Taste Washington 2016: The Super Bowl of Wine Events

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 3.54.42 PMAs 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.

We love to go every year and encourage you to run, don’t walk, to get your tickets for the activities being held March 31-April 3.

In this 19th year, an expanded lineup features:

More than 225 wineries will be pouring at the Grand Tasting and 70 restaurants will be serving tasty bites. We highly recommend that you develop a plan before you enter the doors. Because once there, you will be hit with an explosion of taste potentials — and it can be overwhelming.

For example, one year we decided to only taste wines made from 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.

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.

Of the 225+ wineries pouring at the Grand Tasting, here is our long list of 50 of our favorites (in alphabetical order):

  1. Alexandria Nicole Cellars
  2. Amavi Cellars
  3. Ambassador Wines of Washington
  4. Andrew Will
  5. Avennia
  6. Barrister Winery
  7. Bartholomew Winery
  8. Betz Family Winery
  9. Buty Winery
  10. Canvasback
  11. Chateau Ste. Michelle
  12. Columbia Crest
  13. Cooper Wine Company
  14. Cote Bonneville
  15. Darby
  16. DeLille Cellars
  17. DiStefano
  18. Double Canyon
  19. Doubleback
  20. Dunham Cellars
  21. EFESTE
  22. Fidelitas
  23. Fielding Hills
  25. Force Majeure Vineyards
  26. Forgeron Cellars
  27. Gard
  28. Gorman Winery
  29. Guardian Cellars
  30. JM Cellars
  31. L’Ecole No 41
  32. Lauren Ashton Cellars
  33. Long Shadows Vintners
  34. Mark Ryan
  35. Matthews & Tenor Wines
  36. Mercer Estates
  37. Obelisco Estate Wines
  38. Otis Kenyon
  39. Savage Grace
  40. Sinclair Estate VIneyards
  41. Sparkman Cellars
  42. Stevens
  43. Stottle Winery
  44. Three Rivers
  45. Upchurch Vineyard
  46. Walla Walla Vintners
  47. Waterbrook
  48. William Church
  49. Woodinville Wine Cellars
  50. Woodward Canyon

Of course, we won’t be able to visit all of them, but we will shorten the list and make up our plan in the next week or two. We hope to see you there!

Margot and Dave

Northwest Wine Encounter at Semiahmoo Resort

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 12.45.36 PMWe were delighted to hear that an exceptional Washington state wine event is happening right in our backyard near the Canadian border: Northwest Wine Encounter at Semiahmoo Resort. We stayed at Semiahmoo many, many times before moving to this area last year, and it is spectacular.

On April 15-17. some of Washington state’s most talented winemakers will be holding seminars, tastings and attending a gala dinner:

The Master of Ceremonies is Andy Perdue of Wine Press Northwest, who is also a wine columnist for The Seattle Times.

“The inaugural Northwest Wine Encounter at Semiahmoo brings together some of the Pacific Northwest’s finest winemakers for an intimate event with wine lovers,” commented Perdue. “This will be a treat for all the senses.”

The event is packed with educational and fun times, opening on April 15 with a “Meet the Winemakers” tasting, followed by a private beach bonfire at the spectacular resort.

Saturday’s activities include an overview of Washington and Oregon wine country, with sessions on “Sublime World of Pinot Noir” (Dobbes Family Estate); “Succulent Syrah” (DeLille Cellars and Betz Family Winery); and Red Mountain Rising (DeLille Cellars and Col Solare).

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 12.45.13 PMThere also is guided bird watching on the Semiahmoo Spit. What a great spot — we were recently there as part of the Northwest Birding Festival, Wings Over Water. (Yes, we’re bird nerds in addition to being wine enthusiasts.)

Saturday night caps off with a Winemaker Gala Dinner created by Executive Chef Bruno Feldeisen, held in the Peace Arch Tent. The special five-course dinner will be paired with wines from all attending wineries.

The event culminates on Sunday morning with an exploration of white wines from Betz, Chateau Ste. Michelle, DeLille and Dobbes.

The entire weekend package — including two nights at the gorgeous resort — starts at $375 per person. Details are available at Semiahmoo Resort’s website.

We can’t wait! And we hope to see you there!

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!

Margot and Dave

Our Faves from Seattle Wine and Food Experience

Screen Shot 2013-01-27 at 6.41.50 AMWe had a wonderful time at the Grand Tasting at Seattle Wine and Food Experience (SWFE) — great wine, tasty bites and good conversations. If you missed it this year, be sure to mark your calendar now to check it out in 2017!

Below is the list of our favorite wines we tasted at SWFE, but the ones we took home were Ambassador Wines Plenipotentiary 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Bartholomew Winery’s Primitivo 2013 and Des Voigne Cellars 2012 The Duke Zinfandel.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 11.44.57 AMOf the wineries that were new on our list, Ambassador Wines was our favorite. Plenipotentiary Cab Sauv is a rich, robust delight from Red Mountain; according to the tasting notes: “Deep dark chocolate cherry, blackberry jam, toast and finishes off with vanilla sweetness and spice. The mouth explodes with dark fruit flavors, a rich and full mid-palate and a nice lingering vanilla, blackberry and spice finish. The tannins meld nicely with the acid and to create a nice enticing finish begging you to take another sip.” We are looking forward to visiting their tasting room in Woodinville to try some of their other wines.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 11.43.18 AMHere is the list of our other favorites that we tasted at SWFE (in alphabetical order):

  • Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2014 Jet Black Syrah (new release)
  • Brian Carter Cellars 2010 Solesce
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Tenet The Pundit Syrah
  • Double Canyon 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Guardian Cellars 2013 Chalk Line
  • Mercer Estates 2011 Ode to Brothers GSM
  • Three Rivers Winery 2013 River’s Red Wine (a unique blend of Sangiovese, Malbec, Syrah, Merlot and Cab Sauv)
  • Watermill Winery 2012 Cabernet Franc
  • Wilridge Winery 2013 Estate Melange Noir Red Blend (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cab Sauv, Malbec and Petit Verdot)
  • The Woodhouse Wine Estates 2012 Darighe

We also enjoyed some tasty treats from these restaurants: Duke’s Seafood and Chowder House, Anthony’s Budd’s Broiler, Chinoise Cafe, The Kitchen by Delicatus, Macrina Bakery and Delicious Health Cultered Cashew Cremes.

We can sum up our experience at SWFE in one word: Delicious!

Margot and Dave

Seattle Wine and Food Experience Wine Awards

Screen Shot 2013-01-27 at 6.41.50 AMThe results of the third annual Wine Awards have been announced by the Seattle Wine and Food Experience in conjunction with their weekend of events Feb. 20-21.

More than 200 wines from Washington, Oregon, California and international regions were judged by a panel of experts who tasted and reviewed the wines under blind conditions, not knowing the producers, region of origin or prices.

Of the 204 wines submitted, 130 were awarded gold, silver and bronze medals. Top honors went to:

  • Best of Show: Piper Heidsieck Brut, NV Champagne
  • Best Red Wine: Garnet Pinot Noir 2013, Monterey County, California
  • Best White Wine: Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling 2014, Columbia Valley, Washington
  • Best of Class:
    • Ambassador Wines of Washington Estate Envoy 2012, Red Mountain, Washington
    • Arbor Crest Cellars Dionysus Meritage 2012, Columbia Valley, Washington
    • Bogle Vineyards Merlot 2013, California
    • Serra Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Applegate Valley, Oregon
    • Terra Blanca Winery & Vineyards Signature series Block 8 Syrah 2010, Red Mountain, Washington
    • Wilridge Winery Malbec 2013, Yakima Valley, Washington

A full list of awards can be viewed at Seattle Wine and Food ExperienceThis year’s judges’ panel, led by northwest-based wine journalists Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman, were Doug Charles, Lane Hoss, Rebecca Murphy, Chris Nishiwaki, Tim O’Brien, April Reddout, Yashar Shayan, Dawn Smith and Mark Takagi. You can read more about the judges and their credentials at Seattle Wine and Food Experience.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Margot and Dave

Vivino’s 2016 Wine Style Awards

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 4.01.47 PMVivino, our favorite wine app, recently released its 2016 Wine Style Awards, which “recognize the best wines on the planet in over 100 categories, from Argentinian Malbec to Bordeaux Red to Californian Chardonnay and everything in between.”

The awards were given out to the top-rated wines, as determined by Vivino’s 13-million users and their millions of wine ratings. To make the list, a wine had to generate more than 50 ratings in 2015.

Since our wine of choice typically comes from Washington state, we decided to focus on the wineries that won the style awards for our state’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blend and Merlot.

We are delighted to see that many of our favorite wineries made the list — congratulations to all!

Cabernet Sauvignon ($15-$220)
1. Quilceda Creek 2010
2. Woodward Canyon Artist Series #21 2012
3. Chateau Ste. Michelle Limited Release Druthers 2011
4. Chateau Ste. Michelle Ethos Reserve 2011
5. Lower East 2012
6. Canvasback 2012
7. Gravel Bar 2013
8. Seven Falls 2012
9. Tamarack 2012
10. Columbia Crest 2009

Red Blend ($22-$88)
1. Figgins Estate Red 2011
2. DeLille D2 2012
3. Col Solare 2009
4. Sheridan Vineyard L’Orage 2012
5. Quilceda Creek CVR Red 2011
6. Efeste, Final Final 2011
7. Mark Ryan The Chief Board Track Racer 2012
8. Gilbert, Left Bank Red 2012
9. Spring Valley Vineyards, Uriah Red, 2012
10. Hedges Family Estate, 2011

Merlot ($11-$34)
1. Northstar 2010
2. Seven Falls 2011
3. Canoe Ridge The Expedition 2012
4. L’Ecole No. 4 2011
5. Skyfall 2012
6. Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek 2011
7. Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells 2012
8. 14 Hands 2010
9. Stimson Estate 2011
10. Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011
Congratulations again!

For the winners in all wine styles in many more regions around the world, here is the full list of Vivino’s 2016 Wine Style Awards.

For more on Vivino, please see our previous blog post.

Margot and Dave

Recommendation: Download this free wine app!

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 3.32.47 PMOur favorite app these days is Vivino. Its slogan is  “Never Pick Another Bad Wine” — and the process is very simple.

All you have to do is download the free app, and then use your smartphone or tablet to take a photo of the label on a bottle of wine. Vivino then scans through its database, and in seconds you will be shown details about the wine, including ratings, reviews and prices.

The information comes from Vivino’s 13-million users – making it the world’s largest community of wine drinkers. The app is easy to navigate, and also offers articles, regional guides and suggestions about where to buy wines nearby.

We use Vivino in so many ways; here are some recent examples:

  1. During a December trip to Washington, D.C., we wanted to pay corkage for a nice bottle of wine to celebrate a special event at an upscale restaurant. We went to a liquor store near our hotel and found a few bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon from four wineries we recognized. But we hadn’t tasted any recent vintages from those wineries, so we didn’t know which wine to buy. We took photos of the labels of all four bottles, read and compared the Vivino reviews and voila, it was easy to make a decision.
  2. Our friends had us over for dinner and poured several excellent wines. We wanted to remember our favorites, so out came Vivino. We took photos of the bottles, rated them and wrote notes to refer to later on. We will never forget another bottle of wine, thanks to Vivino.
  3. We were at Costco and decided to buy a few bottles of our favorite good-value red. We had enjoyed the 2012 vintage, but this time Costco only offered the 2013. So we took a photo with Vivino and found that the 2013 vintage was rated higher than the 2012. Out came our wallets!
  4. We went out for dinner with friends and didn’t recognize some of the offerings on the restaurant’s wine list. (We know many wines from Washington state, Oregon, California, British Columbia, France, Australia and New Zealand, and several from Italy, Spain, Argentina and Chile, but we’re not as familiar with wines from Germany, Portugal, Austria, South Africa and other countries.) So we scanned the restaurant’s wine list to see the ratings and reviews, and then made a decision about which ones to pair with our meals.
  5. Vivino also works with U.S. wine retailers to provide exclusive, discounted offers on high-quality wine to its users. We recently ordered four bottles of an excellent Cab Sauv from Napa Valley at a good price point. An extra bonus: shipping is often free when you purchase a few bottles.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 4.21.15 PMVivino also has social media attributes, so you can follow friends who use the app and see what they are drinking and enjoying. You can even like or comment on their reviews.

Of note, Vivino has excellent label recognition software and mostly gets labels immediately correct. But occasionally a different vintage or a different variety might be displayed from that same winery — when that happens, there is a super easy way to change it, and the correct label quickly shows up. And if the app can’t automatically identify a wine, Vivino’s team will manually do so for you — although it takes more than a few seconds.

You don’t have to wait as long if you upgrade to Vivino’s paid premium feature ($49.99), which fast-tracks the manual process for your unidentified labels. Another plus of the premium feature is cellar management. If it’s hard to remember where a specific bottle is located in your cellar (or in your wine coolers or wine racks), Vivino can help you out there too.

So whether you are an expert, enthusiast or simply enjoy wine, Vivino can help you find the best ones and remember them.

Vivino also recently released its 2016 Wine Style Awards, which you can read more about in our next blog post.

Margot and Dave

Cabernet Classic in Bellevue

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 3.41.10 PMAttention Cabernet lovers! The sixth annual Cabernet Classic, presented by Seattle Uncorked, will be held on Saturday Feb. 6 at the new Porsche Bellevue dealership — the first time this prestigious event has been held in Bellevue.

This is a perfect time to experience some of Washington state’s finest Cabs from 28 exclusive wineries. Current releases of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab-based blends will be poured as well as library selections. Light appetizers will be served by Bin On The Lake.

The special evening is from 6-9 p.m. The cost is $100, with net proceeds going to Talk It Up TV & The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Complimentary valet parking will be provided by Butler Valet.

Cabernet is King in our household, and if it is in yours too, this is one event you won’t want to miss.

Tickets are available from Stranger Tickets.

Here are the featured wineries:
Ambassador Vineyard
Betz Family Winery
Bunnell Family Cellar
Cote Bonnevile
DeLille Cellars
Dunham Cellars
Figgins Estate
Five Star Cellars
Hedges Family Estates
J.Bookwalter Winery
L’Ecole No. 41
Mullan Road
Obelisco Estate
Pepper Bridge Winery
Reininger Winery
Smasne Cellars
Sparkman Cellars
Upchurch Vineyard
Va Piano Vineyards
Walla Walla Vintners
Waters Winery
Woodward Canyon

Margot and Dave

All About That Corkage

Bordeaux RedWe often like to bring our own wine to restaurants for several reasons: We can drink wines that we know we like; we can pair one of our special wines with an excellent restaurant meal instead of our mediocre cooking; and we don’t have to pay the marked-up cost on restaurant wine lists. (Some wines can be marked up by 30%-100% above retail.)

Instead, we pay a corkage fee that a restaurant charges when you bring your own bottle. But prices vary, depending on the city, the type of restaurant (e.g., casual vs. fine dining) and other factors.

Some charge a small fee to cover their expenses to open and serve your wine, and to wash your glasses. Others charge a fee that is the same as the least expensive wine on their list. Yet others charge higher fees to discourage the practice or because their wine list contains high-end bottles with corresponding prices.

Some restaurants will waive the corkage on one bottle if you buy a bottle from the restaurant. This enables you to discover a new wine, while also enjoying your favorite bottle from home.

wine-glasses-photo-courtesy-Marcus-Whitman-Hotel-e1294811651743We’ve been charged anywhere from $5-$30 a bottle, depending on the restaurant’s policy. For example, last weekend we were at a Bellingham restaurant and corkage was $10. In Seattle, we’ve paid anywhere from $5-$20. Last month, a DC restaurant charged $30, which was a bargain compared to the price of wine on its list. We’ve heard that a couple of world-renowned, high-end restaurants in Napa Valley have been known to charge a $75-$150 corkage fee, and a posh Manhattan establishment charges $85.

If you are considering bringing your own wine to dinner, there are some simple rules of etiquette to make the experience a good one.

  • Phone the restaurant in advance to see if bringing your own wine is permitted, and then ask if they have a corkage fee.
  • On that same call, find out if your bottle is available at the restaurant. Never, never bring wine that is on a restaurant’s wine list.
  • If you wine isn’t on their list, let them know you are planning to bring your own bottle, when you make the reservation.
  • Along those same lines, never bring a cheap wine — at least $25 is best.
  • When you go to the restaurant, don’t carry the bottle in a paper bag. If you have a nice container, great. Otherwise, simply carry it on its own.
  • Let the host or hostess and your server know you brought your own bottle to drink, and then follow their lead on next steps.
  • If you bring a special bottle of wine, offer your server and/or the sommellier a taste. It will be appreciated.

Bottom line: It’s best to know a restaurant’s policy on corkage fees before showing up with a bottle of your own wine.

Margot and Dave

Run, Don’t Walk, for Tickets to SWFE!

You’d better move quickly – tickets are going fast for the eighth annual  Seattle Wine and Food Experience. If you like good wine, beer and food, mark your calendars for this delicious experience on Feb. 20-21.

The activities kick off Feb. 20 with Pop! Bubbles & Seafood at McCaw Hall from 6-9 p.m. On Feb. 21, the Grand Tasting takes place at Seattle Center Exhibition Hall from 1-5 p.m. — but once again there is a VIP experience, with a one-hour early entry.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 5.48.12 PMPop! Bubbles & Seafood offers more than 40 sparkling wines from around the world, to be paired with seafood — from salmon and clams to oysters and shrimp — prepared by 16 local chefs. And let’s not forget the caviar! Other beverages available are red and white wines, special cocktails, cold beer and chilled cider.

The Grand Tasting features more than 190 leading wine brands, craft brewers, cider makers, distillers and chefs.

“We’ve added some terrific new experiences this year,” said Jamie Peha, event producer and president of Peha Promotions. “The weekend is much more than a tasting. By working closely with our vendors we create unique ways for our guests to deeply engage with a variety of select offerings.”

The experiences include: Ste. Michelle Riesling Challenge, Northwest Wine Academy Wine School, Heritage Meats Butchery Block, and the Brews and Ewes by Stella Artois and the American Lamb Board.

In addition, Tim Kennedy, who started Tim’s Chips, has carved out an hour to greet fans and autograph limited edition bags of Tim’s chips to commemorate the brand’s 30th anniversary.

You can find a full list of wineries that will be pouring, along with beer and cider and spirits, in addition to information about numerous restaurants serving gourmet bites.

The event benefits Les Dames d’Escoffier Seattle, a 501c3 non-profit organization that focuses on raising funds for scholarships for women in the culinary, beverage, and hospitality industries, and also supports community-outreach programs and sustainable-agriculture projects based in Washington State.

Tickets are available at the Seattle Wine and Food Experience website $60 for the Grand Tasting; $75 for the VIP experience; and $75 for Pop! Bubbles & Seafood. Or you can get a weekend pass for $140.

So run, don’t walk to get your tickets! We hope to see you there.

Margot and Dave