Thursday, June 30, 2011

Branded for Quality and Affordability: Redd Brand

During these changing economic times, many a wine lover is thinking differently about the way they are buying their wines. They are not forsaking the grape, or even the best of the grape, as what a better way to calm our nerves and keep our heart healthy than with a soothing glass of great wine. However, many of us are not cracking open a $35 - $50 bottle of wine every night and looking for the more affordable, but still just as tasty, wines.

One thing in favor for us wine lovers, we are discovering more and more top-notch wineries who are finding ways to get us through this double-dip recession. One of the ways is to produce a "second" label. These "second" label wines are typically more affordable, while not forsaking quality. These are often "leftovers" where the harvest may have produced a percentage of extra barrels of quality wines, but more than what the winery required to achieve the perfect balance in their high-end blends or limited single variety production. Instead of selling the extra "juice" to another winery or negociants, many wineries are now using these wines as a second label that are not sold in the wineries, but only sold through wine shops and restaurants.

Enters "Redd Brand" to save the day - - and our pocketbooks and our discerning palate! Produced by Tertulia Cellars, Redd Brand is a blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 5% Carmenere, 4% Petit Verdot, & 2% Cabernet Franc. This 2008 vintage was sourced from Pepper Bridge, Blue Mountain, Lonesome Spring Ranch and Phinny Hill Vineyards. It is dark and opulent! The nose is smoky, meaty and with dark stoned fruit. The palate is full bodied with plums and dark cherries drenching the mouth. While this is branded as a second label, with bright and well-integrated acids, this wine will easily age well over the next ten years. But why? I say, drink it now and always.

The release on this hearty red couldn't be a perfect timing with summer BBQ's on the calendar. Anything on the grill with a western flair is going to pair well with Redd Brand. I am thinking beef 'n' veggie shish-ka-bobs, burgers, ribs, flatbreads and fresh picked wild berry cobblers. Even the attractive red paisley label is reminiscent of a cowboy 'kerchief and so appropriate as Redd Brand was named after a rancher by the name of Bill Redd. He was founder of the Red Meadow Bar in Helena, Montana. Cowboys and ranch hands gathered at this bar after a long day of hard and dusty labor to "wet their whistle." YEE-HAW!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Elusive, Yet Devoted: Dowsett Family Wines

Chris Dowsett just didn't wake up one morning and decided to produce Gewürztraminer. This aromatic white wine grape, with Germanic origins, is in his blood.

His path to winemaking all started when he produced his first ten gallons of Gewürztraminer in junior high school. Later, he would put in a few years at Canoe Ridge Vineyard/Winery in Walla Walla and assisted with their Columbia Valley Gewürztraminer. While winemaking at the former winery, Lattitude 46, Chris also produced a dry barrel fermented Gewürztraminer under the Lattitude 46 label. He was at this Touchet, Washington winery until 2007 when he would become winemaker for Artifex Wine Company in Walla Walla. It was there, at this world-class custom crush facility, that Dowsett Family Wines was conceived with its first 300 cases of wine. Chris has since moved on from Artifex, but when Chris isn't producing his own wines, he is also assistant winemaker for Buty Winery.

Dowsett Family Winery is a small production winery with a little over 300 cases a year (around 173 cases of Gewürztraminer and 200 cases of the red Rhone-style blend, "Devotion"), which makes these much sought-after wines rather elusive.

Dowsett Family Gewürztraminer - 2010
: From the Celilo Vineyard at Columbia Gorge. This vineyard was planted in 1982 and is dry-farmed. If you want to know what a dry Gewürztraminer should taste like, this wine is a stunning example. This aromatic grape shows floral notes of a rose garden and the palate is expressive of white peaches and other stone fruit. While this is a dry white, it is very fruit forward which leaves an impression otherwise. Chilled just right, this light white wine is cool and crisp and the use of neutral oak leaves a round mouthfeel. Yeah, you want this wine for those cool summer evenings ahead of us, but it is also food friendly. Think spicy Thai or light seafood salads.

Dowsett Family Devotion - 2008: Like the back label of the wine bottle says: "Three varieties, one wine." This rich and full Rhone-style red is a blend of 41% Syrah from Morrison Lane Vineyard at Walla Walla Valley AVA, 30% Mourvedre from Kiona Heart of the Hill at Red Mountain AVA, and 29% Grenache from Destiny Ridge at Horse Heaven Hills AVA. The nose is smoky and smells of black and blue berries. If you could describe what the words, "deep and dark" taste like, then Devotion tastes like these two adjectives. Think a mouth full of dark chocolate covered cherries with a dash of white pepper in the finish. A spicy BBQ and grilled meats and vegetables is on the agenda for this red wine.

If you don't believe that Gewürztraminer isn't a big part of Chris Dowsett's life, ask him about his belt buckle. And the devotion to his wine is shown by his work gloves as they are marked "D E V O" on one hand and "T I O N" on the other.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What Did Bill Drink?

Some of my readers may not know that I am also a regular contributor to Walla Walla Lifestyles, a magazine about the valley's people, wine and food. In fact, some of you may not know about the magazine at all. It is distributed 11 times a year through subscription with the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. The following article is from the June 2011 issue.

The announcement of the 120-year-old gas plant transformation into the new Power House Theatre has been exciting news for our citizens, local businesses, as well as visitors to Walla Walla.

The new theatre will be filled with the sights and sounds of Shakespeare. With all of the hustle and bustle of the remodel and the events and plays planned for the new theatre, we wonder: “What was the favored drink poured at the Blackfriars Theatre in London? What did Bill drink?”

History tells us that wine has been a staple of European diets for centuries and, of course, it was a staple during the life and times of William Shakespeare. The citizens of Shakespeare’s era not only enjoyed sipping wine, but they had started to look at it as more than just a refreshment and actually as a substitute for drinking water. The upper class enjoyed it regularly and would soon come to discuss the virtues and romance of wine.

However, the grapes from England were not satisfactory for winemaking, so Elizabethan oenophiles imported wines from other parts of Europe, such as France and Spain.

“Sherris-sack,” also known as “sack,” from Spain was becoming an important wine for the Elizabethans. “Sack” was an old wine term for aged white wine that had been fortified with brandy. We are familiar with that amber-colored wine, which is now known as sherry. Today there is also a popular mainstream label of sherry that has been around since the late 1800s known as “Dry Sack.”

William Shakespeare declared his love for sherry through his plump fictional character Sir John Falstaff, who was famously featured in “Henry IV, Part 2,” announcing:

“If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack.”

During the time of Shakespeare, there were at least 100 ale and beer breweries in London. It is believed that “Macbeth” was first performed at a theatre north of London around the year 1605, and at the same time and in the same area of London the town council agreed to restrict the number of brewers as a way to halt the continuing rise in the price of fuel wood.

So, if you think the ongoing battle over gas prices is something new, it might be useful to remember that even back then there were rises in fuel prices

It is said that, of the two fermented malt drinks, Shakespeare enjoyed ale more than the hopped-up beer. Shakespeare was born and raised in rural Stratford, England, and was no fan of these new, citified beers. He was a country boy, after all, and was raised on ale as his father was the mayor and the official ale taster in Stratford. The job of official ale taster was an important and well-respected one, for even the queen drank this brew.

I think Shakespeare possibly used Hamlet to express his disdain for the hoppy liquid. Hamlet contemplates death and asks his companion, “To what base uses we may return, Horatio! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till he find it stopping a bunghole?”

In other words: In the phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” (we) we return to earth as dust, and earth is used to make clay, clay was used to make bungs, and bungs are used as beer-barrel stoppers.

And last but not least, there was mead, the ancestor of all fermented drinks being poured around the tables of the Elizabethans. Also known as “honey wine,” mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man and is simply the result of a fermentation of water, yeast and honey, with maybe a few spices and herbs tossed in. There were many variants added depending on where the mead was produced in countries and cultures around the world.

Mead can also be fermented with additives such as apples, maple syrup, currents, berries, rosehips and even chili peppers.

Shakespeare brings up metheglin, (known as “spiced mead”) in his plays “Love’s Labor’s Lost” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”

Whether it be ale, beer, sherry or wine, these beverages are nothing new to our century and have been produced and consumed since man first discovered that these sugar solutions of different origins, if left standing would ferment naturally and spontaneously. Man also discovered that not only was the beverage rather tasty, but fermentation was a way of preserving liquids — a useful discovery since he didn’t have a fancy stainless steel, French double-door refrigerator to plug into his cave or manger.

One thing we can be certain of, as the fans of Shakespeare gather in Walla Walla to enjoy his works at the new Powerhouse Theatre, they will never have to utter nor will we ever hear those five little words, other than those spoken on stage, “Have we no wine here?”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sleight of Hand Cellars - Spellbinder Red

After spending all day talking about wine and pouring wine, believe it or not there are days the last thing you want in the evenings is to think about the wine you are drinking. Okay, so all you want is to get off of your feet and relax. You want to relax with a good solid glass of wine - a solid glass that has all of the components you enjoy in a glass of hearty red wine.

I suppose I wasn't really thinking about the wine I was going to have that evening. However, I decided to "live on the edge" and blindly reached into a case of mixed wines, that I had yet to take the time to put away, and whatever wine I picked out from the case would be the wine of the evening. I reached in and pulled out the Sleight of Hand Cellars Spellbinder Red - 2009. I actually did think about the wine at the time of procuring it, as I won a door prize at a local fundraiser and I got to pick my own prize of many to choose from and the pack of two Sleight of Hand Cellars red wines with their "magical" labels reached out to me and screamed, "Pick me!"

It was almost a relief to see that the bottle had a screw top. I didn't have to take the time to screw with a cork and I knew my glass of wine was going to be without TCA. I could also safely screw the cap on without a fuss. Like I pointed out earlier - all I wanted was a glass of wine that I didn't have to think about - - and damn it, wouldn't you know, with first taste I started pondering this lovely blend.

The 2009 Spellbinder is a harmonious blend of 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 10% Sangiovese, and 9% Syrah. The smell of espresso greeted my nose. The wine was full with notes of chocolate covered cherries with a hint of raspberries that completed it with just a bit of acid. A hint of spice made itself known, but without taking over the mellow fruit. The fruit was sourced from several vineyards in the Walla Walla, Red Mountain, Yakima, and Horse Heaven AVA’s. Lots of different terroir going on.

This is a great and affordable everyday sipping wine and I knew I needed a second glass of Sleight of Hand Spellbinder to go with the dinner I had been braising all day in the LeCreuset Dutch Oven (or is that "French Oven?") - a beef roast browned and simmered slowly with lots of onions, later shredded and with a brown sugary BBQ sauce added. This beefy and spicy goodness was served on top of an onion roll. I could not have blindly picked a better wine to sip and to pair with dinner, if I had reached into the case of wine with purpose.