Saturday, February 28, 2009

AVA Wine Room in Kennewick A Great Place To Visit

Last night I made a visit to the new AVA wine room in Kennewick's Southridge area. It is an easy visit for anyone from Eastern Oregon because it is right off of the Hwy 395 exit in the Tri Cities.

Dean and Whitney Maldenado, the owners of AVA, which is the acronym for American Viticultural Area, have done a great job in inventing this specialized wine tasting experience. This, the 1st installment of many AVA wine rooms, specializes in Horse Heaven Hills wines. This means a lot of really great wines from throughout the Columbia Valley, including Champoux and Alder Ridge.

Last night I enjoyed a flight of wines from Heaven's Cave out of Prosser. I also had a wonderful sample of 2006 Januik Champoux Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Sample of Merry Cellars Carmenere.

The staff are wonderful. I especially enjoyed Jeff's knowledge and how well he worked with all of the clientelle. Especially my talkative table that ended up closing the place down.

Economy Having A Dangerous Effect On Local Wineries

The wine business, much like every other industry that profits off of people’s extracurricular spending, is being greatly affected by the current economy. This is being seen here in the Washington and Oregon AVAs especially these past few months.

Last summer, when I walked into most winery tasting rooms, I was usually lucky not to stand in a long line of drinkers waiting to sample the wares. Nowdays, I can walk into the tasting room and pretty much enjoy the entire facility to myself.

Tasting room staff, winemakers, and owners throughout the Northwest are telling me that they aren’t seeing the boom of tourists that they’ve enjoyed in the last few years. Walla Walla wineries seem to be the hardest hit, as Seattle residents aren’t making the treks that they had been to spend long weekends enjoying fine wines and foods.

The truth is that people aren’t willing to spend 50 to 100 dollars on a bottle of wine, like they did one or two years ago. The wineries who offer nothing but expensive blends and varietals are getting hit the hardest. Membership only wineries are losing members from their lists faster than you can say “corkscrew”. People are still enjoying wine. Most just aren’t willing to be as frivolous as they were a few months ago. This environment is leaving a wonderful gap for innovators and smart winemakers to profit even in these times.

I’ve had the opportunity in the last few weeks to taste some amazing wines that fit this gap. Importers are having a heyday right now by bringing in absolutely fantastic wines at ridiculously low prices. Some of the wines that I’ve been enjoying are stunning. And, as I look at the bottle, I wonder how they even got such nice glass and corks, much less really great tasting juice for the prices that they are offering.

One importer that I’ve become acquainted with is Southern Wine Group. They specialize in wines from South America. The other wine importer that has been doing a fantastic job of supplying really good imports for years is Palm Bay. Palm Bay has holdings in several continents and countries.

Another group that is using the same concept on a regional level is a company called Precept. They are creating and offering local wines, often made by award winning local winemakers such as Charlie Hoppes, Victor Cruz, and Charles Smith.

The following is a list of my must try wines from these suppliers. If you haven’t had them already, I suggest you give them a sip. From Southern Wine Group I suggest GLAM, Carlos Basso Signature Blend, and Marchiori & Barraud Cuartel Dos Malbec.

From Palm Bay, I suggest trying Citra Montepulciano. It is available in most grocery stores. Also, I am very impressed with Stracalli Chianti, Col d’ Orcia, and you’ve already head my raves about Gosset Champagne.

As for Precept Brands, look for fun labels such as Pine & Post varietals, Huck, House Wine, and the Waterbrook varietals and blends. These are all available at grocery stores and restaurants in the area.

I hope you enjoy trying these wines. If you can’t find them, please ask at your favorite wine shop. By the way, if you enjoy my article, I invite you to join my new blog. It is at . I look forward to hearing from you there.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Terra Blanca's New Onyx Very Drinkable

Last Saturday night my wife and I attended Terra Blanca's annual Onyx release winemaker's dinner. It was an absolutely fantastic night! We had a great time, the wines were great, and the food was divine.

I learned something new at this release about Keith Pilgrim's Onyx that I didn't know before. Apparently, Keith designs every other year's release to be either immediately drinkable, or one that needs to lay down for a few years. This year's release is definitely ready to drink, which was proven at the dinner that night.

The 2005 Onyx is rich with flavors of dark cherries and plum. It has a faint distinctive aroma of cedar that I've come to love in many of the Terra Blanca reds. Pepper and spices take the wine to a long lasting finish.

This is definitely a wine that you can enjoy now, or lay down for up to 5 years.

Thanks Keith and Renee for another beatiful wine and great evening at the winery!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Winemaker Dinners A Great Way To Try Something New

Whenever I get the chance, I encourage people to attend winemaker’s dinners. They are a great way to meet new people, taste new wines and foods, and have a really good time at a relatively inexpensive price for the value you receive.

Last Saturday night, I had the unique opportunity to help pair wines at a winemaker dinner for Will Wolfeil, my friend, and the executive chef at the Hilltop Restaurant in Pullman.

I was able to bring two winemakers to the event. Jay Dewitt from Dumas Station, and Bob and Crista Whitelatch from Claar Cellars. Dumas Station is a small winery that offers Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Claar has several offerings, and has been in business since the 1980s.

The dinner started out with a wonderful salmon wrapped scallop on a mixed bed of greens, and finished with a citrus dressing. I paired this with the Claar Savignon Blanc. The 2006 Sauvignon Blanc has a wonderful nose of honeysuckle and pears. It finishes crisp and light.

Course two was a wonderful cheese and mushroom soup, made with dried chantrelle mushrooms, which gave a wonderful texture to the soup. I paired this with the 2007 Claar Riesling. It is lightly sweet and shows wonderful flavors of apricot, honey, and nectarines.

Next, Will brought out a wonderful dish called stuffed zucchini tubes with roasted tomatoes. This dish is both beautiful and delicious. He hollows out a zucchini and roasts it with fresh tomatoes and various fresh herbs. It has a wonderful Italian zestiness to it. For this dish I chose the Claar 2006 Sangiovese. It is bright with flavors of cherry and floral accents, and finishes with a nice spiciness. This vintage has won several awards throughout the United States.

After a great Palate cleanser of homemade lemon sorbet, we were on to a sesame crusted Ahi with wassabi horseradish. For this I paired the Claar 2007 Chardonnay. The Chardonnay is non-oaked, which pairs very well with all types of fish. It’s flavors are of ripe citrus fruit and crisp green apple. It finishes with a light minerality.

Next we were served a Smoked Chicken Roulade with roasted peppers and Proschuito on a saffron cream sauce. The smoked meat and spiciness paired nicely with the 2005 Dumas Station Merlot. This wine just received a 92 in wine spectator. It is rich with plum jam, cocoa, vanilla, and a wonderful balance of tannin, fruit, and acid. It finishes long and beautiful.

The sixth course was a Bison Strip with Blackberry Brandy Sauce. I paired this with the 2005 Dumas Station Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2005 vintage is pulled from Walla Walla’s Minnick vineyard. It has deep, rich flavors of blackberry and currant, and spice box.

Dessert was a wonderful cream cake with huckleberries. The natural pairing for this was Claar’s 2007 late harvest Riesling. The rich flavors of apricot, peaches, and pears in the wine mingled nicely with the buttery richness of the frosted cake.

If you ever have the chance to enjoy a meal at the Hilltop, I would highly recommend it. Will is a fantastic chef, and his staff was great to work with. Also, when traveling Hwy 12 between Dayton and Waitsburg, I suggest stopping to visit Dumas Station. Claar Cellars is located in Zillah just off of I-82. On your next trip to Seattle, stop in and tell them I sent you.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Wine Club Night At Wildhorse’s Plateau A Great Mid-Week Treat

I heard it from a friend, who heard it from a friend, that the folks up at the Wildhorse Resort’s Plateau had started a new wine club. It was recommended that I get over there and try it out.

The “wine club” is a fun, casual event that occurs at the Plateau the first Wednesday of each month starting at 5 p.m.. The resort’s talented chefs prepare appetizers paired with wines from a particular winery from the region. This is a great way to show off the skills of the culinary staff at the resort, while also showing off the exciting wines that they carry from their extensive list.

I arrived at the Plateau and was escorted to my table by a very pleasant hostess. She explained that the resort is not only hosting wine club events, but is also hosting beer pairing events as well. I though I might come back another night and check one of those out as well.

Once seated, I was treated with three different very tasty dishes prepared by Chef Ben. If you haven’t had a meal prepared by chefs Brian or Ben at Wildhorse you are truly missing out. As always, I could have just enjoyed the food without the wine, but came to take in the entire experience.

The tapas was served this month with three wines from Isenhower. The 2007 Snapdragon, the 2007 Rose’, and the 2006 Red Mountain Sangiovese.

Denise and Brett Isenhower own and operate Isenhower Cellars at 3471 Pranger Road in Walla Walla. They opened their winery in 2002 on five acres, and have developed a specialty of building fine wines out of uncommon grapes such a Morvedre’, Malbec, Roussanne, Counoise, as well as the commonly heard varietals. Their wines are both elegant and unique.

Isenhower’s 2007 Columbia Valley Snapdragon is a blend of Roussanne and Viognier. The Roussanne is sourced almost equally from Ciel du Cheval and the Elerding Vineyard at Alderdale. The Viognier comes from the Ciel du Cheval vineyard. This is a very food-friendly wine, with lots of flavors of mango and orange zest, a floral nose, and a nice acidity that provides a crisp finish.

The 2007 Horse Hills Rose is a combination of 58% Counoise, 30% Mourvedre, and 12% Grenache. This rose is rich with flavors of blackberry, cherry, and herbs. I especially liked the velvety texture brought by the Grenache. It finishes crisp and dry.

Lastly, the 2006 Red Mountain Sangiovese, is produced from grapes from Kiona Vineyard on Red Mountain in Benton City. This is a nice, classic Sangiovese. The wine is light and spicy, with flavors of dried stonefruit, leather, pepper, and violets. Paired with the flavors of fresh white truffle butter from the meal, it was a wonderful finish to the evening.

I look forward to next month, when the chefs at the Plateau will be serving up dessert wines for their first Wednesday wine club. See you there!

Foundry Vineyards An Artistic Adventure

Last week’s blast of Chinook wind gave me the energy to get out and visit some wineries.

One noteworthy place that I visited was Foundry Vineyards in Walla Walla. The Walla Walla Foundry is a fabulous place where some of the world’s most renowned sculptors come to have their works bronzed. Walking onto their grounds is like walking into an art museum. Absolutely beautiful sculptures by Deborah Butterfield, glass works from Dale Chihuly, and paintings by today’s great artists adorn the entire campus.

One block away from the actual foundry at 13th and Abadie is the nearly equally adorned Foundry Vineyards Tasting Room. It is comfortably snuggled on the same block with Whitman, Amavi, and Canoe Ridge.

Jennifer, the tasting room manager shared with me six wines by their winemaker Mark Anderson. Overall, I found the wines to be as delightful and artistic in nature, much like the environment of the tasting room.

The White on White 2006 vintage is a very pair-able wine of Semillon and Chardonnay. It starts with floral notes, and leads to mineral and fresh lime juice on the finish. I would highly recommend this with a nice Ceviche or Pad Thai.

Second I tried the 2007 White on White. This wine had a completely different flavor palate, with a makeup of 70 percent Chardonnay and 30 percent Viognier. I loved the pear and apple salad flavors in this wine.

The 2005 Red Wine features all Walla Walla Valley fruit. If you like a nice, fruit forward red then this is what you want. Flavors of black cherry jam, vanilla, and black pepper fill the palate.

I enjoyed the 2006 Merlot for having somewhat the same qualities. It is nicely balanced with Blackberries, Vanilla, and a nice warmth from the alcohol that balances the tannin.

The 2006 Artisan Blend was probably the most elegant of the Foundry wines. A nice blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot. It features a rich mouthfeel, with flavors of plum, raspberries, and white and black peppercorns.

My favorite wine of the visit was the 2003 Stonemarker Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I love interesting wines, and this is one that I had to buy to take home to lay down. My first impression of the newly opened bottle was canned oysters, smoke, and leather. As the Cabernet opened up, the flavors became even more layered with asparagus, plum, and spice box. As interesting as the wine on the inside, I was also impressed with the label design, which is itself a great work of art by renowned painter Jim Dine.

I hope that you have the opportunity to get out and make a visit to Foundry Vineyards and their neighbors soon. When you do, make sure to take time to look around and enjoy!

Anelare Opens New Tasting Room

With all of the changes and advances in the industry, sometimes it is hard to see the forest through the trees. It is especially hard to know where the good wines are, and the maybe not so good wines might be located. So, it is a real pleasure when I find a winery or a tasting room that I think holds promise.

One winery that I found last spring was Anelare out of Benton City. At the time, they were a “by appointment only” private winery, with no set hours of operation. Since then, they have partnered up with AVA wine rooms in Kennewick to offer great wine in a beautiful atmosphere.

Located in the Southridge area of Kennewick, Anelare can be easily reached by following the Highway 395 exit toward Spokane. As you reach the first light you will see the building on the left hand side of the road.

I came to the tasting room unannounced and really expected to remain somewhat anonymous as I tasted and viewed the new facility. What I didn’t expect was to meet and have a fabulous tour and conversation with owners Dr. Jim and Cindy Campbell, and Forrest Alexander.

Anelare’s wine is made by award winning winemaker, Victor Cruz. Victor, who is the owner and winemaker of Canyon Del Sol, has been helping the Cambells and Alexanders produce Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a just released Rhone style blend called Nonna Viola.

Cruz has been more willing to step out and take a few chances with the Anelare wines, which I think is spelling success. Victor’s first swings at Cabernet Sauvignon are under the Anelare label, and I have to say that I think he’s hit it out of the park.

The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is designed with 100% Wahluke Slope Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. Victor Cruz picked evenly amongst the best of Wahluke by focusing on Katherine Leon and Weinbau vineyards. This has produced a very structured wine which leads off with a nose and flavors of Bing Cherries, pepper, and cardamom. The mouthfeel is a rich velvet texture, and the finish is nicely tannic. This wine will lay down for five to ten years, or drink with a grilled ribeye steak tonight.

The 2005 Syrah follows Victor Cruz’s style nicely. It’s nose and flavors are of ripe, dark blackberries, just like you find beside River Road between Umatilla and Hermiston. A smooth, rounded mouthfeel and flavors, with a soft finish.

Nonna Viola is a great blend for those who want to step out of this region’s tendency to make every blend a Bordeaux style. Leading off with 50% Syrah, and following with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot makes this blend a step out of the rut. Once again Cruz has made an extraordinary wine for Anelare.

If you come to Anelare you can visit the tasting room Saturdays from noon until 6p.m., and Sundays noon until 4. The phone number is (509) 588-6171. As always, drive safe and enjoy!

Red Wine and Chocolate Events Are Fun Valentines Activities

There is just something about February in Eastern Oregon. The days are a little longer, and the chill coming up the Columbia River isn’t as bad as it was a few weeks ago. Yet, there is just a grayness to it all, and something that makes you want to reach for dark red wines, and equally dark, rich chocolate to sooth away the dullness of the season. Pair that with a weekend full of adventure with your sweetheart, and you’ve totally blown away the blahs.

With Valentine’s Day falling on Saturday, the wineries of the region are breaking out the best to offer lovers an adventure they can’t refuse. Red wine and chocolate events are available from Walla Walla to the Willamette Valley.

The Willamette Valley Winemaker’s association is kicking off their “150 Days of Wine” event starting Valentines weekend, and running through September. 39 of the wineries, including Torii Mor, Argyle, Bethel Heights, Domaine Droughin, Rex Hill, and Raptor Ridge will all be tasting wines, chocolate, and other gourmet goodies in their tasting rooms.

Coming up the river at Maryhill you will find Maryhill Winery’s “Passport to Passion” and Waving Tree Winery’s “Sweehearts Red Wine and Chocolate” weekend. Both wineries will be tasting a cornucopia of wines and chocolates, with live entertainment running through Monday the 16th.

Continue over the hill into the Yakima Valley, and take the scenic route back to the Tri Cities to find another nearly 60 wineries that will be offering rich chocolate desserts paired with excellent wines. There is an opportunity to purchase a special “Premier” pass for $20 per person which will open up the doors on special tours, tastings, and extra chocolates reserved only for pass holders. Go to to get your pass. You will actually pick up your pass at a winery you designate as your starting point.

If you are feeling really adventurous, you can always head to the North Cascades region to enjoy wineries not normally open to the public. Be sure to check out their website at before going in order to know where and when the wineries are available.

In Walla Walla, the newly opened winery leChateau is offering a complete class on wine and chocolate pairing in conjunction with Petit Noirs, a chocolate artisan from Milton Freewater. There is a cost of $30 per person to attend this class, but well worth it considering all of the chocolates, wines, and even a souvenir glass for participants.

When you get back into town, I encourage you to attend one of the many special Valentines Meals being prepared at establishments in both Pendleton and Hermiston.

As always, enjoy and be safe!