Saturday, April 23, 2011

Yummy Easter Wine Pairings

Happy Easter!! I have to say that this is probably one of my most favorite religious holidays of the year. I think it is because the days are noticeably longer, and usually, this year excluded, the world is a little warmer. It is possibly also because we get to eat!

After surviving the last few weeks of fasting, sackcloth, and ashes I am ready to get my feast on. Ham, lamb, prime rib, deviled eggs, lime Jello with fruit cocktail in it, and all the rich dark chocolate that I can possibly inhale. All those wonderful Easter foods make my mouth just water. Many are foods that the majority of us eat only once a year. This makes a terrible quandary as to what wine to pair with them.

The Easter Ham - Yes, thanks to Jesus we can eat Ham! After all, it isn’t what we put into our mouths, but what comes out of them that makes us saints or sinners. The natural pairing for ham is Merlot. Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot is a hands down favorite for this region. It has considerable fruit on the front of the palate, with mid tones of cocoa and anise, and a velvety finish.

If you are wanting to try something a little more on the edge with your ham I suggest a Pinot Noir. I suggest the Eola Hills Pinot Noir. It offers nice cherry and raspberry on the front, with a slight earthiness, and beautiful finish.

Leg of Lamb – The perfect food to celebrate the resurrection of the sacrificial lamb. Many families pull this meat out only once a year and ruin it with lack of knowledge. If you want to know how to cook lamb you need to take a lesson from Mario at Mario’s Basque Barbeque and marinate and spice the meat. Actually, forget the lesson, just have Mario cook it for you!

Many people love to pair with Merlot. Columbia Crest’s HH Merlot is great for this. I also suggest going for something a little larger such as a bottle of Merlot from my friends at Forgeron. This wine is full of fruit and spice that blends so well with the richness of the meat.

I really prefer a spicier wine to pair with Lamb myself. I would really suggest a delicious Temperanillo, or Sangiovese. There are several locals available on the shelves. Maryhill Sangiovese is a local favorite, with lots of great fruit and spices that pair themselves nicely with lamb.

Prime Rib – This is always the great celebratory meat for this region. I’m sure Jesus would have loved smoked Prime Rib. Of course, the natural pairing for beef is Cabernet Sauvignon. Once again, many great local Cabs are available in our area. From Red Mountain I suggest the Cooper Hightower vineyard. This wine is large but beautiful with cherry and minerality that pairs oh so nicely with the meat.

Egg Dishes – You can’t really have Easter without eating deviled eggs, scrambled eggs, or some other egg dish. Eggs are symbolic of Easter, and I’m sure you aren’t a good Christian unless you eat an egg that day (I’m joking).

My personal love for pairing eggs with wine is Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc. Deviled eggs require a lot of citrus and acidity to pair correctly. My local favorite is Gordon Brothers. I’ll be drinking a lot of that on Sunday.

Jello, and Chocolate Easter Candy – No I’m not going to pair wine with Jello. As for the chocolate, do what feels and tastes good!


From Sawbucks to Spring Barrel Tasting In Store This Tax Weekend

The other day I received an interesting package just in time for tax day. In the box was a bottle of wine and a little marketing piece on the sawbuck.

Sawbucks are an invention of the 1700s, where you laid a log or length of timber on when you were sawing it. Two pieces of wood lashed together with leather to form an X. It became over the decades what we now call the modern sawhorse.

When the $10 bill was first crafted in the U.S., the bill was called a “sawbuck” because the Roman numeral for 10 is “X”. So when you needed $10 for something, you asked for a “sawbuck”.

When John and Lane Giguiere started in the wine business back in 1983 they had huge dreams and lots of enthusiasm. By the time their brands R.H. Phillips and Toasted Head became a success they were down to their last sawbucks and hoping for a miracle.

Well, the miracle did happen and now those are two of the biggest brands in the California wine world. Their brand Matchbook is quickly catching speed in the market, and their everyday label Sawbuck is now out for full distribution.

I received a bottle of the 2008 Sawbuck Malbec. Someone must have been tipped off that I’m a huge sucker for a glass of that red goddess.

The label on the bottle is fun and attractive, looking like an old gold-standard $10 bill. I pulled the composite cork and was pleased to find a bright red color pouring into my glass. Many Malbecs are inky black, so I knew things would be a little different.

As I looked down the winemaker’s notes I noted that the wine is 76% Malbec, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Syrah. The Malbec and Syrah grapes are from the famed Dunnigan Hills, whereas the Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Lodi and Chalk Hill.

The nose on the wine jumps out of the glass with red apples, raspberry, and dark cherry. There is ample fruit on the front of the palate, with flavors of cocoa, black cherry, and soft tannins on the back. A pretty tasty wine for the suggested retail of $10 when it hits local stores soon.

For those of you who followed my suggestion and did the Gorge Passport Weekend a few weeks ago I know that you will appreciate this weekend in the Columbia Valley. This is the region’s Spring Barrel Tasting weekend!

I have been receiving dozens of emails this week inviting me to scads of events throughout the region for one of the area’s most celebrated wine events of the year. April 15th through the 17th wineries located all the way from the Tri Cities to Yakima will be participating in the event, with entertainment, food, and plenty of new wines to showcase.

If you have the desire to get out of the house and away from the yard work this weekend I suggest checking this event out at or by checking out the website of your favorite winery in the area. As always there are passports available online, or you can pick them up at any participating winery. Remember to bring your own glass!!


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Beautiful Surroundings and Great Wines At Cathedral Ridge

From Drop Box
How many times have you driven down the Gorge to Portland and seen the many billboards advertising Cathedral Ridge Winery? I know that I’ve seen those billboards 100 plus times and never actually took the time to leave the freeway and make a quick stop. Finally, the signs beckoned, and I found myself taking the exit at Hood River.

After the exit, and a quick winding drive up Country Club Road, we easily found the winery set back into the garden setting that surrounds it.

I was there on a Monday, so I expected it to be a rather quiet visit. Much to the contrary, I didn’t realize that they are one of the few wineries in the area to be open 7 days each week, and they were hopping with tourists.

Cathedral Ridge is owned by Robb Bell, who named the winery after the stunning rock face on Mount Hood that is just a few miles away. His drive to produce top quality wines in the region is evident immediately as you walk through the door of the tasting room. The awards and trophies from various competitions line the walls and shelves.

Robb brought Michael Sebastiani, 4th generation winemaker from the famed Sebastiani family out of Sonoma to be his winemaker. Michael was recognized in 2009 as one of the top 10 winemakers of the year. His love for the Columbia Gorge region comes from the ability to have a full palate of grapes to work from when making his wines.

The tasting room offers five varieties to sample from on any given day. (Being a journalist I was able to swindle them out of a taste or two extra.)

We started our tasting on the 2009 Riesling. I was taken by the off-dryness of this wine even though the sugar is nearly 3% I loved the way the fruit flavors ran free. Fresh apples with a hint of citrusy grapefruit on the mid-palate and a light sweetness on the finish. I bought some to pair with my spicy Mongolian barbecue.

The 2009 Chardonnay grabbed me with a nose and flavors up front of buttered popcorn. It is so rare to have a winemaker be unashamed of Chardonnay as it is meant to be. This wine is up front with butter and a finish of homemade butterscotch. Delicious!

Zinfandel from this region is magical. From the hillsides outside of the Dalles comes the fruit for the winery’s 2008 Zinfandel. Rich nose and flavors of blackberries, cassis, and mocha fill the mouth.

The 2007 Bordheauxd Red is Cathedral Ridge’s blend of Syrah, Cab, and Merlot. The wine offers blackberry, chocolate, and tobacco flavors, with a nice finish and velvet tannins.

I had the opportunity to taste a few other wines, as I mentioned, that were all fantastic, but one other that I want to talk about is the 2008 Bangsund Pinot Noir. For those of you who stray away from traditional Pinots because of their musty earthen flavors I highly recommend you try this one. The nose of plum and maple mix with flavors of bright cherry and cinnamon. Very nice!

Next time you are on your way past Hood River I encourage you to do as I did and stop at Cathedral Ridge.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Phelps Creek Vineyard Offers Hellfire & Brimstone

Last week I shared that I made my way down the Gorge to Portland for a conference and made a few stops along the way to see vintners that I hadn’t tasted before. One of the fun places that I visited on my treck was Phelps Creek in Hood River.

The tasting room is in the golf course club house. Golf clubs and spiked shoes just a few feet from $40 bottles of Reserve Pinot Noir. I have to admit that after the initial shock of realizing all this I thought how cool would that be to be able to get a great glass of Pinot after gangsome rather than a Keystone light.

The tasting room manager, Dave, was very friendly and knowledgeable about the winery and the region. For a Monday, the winery was bustling with activity. Open 7 days a week from 11a.m. to 5p.m., it was one of the few wineries open and ready to greet guests.

Phelps Creek, and it’s parent Mt. Defiance Wine Company are owned by Robert (Bob) Morus. Bob moved to Hood River back in 1989 to follow his passion of growing wine grapes and his family. His profession of flying Boeing 777 as a commercial pilot keeps him busy outside of growing, making, and selling wine.

The winery employs two winemakers. The famed Rich Cushman is the principle winemaker for Phelps. His many years throughout the Willamette Valley have brought many different award winning wines over the years. The winery added Alexandrine Roy, a fourth generation winemaker from Burgundy this last year. Her work as consultant and winemaker has brought a new level to the winery’s Pinot Noir line.

I tasted through a pretty complete lineup of the current Phelps Creek vintages. This included the opportunity to taste the winery’s second label. Named after local legend and famous baseball player gone Pentecostal preacher Billy Sunday, the winery has a line of prohibition era labels that are downright fun and affordable blends.

“Hellfire” is a blend of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and Savignon Blanc. Tons of apple and honeysuckle on the nose and front palate, with a flint and balanced finish. “Brimstone”, the red blend is a complex blend of several of the winery’s Syrahs, Cab, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. Beautiful fruit and anise on the nose, followed by rich flavors of blackberry and licorice. “Wow” good! This stuff even comes in a prohibition style 3 liter jug for those who want to kick it old school.

On to the more serious lineup of Phelps Creek wines. The winery offers up both an unoaked Chardonnay, and a Reserve Chardonnay. The unoaked offers up bright, crisp apple and Bartlet pear flavors, with a light acidity on the finish. On the other hand, the Reserve offers up both fruit and a light butterscotch on the palate.

The winery’s Pinot Noirs were also a delight. The one that blew my mind was the 2007 Reserve Estate Pinot Noir. Incredibly complex and bold, with earthen tones, fruit, rainforest, and silky finish. No wonder it scored in the 90s.

Next time you’re in Hood River I suggest stopping by the Golf Course and having a glass at Phelps Creek.

On a closing side note, I want to take a moment to congratulate the Pendleton High Dance team for their 4th year as state champions. What a fine group of young female athletes. Your community should be proud!


Friday, April 1, 2011

No April Fool's Day Joke at Grocery Outlet Today


Ok. Be still my racing heart. I just came home from Grocery Outlet, where I seriously scored some amazing wines for uber cheap.

I know you're thinking, "aw Rich, It's April Fool's Day and you're playing a joke on us". No!! Seriously!

Let me tell you what I just picked up off of their 20% off sale this afternoon. Don't worry, as soon as I can get the wife to free up some more allowance I'll be back for more.

First, my friends at Claar cellars had a private label made a few years ago. 2002 to be exact. The wine is called Wooded Island. They had a bunch of the Merlot left over and liquidated it out to the G.O. company a few weeks ago. I just opened it and it was fantastic! Just know that anything this old isn't going to open quickly, and every few bottles is going to have a bad cork. Be prepared to decant this one.

Second, I picked up a bottle of Hayman and Hill 2007 Dry Creek Zinfandel. This Sonoma is filled with pepper and blackberry. Spicy and good.

Another fantastic find was Toasted Head Barrel Reserve Chardonnay and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. I purchased the Pinot Noir, and was very pleasantly surprised at the earthen flavors mixed into the bright fruit of this wine. It's a touch hot on the alcohol, but at $5 it's worth it.

Third, I found a bunch of splits of Sageland Red Blend and Canoe Ridge Merlot for $2.99 before the price break. I love love love splits of wine. Perfect for the one to two glass evening when you don't have time to kill a whole bottle. I haven't tasted them yet, but I'm excited for the opportunity that presents itself!

Last, and possibly the best wine purchase I've ever made at Grocery Outlet is the 2005 Reserve Merlot from Canoe Ridge. OMG! This is a fantastic purchase at $5.99. Not to mention that there is an additional 20% off of that price. Rich with fruit and full of flavor, this wine is supple and features a gorgeous finish.

G.O. planned for a big sale this time, and the back room is filled with many more treasures to come. I say get down there right away and buy big. Like all Grocery Outlet wine bargains these wines won't be around long.

Hey, and while you're in the store, do me a huge favor. Ask to speak to Dane, the owner and thank him for owning and running the store this past year. He and Jamie, his wife have been absolutely fantastic to work with, and have been a great addition to our community. In spite of the crappy location that the company chose for this store, They have done a fantastic job of making a success out of it!