Sunday, September 26, 2010

Catch The Crush!

I don’t know about anyone else, but the week after the Pendleton Roundup I’m tired but still wanting to get out and go. It seems like life just slows down in the third week of September. The leaves start to officially change colors and the mornings are crisp and cool, yet I’m not quite ready to hibernate yet.

The crush is on, and if you aren’t ready to hibernate either I suggest you join me by visiting the Columbia Valley, Red Mountain, Prosser, and Yakima Valley Wineries this weekend.

Wineries all over the region are participating in this year’s Catch The Crush event this weekend. The event has been growing for the past 30 years, and this year is no exception. You can literally visit dozens of wineries, or as many as your designated driver can stand.

Many of the vintners open their doors to offer tours, show the crushing operations, taste barrel samples, and offer food and wine pairings to visitors this weekend. If you haven’t ever gone to a “Crush” event, I think I could best explain it as fun, high energy, and one of the weekends where everyone is a friend.

My friends, the Whitelatch family, who own Claar Cellars in Zillah will even be holding a grape stomping contest for teams of two who want to try it. The contest will be a fundraiser for the Tri-cities Cancer Center, and will happen from 10a.m. to 6p.m. the 25th and 26th. The cost to get your feet in the barrels is $2 per team. Claar’s Busty Blush will even be on hand to sample.

The cost to attend the crush is free, however is has become quite customary in the past few years for the wineries to charge a tasting fee. Usually the fee is waived with the purchase of a bottle of wine.

To get the best bang for your buck I suggest getting a Premier Pass to the event. The pass includes a wrist band, a wine glass, and a map of all the participating wineries. For the cost of $35 you can taste all day and not have to pay at each bar when you get there. To find out which wineries will be offering the wrist bands go to and click on events.

While you are traveling through the region make sure to either start early or end late as you go through Prosser. Prosser’s annual balloon rally is this weekend, with balloons filling the skies at sunrise, and participating in nightglow events in the evening.

My friends Jesse and Susanne Ayala who own Tuscany Grill, and Kari from 6th Street Coffee will be open early for breakfast. So, after you take in the balloons you can start tasting wines with your tummy full. The Ayalas and another friend Frank Magana at Picazo’s and Mojave, located in Desert River Inn Winery will remain open late in order to keep that belly full for your safe drive home.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Two New Wines You Gotta Get At Grocery Outlet

Here's this week's Grocery Outlet update from me.

Dane and Jami asked me to taste two more wines this past week that I thought you might be interested in.

First, Cayalla, a 2004 Red Table Wine made from Columbia Valley fruit. After a little research I found out that Cayalla is a second brand label made by the famous Firesteed winery out of Rickreal, Oregon. If you haven't ever tried Firesteed Pinot Noir I would say you need to.

Howard Rossbach, owner and winemaker, sources grapes from Walla Walla and Columbia Valley for his Cayalla wine, and goes to work aging and blending the juice to make a great wine at a great price.

The 2004 vintage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, to create a lush and drinkable wine that is fruit forward and ready to drink. The wine offers up a nose and flavors of dark berries and cola. This particular vintage won many awards in its earlier years, and is still very drinkable right now.

The second wine that Dane asked me to taste was Sacred Hill's 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. From New Zealand's famous Central Coastal region of Malborough comes some of the world's greatest Sauvignon Blanc. Sacred Hill is one of New Zealand's leading wineries. The combination creates a fantastic wine from an award winning winery.

This wine has a rich citrus nose, full of lemongrass and herbs. The flavors are crisp and rich with lemongrass, grapefruit, rhubarb, and mineral. Pair this with broiled tilapia with butter and herbs, or fresh chevre on crusty bread.

The Cayalla is priced at the store right now at $4.99, and I purchased the Sacred Hill at $2.99. At these prices I'd hurry if you still want some!


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Local Boy Makes Good

It happens every day that someone from small town America pulls it off and really does make it into the spotlight. What really makes it special is when that person is someone that you know personally, and maybe even hung out with in high school.

Neil Cooper is just one of those people. Coming from the grass seed fields around Stanfield, Oregon, Cooper is just one of those fun-loving guys that you’d expect to see fueling up at the Pilot Station any summer afternoon.

Now switch scenes with me, and imagine a simple but upscale wine tasting room and barrel storage facility on the gateway of Sunset Road on Red Mountain. Just outside of Benton City, Washington. The virtual cornerstone of the Washington wine industry, with grapes from the vineyards around the winery drawing some of the most prestigious recognition possible.

As of last Saturday, the 11th of September, Neil Cooper now has firm hold of that cornerstone property, and has launched his brand of Cooper Wine Company wines. Located in a completely renovated facility that was once Seth Ryan Winery, Cooper has definitely done it right.

With help from Charlie Hoppes and staff from Fidelitas, Neil was able to build the winery basically from scratch. He has spent the last few years buying barrels, tanks, and equipment, not to mention juice, to get his winery off the ground with resounding success.

So, enough about the facilities and the land. How about the wines? Well, I can tell you that I tasted through all of them, and will share with you a few of my favorites.

Cooper offers two whites. A Pinot Gris, and a Chardonnay. The 2008 Pinot Gris has a nose that offers up light floral accents of orange flowers and mineral. The flavors are a nice blend of floral and citrus, with a clean finish. Perfect for evenings on the porch.

The 2008 Chardonnay is beautifully advanced. Butter and citrus on the nose leads to wonderful caramel cream flavors from the perfect malolactic fermentation.

Neil’s focus is on Bordeaux wines so it only makes sense that his first wine L’inizio (the beginning) is a wonderful Bordeaux blend. The wine wakes up your nose with hints of black pepper and spice box, leading to flavors of oak, vanilla, dark stone fruit. The finish is silky smooth.

Cooper’s lineup of Cabernet Sauvignons is amazing. To taste through them is not only fun, but educational as well. He has 2007 vintages from Walla Walla, Red Mountain, and Columbia Valley. Each one having its own flavor characteristics and strengths.

Because my palate tends to lean towards jammy flavors with vanilla accents, I found myself at the Grand Opening really leaning toward the 2007 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose starts off with dark berries and jam, with slight undertones of spice and mocha. The flavors are rich with berries and vanilla, with a long silky finish.

If you have the chance to break away to Red Mountain I know that Neil would love to see you. The winery is located at 35306 North Sunset Road in Benton City. Maybe you can catch up on old times and enjoy a bottle. If you can’t make it up to the winery I suggest you get onto his wine club at .


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cocoa, Blackberries, Tobacco? All I Taste Is Wine.

I can’t tell you the number of times in a week that I have a conversation with someone about the flavors in wine. People either don’t believe that I taste the things that I do, or they want to know how to get better at it themselves.

Usually, the discussion falls to the person thinking that my B.S. factor is just really high. Which it is. However, the flavors are real. Otherwise I wouldn’t write them.

So, how do you learn to taste wines to figure out what the flavors are? My pat answer is to take a wine tasting class. The one that I took a few years ago at Walla Walla Community College’s Enology School was absolutely amazing. It was so intense that I didn’t even want to drink wine for the next few weeks afterward.

I wouldn’t expect just anyone to take a class like that. It is expensive, and bent very hard toward people who make a living in the wine industry. The common, everyday wine lover just wants to be able to taste their wines better. Not be able to taste that the “cellar rat’s” hands weren’t washed when he left the bathroom during racking.

With a professional wine tasting class out of the question, I would strongly suggest that you create your own wine tasting class in the comfort of your kitchen. Buy some inexpensive base wine in white or red. I suggest buying Franzia or Vella box wine in a Chablis for the white, and Merlot for the red.

Next, look through different wine notes that you read either by me or by others in the industry. On white wines, you might hear frequently mineral, citrus, lemon, butter, and many others. For the reds you might start with strawberries, berry jam, cherries, vanilla, and black pepper.

Buy some of these mentioned flavor ingredients and put a dash of them into glasses along with the base wine one at a time. Cover the glasses with cellophane.

Now, spend time swirling each glass, lifting the cellophane, and smelling the wine. I suggest doing this with each wine over and over again until eventually you can correctly identify the odor even when your eyes are closed and you’ve mixed all the glasses up.

Do this with different ingredients. Go crazy! Use your whole spice box, and everything in your refrigerator and garden until you think you can identify as many smells as possible.

By the way. Don’t drink these wines! Only smell them. They are not for consumption. I would hate the thought of reading a news article in the next few weeks where somebody tasted diesel at my suggestion.

When you think you are pretty good at this smells identification game go and buy a nice bottle of wine. Red or white. Take your time swirling the glass and smelling it over and over until you can identify all of the smells.

Now reward yourself with a sip of the wine. Does it taste like it smells? If not, what are the new tastes? I have personally found that I enjoy smelling wine as much, if not more than actually tasting it.

Once you have reached this point I welcome you to your wine awakening my friends.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Washington Hills Summit Reserve Chardonnay Tasting

Hey there folks! This week's advertisement for Grocery Outlet features Washington Hills Summit Reserve Chardonnay at $3.99 per bottle.

You've probably seen past posts by me about Washington Hills winery. It is part of the monsterous Precept winemaking business, with literally hundreds of labels under their belt. Some unknown labels, as well as labels and brands from some of the region’s most fantastic winemakers.

Washington Hills is made almost exclusively out of Columbia Valley AVA fruit. I can totally appreciate this because it comes from our own local vineyards. Hal Landvoigt, winemaker for the Washington Hills brand has been making wine for 20 years, with 15 of those years focusing on wines here in Washington.

The 2007 Summit Reserve Chardonnay that is featured at Grocery Outlet is not one that I’d had before. While working in the distribution I had tasted and sold a substantial amount of the regular labeled Chardonnay, so I was excited to see what the Summit Reserve Offered.

The wine has a nose of pears and crisp apple that envelopes the glass as you pour it. The flavors open up with apple flavors and then turn to butterscotch and a hint of pineapple juice on the finish. Well balanced, this wine finishes clean on the palate.

I would highly recommend this paired with the store’s Cryo-Frozen Tuna steaks from the freezer section. Grill them and serve them up with Wassabi Mayo and shredded fresh ginger on a toasted bun. Dang that was tasty!


Flavors Of Monterey Bay Offered By Pietra Santa

Last week was my birthday. Don’t worry if you missed it. I try to miss it every year but it catches up to me no matter where I run.

Anyway, on my birthday I get a package from Fed Ex. I’m thinking somebody in my family was sending money toilet paper, or some other gag gift. Instead, I notice that my friends at Calhoun & Company Wine Communications had sent me a couple of bottles of vino to drink.

When I opened the package the first thing to pop out is a bunch of paint brushes. This got me to thinking I’d been gypped. This was some kind of gag gift after all!

Under the brushes, which were pretty high quality oil painting brushes by the way, I found two bottles and a press kit from Pietra Santa winery in Hollister, California. The note attached to the brushes was a quote from Chagall: “Great art picks up where nature ends”.

It seems that Pietra Santa holds quite a tradition in Monterey Bay in California. The first grapes were planted on the estate back in 1850. Zinfandel vines from 1905 are still actively grown and harvested on the site. The Blackburn family, who now owns the estate has taken the winery back to the fundamentals of tradition and quality winemaking.

Located in Cienega Valley, just 25 miles from Monterey Bay, the estate sits near enough to the coast to get the cool maritime air from in the evenings and just enough heat during the day to ripen the grapes to full maturity. The name Pietra Santa actually means “Sacred Stone”. This name is given for the limestone and granite soil that the grapes grow in on the estate.

First I opened the 2009 Estate Pinot Grigio. Grown on the steep terraced hillsides, the grapes are set to receive sun in the morning and shade in the afternoons. This produces a really long “hang time” on the vines each season, and fruit that is much more able to produce full flavors.

A beautiful golden straw color in the bottle, the wine aromas filled the air as I poured the Pinot Grigio into my waiting glass. Fully stainless steel fermented, the wine is crisp and fresh on the nose with hints of lemon zest. The flavors are citrus, with lemon and grapefruit filling the mouth, followed by minerality, and a gentle acidity that cleanses the palate. I see this wine being a fantastic pairing with oysters or with steamed mussels.

The second bottle was the winery’s 2009 Estate Pinot Noir. Grown in the benchlands on the estate, the grapes are grown at approximately 1100 feet above sea level. I have personally experienced the effect of this climate on Pinot Noir, and find the maritime air to be intoxicating. If it is nearly as good on the grapes as it is on my well being. Let’s just say that this is the “Kobe” treatment for any Pinot Noir grape.

The Pinot Noir lays in the glass with a beautiful Ruby color. A nose of fresh earthiness that I love, is layered by odors of lavender, anise, and wild strawberries. On the tongue, the flavors are rich with strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and licorice. This is a highly complex wine that I enjoyed with parchment roasted salmon and red potatoes.

With a shelf price at just under $20 I would expect to see these wines in our region in the next few months. If they don’t make it here to the east side, definitely look for them when you travel to the west side of Oregon or Washington.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Your Opinion Needed!! I've been writing this little diddy for a few years now. My newspaper article, and the subsequent blog has become bigger and more successful than I ever dreamed. I have to say that I'm quite honored that people read my stuff.

The question that I have comes from a few discussions that I've had in the past few days regarding editorial integrity. I'm all about integrity. That is key to everything that I do.

When it comes to editorial integrity I have always taken the stance that if I don't have something nice to say about a wine, winery, or point of distribution I just won't say anything at all. You've even seen me rant a few times in the past years, and I didn't mention who I was pissed at.

On the other hand, some people feel that it would be refreshing for me to give my negative opinions as well. I'm not sure how I feel about that. The consequences could be quite negative. When you are negatively speaking about a winemaker's wine, you are basically doing the same as calling their children ugly.

The question that I have to ask is this: Do you, my readers want to hear about the ugly children in the industry as well, or will you continue to accept my don't ask don't tell policy?

You can reply to this by email, by responses to this article, through twitter, or on my facebook. I really do want to hear from you so I'm thanking you in advance for your responses!


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New Wines at Grocery Outlet Kennewick

Dane at my local Grocery Outlet store caught me as I was loading up on Creme Fraiche and strawberries and fruit last week. He had a brand new palate of wine to show me. We loaded a few bottles into my cart and here's what I tasted:

Rayes Hill 2004 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – Bright cherry flavors and faint chantrelle mushrooms on the nose. Cherry and rainforest flavors with silky finish. Perfect with grilled salmon.

Bixler Vineyards 2007 Union Island White – Banana and pear on the nose. Creamy textures with tropical flavors of banana and pineapple. Bright acidity on finish. Great with cream sauces.

Sassman Sassie 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – Leather and aged dark fruit on the nose with flavors of dark fruit, earth, and chewy oak and soft tannins. Great with grilled meats.