Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Back to School: WSET in Walla Walla

The WSET program is coming to town and going back to school doesn't get much better than this, when it means sitting in the class room with glasses of wine to sample.

The Wine & Spirits Educational Trust is the world's prestigious and most recognized leader in wines and spirits education and this will be the first time for this London-based program to reach Eastern Washington.

The WSET courses are ideal for anyone in the wine industry, whether working in food service, wine retail and tasting rooms, or in the fields of journalism, marketing, and education. And you don't have to be a professional to take these courses. They are perfect for the wine consumer who has a little or a lot of knowledge about wine.

WSET courses for Eastern Washington will be held at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center in Walla Walla. Wine writer, Paul Gregutt will be teaching the comprehensive one-day Foundation Course (Level 1) Saturday, September 12 and a three-day Intermediate Course (Level 2), the weekends of October 10 and 18th. A WSET Advanced Course (Level 3) is also available, but will be scheduled for a later time.

WSET Instructor Paul Gregutt is recognized as the leading wine writer in Washington State. He appears every Sunday in the Seattle Times Pacific Magazine, the last Wednesday of each month in Spokane's Spokesman-Review, and is the Northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine. Gregutt's best-selling book "Washington Wine & Wineries: The Essential Guide" is considered to be the best review of the state's wineries.

And Paul is no stranger to Eastern Washington as he and his wife, Karen Stanton-Gregutt, have taken up a second residence in Walla Walla County. Local rumor is Paul can be found sitting on the front porch of their cottage in Waitsburg playing the guitar and singing tunes about 90 point wines.

For more information contact Paul Gregutt or see: Eastern Washington WSET

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Revisiting Old Favorites: Canoe Ridge

Writing about the wines of Walla Walla is not a full time gig for me. I often get so busy with - - well - - every day life. So, it is such a pleasure when local wineries contact me to say, "Hello Catie! We're here! We haven't seen you in a while." And that's exactly what Cynthia Souder from Canoe Ridge Vineyard did! It was great to see Cindy again and happy to hear she followed her sister and brother-in-law, Jennifer and David Marshall (David is with Long Shadows Vintners), to Walla Walla. The last time I saw her, she was wearing a tiara and stepping out of a limosine. Well - - after all - - it was her birthday.

Canoe Ridge, located in the historic railway engine house, was one of the first wineries in the Walla Walla Valley and John Abbott, now of Abeja Winery, was the winemaker in the early days of Canoe Ridge. The wines were always consistently solid and it was always so much fun to read John's tasting notes, as he always paired his wine with music. Dire Strait’s "Expresso Love" paired with Merlot, anyone?

After Abbott left to start up Abeja Winery, it seemed to me there was a year where the wines of Canoe Ridge weren't near as solid without Abbott, until Christophe Paubert, a native of Bordeaux and a previous winemaker for the premier Chateau d'Yquem, came to join Canoe Ridge as their winemaker. Once again, the wines of Canoe Ridge are at their finest.

It was such a treat to taste though the wines of Canoe Ridge once again. Not only have their reds received accolades, but their white wines, as well. Paubert has the right touch on Chardonnay. The focus is on the fruit and not on the oak - a wine reminiscent of old world Burgundy. The Gewürztraminer of Canoe Ridge is a classic example of this spicy white with the heady floral nose.

Available for the summer days and definitely a Turkey-Day pleaser is their Cabernet Sauvignon rosé. It was dry and crisp showing off an assortment of summer berries. The 2006 Red Table wine is certainly worth a mention. It is not only affordable at $17, but the quality is there. This 60% Merlot blend was velvetty on the palate with rich notes of cherry and chocolate. The soft tannins made it, not only an easy "sipper," so versatile with hearty foods. The Cabernets and Merlots of Canoe Ridge really show off the varietal character with a nice balance of fruit and oak. They are classic wines.

Christophe Paubert certainly brought his skills with him from Chateau d'Yquem (known for their dessert Sauternes) when it came to excuting the off-dry wines with the 2004 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, 2006 Late Harvest Chardonnay/Riesling blend and the Port Cabernet Sauvignon. I've been hearing so many good things about this particular red dessert wine, so I was excited to give this rare Walla Walla produced Port-style wine a taste. It is an elegant dark red liquid that paired well with a bite of a rich chocolate brownie. And I was surprised how it made my palate so happy when paired with a soft and buttery Camazola blue cheese.

It is worth the time to revisit this winery and if you have never visited, I recommend a stop to take advantage of their moderately priced and fine produced wines. Cindy and Jerry, tasting room staff were welcoming and friendly. The tasting room is rather cozy, but when I was there even the guests were friendly and fun to visit with!

Unfortunately, it was announced this last weekend that Paubert will be leaving Washington State and will be moving to California where he will be joining the winery of Stags' Leap in Napa. We will hold our breath with anticipation to see who will step into these big shoes of great winemakers before.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Barbera Release: CAVU Cellars

I cannot explain it, but Italian varietals are intriguing to me. Of course, I never refuse an opportunity to taste a glass and Barbera is one of those Italian grapes.

The history of Barbera has long roots (pardon the pun) and is the second most widely planted red variety in Italy, after Sangiovese. The beginnings of this acidic and low tannin grape was believed to have originated in the hills of central Piedmont (Italian: Piemonte), Italy. And to make a long story short - it has eventually found its way to Washington State and this weekend, it is the Barbera Release Weekend at CAVU Cellars!

Back in May, during Spring Release weekend, I had the opportunity to barrel sample the same 2008 Barbera that will be officially released tomorrow. And again, just last week I sampled the same, but this time out of the bottle. The CAVU Cellars Barbera, with the very fresh fruit notes, pulled my nose deeper into the glass. This fruit forward wine showed notes of cherries and blueberries. It finished with just a hint of spice, but still rather "bright" with the perfect amount of acids and a touch of oak to round it all out. There's a reason why Italians let the wines pour freely with their meals, as the CAVU Cellars Barbera is definitely a wine that will enhance a cheese plate and a meal of pasta.

I was really happy to be able to visit with Joel Waite, winemaker of CAVU, while enjoying his new release. CAVU is an acronym for the aviation term: Ceiling And Visibility Unlimted. Joel's father, James is a former pilot and the aviation reference is very appropriate when you consider their winery location at the Port of Walla Walla Incubator Wineries is located at the Walla Walla Airport.

Joel is taking the opportunity to turn this new release into a party! Tomorrow, Friday, August 21 from 11 am - 11 pm there will be, not only wine, but food and music! Also, the celebration will continue Saturday (11-6) and Sunday (11-5). And I heard a rumor that there will be some major tunes, a "Backyard Bash", being played at the Walla Walla Wine Incubators on Friday (Contact CAVU for further info: 509-540-6352).

While you're sipping on the Barbera, don't forget to visit the other wineries at the Walla Walla Wine Incubators: Adamant, Kontos Cellars, Lodmell Cellars, and Trio Vintners.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Downtown Walla Walla: Music to my ears and wine in my glass.

The combination of the two are the perfect pairing and downtown Walla Walla is alive with the sound of music (no apologies to Julie Andrews or Maria Von Trapp)!

Sapolil Cellars, located downtown Walla Walla, is a small winery cranking out big tunes. The piano, which started out as their tasting room bar, soon found its ivory being tickled by the local musicians. And Friday and Saturday nights on that block have never been the same, as they feature a line-up of the best musicians in the area. Some cover charges may apply and Sapolil’s wine is always available by the bottle or glass.

The word on the street is that particular block will soon give new meaning to “block party” as come this September, Merchants LTD Deli will keep their doors open Friday evenings featuring pourings by local winemakers. Merchants, with the best outdoor seating on the block, is just a few doors doors up from Sapolil.

But why wait until Friday to start the weekend? Every Thursday night join Walla Walla Village Winery, from 7-10 for “Open Mic Night.” Walla Walla Village Winery feels that training your nose to smell different aromas in wine is like training your ears to appreciate music. Like the difference between a Cabernet and a Chardonnay, music doesn’t matter if it’s rock, classical, or jazz…the analogy is the same. The more you concentrate on the music and the wine, the more you can pick out the different notes. So train your ears while you train your palate at Walla Walla Village Winery. The event is free and of course, wine is available for purchase.

Oh hell. Why even wait for Thursday to start the weekend? Start it on Wednesday! That’s right - - Wednesday! Let your ears guide the way to Walla Walla Wine Works (formerly the Waterbrook Tasting Room) for “Music Wednesdays.” It’s exactly what my ears did. They guided the way the other night to the music as I was coming back from a fabulous meal at T. Maccarones. Walla Walla Wine Works has a lovely outdoor setting in the heart of Walla Walla at the downtown plaza area on Main Street. The tasting room features a wide selection of wines for purchase and the event is free.

Who says there is nothing to do in Walla Walla? And if it’s being said, someone needs their whiny pee pants booted. Party on, Garth.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

WBW #60: I Have Zinned

First of all, many thanks to my Wine Blogging Conference '09 roomie, Megan Riley Kenney of Wannabe Wino Wine Blog for hosting the 60th edition and the 5th Birthday of Wine Blogging Wednesday! This is a milestone! And last but not least, many thanks to Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours for proposing the idea of this monthly virtual wine tasting tradition back in the summer of 2004.

This month Megan would like the world of wine bloggers to grab our favorite Zinfandel and pair it with BBQ and/or grilled foods in honor of the grilling season. Hey, I can do that! In fact, I can even give you a recipe for one of my favorite grilled foods.

If you are familiar with the wines of Walla Walla, you will know there is not a lot of Zinfandel grown or produced in the valley, let alone in Washington State. However, Forgeron Cellars has been producing the real thing (not the "white" stuff) since 2001. I refer to it as the "Original Walla Walla Zin." Forgeron Cellars Zinfandel has been an easy sell-out for the winery and I have owned every vintage. They age very well and so smooth and juicy on the palate. In fact, just Sunday evening I opened up a 2002 I had been hoarding and got a little weepy last night when I reached the end of the bottle. It was that good.

Marie-Eve Gilla, Forgeron Cellars winemaker says: "The 2005 vintage is a combination of three distinct vineyard sites, each chosen for the unique flavors and aromas they bring to the wine. Alder Ridge Vineyard is in the Horse Heaven Hills along the Columbia River and brings rich cherry jam characteristics to the wine. Clifton Vineyard is on the Wahluke Slope near Mattawa. A warmer site chosen for the white pepper and spice qualities in the fruit and the third vineyard is Les Collines in the Walla Walla Valley, which adds bold flavors and perfume to the blend."

The nose reminds me of a cherry cobbler. It is a juicy wine on the palate and leaves just a hint of spice that doesn't overtake the food pairing. I can't think of a better wine to pair with one of my favorite grilled recipes - Bulgogi.

Korean 101: "Bul" is the Korean word for "fire", and "gogi" is "meat" = "Fire Meat." Bulgogi is one of Korea's most popular beef dishes and I love using this somewhat traditional marinade for flank steak. I use the term "somewhat traditional" as by accident one day I found I didn't have any mirrin (sweet sake) and used red wine instead. I have been happy with the recipe ever since! Bulgogi is traditionally grilled, but broiling or pan-cooking is common as well. Spring onions, chopped green peppers and other vegetables can also be marinated and grilled at the same time.

• 1 pound thinly sliced steak or sometimes will use one whole flank steak that has been tenderized (by hand) well and marinated whole. Then it is sliced after grilling. Also, think beef short ribs for this marinade. It's that versatile!

• 5 tbsp sugar
• 1/2 cup soy sauce
• 2 cloves finely chopped garlic
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 5 tbsp red wine (or more) - use the red wine you are drinking or plan on pairing with meal. And don't forget to pour a glass or two for yourself!
• 2 tbsp sesame oil
• 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

• 1 cup green onions (sliced lenghwise) and/or other vegetables for grilling (optional).

Mix all ingredients except vegetables. Add meat to marinade and marinate in refrigerator over night or at least 2 hours. Add optional vegetables to the marinade at any time. Grill over medium high heat until meat is just short of desired completion. Serve with rice or sometimes I like to make a traditional (and simple) "Hawaiian Lunch Truck Macaroni Salad" (elbow mac, shredded raw carrot and mayo) to serve on the side.

Thanks again Megan. This was a fun!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Wine Century Club

Finally! The certification I had been waiting for since I applied back in April and started my Wine Century Club venture back four years ago, arrived in the mail today!

The Wine Century Club was created in 2005 for all areas of the wine community, including wine educators, wine writers and just plain wine lovers. The majority of the 590 some members not only hail from the United States, but from all over the globe.

If you've tasted at least 100 different grape varieties, you're qualified to become a member. It's not as easy as one thinks either. I started keeping track of the grape varieties I tasted for the last four years. At first it seemed to go rather slow until I was a judge at a Northwest wine show and tasted varieties I hadn't tasted before, let alone could spell them such as Kerner, Ehrenfelser, Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe. Along the way I was able to taste the wines of Georgia and I'm not talking wines from Atlanta, either. Native wine grapes from the Republic of Georgia included more varieties I couldn't spell, but enjoyed tasting them such Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Rachuli-Tetra and Alexandreuli. Before I knew it, I was on a quest to taste more unusual and obscure grapes and finally earlier in the year I had recounted my list and discovered I had tasted over a 100 grapes!

I can't think of a tastier way to receive a certificate!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sex in a Bottle: TL Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s bold. It's lush. Troy told me to open the heavy dark bottle ahead of time and let it breath for a couple of hours before serving. He was wrong. I should have decanted it earlier in the day! It was so bold and holding so much character, I knew I had a stunning wine in my glass especially when out of the three guests I served it to the "non-red" wine drinker said, “ I am surprised. I really like this. It doesn’t make my mouth pucker. It’s s-o-o-o sm-o-o-o-th.”

We were holding in our wine glasses, TL Cellars "Release Two" Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 produced with the very distinctive grapes from Les Collines Vineyard. As the dark liquid poured from the bottle into the glass, it reminded me of black ink until I saw the red hue in the glass. My nose didn't decieve me either, as I knew this grape came from Walla Walla soil. I could smell the wonderful "wheatiness" and essence de pétrole that is often so dominant in the soil that surrounds the foothills of the Blue Mountains - the soil that is such a reminder of Walla Walla's rich farming history.

The longer I held this glass of wine in my hand, I kept picking up other aromas that were so familiar to me such as smoke from slow burning apple wood, hints of a cigar humidor, oven warm blackberry cobbler and the king of extracts - Mexican vanilla. My "non-drinking" red wine friend was right about this wine as once the wine fell on the tongue it indeed was smooth. Yet, it still danced around a bit on the palate showing off its many flavors. We picked up flavors of dark ripe cherries, hints of fresh black licorice, and blackberries. With one of the sips, a flashback from days past came to me as it reminded me of toasted whole wheat bread slathered with currant jelly made from the currants we use to pick with my grandmother.

The finish was lingering and juicy leaving the palate wanting for more. This is a wine that will no doubt just keep getting better and always showing something new. It's been quoted by the winemaker this wine is "sex in a bottle." If "sex in a bottle" means being satiated and content, but greedily wanting more? Then it is - - sex in a bottle.

I would be lying if I said the character of the wine surprised me, but my instincts told me it was going to be an elegant, yet bold wine. I mean - how could it not be? Troy Ledwick, owner and winemaker of TL Cellars attended the Walla Walla Institute for Enology and Viticulture and it was there he had the good fortune to be mentored by the late and very great Stan Clarke. Stan assisted Troy with finding jobs during the seasonal "crush." And while working at some of the finest wineries in the valley such as Forgeron Cellars, Basel Cellars, and Long Shadows, Troy was often presented with opportunities to learn some of the winemaking styles from these winemakers.

There were only 792 bottles produced of the TL Cellars Second Release Cabernet Sauvignon and rightly so. This is truly such a special wine that there shouldn't be that much "sex in a bottle" being taken for granted.