Your Car + Their Driver When Wine Tasting in the Seattle Area

There’s a new, safe way to visit the numerous winery tasting rooms in the Seattle area — now you can order Main Street Drivers to be the designated driver of your car. In other words, the company’s “your car + our driver” concept means a professional chauffeur drives your vehicle.

It’s less expensive than renting a car or a limo service. And whether you are with your spouse, family or a group of friends, everyone can enjoy the day wine tasting without having to worry about safe driving afterward.

Think about it – customized transportation at taxi prices to take you around Seattle Urban Wineries and Woodinville Wine Country — popular wine destinations in the Seattle area.

This is particularly helpful if you want to participate in Spring Release Weekend or other winery events, have a fun night on the town, during special occasions such as weddings, anniversaries and birthdays, or even in the busy summer tourism season (so you don’t have to worry about finding a parking space).

Founded in 2011, Main Street Drivers began offering its services in the Hamptons, and now operates in the wine regions of Finger Lakes and North Fork in New York, Willamette Valley in Oregon and the Walla Walley Valley, in addition to the new service in the Seattle area.

All drivers have professional driving experience, background checks and insurance.

Reservations are $35/hour, plus a 20% service fee/gratuity, and can be made at the Main Street Drivers website, where you can also find additional information.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Lauren Ashton Scores Again

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 4.17.09 PM The motto of Lauren Ashton Cellars — “True Washington Character” — has been noticeable in every sip we have tasted of Kit Singh’s elegant wines in the last five years.

This continues to be the case in his two recent releases, which we were fortunate enough to sample last week, courtesy of the winery: 2013 Proprietor’s Cuvée and 2013 Cuvée Estelle.

As with any new release, the wines are still young; but both are very approachable with decanting. They also have great aging potential.

Lauren Ashton Cellars 2013 Proprietor’s Cuvée ($65)
This is an elegant, complex and impressive Cab-based Bordeaux-style blend — 70.4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.3% Merlot, 13.3% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec — showing structure and balance immediately, followed by plush tannins after opening up. Luscious dark-fruit flavors follow a nose of violets, black cherries and plums. Pair this wine with beef, pork, lamb or any rich meat dishes. Kit wowed fans with the 2009 and 2011 vintages, and we predict that he is set to do the same with this stellar release.

Lauren Ashton Cellars 2013 Cuvée Estelle ($40)
This is another elegant Bordeaux-style blend, with Merlot (64%), Cabernet Sauvignon (27%) and Petit Verdot (9%). The Merlot brings aromas of violets and black fruit, the Cab Sauv adds depth and weight, and the Petit Verdot offers hint of spice to sweet cherry flavors. Enjoy this wine with grilled meats, or pour it as a stand-alone wine to enjoy with friends.

The bottom line: We highly recommend stopping by Lauren Ashton Cellars Tasting Studio in the Hollywood District of Woodinville or finding out more about these notable wines at their website.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Happy 50th Anniversary to Chateau Ste. Michelle

This year marks an historical milestone for Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Washington wine industry — it’s the 50th anniversary of the oldest winery in the state, so let the celebrations begin!

Ste. Michelle’s anniversary activities include a commemorative Cabernet bottling, library wine releases, a special anniversary Summer Concert Series, the opening of a newly expanded visitor center and other events to honor the state’s founding winery.

According to the winery, “Chateau Ste. Michelle has become the number two premium domestic wine brand sold in the U.S. (Nielsen-Dollars), with wines available in all 50 states and more than 100 countries.”

“It is truly remarkable what Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Washington wine industry have accomplished in a relatively short period of time through a pioneering spirit, collaboration and hard work,” said Ted Baseler, President and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “With significant new vineyard plantings, industry investment in research and the education of future grape growers and winemakers, we can honestly say the best is yet to come.”

Here are the “50 cheers to 50 years” events and projects planned by the winery this year; you can also view the winery’s 50th Anniversary video or view a Celebration page on its website.

Special Bottling Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley 
In April, to kick off the anniversary celebrations, the winery will release a commemorative label 50th Anniversary special bottling of its Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (750ml, SRP: $15), which will pay tribute to the first 1967 vintage. In addition, a one-time magnum (1.5L) bottling will be released for retail and restaurants and serve as a great collector’s item.

Golden Cork Sweepstakes
From April 1 to Sept. 30, inside every 50th Anniversary special bottling of Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a chance to win one of 50 prizes. Four Grand Prize winners will be selected to win a trip for two to visit Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville.

2017 Summer Concert Series
From June to September, the winery will host its popular annual Summer Concert Series with special artists to be announced in April 2017. Launched in 1984, the Summer Concert Series has featured top artists including Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, John Legend, Harry Connick, Jr. and many more.

IMPETUS
In September, the winery will release 4,800 numbered bottles of IMPETUS (750ml, SRP $125) by Chateau Ste. Michelle, the brand’s wine showcasing the three varieties that are stellar in the Washington region but are not traditionally blended together (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec).

Chateau Ste. Michelle History Book
The winery will release a highly illustrated coffee-table style book to tell the rich story of the Washington wine industry and Ste. Michelle’s role in bringing it to the forefront, commemorating the winery’s five decades of tradition and innovation.

Newly Expanded Visitor Center
Targeted for August 2017, Chateau Ste. Michelle will unveil an expansion of the winery’s visitor center — the largest in the company’s history. Doubling the size to 22,731 sq. ft., the new visitor center will feature a modern 70-seat theater, an interactive blending room (where guests create their own bottle of wine from the winery’s iconic estate vineyards), private tasting salons, a Club Room, an Enoteca to sell wines from sister wineries in the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates portfolio, a new outdoor terrace and more. A grand opening celebration will take place during Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-3.

Congratulations and thank you, Chateau Ste. Michelle!

50 Cheers to 50 Years!
Margot and Dave

 

The Super Bowl of Wine Events Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

Taste Washington celebrates its 20th anniversary in Seattle on March 23-26, with almost 300 wineries, more than 70 restaurants and top national chefs. It’s an explosion of tastes, fun and education, all rolled into one.

As far back as we can remember, we’ve always called Taste Washington “the Super Bowl of Wine Events” because it is the country’s largest single-region wine and food event. Period.

And this year’s expanded lineup offers four days packed with diverse activities. First up is “super-exclusive wine pours” at the VIP Red & White Party.

Taste Washington on the Farm gives you an opportunity to explore the northwest’s bounty, alongside farmers, chefs and winemakers. And then there’s The New Vintage with its trendy Rosé Lounge.

Don’t forget the super-informative and fun wine seminars, which include tastings and interactive panels, where you can find out — from top winemakers, Master Sommeliers and national wine personalities — why Washington state is a world-class wine region.

We love to go every year and encourage you to run, don’t walk, to get your tickets. If you’re planning to attend multiple Taste Washington events, you might be interested in The Connoisseur festival pass for four days of VIP access.

Note: Before you enter the Grand Tasting doors, we highly recommend that you develop a plan. Because once there, you will be hit with a massive amount of taste potentials — and it can be overwhelming.

For example, one year we decided to only taste Cabernet Franc, as a standalone varietal. Another year, we decided to visit booths of some of our tried and favorite wineries plus five new ones.

But we always leave room for some flexibility; chances are something will catch our eye as we walk through the aisles, and we’ll make an on-the-spot decision to deviate from the plan. There could be a new wine release that grabbed our attention or a mouth-watering dish, whose scent wafted our way.

Of note, we recommend tasting and spitting wine (or pouring it into the buckets at each booth) at this major event, but if you think you might want more than a sip or two, many hotels in the area are offering special weekend packages. Otherwise, be sure to have a designated driver, or take cabs or local transit home.

We hope to see you there!

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Bellingham NW Wine Festival

IMG_3924More than 100 wines were poured at the inaugural Bellingham Northwest Wine Festival on Aug. 6, which was presented by Brigadoon Service Dogs  in collaboration with Growing Veterans, and benefitted disabled veterans’ programs.

IMG_3934Of course we couldn’t taste all the wines from 36 participating wineries but between the two of us, we found quite a few new wines that we never tasted before and hope to again in the future (e.g., Tucannon Cellars, Two Mountain and Jones of Washington), along with new releases of old favorites from Forgeron Cellars, William Church Winery and Cooper Wine Company.

Here is the list (in alphabetical order by winery):

  • Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.12.50 AMCooper Wine Company: 2013 L’inzio (we’ve been fans of this Red Mountain beauty since its first vintage); 2012 Cabernet Franc; and Bud’s Blend “Gatekeeper,” named after Coop’s awesome winery dog
  • Dynasty Cellars: 2012 DCZ Zinfandel, a local Bellingham favorite
  • Forgeron Cellars: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, another fantastic release from our friend Marie-Eve Gilla in Walla Walla
  • Jones of Washington: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (the talk of the VIP room)
  • Lost River Winery: 2013 Cedars, a unique blend of 50% Cab Franc and 50% Merlot
  • Proper Wines: 2013 Estate Syrah for when you like your Syrah nice and funky
  • Revelry Vintners: 2013 “The Reveler” red blend
  • IMG_3926Tucannon Cellars: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, a great find from Red Mountain
  • Two Mountain Winery: 2013 Reserve Cabernet Franc
  • William Church Winery: 2013 Sur La Mer and 2013 Malbec (We’ve been long-time fans of both of these wines.)

Event organizer Zacchoreli Frescobaldi-Grimaldi told us that plans are already underway for the second festival in 2017, so mark your calendars now.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Matthews Winery – New Look, Same Great Wines

MatthewsTastingRoom097Matthews Winery is one of the first Woodinville tasting rooms we visited when we moved to Seattle more than 15 years ago. We bought our first three-bottle set of Washington wine in their tasting room — a 2001 Cabernet Franc to sigh for. We also enjoyed the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend, Claret, that continues to dazzle in Matthews’ current lineup.

So it was with great interest to learn that Matthews’ historic winery building was recently remodeled, and a new venture created — Creekside Farm, an ecological produce garden adjacent to the winery building. This first commercial garden associated with a Woodinville winery provides produce and flowers to winery visitors, and to several restaurants.

In addition, tasting room guests can now pair their wine with farm-fresh produce and other products from local dairies, bakeries, creameries and charcuterie producers such as Cherry Valley Dairy and The Commons.

Located between the Woodinville Schoolhouse Wine District and the Warehouse Wine District, Matthews was a starting point for many well-known Washington state winemakers, including Brennon Leighton (B. Leighton Wines), Jerry Riener (Guardian Cellars), Mark McNeilly (Mark Ryan Winery), Ross Mickel (Ross Andrew Winery), Tim and Paige Stevens (Stevens Winery, Raige and Wines), Lance Baer (Baer Winery) and Aryn Morrell, who started his career there before making award-winning Napa wines for Silver Oak and Edgewood Estates. He now is back as Matthews’ current head winemaker.

Matthews co-owner Cliff Otis notes that nearly a dozen winemakers started or honed their craft at this location, and all of them have gone on to influence other generations of winemakers.

BarrelRoom4From the excellent winemakers to the classic wines, Matthews’ tasting room has always drawn a crowd — but according to Otis, a refresh was needed for its “dark barrel cave” atmosphere with dated wine-barrel table tops and stools. (This is a “before” photo.)

For the remodel, several interior walls were removed to expand and open up the space. Add fresh paint, new lighting, new windows, custom-made furniture and voila, a beautiful look, which also features an expanded outdoor seating area.

MatthewsTastingRoom052The building refresh is now generating applause and cheers for its bright, airy, roomy space, reminiscent of a French farm house.

These are two photos showing what Matthews Winery looks like now. Who is ready to visit?

MatthewsTastingRoom049In addition to the tasting room and farm, Matthews also offers the Estate House, a B&B and event center on a wooded, eight-acre hillside overlooking the Sammammish River Valley.

But the main spotlight remains on the wine. Since 2008, the Otis family and Morell have sharpened the focus of Matthews’ portfolio on the Bordeaux varieties – Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

The winery kindly sent us samples of Matthews 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and a vertical of its Claret – 2011, 2012 and 2013. We were wowed.

Matthews 2015 Sauvignon Blanc
This is a perfect summer sipper on the deck – we enjoyed it paired with cilantro-lime prawns and a view of the lake. Ahh, summer. This Sauv Blanc rose above the super-hot 2015 vintage and is crisp and refreshing, but with more tropical than grapefruit flavors.

Winemaker tasting notes: “Pungent tropical tree fruit like pineapple and guava mixed with some citrus spice and fresh cut hay. Some air brings up white flowers, sweet honeysuckle and wet slate. The palate is rich and textured with enough acidity to keep it fresh but not bracing.”

Claret1Matthews Claret 2011, 2012, 2013
We were fortunate to do a side-by-side tasting of all three vintages. The 2013 Claret is a complex blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cab Franc, 11% Merlot, 3% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. With decanting, the wine opened up rich flavors, textures and depth, showcasing the classic Cabernet that we love.

Winemaker tasting notes for 2013 Claret: “Exotically perfumed with floral red fruits like raspberry puree and red currants mixed with sweet strawberry and crème brulee. Swirling releases rich blackberry, currants and plums with a hint of vanilla bean spice. The palate is thick and sweetly rich with perfect balance and long graceful finish. The 2012 was powerfully ripe and very Cabernet driven, this is all about grace and texture.”

As noted by Morell, the 2012 Claret is powerful but it also is an elegant, rich blend of 54% Cab Sauv, 25% Cab Franc, 10% Merlot, 5% Syrah, 3% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. This is slightly different than other vintages because of the addition of Syrah into the blend. We decanted it, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Winemaker tasting notes for 2012 Claret: “Sappy currants, plum skin and dark spices. The palate has volume but shows good density and has more of a Cabernet-driven tannin profile, giving the wine great composure and balance.”

The 2011 growing season was rougher than in 2012 and 2013, but Morell still created a beautiful red blend. The 2011 Claret is Merlot-based (unlike the 2012 and 2013 vintages driven by Cabernet) — 68% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Like the other two vintages, this Claret will benefit from decanting.

Winemaker tasting notes for 2011 Claret: “Elegant mixture of currants, strawberries, spice and plums. Red flowers create a soft plushness to the profile. The palate is round with great texture and presence. Extremely silky and polished.”

With the dedication of co-owners Cliff and Diane Otis, along with the talented winemaking skills of Morrell, Matthews Winery is continuing to improve its already well-established footprint in Woodinville, and in Washington wine country.

Cheers,
Margot and Dave

Woodinville Wineries

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 9.14.49 AMNow that we don’t live in Seattle anymore, we have to carefully choose the wineries we want to visit on our trips to Woodinville.

It is not an easy task! Woodinville Wine Country boasts 108 wineries now — an amazing growth rate since 30 tasting rooms when we started Write for Wine in 2007.

Here is a list of the wineries (in alphabetical order) that we tend to visit most often — they are among the best, although there are more. So spend your time wisely – do your homework and develop a plan before you go!

  • Alexandria Nicole Cellars
  • Ambassador Wines
  • Avennia
  • Baer
  • Barrage Cellars
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle (Estates)
  • Darby
  • DeLille Cellars
  • Efeste
  • Fidelitas
  • Forgeron
  • Gard Vintners
  • Gorman Winery
  • Guardian Cellars
  • JM Cellars
  • Laura Ashton
  • Obelisco
  • Otis Kenyon
  • Savage Grace
  • William Church
  • The Woodhouse Wine Estates

For a list of all wineries in the area (including maps), restaurants and events, check out the Woodinville Wine Country website.

We highly recommend visiting Woodinville wineries every month, because there are always new releases to taste and a warm, welcoming tasting room where you can learn about wine and have fun at the same time.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Cops and Reporters

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 2.59.50 PMWhat do cops and reporters have to do with wine? In Washington state, a lot! “Cops and Reporters” is the name of an email recently sent out by Guardian Cellars, whose winemakers and owners happen to be in those two professions.

Jerry Riener, a police officer, makes Guardian Cellars favorites such as The Wanted, Gun Metal, The Alibi, Confidential Source, The Rookie, The Informant and more. Do you sense a theme here?

His wife, Jennifer Sullivan, a journalist at KOMO-TV and previously at The Seattle Times, makes her wines under the appropriately named Newsprint label — Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blend, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay and Rosé.

While maintaining their full-time jobs as a cop and a reporter, they opened a tasting room and production facility in 2007 in Woodinville’s Wine Warehouse. In the last nine years, their wines became so popular that Jerry and Jennifer just opened up a second tasting room in Woodinville’s Hollywood Schoolhouse district.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 3.12.32 PMTo celebrate, they released the 2013 Chalk Line – a big juicy blend that has an equally big fan base.

The new tasting room features the Guardian Cellars label, while Newsprint is located at the longtime spot in the Woodinville Wine Warehouse.

We recommend you try both, because wines under both labels are perfect for summer sipping on the deck, a summer BBQ, an evening with friends or to take to a party.

Here are their times of operation:

  • Guardian Cellars tasting room at 14525 148th Ave NE, Suite 122, in Woodinville’s Hollywood Schoolhouse district, is open seven days a week: 12 p.m.- 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 12 p.m. – 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 12-6 p.m. on Sunday.
  • Newsprint tasting room is located inside the main production facility at 19501 144th Ave NE, Suite E-600, in Woodinville’s Wine Warehouse District. This tasting room is open 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Since the total Newsprint production is fairly small, this tasting room is only open when wines are available. Check the winery’s Facebook page for hours and inventory.

Most Newsprint wines are priced at $18 (although the rosé is $14). Guardian Cellars wines range from $20-$39.

These are definitely wines to write home about!

Cheers,
Margot and Dave

UPDATE: Some Tickets Still Available for Chateau Ste. Michelle Concert Series

Dylan June 2016Our first sign of summer is not only the recent warm weather, but also the annual concert series at Chateau Ste. Michelle. We just saw the legendary Bob Dylan, with the incredible Mavis Staples, for an evening of great music and award-winning wine on the lush lawns of the beautiful winery in Woodinville.

Dylan was amazing — his May release of “Fallen Angels” is a return to his roots, and in our opinion, his best since “Blood on the Tracks.”

You too can attend a concert at Chateau Ste. Michelle this summer. While many are sold out, do not fear – a recent check shows there are tickets still available for ten concerts!

Have a look at the series’ concert calendar — there’s something for everybody. When we last checked, there were still tickets for: Tears for Fears (date TBD); Lyle Lovett (July 2); John Fogerty (July 29); Culture Club (Aug. 11); Jackson Browne (Aug. 12); Gipsy Kings (Aug. 25); Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons (Sept. 2); and Chris Isaak (Sept. 4) in addition to the Festival of Jazz (July 30) and the Wine Country Blues Festival (July 31).

Dylan1 June 2016Think about it: a lazy summer day or evening, kicking back on the manicured lawns of Chateau Ste. Michelle with a peacock or two sauntering by, as you sip on a refreshing summer wine, nibble on tasty munchies from a picnic basket and listen to some amazing music. Ah, summer!

Better yet, net proceeds from the annual concert series help fund Chateau Ste. Michelle’s charitable contributions program, which supports a broad range of non-profit organizations.

Have questions? No problem, there is an FAQ to help out.

So get your wine on and check it out.

And thank you, Chateau Ste. Michelle, for a wonderful evening.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Second Tasting Room for Obelisco Estate

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 5.33.17 PMIf you haven’t visited Obelisco‘s new, second tasting room in the Hollywood schoolhouse area of Woodinville, what are you waiting for? This is an opportunity to taste magnificent wine, kick back and enjoy good conversation in a relaxing environment. On weekends, you just might find live music, too.

Obelisco is one of our favorite wineries in Washington state. Winemaker Doug Long is as friendly as he is talented, creative and dedicated. He came here from Napa, where he started his first winery, David Arthur, which was named “Winery of the Decade” by Wine Spectator in 2000. The 1997 vintage scored 99 points.

Once here, he planted a vineyard in the incredible Red Mountain AVA in 2004. And then he applied his Napa Valley winemaking skills to Washington state grapes.

While Doug has received dozens of awards for many of Obelisco’s wines, from Syrahs to Malbecs, our favorites are his Cab-based productions — Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Electrum, Nefer and a refreshing Cabernet Rose’.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 5.30.09 PMAnd now you can experience these beauties in a comfy, cozy, conversation-friendly tasting room in the schoolhouse area, in addition to the original Obelisco tasting room in the Woodinville wine warehouse.

Shortly before the grand opening, we spent about an hour in the new location, chatting with Doug and manager Ken Abbott, tasting through the lineup and enjoying the ambiance — it was hard to leave!

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 5.30.41 PM

Obelisco’s second tasting room is located at 14525 148th Ave NE, suite 121 in the Apple Farm Village of Woodinville, near Otis Kenyon and Lauren Ashton and across the street from Alexandria Nicole Cellars.

The original tasting room at the Woodinville wine warehouse is located at 19495 144th Ave NE, suite B-220 in Woodinville.

We hope to see you there!

Cheers!
Margot and Dave