Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wine And Weddings A Good Combination

It’s hard to believe that Memorial Day is upon us. Soon it will be June, and either you or someone you know will be getting married. So…it is probably a good time for us to have the “talk”. The talk about wine at your wedding, of course!

Wine at weddings is an ancient tradition, steeped in culture and religion. After all, Jesus performed his first miracle by being a master winemaker at a wedding. (I’ve always wondered what kind of Wine Spectator score they would have given him on that vintage.)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run across people in the grocery isles struggling to figure out what they’re going to pour for guests, or buy for the newlywed couple. I can tell you this, that buying wine for a wedding is not as easy as it looks.

The problem is that there are wine drinkers and non wine drinkers. The wine drinkers know that you are a low budget slob for buying Crane Lake, soaking off the label, and putting on your own label. The non wine drinkers look at your cute little label, put the bottle under the table, and go get a beer because they aren’t going to drink it anyway.

My suggestion is that you go ahead and buy some inexpensive wine (not Crane Lake) and dress it up with a cute label. The cuteness effect will work, and your non-wine drinking guests will enjoy it thoroughly as a beverage. I strongly suggest Tisdale, Barefoot, or Sutter Home brands for this task. They are inexpensive and can be appreciated for their lack of rancid vinegar flavors.

Now that we’ve got cuteness out of the way, let’s take care of your wine drinking guests. I suggest that you buy a few bottles of wine for guests who, like me, are frankly snobbish about their wines. If budget is a factor, offer them at a no-host bar for purchase. Some great brands that offer fantastic value are Columbia Crest Grand Estates and Red Diamond. You can even take it up a notch and offer a wine or two from your favorite local winery. I’ve been to several weddings in the last year where I would have given my leg and my firstborn for a glass of decent wine.

The trick is to offer a few choices without overwhelming people. A good Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet are three solid varietals to serve. You can switch the Chardonnay for a sweeter white such as Reisling, and the Merlot for a red blend. But, don’t add too many more choices.

A general rule of thumb for serving people wine is to offer approximately one bottle for every four guests of legal drinking age. So, if you have 100 guests you will need 25 bottles, or just over two cases of wine. My suggestion is to get together with store management and make your choices early. Most of the stores in the region are happy to oblige your special orders in advance, and not have their shelves wiped out on a Saturday morning.

All my best to the loving couples! May your years together be many, your children as plentiful as the stars, and your marriage be as pleasurable as the wine you serve on your wedding day!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

New Wines Available In Eastern Oregon

One of the benefits of writing this column is that I get to taste new wines as they are introduced into the region. This week I tasted some new wines and new vintages that I am excited about sharing with you.

First, I want to talk about Stella Fino Winery. My friend Marlene Steiner and her husband Matt have just opened their new winery with the releases of a 2006 Sangiovese, A Tuscan red blend called The Boot, and their 2007 Pinot Gris.

Matt and Marlene named the winery after Matt’s great-grandmother who’s name was Stella Fino, an Italian immigrant who raised her family in the Bronx, New York. Her Italian ways and culture have encouraged Matt’s culinary and wine influences throughout his life. When he and Marlene decided to move west from New York to engage in the wine business, they decided that they would focus on making great Italian style wines in her name.

As is usual with new vintners, the Steiners have produced a limited amount of wine for release to the open market. The wines are fun and engaging at a reasonable price for a Walla Walla producer.

The 2006 Boot is a blend of 50% Sangiovese and 50% Barbera. It starts out with a nose that is mossy, and reminds me of early mornings on the Tucanon River trout fishing. The flavors are full and bright with fresh red raspberries and white pepper. This will pair very well with a meatball or sausage and pepper sandwich.

The 2006 Sangiovese is made with 100% Sangiovese juice that was sourced from a mixture of Pepperbridge in Walla Walla, and Candy Mountain just outside of West Richland. The wine features flavors of dark cherry, menthol, and fresh tobacco leaf.

Last, the 2007 Pinot Gris was a bright and fresh wine, with overtones of pear and citrus salad. It would be perfect with seafood or soft cheeses.

Another winery that I tasted this week was Garrison Creek. I can truthfully say that I was blown away. The bottles read 2001 and 2002, which concerned me as they were being opened. Usually vintages of that age are already headed for oxidation. But not these beauties.

Garrison Creek is a winery that has been a long time coming in the Walla Walla region. Michael Murr, the owner, and David March, the winemaker have put many painstaking years into building their winery and their wines. Currently they make Cabernet Sauvignon, a Syrah, Red Blends, and are getting ready to release a Zinfandel.

I tasted the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose was full and rich with plums, dark fruit, and leather. Flavors of plum, vanilla, anise, and dark cherries filled my senses. If I hadn’t known better I could have sworn I was sitting in Napa Valley drinking a local Cabernet. If you like big, strong, but gentle Cabernets I highly suggest that you try these wines.

If you want to purchase any of these wines I suggest getting out to the usual haunts in Pendleton or Hermiston. If they don’t have them now, they should in a few days or weeks. Be sure to ask if you don’t find what you’re looking for.

Have a great weekend, and enjoy!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Give Mom Wine For Mother’s Day

As far as I’m concerned, there are two things in this world that prove that God exists…mothers and wine. Truly, if there is a great and wondrous being out there, which I believe there is, then what better way to show a sign of love, than these two wonderful and heavenly inventions.

Now that I’ve offended half of you, and confused the other half (no…this is not the religion section). I want to enhance my argument by showing that the two are meant to be together. How many times have you been at a party or event and seen women drinking wine, while the guys slug down beer.

I’m not saying that a real lady doesn’t appreciate beer, or that a manly man can’t enjoy a good glass of wine. But, women enjoy the nuances of wine so much more than us guys do. This is supported by recent studies showing that women are able to sense the esters in wine easier than guys.

To further my case, I have enormous experience standing in tasting events. In that experience I am never surprised to see women come out in droves to taste, enjoy, and mingle. There really is no argument against it. Women just simply love wine!

My point now being well established, I want to make the point that your mom deserves wine this Mother’s Day. What better way to celebrate your mom than adding a bottle to her gift basket or giving her a wine experience somewhere in the area. I’ve thought of a few examples of things you might offer mom this year. If I were a mom, I probably would love any one of these things.

Several women winemakers are now gracing the industry in this region. Bergevin Lane winery is owned by Annette Bergevin and Amber lane. Their wines are a great celebration of womanhood, from their lively and brilliant Viognier to their lively Oui Deux Syrah. Also, the wines of Dama are now available in Eastern Oregon. Mary Derby and Dawn Kammer have taken the womanhood concept to the fullest. Their website melds wines and fashion together using quotes from Channel and Yves Saint Laurent.

Other female winemakers from the region are Lynne Chamberlain, owner and winemaker for JLC Cellars, and Susan Cowan of Cowan Vineyards. Lynne’s Palate red blend, and Susan’s Tartan Red are among some of my favorite red blends from the region.

If you want to offer your mom something wine oriented that also includes a little togetherness as well, I suggest taking mom on a wine tour, or engaging in a wine class. I suggest taking mom out to a wine event. There are several throughout the year. You can give her a “promise” with a certificate to go to one of the many annual events such as Hermiston’s Wine and Cheese, and follow up with your promise in November.

There are also several places in the region that offer great opportunities to sip wine and visit with mom on a more frequent basis. In Pendleton, Great Pacific, Raphael’s, Hamleys, Como’s, and Stetsons all offer huge wine lists, with several by the glass options. In Hermiston, Farmer’s Kitchen offers a sizeable wine list, including some of the region’s best rated wines.

If you want a great wine gift basket, I suggest contacting Bellingers or Petal Pusher in Hermiston. Both have created beautiful custom baskets for me that my wife adored!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Spring Barrel Tastings Are A Busy Time In Eastern Washington

If you like to get out, mingle with friends, and taste wines, you will love attending spring barrel tastings. Each year the wineries of the region grow, and I swear the entertainment and excitement gets bigger as well.

Last weekend was the Spring Barrel weekend for the Yakima Valley. I didn’t make it up for the event, but heard that people had a great time despite the weather. On a trip up to Yakima later this week, I stopped in several venues and found that everyone had enjoyed a great weekend with a record number of people.

This weekend is Walla Walla’s Spring Barrel Event. Wineries from Adamant Cellars to Zerba will be opening up their tasting rooms for guests. Some wineries that are normally not open to the public are also opening their doors this weekend.

Spring Barrel Events tend to be a special experience at most wineries. The winemakers, owners, and staff go out of their way to visit with guests, do special tours of the facilities, and many open up a special barrel of a future released wine for you to try. The best part is that many of the wineries also relax their usual tasting room fees to accommodate the weekend’s festivities.

The best way to attend a spring barrel event is to get a group of friends together. Either rent a limo or have one person assigned as the designated driver. In the latter case, I suggest treating this person very well, including buying their meals and maybe even chipping in to purchase a bottle of wine for their efforts. It is quite the sacrifice to be the driver, and they deserve the thank you.

This weekend, once you’ve gotten the group and the driver I suggest going to which is the Walla Walla Wine Commission’s website. On the site, they have listings of all of the participating wineries, their addresses, and any special events that they have planned for the weekend.

Make a list of no more than 6 or 7 wineries that you want to see. I have tried to visit more than that, and it just is nearly impossible with a group of people. Some folks start to get the effects after one or two visits. So, getting past number five can be a disappointment. Make sure to bring a cooler filled with bottled water, and a big box of snacks.

As part of the plan for a spring barrel event trip, make plans to stop for a relaxing lunch somewhere. Along with the snacks and water, a good meal will help people regain their palates, and get their feet back on the ground for further adventure.

With these tips I’m sure that you will have a great time adventuring Walla Walla this weekend. Have a great time, and be safe. I’ll see you there!

More New Wines For 2009

I can not tell a lie…This week I am seriously cheating on this article by continuing with more wines from the Graybeal trade tasting last week.

To begin, I wanted to mention L’Ecole No 41. Their table offered some real long-time favorites for me. The First being the Apogee. The 2005 vintage is back to being one of my favorite Walla Walla blends. It is boldly aromatic with aromas of cooking spices, leather, and tobacco. The dark stone fruit and chocolate make this wine absolutely delicious.

L’Ecole also tasted us on their 2005 Walla Walla Cabernet, 7 Hills Merlot, 2006 7 Hills Syrah, and several of their Columbia Valley Vintages. One of their other wines that I thoroughly enjoy every time I try it, is their “Walla Viola” Chenin Blanc. The 2007 Vintage continues in the Vouvray style which provides wonderful floral aromas and flavors.

Last week I didn’t mention Sineann. Paul, from Sineann (pronounced Shin-A-un) offered some wonderful glimpses at their newest vintages. One thing that I do have to say about Sineann is that they have some of the most elegant bottles I’ve ever encountered. If you want to be the life of the party bring one of these. The glass stoppers are an attractive alternative to screw caps, and protect the wines much better than cork.

Sineann’s 2006 Abondante was another brilliant flavored red blend made of Zinfandel, Cab Sauv, Syrah, Grenache, and Merlot. It could pass as a high-end old vine Zin, with it’s bright raspberry flavors and spices. Their 2006 Baby Poux Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely a keeper. One of my favorite wines from one of my favorite vineyards.

Mike from Coyote Canyon Winery also showed some very nice wines at the tasting. His Tres Cruces is full of flavors of black current and blackberries. There is also a wonderful essence of cinnamon throughout. His 2006 Robert Andrews Blend is a robust Rhone blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier. I love Grenache, and this wine presents with the richness of the Grenache from beginning to end.

Ste Michelle Wine Estates was present with a collection of twelve different wines, from the ever amazing 2005 Col Solare red blend, and Spring Valley’s 2006 Uriah, to their 2007 Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling. They even poured one of my newer favorites…A 2004 Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico. The Marchese is not easy to find, but available at a few outlets in the area. It is an intense Chianti, with ruby color, and bright flavors of fruit and spices throughout.

Last, but not least, was an incredible lineup of wines from E.J. Gallo. They spared no expense in offering up wines from their Barefoot, Whitehaven, Frei Brothers, Gallo Reserve, and Mirassou lines. The Barefoot brand even had their “Barefooter” representative in town to hand out cute purple lays to guests.

Now, If you think Gallo makes cheap wines, you are 100% correct. But, if you haven’t had Whitehaven Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, then you are seriously missing out. I consider the Whitehaven Pinot to be one of the best Pinots on the market. And, the Sauvignon Blanc has received several Wine Spectator scores well into the 90s.

I hope you get out to your favorite wine shop, grocery, or restaurant this week and pick up some of these wines that I’ve suggested. If they don’t have them, then insist they bring them in for you. They owe you that much.