Tag: Wine

Wine tastings, favorite wine finds

Betz Winery: Changing of the Guard

Five years after the sale of Betz Family Winery, the iconic winery continues to raise the bar


by Shannon Borg

EVEN after 41 harvests in Washington wine, and 19 with Betz Family Winery, Master of Wine (MW) Bob Betz “doesn’t see a back porch in his future” any time soon.  In 2011, then Betz Family Winery’s 15th vintage, Bob and Cathy Betz started to explore what the next phase of their life would look like—both for themselves, and for the winery they created and shepherded into something of an iconic status.

Read more in Washington Tasting Room magazine.


The Best New Washington Wines

Washington wine is coming of age in a big way, with a tally of more than 750 wineries, top scorers in the national media, and exciting educational winemaking programs in Seattle and Walla Walla that are bringing young talent to the dynamic and ever-evolving vineyards and wineries in our state. The old guard is branching out to new projects (some crossing the border from Oregon to make wines with Washington grapes), and the younger generation is stepping up and bringing new energy to family businesses. Behold, the top new releases that best tell the evolving story of Washington wines.

Read more in Seattle magazine.

Okanagan Days

As I’m writing this on a Sunday morning, I’m watching the neighborhood’s three-legged cat hobble around a construction site next door. He gives me hope—that even though I’m a procrastinator and often don’t post when I know I want to, that I’m still hobbling around nonetheless! I’m out there searching for mice even though I might not catch them! That said, here is the post I should have posted two weeks ago right after I came back from my trip to Okanagan, B.C., Canada. Here it is!

We finally have summer—the days are dry and even what you might call hot. I’m off on my friend Danielle’s annual birthday wine tasting trip—two years ago we went to Willamette Valley, and last year we went to Chelan. This year, the four of us ladies, of various ages and positions in life, agreed wholeheartedly on B.C.’s Okanagan region, just north of central Washington.

I drove out, they flew, and I was the designated rental car. Our first day, we visited three wineries and a goat cheese maker, a full day for five hours. Lunch at Quail’s Gate, then to the famous, fabulous Mission Hill. tried Chardonnay and Ice Wine, but mostly drank in the view and the architecture. This place is known as the most beautiful winery in the area, and I’d have to agree. It’s Mondavi-ized the area, created a destination for people to ooh and ahh over, and then go taste the wines at the smaller, more boutique or mom-n-pop wineries.

We also went on a trek to find the Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan farm and shop, off in the hinterlands of Kelowna’s alpine hills along the shores of Lake Okanagan. They featured over a dozen styles of goat cheese with lovely names like Misty, Blue Velvet and Heavenly—and they were—from fresh yogurt cheese to ash-covered soft-ripened cheese, to smoked cheese to hard, tangy cheeses to a fantastic blue. I bought two Moonlights, a soft-ripened cheese similar to Mt. Townsend Creamery’s amazing Cirrus. Then to Cedar Creek Winery just down the road.

The next day, we visited the Naramata Bench, some miles south of Kelowna along the shores of Okanagan Lake. We visited Poplar Grove, Nichol, Kettle Valley (with their crazy Gewurztraminer slushy, great idea but there was nowhere near enough wine in it, just sugar icee with a splash. Then to Elephant Island Fruit Winery, one of the best tastings we had. All their wines are fruit wines, and before you get all snobby on me, you have to realize these wines are their own animal, and each is unique. The pear wine was light, fresh and dry, with a nose of jarlsburg and smoke, to me at least! The perfect thing with a goat cheese salad and an afternoon on a sunny porch. There are also wines from Fuji apples, crabapples, raspberries and their wonderful non-vintage Stellaport made from dark red Stella cherries, fermented and aged in French oak in an 8-year solera system. This wonderful wine had a nose of baking spice and mocha, and dark cherry, of course, with coffee, balsamico and prune on the palate. Would be fantastic with fondue!

We had lunch at the gorgeous little Heritage Inn, an old renovated hotel with a good restaurant. At lunch we opened a bottle of Joie’s 2007 A Noble Blend and loved it. Joie’s winemaking couple, Michael Dinn and Heidi Noble, have a small cooking school and winery (not open to the public) just up the road. This wine has a nose of lime zest with a bit of fresh tropical fruit, pineapple, and zesty acidity, great balance. We were so impressed with the wine that Monique called them right from the lunch table and asked if we could come by. Michael said sure! he’d be happy to show us around, so we trotted off to the winery and met he and Heidi and their lovely little farm. We ended up leaving with three half bottles of wine from their afternoon test tasting, and arms full of pears from their little orchard.

There’s so much more to say about this trip, but other wines I liked were Le Vieux Pin (we had lots of laughs trying to prounounce that – it’s Le (as in book) Vee-yeuu (as in book) Pa nh (nasally n!) how do you write that phonetically, I don’t know, but the wines were fabulous. Also visited their other new winery, LaStella, which was gorgeous, you MUST go there! More on that later. Also Blue Mountain sparkling wine and pinot blanc and pinot gris.

And Nk’Mip (INK-a-meep) which was big and resorty and disappointing as far as wine goes, but looked like a great place for family vacations.

More later!

Old-school organic in a new-school recyclable bag-in-a-box

Bill Powers and his organic Chardonnay
Bill Powers and his organic Chardonnay

On a recent trip to the Tri-Cities wine region (Richland, Kennewick, Pasco for you non-Washingtonians) I had a chance to visit four vastly different wineries. One was one of the oldest wineries in the state—Powers (and Badger Mountain, their organic brand) on the hills above a Richland suburb, literally—we had to drive through suburban neighborhood to get to the tasting room and vineyard. I took a short truck ride with owner Bill Powers (now in his 80s) up to see the Chardonnay vines and have a sip of the Powers 2007 Chardonnay – a clean, crisp organic wine, full of fresh green apple and citrus flavors.

Powers has been growing grapes here since 1977, and has been organic almost that long. He says he was putting all these chemicals on the vines, and his boys were doing the work. He didn’t want the kids to do it, so he was doing it and not liking having to use these chemicals – so on a trip to California, he talked to some hippie grapegrowers who were farming organically, and they encouraged him to do the same, and so he did. And still, he’s one of the few certified-organic vineyards in the state. He does, as other organic farmers do as well, use sulphur to combat powdery mildew on the vines, about once a week for a certain period during the vine’s growth – this year was very humid and perfect for the evil fungus to grow. And then of course, sulfites are added to the wine to preserve it – pretty much every winery does this, or we’d be opening a lot of bad bottles. But Powers (Bill and his son Greg, the winemaker for Powers & Badger Mountain) and Mickey Dunne, part owner of Badger Mountain, have found a solution for their “no sulfites added” organic wine – bag in the box! It keeps oxygen away from the wine, and therefore keeps it completely fresh for up to 30 days! This is so common in Europe that I’ve heard box wine is almost 50 percent of the market. Here, it is growing, but still only about 10-12 percent. I hope that will increase as people put higher quality wines in completely recyclable boxes.

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!