Friday, June 29, 2007

A Mouse in the House at Walla Walla Village Winery

I was 10 years old when I first saw a Stanley Mouse creation. In fact, that's exactly what it was: a mouse. Well, actually, it was a rat -- a "rat fink," in fact. Mouse's popular "Rat Fink" character, borrowed (or perhaps stolen) and then made famous by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, enlivened my brother Terry's hot rod magazines. He was 16 years old, and other Rat Fink characters, in sticker form, decorated Terry's first car, a 1951 green Chevy two-door sedan. She had "three on the tree" (for you youngsters, that means a three-gear manual shift on the steering column) and six cylinders, with baby moon hub caps and a jacked up front end with spring spacers so it rode high in the front. Our dad loved that car and would invent reasons to take it out for a spin. This was all many baby-moon hubcaps ago, alas, when Walla Walla's drive-ins buzzed with car hops and boys in their rides dragged down Main Street between midnight and dawn.

When I turned 16 myself, I saw Mouse's work again -- but different this time. No more "Rat Fink"; now he was drawing, yikes!, skeletons! He had moved to San Francisco and fell in with the counterculture, drawing posters for dance-concerts with his partner in art, Kelley. Most famously, he borrowed a 19th-century book illustration drawn by Edmund Sullivan and applied it to a September 1966 poster advertising a dance-concert at the Avalon Ballroom featuring the Grateful Dead. The "skeleton and roses," as the icon was named, became one of the most famous images in rock and roll history. Mouse used it again later on an album cover for the Dead. He also drew album covers for Journey, the Steve Miller Band, and other rock groups.

Thirty-some years later I saw Mouse's art yet again, this time on a Walla Walla wine label.
In the spring of 2003, winemaker Joel Clark of Walla Walla Village Winery released his very first wine, “Solstice” Gewurztraminer. I still remember tasting this highly praised aromatic semi-dry wine. My glass was filled the sweet smells of a rose garden. The other thing I remember about this popular Gerwurztraminer was the colorful label with the familar style -- in fact, a Stanley Mouse original. Then Mouse drew a second label for the winery, for the 2003 "Equinox" Cabernet Sauvignon.

During this past May's Spring Release weekend, Joel and the Walla Walla Village Winery presented a gallery showing of the art of the "Rock and Roll Rembrandt." Stanley Mouse originals from Joel's collection as well as that of Jim McGuinn, who owns the Hot Poop, Walla Walla's only "Bing Bang" music and stereo store in town, graced the tasting room's walls, and it was big fun indeed to admire the fantastic images while sipping Joel's typically aromatic, not to mention delicious wines. I enjoyed visiting with Joel and his mother Barbara, too. They've given the Walla Walla wine community something unique, something that no other winery in Washington State has: a direct connection to one of the legendary artists in modern American pop history.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Trapper Red - Fort Walla Walla Cellars

At the risk of sounding like a talking parrot - - I always say, if you want a good wine and a good value ($20 and under), check out the red table blends from Walla Walla Valley. Here is another example of what I am talking about:

Trapper Red - 2004 from Fort Walla Walla Cellars is a blend of 56% Merlot and 44% Cabernet Sauvignon. And this isn't the "leftover" wine, either. Grapes were hand-picked and purchased from the Crawford Vineyard in Prosser specifically for Fort Walla Walla Cellar's very first red table blend. Fort Walla Walla Cellars focused just as much attention on their table wine as they do their higher priced varietals or blends. Grapes were de-stemmed and lightly crushed. Fermented in small 1/2 ton fermentation bins for about nine days. This Bordeaux-style red received a total of four rackings during the eighteen months of barrel aging and was not filtered prior to bottling.

And how was it? What a great nose! The nose presented to me a lot of my favorite things I look for in a blend -- chocolate, coffee, and cherry wood pipe tobacco. Smooth and silky, yet full bodied. Flavors of cherry and cocoa came through with a touch of spice. This is definitely a wine meant for every-day sipping. You know -- heart medicine. The doctor says we need to have a glass of wine a day, so this is a great prescription! Trapper Red makes for some great food pairing, as well. Steaks, grilled hamburgers and chocolate - - like cake -- or a pocket full of Hershey Kisses. Cheers!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cooking Through The Walla Walla Grape Vine

It was Virginia Woolf who said, "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." Guests who has stayed at the Green Gables Inn Bed and Breakfast will tell you that they slept well and most of all, dined well.

Owners of this 1909 Craftsman style mansion, Margaret and Jim Buchan, along with Chef Caren, are up before the sun to create not only delicious and hearty, but eye-appealing breakfasts for their overnight guests. This five bedroom (plus carriage house which sleeps six) mansion was built for entertaining. An inscription by Ralph Waldo Emerson is carved on the fireplace mantle. It still welcomes guests today as it did back in the early 1900's, “The Ornaments Of A House Are The Friends That Frequent It.”

This month Margaret and Caren have chosen a dish that not only is terrific for breakfast, but I would serve it for noon brunch or a light dinner. Served with a green salad, it would make for a perfect light summer meal. With the melted Pecorino Romano cheese, this dish screams for wine. I would choose a local Chardonnay like the lightly oaked Chards from Canoe Ridge, Dunham and Forgeron Cellars. Drizzle the frittatas with some hot sauce and Walla Walla Village Winery's Gerwurztraminer makes for an excellent pairing, too.

Zucchini and Cheese Mini-Frittata

1 ½ TBSP olive oil
3 medium zucchini - cut into halves lengthwise and then cut into ½ “ thick slices.
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
½ cup small curd cottage cheese
3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
10 large eggs

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Blend salt and pepper with zucchini. Saute the zucchini in olive oil over medium heat until tender. Blend eggs and cottage cheese in blender. In a separate bowl add ½ cup of grated cheese and the 1/4 cup of flour and mix well. In bowl combine egg and cottage cheese mixture with the tender zucchini, chopped chives, and cheese and flour mixture.

Divide mixture into “Pam” sprayed muffin tins or individual ramekins. Bake until puffed and tops are golden brown for approximately 30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of grated cheese. Return to oven to melt cheese. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #34 - Welcome Fellow Bloggers!

My Washington Cabernet Sauvignon summary reads like the old carol, "Twelve Days of Christmas:

32 Blog entries
45 Reviewed wines
3 International blogs
9 Cabernet blends and one Merlot
17 From Walla Walla and - -
One Riesling from Chateau Ste. Michelle

Thanks to everyone for their entries! The results were wondeful and even better than I hoped for!

Cheers and thanks again!
C~ (6/19/07)

Greetings to my fellow wine (and foodie) bloggers!

I was thrilled to be asked to host Wine Blogging Wednesday #34 for the month of June! This month's theme is Cabernet Sauvignon from the State of Washington. Known for its warm and extended growing days with cool summer nights, Cabernet Sauvignon loves the climate of Washington State.

I also challenged my fellow bloggers to see if they could discover a Washington Cab that was not from Ste. Michelle or Columbia Crest -- not that there is anything wrong with these wines, but they are largely produced and distributed. I wanted to challenge wine lovers to truly dig for these Washington jewels from the second largest wine producer in the nation. I am very anxious to see what has been discovered. Extra stars and virtual pours go to those wine bloggers who went above and beyond the call of duty and found a Walla Walla wine!

The history of WBW was proposed by Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours and fashioned after a similar foodie-blog event. WBW been growing since it's start in September of 2004. I have visions of full glasses of wine and empty bottles next to burning keyboards from all over the USA and other parts of the world.

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The first blog to arrive is from Alex at Huevos con Vino. Alex claims that he has never been a fan of Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon, even though he is living in Seattle! However, after you read his blog you will discover a very happy ending. And what wine did Alex choose to blog about? Reininger Winery Walla Walla Valley Cabernet - 2002! In his email to me, Alex sums up his verdict in two words: " It rocks!"

Extra stars go to Alex along with some generous virtual pours for making a reference about Walla2's Sweet Onions and the famous Walla2 reference from Bugs Bunny!

Joe in Montreal had no experience with the Washington Cabernets. Many stars and virtual pours to Joe's Wine for scoring a L'Ecole #41 Cabernet -2003 from the Walla Walla Valley! Joe thinks the Canadian Border patrol must have let this wine slip through because of the French name.

Me thinks he overall enjoyed the wine as he bought four more of the wines that L'Ecole #41 has to offer.

Michelle from My Wine Education in Cincinnati claims that she and husband, Kevin, cheated a little as they chose a Claret from Matthews Cellars. Michelle, as long as there are Washington grapes stuffed in that bottle, you are good with me!

I particularly like their way of thinking when tasting a red wine - do it with a perfectly seasoned steak and make it last to the dark chocolate for dessert.

All the way from Florida, Deb's Key West Wine and Garden says that her husband Mike's favorite state for Cabernets is Washington. I salute you Mike - you're a good man! In fact, Mike is a fan of Columbia Crest, but they decided to go for my challenge and brought home two Washington Cabs that were not labeled Columbia Crest or Ste. Michelle. Deb did some homework and well -- I'll let you read their discovery for yourself.

Neil from Brooklynguy Wine and Food Blog says that west coast wines are daunting to him - referring to California. Being a fan of Oregon's Pinot Noirs, he thought that he might find some wines from Washington State he would love. It wasn't exactly a 100% Cabernet he drank, but I aint going to argue with a guy from Brooklyn.

Want the good news or the bad news first? The bad news is Neil wasn't a fan of his choice, but the good news is that he wants to continue trying more Washington wines! Give this man your suggestions. I know I will.

BP of In Bottles is a first-timer to WBW. Welcome! BP's home base is in San Francisco and noticed that Washington wines are very under-represented there. However, there is a decent and expensive selection of Walla Walla wines. BP chose to get more wine for the buck and selected three wines - a Cabernet from Hogue Cellars and an RTW and Syrah from other WA State labels. BP notes that there is a touch of Lemberger in the Cabernet. Lemberger is one of my favorite obscure varietals. (Maybe someday we should have a WBW on Lembergers - - Lenn?)

After he read the May’s edition of the Wine Spectator’s “A Master Class in Cabernet", the timing was right for my neighbor Gene of the Seattle Wine Blog to write about Washington Cabernets. A wine writer, wine educator, and former publisher of the Northwest Consumer's Wine Guide, Gene didn’t chose just one, but five Cabernets! (I am hoping to do some Walla Walla wine tasting with him next week)

You will enjoy reading about Gene’s terroir discussion regarding these wines as he asks the big question: Terroir - scientific data or mythology? I believe in Bacchus. Doesn’t he climb down your chimney and leave you gifts of wine?

Megan of Wannabe Wino, my sistah in wine blogging, has been a WBW slacker for awhile, but she’s back in the saddle! Believe it or not in the state of Virginia, she found a couple of bottles of Walla Walla Cab. Umm...but to keep peace in the family, she opted for a less expensive Cab, from the Yakima Valley that she felt went well with brautwurst on the grill.

Megan, tell Matt you want a Cabernet from Walla Walla for your next birthday or anniversary.

Jill from Domaine547 is a newbie to WBW (love the talking wine bottle and cheese on their web banner)and believes there should be more wine and less attitude. There was a problem locating any wines from Walla Walla (sending her the name of a distributor in LA who sells nothing but Walla2), but giving it the old college try she eventually found an Abeja Cabernet which is a Walla Walla winery. There seems to be some confusion when there is "Columbia Valley" printed on a Walla Walla winery label. Walla Walla is a sub-appellation of the larger Columbia Valley region.

Also, Jill chose two other Cabernets that were produced in Oregon, but from Washington grapes (a close border separated by the great Columbia). All's fair in love, war and wine. Extra stars and virtual pours to Jill at Domaine547 for finding a Walla Walla wine.

Another Washington State neighbor, Brenda of the Culinary Fool gave me hope when she selected a Seven Hills Cabernet from the Walla Walla Valley! Seven Hills, established in 1988, is one of the original five wineries of the Walla Walla Valley.

Word of warning! Do NOT you enter the Culinary Fool website when you are hungry. Brenda's food and wine photos are gorgeously-delicious!

Serge the Concierge from New Jersey didn't want to rest on his laurels and repeat a blog he wrote on a Walla Walla Cabernet a while back (however, he did give the link). Instead, he shared with us a most interesting Cabernet, "Ex-Libris." A wine-negociant project from New York where they make their own wine from purchased juice from some of the best vineyards in Washington State. The goal is to produce high-end reds, for half the price. Interesting concept and thanks for the info, Serge.

Drop by Marta's Postcards from the Trail. Marta didn't choose a Cabernet from Walla Walla, but she did pair her Cab of choice with organic lamb from the Walla Walla Valley and suggested a stay at a Walla Walla B&B overlooking a vineyard (which is worth a couple of stars in my book). Check in with Marta often to read more about her journeys on Slow Traveling.

John in Connecticut from Walk The Wine, not only walks the wine, but he walked down to his cellar and grabbed a Walla Walla Cabernet from Seven Hills. In the summer of 2003, he visited the area and brought Washington wine-treasures back home with him. I see extra stars and virtual pours in his future.

This is too easy - his name is John and because he dines, he walks the wine. Wasn't there a song...

Sam-I-am at $10 Cabernet spent more than $10. Hailing from Virginia, Sam tasted two Washington Cabernets. One from the Yakima Valley (the same as Megan) and the other Cab was from Walla Walla. He shared his wine and while he preferred the Bridgman Cab from Yakima, the "girls" preferred the Nelms Road (Woodward Canyon second label) from Walla Walla. Goooo girls! Sam sums it up like this: "Washington State Rocks - Columbia Crest Rules"

Seconds before opening Tim's email from Winecast, I had been thinking it odd that I hadn't seen a wine from Barnard Griffin, yet. It's a wine we see a lot of in the state of Washington with the colorful tulip label and a good reputation for quality. And-there-it-was! Tim was fortunate to find an older Barnard Griffin Cabernet -- a 1998. And how did this almost-ten year old wine taste? See for yourself at Winecast. It's a great read - thanks Tim.

Way down yonder in South Carolina (here up north it's yonder to me), John from Brim to the Dregs, recently read an article about the turning point for Washington’s wine industry and it's world-class wines. Inspired by the article and this month's theme - - John went searching and discovered a bachelor's button - a wild flower - a Walla Walla wildflower tucked away down south. That's right -- John found a 2001 Bachelor's Button Cabernet Sauvignon from Isenhower Cellars produced here in the Walla Walla Valley.

Thanks John -- extra stars and virtual pours for you.

From up north in Montreal, Canada and moving down south to Richmond, VA a second bottle from one of Walla Walla’s oldest winery was discovered - L'Ecole #41 ! Tripp from Richmond Cellars enjoyed a 2004 Cabernet. 2004 was a tough year in Washington for many of the vineyards. Frost! Historically - a frost with consequences seems to happen every seven years around here. However, we survived and made due. While production may have not been the usual high, we were able to still make some excellent wine. Charcoal grilled rib-eyes were paired with Tripp's wine choice.

Dr Debs sent an email from London pointing me to the direction of her WBW #34 entry. Okay - - I won't give her too bad of a time for her choice of WA Cabernet. I am always telling wine newbies and those looking for an affordable everyday-sipping wine - go Ste Michelle and/or Columbia Crest. Afterall, she is keeping true to her blog Good Wine Under $20. Dr. Debs chose a 2003 Chateau Ste. Michelle from the Indian Wells Vineyard. This designated vineyard wine comes from the Wahluke Slope AVA. Wahluke is really a beautiful part of the desert. Who knew that grapes could grow there? And keeping with her theme of "good wine under $20" -- only $14!

Of course I'm gonna love the spirit of this next entry - Wild 4 Washington Wines! And of course, since Will lives in Richland, WA, his partiality to Barnard Griffin, also located in Richland, is a natural! So far we have Tim from Winecast offering a 1998 Barnard Griffin and now Will offers up a 2005. This is great to see the comparisons of their vintages. Is it a coincidence that William, a Washington Wine Ambassador, recently moved closer to be next to those Barnard Griffin Cabernets? Ummm - 3 minutes from the winery?

Aww - Bill from Podcast: Wine for Newbies says he feels so ashamed because he chose a 1999 Chateau Ste. Michelle! Okay -- now he's pushing my sympathy button a little. Shall I let him off the hook? Should I start feeling guilty because of my challenge and tenacity about Washington, and especially Walla2 wines? Alright - I'll give him credit for scoring an older wine. I might even give him some credit for selecting a designated vineyard Cab. Okay-Okay I'm a softie.

Jerry-Jerry-Jerry, what are we going to do with you? We ask for a Cabernet from Washington State and challenge you to go further than Chateau Ste. Michelle? And what do you enter? A Riesling from Ste. Michelle??? Jerry from Wine Waves at least got the state right. Actually, I can hardly wait to try this dry Riesling! But a word from the wise -- Jerry, please be careful out there in that Columbia Valley ice fog. It appears that it makes us think Riesling when we should be thinking, Cabernet.

Now that Jerry's contribution has me forgetting where I am, Margot's entry from Washington State Wine Blog came just in time to calm me. Yup, she gets extra points, alright. Margot has listed several great Washington Cabernets, but her favorite one is from Forgeron Cellars 2003 Pepperbridge Vineyard Cabernet from Walla2! I love that wine! Also, I work there! Honest -- she didn't know. Honest. (Is my boss reading this?)

Just when I think I have seen just about every wine label from Washington State, somebody discovers a new one. Snekse of the Gastronomical Fight Club found a new label that I'll be doing some homework on. There doesn't seem to be any place of origin, other than a name - Hurricane Ridge - 2002. The chief of mischief, mayhem and soup gives great tasting notes - check it out.

Mucho stellas goes to Catherine of Purple Liquid for choosing a real star - a Walla Walla star from the Northstar Winery. Named "Stella Maris" (Star of the Sea), this blend is 51% Cabernet with Merlot(44%) and Malbec (5%). It's a great wine. The Northstar Winery is known for making world class Merlots. Nice choice Catherine.

There's a reason why Alder at Vinography is a wine cyberstar. He not only chooses a wine from Walla Walla (I dream about this wine - "s_w_o_o_n"), but "encourages" his San Francisco readers (and not with a gentle hand) to go beyond Napa Valley for their wines and look at Washington. Alder chose Frederick", an Estate Cabernet blend from the Spring Valley Vineyards. Endless virtual pours for Alder.

Listen up people! If Thomas from Winzerblog can find a Walla Walla wine in Germany... well, I will let you read between the lines. Wouldn't you say that Thomas met the challenge in spite of the big sea as an obstacle - - he pulled it off! Thomas tasted a L'Ecole #41 and a Chateau Ste. Michelle. Be sure and read his dialogue he had with the wine merchant. Extra stars for Thomas!

Another big sea obstacle from Great Britain - - Garry from Tales of a Sommelier types a sommelier tale about his first experience with a Washington wine and you will never guess where it was from? Woodward Canyon Winery Cabernet from the Walla Walla Valley! However, his WBW #34 entry happens to be about a Merlot, but since the Merlot is from the Walla Walla based winery, Canoe Ridge, we will let the Merlot entry slide.

Ta-da-dada-dahh!!! Announcing our WBW Founder, Lenn of LENNDEVOURS selection --- he also went "from the library" and chose the Ex-Libris - 2005. From my research this negociant blend, made in New York, equals bargain for those every-day-sipping wines. It sounds like Lenn thought the wine okay, but nothing to write Robert Parker's home about.

Holy Quilceda Creek Batman! (Trivia - did you know that the original Batman, Adam West, from the popular TV series was born and raised in Walla2? ) If you must choose a bottle of Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon, you might as well go with one of the finest in the state. Joanne and Jack from Fork & Bottle chose a Quilceda Creek - 1999. It's a favorite of Steiman, Parker and others. Be sure to check out Jack and Joanne's tasting notes of this wine that comes with a legendary winemaking family history.

Andrew from Rouge and Blanc made it just in time and with the right wine, too. "Pitch" is a red blend (large percentage is Cabernet) from Dusted Valley Vintners in the Walla Walla Valley. I noticed something interesting when reading Andrew's blog (and there were others) that there seems to be some confusion about Columbia Valley grapes on a Walla Walla label. Walla Walla is a sub-appellation of Columbia Valley, so it could be a combination of Walla Walla, Red Mountain and other Columbia Valley sub-appellations. Andrew, Pitch must be a new label. While I am familar with Dusted Valley, Pitch is a new one for me. Thanks for discovering a new label.

Molly Evans came late to the party, but better late than never. At this time Molly's new wine blogging site is still under construction, ( Noble Grape) so she sent me her WBW notes via email. As she was typing her email to me, she was enjoying a Champoux Cabernet Blend from the Andrew Will winery in the Vashon Islands, WA. She writes that "this wine is serious." Keep an eye out for Molly's new site.

When you live in a valley with some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon, it was a task to choose which Cabernet to enter for WBW. I decided to enter three Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignons. However, it was difficult to choose which winery, so it became the luck of the draw. Names of wineries were tossed in an ice bucket and I drew: Fort Walla Walla Cellars, Waterbrook Winery and Whitman Cellars. You can read more about my choices here
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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #34 - Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon to the east – Cabernet Sauvignon to the west! Over 100 labels of Cabernet Sauvignon surround me and all within a mere 15 minute drive or less! I live in a valley with over 100 licensed wineries and the area is full of local Cabernet Sauvignon! WBW #34 is almost here and yours truly, along with gentle guidance from Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours, has chosen the Wine Blogging Wednesday theme as Cabernet Sauvignon from the "Evergreen" State of Washington.

Washington State is home to lighthouses, rain and Alpine-like forests, deserts painted with sagebrush, volcanoes, majestic rivers, java-joints, micro-breweries, and most of all, over 500 wineries with over 31,000 acres of grapes making Washington State the second wine producer in the nation. Cabernet Sauvignon was originally planted sporadically around the Columbia Valley starting in 1963. In fact, the wine region of Washington State comprehends the same latitudes as the southern parts of Burgundy, all of the Loire Valley and the northern parts of Bordeaux.

Naturally, I would blog only Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla — but which one and from which winery? There are at least 100 Cabs to choose from in the Walla Walla Valley and several of the wineries produce two styles - one made with grapes from the Walla Walla Valley and the other style usually a blend of various Cabernet vineyards from the larger Columbia Valley AVA. So many Cabernets and so little time! I finally decided that I would bend the rules a bit and blog not about one, but three Cabernet Sauvignons. Now – how do I decide which three?

Believe it or not, this was not an easy task as I have blogged several Walla Walla produced Cabernet Sauvignon in the past, but this time I wanted to reach beyond and blog about different ones. So, what’s a Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman to do? I finally decided to draw names! I printed a sheet from the Walla Walla Wine Alliance listing the local wineries. I cut the names out with scissors, tossed the names in a ice bucket and drew three names from the ice bucket (and keeping my fingers crossed that they were Cabernet Sauvignon producers). Drum roll please - - -

Fort Walla Walla Cellars - It was just my bad luck that Fort Walla Walla Cellars was sold out of their Cabernet Sauvignon - 2003. Thanks to Terry in the tasting room, he remembered it was still available in splits for $18. A split was perfect, especially since I would not be sharing this particular tasting.

The fruit from Walla Walla vineyards, Pepper Bridge and Minnick Hills, was gently treated and fermented with multiple yeasts in small bins for added complexity. The nose was rich and full with aromas of coffee and dark cherries - - earthy. The wine seemed to fill my mouth like velvet with dense flavors of coffee, chocolate, and cherries. It continued to finish with even more cherries and a touch of vanilla. My mouth was left with a creamy feel and wanting more. (No - I didn't finish the split. I was modest - a difficult chore.) One word to describe this wine - - elegant!

Waterbrook Winery- What a value for the quality! Priced at $22, this 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend from four Cabernet vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA. An extreme aromatic nose - actually kind of sexy with vanilla over-tones. The wine gave a caramel mouth feel with flavors of dark fruit like blackberries and over-ripe plums with a hint of spice. This velvety wine had a long finish that continued with more caramel and nutmeg. I wouldn't be ashamed to put it next to a $45 bottle. I guess the Wine Spectator wouldn't be ashamed, either. If you are a fan of ratings, this affordable, but structured and silky wine was given a rating of "91" in May. Again, for quality -- an excellent value and I believe this wine is worthy of being cellared.

Whitman Cellars - Walla Walla Valley - 2003 priced at $36. A beautiful nose which took me down memory lane! It reminded me of freshly picked strawberries from the local Klicker Family strawberry patch. And as soon as I tasted this wine, I knew the fruit was from the Walla Walla Valley (four different vineyards - nice complexity). There is something about the grapes from the Walla Walla Valley's soil. Usually earthy qualities with flavors of cherries and just the right amount of acids to make your mouth water for more. A balanced wine with almost a bloody quality (I see grilled steaks in this wine's future). More flavors came through of Coca-Cola and black licorice leaving a lingering finish of bramble berries. Definitely a keeper for the cellar. Complex!

What can I say? When it comes to wine nestled in the SE corner in the state of Washington, I haven't met a Cabernet Sauvignon that I didn't like! Are they worth the price range of $30-50? (excluding the cult-driven $100 a bottle Leonetti - and a fine wine, it is ---) Certainly. Often bold and tannic, these high-end Cabs give you the opportunity to age them. And if you know where to look you can find affordable $10-20 Washington State Cabs (Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest) which are perfect for every-day-sipping and back yard parties. In this Northwest state, there is no reason for wine lovers to be without a good Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State. Cheers!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

DaMa-Nation!

A sommelier will soon learn a lesson (and maybe a few fashion tips) if they ever give the wine list to the man at the table instead of these two DaMa-Natrix’s dining with him.

Business partners and friends, Dawn Kammer and Mary Derby of DaMa Wines have created a company embracing the feminine power of wine. Using the first two letters of each of their names, DaMa (which later they discovered also means "lady" in Spanish), Dawn and Mary have thought outside the bottle to create their own DaMa-Nation.

They're no strangers to the wine business. Dawn grew up in the Napa, Calif., area and took her first tour of a winery, Mondavi, when she was 16 years old. After moving to Walla Walla, she graduated from the Walla Walla Institute of Enology and Viticulture. Among her wine-related job is managing the wine program for The Marc at the Marcus Whitman Hotel.

Mary’s experience with wine started in Chicago restaurants and at the popular and well-reviewed Zuni restaurant in San Francisco. She told me it was at Zuni that she first learned "salmon did not come in the shape of a loaf and wine was more than a blue nun on the label." Matching beautiful, simple food with delicious, elegant wines became an obsession for her. Mary’s food and wine journey eventually brought her to the Walla Walla Valley with her husband, the late Devin Derby. They made a great winemaking team at the Derby's family property, Spring Valley Vineyards, specializing in satin-y, finesse-driven reds (their hallmark of winemaking continues to live on at Spring Valley).

Besides running a winery and tasting room, Dawn and Mary focus on their families. When I visited the DaMa tasting room recently, Mary’s son and Dawn’s two daughters played in the back while Dawn’s husband Jack, whose day job is mortgage brokering, casually dressed in a Hawaiian print shirt, shorts and wicker hat, poured the wines. Dawn and Mary met while their children were in pre-school together. They got talking about wine, and soon they realized they had a lot of ideas in common. A plan formed and snowballed. Although DaMa originally started as a vision of two people, it quickly became a family effort.

DaMa’s goals are many, but their most important one, the partners say, is to reach out to women who are interested in wine, whether they are newbies or wine-geeks. Rather than offer high-priced vineyard-designated specialty varietals, Dawn and Mary plan on blending wines to keep them affordable. Some of the proceeds from every bottle they sell is donated to women’s charitable organizations.

Future goals for DaMa-Nation include fashion shows, book exchanges, and working with other women in business to create focused programs, including wine tasting and appreciation, for women to enjoy. DaMa will also keep its wines fashion-friendly -- which is not to say DaMa will make only wines that happen to be popular. At this winery, "fashion" means the tasting notes for DaMa's aromatic Cabernet Sauvignon, with cocoa and dark berry notes, suggest the wine be paired with a cashmere sweater and sassy slingbacks. It just so happens that I received a gorgeous black cashmere sweater for Christmas from my sweetheart, and I began thinking about pairing the Cabernet with the sweater right away. But summer's almost here and cashmere can be a little warm, so I may follow the fashion suggestion offered for DaMa Merlot, with notes of layered plum and blackberry and hints of black pepper, and pair the wine with my favorite jeans and tee-shirt (Grateful Dead).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Wine - Is it a man's world?

Get the ladder out, I'm climbing up on my soap box.

Fellow women wine-bloggers, Farley and Dr. Debs got me thinking all day today. Is it still very much a man's wine-world? Farley of Wine Outlook blogs about dining with her boyfriend. Farley wanted to order some wine, but the server gave the wine list to her boyfriend instead. What? Women don't know how to order wine in restaurants? We keep reading that the majority of wine purchases in stores are made by women, but is it different in restaurants? And why does the wine server often give the bottle and the cork to the man at the table when it was the woman who made the wine choice?

Today, Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under 20 blogs that the eleven major contributors to the Wine Spectator magazine are all men - not one woman writer. While talented men, Dr. Debs points out, is the Wine Spectator telling us that there are no women in the world capable of writing for them? I feel honored to be on her list of fellow women wine bloggers who she feels should be given the opportunity.

When I started my blog back in 2005, I have to admit I felt alone in the wine blogging world as it was mostly men and sometimes I felt like I was not taken serious. With time, things have become a bit better but still...when it was time for the American Wine Blog Awards to be given out --- where were the wine blogging women receiving the awards? They were men giving out the awards to other men.

In the state of Washington, and especially Walla Walla, I see progression and attitudes changing about women and their mark in the wine business. We have prominent women winemakers, women winery managers and owners. We have women marketing directors and women wine servers in restaurants. There are women vineyard owners, women wine judges and women wine writers for local publications. Every year we have new women students at the Walla Walla Institute of Viticulture and Enology and at Washington State University. But I know that behind a few wine bottles in a restaurant's cellar and in a few dark wine caves, there is still evil that lurks in the heart of those who thinks that the world of wine belongs to men. I say to them the same thing that Cher said to Nicolas Cage in the movie Moonstruck: - - "Snap out of it!" Slap!

Friday, June 01, 2007

A Sense of Place - Part II

Terroir - A French term used in wine to identify the unique characteristics mother nature bestowed upon a specific area.

Two weeks ago our host, Gilles Nicault, winemaker and manager of Long Shadows Winery in Walla Walla, guided us to lands of vinifera that he believes define the new appellations in Washington State -- Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills and Wahluke Slope. All of these appellations received official federal recognition only in the past couple of years, yet Gilles, a native of France, already appreciates their qualities of terroir. We also visited, for comparison, the Yakima Valley appellation, Washington's oldest, which was established in 1983. Through Gilles' eyes and experience, and through the words and craft of the caretakers of these vines, we left with a much greater understanding of terroir, which remains one of the most controversial words in the wine vocabulary. I know there is a t-shirt to be made when touring vineyards in Washington State: "So many vineyards, so little time."

Gilles drove us to vineyards that he thought best typified the new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), showing us some of dramatic scenery along the way and, most important, introducing us to the passionate owners and farmers of those vines. Many of the vineyards we visited also contract grapes to Walla Walla wineries, which was of interest to me. I left every vineyard believing, absoultely, the old wine adage: great wines aren’t made in the winery, they’re grown in the vineyard.

Day One:

Yakima Valley AVA - Our first stop was at the Boushey Vineyard, owned by Dick Boushey, located near Prosser. The appellastion includes 40 wineries and 10,000 acres of vineyards - more than one-third of Washington’s total vineyard acreage, in fact. The most widely planted grape is Chardonnay, followed by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with Riesling and Syrah on the rise. The Boushey vineyard is known for some of the finest Syrah grapes in the State of Washington.

The cool desert air flowing through the vineyard allows the grapes longer hang-time than in vineyards in the other, hotter Washington AVAs -- at least until late October, in fact, giving the grapes full maturity at lower sugar levels. The view from the vineyard's 1,400-foot elevation vineyard is spectacular: To the west is snow-capped Mt. Adams, and Mt Rainier is just barely visible. The oldest block in the vineyard, planted in 1980, has reached maturity. The property has an interesting soil profile, almost three feet of sandy loam on top of hard basalt bedrock. Dick likes soil sparse soil like this, he told us, explaining that it is difficult to control the vigor of the vines in deeper, richer soil. Just like the man who planted the vineyard, the vines seem to grow calm and stress-free.

Rattlesnake Hills AVA - Established in 2006, this new appellation is located approximately four miles southeast of Yakima. The 68,500-acre appellation has 17 wineries and 29 vineyards, with 1,500 acres planted in wine grapes. Those hills provide many Washington wineries with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Riesling. Rattlesnake Hills encompasses the hills running east to west along the northern point of the Yakima River and south of Moxee Valley. It lies within both the established Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley appellations.

We met up with Gail Puryear of Bonair Winery and Vineyards. Gail and his wife Shirley founded Bonair Winery in 1980 in the area that I knew as a child as the "Zillah Fruit Loop" due to all the local fruit stands. But now, "Wine Loop" may better describe the area. Gail, who grew up nearby, was instrumental in creating the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, which is classified as a Region 2 in terms of climate, the same as California’s Napa Valley.

Gail took us up to the Morrison Vineyard right at the northern edge of the Rattlesnake Hills. He told us that when he decided to plant grapes in the Zillah area, a lot of locals and even some winegrowers laughed at him. They all thought Zillah was too cold for a vineyard. But the laughter has stopped; the Cabernet Sauvignon vines Gail showed us in the Morrison property are vigorous. The elevation of the hills ranges from 850 feet to 3,085 feet, above the danger point of frost, for the most part. I looked around and noticed the hot sand was laced with pale olive-colored sage brush, red Indian paintbrush and fragments of petrified wood. Gale pointed to his "pet" erratic laying beside the vineyard - a stone that traveled from the Missoula Floods many thousands of moons ago.

Red Mountain AVA - This red-peaked mountain (although it appeared to me as more of a prominent hill) is the focal point of an appellation established in 2001, situated between Benton City and Richland. Some say the name comes from the red hue of the soil, others say it's from the tips of the red native grass. It is the smallest appellation in the state, with just 4,040 total acres, but don't let the size fool you. Located at the east end of the Yakima Valley and with 10 wineries (the number grows as I type), there are more than 710 vineyard acres currently planted, and some of these are the finest in the entire state. Red Mountain is best known for producing red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Sangiovese. Winemakers are drawn to the Red Mountain fruit. Gilles says that the terroir of Red Mountain tells us, "I want water! I want water!" The conditions are dry and the hours of sunlight are many.

We visited with Patricia Gelles, who owns Klipsun Vineyards, first planted in 1984. Klipsun is a Chinook Native American word for "sunset." Since their first planting, Patricia and husband David have been successful -- perhaps, at least in part, because they planted what they like to drink: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for the most part, but also Syrah, Nebbiolo and Malbec, plus, for white wine, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Patricia told us that she is particular about which wineries she allows to use the Klipsun name on labels and in tasting notes. She and others have noticed that Red Mountain grapes leave a distinguished flavor in the wines - cherries, she says.

Gilles and Patricia explained how the grapes ripen quickly in the long, sunny and windy days that characterize Red Mountain. The continual hot desert breeze toughens and thickens the skin on the grapes, producing more tannins, yet keeping flavor-producing phenols, too. Tannins give a wine structure and aging power. We sat under a wooden gazebo used to break the force of the wind. I watched Patricia grab her sun bonnet several times as the wind whipped across my own face. I was at peace as I viewed the red hills lined with vineyards and a row of wineries in the distance.

When you visit vineyards you get a real hankering to taste wines made from the grapes, of course. During the day we had a private tastings with Gail at Bonair Winery; he gave us a tour of his new "chateau-style" facility. We also visited Wine Glass Cellars in the Zillah area with winemakers/owners David and Linda Lowe. It's a small-production winery with high quality wines, especially red blends. David, who worked in sales for IBM, kept us laughing and entertained. We also had a private tasting at the new Fidelatas Winery in Red Mountain with winemaker Charlie Hoppes, formerly with Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla. This winery is a unique structure, a sort of stylized garage. The wine was elegant, and bottled in stylish and understated packaging.

Then off we went to destination unknown to us, though Gilles knew exactly where he was taking us. We crossed the interstate and headed southwest. We reached a gravel road and headed off in a cloud of dust, driving for miles. I couldn't even begin to imagine what would be at the end of the gravel road. Finally, there it was - - one of the most magnificent vineyards I will probably see in my whole life...