Saturday, December 31, 2011

Know Your Bubbly Better Than Bubba

For us hard-core winos there are many occasions to enjoy a good bottle of bubbly. However, if you talk to any wine marketing expert, they’ll all tell you how bubbly wine is really only sold two times each year; New Years and Valentines. The crappy part about that bit of news is that people judge their whole “Champagne” drinking experience around two $6 bottles of Cooks Brut each year. I’m not saying that Cooks isn’t bad, but judging a whole type of wine by that kind of statistic is bad. So, knowing that I have a short time to tell you all I know about bubbles, I’m going to unload the best method of getting you what you want this year. That way, when you pop the cork at midnight and that cute chick you’ve been kissing under the misseltoe all night takes her first taste of 2012, she’ll know you know your bubbly better than any other bubba in the room. One thing you’ve got to know for sure is that most sparkling wines are NOT sweet. In fact most on the shelf are dry. (Sorry, us winos like it that way.) A little hint though. There are a few sweet sparkling wines. One that I love, and is relatively cheap, is Ballatore Rosso. It is pink colored, and goes great over a glass of fresh raspberries. If you really want to impress, I suggest looking for a nice Lambrusco, which comes in red or white. I remember the jingle from my childhood that “everything’s nice with Riunite on ice”. Riunite still exists on the shelf today, but this year I’m pouring a Dell’emilia Bianco LeGrotte white Lambrusco. It is lightly bubbly, with soft sweetness and a nice acidity to cleanse the palate. Great with the heavy, creamy and cheesy dishes of New Year’s Eve. Another slightly, off sweet option for bubbly is Prosecco. Originally this Italian wine was produced very sweet, but has grown drier over the years as it takes on the Champagne market of France. It is the main ingredient in a Bellini cocktail. This year I am enjoying a very nice bottle of Rustico from Nino Franco. This wine has wonderful bubbles as it enters the glass, which settle down quickly. It is done in the Frizzante style which is lightly sweet, but dries out quickly. Another great food wine. Now, as we’ve done in yeas past, let’s talk Champagne. Most people think they want this just for the name. but, when they actually taste it are unimpressed and switch quickly to mixed drinks or beer. This is my big warning. If you plan to drink “Champagne” that is sweet, good luck. Champagne, and the style Champenoise, are what is used in making most of the sparkling wines on store shelves. A local favorite is Domaine Ste. Michelle, where Rick Cascierro makes some fantastic wines of that style. The names Brut and Extra Dry are what you’ll usually find. These wines are dry. Usually made of either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes, Champagne is delicious for serious wine drinkers, with bouquets of floral and fruit layered with minerality and acidity, and touched off by a slight hint of bread dough from the yeast in the bottle. My favorites are Veuve Cliquot, St. Michelle Blanc de Noir, and Moet Chandon White Star. Happy New Year, and HEY... Don’t drink and drive this holiday. It’s not worth it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Zefina Wines A Great Example of Horse Heaven Fruit

Located out in the far reaches of the Horse Heaven Hills is a vineyard named Alder Ridge. It is a beautiful place, although remote, where wine grapes are able to become all that they need to be in order to make great wines. Next door to the most highly acclaimed Champoux vineyards, where some of the Northwest’s most prestigious grapes are grown, Alder Ridge may not have the same geneology, but it isn’t bad either.

Enter a young, highly trained winemaker, whom I’ve written about before concerning his own private label “Thirsty Pagans”. Rob Chowaneitz lives and breathes everything that is Alder Ridge. Under the financial and management support of a great company called Corus, Rob makes wine for the Zefina winery.

As part of the Corus family of wines, Zefina is not open to the public. The only way you can find the wines is by buying them through distributors or grocery retailers. I hadn’t seen the wines before, but found them on a local at my neighborhood Grocery Outlet shelf and decided to give them a try.

I took the time to taste some of the Zefina wines this week, and found them to be very satisfying, and also very affordable. Here are four of the wines I tasted:

The Serience White is chowaneitz’s white blend of 50% Rousanne and Viognier. I will admit that I was a little afraid of this one, because the vintage was a few years old. However, I found the wine to be quite free of oxidation. Bright and straw-like in the glass, the wine offers nice notes of orange blossoms, mineral, and lemon rind. On the palate, I tasted fresh gooseberry and lemon. The acids cleansed the palate nicely.

The 2007 Viognier also offers bright straw colors in the glass. Bright fresh tropical fruit on the nose, with hints of baking spices. The flavors are more of the same. The tropical notes take off and add in a nice cinnamon on the center of the tongue, with added bonus of a little bananas foster on the finish. I would serve this with a nice creamy fish dish. If I had some camerones la crema while tasting this wine I would have loved the pairing!

Next, I tried the Serience Red Blend. Once again this was a 2007 vintage. I think that this was possibly my favorite wine of the night. This blend of 44% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 11% Cinsault, 3% Mourvedre, and 2% Counoise is very rich and smooth indeed. Dark red, leading to purple in the glass it definitely looks like a wine with full-bodied potential. The nose is rich with blackberry, dark cherry, and even a little blueberry with vanilla mixed in for measure. The flavors are rich and very smooth. I loved the careful balance of fruit, alcohol, and tannin. This is definitely a wine to be enjoyed by itself as well as food.

Last, I tasted the 2007 Zinfandel. One of the things I love about Horse Heaven region Zinfandel is that it tends to be rich in flavor, without being too cloying on the finish. This one definitely shows some natural sweetness at the end, but really that is just an afterthought. The wine is deep red in the glass, with the spicy richness of bing cherries and light oak. I enjoyed this wine very much with a Putenesca sauce and pasta.

At $5.99 per bottle each, all of these wines were well worth their price and a whole lot more.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Twas The Night Before Christmas In Wine Country

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the American Viticultural Region not a creature was stirring. Not even a well trained cellar rat. The bottles were all hung in the cellars with care with hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there to taste some of the wares.

The adult children were all nestled in their beds, having consumed their fair share of Champoux vineyards Cabernet and dreaming of bottles of sugary ice wines that dance in their heads. And momma in her “wine slut” sleep shirt and I in my “old wino” baseball cap had snuggled down for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the vineyard there arose such a clatter. I arose from my bed to see what was the matter. Away to the tasting room I flew like a flash. Drank up all the sample bottles and...well...let’s not talk about throwing anything up.

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow gave the luster of midday to the entire barrel room. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a tiny forklift being pulled by eight tiny little raindeer.

With a little old warehouseman so lively and quick, I knew that this guy must be St. Nick. More rapid than eagles his coursers they came. And he laughed and he shouted and called them by name.

Now Dunham, now Dumas Station, now Portteus and Vinehart. On Claar Cellars, on Columbia Crest, on Daven Lore on Barnard Griffin! To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!

As dry as leaves was the wine that we tasted that night. Like a hurricane wine weekend draws the crowds high. Up to the rooftop the coursers they flew, with a sleigh full of bottles, and St. Nicholas too!

Then I heard in a twinkling up on the barrel room roof, the prancing and pawing of each little hoof. As I drew in my head and was turning around, down the tasting room chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound!

He was dressed all in rubber from his head to his foot. In order to wash barrels all filled with sediment and wine gook. A big bag of corks he had thrown over his back, and looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes were all red, his dimples how merry! His cheeks were all rosy, his nose like a cherry. His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow as he swished and he swirled and sniffed his wine’s glow. The end of a cracker he held tight in his teeth as he crunched and munched to end the tannin grief. He had a long nose, and a round little belly, and it shook as he laughed like a bunch of fig jelly.

He was chubby and plump, like a jolly wine elf. And, I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself. A wink of his eye and a quick turn of his head let me know that I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word but went straight to his tastings, and bought lots of Meritage in wooden 6 pack casings. And laying a finger aside of his nose, and giving a 90 plus rating, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his forklift, and to his team he gave a whistle, and away they all flew like the down of a thistle. And I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight, Get a Designated Driver and have a good night!

Merry Christmas from the Onerichwineguy!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Justin Winery and Matchbook Wines Delightful

Recently I had the opportunity to taste wine from a couple of great California wineries that I have been fairly familiar with over the past few years.

Justin Winery from Paso Robles, and Matchbook wines from Zamora have both been on my radar screen for some time. I wrote up Matchbook in a past article a little over a year ago, and I have had Justin Wines a time or two when traveling in California on business. I was excited to get the opportunity to try these vintages and let you know a little more about them.

Located in the Central Coast area of California, Justin Vineyards and Winery was founded in 1981 by Justin Baldwin, with 160 acres of Bordeaux grape vineyards. The area that Justin chose for his winery holds huge winemaking tradition. Grapes were first grown there in 1779 by Fransican Friars. Paso Robles is now the largest group of vineyards, measuring 600,000 acres of planted land, in the largest AVA in California. Their specialty in that region is world-class Cabernet Sauvignon.

Justin’s winemaker is Fred Holloway. His resume reads somewhat as a who’s who in California Wines, with time spend at many influential wineries over the last 28 years. His experience has brought him many 90 plus scores from Robert Parker and Wine Spectator over the years.

The wine that I got to try was the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Label. As with most artist series wines, the label each year celebrates each new vintage with a new artist’s work. The art on the label for this 2009 vintage features rolling farm land and houses by artist Michele Bleech.

This Cabernet Sauvignon is rich with dark fruit and vanilla on the nose. It features a deep, ruby-red color that shows the time that the wine was left on the skins. The flavors are rich with blackberry, vanilla, and cassis. A great wine to be enjoyed with a nice fillet, or like I enjoyed it, all by itself while sitting next to the fire in my studio.

The second bottle that I enjoyed was from the Matchbook winery label. The Giguiere family from Zamora, California has been producing wines since 1983 under a label that they took to the moon. The R.H. Phillips brand was their baby, producing great wines such as Toasted Head and EXP. They sold to Vincor in 2000, and John Giguiere worked as CEO of Vincor until 2005. The family started Matchbook, Mossback, Chasing Venus, and Sawbuck, which I’ve written about in other articles.

I was excited to try Matchbook’s “King”, in their 2007 Tinto Rey. This red table wine is the Giguiere’s favorite wine and I’ve been looking forward to trying it for some time.

A mix of 44% Temperanillo, 36% Syrah, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Graciano and 2% Petite Syrah make this wine a huge combination of Spanish and Bordeaux varietals. The Spanish varietals give off huge flavors of spicy red berries, with black cherry and blueberry coming from the Syrah, Cedar and rummy tobacco runs from the flavors of the Cabernet Sauvignon, with tannic structure and pepper coming from the Petite Syrah.

This wine is beautifully complicated, with aromas and flavors from beginning to the very end of the finish. Enjoy with any kind of red meat. I followed the suggestion from the winery and made lamb pops with rosemary and garlic. It was ooooh so good!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wine Lover’s Annual Holiday Gift Giving Guide

Each year I look around area wine shops, gift shops, and tasting rooms to find gifts for the wine lover on your list. As I shop, it is always evident that there are a bunch of stocking stuffer type gifts, and then a huge leap to gifts for those you REALLY love. I’m going to try and give you a little of each.

I called Donna Bellinger at Bellinger Farms in South Hermiston. Donna is offering some great wine gift baskets again this year. Staff will build the basket for you, or you can do like I’ve done many times over the past few years and pick out your wines, foods, and other little gifts you want in the basket and have them wrap and decorate it for you. They do a fantastic job and the prices can run from very mild to wild depending on what you want.

Carol and Ken are once again ready this year to help you do Christmas right. Their selection of wines always grows to its fullest this time of year. And, for your non wine drinking friends this year the beer selection is just as big. Gift packs are a great thing at Great Pacific. I recommend having them pull some fun wines from around the world for you and pack them up.

Great Pacific and Bellingers both offer several openers, tools, and aerators that all make great low-priced gifts and stocking stuffers. My feeling is that you can never have too many openers. I personally like waiter type corkscrews, but there is every type under the sun, from electric to gas propelled.

For a little more money here’s an idea. Something that I just found out about this week is from my friend Frank at First Priority in Kennewick. He has full service limousine wine tours available for $350 each. My wife and I have gone on these with friends many times and had an absolute blast. At this price it is definitely a steal of a deal. This price includes a 5 hour service from Tri-Cities to anywhere in Eastern Washington. Call Frank at 509-531-3589.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, something that can not be overrated is good education. Education comes in many forms here are some things that I’ve enjoyed and I know others will as well. First, the Wine 101 course at Graybeal Distributing this year was a blast! You might reach out to them and see what is on for this winter/spring season.

The next educational gift that I suggest is reading material. There are many good magazines out there. Wine Press Northwest covers the region very well and is printed locally. Sip Magazine Northwest out of Seattle is a glossy, beautiful magazine that also covers wine here in the region.

For a more global perspective you might give your wine lover a subscription to Wine Spectator, Wine and Food, or Wine Enthusiast. One thing I will warn you about though is the International and national magazines cost a lot more than the regionally focused ones, and you won’t find much information on wines you can actually buy here in our part of the world.

What ever you buy your friend, lover, or coworker this year all I know is that you can’t go wrong with wine.


Monday, November 28, 2011

̛Zantho Wines From Austria A Refreshing Holiday Hit

This year as I was preparing to serve up my smoked turkey, cranberry chutney, and cornbread stuffing I reached for my some of my usual wines. I opened a bottle of Cathedral Ridge Neutral Oaked Chardonnay, and a bottle of Shea Pinot Noir. Pretty much my normal fare for this holiday meal.

However, along with that I also found and opened a couple of bottles that my friends at Calhoun and Company, a winery public relations firm, had recently sent me. The label, which features a small lizard and goes by the name Zantho looked interesting enough. and the varietal names of Grüner Veltliner, and Blaufränkisch definitely caught my attention.

Zantho is made in a cooperation between a couple of Austrian greats in the winemaking business, Josef Umathum and Wolfgang Peck. Peck makes the wines at his facility Winzerkeller Andau, and the grapes are provided by Umathum.

Andau, where the wine is made is near the Hungarian border, about 50 minutes drive from the city of Vienna. The town’s first documented history dates back to 1488 in a government map, and then again many years later it was changed from the Hungarian version “Zantho” to the German name “Andau”.

Of course my question was why an iconic lizzard on the bottle of an Austrian wine. My thoughts kept racing back to the idea that lizard labeled wines were from Australia or New Zealand. Well, with some research on the winery’s website I found out that the vineyards team with these little woodland lizards. They apparently love the warm rocky soils of the vineyards and go there to lounge about.

On to the wines. As I mentioned, the Grüner Veltliner, and the Blaufränkisch varietal names were new to me. I didn’t know what to expect exactly. My research continued.

Grüner Veltliner is a white varietal that grows well in dry rocky soils. It has many characteristics of Chardonnay, with a little more acidity in the balance. The fermentation and the aging on this wine were in stainless steel. This makes it an ideal wine for pairing with heavy sauces, soft cheeses, fish, and poultry. This particular bottle was very bright and mineral on the nose, with crisp pear notes and a light citrus flavor. Because of the acidity on the balance it finished very clean.

The Blaufränkisch grapes also flourish on dry, gritty, and mineral laden soils. Much like a Pinot Noir grape, the juice tends to be softer and more supple than say a Merlot, or Cabernet. Peck once again negates any use of oak on this wine, allowing the fruit to speak for itself. The juice is a bright purple with a dark rim. Blackberries and floral accents of violet on the nose. Berries, earthy cedar notes, coffee, and nice acidity on the finish.

One of the really interesting things about this winery and their wines is the cutting edge approaches that they’ve taken for such an old-world region. First, you can actually trace the steps of your bottle back to the subplot that the vineyard came from because of their tracking standards.

Another thing that I found interesting is that the winery uses the new “Vino-lock” glass corks that you see here in the U.S. only occasionally. The bottle has a very clean presentation, and you know that a wine that is stopped with these enclosures will not decay in transit or storage for a long time. Both of these wines are available in larger U.S. markets for under $15 each, which makes them a steal of a deal! Go to their site at


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Smasne Takes Double Gold At Regional Wine Fest

obert Smasne, the iconic winemaker who hand-crafts his wines right here in Eastern Washington recently won the “Best of show” award at the annual Tri Cities Wine Festival with his 2007 Block #3 Syrah.

Smasne, who was born and raised right here in Eastern Washington, and a Washington State University Alumni, has been taking the local wine business by storm these past few years. His past experience includes time spent working at Amavi and Pepperbridge under the famed Jean Francois Pellet, as well as his years working at Covey Run Winery in Prosser. Most recently, before venturing out on his own, Robert worked for the Boyle family as winemaker at Alexandria Nicole cellars.

Smasne currently controls several labels. His ROS company also produces Alma Terra, a project that I have written about in the past that celebrates the importance of Terrior. His Farm Boy label is a fun label that reaches out to the entry-level market.

The Smasne label is Robert’s flagship. The wines that he produces under this label are very carefully handcrafted with the expectation of being world class wines. It really isn’t any wonder that he won the top award considering his high energy and dedication to the craft of winemaking.

Smasne’s 2007 Block #3 Syrah is sourced from the Lawrence vineyard. Co-fermented with Viognier to increase the suppleness and elegance of the grapes, the wine is very elegant. It offers up Soft, dark, dark berries intermingle with the flavors and nose of fresh cut flowers. The wine shows soft, supple tannins that are balanced nicely with the fruit and acidity. There were only 116 cases of this wine made so I would suggest getting some soon.

Robert also took home other awards as well. His 2008 Petit Verdot took home gold, and he earned silvers with his 2007 Syrah, 2010 Aligote, 2010 Farm Girl Katlin Rayann White, 2008 Old Vine Cabernet, 2008 Country Line Red, 2008 Half Ass Red #2, and his 2008 Malbec.

I highly suggest you visit the Smasne Tasting room in the Southern most end of Kennewick. The tasting room and wine bar, located near Bob’s Burgers and Brew on Highway 395. Check out thier website at for hours of operation.

Along with Smasne, several other winemakers from the region took home awards. Other “Gold, Best of Class” winners were Pend d’ Oreille Winery with their 2008 Bistro Rouge, and Upland Winery with their 2008 Teunis. Golds went out to Brian Carter Cellars, C.R. Sandidge Wines, Chateau St. Michelle, Coyote Canyon Winery, Heaven’s Cave, Hoodsport Winery, Le Chateau, Market Vineyards, Martinez & Martinez, and Patrick M. Paul Vineyards. Congrats to all!

For a complete listing of the vintners and their awards, as well as information on next year’s festival go to


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Get Wine Educated

I don't know where the old saying “ignorance is bliss” came from. I do know that in some areas of life ignorance is probably better. A great example of that is in my college days when I worked in a doughnut shop. Once you figure out what goes into an apple fritter it pretty well fixes you for eating them ever again. I'm sure the same goes for working in a hot dog plant.

On the other hand, working around wine, and the education involved in making, selling, and enjoying wine has yet to produce a “yuck” result in my life. Actually, quite the opposite. Every time I learn a little more about the wine business I get that much more excited and can't wait to taste what I've learned.

It seems that everywhere you go in the wine industry education follows. However, the following are some of my favorite ways that I've ever learned about the enjoyment of wine:

First, one of the best ways that I can image to learn about wine is right where it is made. I have been very lucky these past few years to have several long-lasting relationships with highly talented winemakers who have been more than happy to share their craft with me. I'm sure they wouldn't have been so open with their information had I been a competitor, but as a customer and writer of wine they have been fantastic teachers.

Actually spending time with an experienced winemaker can change your entire experience of wine. I can tell you that my palate changes all came from time spent with winemakers.

The second way that I highly suggest getting wine education is to actually attend wine seminars. There is a fantastic one going on in the Tri-Cities this weekend. The annual Tri-Cities wine festival is November 4th and 5th this year, with a huge tasting event, seminars, and a gala event that happens on the 5th. You can find out more on getting to the event by going to

If you don’t want to leave Pendleton, but are still wanting to get in on wine seminars I suggest Graybeal Distributing’s Wine 101 classes. A class will be happening this Tuesday night, November 8th at their warehouse. I was honored to teach at this week’s class and was so happy to meet a handful of my readers. Hopefully they’re still my readers after having to listen to me talk for two hours.

This week’s class will be taught by the amazing Rich Marshall from Maryhill Winery. He is a fantastic speaker and entertainer in the wine business, and I know those who attend will have a great time learning about wines in general, as well as the world of Maryhill wines. Contact Deborah at 541-276-2264 if you are interested in attending a Wine 101 seminar.

My last suggestion for learning about wines is to read. You can spend a small fortune on a Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast magazine subscription, or you can go out into the bloggosphere and be pummeled with millions of wine articles that are available every day. You can read my stuff at, or for more educated reading I suggest going to Paul Gregutt writes a fantastic blog, as well as many other fantastic writers and sommeliers such as Natalie McLean.

No matter how you get your education, I know that the more you learn the more you’ll love wine.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Washington State Initiative 1183 Will Impact Wine In Oregon

I’m not one to get into political debates. I don’t even like talking to people about my voting preferences. However, there is a bill coming up for election in Washington that may greatly affect your wine buying and I think you should simply be aware of its impacts.

This bill is a hotly debated bill in the state of Washington. Initially I thought this wouldn’t effect anyone living outside of our state, however the more I ponder this bill I think that the wine industry and our region will be very greatly affected.

The reason for the affect is that wine country is located very much on the borders of Oregon and Idaho. Many people who work in Washington wine live in Hermiston, Pendleton, and Milton Freewater.

Conversely, I also know that many people from those towns come to Costco in Washington to shop and take advantage of not paying sales tax in Washington while receiving the great prices on items that would simply cost more in those towns.

In the last election, and in the current upcoming state election Costco has mounted a full force effort at passing what is now Initiative 1183. As it stands now any store that is more than 10,000 square feet in size and wishes to participate will be allowed to sell hard liquor. It will abolish state liquor stores, and allow for individual companies to purchase the ability to operate a liquor store in the existing spaces.

The bill will also abolish the standing laws concerning wine distribution in the state, and allow retailers to purchase wines at any agreed price directly from the manufacturer. There will be no longer a need for wine distributors in the State of Washington.

“So”, you say, “How does this affect me?”

First, understand that all wine in this region is picked up from the manufacturer, delivered to a warehouse, and then distributed out to individual retailers and establishments by a bonded distributor who pays the taxes. If the bill passes these distributors will no longer be needed, especially in situations such as WalMart and other large chain stores.

Seems like a pretty good deal huh? Well, actually maybe not. The problem is that distributors make all their money on delivering their goods to the large entities. They actually lose money or barely break even on distributing to restaurants and smaller stores such as convenience stores.

When distributors are short cut by these large retailers they will no longer have any reason to carry those wines for the small people. The only answer is that wineries will have to start selling their wines door to door in order to keep smaller businesses selling their product. This will actually cost more, and hurt supply.

Second, it seems like a good deal that we’ll be able to buy booze and wine at really cheap prices from Costco. Doesn’t it? Ask the small retailer who has his kids in your classes, has you do her hair, or buys a burger every day at your drive-in. They are already hurt by Costco and WalMart’s burn and pillage methods. It’s no wonder that Costco has paid $11 million to win this campaign. They stand to earn a lot of money very quickly when they get this bill to go through.

Oh, and by the way, buying wine and booze in one state and transporting it across state lines back to Oregon is against the law in both states. I recommend buying local.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chateau Montelena Is A Favorite Ghost Winery

In the spirit of Halloween, the other day I received a bottle of wine from what I consider to be one of the country’s most famous Ghost wineries.

Chateau Montelena Winery, established in 1882 and located in the heart of Napa Valley was once again made famous by a fairly recent movie called Bottle Shock. If you haven’t seen the movie I’m hoping that you’ll go on Netflix and rent it while you still can.

While I won’t destroy the story line for those of you who haven’t watched the movie, it is about the story of how the Californians beat the French in the Judgement of Paris of 1976. Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay beat the top French Chardonnays at the tasting, leading Napa Valley to the top rankings for fine wines.

But, prior to that there is a long history at the Chateau, making it one of my favorite Ghost wineries of all time.

Chateau Montelena really began on a chilly morning in 1882 when Alfred L. Tubbs used a spade to turn over some rocky soil outside of Calistoga, a small town at the base of Mt. Saint Helena. Tubbs planted his vineyards and built a beautiful Chateau. By 1896 Chateau Montelena was the Seventh largest winery in the Napa Valley.

Things went well until the passage of Prohibition, at which time the wine industry in America was devastated. Many of the winemakers in America closed their doors forever. Some found ways to still grow grapes, sell the grape concentrate, and supply people who wanted to make their own wines in the privacy of their bathtub at home.

Once Prohibition was repealed the Tubbs family went back to making some wine and selling grapes for home winemakers. However, the Chateau never regained its strength or ability to make wines in the volume it had before Prohibition.

In 1958 the winery was sold in its depressed state to York and Jeannie Frank, who chose the site for their retirement. They excavated a lake on the site, and made a wildlife sanctuary.

It wasn’t until Jim Barrett bought the place, replanted the vineyards, and installed new winemaking equipment that the winery went back into production. In 1972 the first wines were produced in many years, and soon to become famous in the Judgement Of Paris just a few years later. Truly an amazing story of a winery completely dying and being brought back from the dead.

I received a bottle of the winery’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is picked in small sections allowing the grapes to be perfectly ripened. This creates a better fermentation process as well.

The wine was a deep red in color with hints of tobacco and cocoa on the nose, blending with red currant. The flavors were rich and dark, with black cherry and tobacco. A nice body to the tannins in the wine is balanced nicely with the rich acidity. I definitely noticed this wine open up as the night wore on.

Thanks to the Barrett family for making wines so good that the French remain envious. I highly recommend you reach the winery at


Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Year Vineyards Need Divine Intervention

One of the great and complicated things about wine is that it is two complete fields of business all wrapped into one product. On one hand you have the winemaking, which is so incredibly artisan in its approach. The winemaker and their assistants spend weeks, months, and years perfecting the fermentation, aging and blending.

On the other you have a very agriculturally based product that, like all agricultural products is subject to Mother Nature. Some years the climate cooperates and creates amazing wines. Other years become nightmares, destroying entire crop yields in a single day.

This year is one of those years that makes the vineyard operators consider going into saner professions such as deep sea scuba welding or racing airplanes in Nevada. I joke, but seriously this year has been a weather nightmare for vineyard owners.

As you remember, the Pacific Northwest had a very cool spring and early summer. Record levels of rainfall, combined with cool temperatures made for very small and heavy grape clusters. It wasn’t until August that heat units started to build in Eastern Washington and Oregon that the grapes desperately needed to mature. A few hundred degree days came finally in September before the fall rains hit again.

All of this rain and lack of warm weather has made grapes not ready for picking throughout the Northwest. In many areas the race is on to get the grapes up to the required “brix” or sugar level in order to harvest before the first freeze sets in.

It all seems so simple, but the science of grape growing for wine is actually kind of complicated. During a normal growing season the spring and winter moisture gets pulled from the ground and in healthy soil and climate just the right size of grape clusters grow from the vines. Not to big and not to small, with just the right number of berries per cluster.

Sometime in early summer the Northwest suddenly dries out. As the summer warms, the grapes grow and mature. By the time September hits the grapes build in sugar levels and are ready for picking.

Depending on the grape variety the “brix” level needs to be somewhere between 24 and 28 before fall freezes set in. This year the grapes just aren’t getting there.

So, what’s a grape grower to do? Turn to the heavens of course!

My friends at Gordon Brothers Winery just outside of Pasco, Washington each year host a small celebration and have the local Catholic Priest come out to the Vineyards for a blessing of the vines. The blessing, combined with a great taco lunch makes for a great afternoon. This year we walked the vineyards, talked, and laughed. If nothing else it eased the mood of those present.

The Gordons aren’t the only ones asking for a little help from above. This month I’ve talked with many vineyard owners about the need for divine intervention. One vineyard owner walks his vineyard, reads his bible and prays each morning. Another sheepishly admits that he’s said a few prayers this season. Some just laugh and say it’s all up to Mother Nature.

Regardless of the outcome, this year’s crop of grapes has definitely got a lot of people in a scare. Hopefully somebody up there is listening and we’ll end the year with some good juice in the barrels. If you are into wine and don’t mind having a conversation with God, would you mind asking him for a few more sunny days?


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Vino Casa Silva Offers Exceptional Chilean Wines

In 1892 French wine pioneer Emile Bouchon planted a bunch of vine starts in the colluvial soils of Chile in the Colchagua Valley area. Luckily the vines that were planted were removed from Europe before the Phylloxera issues that hit Bordeaux just a few years later. This allowed the vines to grow strong throughout the last century, aided by cool Pacific breezes at night and warm, dry conditions during the days.

Fast forward now to five generations later. The Silva family has been producing wines from those vines, many of which were planted over 90 years ago, and have been providing bulk juice for Chile’s inexpensive but high quality wines.

In 1997 the Silvas decided to break away from allowing all of their grapes to go to the bulk wine business and started pulling their finest grapes for their own wine production. This is where the Casa Silva brand was born.

Under the careful eye of Mario Silva, winemaker Mario Geisse produces some of the greatest large production wines in Chile. Geisse’s specialty is Carmenere. So much so, that he is considered in Chile as the “King of Carmenere”. This is quite the feat considering how much of that acidic yet herbaceous wine is produced in that country.

Carmenere is a complicated wine to produce, in which the wine is pretty much determined at the time of harvest. There are some things you can do in the barrel room, however it is pretty well known that if you don’t pick the grapes at just the right time they will either become too fruity or too herbaceous in flavor depending on the sugar levels.

I received a bottle of Los Lingues Gran Reserva Carmenere from the winery’s 2008 vintage year this week. The juice runs exceptionally dark purple out of the bottle. Hints of dark stone fruit mixed with mint, lavender, mocha, and cloves fill the nose. On the palate this wine shows itself as being soft and juicy, with a light butterscotch and very balanced finish.

At $22 per bottle as the recommended price, I see this bottle as being one to definitely share with friends either with lamb or any kind of barbecued meats and veggies as a spicier alternative to Pinot Noir.

Also, with the bottle of Carmenere, I had been holding onto a bottle of Casa Silva’s Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. This varietal is something that I’ve been more familiar with for availability in this region. I thought it would be fun to open this bottle at the same time.

This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is hand picked and cooled immediately upon arrival to the winery. The grapes are then macerated prior to fermentation which produces a very fruit driven wine with good tannic structure. Dark ruby in appearance, the wine is rich with dark fruits and cherry. Flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and a slight hint of fresh tobacco on the palate. The wine finishes long and gentle with a very nice astringency level.

The Cabernet is offered at retail at about $12 per bottle, which is almost half the price of the Carmenere. The reason is that the Cabernet is meant to be more of a production wine, and the Carmenere is more of a stand alone specialty wine. Both are very much worth their price though.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Infamous Red Mountain Winemaker Passes Away

Truly, one of my favorite winemakers in this region passed away this week at the age of 55. Michael Moore, owner of Blackwood Canyon winery on Red Mountain passed away sometime Monday evening from natural causes according to the Benton County Coroner.

Moore, who graduated from University of California at Davis in the 1970s with a degree in fermentation science, moved to Washington soon after graduation to start working for Claar Cellars, Kiona Winery, and a few others.

Mike built the first production winery on Red Mountain back in 1982. It burned down in 1985 forcing Moore to start over again from scratch. In the past few years, Moore’s pristine property on Red Mountain became more valuable than winemaking itself. As of last year he had sold off a few hundred acres of his vineyards.

Last year I was hired by my friend Duane Smith, a commercial realtor in the Tri Cities to photograph Moore’s vineyards so they could be marketed. I spent several hours up on the vineyard site looking out toward Rattlesnake and the upper Yakima Valley. Truly, Michael owned a small piece of heaven out there. Unfortunately, the sale of property didn’t pay down enough debt, and Moore was forced into Chapter 11 protection in May of this year.

Over the years I had several opportunities to get to know Michael. Certainly, among those in the winemaking profession there were a lot of critics as well as those who had a deep respect for Moore. Just last weekend, while I was enjoying the “Crush” up in the Yakima Valley, there were several conversations about Moore’s winemaking and marketing practices. Even more, upon the report of his death there were several conversations and articles that I found interesting.

One thing that I can tell you about my own relationship with Mike was that he didn’t ever really know me. We had a relationship where, honestly, I didn’t want him knowing that I was in the industry. He didn’t have a love for those who worked in the business, and wasn’t afraid to let anyone know that. My anonymousness gave me the ability to just sit and listen and watch.

I truly loved visiting Mike with friends whenever I gave a tour of Red Mountain. It was always my last stop of a touring day. I did this for several reasons. Primarily, I loved the experience of taking people there to see their reactions, and visiting there took a very long time.

Some people would refuse to get out of the car. Others would walk away from the tasting thinking that they had just encountered Bacchus himself. I had people screaming mad for taking them there, and people thanking me profusely for allowing them to see how wine really should be made.

Usually you would find Mike in his winery barefoot or in sandals year round. He was almost always smoking something in the barbecue outside. You didn’t taste wines at his winery without tasting it with some sort of cheese, sausage samples, or other food. Last, but not least, if you were willing to listen, he would spend hours regaling you with stories of wine, winemaking, and his old-world techniques.

Mike, honestly I will dearly miss you. I hope that you are making great wines in heaven and walking barefoot amongst the vineyards!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

“Natural Wine” Usually A Marketing Twist For Yuck

If you read my articles, and you think that I talk a little too simple then I have the perfect blog for you. It is called A little above my caliber, this blog focuses on writers who have a much more intellectual slant on wines, winemaking and the wine business.

The reason I bring this blog up is because I read it. That’s where I got the idea for this week’s column. Don’t worry, I didn’t plagiarize. I just read something that makes me crazy and now I must vent.

A recent and highly intellectual book called “Authentic Wine, Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking” was recently published by the authors Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop. It discusses in detail the processes, opinions, and attitudes surrounding what we call “Natural, Authentic, and Naked” wines.

Tom Mansell, the reviewer for gives a pretty darn good set of cliff notes to the book. So good, thank God, that I don’t have to read the book myself in order to possess my own opinion on the whole Natural wines concept.

First, I need to stop and explain the “Natural” concept. This idea started a number of years ago. Pretty much, to help those who suffered from sulfite allergies. As time has gone, there have been a number of people I’ll call “hippies” who explain the oxidation and bacteria in their wines as being a “Natural” product.

There is a winery on Red Mountain, who must not be named, that has pronounced their wine as being the only real “Authentic” wine in the region. I’m probably being more honest here than I should in this article, but if that is what “Authentic” tastes like than give me fake. I’d rather eat a Twinkie than a four month old moldy piece of bread any day.

I look at Natural wines kind of the same way that I do medicine. There are times when going to a Naturopathic Physician makes perfect sense. One of my good friends, Dr. Stephen Smith in Richland, is a fantastic physician who turned his attention to natural remedies to augment his medical practice many years ago.

When I asked Stephen recently about a few different diagnoses, wondering if there was a natural method for curing them, his answer was very honest and varied. In some cases he did have some great natural remedies. In others he said it was important that the person follow modern medical practices.

The same holds true for wine. Wine is a living thing. If you drink a sick wine, you will definitely taste it, and might even get sick yourself if you aren’t careful. If you drink a wine that is full of bad bacteria you will not like the taste and hopefully stop. If you drink a wine that is fully loaded with sulfites to overcome a sickness in the wine you will likely taste and feel the effects of that as well.

My opinion is that you should stay on the center line when it comes to this whole debate. Don’t drink wines that are too repaired by chemicals. And, don’t drink wines that are “Natural” if they taste bad. Simply, if it tastes good, drink it. If it doesn’t, spit it out and eat a cracker.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Goodbye To Roger Kelley, Ed Scapplehorn, and Bob Woehler

They say that the greats all go in threes. I am coming to believe that for sure after this week. Three great men who helped me, and shaped me in the wine business are gone this week. I want to spend just a few moments talking about each of them and the way that they touched my life and the lives of those in our region.

First, I want to mention Roger Kelley, the draft manager for Graybeal Distributing. I met Roger right away on my first day of work at Graybeal in Pendleton. Rough talking and full of vigor, Roger could flat out get the work done.

Roger worked more with beer than he did with wine, but we did spend a considerable amount of quality time in the wine isles of the stores a few times each year during reset season.

All of the big chain stores are organized by actual schematics as to what goes on each shelf. There was one thing that both Roger and I detested doing, and that was resets. We would spend hours pulling bottles of wine off of the shelves, cleaning the shelves, and then putting them back on in order. Truly a horrible job.

Roger had a method that worked. He would stand there and read the schematics and yell out to me what needed to go on the shelf next, one bottle at a time. During those times, as well as all the work we did together at the fair and Roundup each year preparing the beer gardens the things I appreciated Roger most for was his honest, straight forward talk, and his ability to get the work done.

Roger, I hope you’re enjoying an ice cold Coors Banquet up there in heaven!

At the same time I heard about Roger’s death, I also heard about another wine industry great in our area who passed away last week. Ed Scapplehorn, who represented Terra Blanca Winery for many years passed away in Richland, Washington.

If you saw a bottle of Terra Blanca wine on the shelf in your favorite wine shop or restaurant anywhere in America it was because Ed had worked to get it in there. Like Roger, Ed was a straight talking and hard working man. Having years of grocery and distribution experience, he could work and drink with the best of them. I just know that Ed is kicking back a glass of Cabernet or a Miller Lite right now. Save one for me Ed!

As I was writing this article tonight I found out that I had to add one more name to this article. Bob Woehler, one of the region’s most prolific and celebrated wine writers passed away this week as well.

Writing a weekly column for the Tri City Herald, as well as regular columns and articles in Wine Press Northwest made Bob a well known name in this region for wine. It’s pretty much known that having Bob taste wines with you, it was going to be entertaining and educational.

The thing I most appreciate about Bob, and I’ve chosen to follow his path in writing this column each week, is that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it”. Bob was very loyal to the industry by never talking bad about a wine, winemaker, or the industry. His articles were always fun and informative. Many times I would wish I had written so well about the same wines. I wish you only the best wines in heaven Bob.

Until next week, enjoy!

Some Of The Best Wines Start In A Garage

About a year ago I was talking with an employee at one of the area grocery stores about wine. She asked for my card and whether her friend could call me about his wines. She said it was a hobby of his and he was looking for an opinion about his wines. Out of curiosity I agreed to have him contact me.

My thoughts were that I’d meet this hippie who was fermenting a few gallons of juice each year and creating nastiness to give friends at the holidays.

When Sam Regev called me I became even more curious. First, his very thick Israeli accent hit me like a brick. Next, through the accent I realized that this highly trained chemist has been growing a few acres of grapes outside Richland for a few years. Not your normal Merlot and Cabernet varietals either. We’re talking Primitivo, Dolcetto, Amarone, and several other strains you don’t normally hear of from this region.

Meeting Sam at his house I realized that this truly was going to be an experience. His house is filled with beautiful racks of wine bottles lying on their sides, aging wines to perfection.

Regev’s story goes like this. He moved to this country to attend school at UC Davis for Chemistry back in the 1970s. He has worked at inventing additives for the petroleum industry and as a nuclear chemist his whole professional career. But, having studied at Davis brought him in contact with the wine bug that was emanating from that school back in those days.

Regev caught the bug and made it his hobby for many years. His wife calls herself a “wine widow” for all the time he spends out in the vineyards, and buried in his wine barrels.

As I mentioned, a year ago was when I met Sam. His problem, quite frankly, wasn’t his wine. His problem was that he couldn’t get rid of it. He was a hobbyist. Not able to sell all the wines he has been making.

With that, I directed the Regevs to get a bonded winery license, and to start working their way to a marketing plan. I put Sam in touch with a few people along the way and was pleasantly surprised when he contacted me a few weeks ago telling me that he was now licensed and ready to sell his label “Chateau Le Garage”.

I met Sam again this past week, and tasted through some of his newest vintages. Currently his wines are only available at Albertsons in South Richland, however he is in discussion with several wine shops in the region. My hopes are that he will be selling at Bellingers and Great Pacific soon.

Here are a few notes I gathered from last weekend’s tasting. If these wines interest you I suggest contacting Sam at

Chateau Le Garage 2008 Primitivo - Fresh squeezed prune juice right out of the field, mixed with tobacco, cardamom, and a nice tannin to acid balance makes a wonderful finish. This is what Primitivo is supposed to taste like.

Chateau Le Garage 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon - Rich, dark plum and berries, with a soft tanned leather in the background. This wine is perfect for a T-bone steak on the grill, or just sitting on the deck.

Chateau Le Garage 2008 Shir Raz - Dark berries and fruit on the nose and palate, with dark cocoa overtones.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Italian Wines Are Great For Summer Grilling

This is the time of year that I personally really love to grill. It keeps the house cool, and the food just tastes so good. When it’s really hot you really can’t beat an ice cold beer with your meat, but when it starts to cool off a little there is nothing better than a bottle of dark red wine to go with a rib steak.

Normally, most people in this region go for a big Cab or a nice Merlot. If you’ve got some knowledge of your wines you might even reach for a bottle of Zinfandel to go with your saucy ribs. Those are great choices, but I’m all about stretching out and trying different things.

Looking to the other side of the world, I know that there are other parts of the world that deal with hot summers just like they do. Italy is one country that offers some amazing food friendly wines worth having with your grilled beef.

This week I tried a few different red wines from around the country. Here are some of my favorite samplings from this week.

From the Abruzzo region I found a bottle of Caldora Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2009. Abruzzo is located along the Adriatic coast where mostly Trebbiano and Montepulciano grapes are grown. I love Multepulciano personally because of it’s dark jammy qualities.

The Caldora is a dark ruby to purple in the bottle with a strong scent of prune orchard and vanilla. The finish is nicely balanced between tannin and acid. I love to grill spicy Italian sausages with onions and peppers. I load them on a big hoagie roll with Provelone cheese. The Caldora was a fantastic pairing! I would also try it with pulled pork or ribs.

Earlier I mentioned one of my favorite wines, Zinfandel. In the Italian countryside you can often find its Great Grandfather, Primitivo. The Primitivo grape is indigenous to many areas in the country, however one of the regions that has a strong holding on the vines is in Puglia. In the “heel of the boot”, is the Puglia region. Known for intense heat, it is a great region for this grape to produce it’s best juice.

Feudi Di San Marzano 2010 Primitivo is a wine that you can find fairly readily at wine shops. It has a relatively low cost at around $12 per bottle.

The story behind Feudi is that it was a government owned winery for many decades. In 2003 the winery was purchased by the Sciotti company. They have turned a wreck of a facility into one of the highest producing wineries in the country.

The Feudi Primitivo is deep, dark reddish purple. Both bright red fruits, some dark fruit, and baking spices make this wine one of my grilling favorites. Enjoy with saucy ribs or a spicy steak off the grill.

Last, you can enjoy a nice Chianti Classico. The one I opened this week was from San Leonino, a winery located deep in the heart of Tuscany. The San Leonino 2007 is made from 90% Sangiovese, 5% Syrah, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Like most Chiantis it is bright ruby in the glass, with a bright red cherry and raspberry flavor and nose. Nice and spicy on the mouth with a brightly tannic finish. Great with red sauces for sure. It went well with my burgers this week.

I hope you enjoy these wines with your end of summer meals this year!


Monday, August 8, 2011

Thomas O’Neil Cellars Open In Northern Richland

I’m strange. I admit it. It comes from my childhood when my very “artistic” mother used to say “If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, it doesn’t mean you should do it”.

So, a few months ago when all my friends were going to the newest winery in the Tri-Cities I was a bit standoffish. I wanted the hubbub and craziness to wane a little before I went rushing in. After all, by the end of the first day of business most every wine writer in town already had at least a tweet up about the new place in town.

This week I finally decided it was time to make my way to the Thomas O’Neil Cellars in Richland, near the Horn Rapids golf course. The tasting room is visible on the north side of Highway 240. You really can’t miss it.

We were greeted warmly at the door by Tricia O’Neil and a couple of their fantastic staff. Their French intern Clémence, who is with them for just a few more weeks, poured wines and Tricia ran to the tank room to pull Thomas from his task of racking wines. Within moments my quiet and unannounced visit became a grand scale tasting and interview.

Thomas and Tricia have a very interesting story. Living most of their lives in Michigan, Tom worked many years in business administration, with wine being a serious hobby for the couple. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, when Michigan State University’s Enology center opened that Tricia urged Tom to go back to school and follow his dream.

Tom interned at Ste. Michelle in Patterson, and then went on to take the assistant winemaker position at Milbrandt Vineyards. A few years ago he decided it was time to stop making mass amounts of juice for others and focus on making smaller lots of wine for himself. That was the birth of Thomas O’Neil Cellars.

Tom, having been trained in white wine country, and a lover of red wines, is well versed in all varieties. The wines all show a considerable amount of fresh acidity which compliments Tom’s desire to make wines ready for food and focus away from “cocktail wines”.

Clémence started me off with the 2009 Chardonnay. It is primarily American neutral oaked, Chardonnay grapes sourced from the Walluke slope, with a little Pinot Gris for the balance. The wine is full of fresh apples, pears, and pineapple, with a gentle acidity on the finish. Some oaky vanilla, but overall very crisp.

The 2009 Riesling offers a light residual sugar of 1.6% making it a delicious off-dry wine. I loved the florality of the wine, with a nose of white flowers and orange water. I picked some up to enjoy with ceviche this weekend.

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon offered up a light fruit forwardness of cherries, raspberry, and cocoa. Very enjoyable.

I loved the 2009 Merlot. A combination of jammy fruit forwardness. Black cherry, vanilla, and cocoa, with a light tanned leather finish.

Tom’s 2009 “Fusion” is his flagship wine. It is a red blend of Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Grenache. Dark blueish purple in the glass with a rich nose of prune orchard. The wine has a hint of toasted oak that mixes with the dark fruits to fill the palate. Nicely balanced on the finish. This wine was a must have for my cellar.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You Too Can Become A Wine Slob

When people ask me about my wine experience I proudly tell them that I’ve now progressed into a wine slob. Most people just chuckle uncomfortably when I say that. They don’t quite know where I’m headed with my off-handed statement. Some even think I’m just being crude or flip. But, frankly, I do think that I’ve become a wine slob, and I’m damn proud of it.

Let me explain. Being a wine slob is a good thing. It doesn’t mean that I’m sitting on the side of the railroad tracks slurping on a bottle of Night Train. What it does mean is that I’ve consumed enough wine, in enough different environments, and with enough different people, that I’ve grown comfortable with my palate. That, and I don’t make judgments about people who don’t drink what I drink.

My twins turned 21 this week, and with their new age gained the ability to buy and consume alcohol freely. They both came back to the house the other night with a 6 pack of beverage in their hands. Before they even took it out of the bag I knew what they had bought. It was a Smirnoff lemonade.

How did I know that they would buy this? Because, as younger drinkers our palates tend to start with something soft and sweet. This is not a bad thing. It just is what it is. I remember being a young adult drinking my favorite wine, which was Johannesburg Riesling. I hated anything red at the time. You couldn’t force me to drink even a fruity Merlot.

My oldest son has bridged into the next generation with his palate. He likes red wine and hard liquors. His girlfriend’s dad is a scotch drinker, and they spend time together drinking well aged rye on the front porch of their house.

The other day this son ventured out to Fidelitas with some of his work buddies. His favorite wine was the Champoux Merlot and no one could convince him that there was anything else drinkable in the tasting room.

I was like this for many years. Once I had reached the maturity with my palate that reds were ok, I wouldn’t drink anything else. I even came up with excuses as to why whites made me nauseous. I can’t tell you the number of dinner guests that I have at my house any given year that won’t drink a white wine. I figure that’s just more for me.

At some time everyone grows to a level of comfort with their palate that all wine has its positives and negatives. I specifically remember the day that I became a wine slob. It was when Jean Francois Pallet from the Pepperbridge – Amavi fame insisted that I drink his Semillon and his Rose before I would be allowed to taste his Cabernet Sauvignon.

As I sat at this café in Walla Walla eating lunch and listening to his stories I realized that I was drinking some of the finest wines I’d ever had. And…they weren’t red!

Since that day I have learned not to turn down a glass or taste of wine when it is offered to me. As I look at other very talented wine writers, makers, and servers around me I realize that they do the same. We’ve grown up. Our palates have grown up. And, we’ll never be able to go back to insisting that only one variety or flavor is the only one to drink.

Here is to wishing wine snobbishness on you!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wine On My Doorstep Makes Me Smile

I love the John Denver song that went “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy, Sunshine In my eyes makes me cry….”. I was singing it this week when my doorbell rang and a friendly UPS guy with two boxes in his arms needed a signature for a wine delivery. I just love new wines on my doorstep. It always makes me smile!

The first box held two beautiful white wines from Italy. A bottle of Vesevo Falanghina, and a bottle of Lungarotti Torre Di Giano. The second box held two bottles from the Mossback winery from the Russian River Valley in California. A bottle of Chardonnay, and a bottle of Pinot Noir.

As you well know, we are finally having some heat units in this region, and I’ve been loving the sunshine. However, the thought of drinking red wines hasn’t been really something that I was too excited about. So, when these two boxes of samples from my friends Kylie and Kristen at Calhoun and Company arrived I was enticed to chill the bottles and give them a taste.

First, a little research about the wines, their vintners, and the areas they are grown in. The Italian wines come from two distinct areas known for fantastic white wines. The Vesevo winery is located in Campania. The region of Naples. Volcanic soils from Mount Vesuvius produce a couple of different varietals. One of which is the Falanghina grape. This grape, introduced by the Greeks to the region 2,000 years ago, offers a wonderful rich bouquet and acidity on the palate. The Vesevo Falanghina offered up flavors of melon and spring flowers with a nice minerality. I drank it alone on my deck, but really wanted a piece of seared sea bass to pair it.

Further north is the Region of Umbria. The Lungarotti family has been producing “local” wines for many generations. The Torre di Giano is a blend of Trebbiano and Grechetto to produce a rich and zesty acidity. I had this with some rolled anchovies on cracker bread and started speaking Italian right away it was so good!

The other night after a long day I broke open the Mossback Chardonnay and fell deeply in love. As I mentioned earlier, the Mossback winery is located in California’s Russian River Valley, just north of Santa Rosa.

The Mossback winery is named after the old fashioned term for a farmer. The winery, owned by the Giguiere family has been successfully making and marketing wines for many years. They founded the R.H Phillips brand and Toasted Head.

The 2009 Chardonnay is unoaked, which allows the flavors of fruit to shine through. This Chablis style retains the acidity and also a lot of the green apple, honeysuckle and pear to come to the top. There is a slight creaminess, but not butterscotchy like most Chardonnays.

Last, I enjoyed the 2009 Pinot Noir. Made from 97% Russian River Pinot Grapes and 3% Syrah from Dunnigan Hills. This wine is beautiful, supple, and smooth on the palate. It features full strawberry, and black cherry flavors with a hint of rhubarb and a light spice on the finish. Fantastic!

I know you’re thinking “where can I get these wines”. Well, this is a good hint that these wines will be available on Washington and Oregon store shelves in the near future. I suggest you look for them and give them a swirl.


Keep Your Cool With A Wine Cocktail

I was sitting on my deck this last weekend thinking I needed something really cold and alcoholic. As my mind wandered through my fridge I thought about Margaritas and Mai Tais. “No”. I didn't want to go that high-test. Then I thought about enjoying an ice cold beer. “No”. I wanted something different. That is when I remembered an ice cold “Wine Slush” that I'd had last summer. Mmmm!

There is a home-based business out there that produces a wine slush mix. All you do is pour your favorite red wine into a bucket, mix it up, and put it in the freezer. A few hours later you pull it out and Zowie! You have a delicious wine slush to enjoy.

My problem was that I hadn't gotten in touch with anyone and ordered one of these “slushie” kits. Well, as somebody said, necessity is the mother of invention. I had a great level of necessity and needed an invention really bad, so I got on Google and looked a few things up.

One recipe that I found was quite simple and delicious. It takes a bottle of your favorite red wine. The recipe also calls for a cup of Pomegranate Juice, and a pint of raspberries. I didn't have pomegranate juice, or a pint of raspberries. What I did have was a bottle of Ocean Spray Cran-Blueberry juice and some frozen raspberries that I found in the bottom of the freezer.

I took a cup of the juice, and a bunch of the frozen berries and blended them in the blender. I decided that I wanted my slushie to have some sweetness to it so I put in a ½ cup of sugar just for fun. I poured my mixture into an old ice cream tub that I found, and mixed in my bottle of Syrah. I threw the bucket into the freezer and waited. About two hours later I opened up my bucket to find a wonderful slushie concoction. I spooned it out into my glass, sat on an Adirondack chair in my back yard and proceeded to slurp my slushie down. Yum!

After getting my wine slushie fix I decided to look for more recipes. It seems that sites on the web have hundreds to choose from. I suggest that you just go online and find one that looks like it has the flavors that you prefer.

If you don't want a slushie, another summer favorite of mine is a good old-fashioned Sangria. Sangria usually offers a mixture of wine, fruit, and some form of liquor to balance the flavors. One of my favorites is to use a Pinot Gris or Riesling. I mince up a bunch of sweet strawberries and other fresh fruits, and add a little Contreau. Mix it all into a large pitcher and let it sit one or two nights in the refrigerator. On the third day you can enjoy your amazing creation.

If you're tired of those options there is always the opportunity to kick it old-school. Back in the day, before Mr. Bartles and Mr. James, we used to make our own wine coolers. I know! It sounds kind of crazy, but we used to mix a bottle of sweet white wine like a Chenin Blanc with lemon-lime soda. Add some fruit and turn up the AC/DC baby!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Saviah Wins Best Wine at 30th Annual Washington Wine Competition

Can I just stop for a few moments and gloat a little? Ahh… It just feels so good to be right once in a while.

When I write that a particular wine or wine maker is really doing well I am always amazed how people gloss over and either quickly forget or ignore what I’ve told them. I know that everyone has their favorite little winery that they visit where the winemaker gave them a signed cork, or a piece of 10 year old cheese. But, those aren’t necessarily the ones producing really amazing wines. The ones producing the great stuff are these quiet little vintners that aren’t directly on the beaten path.

Such is the case with my good friend Rich Funk. Funk, who with his wife Anita, owns Saviah Cellars near the Oregon border in Walla Walla is producing some of the most amazing and solid wines of anyone in the region.

I met with Rich a few months ago and he was just preparing to bottle up his new “Jack” Riesling. Another part of his “Jack” line of labels. The wine wasn’t ready to taste when I was in the barrel room then, but Rich was extremely excited about what he was seeing at the time.

The “Jack” is a complete line of mid-priced wines, with a Blend, Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, and now an addition of a Riesling. I have photographed and tasted every one of these wines at one time or other, with the exception of the Riesling, but I’ve been very excited to give it a try.

Recently, a Facebook friend asked me for Walla Walla white wine recommendations. Without even a second’s thought I told her that the Jack Riesling was a definite must have. That is without even tasting the stuff.

Well, this week the news broke. At the 30th Annual Washington Wine Competition held in Yakima last week the Jack Riesling took home the bank. It won the best overall wine, the Govenor’s Award, and all the top honors.

I am so excited for Rich, and I wish him a complete sell out on this wine. That is, after I’ve had a chance to buy a case myself!

Along with the Riesling, Saviah also received double gold for its 2008 Malbec, and a gold for it’s 2007 Petit Verdot. These are wines that I have tried, and can undoubtedly vouch are absolutely fantastic vintages. I just enjoyed the Malbec on Father’s Day with a fantastic dinner at Tuscany in Prosser.

While the Funks and their crew took several awards, there were also others that should be mentioned. Rob Griffin, winemaker-owner of Barnard Griffin in Richland took home the “Best Red” award with his 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. There were also many double gold awards from Hard Roe To Hoe, Sinclair Estates, Thurston Wolfe, and Walter Dacon Wines.

For a complete listing of the winners I suggest you go online to and look up the complete listing. You will find many of the wines that I have already suggested to you over the past year, and probably some more that I will mention again soon.


Enjoying Myself A Budget Pinot “Palooza”

I’m not sure what took hold of me the other day. Maybe it was the lack of heat in this cold, wet spring. Possibly it was the mountain of work I’ve got in front of me this month. Whatever it was, I decided that I wanted some Pinot Noir really bad.

The problem with Pinot Noir, is that most of the stuff I drink costs a little more, and that gets in the way of paying my fuel bill these days. So, loaded with two Andrew Jacksons in my pocket I headed for two of my favorite shopping marts for wine, Safeway and Grocery Outlet to see what I could find. The concept of my shopping spree was bang for the buck. I wanted to buy the largest selection I could with my $40.

At Safeway I found Sutter Home Pinot Noir, Mirassou, and MacMurray Ranch on sale. The Sutter was $5, the Mirassou was $6, and the MacMurray was $8 on sale. I have had these wines in the past, and I knew they were very drinkable options even though they were inexpensive.

Next, I headed down to the G.O. and picked up a few more bottles. My finds this day were South Sound, Sacred Hill, and Rainbow Creek. These wines were all $5 each. I also picked up a bottle of Toasted Head Reserve that was $8, which made my total “Pinot Palooza” experience go over my budget by $2, but I figure the kid’s college fund was worth spending on my experiment.

I hadn’t tasted several of these wines before, and the few that I have had were not something that I’d tasted in many years. The only wine that I could verify that I’d had in the last year was the MacMurray.

By and large I can say that all of the wines were overall very good in quality (for the price).

The MacMurray offers muted flavors of semi-ripe stone fruits and a slight smokiness. Conversely, the Mirassou had a nice ripe cherry flavor with a short finish. The Sutter Home and the South Sound were wonderfully fruity as well, with some hints of mushroom on the mid palate, and a fairly short finish. All of these were wines that I would easily grab from the shelf any time.

The one wine that stood out to be a fantastic buy for the money was the Rainbow Creek. Like the South Sound wine, it is from the famed Marlborough region in New Zealand. The wines from this region have good structure, yet are very supple. This particular bottle has a mixture of bright and dark fruits. It has a beautiful, earthy nose normally found in expensive Pinots, and has a lot of linger to the finish.

The Toasted Head and the Sacred Hill both offered up very elegant noses, as well as bright fruits on the front of the palate, but had a lot of alcohol on the balance of the wines, which means I’ll use them to make sauce with.

The next time you’ve got just a limited amount of money to spend on your wine I suggest going out and buying your own tasting palooza. You’ll have a great time, and get to enjoy some new wines you haven’t had before.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

You Can’t Go Wrong With Ste. Michelle Estates

A few weeks ago I attended an open house and trade tasting event in Pendleton. The winery doing the tasting was the team from Columbia Crest, just across the river in Patterson. As I was walking over to the table, the thoughts running through my mind were akin to “blah blah blah…all we ever drink is Columbia Crest around here.”

But, as I tasted through the wines I was reminded that there is nothing blah about Columbia Crest, It’s parent Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, or any of the other sister wineries in the Ste. Michelle family. Actually, the winery is one you just can’t go wrong with.

Did you know that Ste. Michelle offers eleven popular wine labels that are all processed within miles of you? The company also partners with four very prestigious California brands, and twelve European brands. Each of those brands offers several different blends and varietals worthy of mention, and many of them have received near perfect scores in wine competitions and magazines all over the world.

The other night I tasted six different wines, and found each of them to be satisfactory in the least. But, one thing that stood out to me was that the wines were capable of meeting completely different tastes and budgets equally as well.

The first of the wines was Columbia Crest’s new baby, their 2010 Moscato. I loved the nose on this wine, full of lychee and white roses. The sugars were a little high, but balanced incredibly well with the acidity and alcohol to make this a great wine for spicy foods. I desperately wanted to drink this with some Ceviche. This wine isn’t in chain stores yet, so you’ll need to pick it up at your favorite wine shop in the area.

Next, I enjoyed two different Chardonnays from Columbia Crest. The Horse Heaven Hills, and the Indian Wells 2008 vintages. Both were great in their own right, but very much different from each other. The “Tripple H” as I like to call it, was a very drinkable mixture of apple, pear, and minerality both on the nose and the palate. The finish of light vanilla cream was nice.

Conversely, the Indian Wells was filled with pineapple and other tropical fruit flavors. The structure of this wine had so many layers to it, that it was clearly a wine to be served with seafood in creamy, rich sauces.

Next we tasted the 2008 Horse Heaven Hills, and 2008 Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignons. Once again these wines were so strong, yet different in their own rights that I was honestly taken back a little. The Horse Heaven is once again a very, very drinkable wine. It has flavors of cherry, chocolate, anise, and spices. On the other hand, the Indian Wells is a very ripe and jammy wine with dark fruit and vanilla from the nose to the back palate.

Last, I tasted Erath 2008 Estate Pinot Noir. I’m a big Pinot fan, and Erath is one of my favorites. Red Plums and Orange zest mix with chocolate and vanilla in this wine to make a wonderful light wine worth drinking regardless of the time or place.

I really do suggest that you explore Ste. Michelle Wine Estates various brands. It truly is an adventure.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Making It For A Ripe Old Age

I’m photographing a wedding this weekend for a beautiful young lady and the handsome love of her life. Other than being a “Rockstar” wedding photographer, Becky knows that I’m also the “One Rich Wine Guy” when I put a glass in my hand and my cape on in my off hours. Becky is the owner and publisher of Taste Tri Cities Magazine, which I also am a featured columnist in a few issues each year.

Becky approached me at a few days ago and asked me what local wines I felt would fit into their wine box ceremony for their wedding? They need a wine that will last to make it to their 10th anniversary. After all, the last thing that you want is the stuff my wife and I bought to make it to our 25th. The stuff has been vinegar for at least 15 years, so we’re serving it as salad dressing for our 25th next year.

After much thought, I suggested the Champoux Cabernet Sauvignon from Fidelitas, amongst other favorites of mine. But, since that conversation I’ve been pondering that question of what wines will stand up to aging.

Fifty years ago you needed more than just a little dust on the bottle in order to have a good wine. It was just expected that most European and Californian reds required considerable bottle time in order to be drinkable.

It really hasn’t been until the past few years that wines have been developed more and more to be consumed immediately. For the most part all wines that you find on the shelves in the United States today are “RTD” or ready to drink.

So, what does it take to have a good wine that can be stored for several years? Is it a certain bottling method? Is it juice sourced from a specific place? Is it a cork type? Is it just chance?

According to experts, most aging qualities in wine have to do with the pH balance in the wine. Wines that have a low pH balance tend to do better overall. That would mean that there is a high acid content.

Along with low pH, there should also be some strong tannins or flavor compounds in the wine in order for it to age well. Wines with the highest levels of tannin content tend to be Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs, Nebbiolos, and other like varietals. Wines that taste “green” like unripe vegetables or berries tend to fall into this category.

I know I’ll get some hate mail over this broad statement, but by and large I’ve found that this holds true: A good old wine, is a lot like a baby rattlesnake when its young. It should look safe enough, but messing with it will surely give you a bite. If you want a wine that will age, find one that pretty well rips your tongue out and stomps on it when it’s young.

I realize that the above statement is not always true. As I mentioned early in this column, the Fidelitas Champoux Cab is far from a dangerous wine to drink right now. It has silky, smooth tannins, and is pretty darn drinkable now. The difference is that this wine has depth to its flavors, and an intense tightness that loosens up when decanted over a period of days. With aging it will make a good wine that I know will bless Becky and Ryan on their 10th anniversary, and many more to come.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Beautiful View, Nice People, and Great Wine at Kitzke Cellars

Being a wine writer has its benefits, however, I'm usually met with clenched teeth behind the smiles when I visit a tasting room. This was clearly not the case with my visit to Kitzke Cellars this week. As a matter of fact, I received a nicely done e-mail, a phone call from my old friend Robin who now works with Kitzke, and a very warm greeting at the tasting room door by none other than Vickie and Paul Kitzke, the owners.

Kitzke Cellars is located just off Dallas road in West Richland. The easiest way to get there is take Interstate 82 to the Dallas Road exit. Go North, past Goose Ridge winery about 500 yards and you will see the signs on the west side of the road. The winery is located among several nice homes, at the top of the hill overlooking the entire Tri-Cities, Hanford, and the Columbia Reach. The view from the front of the tasting room is truly breathtaking.

The Kitzkes opened their tasting room officially 2 months ago. The family has been actively involved in orchards in the region since the 1970s. Slowly over recent years their orchards have been transformed into vineyards, and now they've started producing their own wines.

As I mentioned, I was met at the door by a very gracious Vickie Kitzke, soon followed by other tasting room staff, and last but not least, Paul.

First to taste was the winery's “Upside Down” label. It is a fun red-blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah, and a balance of Cab Franc. Made and labeled in honor of their professional snowboarding son, the wine has flavors of plum, blackberry, and spice. A nice wine for $10.

Next I got to meet the Kitzke's beautiful daughter Janaina, and the wine that her parents named after her. Janaina Sensacao 2006 is a delicate red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. The wine is ripe with berry fruit, rhubarb, peppery spices, and a soft tannic finish.

Beyond their blends the Kitzkes have an enormous selection of single varietals as well.

The Sangiovese offers a nose and mouth-full of bright cherries, raspberries, and spice box. The light fruit mixed with a nice level of acidity blends well with the short tannins and alcohol to produce a great food wine. I would love to have this with putanesca sauce and penne pasta.

One of my weaknesses is for a good Cabernet Franc. It is hard to do Cabernet Franc well, and I think that the Kitzkes have done a great job with this one. Dark, ripe fruit is balanced nicely with herbs and floral accents. Soft tanins mix with the herbal qualities to give this wine a nice finish.

Next, I tasted the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine offers a nice delicate mouth feel. I could clearly taste the fruit, the mocha on the mid-palate, and the lightly herbal finish to this wine.

I've saved my favorites for last. Kitzke's Syrah and Nebbiolo are definitely the stars of their lineup. My hardest time with these wines was choosing which one I was going to buy a few bottles of. The Syrah offers bright fruit on the front, dark berries on the mid-palate, and a soft finish of spice and lingering fruit. The Nebbiolo is complicated and beautiful. Anise and dark fruit on the front of the palate, mixed with herbs, violets, and finishing with dark cherry and vanilla.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Are You Man Enough To Drink Wine??

I don’t know why, but in this back-woods, northwestern part of America there is some unwritten code of masculinity or femininity that surrounds whether you drink beer as a guy, or wine as a girl. I’m here to call all you woosies out!

I’ve been drinking for more than half of my natural life. Many of those years have been spent at various tasting events. It never fails when I go to a tasting event where beer and wine are both offered, that the women all congregate around the wine bar, and the guys all congregate around the beer samples. What is up with that?

Now, I do need to admit that there is some biological evidence to suggest that the flavors of beer are more attractive to men than to women, but I know plenty of men who don’t like beer, and plenty of women who do. There are also very manly men who drink wine and very feminine women who drink beer.

The thing that gets me is that all healthy human adults have the same sets of receptors and neurons that allow us to taste and smell. In Europe and South America there are very manly men who drink wine every day. I dare you to call them sissies. There are also aboriginal people who make alcohol by vomiting up pieces of fruit and letting it sit in the sun for weeks on end. I dare you to drink that stuff. However, those folks think that the stuff tastes like heaven in a gourd.

This leads me to the hypothesis that there is some sociological reason why men in this part of the world have got it into their heads that they don’t want to drink wine. It isn’t that the wine tastes bad. Well, most of it at least. And, truly if they could think beyond the lizard portion brain, they would realize that wine has double the alcohol per ounce than most domestic beers, and a heck of a lot more punch than Keystone light or Busch Light. (Even if you shake the can and poke a hole in the bottom.)

Beyond the whole alcohol percentage thing there is more to think about. I’m not personally available for the meat market. As a matter of fact I’m happily married for 24 years to my beautiful bride this weekend. But, that being said, what are you morons doing over at the beer table when I’m hanging out with your mothers, wives, and lovers. You’re lucky it’s me and not some guy who is trickier with his wine stem.

The truth is chicks dig a guy who is into wine. I’ve seen many a woman swoon over a good looking winemaker like he’s a rock star. Even an ugly tasting room attendant gets more winks than should be allowed by law. While you guys are over there swilling your suds, the smart guys are at the wine table cleaning up.

Lastly, there is a direct correlation to those who drink wine and income level. There have been multiple studies done economically, sociologically, and in the marketing research realm to prove my point on this. Most men want to be upwardly mobile in their professions and careers. Men who drink wine have a high correlation with increased economic status.

So, the next time I’m at a tasting event with you, I hope to see you other guys at the wine bar. Don’t worry. We can still tell fart jokes and scratch ourselves if it makes you feel more comfortable.


Phone Apps Put Wine At Your Fingertips

Sometimes I really have to admit that I’m a simpleton when it comes to this whole wine writing thing. Sure, I’m better than the occasional binge drinker who has an attitude about everything and chooses to spout it on the internet.

On the other hand, not a week goes by that I realize that my talents as a wine writer are miniscule compared to some of my friends out there who are legitimate journalists with years of wine writing experience. This is one of those weeks where I know that I’m still writing on cave walls with a dirty stick compared to one of my wine journalist friends.

This week I received an email from Natalie MacLean, a long-time wine journalist and certified Sommelier. Her book “Red, White, and Drunk All Over” is a fantastic read, and she is a regular contributor to her own blog, as well as several other well known wine journals as a freelance writer.

Natalie has released her own smart phone application, which offers you the ability to search over 150,000 reviews of wines, find the right wine while you are standing in the isle of the store, and to know what the best pairings would be for the wine you are about to purchase.

As I’ve shared in the past, one of the things that is forming the wine industry right now is social media. The power of Facebook and Twitter in the world of wine is reaching new heights every day. Natalie’s phone application allows you to share back and forth with friends your own tasting notes on the wines you find.

The application also has a shopping list function as well as a personal wine cellar tracker. This is extremely attractive to someone like myself, who has no idea what I’ve got in my cellar at any time and only knows when I go digging through the wine boxes that are stacked up down there.

I also appreciate the application’s ability to teach me a little more about wine. Being a “know it all” on the subject, I’m not one to ask questions for the sake of looking stupid. However, if a subject comes up and I don’t know what a particular method or piece of equipment is I can rely on the application’s glossary function to bail me out.

MacLean, who paired up with a company called Fluid Trends, built the application some time ago, and has been quickly filling it with content that is fun and informative. Quite impressive to me, the application is available through iTunes as well as through Blackberry Ap World.

The only down side is that there isn’t an official application for Droid yet. However, you can run it on the Droid platform through her mobile website at .

To become friends with Natalie on her facebook go to In order to follow her tweets on Twitter you can get to her by going to Or, if you just want to check out and subscribe to her newsletter I suggest going to


Monday, May 9, 2011

L’Ecole Label Re-design and Upcoming Regional Tasting Events

Yes. The scuttlebutt is true. The world famous schoolhouse label that has graced the front of every bottle produced by the L’Ecole No. 41 winery since the 1980s is going away.

After much soul searching, and a complete redesign, owners Marty and Megan Clubb, made the change in the label in March of this year. The new design is a much more elegant and upscale drawing of the famous schoolhouse.

Although it was fun, the old, childlike drawing of the schoolhouse didn’t really lead the consumer to understand the quality and depth of the product in the bottle. This was definitely a problem as the winery has consistently produced high scoring wines that have attracted them to the world market.

L’Ecole produces wines from some of the best vineyards in the United States. With juice being sourced from Walla Walla’s Pepperbridge and 7-hills, and the Columbia Valley’s finest vineyards, the look on the outside of the bottle needed to match the exquisite quality and craftsmanship on the inside. This new label really brings the look and quality together.

The new label is being released currently, with this year’s spring released wines. You can view the new labels, which will be coming to stores and establishments in the area soon, or by going to the winery. For a special tasting and viewing opportunity in the Hermiston area, the winery will be a special guest at Farmer’s Kitchen on June 2nd from 5p.m. to 8p.m.. It would be great to see you there!

Speaking of tasting events, there are a number of events going on in the region over the next few weeks. Here is a short list of events soon to come:

If you’re “jonesing” for a great glass of wine, and you happen to be in the area, I suggest touring Baker city with Jones winery. They will be at Bella’s from 3 p.m. until 4:45, and at Earth and Vine from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. on the 12th of May.

Great Pacific in downtown Pendleton will be hosting my friends from Saviah Cellars on May 13th. If you haven’t had any of Rich Funk’s “Jack” lineup, I’m sure you’ll be in for a treat. Everywhere I go I’m finding this label as the hip new glass-pour wine in the Northwest. Hopefully he’ll also be showing off his other labels as well.

Something I definitely do not want you to miss is the opening of Graybeal Distributing’s new expansion. On May 19th, my friends and past employers, Maryl and Barry Featherstone, and the whole Graybeal clan will open the warehouse for tours and tastings. The staff of Ste. Michelle wine estates will be on hand pouring vintages from their extensive lineup, as well as my old buddy Lloyd from Full Sail Brewing who always has a new brew to taste or story to tell. Starting at 5:30 p.m. and running until 7 p.m., I highly suggest attending this event.
Just in case you are one of those people who enjoys beer a little more than wine, I want to invite you to Bellinger Farms on June 2nd, or to Great Pacific on June 3rd for their Laguintas Brewery tastings.

As with every time I tell you about tasting events in the region, I ask you to be safe, find a designated driver, or plan to stick around before driving home. I want to be able to see you at the next event!


Not all Port Is Sweet

A few weeks ago I received a couple of bottles of wine from my friends at Calhoun and Company, a marketing and communications firm that represents some of the world’s finest vintners.

When I opened the box I read the labels, which said that the wines were from Portugal. I have to admit I kind of set the box aside, thinking that I wasn’t really in the mood to drink or write about “Port” wines. Little did I know the treasure that I laid down beside my desk.

Finally, this week, I pulled the bottles out of the box and took a good long look at them. The vintages were a 2008 Vale do Bomfim, and a 2008 Prazo de Roriz, also from Northern Portugal.

Still, not taking a close enough look, I pulled the cork and proceeded to taste the Bomfim just to get myself in the mood. Wow! I suddenly realized that I wasn’t dealing with a bottle of fortified wine from Portugal. I was dealing with a rich and complex wines made from Portuguese varietals.

Vineyards that supply the famous wines that we know and love here in the states as “Port” also produce table wines that are enjoyed by the locals and their favored guests. As for the Vale do Bomfim, the Symington Family’s Douro Valley Vineyards produce the grapes for Dow’s Port wines.

For many years they have held back a portion to blend for themselves and enjoy with their meals. Recently, the family made a decision to make this non-fortified blend available to the world market. I am happy to be one of the first in this region to taste this fantastic wine.

Vale do Bomfim is made from a blend of Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, and Touriga Franca. The grapes are all picked by hand, fermented in steel, and aged in American Oak for 9 months. The color is very dark purple, with a nose of herbs and spice. This wine fills the mouth with dark wild berries, herbs, and spice. A very exotic blend of wine, with soft tannins on the finish.

I found this bottle to be better on the second day, and even better on the third as it had the opportunity to open up and get some air. I suggest decanting this wine, and serving it with chorizo or your favorite barbeque. The recipe that I received with my kit was for blue cheese burgers, which sounds like an awesome pairing.

The Prazo de Roriz comes from one of the oldest estates in the Douro (Northern) region. Dating back to the early 1700s, this estate is known for its single vintage Ports.

Much like the Bomfim, the Roriz pours into the glass a very dark, rich purple. Its blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Francisca shows up in the glass with a nose of black cherry and dark plums. This wine shows a gentle supple quality that allows the fruit to show through beautifully. Soft tannins finish this wine with a velvety texture.

The pairing suggestion for this wine was a Grilled Chicken with hot sauce marinade. I think it would go nicely with this or with lamb chops, or even a nice T-bone steak.

These wines are soon to come to this region, priced at $12 for the Bomfim, and $17 for the Roriz, I would definitely suggest them on your table this summer.