If you love blends …

… like we love blends, then mark your calendar right now for the third annual – you guessed it – BLEND event on Sept. 16 at Seattle waterfront’s Bell Harbor Conference Center.

We have not missed this event ever, because Bordeaux blends have been some of our favorite wines for years. I was asked to be a judge at this year’s BLEND blind tasting, but it’s during the day when I work at my “day job,” unfortunately.

But thankfully we can attend the event, which not only showcases Washington’s hottest blends, but also enticing gourmet food samples from some award-winning hotel restaurants.

Specifically, BLEND features more than 40 Washington wineries, barrel blending stations and international tasting stations, in addition to a “Bubble Lounge” with champagne, sparkling wines and cider and oysters.

While both of our palates favor Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, others prefer southern Rhone-style blends of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre.

Some of our favorites are unique-to-Washington blends of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, such as William Church 2008 2 Spires and Gorman 2009 Evil Twin. Unfortunately, neither will be at this event, but some of our other favorites, such as DiStefano 2007 Sogno (Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) will be definite pours for us.

Some white blends – perfect summer sippers — will also be available, such as the award-winning Shepherd’s Mark southern Rhone blend (Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne) from Alexandria Nicole Cellar and Optu White Bordeaux blend (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion) from Fidelitas.

For a full list of wineries pouring at BLEND, in addition to tickets, visit the BLEND website. Net proceeds from the $49-per-person admission will benefit the Washington Wine Industry Foundation.

We hope to see you there!


Big Winemaker News at EFESTE

Winemaker extraordinaire Brennon Leighton is becoming a consulting winemaker at EFESTE in Woodinville and after Crush 2012, he will be relocating to eastern Washington near EFESTE’s vineyards and taking on additional projects with other wineries.

He personally selected winemaker Peter Devison, formerly from Apex, Alder Ridge and Willow Creek, to join him on an expanded EFESTE winemaking team “because of his experience in reductive winemaking — a distinctive old-world style seldom seen in Washington.”

“Peter’s knowledge of our winemaking style is incredible,” Brennon explained. “We have similar philosophies and perspectives that will make for a great progression. It’s like being in a foreign country and finding someone who can speak your language.”

Regular readers of this blog know we’ve been fans of Brennon and EFESTE for years. My article about Brennon in Seattleite Magazine landed him in third spot in the magazine’s Top Ten newsmakers of the year (2011).

We first met him in 2008, when we barrel-tasted Jolie Bouche during a St. Nick’s event in Woodinville. We instantly became members of EFESTE’s Inner Circle wine club, and applauded when the next year, 2009, Seattle Magazine hailed Brennon as Winemaker to Watch and EFESTE as the Best New Winery.

As his star rose, Brennon remained constant – open, blunt, funny, sharp and passionate, a talented man whom my mother would have said “pulls no punches,” an artist who also likes to experiment and a thinker who reads several books a week.

We’ve also written numerous posts about Efeste’s award-winning wines such as Feral Sauvignon Blanc, Jolie Bouche Syrah,  Lola Chardonnay and Big Papa Cabernet Sauvignon, my personal favorite (although it’s hard to choose).

EFESTE’s new winemaker, Peter Devision, is fortunate to join Brennon and the owners whose last names make up the letters that spell EFESTE: Daniel and Helen Ferrelli, Patrick Smith, and Kevin and Angie Taylor are also passionate about wine, dedicated to several worthy causes, and fun to hang out with in the tasting room.

Devison began working with Brennon for crush 2012, taking place now.

We look forward to meeting him. In addition to talking wine, we have Canada in common – he’s from Nova Scotia and worked in my hometown, Vancouver before moving to Washington state.


Cool down, go Feral

Summer is here, which often means long, warm evenings on the deck with the dogs, our books and a nice refreshing glass of wine. The summer white that tops our list right now is Sauvignon Blanc – and our favorite of this particular weekend is Efeste 2011 Feral.

Made using native, wild yeast for fermentation, the grapefruit aromas inherent to Sauv Blanc are enhanced, and the mouthfeel is somehow both rich and crisp at the same time.

Native fermentation means that no commercial yeast was added to the pressed juice. As a result, the character of the varietal is showcased, along with the terroir at Evergreen Vineyard in the Columbia Valley.

In other words, if you love a classic Sauvignon Blanc, Feral is for you.

This is the fifth vintage of winemaker Brennon Leighton’s Feral. In his notes on the bottle, he dedicates this wine “to the esteemed Loire Valley vigneron Didier Dagueneau” – who inspired Brennon to reach beyond his comfort zone “and produce wines that do not adhere to the expected, but rather drive to make wines that surpass even my own concept of place, purity and excellence.”

We both think Brennon successfully reached his goal with 2011 Feral.

Cheers to Brennon, to Feral and to summer!


Travels to Napa Valley

We just came back from Napa Valley, where we visited five wineries that we highly recommend. Here are the highlights:

Goosecross Cellars: The Howell Mountain Cab from Goosecross has always been a favorite, and this year did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded expectations. This full-bodied Cab is rich and elegant with so many layers of lovely that I wish I could buy a few cases. Goosecross also produces one of the best stand-alone Cab Francs we tasted in Napa Valley. Cab Franc is my #1 choice, and Goosecross is as excellent as my favorite Washington state Cab Francs.

In addition, Goosecross makes a crisp refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, which is perfect for a warm, sunny day on the deck. (Note: We credit our summer passion for Sauv Blanc to Goosecross along with two Washington state wineries, Efeste and JM Cellars.) Goosecross’ popular tasting room underlines the superb customer service, friendliness and wow-worthy wines.

Grgich Hills: The first time I went to Napa Valley – more years ago than I care to admit! – Grgich was on my list of must-visit wineries. We didn’t know then that winemaker Mike Grgich crafted the 1973 Chardonnay, which won the Paris Competition that put California and Chateau Montelena on the worldwide wine map in 1976 and again in 2009 when the movie Bottle Shock was released.

So it was no surprise to find that Grgich Carneros Selection Chardonnay 2008, was simply, beautiful. We also were lucky to be invited to two side-by-side tastings while we were there. The first was Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2008, plus the Yountville Selection 2007, from some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Napa Valley. The second was a “decades tasting” of Napa Valley Cab Sauv from 1982,1992, 2002. What a treat! I preferred the 02, while Dave’s preference was the ’92. Frankly, every Grgich wine we tasted was stellar.

Hall: We had so much fun at Hall, partly because their wine educator, Kendra Wax, hails from Walla Walla, so we could compare Napa wines to our glorious juice from Washington state. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Hall wines are also glorious. We took home a library release, 2006 Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which was rated 94 points by Wine Spectator. We also recommend 2009 “Jack’s Masterpiece” Cab Sauv and 2006 “Bergfeld” St. Helena Cab Sauv. Beauty!

Plumpjack: We added Plumpjack to our list of Top Napa Wineries to visit last year, and continue to suggest it, along with the other four mentioned in this post, as a must-stop. The 2008 CADE Napa Cuvee Cab was spectacular and the Sauv Blanc was zesty and cool on a warm California afternoon. Most of all, we give full props to Plumpjack’s 2009 Syrah – a big, juicy, spicy and peppery Syrah that stands out as the best California Syrah we’ve tasted, because it’s so close to the Washington- state style that our palates embrace. Frankly, we find most California Syrahs bland, and hadn’t even planned on trying Plumpjack’s pour until Guest Services Manager, Heather Manross described it as the most Northern Rhone-like Syrah they’ve ever produced. Bring it!

Cornerstone Cellars: This was our first visit to Cornerstone, chosen because of their high-profile presence on Twitter from both Craig Camp and Allison Zickfeld. Their tweets beckoned us, and we are glad they did. Cornerstone wines are complemented by a bright and beautiful tasting room and knowledgeable and fun staff, such as Kerry Hourigan. The 2010 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Corallina was an impressive rose’ named for its beautiful, pale copper-coral color and its balanced, supple and bright flavors. We brought home a bottle to savor on our deck this summer. We also enjoyed the 2008 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, with a unique raspberry flavor.

Their new label, Cornerstone Oregon, is a collaboration between Cornerstone Napa’s Craig Camp and Oregon winemaker Tony Rynders from Domaine Serene. We tasted the 2009 Cornerstone Oregon Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, a supple, well-balanced medium-body Pinot, which received 91 points from Wine Spectator. We’re looking forward to tasting more close-to-home Pinots, when Craig brings them to the annual Wine Bloggers Conference, held this August in Portland.


East to the Other Washington

I heart Hyatt hotels. A few weeks ago, I wrote about wine at my go-to hotel in my home town, Hyatt Vancouver. Then last week, we tasted wine in an amazing experience at the Grand Hyatt Washington D.C.

In fact, a funny thing happened on the way to the Grand Hyatt D.C. And it demonstrates the potential and the power of social media.

Shortly after arriving at the hotel, I received a message from Front Desk Agent Emanuel Lessey. He told me that he recently received an email from his sister with a link to my blog post about wine at the Hyatt Vancouver.

Emanuel has a sharp eye, in addition to a savvy business sense. And he gets social media.

He recognized my name on the his hotel’s guest list, and called to ask if we would be interested in a flight of local wine in Cure Bar & Bistro on the hotel’s main floor.

No surprise to you, I’m sure – the answer was yes, please.

Cure is a great, casual restaurant and bar that spans four floors, with high ceilings, an open fireplace, and stone and oak walls. The artisan cheese selection is almost as extensive as the wine list. We were treated to three wines from Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia, home to an incredible story as well as captivating wines.

Barboursville is located on the plantation of former Governor James Barbour, whose mansion was designed in 1814 by Thomas Jefferson, who also had a lifelong passion for fine wine. As it turns out, Jefferson envisioned a vineyard at this beautiful location, which finally happened more than 150 years later: in 1976, Gianni Zonin — 6th generation heir to a family wine enterprise active since 1821 in the Veneto — acquired the plantation.

Fast forward to April, 2012, when we enjoyed Barboursville Vintage Rose’, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay at Cure at the Grand Hyatt D.C., thanks to Emanuel Lessey.

The city had been hit with an unexpected heat wave, with 90 degrees that day, so we welcomed the cool Rose’ blend of Nebbiolo, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Merlot.

The Sauvignon Blanc was also refreshing, with aromas and flavors of grapefruit for me, although Dave got more of the tangerine and kiwi.

And if you prefer steel-barrel aging for a crisp Chardonnay, this one from Barboursville is for you.

Harun, who poured for us at Cure, was as knowledgeable about local wines as he was friendly. And a visit to our table by Cure’s popular and creative general manager, Ken Hood, added more insight into the wine list and the care given by everyone we met who worked at the Grand Hyatt D.C.

And then Emanuel took customer service one step further – by surprising me on my birthday, with a card from everyone at the front desk. Somehow, he found out that my birthday was taking place during our D.C. visit, and he helped make that day even more special.

So please join us in giving a round of applause to Emanuel and his sister, along with special cheer to Ken, Harun, the front desk staff and others at the Grand Hyatt D.C. We will return!




Back to B.C.

Regular readers of Write for Wine know that I live in Seattle but I’m from Vancouver, and I occasionally write about B.C. wines. This is one of those occasions.

On two recent visits to my hometown, I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver and experienced two delightful B.C. reds – to my admitted surprise, considering that B.C. is known mainly for its fine whites.

First, 2008 Burrowing Owl Merlot: This rich wine was drinking nicely a couple of months ago, with aromas of dark cherry and cassis particularly noticeable. It was the best B.C. merlot I’ve tasted and equals some of our favorite Washington state merlots, hands down. Not surprisingly, it won a bronze at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition 2011.

In fact, I was so pleased to find a fabulous B.C. red, that I’d like to try Burrowing Owl’s Cab Franc one of these days. And it just so happens that their 08 Cab Franc won gold at the same SF International Wine Competition.

We are heading to B.C.’s wine country in 2013 for the Wine Bloggers Conference, but if we get to Oliver before hand, Burrowing Owl is definitely on our must-see list. More than a winery, Burrowing Owl offers a restaurant and accommodations, overlooking 140 acres of picturesque vineyard. The “Guest House” contains 10 spacious rooms with fireplaces and private decks.

The second B.C. red that I tasted at Vancouver Hyatt a few weeks later came from Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Vineyard. Jackson-Triggs, the most-awarded winery in Canada, is well-known for its Niagara (Ontario) wine.

But its award-winning merlots and cabernet sauvignons are made with grapes from B.C.’s Okanagan region, also near Oliver.

We tasted the latest release, a 2009 Black Series Merlot (formerly Proprietors’ Reserve), which was velvety smooth and silky at the same time. This wine is so new that it hasn’t been entered into international wine competitions yet, but my bet is on awards in the future.

If you’re looking for recommendations about B.C. whites, Washington wine expert Paul Gregutt gives full marks to “gems such as Sperling Old Vine riesling, Le Vieux Pin sauvignon blanc and Poplar Grove pinot gris.”


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!



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!

Goin’ Glamping at Destiny Ridge

Glamour + Camping = Glamping – and that’s what we’re doing at Destiny Ridge Vineyard, where the estate wine begins for Alexandria Nicole Cellars.

A night under the stars — which, by the way, light up the sky in an extraordinary show that you’d never see in the city —  in a vineyard that overlooks the Columbia River in central Washington. Gorgeous!

So what does glamourous camping really mean? A large canvas tent with a luxurious queen-size bed on a Persian carpet, a down duvet, towels, a French Press coffee pot, mugs, dishes, a mini-refrigerator, an air-conditioning unit and a space heater. And don’t forget the enclosed, roofless shower, a propane barbecue on the deck, a propane fire pit to sit around a campfire and — of course — sip on award-winning Alexandria Nicole wines.

The tough choice is which wine to drink – perhaps the amazing 2009 Crawford Viognier during the warm days and the just-released rich and distinct Mr. Big Petite Sirah in the cooler evening. Or maybe the perennial favorite Quarry Butte? Or the refreshing Sauvignon Blanc? Or — well, here’s the list – you decide!

By day or by night, the views are spectacular.

No mobile phone. No laptop.

Goin’ glamping!

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.