Saturday, June 26, 2010

How To Drink Wine Like A Pro

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a lot of people that like to drink wine, but most of them just don’t know how to do it. Sure, anyone can screw the cap off of the bottle of Arbor Mist Blackberry Merlot and slug it down in the store parking lot. I’m not talking about that. What I’m talking about is really learning how to drink and enjoy wine.

To begin, a wine needs to be smelled. Yes. Smelled. I was told the other day that the reason dogs are so good at smelling is because their noses are so close to the ground. At first this made me snortle a little. Of course their noses are close to the ground. But, after thinking about it a few moments I thought “how profound”. Ask any teenage boy who wants to wear a shirt for the second day. If you put your nose close to anything and breathe deep you can smell everything.

For years I’ve been preaching to people that they need to smell their wines. There is so much in the enjoyment of wine that comes from putting the glass right up to your nose and giving it a deep sniff, just like fido would do.

To intensify the esters coming off of the wine, and helping it lift the odors a bit you need to swirl the wine in the glass. This requires you to not pour a full glass. Instead, pour just 1-3 ounces in the bottom of a large wine glass. Swirl it using the base or the stem. With some practice you’ll be able to keep that white silk blouse from becoming burgundy colored.

Once you’ve adequately swirled your wine, and adequately equals intensely, go ahead and put the glass to your nose again and breathe deep. Do you notice any nuances or changes? Do you detect any odors of fruits or spices? Are there any odors such as sulfurs or dirty odors that make the wine not so pleasant? All of these things are more easily found when you’ve learned how to smell your wine like a dog.

After you smell and swirl your wines multiple times it is now time to take that first sip. I always take a small sip and let it pass over the tongue from front to back and side to side. Let it slip down the back of your throat, swallow, and take a deep breath to get all of the flavors.

Does the smell of the wine match the flavors? If not, why not? A perfect example of a wine that has a completely different “nose” from the flavors is Bergevin Lane’s Oui Deux Syrah. The nose is intensely floral from the blended Viognier, but the flavors are full bodied Syrah with dark berries, vegetable garden, and a complete spice box.

Next, I suggest doing the same swirl and sniff technique, followed by another small sip, and then suck air in between your teeth with the wine still in your mouth. Doing this will blend the wine in your mouth and break up the dullness of any tannins or acids that are present. This method allows you to get the full body of the wine in a single mouth-full.

If you are in a winery tasting room and you do these techniques the staff will assume that you are some amazing wine critic and they will ask you to come back to their VIP area for private tours, dinner with the owners, and free cases of your favorite beverage. Just kidding! However, you will amaze your family and friends with your wine tasting skills.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Winemaker’s Dinners Leave You Feeling Like Royalty

I think I’m finally figuring out how the other half lives, and I think I like it. To say the least I would admit that I feel a little spoiled. To say the most, I feel like a fat king on his Eastern Washington throne.

Last Sunday was the dinner at Wildhorse Resort with Long Shadows and Forgeron wineries. I wrote about this dinner a few weeks ago in this column, and was pleased to see several of you there. Chef Brian and team did an amazing job pairing local foods with the skilled enology and presentations of Gilles Niccault and Marie Eve Gilla. If you are not a member of the Plateau Wine club then I suggest you need to call Jeff at the Plateau and get signed up.

This most recent Sunday was spent with my friends at the Tuscany Grill in Prosser. Jessie and Susanne Ayala opened Tuscany in January and have turned their little 6th street Italian diner into a spectacular eatery.

Jessie, a 5 star executive chef, who has developed restaurants throughout the region over the years, and his beautiful wife Susanne decided last winter that it was time to open a place to call their own. With a lot of hard work and great family support they are doing it fantastically well. One of the things that they are really excelling at is doing winemaker’s dinners.

On Sunday, Jessie and Susanne joined forces with Apex Cellars and Master Sommelier Angelo Tavernaro. The Ayalas provided the amazing food, Denise from Apex provided the wine, and Angelo offered pairings and advice to the fun-loving crowd.

To begin, a well adorned cheese tray was paired with Sparkling Syrah and Brut from Apex. I love a good sparkling Syrah, and this one truly hit the spot. A slight amount of residual sugar brings out the fruit in the wine to balance with the yeast in the bubbles, finishing smooth and dark.

Jessie then offered a delicious smoked salmon canapé with olive tapanade. Ayala’s tapanade still has my mouth watering. The beautiful, slightly fatty salmon dish was paired perfectly with an 2008 Apex Pinot Gris to cleanse the palate. This semi-dry wine offers up flavors of apple, pear, and melon throughout.

The second course was a Gnocchi Puttanesca. Jessie and his assistant chef made beautiful Gnocchi by hand in the kitchen, and coated them liberally with Ayala’s spicy Puttanesca sauce. Tavernaro paired this dish with the 2008 Apex Chardonnay. The Chardonnay uses 30% stainless and 70% mixed oak fermentation program. This leaves the wine citrusy on the mid-palate and butterscotch flavored on the finish.

After a short break with a homemade Limoncello Gelato, Ayala brought out an amazing Pork Osso Bucco. This was paired with the 2006 Apex Merlot, which offers up dark cherry and cocoa flavors.

The dinner was finished in most galiant fashion with a moist chocolate cake topped with genache and a homemade raspberry chipoltle gelato. Denise, the General Manager of Apex offered a very special 1992 Apex Tawny Port for the occasion. This port is truly a must buy while it lasts at $35/bottle from the tasting room.

Isn’t it time that you got to feel like royalty? Well, here’s your chance. The next winemaker’s dinner at Tuscany is next Sunday with Davenlore winery. Call Susanne to get your hands on these very limited tickets. Her number is (509) 786-7600.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lemberger Wine Gets Showcased in the Horseheavens

The other day I was talking with someone, when they mentioned that they had found Lemberger wine for the first time. They were surprised that it was so good, and nothing like the name sounded. I guess they had expected something to come out of the bottle and rot on the end of their noses or something. Lemberger wine is NOT stinky cheese wine. Quite to the contrary, Lemberger is a fabulously mellow and yet complex red that is easy to drink.

Blaufränkisch, which means “blue Fränkish” in German, is a dark blue grape that is rich in tannins. Grown throughout the Slavic regions of Europe, the grape is known in Germany and Austria as Lemberger. The grape is known throughout Europe as the Pinot Noir of the east because of its rich velvety tannins mixed with deep dark fruit flavors, and a touch of earthiness.

One thing that is oddly known about this grape is that outside of Eastern Europe there are few regions that this variety is grown. One of the only serious yields of this variety outside of Europe is in the Yakima region of Washington State. There are also a few vineyards in the Olympic Peninsula who are growing this grape because it handles lower temperatures so well.

Of the Lembergers that I’ve had in this region, none is more memorable to me than the one produced by Kiona winery in Benton City. The Williams family has been producing this varietal since 1980, when they were the first and only vineyard in the United States to grow it.

Priced at around $10 per bottle, Kiona has produced some amazing award winning Lembergers over the years out of their estate vineyards. The current vintage is extremely smooth and drinkable, with flavors of fleshy, dark, fresh fruit and a spiciness that lingers. I especially like the velvety tannins in the finish.

If you are interested in exploring more about the world of Lemberger, I highly suggest that you attend Chateau Champoux’s 8th annual Lemberger Lamburger barbeque. This event is a fantastic time, with a showcasing of the variety along with food, music, and artists.

This year’s barbecue will be held June 19th, and the Chateau located in the horse heaven hills on the other side of the river from Boardman. The featured wineries will be Camas Prairie Winery, Olympic Cellars, Yellow Hawk, and Fairwinds Winery. Entertainment by my friends at the Tri-Cities Big Band, and lamb burgers (and chicken) will be served by Tip Pit barbecue.

If you’re interested in exploring the world of Lemberger, I would highly suggest you attend this fun event. The cost is $55 per person, or $90 for a couple. Get your tickets right away by calling (509) 894-5005. There is more information also available on the Chateau Champoux website at . You can even make an entire weekend out of it by getting a camping site at Crow Butte State Park near Patterson, which is just a few miles away from the event. The website to reserve a space there is


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Airfield Winery A Great Place To Land

Sometimes I hear so many reports about a winery that I just have to drop in and see what is going on for myself. Such was the case for my visit last week to Airfield Winery in Prosser.

I’ve had several people in the past few weeks and months tell me that they had been out to Airfield, and what a great visit they’d had. Even one of my friends, who is no wine slouch by any means, had shared with me that his recent trip to the winery was “quite memorable” in a good way.

I was up in Prosser meeting with my friends Jessie and Susanne Ayala, the owners of Tuscany Grill. Susanne shared with me that they have a huge Airfield following at their restaurant. (As a side note, there is going be a fantastic wine event there on Sunday the 13th of June with Apex Winery and Master Sommelier Angelo Tavernero. At $55 a ticket it will be awesome! You can contact Susanne for tickets at 509-786-7600.)

With all of these great reports, and a little time to burn, I decided I needed to make a stop at the Airfield and taste. The winery sits parallel to the freeway along side Olsen Estates, Thurston Wolfe, and Milbrant Wineries.

Walking into the spacious, hanger-like facility was actually kind of spunky and refreshing. The place is decked out in flyer paraphernalia, and looks kind of like a fancy, leather seated version of my brother’s airplane hanger in southern Idaho.

I was met by a bar full of 20 somethings who were an extended wedding party, and the very pleasant staff. They offered to pour the entire list of probably 15 wines for me, and I thought “why not?”.

Starting off with the whites we went right into the 2009 Flygirl White, a spicy, floral, and peachy blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer. Followed by the un-oaked 2009 Chardonnay, which was creamy and rich from malolactic fermentation. These wines would go nicely with my chicken spring rolls or a nice yakisoba.

The 2008 Pinot Gris was on special for $99 a case, which I snatched up. Spicy and dry, with mangos, peaches, and honeydew dancing across the tongue. Yum!

I taxied into the 2009 Ruby Rose’. I’m a Rose’ fan, and cannot ever turn down a good one. This is an actual “foot-stomped” wine, created at the crush festival last fall. Made from Syrah and Grenache, this wine is full of rhubarb and strawberries. I couldn’t help but pick up a few bottles of this as well.

My attention headed directly down the runway of reds with the 2007 Aviator, a blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. This dark, rich blend opens with vanilla and spices, and finishes with velvety fruit and baking spices.

The 2008 Mustang blend is all Rhone with Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Counoise, and Morvedre. This super tight blend eventually opens up deep and rich, with so many layers that it’s hard to explain. Just be ready to decant this one.

Last, I thoroughly enjoyed landing with the 2008 Zinfandel. Jammy plum flavors, cocoa, and allspice. This wine is ready for a great steak in my back yard.

I hope you can fly to Airfield Estates Winery in Prosser sometime soon.

I’ll see you at the Plateau at Wildhorse for the big winemaker’s dinner on Sunday the 6th!