sonoma wine country revisited

Revisiting Sonoma

Back in March (!), we had the wonderful opportunity to go back down to Sonoma again, for a very brief, but delicious trip. We took off from Walla Walla on Monday, had an amazing dinner that night, attended a very excellent luncheon at a very special winery, tasted at 3 other wineries and 1 brewery, and flew home the next morning.

John Ash & Co

We stayed at the beautiful Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa, and had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, John Ash & Co, on our first night. My grandma was so incredibly excited to eat here, as she’d taken a cooking class from John Ash in Seattle, way back in the day, and she’d loved it. As a souvenir, we all got a signed copy of John Ash’s cookbook! And it was an incredible meal; I had the miso-glazed black cod with soba noodles and vegetables, and it was the most tender, perfectly cooked fish. I’ve experimented with a poor-man’s version of this meal since, and it’s always good, but never quite as good. We started off with sparkling wine and then moved on to the Flowers Pinot Noir, which was excellent. It was a very Pinot trip, which I found so exciting! Walla Walla is not exactly known for its Pinot, although the winery where I work does make one. Really, this meal started the trip off with a bang, and it just got better.

Kosta Browne Winery

The next day, we started off at 11am to the big event of the trip; our luncheon at the small and fairly exclusive Kosta Browne Winery. We were greeted with sparkling wine (not their own, but definitely festive!), given the tour of the new facility, and did some barrel tasting of Pinots from some radically different vineyards. The luncheon itself was very memorable; the main course was a southwestern-French cassoulet paired with two different Pinot Noirs: the 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which was lighter with great fruit and the 2012 Santa Lucia Pinot Noir, which had some tannin to it and some earthiness. Both were fantastic; it’s probably a good thing that they wouldn’t let us buy wine then (although many of our group did sign up for the waiting list!), because I would have maxed out my wine budget here.

Iron Horse Winery

After lunch and debating our options, we took ourselves to Iron Horse Winery in search of some sparkling wine, because we can never, ever resist a nice bottle of bubbly. Iron Horse has an outdoor tasting bar on top of a hill, with some truly stunning views. They also have a winery cat, so naturally I spent most of my time during the tasting making friends with her (the cat’s name is LG, which stands for Late Disgorgement, a sparkling wine term for when the lees, or sediment from dead yeast cells, is taken out of the bottle of wine). Iron Horse makes a huge variety of wines, but we elected to taste just the sparkling.  We especially liked the Fairy Tale Cuvee and the Wedding Cuvee. All in all, we had a great time on that hilltop with the cat and the sparkling wine.

Papapietro Perry

Our tasting at Papapietro Perry was short; we only made it there at the very end of the day. What the tasting lacked in personality, it more than made up for in great wine. The Pinots had plenty of oomph to them, like those at Kosta Browne, but for a much lower price. We tried the Zinfandel, but we were just stuck on the Pinots this time. This was really my first experience with the Sonoma Pinots, and I found them to be full of flavor and body, with well balanced acidity. I’m sure you can find insipid, watery Pinots in California, but we definitely did not find them at Papapietro Perry.

We were only in Sonoma for one full day, but it felt like we’d been there for a week! I really enjoyed my time there, but it felt great to come home. Everyone we met in Sonoma was friendly and informative, but there’s something about the down-to-earth, agricultural feel of Walla Walla that makes me feel connected to the wines. Maybe it’s the difference of working in wine country here and visiting wine country there. Either way, I’ll definitely be back to Sonoma. When I do, where should I go and what should I see?

Earnest blog

What I’ve Been Up To

I tend to disappear for weeks on end and then come back with a trickle of new posts (and then occasionally, a flood), and this time I’ve been gone from blogging for a month and a half! Partly, the busy season in Walla Walla has been heating up, and partly I’ve been focusing on other projects.

We went back down to Sonoma again last month for a delicious wine luncheon at Kosta Browne winery and a day of wine and beer tasting, which I’ll post fully about soon!

I‘ve also been pretty active going to tasting groups and wine events around Walla Walla (again, more posts to come!). In the last month, I’ve been to a sparkling wine tasting, a Burgundy tasting, a viognier tasting, and a Crawfish Boil (Rotie’s annual spring event).

But the main project that’s been taking up my free time has been my volunteer work doing social media for Shakespeare Walla Wallathe local nonprofit Shakespeare organization. We just recently had The Importance of Being Earnest on the stage, and I ran a fun (but time consuming!) social media campaign for it that involved a bowler hat and a treasure hunt! We have a lot of downtown Walla Walla businesses that support us, so we pitched this idea to them at the beginning of April; every day leading up to opening night, we would leave Earnest’s bowler hat at a different downtown business and post photo clues to our facebook page. Anyone who went in to the business and told the employees “I’m looking for my friend Earnest” got an immediate discount code for tickets. It was a lot of fun; I love that being in a small town allows for this kind of promotion with other businesses.

The show itself was hilarious (as Wilde always is- I think it’s hard to screw up when every line from his plays is quotable), and I’m glad that Walla Walla is developing more in terms of arts and culture- it pairs well with the wine culture here!

Hopefully, I will be able to make more time to blog now that the show is over (although we have a few more shows coming up- Duke Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder next week, and Julius Caesar and Two Gentlemen of Verona this summer!) As always, I have a running list in my head of things I want to write about.

winter

Winter Wine Blues: 5 Ways to Get Out of a Wine Rut

I’m the first to admit that I get the winter blues every year; everything gets gray, most of the wineries close, and no one comes to town.  Not to mention, everyone (including me) is trying to get rid of their holiday weight and save money after Christmas. But there is still fun to be had during the winter! Here are 5 ideas for having some fun with wine while everything’s still gray. 

1. Try a varietal you’ve never even heard of. Try 100! Check out the Century Club; you get to be a member if you try 100 different varietals of wine (even if you only try them in blends). I’ve only got about 50 under my belt, but I’m slogging away at it! I’ve never even heard of many of these varietals.

2. Go to a wine tasting, even if you don’t live in wine country. Many wine shops offer tastings every so often; check out your local wine shop’s Italian wine night or bubbly tasting! If you’re in the Seattle area, check out Esquin’s tastings. If you’re not, get on some email lists for wine shops in your area; they’ll let you know when they’re putting on tastings.

3. Check out a wine bar and try a flight of wines. Or pick something from the menu that you’ve never tried before. Or tell your server to surprise you. Wine bars are the hottest thing right now; they’re fun spots for a date or just to catch up with friends, and they often have “hidden gem” wines that you can’t find anywhere else. Try one of these places, if you live near one.

4. Have blind tasting nights. Invite some friends over once a week; each week, someone opens a secret bottle, and everyone else has to guess what it is and where it’s from. Write tasting notes for it yourselves; that’s definitely the best part.

5. Pair wine and movie nights. Heavy cabs for drama, light and easy grenache for comedies, whatever other pairings you can think of! I’d pair Rotie & El Corazon’s The Swordfight with Firefly, because it’s a serious, meaty wine, but fun and a little crazy at the same time. But maybe not, because the Swordfight is on the pricier side, and I rewatch Firefly too often for that.

vouvray jpg

The Sexiest-Sounding Region is Vouvray: Some Facts

I really like the way the name Vouvray sounds. I feel like if you walked into a restaurant and said “I’ll have a glass of Vouvray, please,” you would sound like the sexiest and classiest person at the restaurant, which is why I’ll be ordering Vouvray at all the restaurants from now on.

Some notes from our Vouvray tasting group meeting earlier this week: “It smells like a lawnmower. It’s like someone mowing the lawn and smoking a cigarette.” “It smells like someone mowing the lawn and smoking a cigarette and drinking lemonade at the same time. On a hot day.” What we concluded was that Vouvray has a distinct diesel/gasoline smell to it, and often a citrusy and slightly grassy or herbal smell as well. It wasn’t bad, it was just very distinctive.

Vouvray is a wine region in the Loire Valley. In the upper-middle part of France, southwest of Paris, Vouvray is a well-known regions for white wines. Almost all the wines that come from this region are Chenin Blanc, and they’re often off-dry and sometimes sparkling. Chenin Blanc is pretty acidic, which balances out any sweetness to the wines, and makes a great pairing with spicy foods or seafood. The soil of the region brings out very minerally notes in the wines, which we noticed in our tasting. The cooler climate in the Loire produces wines with higher acidity, and cooler years tend to produce drier Vouvrays while warmer years produce sweeter ones.

We tasted five different Vouvrays (okay, four Vouvrays and one Walla Walla Chenin Blanc for comparison), and they were a wide range of sugar levels. The favorite seemed to be the off-dry Vouvray with lots of acidity and lemon notes, while many people liked the completely dry Chenin Blanc from Walla Walla. Sometime, we’ll have to do a tasting of Savennièreswhich is a regions that specializes in dry Chenin Blancs.

Drink Vouvray with dishes with rich, flavorful sauces, seafood fettucine alfredo, crab cakes, coconut curry, salty cheeses, or duck. I voted for the crab cakes, but no one brought me any.

Does anyone have Vouvray stories? If not, just start saying the word frequently, and stories will happen. 

Sparklingsmall

Bubbly 101

This post would probably have been better before Christmas and New Year’s, since sparkling wines have their peak sales then, but I’m on board the all-year-bubbly train, so I’m writing it now. There isn’t a whole lot of sparkling wine in Walla Walla, because most wineries don’t own the equipment needed to make sparkling wines. Castillo de Feliciana and Isenhower Cellars are the two local wineries that make a limited release sparkling wine, and Treveri Cellars in Yakima, WA is a well-known sparkling wine house in the state. Maybe I can blame it on the lack of local bubbly, but for the longest time, I was a part of the champagne-at-NYE-only crowd; champagne labels confused me (“sec”, “demi-sec”, “brut”- mystifying!), and most of the people I knew were drinking bottom-shelf Andre’s, which was clearly not quality sparkling material, even to my untrained palate. But slowly, I’ve been coming out of my still-wine shell and discovering lots of great and inexpensive bubbly wines!

The very first thing I want to clear up is all the terminology that comes along with sparkling wine. When I learned myself a little bit about the terms, I found it a lot easier to pick out a sparkling wine from the many choices. Here’s a little glossary of words I’m glad I know:

methode champenoise/methode traditionelle: If one of these phrases appears on the label, this wine was made in the style traditionally used in the Champagne region of France; the wine goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle, creating bubbles. This is the most expensive method of making sparkling wine. Champagne (sparkling wine made in the Champagne region) and Cava (sparkling wine made in Spain) are fermented with this method.

charmat: This is a different method of creating sparkling wine; the wine goes through secondary fermentation in a tank, creating bubbles, and is then transferred into bottles. This method is less expensive, but can produce some really great value sparkling wines. Many proseccos are done in this method, as well as a lot of the value priced sparkling wines all over the world.

Champagne: Sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France, typically out of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.

Cava: Sparkling wine made in Spain, typically out of Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada.

Prosecco: Sparkling wine made from the prosecco grape in Italy.

Cremant: A sparkling wine from a specific region and specific grapes in France; for instance, “Cremant de Limoux”, which is made with Mauzac grapes in the Limoux region, or “Cremant de la Loire” , which is mainly Cab Franc or Chenin Blanc from the Loire region. These wines are highly regulated: only 7 Cremants are recognized in France.

The next most confusing thing about sparkling wine is, for me, the sweetness level. From driest to sweetest, it goes:

Extra Brut/Brut Nature

Brut

Sec/Dry

Demi-Sec/Off Dry

Doux

I personally prefer Brut sparkling wines; I like a little bit of sweetness to round it out, but not enough to be  a sweet wine. Many people will say they like only the driest, but I’m willing to bet that Extra Brut/Brut Nature, with no sugar at all, is a little too tart for many palates.

What to eat with sparkling wines? Depends on the sugar levels! The driest sparkling wines will be light and lean, with great acidity: perfect with spicy foods or creamy sauces. Seafood fettucine alfredo, coconut milk curry, or brie would be great with these sparklers. Brut or Sec would be great with some cheeses as an aperitif, or some light finger foods like crostini with an olive tapenade. The sweet sparkling wines go really well with dessert; sweet foods will make dry wines taste sour, so pour some demi-sec bubbly to go with cake or strawberries and cream!

Now we can all go peruse our local sparkling wine shelf at the grocery store and come back with a better idea of what we’re getting ourselves into!

frosty vines

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone’s holiday season has been great! In the past 10 days, I have driven across a mountain pass at night in the snow, drank more sparkling wine in one week than I have in the last few months, given a lot of gifts, gotten a lot of gifts, seen more of my relatives than I have in two years, lost a cocktail contest, been invited on a trip to Napa in 2014, gotten lost on the way to a tea shop thanks to my sister, and read two murder mysteries, and it’s not even New Year’s yet!

Wines I tried at least a sip of over Christmas:

2008 Owen Roe Pinot Noir

2010 Soos Creek Artist Series

NV Lini Lambrusco Rosso

2004 Canoe Ridge Merlot

2008 Rotie VdP

2009 Rotie Southern Blend

NV Torre Oria Cava

NV Domaine Collin Cremant de Limoux

NV German Gilbert Cava Rosat

2010 Fielding Hills Cab Franc

2009 Olsen Estates Edythe May Syrah

2009 (?) Columbia Crest H3 Chardonnay

and an unidentified Italian white wine that we found hiding in my mom’s cellar, after she claimed to have no white wines at all

And now I’m back in Walla Walla and waking up to the residue of freezing fog all over the trees and vines! Now, what’s everyone drinking for New Year’s?

hostess

The Art of the Hostess Gift: 5 Tips for Wine Gifts

The season of holiday parties is upon us, and that means the season of hostess gifts is also here! It wasn’t until after college that I started bringing hostess gifts on a regular basis (and no, bringing wine to a BYOB party doesn’t count!), but now I like to take a bottle of wine whenever I show up at someone’s house for any kind of event. Events that you might consider bringing a hostess gift to: dinner parties, housewarming parties, holiday parties, anytime you’re staying overnight at someone’s home, or if someone treats you to an especially nice dinner out. 

1. Stick to your budget. Don’t go all out bringing your hosts $30 or $40 bottles of wine if you’re on a $10 bottle of wine budget. There are plenty of decent $10 bottles out there. Try some inexpensive imported wines, like Spanish Riojas, Argentinean Malbecs, or Chilean Carmeneres. Something out of the ordinary will make an impression without costing a fortune.

2. The nicer the event, the nicer the hostess gift. If you’ve been invited for a weekend stay where your hosts are spending a lot of time and/or money to entertain you and show you around, think about cutting back on some other expenses and taking a nicer bottle of wine. If you’re on a budget, maybe spring for a $20 bottle, and if you’re a little less on a budget, think about putting down $30 for a hidden gem. Here in Walla Walla, you can get some great local wines for just about $30 a bottle, although you might have to search a little more if you’re not located in a prime wine region.

3. Bring a bottle they’ll enjoy. Bring wine that your hosts like, not wine that you like. If your hosts like sweet wines, now is not the time to push some excellent red wines on them. Take them a bottle of Moscato or a sweeter Riesling, and they’ll appreciate it a lot more than a pricey bottle they’ll never drink.

4. Don’t bring a chilled wine. This has been a pretty standard rule of hostess gifts for a long time. Bringing a chilled bottle indicates that you expect it to be served at the event, when it should be a gift for your hosts to enjoy later.

5. When you find a great hostess gift, stock up. If you find a wine that’s a good price, buy a whole case; many retailers and wineries will give a discount when you buy a case (12 bottles) or more of a single wine. The next time you have a party to go to, grab a bottle from the case, and you’re ready to go! I’ve been thinking lately about buying a case of inexpensive sparkling wine (like Blanquette de Limoux) so I’m ready to go whenever a holiday party comes up!

Have fun this holiday season, and be sure to thank your hosts, who are probably just as stressed out as you are!

Kicking off the Bubbly Season: Blanquette de Limoux

antech blanquette de limoux

Remember when I jumped on the bandwagon and paired sparkling wine with everything? I’m doing it again! I’ve been buying (and drinking) quite a bit of sparkling wine recently; during the holidays, every wine store and grocery store beefs up their sparkling wine section. Apparently, the holiday season is when the majority of sparkling wine sales happen; Champagne did such a good job convincing everyone that they were the go-to celebration wine that they forgot to market themselves year round! That’s changing now, with a little push from sparkling wine producers,  but clearly the stores expect everyone to buy their bubbly now.

One of my favorite inexpensive sparkling wines is Blanquette de Limoux, which is a sparkling wine made from the Mauzac grape in the Limoux region in southwest France. A fraction of the price of true Champagne, Blanquette de Limoux is tasty and festive, with a range of different producers to try out!

We went to a bubbly tasting recently, and picked up this nice little bottle of Antech Blanquette de Limoux “Nature” Brut, which was their driest style. It set us back about $13, and while it wasn’t quite as good as the $45 bottles of Champagne we tasted, we thought that it was a great bang for your buck. It went really well with our spaghetti squash dinner, for an easy, but festive meal. The lightness of this super dry bubbly really offset the garlicky, olive-oily spaghetti squash (delicious), and made this super-easy dinner feel kind of special!

 

Easy Spaghetti Squash Dinner

Cut your spaghetti Squash in half. Scoop out the layer of seeds.

Drizzle with olive oil and springle with chopped garlic

Roast the squash at 375 degrees for an hour or so, until soft and slightly browning

Use a fork to fluff out the spaghetti-like strands, scoop them into a bowl, drizzle with more olive oil, and add salt and pepper to taste

Pop the Blanquette!

Know Your Grapes: Tempranillo

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jabbarman/4053714843/
photo by bongo vongo via flikr

Tempranillo is one of those grapes that I know a little about, but that I rarely drink.  It’s not as common in Walla Walla, although I can think of four or five wineries off the top of my head that have one. It’s definitely not as ubiquitous as Syrah in this region. I think some people thought  it was going to be the next big thing in the US for wine varieties, but then Malbec kind of took over (probably because it’s easier to pronounce). In the spirit of learning, we themed our tasting group around Tempranillo this week! We ended up with three Washington Tempranillos and one Rioja. 

Tempranillo is a grape that’s mostly associated with the Rioja region in Spain; while Rioja grows other varieties as well, Tempranillo is the predominant grape. There is some Tempranillo in the US as well; as evidenced by the five or so wineries here in Walla Walla that produce it!

Mostly Tempranillo is considered to be a pretty tannic wine, although winemakers can make it more drinkable right away, depending on their winemaking method. I’ve been shopping around for Tempranillo on some online wine stores, and there are some older Rioja Tempranillos available for pretty decent prices; if you’re into mellower wines, these will probably be the Tempranillos to check out!

What does Tempranillo taste like? At the tasting, the common thread seemed to be a spicy kick to all the Tempranillos. Some of them were more baking spicy (like nutmeg) and some leaned more towards hot spicy (like chipotle and paprika). Tempranillos are often pretty fruity as well, and some of the Walla Walla bottles had some of the meatiness that characterizes a lot of Walla Walla wines. Mostly, they seemed to be medium-bodied with moderate acidity and fairly high tannin.

What to eat with Tempranillo: Because it’s so bold, Tempranillo can really stand up to some heartier dishes; a spicy nut mix or bean dip for appetizers, and maybe a spicy chili for a main dish or rice with chorizo!

What are your favorite Tempranillos? This is a grape I’d like to explore more!

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