Category: Wine Events

Wandering Wenatchee

Wenatchee, Washington is turning into a wonderland for food and wine lovers

A new award-winning public market, food and wine festivals and a river walk keep you busy in the apple capital.

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The Perfect White Wine for Winter: Riesling

White wine in winter? Yes, please! Here’s my latest article in Seattle magazine:

The Perfect White Wine for Winter: Riesling

Image by Melissa Kagerer

Last July, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s semiannual Riesling Rendezvous wine tasting event brought together hundreds of the true geeks of the wine world, excited to spend three days focused on a single grape variety. The only major conference focused on just one grape variety in the country, the rendezvous is a chance to taste Rieslings from Austria to New Zealand and beyond, and showcase this complex grape’s manifestations. And although most of us know Riesling is a great summer sipper, the versatile wine pairs beautifully with the foods of fall and winter as well.

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Wine Week from Heaven

I never need an excuse to go to Vancouver, but this is the best one I can think of. The Playhouse International Wine Festival takes place every year in late March, and this was my second—and favorite–visit. I stayed at the hip Opus Hotel, a sweet little gem just off the café-and-club-filled brick side streets of the Yaletown area.

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Tasting Blind: Notes from a Wine Judge

So how do “Top 10” wines get chosen? How to Double Gold, Gold, Silver wines rise to the top? Many times, a set of judges (sommeliers, writers, winemongers, etc.) taste a lineup of dozens of wines in flights of five or six wines each. Yesterday, I was at Ray’s Boathouse NW Retrospective, a “single blind” tasting – meaning the judges know what grape the wine is made of, but not the producer. (I also love “double blind” tasting, where you know neither the variety or the producer.) This is an amazing opportunity to taste many wines at once – in this case, 62 whites in about two hours!

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No Crackers! Suffer!—The delightful George Riedel demos his glasses

I was lucky enough last week to be a prisoner, uh, I mean pupil, of the famous 10th generation glassmaker George Riedel for a two hour tasting demo of his Sommelier Series of glassware. Three glasses—the flat wide Montrachet Chardonnay coupe, the buxom Bourgogne Grand Cru Pinot Noir glass with “acidity spoiler”, and the classic Bordeaux Grand Cru, Cabernet/Merlot glass.

There’s always a control sample in these things, so he also included a basic red wine glass from the restaurant we were at, and another “joker”—a plastic cup. All for a reason.

First, it was the Chardonnay, the 06 Januik Elerding VIneyard from Washington. “Think of the glass as a place to let the wine to fill a space with its aromas.” In other words, don’t fill your glass too full. We had to smell, first, of course, and note the lovely floral white flowers in the aroma, and banana, but also golden apple. When we taste, it has bright fruit and acidity, “nervous on your palate,” he says. Yes, I get it! Rich, but integrated oak. I was surprised, since these wines do have a tendency to smell pretty oaky.

Then we poured the white into the restaurant glass, and it definitely had a stronger mineral, salt component and a bitter finish. Then, into the plastic glass, where it had absolutely no smell, as the straight-sided glass captures none of the aroma, “diluting the concentration of aroma,” says George, “until they are below our ability to smell them.”

George is an almost sixty (“I’ll be able to ride the train in Austria for half price when I turn sixty!”), and exceptionally well-dressed, and even more exceptionally well-mannered, with the slightest of Austrian accents. Charming, as it were.

“We have two types of senses,” he says. “The official—sight and hearing—that can be measured through a benchmark.” You have 20/20 vision, you have a 20% hearing loss in one ear. Measurable.

“The other senses are private. We can only attempt to explain them to each other—what we taste, what we smell and what we touch. Sensual.”

George gets serious. “I am going to complicate your wine life,” he says, and talks about the life of the wine being a combination of many things, a story from the aroma through to the taste and to the finish, “an echo of the wine,” which he finds of ultimate importance.

We move on to the Lachini 03 Pinot Noir from Oregon in the big round Bourgogne glass, which supposedly captures the delicate aromas of this “prima donna” of a wine. The little flip-lip at the top helps keep the acidity under control, and the shape of the glass pours it in a little arrow straight to your mid palate, so as not to get too much tannin in the back or sides of your mouth. “The shape of the glass determines the intensity of the aroma,” he says.

Again, we move the wine from glass to glass, noting the smooth red berry and earthy minerality in the big glass, the green, almost cabbage-like aromas in the Chardonnay glass, (“You can almost LISTEN to how the grass grows on your tongue!” he says), and in the Bordeaux glass, the pinot is “a disaster!” according to George. I have to say I agree.

Someone reaches for a cracker.

“No crackers!” he says. “Suffer!”

The crowd, a combination of well-off Bellevue-ites (well, they were two weeks ago, anyway), a few young, hot sommeliers and a few poor writers who expect little and get a free dinner once in a while, are not used to suffering.

“How can I complicate your wine life if you are not suffering?”

Trudat.

So we move on to the Cab, a 2001 Caymus Cabernet. Napa at its best, a noseful of dust and bramble. In this glass it smells like picking black raspberries on a perfect summer day. “And now,” says, George. “We are going to destroy this wine!”

And we do. We put it into the Chardonnay glass, very similar to most nice red wine glasses we all have in our kitchens. A big round coupe. But George says we need straight sides for these big red wines, to let more of the tannins and acidity out so it mellows them. In this glass, the Cabernet is flat, with gripping tannins and higher acidity. Weird, but true.

Someone asks, “So can I just start buying cheaper wine and drink them in these glasses and they’ll taste more expensive?” “Good question,” says George. “No.”

The crowd laughs. He goes on to explain that a bad wine will taste mediocre in a good glass, but a nice wine will be even better, and who doesn’t want to bring a wine to its full potential? It has been waiting in the bottle all that time for you, after all.

Have a plan for big wine tastings

The Rhone Rangers – a membership group of winemakers who produce Rhone-style wines —seem to have developed a following and a great way of educating the public. Originally created by Randall Grahm when he was head wine dude at Bonny Doon, it has morphed and changed, but I still enjoy the annual tastings when the Rangers roll into town. This year, 39 wineries set up booths at Bell Harbor and it was an education making the rounds.

By making the rounds, I mean tasting every white wine in the room, and a few reds if I could get to them. When I go to a tasting, there’s no way you can tasting everything, so I usually go with a plan, according to what is being poured. Here’s my thought pattern, however convoluted

1. Get the big picture – what is the point to the tasting? All Washington? All pinot noir? in this case, all Rhone varietals?

2. Have a plan: If it’s a pinot noir tasting, I usually try a few whites from the region, just to get a sense of the ripeness level that I’ll encounter with the reds, and to prime the pump, so to speak. In this case, the list of very interesting, and mostly obscure Rhone whites were on my mind, and I wanted to clearly compare the differences in single varietal whites vs. blends, etc. In this case, viognier leads the pack, usually on its own, then blends of roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc (which I discovered I really enjoy for its high acidity, and green apple – even apple Jolly Rancher – flavors) as well as bourboulenc, clairette blanc, muscat blanc a petits grains, picardin, picpoul and ugni blanc. Of the latter list, picpoul was represented, but I didn’t see the others in blends.

3. Spit! You’d be completely toasted if you didn’t.

4. Talk to the winemakers/marketing guys/gals. It is easier to remember what you like if you know something about the terroir, landscape, blend, etc. Sometimes they rattle off percentages of grapes in the blend, which I’m not really interested in – I want to know what the soil and climate and elevation, etc. is like. I usually ask – Tell me about where this wine is grown… and they are usually very willing to talk about the place – a fun way to picture the region and have a geology and geography lesson at the same time. It is kind of a neumonic device for me to picture the place with the wine made there.

5. Take a few notes in your own code, and remember the good ones! My favorites from this tasting were Paso Robles’ Adalaida Cellars White Blend of grenache blanc and roussanne – very minerally with that candied green apple taste that still had killer acidity and a slightly soft mouthfeel with peach and apricot flavors – an interestingly balanced combo of acid, fruit, soft and sharp. Love it!

Other wines I tasted –

Cass Winery Viognier – Paso Robles, mineral and mint!

Cline Cellars Viognier – Sonoma/Carneros, white peach, herbal notes with crisp white peach, not too ripe!

McCrea Cellars Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Viognier – love this producer! Fruity but lean with a lean, herbal – lavendar even – note, but also soft lemon and peachiness that is characteristic of Viognier. The difference here is that everything is in balance and delicacy and elegance are the goal.

Sawtooth from Nampa Idaho! Their Snake River Valley Viognier shows that this area has promise! A lean, mineral wine with white blossom and peach aroma, high acidity. A very refreshing wine!

So check out these Rhone-style wines – great for summer!