorite wines? Or perhaps you’ve debated which wines complement your favorite cheeses.

You might have conducted online searches or looked at books for advice. Ultimately you probably found the answers, but how long did it take?

Now, thanks to data science and a Canadian professor, you can find results in an instant.

University of Toronto professor Gary Bader specializes in biological network analysis; he and a team of computer scientists and molecular geneticists developed a free interactive website, Wine and Cheese Map, to suggest pairings for about 100 red and white wines, and about 270 cheeses.

“You just quickly look at a picture and see patterns that would be very difficult to find if you were looking through data spreadsheets one row at a time,” Bader told the BBC.

The website process is very simple. To find which wines pair best with your favorite cheese, just type the name of the cheese in the search box. In an instant, you will be shown red and white wines that pair well with it. Similar cheeses will also be identified.

For example, if you have some delicious Gorgonzola in your fridge, and wonder what wine to drink with it, simply type in “Gorgonzola.” You will discover that it goes very well with California Cabernet Sauvignon, as do three similar cheeses, Cashel Blue, Stilton and Fourme d’Ambert.

Or if you have a bottle of Shiraz ready to pour, and want to know what cheese to pair with it, simply type in “Shiraz” and you will see the answer (as shown in the map below): Gruyere, Winchester Aged Gouda and many other cheeses.

In addition, the map’s interactive features allow you to move between different wines and cheeses. For example, if you click on “Gruyere” in the above map about Shiraz, you will be shown a new map (below); and you will discover that Gruyere also goes well with California Sauvignon Blanc, Tuscan Sangiovese, Syrah and California Zinfandel. Again, other similar cheeses are also noted.

The map can be used for planning parties or even when you’re shopping. So next time you are visiting a cheese bar in your favorite grocery or specialty store, or choosing wine from your cellar to go with that special cheese in your fridge, open up Wine and Cheese Map on your mobile device to help make your selections.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Madrigal Family Winery

Nestled between Howell and Diamond Mountains in Napa Valley, Madrigal Family Winery is best known for its Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. Winemaker Chris Madrigal is a third-generation vintner, which shows in the wines he crafts.

We were fortunate to receive samples of three Madrigal wines, as the winery celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Madrigal Family Winery Petite Sirah 2012 ($34)
The winery made its name with Petite Sirah, and just one sip of this vintage will explain why. This intense wine is inky in color, with aromas of berries, licorice and dark chocolate. On the palate, there are rich, yet smooth flavors of dark fruit with spices on a long finish. You could pair this wine with grilled meats or sausage dishes, or sip on it before the meal, while nibbling on hard cheeses such as parmesan or sharp cheddar.

Winemaker Tasting Notes: “Inky black-blue color precedes perfumed aromas of cassis, espresso, and dark chocolate. Intense dark currant, blackberry, and plush plum flavors initially fill the palate. This heady, explosive wine then finishes long with BBQ rub spices, sweet toasted oak, and round tannins.”

Madrigal Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($48)
An Australian winemaker told us that she thinks about wines based on their “Yum Factor.” This Cabernet Sauvignon definitely has you saying “Yum!” Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot are blended with the Cab Sauv, resulting a robust, rich and beautiful expression of Napa Valley, where Cab is King. Now let’s get some steaks on the grill to pair with it!

Winemaker Tasting Notes: “From the outstanding 2012 vintage, this is a big, rich Napa Valley Cabernet with dark fruit and spice aromas and a hearty core of currant and black cherry flavors. The wine has excellent balance, soft tannins and a long, delicious finish.”

 

Madrigal Family Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($20)
We typically enjoy Sauv Blancs on the deck on warm evenings, but this lovely wine also works well during these cooler nights, particularly when paired with seafood. (We enjoyed it with garlic prawns and rice.) We love Sauv Blanc with 100% stainless steel fermentation, like this one, which results in a crisp, fresh taste of summer. Citrus and grassy aromas turn into smooth flavors of vanilla, melon and green tea.

Winemaker Tasting Notes: “Light straw color with the brilliance of sunlight through a forest canopy. Aromas of grapefruit, pineapples and orange peel. Flavors of pineapples and honeydew melon that are creamy and viscous on the palate. Nice crisp acid that finishes clean and refreshing.”

Next time we are in Napa Valley, Madrigal Family Winery will definitely be on our list of wineries to visit.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Fantastic Value Wines – Columbia Crest H3+

img_0191We’ve been fans of H3 Cabernet Sauvignon since Columbia Crest Winery sent us samples of the 2012 vintage a couple of years ago. We ended up buying cases of this extremely good value wine during the year, and the pattern continued for the 2013 vintage. Columbia Crest recently sent us samples of their 2014 lineup, and we are happy to say that their winning streak continues.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, 2013, 2014 ($15)
We recently decided to taste through a vertical of H3 Cab Sauv. Not surprisingly, the 2012 was the most complex of the three vintages, and drinking very nicely with a couple of extra years under its belt. But to us, at this vertical tasting, the 2013 was the clear winner. That being said, the new 2014 release is lovely, showing promise of outperforming both previous vintages. We can’t wait to try it again in about six months – we have a feeling it will end up being our favorite. Enjoy this wine with almost any beef dish, hearty pasta or even before a meal with strong cheese.

Other new releases sent to us were:

Columbia Crest 2014 Limited Release Gold Red Wine ($12)
Every year, this limited release wine is popular for the Thanksgiving table. (You also could pair it with grilled meats and vegetables.) Columbia  Crest’s winemaker sets aside a couple of barrels of wine each year that represent what he considers to be the gold standard vineyards and grapes in the Columbia Valley. This year’s blend combines Cabernet Franc (45%) with Syrah (36%), Malbec (17%) and other varietals to round it out. As you can tell by the grapes in this blend, you’ll find a big, rich and flavorful glass of delicious.

Columbia Crest 2013 H3 Les Chevaux Red Wine Horse Heaven Hills ($15)
Named after the horses (Les Chevaux in French) that once roamed Horse Heaven Hills, this is a lovely, vibrant red blend of Merlot (59%), Syrah ($36%), Viognier (4%) and Cab Franc (1%). You can enjoy this with strong cheeses such as blue or stilton, or with well-seasoned pepper steaks, beef stew or lamb.

Columbia Crest 2014 Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley ($12)
This is a great value estate Cab to pair with beef tenderloin, hearty pasta, blue cheese or chocolate. This wine features dark fruit, a wonderful mouthfeel, and a smoothness, complexity and structure not often seen at this price point.

Columbia Crest 2015 H3 Sauvignon Blanc Horse Heaven Hills ($15)
We’ve enjoyed previous vintages of this Sauv Blanc as a summer sipper on the deck, but this fall, we tasted it on a rainy, windy day, paired with garlic prawns, and it was delicious. The Sauv Blanc features citrus notes and crisp minerality, just the way we like it. You can also pair it with halibut, crab or quiche.

Columbia Crest 2014 Grand Estates Chardonnay Columbia Valley ($12)
If you like Chardonnay with creamy, buttery notes, with a bit of creme brûlée and butterscotch, this one is for you. Interestingly, 22% was fermented in stainless steel, which brings a freshness to the taste as well. Where we live, Chardonnay pairs well with fresh crab in August and September, or crab cakes all year round, along with chicken pot pie or pork tenderloin.

Any of these wines would be paired well with different Thanksgiving dishes — and at these prices, you can stock up for the whole family!

Cheers,
Margot and Dave

Stag’s Leap at Semiahmoo

img_0136We’ve been fans of Stag’s Leap wines for years, so we were delighted to find out the winery was holding a dinner on Nov. 3 at nearby Semiahmoo Resort. What an evening of taste sensations!

Chef Bruno paired each of Stag’s Leaps wines with a delicious five-course meal, while Kirk Grace, Stag’s Leap director of California vineyard operations, talked about the winery’s history and  winemaking. He made time to talk to everyone throughout the evening, and we learned that Stag’s Leap is one of California’s earliest wine estates, growing grapes in Napa Valley since the 1880s.

img_0150We enjoyed the company of two couples from Semiahmoo and Bellingham at our table, with a beautiful sunset forming a backdrop to the festivities at the scenic resort.

We are fortunate to live in this beautiful part of Washington state, and so close to friends and family in B.C. too.

Now onto the explosions of tastes that we enjoyed that night!

First Course: In a word, heaven.
Maple Cured Sockeye Salmon, Smoked Salmon Roe Pickled Cucumber, Red Miso Mayonnaise
— 2015 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Aveta” Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, CA

img_0137Second Course: A wonderful pairing
Pan Seared Neah Bay Black Cod Penn Cove Mussels “Paella”
— 2014 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay, Napa Valley, CA

Third Course: A lovely red blend
Foie Gras Terrine, Candied Purple Grapes
Sour Apple & Charred Blood Orange
— 2013 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Hands of Time” Red Blend, Napa Valley, CA

img_0147Fourth Course: Absolutely delicious – our favorite course and favorite wine
Japanese Wagyu Beef Tenderloin
Black Truffle Spätzle, Chanterelles, Red Wine Jus
— 2013 Stag’s Leap Cellars “Artemis”, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA

img_0149

 

Dessert: Yummy!
Warm Roasted Plum Tart, Pomegranate Sauce
— Chateau St. Michelle Late Harvest Ethos Riesling, WA

Congratulations to Stag’s Leap and Semiahmoo Resort for a special evening.

This event was part of the resort’s Vintner’s Dinner Series.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

 

 

Murrieta’s Well

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 8.18.34 AMTwo years ago, we wrote about how we enjoyed Murrieta’s Well 2011 The Spur from Livermore Valley ($25). We just tasted the 2013 vintage, and we liked it even more. While the price has increased to $30, so have the flavors, with a higher percentage of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc, and the addition of Merlot this year.

Crafted by the new director of winemaking, Robbie Meyer, this unique red wine blends 40% Petite Sirah, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon,10% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot,  8% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Franc. In other words, the Petite Sirah forms a beautiful foundation for the classic Bordeaux varietals.

Each type of grape was harvested, fermented and handcrafted separately to achieve their greatest varietal expression, and then blended into The Spur. From the winemaker’s tasting notes:

“Beautiful fruit aromas of black cherry and blueberry are highlighted by subtle notes of sweet oak and earthy spice. A ripe tannic structure and balanced acidity make this wine perfect by itself or paired with your favorite recipes from the grill.”

We think this big blend would pair well with roasted or grilled meats, dishes with red sauces or rich cheese.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 8.32.58 AMThanks to Murrieta’s Well for sending us a sample of The Spur, as well as 2014 The Whip, a white wine blend also from the Livermore Valley. While white blends aren’t our favorites, we know many people who would enjoy The Whip ($24).

The Whip blends 29% Semillon, 27% Chardonnay, 18% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Orange Muscat, 8% Muscat Canelli and 6% Viognier; as with The Spur, each varietal was fermented individually. From the winemaker’s tasting notes:

“This unique wine showcases juicy fruit flavors of white peach, pear and melon with bright acidity and a touch of sweetness that creates a smooth and creamy finish.”

Murrieta’s Well is one of California’s original wineries, propagated in 1883 with vineyard cuttings from Chateau Margaux and Chateau d’Yquem in France. Need we say more? Oh, one more thing — Murrieta’s Well is owned by Philip Wente of Wente Vineyards, the country’s oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Kaiken Winery in Argentina

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 10.07.34 AMBeat the August heat with a new summer sipper from Argentina — Kaiken Terroir Series Sauvignon Blanc 2015.

We paired it with cilantro-lime prawns on the deck, savored the refreshing flavors, and then kicked back and enjoyed our view of the lake. You could also pair this Sauv Blanc with fish tacos or grilled chicken. The aromas were intense on the nose; on the palate, this wine was fresh, with peach and citrus flavors and mineral notes.

A couple of weeks later, we barbecued flank steak skewers to pair with Kaiken’s 2013 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, also part of the winery’s Terroir Series. According to the winery, BBQ has been big in Argentina for longer than the U.S. has been a country, so it seemed like a perfect choice.

Blended with a touch of Malbec and Petit Verdot, this Cabernet Sauvignon is a deep red color and medium-bodied. The wine is still young, so we decanted it for a few hours. Once it opened up, the potential was apparent. A smooth wine, this Cab Sauv revealed a predominance of red fruits like plums, in addition to a touch of chocolate and vanilla. Its fruity aromas and flavors would also pair well with a number of other meat dishes, such as a juicy hamburger or lamb chop.

Both wines have a price point of $17, making them great choices for an every-day value wine.

Thank you, Kaiken for the samples.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave