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!


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!



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!


Dunham Cellars

We recently had the fortune to sit at a dinner table with Mike and Joanne Dunham of Dunham Cellars. We were at the 20th annual Washington Wines Festival at Waterfront Seafood Grill in Seattle, and we couldn’t have asked for more delightful company.

Mike and Joanne are so down-to-earth and so much fun, with so many stories to tell. We talked about wine, of course — Dunham Cellars wines and other Washington wines that we tasted at the festival. And we jokingly tried to identify some of the more obscure ingredients in the many tasty courses that were placed in front of us.

We also talked about their winery in the remodeled World War II-era airplane hangar in Walla Walla, and we shared many, many tales of all of our dogs.

The two of them had us laughing throughout the delicious dinner and prestigious auction. We had met Mike and Joanne briefly at their winery and at several wine events in the last 10 years or so. But we never had the luxury of time to talk to them at length, particularly over good food and delicious wine.

We’ve enjoyed Dunham Cellars wines for years – my first blog post about their Three Legged Red blend was in 2007 – a price-friendly wine packed with flavors and named after their wonderful dog, Port.

We met Port when we first stopped by the Dunham Cellars tasting room – he was as adorable as his photo on the wine bottle. When he passed away in 2008, I wrote a tribute.

Since then, we’ve sipped several vintages of Dunham Cellars Trutina, a delightful blend of Cab Sauv, Syrah, Merlot and Cab Franc, and we love 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon XII, which received a 93 rating from Wine Spectator.

We haven’t yet tasted 2007 Pursued by Bear Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a creative collaboration by their winemaker son, Eric Dunham and actor Kyle MacLachlan of Desperate Housewives. And we’re looking forward to trying the recently released 2007 Cab and Syrah from Lewis Vineyard.

We’ve always said that Washington wine is about so much more than the juice itself – it’s about the people, the stories and the spirit. Mike and Joanne Dunham, and their award-winning wines, exemplify the passion of the wine industry in this state.


Second Tasting Room for William Church Winery

Regular readers know that we have long been fans of William Church Winery, and its owners Rod and Leslie Balsley.

I first wrote about William Church 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon in March 2008. Since then, I’ve frequently written about Rod, Leslie and assistant winemaker, Marcus Rafanelli, and raved about many of their wines, from Bishop’s Blend to Two Spires to Sur La Mer, and from Viognier to Malbec to Syrah.

So you can imagine our delight to hear that William Church is opening a second tasting room on July 16. Now we – and you – can enjoy William Church wines in the Hollywood School area of Woodinville, in addition to their existing location in the wine warehouse district.

The grand opening of the new tasting room —  located right next to Purple Cafe — is from noon to 6 p.m. on July 16. And, in addition to Leslie, Rod and Marcus, another good friend has joined the wonderful William Church team – Cheryl Cardwell is the new tasting room manager. How cool is that?

We will definitely be there to celebrate with all of them – and we hope to see you there too.


Happy Canada Day, Happy 4th of July!

What a great weekend – Friday is Canada Day and Monday is the Fourth of July! And the weather is sunny, which means wine on the deck and BBQ’ing.

First, Dave and I wish all our Canadian family and friends a Happy Canada Day today. Tonight, we shall sip on both white and red wine (the colour of the flag) in your honour.

Then on Monday, we wish all our American family and friends a wonderful Fourth of July. In your honor, we plan to start with white wine on the deck, moving to a robust red later with some blue steak (the color of the flag).

What wines will you be drinking this holiday weekend on both sides of the border? Sauv Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Marsanne, Riesling, Chard? Cabernet, Cab Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Zinfandel, Primitivo, Counoise or perhaps a nice Bordeaux blend? Let us know in the comments below.

We hope your holiday is wonderful and safe.


Margot & Dave

Va Piano, Va Delicious

I never met a wine from Va Piano Estate Vineyards that I didn’t like. A lot. Or love.

We first went to Va Piano Vineyards after the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla one year ago.

Our dear friend Melanie, aka Dallas Wine Chick, suggested we start at Va Piano, south of downtown Walla Walla, for our apres-conference tour of Washington state wineries.

At the time, I wrote that we had so many superlatives for Va Piano wines that we all joined their estate wine club.

One year later, we still feel the same way. And winemaker Justin Wylie remains an honorary member of Write for Wine’s “Favorite Winemakers Club.”

This weekend, we enjoyed a late spring barbeque, accompanied by the luscious 2008 Va Piano Uniti. This robust Bordeaux-style wine is a  blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cab Franc, 14% Merlot and 14% Petit Verdot. Smooth, elegant, rich and expressive, this is one standout wine. As regular readers know, my palate prefers Bordeaux blends, and the 08 Uniti is right at the top of my list.

In addition, Va Piano’s 2008 Estate Merlot rises far above most Merlots we’ve tasted, both in Washington and elsewhere. And let’s not forget the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; we tasted it at one of Justin’s winemaker dinners, and immediately recognized its “wow factor.” We put a couple of bottles in our cellar for a special occasion.

The fruit for all wine for Va Piano’s estate club program comes from the estate vineyard that surrounds the winery. These wines — Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Bordeaux Blend — are not sold in their tasting room, wine shops or restaurants; the only way to get them is to join the Va Piano Vineyards Estate Club.

We highly recommend it!


Who Has a Pretty Mouth?

"Pretty Mouth"

EFESTE, that’s who – with their oh-so-drinkable Jolie Bouche Syrah. “Jolie Bouche” translates from French to “pretty mouth” – a perfect name for a Syrah with a wonderful mouthfeel.

Back on Dec. 8, 2008, my blog post declared EFESTE’s Jolie Bouche Syrah a winner.  Year after year, it remains a favorite.

The previous day, Dec. 7,  2008 at St. Nick’s Open House Weekend in Woodinville, was when we a) first barrel-tasted the 2007 Jolie Bouche release at EFESTE; b) pre-ordered 2006 Jolie Bouche; and c) joined EFESTE’s Inner Circle Wine Club.

Ever since, we’ve been big advocates of EFESTE , winemaker Brennon Leighton, and winery owners Daniel and Helen Ferrelli, Patrick Smith and Kevin and Angela Taylor.” (EFESTE is pronounced like the letters “F, S, T” for the first initials of the last names of the owners.)

We’re not particularly patient when it comes to wines we love – we drank most of our 2006 Jolie Bouche within a couple of months of its arrival. But somehow we managed to cellar one bottle, which we savored last week.

"EFESTE Jolie Bouche"As we tasted it, we were reminded of a review in Wine Advocate,  which rated 2006 Jolie Bouche at 90 points:

The purple-colored 2006 Jolie Bouche Syrah spent 20 months in 24% new French oak. It offers up an expressive nose of cedar, incense, violets, blueberry, and blackberry. Medium to full-bodied, ripe and savory on the palate, it displays some elegance, good balance, and a fruit-filled finish. It will continue to blossom for another 2-3 years and drink well through 2018. -Jay Miller for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

This beautiful wine did indeed blossom in the three years since we first tasted it, becoming even more elegant and full-bodied. In fact, the pretty mouth developed into a gorgeous mouthfeel.

We now, of course, wish we had cellared more!

Not surprisingly, the most-recent release, 2008 Jolie Bouche Syrah is sold out. After all, it received 95 points from Wine Spectator. But the good news is 2009 Jolie Bouche will be released in the fall of 2011 – just  few months away.

We can’t wait!

To find out more about EFESTE and winemaker Brennon Leighton, read my article in Seattleite Magazine.


What Have We Opened Lately?

We’ve had the pleasure of enjoying many, many wonderful Washington 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 Washington wines that we’ve celebrated in the last couple of months, and recommend — plus three of our Napa Valley and Sonoma faves too!

Wait – there’s more! For my list of favorite wines at Taste Washington, see my post in Seattleite Magazine.