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?



Carmel Valley

Our first visit to Carmel Valley wine country brought a discovery of unknown yet delightful wines, in addition to some educational and fun conversations with winemakers, winery owners and tasting room staff.

We were in the Carmel-Monterey region on vacation in April, to enjoy the gorgeous ocean views and sunshine, and to tour the wine region while celebrating my birthday. I wish we had planned even more time to stay in the area!

Here are the wineries that we visited and our favorite wines from each one.

Bernardus: For whites, 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Monterey County was my favorite, while Dave preferred 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Griva Vineyard. For reds, it was unanimous; we both chose two big Bordeaux blends: 2009 Marinus Estate Red Wine (92 points from Wine Enthusiast) and 2007 Signature Marinus Estate. This Bordeaux blend comes from grapes in the best barrels from the best lots from Marinus Estate Vineyard in the upper Carmel Valley.

Boekenoogen: 2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Estate Pinot Noir captured our attention, with its plush, lush, velvet mouthfeel and rich flavors. We also enjoyed the 2011 Carmel Valley Estate “Bell Ranch” Zinfandel, a bright light flavorful wine that would pair well with grilled prawns or marinated fish.

Carmel Ridge: When we were visiting Cannery Row on our first day in Monterey, we noticed the Carmel Ridge Winery tasting room, which has a beautiful view of the bay and was a perfect start to our wine experience in the region. Wine rep Stacy Silva not only educated us about the area, but she also suggested some the best wineries to visit. We took a bottle of 2010 Carmel Ridge Pinot Gris back to our hotel and enjoyed it with prawns and cheese on the deck.

Joyce Vineyards: Until a pour of 2011 Joyce Estate Syrah, we were never crazy about California Syrahs – we’re not sure if it’s because of the terroir or the unique winemaking style. But Joyce makes the best California Syrah we have ever tried, probably because it’s the closest in taste to the peppery, spicy Washington State Syrahs. This one was so good, we brought home a bottle, in addition to our other favorite, 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Russel’s Vineyard, a medium-bodied Cab with long, silky finish (87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec).

Parsonage Estate: The 2009 Estate Reserve “Tanner” Cabernet Sauvignon is one of those wines where all we could say after one sip was “WOW!” Tasting room manager Jessica Trask and winemaker Frank Melicia told us this Cab is rich, and we can certainly attest to it. A full nose, it’s “stunningly full on the palate with an exquisitely long finish.” This wine alone is worth a drive to Carmel Valley wine country, if you’re in the area.

Whether you’re planning a trip to see the amazing Monterey Aquarium or to cruise along the 17-Mile Drive along Pebble Beach, the Del Monte Forest and the dramatic Pacific Coast, be sure to save some time to visit the Carmel Valley wine country. We highly recommend it!


A Taste of Summer from Carlton Cellars

What an unexpected and pleasant surprise a few weeks ago to see Seattle temperatures hit almost 70 degrees — in March! You know what that meant … time to sit on the deck with a glass of white wine.

Our wine of choice for the deck – and later to be paired with salmon barbecued on a cedar plank — was Carlton Cellars Proposal Rock 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp, elegant, refreshing, with strong notes of grapefruit, pear and citrus rind — perfect!

You might recall that I went on a tour of Carlton, Oregon wineries with friends after the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland last summer. Fondly nicknamed “Blitz Carlton,” you can read about it here and here.

One of the bottles I brought home from Blitz Carlton was that same Carlton Cellars Sauv Blanc, knowing Dave would also enjoy it because of the strong grapefruit flavors.

He also enjoyed the story behind the name and label.

In 1999, Carlton Cellars co-owner Dave Grooters proposed to his future wife and winery parter Robin at a stunning spot at Neskowin on the Oregon Coast. Only later did Dave learn this place is actually known as Proposal Rock! Surprise!

Look at the label of Proposal Rock Sauvignon Blanc (above). See the two people? What a great story!

Dave Grooters is more than Carlton Cellars’ co-owner, grower, and winemaker. He is a storyteller, and his enthusiasm about the wines and the labels is enchanting.

He and Robin honor the Pacific by naming each wine for a special place on the Oregon coast, illustrated by really cool label art. On the right is the label from Carlton Cellars 2011 Canon Beach Pinot Gris, which I described last summer as “the crispest Pinot Gris in Oregon.”

Looking forward to visiting Carlton again next month!



Random Thoughts from Taste Washington-Part 2

This is a continuation of our random thoughts from Taste Washington, held March 23-24 in Seattle. To start at the beginning, please read Part 1 first.

Another perennial favorite, 2010 Pere de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon, from Betz Family Winery, continues to showcase how this grape shines in Washington state.

Smart thinking from Col Solare — at their booth, they offered an educational (and tasty) experience of how wine develops over the years, with a side-by-side tasting of the 2007 and the 2003 vintages.

Somehow, we were lucky enough to taste Cooper Wine Company‘s stellar 2008 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon. This standout wine wasn’t on the tasting list provided when we arrived at the event.

Thank you to all our friends who poured us a little-extra-special something from under the table!

Speaking of friends, Bob Silver noted in his blog WA|Wine|PR that the Double Canyon 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was “the favorite wine that I met at 2013 Taste Washington.” He described it as “Big honkin’ fruit from Horse Heaven Hills, wonderful structure and balance” – so you know we’ll be checking this wine out in the near future. Our palates are similar to Bob’s – he’s never steered us wrong with his many recommendations over the years.

Efeste‘s 2009 Big Papa is drinking so well right now that we need to get to Woodinville to pick up more, stat! Just one taste underlined why Washington wine expert Paul Gregutt described this beauty as capturing the best of Washington in a single bottle.

As expected, we enjoyed JM Cellars’ 2010 Longevity and 2010 Tre. We can’t wait until May, when John Bigelow’s 2012 Red Mountain Sauvignon Blanc is released. We savored a pour at Taste Washington, and indeed, this wine demonstrates the true characteristics of the grape. A perfect summer sipper on the deck!

Another favorite was Sparkman Cellars 2010 Kingpin Cabernet Sauvignon, also sourced from Red Mountain. I adored Sparky’s tasting notes: “Will develop for many years and last well past the end of the world.”

There were so many more wineries that we did not have the time (or fortitude) to visit! And then there was the food!

The standout restaurant booths that we visited were Anthony’s Pier 66Murray’s CheeseIvar’sRelish Burger BarRN74Sullivan’s SteakhouseThe Capital GrilleSweet TreatsThe Yellow Leaf Cupcake Company and every restaurant from Tulalip.

Did you go to Taste Washington 2013? What were your standouts?




March is Washington Wine Month

In our family, every month is Washington Wine Month, but the official celebration occurs in this state every March.

That’s when you will find great deals at wineries, wine shops, big grocery stores and many restaurants. For example, some promotions include discounts on full or half cases of Washington state wine, purchase discounts off any bottle or Washington wine or in-store free wine tastings.

For specifics, have a look at the Washington Wine Month Calendar.

One that caught our eye is a 20%-off promotion for Northwest Totem Cellars at Wine World on March 16th. And thanks Wine World, for quoting this blog in your promotion!

As for us, we celebrate by telling anyone who will listen about the great juice Washington state wineries produce.

Whether you like big, bold reds (like us), crispy Sauvignon Blanc, rich Viognier or buttery Chardonnay, you can find the best right in your own backyard, so to speak, from Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Tri-Cities, Walla Walla, Cascade Valley, Woodinville and many more.

We recently tasted these Washington wine gems:

Do you see a trend here? We heart Cabs!

And these are just some of the amazing wines you can find from Washington state. We encourage you to do so!

Happy Washington Wine Month!



Update: A Great Idea for Wineries

Back in October, I wrote about, a unique way to find wines you like among the thousands of brands that are available. provides samplers from wineries around the world (including top-of-the-line Silver Oak and Duckhorn) that come in a minimum of six 50ml bottles – so you can taste first, before deciding if you want to invest in full-sized bottles that range from $11-$110.

In October, we received a free sample of A Taste Adventure – Cabernet Taste-Off with Cabs from Washington state and Sonoma.

Since that time, we have happily noticed that some California wineries are sending samplers from to wine writers and wine industry trade folks to showcase the variety of their wines in an easy-to-ship, easy-to-taste experience.

You might recall that I wrote in early December that we received a sampler for a Don & Sons virtual tasting on Twitter, which meant we  had an opportunity to taste six wines without having to open (or drink from) large bottles.

Last week, we received a similar six-bottle sampler from Trione Vineyards & Winery in Alexander Valley in SonomaValley. Trione is a small, family-run operation, much like many of our favorites in Washington state. The Trione team wanted to send out their wines to people like us, who don’t live in California and don’t have too many opportunities to visit their tasting room.

Instead, they turned to, so they could introduce us to each of their current vintages – in a “pour size” instead of a full-sized bottle.

We now have an opportunity to taste — from the comfort of our home — 2010 Trione Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Chardonnay, 2008 Pinot Noir, 2008 Syrah, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Red Wine blend (Cab and Merlot). We haven’t poured them yet, but look for another blog post when we do.

Now, we don’t own or work at a winery, but it would seem to me that wineries could save money by sending samplers of their wine instead of full bottles. As a wine writer, I appreciate being able to taste an entire line-up, without having too many open full-sized bottles sitting around the house waiting to be finished or possibly go bad.

It seems like more and more California wineries are moving in this direction. I hope Washington state wineries look into it too. And kudos to Gilbert Cellars for participating in the Washington state vs. Sonoma Cabernet sampler!

For more information about samplers, wine by the glass and a wine club, see my previous post An Innovative Way to Find the Wines You Like, or visit The




Wow in the barrel means it’s going to be amazing in the bottle.  We call it the “Wow Factor.”

And that’s exactly what we experienced recently when barrel-tasting with John Bigelow, winemaker and co-owner of JM Cellars in Woodinville.

On a recent visit, John poured us two wines from the barrel – a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, full of melon and citrus, and a robust Syrah from Boushey Vineyard, already a rich red color and bursting with flavors. We will be first in line when the Sauv Blanc is released next year. But our patience is required for the Syrah, which has another year before release.

We also were in for a special treat – John went to his wine library and opened a bottle of 2000 Columbia Valley Cuvee, his first vintage of the classic Bordeaux blend that is now known as Longevity.

To say the 2000 Cuvee is drinking nicely would be an understatement. Words do not describe how smooth this wine was on the palate. We definitely would have purchased some bottles for special occasions, but we were tasting from the last bottle.

Thanks so much, John, for sharing the exceptional experience.

Meanwhile, the 2012 harvest is set to be a record production for JM Cellars. John literally beamed when he told us about  the beauty of this year’s grapes.

But if you’re looking for wine to taste now – for your holiday table or to take to parties during the festive  season — look no further than JM Cellars. Here are some of our favorites from the lineup:

  • 2010 Bramble Bump Red, a perfect cool-weather wine to enjoy on a crisp fall afternoon or on a winter evening by the fire
  • 2011 Bramble Bump White, for the white wine drinker on your list – a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauv Blanc and Semillion; this wine sells out quickly, so we bought some to save for summer
  • 2010 Longevity, a classic Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot (Wine Spectator gave the 07 vintage 94 points)
  • 2009 Margaret’s Vineyard Estate Red, a Cab-based Bordeaux blend

In addition to the wine tasting experience, we were delighted to see John back in shoes after more than eight months in a cast. In March, a filled-to-the-brim 60-gallon barrel of wine fell on his left foot and crushed it. John, congratulations on this latest milestone in your recovery.


Wines of Chile

Virtual tastings and tweet-ups are becoming a weekly occurrence in the wine industry, and one of the best organized in my recent experience was by Wines of Chile.

At this tasting, we explored three styles of wines from four different varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Carménère (Chile’s signature grape), Pinot Noir (relatively new to Chile) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile’s star red grape).

I think many of us who were invited to this event were surprised to discover that Chilean wines are unique and expressive, in addition to offering a low price point.

The tasting, attended by 60 U.S. wine bloggers, was moderated by Master Sommelier and Wines of Chile Educator Fred Dexheimer, who was in the same room as the winemakers. Bloggers watched them live on an online video screen, while tasting from the complimentary bottles shipped to us the previous week. As we experienced the lineup. we could ask questions of the winemakers and comment in a live micro-blogging stream located on the same web page as the video screen; others posted live on Twitter.

And now to the wine …

As regular readers know, we are big fans of Sauvignon Blanc, particularly with prawns or blue cheese on summer evenings relaxing on the deck. Our preference has been Sauv Blancs from Washington (Efeste and JM Cellars) and Napa Valley (Goosecross Cellars), and we are just starting to enjoy this refreshing, zesty wine from New Zealand.

Now, we are adding Sauv Blanc from Chile to our collection. Although these three wines are very different, they all made our list: Viña Casablanca Nimbus Single Vineyard 2012 ($13), San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard 2011 ($19) and Casa Silva Cool Coast 2011 ($25). We particularly favored the last two because of their grapefruit flavors.

Of the 12 wines that were tasted, other standouts (to us) representing each grape were Morandé Casablanca Valley Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2009 ($18), Koyle Royale 2009 Carménère ($26) and Viña Los Vascos 2009 Le Dix Cabernet Sauvignon ($65).

Here is the full list:

  • Viña Casablanca Casablanca Valley Nimbus Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2012
  • San Pedro Leyda Valley 1865 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011
  • Casa Silva Colchagua Valley Paredones Estate Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2011
  • Emiliana Casablanca Valley Novas Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2010
  • Cono Sur Casablanca Valley 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2009
  • Morandé Casablanca Valley Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2009
  • Concha y Toro Cachapoal Valley Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere 2010
  • Carmen Colchagua Valley Alpata Vineyard Gran Reserva Carmenere 2010
  • Koyle Royale Alto Colchagua Carmenere
  • Viña Ventisquero Maipo Valley Grey Glacier Single Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
  • Viña Maquis Colchagua Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
  • Viña Los Vascos Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) Colchagua Valley Le Dix Cabernet Sauvignon

Thanks Wines of Chile and Emily Denton for inviting me to this educational and fun event.


Harvest Party

It’s that time again – our favorite wine event of the year – the annual Harvest Party in the Vines, held by Alexandria Nicole Cellars at their Destiny Ridge Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills in central Washington.

Let me tell you, Ali and Jarrod Boyle know how to throw a party! This is our fourth, and we just keep having more and more fun each year.

This event is so well planned – from the special hotel rate at the Marriott in Richland, to the party buses to take us on the 45-minute drive to the Estate vineyard, to the amazing “surf and turf” menu created by awesome chef Frank Magana. In addition, there’s live music and harvest hoopla, including a skeet-shooting contest, wine balloon toss, grape stomping, barrel rolling and much more.

And let’s not forget the incredible wines. ANC’s Estate Vineyard, Destiny Ridge, contains 263 acres of planted vines with 23 varietals. Believe me, 23 varietals is huge in Washington state:

White Wines: Crawford Viognier, a2 Pinot Gris, Shepherds Mark southern Rhone white blend, Sauvignon Blanc, Late Harvest Riesling, Cabernet Franc Rosé.

Red Wines: Quarry Butte Red Table Wine, Gravity Merlot, Alderdale Cabernet Sauvignon, a2 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Syrah, Jet Black Syrah.

In addition, wine club members (like us) can also enjoy:

White Wines: Reserve Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne.

Red Wines: Block 17 Syrah, Destiny Bordeaux Blend, Member’s Only, Grenache, Mackay Duck Press Red, Lemberger, Malbec, Rock Star Red, Tempranillo, Mr. Big Petite Syrah, Primativo

We became wine club members in 2007, the same year I started this blog and when ANC first moved to Woodinville. Over the years, Ali and Jarrod became our good friends. But it all began with the wine.