Saturday, January 30, 2010

Forgeron Cellars at Wildhorse

Sometimes, I swear, the stars just come into alignment between this column, the wine world, and the great world of Eastern Oregon. When those stars come into line, I actually get to write about something that will give you an opportunity to taste what I write about within just a few days of reading my ever so eloquent words.

Last week I ran into my old friend Patty Wolk, the Marketing Director for Forgeron Cellars. She mentioned to me that she would be pouring wines as the Winery of the Month at Wildhorse Resort’s Plateau Restaurant on February 3rd.

As many of you may already know, the wonderful culinary staff at Wildhorse each month pick a different winery to feature. They carefully prepare a special menu that showcases the wines from that particular winery. Then, they also prepare a special evening in the beginning of that month to hold a “party” in which they bring winery staff in to pour wines along with some specially prepared dishes for the evening. This is a great monthly event, and at $15 per person for wine and food, a deal that really can’t be beat.

Forgeron Cellars is a Walla Walla winery that has held multiple acclaims for the last several years. I have had the pleasure of enjoying their wines many times over those years, and one thing always holds true…their wines are beautifully elegant and easy to drink.

Celebrated winemaker, Marie Eve Gilla, is a rarity in this region. Her training isn’t local, or even from California. She is a graduate of Dijon, and studied in Burgundy for many years before coming to America to research winemaking. Her intention was not to stay, but remain in this region is just what has happened. Marie Eve and her husband Gilles, famed winemaker at Longshadows, fell in love with the people and the grape growing climate, and have made it their permanent home.

I recently tasted the wines to be featured on February 3rd at the Plateau, and thought I’d share my tasting notes with you.

Chardonnay is Marie Eve’s flagship wine. She is truly a virtuoso with this grape. The 2007 is what I believe to be one of her best ever. The grapes are sourced from throughout the best vineyards throughout Eastern Washington. The wine has aromas of apples and tree fresh peaches. The flavors match the aroma up front, becoming creamy, and then followed with a crisp finish.

Walldeaux Smithie is Forgeron’s idea of a fun “everyday” red blend. But, don’t let the cute label and name fool you. The juice is sourced from some of the most respected vineyards in the United States: Alder Ridge, Pepperbridge, Klipsun, and Boushey. Marie carefully blends different vintage sources and years to come up with the juicy flavors that she wants to showcase in this blend. Aromas and flavors of blueberry, blackberry, and vanilla to open, with a nicely rounded finish of peppercorn and silky tannins make this one of my favorite everyday wines.

Zinfandel is another of Marie Eve’s strong suits. The 2005 is a dark plum color in the glass, with aromas of licorice, blackberries, and white pepper. The flavors are a mixture of dark cherries and blueberries. A long finish makes this a great wine to pair with bison, ribs, or wild game.

I hope you can make it out to the Plateau on the 3rd to taste these wines and the pairings by the Wildhorse chefs. Tell them I sent you!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Goose Ridge Winery A Perfect Place For Ending

This week’s article starts with a bittersweet farewell to a friend. Yesterday I attended the funeral of Bob Dykes. If you are a frequent visitor to tasting rooms in the Columbia Valley, you’ve probably run into Bob and his beautiful wife Kathleen. Bob worked in his retirement for several years in the Barnard Griffin tasting room, and Kathleen has represented different wines and wineries as a distributor for many years. Many people were touched by Bob’s sense of humor, knowledge of wines, and his famous gourmet chili.

Several hundred people, including some of the winemaking elite from the region gathered at Goose Ridge last night to remember Bob. One of the reasons why the reception was held at Goose Ridge was because Bob would only want his friends drinking the best. With that, I’m going to share with you my tasting notes from Goose Ridge in his honor.

For those not familiar with Goose Ridge Winery, it is probably one of the easiest Washington wineries for those living in Eastern Oregon to get to. Simply drive north on I-82 until you reach the Dallas Road exit in the Tri-Cities. Take a right and go 200 yards off the exit to reach the winery entrance.

Owned by the Monson family, Goose Ridge’s winemaking is left up to the fine hands and mind of one of the greatest winemakers in the region, Charlie Hoppes. Charlie, while working on his own Fidelitas brand, and helping out several other fledgling wineries, has spent considerable focus over these past years creating beautiful wines for the Monsons.

As for the wines, I’ll start off by talking about the 2008 Pinot Gris. The wine has a slightly floral aroma with bright citrus flavors mixed with honey and melons. It reminds me of Easter Brunch as I swirl it in my glass. The acid levels in the wine make the finish just the right length.

My experience of the 2007 Chardonnay was just as pleasant. Tropical scents on the nose, with flavors of pineapple, pear, crisp apple, and vanilla. The finish is creamy and smooth showing just the right amount of malolactic fermentation mixed with the right amount of time on the oak.

The 2007 G3 Red Blend is a mixture of 48% Syrah, 28% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, and topped with 2% Malbec. This wine lifted from the glass with a nose of currants and blackberry jam. Flavors of cherries and vanilla give it a hearth-like warmth, with a long delicate finish.

2006 was a good year for Merlot in the Columbia Valley. The 2006 Estate Merlot is a perfect example of what this grape is capable of in the right conditions and good treatment. Currants, black cherry, and vanilla on the nose translate directly to the tongue with an addition of baking spices on the back of the palate. A long silky caramel finish makes this Merlot quite memorable.

Last, the 2005 Sol Duc is one of my favorites from this region. Made by Charlie Hoppes for Goose Ridge, and distributed through Precept Wine Brands, this wine is simply fantastic. Blackberry and dark cherry jam on the nose, with flavors of cassis, blackberry, and cherries mixed with rich vanilla and baking spices.

I hope you take the time to visit Goose Ridge soon. In the mean time I know it is available through many stores and restaurants in Eastern Oregon and Washington.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Are You Tough Enough To Drink Purple Cowboy?

Recently I received a bottle of wine called Purple Cowboy. It was a handsome bottle. Bordeaux style dark green glass with a nice dark purple logo of a cowboy riding a bronco hard. The label was attractive enough, but I just didn’t know if I should trust it. Today, after walking by the bottle at least 100 times, I decided to do some research and then open the bottle to find out a little more about Purple Cowboy wine.

In order to talk about Purple Cowboy, I need to tell you a story about its maker. In 2004 a wonderful lady by the name of Terry Wheatley started an organization called Tough Enough To Wear Pink. Terry, a breast cancer survivor came up with the dream that at the NFR in Las Vegas wouldn’t it be great if all of these incredibly tough cowboys, their horses, and even the organizers would wear pink for one day of the competition.

This concept became a dream, and now a growing reality as Tough Enough To Wear Pink has now become one of the biggest draw days for rodeos all over the world. On Wednesday, December 10th of 2008 the NFR was a sea of pink from end to end.

Now, let’s talk about Purple Cowboy. Mrs. Wheatley being a rodeo mom and wife has also helped pay the family bills by working in the wine industry for many years. In Paso Robles, in the heart of California’s South Central Coast, the region has been in a long transition from farming and ranching to becoming one of the greatest Syrah regions in the world. The annual heat elements and good water sources have made the AVA affectionately known as the region of the “Rhone Rangers”.

With Purple Cowboy, Terry has melded her love for rodeo with her love and ambition for wine. From a recent press release Wheatley says “The cowboys I know love dark red wines – the kind that make your teeth purple”. Wheatley made the wine in that dark style. A mixture of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah, 6% Merlot, and a balance of other reds were fermented in stainless using pump-over techniques to bring extra darkness to the juice.

As I pour the wine into the glass I am reassured that the wine is definitely a dark red by how ruby deep it is in the glass. The nose is of blackberries and ripe Bing cherries and cola. It reminds me of Cherry Coke as a kid. This ready-to-drink wine hits the palate with an explosion of berries, and warm vanilla on the finish. I would pair this wine with a nice rib steak or burgers on the grill any time. Actually, I’m thinking spicy short ribs with corn and beans.

A couple of things I need to let you know about Purple Cowboy before I close. Foremost, the profits from the sale of this wine are to raise funds for the Tough Enough To Wear Pink organization. If you have any connection to someone struggling now or in the past with breast cancer I highly suggest that you buy a bottle to support this great cause. Also, it is my understanding that Purple Cowboy is going to be at the Roundup this year for the 100th. My hope is to share a glass of Purple Cowboy with Terry Wheatley in my pink shirt and hat this fall!


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Goodbye Jerry Wallace. Thanks For The Wine & The Memories

Jerry Wallace, who launched Hinzerling Winery in Prosser, Wash., in 1976, passed away January 6th at 90 years of age.

Wallace was Seattle police officer beginning in 1944. He worked as a special driver for the mayor, among other tasks until his retirement in 1972.

In 1972, he and his family moved to Prosser, Washington, where they planted one of the earliest commercial wine grape vineyards in the region. Hinzerling Vineyard was the first in the state to use drip irrigation. Wallace and his wife, Dee, also founded the Roza chapter of the Enological Society of the Pacific Northwest.

In 1976, Wallace and his son Mike launched Hinzerling Winery, making it one of the state's oldest wineries. The winery is best known for its Ports and dessert wines. The most recent wine that I reviewed from Hinzerling was Mike's Cream Sherry which is one of the best I've ever had.

In 2008, Jerry Wallace was nominated as a Legend of Washington Wine by the state wine industry. He is survived by his three children, Mike, Pam and Steve, as well as eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

To end this blog entry I want to finish with a personal letter to Jerry's son Mike and the rest of the Wallace family:

To the family and friends of Jerry Wallace:

My wife and I met Jerry in 1987 at the Prosser winery while traveling through the valley on our Honeymoon. We were a couple of young kids from Idaho, just old enough to drink, and highly curious about wine. Like many other 21 year olds, we thought that Riesling was the only "good" wine, and had spent a large portion of our trip through Washington and British Columbia tasting and purchasing just that. When we walked through the door of Hinzerling and met this striking gentleman we knew we weren't in a winery like any other. First, the winery wasn't some fancy million dollar complex with art on the walls. It was an old garage with the lab counter also acting as the tasting room bar. Also, the guy who was running the tasting room was also the guy who actually had made the wine. Needless to say, we were mesmerized. We spent over an hour listening to his stories and his methods for making wine. He actually convinced us to taste a few wines we had never considered, including our first tastes of Cabernet Sauvignon.

We purchased two bottles of wine from Jerry that day. One bottle of Rouge to enjoy on our first anniversary, which was delicious by the way. The second bottle was a bottle of 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon, which we still have in our wine cellar being stored for our 25th anniversary reception. Jerry was convinced that the bottle would be still good on our twenty fifth if we took good care of it, and we have. I'm not sure if it will win any awards or even be better than vinegar for the salad dressing, but the storage of that wine, and the thirst for wine knowledge that Jerry instilled in me that day has stayed with me for 23 years.

In two years we will open that bottle and serve it in some ceremonial way to our guests in the rememberence of Jerry. Mr. Wallace, thank you for sharing your love for wine and life with two dumb kids from Idaho.


Rich Breshears
Wine Columnist for Eastern Oregonian Newspaper, and wine blogger at

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Restaurants Serving Grocery Store Wines A Poor Choice

The other night I met with some old friends in downtown Pendleton at a local establishment known for fine dining. I was looking forward to a few bites of grilled beef and a good glass of dark red wine to wash it down. Unfortunately I was both shocked and mortified that all that the place had on their glass pour list was the same stuff I could have bought at WalMart. The worst part was that the price for a glass was the same as I could have gotten an entire bottle for at the store!

I have a strict rule about writing this column. It comes from my old friend Thumper in Disney’s Bambi. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” With that in mind, I’m not going to rail on about my snobbish wine tastes and the lack of good selection in Eastern Oregon.

Quite to the contrary, I am impressed with some of the skills used by a few restaurant owners in the region. I just wish that everyone could come up to speed. My “ask” today is that you, the consumer, be aware of what is available out there and demand it. Don’t let some bozo restaurant owner bully you into drinking Barefoot Merlot for $6 per glass.

The first thing that you need to know is that there are many, many wines out there that are reasonably priced specifically for the purposes of restaurant sales. These wines are marketed as such, and aren’t even allocated for sales in stores. Many don’t even have a scan bar on the back label so they can’t be sold at the register.

These restaurant wines are a little harder to acquire, and many are locally produced. Unlike wines that are allocated for the major chain stores, their marketing efforts and dollars don’t go into big ads in magazines. They are focused on producing really great wines at the best prices for “on-premise” accounts.

Examples of these types of wines abound. As I mentioned, many are locally produced, such as many of the wines produced by Precept Wine Brands out of Walla Walla. These are amazing wines, made by renowned area winemakers for the sole purpose of producing wines that are affordable and attractive to the restaurant market.

A few of my recent favorites are the Gordon Brothers Kamiak Labels, Ste Michelle’s Antinori Family labels, and Terra Blanca’s new arch label wines. All of these are very reasonably priced for restaurant sale, and absolutely fantastic. What’s more, I’m not going to refuse to buy a glass when I know I can’t get the bottle at the same price at a local store.

I know what you’re thinking now…”But, what if all I want is a glass of White Zinfandel?” My answer is that there are still options out there, literally sitting in a warehouse ready for delivery to your favorite restaurant. All you need to do is tell your waitperson that you don’t appreciate them selling you Sutter Home for the same price that you could buy it at Safeway. Ask for something different next time, and expect it.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Top Wines of 2009

Before I get too far into this article I want to start with a disclaimer: These are my opinions and not some cold hard truths that come down from the wine gods. The wheels on the bus will not fall off if your favorite wine isn’t in here.

Last year this was the only article that I received hate mail and phone calls over. For some reason people felt that I had hurt their sensibilities because I didn’t mention their brand of White Zinfandel. Anyway, just relax and enjoy my picks for 2009.

Wine of the year - 2001 Garrison Creek Cabernet Sauvignon - No, the date is not a typo. Tucked away against the foothills of the Blue Mountains on the Washington side of the state border between Walla Walla and Milton Freewater is a beautifully constructed barn made out of imported slate, hand-hewn timbers, and gorgeous adornments. This is the home of Garrison Creek Winery. Available by appointment only, David March, the winemaker has bottled and is selling a limited supply of wine that will rock your socks. The 2001 vintage has had many years in the barrel and the bottle, making it one of the most fantastic Cabernets I’ve had in many years.

Best Chardonnay - Gordon Brothers 2006 Reserve Chardonnay – This is Chardonnay the way God intended it. Pears, apples, and melon on the nose and front of the palate, transitioning to the warm vanillas and baking spices associated with careful oaking on the finish. Absolutely delicious.

Best Red Blend - 2007 Fidelitas M100 Red Blend - Charlie Hoppes continues to prove why he is considered to be the region’s most sought after winemaker. This affordable blend simply “rocks”. Flavors of vanilla, cassis, chocolate, and dark fruit from start to finish.

Best Rose’ - 2008 Barnard Griffin Rose’ of Sangiovese - It isn’t rose season, but I have fond memories of this particular bottle from this year’s stock. You might be able to find it in a few specialty shops, but Rob is already working on his 2009 to be released sometime in the next few months.

Best White Blend – 2008 Saviah Cellars Star Meadows – Last year I named this winemaker the number one winemaker of the year. I still have to say that Rich Funk still tops the list. His 2008 Star Meadows is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semmilon, which brings out layers upon layers of citrus, apricot, and floral flavors.

Best Merlot – 2006 Pepper Bridge Merlot - This is one of the toughest years in recent memory for me in making this decision. A lot of absolutely fantastic Merlots have been coming from this region in the past few years. Jean Francois Pellet holds the top notch with this vintage. It has intense flavors of plum, currants, and cherries, with layers of chocolate and spice.

Winemaker to watch – Kontos Cellars 2006 Boushey Syrah - There aren’t a lot of winemakers in the region who were raised in the winemaking business, but Cameron Kontos is one of them. Following his father, Cliff Kontos of Walla Walla Cellars, Cameron has gone on to further refine his skills under Marie Eve Gilla of Forgeron over the past few years. 2009 was a fantastic year for Cameron. He and his brother Chris opened Kontos Cellars this year at the Walla Walla Incubator, and just a few months later he married the love of his life Becca. His Boushey Syrah earned a 91 from Robert Parker, and is absolutely fantastic! It opens with layers of peppercorn, bacon, and roses, soon followed by dark berries and truffles. The finish is long and satisfying.

I wish you all happiness and success in 2010!