Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Renegade Thanksgiving with Wine

I know your type. You're the one who is so predictable about what wines you are going to serve at your Thanksgiving table. You are about as predictable as those little marshmallows you top on your sweet potatoes. Or perhaps I am giving you too much credit when I say, "wines." If I know you, it is usually just one bottle of wine. I also know that you have perused through the Family Day and Women's Circle magazines at the grocery check-out trying to figure out what wine goes with turkey. Oh what a surprise! The magazines both agree that the only wine to go with turkey is Pinot Noir. However, this year the journalist is really living on the edge as she suggest to her readers to impress their friends and family with a "fresh" wine - a Beaujolais Nouveau.

Oh wait! You're thinking. "I have seen the Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, but it was a 2009 and on sale in a grocery cart in the center of the wine aisle. I will get that instead of the 2010. It's got a little age on it ... "

Okay, listen up you silly pilgrim. Thanksgiving is about the bounty, right? Traditionally, this day was a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. Today, Thanksgiving is a time to, not only celebrate our harvest, but to express thanks and gratitude for all of the special peeps and possessions in our lives.

Thanksgiving is the time to be bountiful in the foods we bring to the table (well, except Aunt Ginny's green bean mushroom soup casserole. I can never find the mushrooms). So why should we scrimp and scrooge on the wines? Don't just put one wine glass at each place setting, place two - - or even three.

Bring out the bubbles and bring out several! Bring out bubbles from France, Italy, Spain and Domestic. Bring out all of the colors of the bubbles from golden, pink and "black" (sparkling shiraz).

The turkey is willing and ready to be paired with Rosé. It's so pretty and pink and perfect for those red wine lovers who are seeking a lighter version. In Walla Walla we have rosé produced from Cabernet Franc, Mourvèdre, and Sangiovese. And speaking of Sangiovese, the sage, thyme, onion, and sausage in your turkey dressing is made for Sangiovese.

Come on live a little, bring a bottle of Walla Walla Merlot to the kitchen and make a reduction sauce out of it that you can later toss in the cranberry compote or even the wild mushroom gravy. What you say? You make a cranberry jelly and then mold it in the shape of a can? Well, drizzle a bit of cooled Merlot redux over the jelly and you won't be sorry. And while you are in the kitchen making a reduction sauce, be sure and pour a glass for the chef. You'll need it when your least favorite cousin's girlfriend and her mother show up uninvited.

Alright! So the magazine says you need Pinot Noir for Thanksgiving, but why stop at just one bottle. Explore the world of Pinot Noir and grab a couple of bottles from different regions.

A bottle of Riesling or even Gewürztraminer can take you from the turkey to the pumpkin pie depending if the wine is dry or off-dry. An acidic white wine will cut the fat on the palate from the deep-fried turkey, while the off-dry will make for a yummy accompaniment with the pumpkin pie or gingerbread. Explore some other whites as well, such as Viognier or blends. Chardonnay will pair well with a smoked turkey and again, add a little Chardonnay to the broth when making gravy.

Bring out the "Stickies" (late harvest and ice wines) and Ports to finish the meal. And while you are at it, bring out some cigars from the humidor, as well. Hey, why not? Cigars are about the most civilized thing to smoking the peace pipe. And my point for this rant?

Break from the one bottle of Pinot Noir tradition and be a renegade. Embark on a quest from the norm like the original pilgrims. Pilgrims Priscilla and John Alden didn't have fried onions from a can to put on a green bean casserole nor did they have marshmallows to put on the sweet tubers at the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. Through the years these recipes have been published in newspapers and magazines and have become a big part of family traditions. These casseroles are a symbol of our bounty. If you are an expert, or even a novice lover of the grape, make wines another symbol of your bounty.

Crush happens in the fall and what a perfect time to celebrate the end of wine country's harvest with wine at Thanksgiving. Cheers!

Monday, November 22, 2010

WineTrails of Walla Walla by Steve Roberts

Author Steve Roberts did it again. Steve is best known for his popular book, WineTrails of Washington that arrived in 2007. It is a comprehensive guide for visiting Washington's wineries. The book became a best-seller in 2009 and now in its fourth printing. Along the way, came two other guidebooks, WineTrails of Oregon and WineTrails of Idaho (Yes, Idaho. They have more than 40 bonded wineries). I was so excited to hear from Steve earlier when he informed me he had a new book ready to be released this month - "WineTrails of Walla Walla."

WineTrails of Walla Walla is much more than a guide for uncorking your memorable wine tour. This 250 page book contains plenty of detailed photos, wineries listings, but also lists lodging and restaurants. One of the many things about the winery guide I found so handy, yet so clever, is that each of the wineries locations are listed in five separate distinct "trails" about Walla Walla: WineTrail West, Downtown WineTrail, Airport WineTrail, WineTrail East, and WineTrail South. There is also a listing for "Apointment-Only Wineries."

And when I say WineTrails of Walla Walla is more than a guide, it also gives some wine history, wine labels, tasting notes on the varietals, winery amenities, "sipping and cycling," wine touring with kidlets, wine tasting etiquette, and shopping and recreation listings. There are even pages to jot your own wine notes. Steve says the book is the most advanced book yet.

This last Saturday I was excited to meet with Steve at the shop. I had lots of questions for him (and of course, I made him sign my copy of WineTrails of Walla Walla first).

W5: Why Walla Walla - of all of the tourist locations, why did you choose this little place that is so tough to get to?

SR: Whenever I visited I would hear accents – American accents, foreign accents – and I realized that Walla Walla had become a destination of sorts. The fact that I needed to book a hotel room well in advance on event weekends also informed me that wine lovers enjoyed going to Walla Walla. Then when Sunset Magazine named Walla Walla as one of America’s top wine destination, that crystallized it for me. Couple that with the fact that the Valley offers so much in terms of places to stay, places to eat and things to do, I realized that a guidebook was screaming to be written.

W5: How many times have you visited Walla Walla?

SR: For my first book, WineTrails of Washington, I made a dozen trips to capture the wine scene. However, that was back in 2007 and the industry has proven to be more than organic – it’s changing all the time. Thus, when it came time to do the research for WineTrails of Walla Walla I knew I had my work cut out. (W5 note: Steve also says that he isn't ready to leave his Seattle home, but he feels that Walla Walla is his "home away from home." To quote him: "She's like a mistress and a not so secret lover.")

During the winter and spring of 2010, I made 17 separate weekend trips to Walla Walla from my home in the Seattle area. Four hours and twenty minutes each way – thank God for Sirius Radio! Incidentally, I know that change is a constant in the wine industry and especially in the Walla Walla Valley. Therefore, the book has a companion website at WineTrails NW that keeps pace with the changes (or at least I try to) and I am committed to updating the book on a regular basis.

W5: Do you feel that places close by, like Walla Walla, are becoming more important to the traveler, especially with the economy and how air travel has become uncomfortable and not as desirable?

SR: Yes and not just for the so-called culinary traveler. Most folks that I meet in the tasting rooms are not connoisseurs of wine – they might go wine tasting a few times a year and typically buy wine for their evening meal. From Spokane, Boise, Portland and Seattle it is less than a five hour drive to get to Walla Walla and it makes for a fun weekend getaway. I understand that for most travelers, Walla Walla is not a day trip. However, the fact that the Valley offers so much in the way of amenities makes it a pure joy to experience. I don’t have statistics on it but I suspect that most visitors to Walla Walla are not first time visitors – they are repeat offenders because they know that they can experience amazing wines and great cuisine in small city splendor.

W5: Small city splendor. I could not have said it any better. Thank you Steve.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hang On To Your Hat. It's Nine Hats from Long Shadows

If you are familiar with Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla, then you probably know that the winery is a group of famous winemakers from around the world who have been producing highly rated wines from Washington State fruit since their first releases in 2003. The names of the Long Shadows wines are: Feather, Pirouette, Pedestal, Sequel, Saggi, Poet's Leap and Chester Kidder.

If you are familiar with the wines then you probably know these famous winemakers include California winemakers Randy Dunn (Feather) and Agustin Huneeus (Pirouette), Michel Rolland (Pedestal) owner of Pomerol's Chateau Le Bon Pasteur, Australian John Duval (Sequel) formerly of Penfold's Grange, Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari (Saggi), and German Riesling producer Armin Diel (Poet’s Leap). Also, local resident Walla Walla winemaker, Gilles Nicault (Chester Kidder).

So if you have a few extra barrels of highly rated Long Shadow's 2007 vintage hanging around, such as their Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, as well as an additional Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec, what'cha suppose to do? You make a damn good red blend out of it. You know - - something that you can hang your hat on.

And that's exactly what Long Shadow's did. "Nine Hats" is a blend of 60% Cabernet, 15% Syrah, 11% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc. Of course, if you have had any of the Long Shadows red wines, then you know they are big and ripe, and "Nine Hats" is no different. A mouth of dark fruits such as cherries and plums appear with flavors of espresso, cocoa and a bit of ye' ol' cigar box. This blend almost leaves that signature, "Yup this is a Washington wine" on your palate.

"Nine Hats" is the best of Long Shadow's with an affordable price. In the mean time, I have been staring at the label thinking there is one extra Derby. The red Derby in the middle of the label has to belong to Allen Shoup, himself, the founder of the Long Shadow's partnership and also one of the founding fathers of the Washington wine industry.

We tip our hats an' raise our glasses.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Credibility As A Wine Blogger

Yesterday, a respected wine writer wrote on his personal blog wondering now that I have started a new commercial enterprise, how will it impact this wine blog? He is wondering if my "transparency and credibility" will suffer and will this wine blog become more of a tool for commerce and less of a passionate calling?

At first thought, I was going to post my resume for the last thirty-years, stamp my feet and give all of the reasons why my credibility shouldn't suffer. Then the more I thought about it, I decided that I didn't need to explain myself. Just like my wine blog started in the beginning, I will let my readers decide its path. If there comes a day I no longer have any readers, then I guess we will have our answer on my credibility.

Wine blogging has been a hobby and in fact, one of my hobbies. I enjoy "collecting." Depending on my mood, sometimes I collect Depression glassware or 1900's-1920's furnishings. Sometimes I might collect rose bushes, vintage purses and perfume bottles or miniature grizzly bears hand carved out of stone or wood. One of my collections happens to be several old and worn biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. In fact, a photo of ol' TR hangs on the wall above the computer that I write this very blog on. Here is an old quote of Teddy's that rather sums it up for me.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Take a Stroll to Nicholas Cole

Stroll up Main Street in Walla Walla and on the corner of Main and Palouse streets you will find Nicholas Cole Cellars. The winery is very much about family and it shows in the name of the winery and the wines - even the majestic gold "NC" insignia resembles a crest which often stands for history and heraldry of family generations.

Owner and winemaker, Mike Neuffer took a thoughtful approach when naming his winery after his son and daughter, Nicholas and Michele Cole. The beautifully named artisan winery is devoted to complex and concentrated red wines. The first release for Nicholas Cole Winery was a 376 case production of a 2001 Bordeaux-style blend, a Claret, which immediately put the winery on the Walla Walla map. Production of this blend was later increased with the next vintage and Mike changed the wine's name to "Camille," in honor of his grandmother. The arrival of other bold and elegant wines, named after family members, continued.

Jeanie Inglis-Chowanietz, general manager of Nicholas Cole strolled me through the wines:

Camille - 2005: This is the wine that started it all for Nicholas Cole. A blend of 45% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% Petit Verdot. It is rich and silky with notes of milk chocolate and spice.

Michele - 2006: "Rich and Ripe" are the two words to describe this classic blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Petit Verdot. Smells like an autumn evening in the Walla Walla Valley. Black fruit of plum and cherries show off with hints of cocoa and cigar box.

Dauphiné - 2006: Like the name, this wine is stunning. A sophisticated Rhone-style wine of 100% Syrah. Dark and smoky with notes of blueberries, espresso and spice. Reminded me of brunch in a snowed-in cabin with a menu of blueberry waffles, bacon and a double espresso latte.

Juliet - 2006: Unfortunately this wine is now sold out. Boo-hoo! Named after Mike's sister, this wine may be elegant, but it is super! Super Tuscan, that is. 53% Sangiovese, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot. Spicy!

GraEagle RedWing - 2006: Mike has the right touch with his blending. 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc, 18% Merlot, 6% Syrah, and 3% Petit Verdot. An affordable wine for $25, yet it doesn't taste so "affordable." It tastes like a million bucks!

Estate Reserve - 2005: Last, but certainly not least. This wine is the "million-dollar baby" with a blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot from the Neuffer Estate Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. Only 200 cases were produced of this instense and complex blend. A mouthful of chocolate cherries and rich cherry liquor. Velvety.

Visit Nicholas Cole's tasting room and check out the recycled, yet attractive, barrel stave paneling. Once you taste the wines you will understand why their motto is: Great wines are made ‘one vine at a time.’

Friday, November 05, 2010

Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend

In Walla Walla, for the last 29-years, the first weekend in November has long been known as the Walla Walla Wine Auction Weekend. Then in the last nine years, the weekend had an added dimension as it became the "Cayuse Vineyards Release Weekend." Basically it's this - - unless you know about "the list" or on the "waiting list to get on the list" or on "the list," this Cayuse list didn't mean anything to you.

However, what it meant to the wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, it meant: crush is over (well, not this year), polish up your building, clean the purple gunk out of your fingernails, bring out your new releases and smile because there are a whole lot of wine lovers in town! And after they are finished picking up their wines from Cayuse, they still want to find some more wineries to visit. This weekend is now known as our "Fall Release." And wouldn't you know, Cayuse Vineyards has changed their annual weekend to next spring instead.

But no frets my pretty, as there are plenty of things to do in Walla Walla and the wineries are bringing out some of their finest, showing off their newest and even have some special events planned. Now, I know I can give you my annual do's and don'ts such as: eat well, hydrate-hydrate-hydrate, don't try to do a 25-wineries-in-a-day marathon and brag about it to the last 12 wineries you visited, put the cell phone away when visiting a winery (let your secret service people take care of it since you are so damn important) and yada-yada-yada ...

However, read and get Walla Walla wine educated and make your own list, since there is no list to either be on or not be on. Which means is this - discover some of the latest wines and wineries who have recently been given medals, points and accolades. And please also remember this: just because a winery or a wine doesn't have the medals, points and accolades, doesn't mean they are not worthy to seek out. It takes a lot of time and work for the wineries to get their wines to those who give out medals, points and accolades. I mean, the wine fairy just doesn't magically show up at night and place a medal on the wines. If it were only that easy ...

Enjoy the weekend.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Seven Hills Winery - One of the Originals

Fall Release in Walla Walla is just around the corner. Many wine enthusiasts are taking note of the newest wineries around the valley and adding them to their list of wineries to seek out. But while you are making a list, don't forget to visit and re-visit some of the originals in the valley.

Seven Hills Winery is one of those "originals" in the Walla Walla Valley. The winery was established in 1988 by Casey and Vicky McClellan (Vicky - right photo). In 1982, Casey joined his father in planting the original Seven Hills Vineyard, which has since expanded with new owners and known as one of the ten greatest vineyards in the world. One has to wonder if Casey realized at the time he was participating in Walla Walla wine history in the making.

Seven Hills Winery has helped put Walla Walla on the map with their Cabernet, Merlot and other Bordeaux-style red varietals. The McClellans now have 20 acres of vines adjacent to the famed Seven Hills Vineyard. In addition to their estate wines, they also produce vineyard-designated wines from other celebrated vineyards in the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla AVA's. Surprisingly, they also produce a Pinot Gris with fruit from Oregon.

The winery and tasting room is located downtown Walla Walla in the historic Whitehouse-Crawford building at 212 North 3rd Ave. The old woodworking mill and furniture factory was built in 1904 and in 2000 the old brick building was remodeled to house, not only Seven Hills Winery, but also the popular Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant. Visitors to the winery and the restaurant can view the working barrel room from the large glass windows.

This weekend add one of the originals to your list and taste the newly released vintages from Seven Hills Winery:

Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Red Mountain Vintage Red - 2008
Pentad, Walla Walla Valley Vintage Red Wine - 2006
Carmenere, Walla Walla Valley - 2006

Cheers!