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Art Meets Science

Jackalope Cellars

How I Survived the Craigslist Killer and Found a Killer Red Mountain Merlot

The Search for Guido

The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium

Clone Wars...March 14th

Bubbles to Celebrate In The Chelan AVA

Lake Chelan's Winterfest

A Heaven for More than Horses

Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Who We Are

The staff of the Northwest Wine Anthem, we're good

Monday, April 13, 2015

Coloring Outside the Lines: Portland's Jackalope Cellars

As a civil engineer Corey Schuster designed roads; but it was a winding road, and certainly not one of his design that landed him at a Willamette Valley tasting room and ultimately opened his eyes to the possibility and joys of making wine.


Corey was in the midst a successful career in civil engineering, growing up outside of Chicago it seemed like the right direction, and frankly he really didn't have much else in mind. From there he landed in Colorado and eventually in a bit of a rut, to hear him tell it. Corey retired early, in some sense and from there he traveled throughout Southeast Asia and eventually he'd come to find himself at an engineering firm in Portland. 

When the economy went bad Corey along with a lot of folks with good jobs were out on the streets and he bounced around a bit before he landed in that aforementioned tasting room. From there his wine interest led to working harvest at Owen Roe, and it was soon after that he started making his first wine. In the 2012 vintage Corey launched his label Jackalope Wine Cellars. For Corey the draw has always been the community as much as the wine, and that hasn't changed in the five or so years that he's been involved. In fact, now producing his wines at Portland's SE Wine Collective, that community is a bit of an incubator and think-tank for Corey and its other burgeoning wine-making talents. (He worked there managing the bar for awhile too.)

"We're all relatively new, and we are going through a lot of the same things, it's great to feel like you've got that in common, and it's nice to be a part of something like that. We're all having the same issue, like How am I going to pay for bottling? I don't know."

The first wines in 2012 were Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, and his second vintage, and current releases are the same varietals from some different sources. "I got into Cabernet Franc while working at Owen Roe, I talked with David O'Reilly about what fruit he might have available and he sold me some Pinot Noir from Eola-Amity and Cab Franc from Six Prong Vineyard in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills." 

Corey's first three vintages (through 2012, 13 and14) have been "warm" years but he's learned a little bit from all of them. "That first year I decided to make the jump late in the year, so I really didn't even have time to think about the vintage. While 2012s are not my preferred style I couldn't have done any better, the fruit was perfect, the wines made themselves and the wines sold really easily. In my first vintage it was important that I sold everything." 

"As an engineer I never had something I could hold in my hand and say, I made this. I've definitely had the scientific background but I've never tapped into my artistic side. I mean, as a civil engineer you're making roads. I chose this though, versus engineering which was more or less chosen for me." Corey's been getting great reception from the wines, and has found it's a great feeling when for example friends asked to have his wines at their wedding. 

The 2013s were a bit more challenging for Corey and while it was a warmer vintage compared to recent years like 2010 and 2011 the wines are lean and elegant. Both wines are absolutely outstanding and unique, Corey has found that artistic side, and it suits him.

At the risk of using too much hyperbole his Cabernet Franc is the most interesting I've had from the Northwest. There are some stellar examples in both Washington, at Chinook and Oregon's Quady North. Corey walks between both styles with a definitive wildness but really, it's a sort of wild elegance. The parcels are tiny so normally I would recommend you go online and pick some up for yourself here but they're sold out. Call one of these places and tell them to hold it for you. Seriously.


2013 Jackalope Cellars Cabernet Franc, Quady North Vineyard Applegate Valley 
This is an out of sight wine. Aromatics are wild lavender, smoke, earth and savory herbs. This wine takes the peppery elements that can be so much of the signature of a great Cab Franc and balances them with bright red fruit and earth notes. This wine is alive, the alcohol is low, the acid is beautiful. This wine is pretty, intellectual and a little bit crazy. Do what you gotta do to find this wine it'll change your opinion of the variety. $27 (Sold Out)

2013 Jackalope Cellars Pinot Noir, Sojourner Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills
Pretty, pretty Pinot Noir. I've had very few examples of 2013 at this juncture and I'm aware of the mini-controversy but I think this vintage will pan out for folks like myself who like a cooler more elegant wine, despite the overall warm growing season that was 2013. Aromatics of dried violets, clove, and early season blackberry, with a lively palate that gives balance, fruit and minerality. For $25 this is ridiculously good. $25 (Sold Out)

These wines were provided as samples. 



Monday, April 06, 2015

The Search for Guido: From Craigslist to Red Mountain to Vashon Island

It is perhaps one of the most unusual wine purchases I'd ever made.

The guy's Craigslist post said that he had accumulated some interesting and older wines over the last few months and the prices were unbeatable, in my opinion. Late 90s Washington wines, some 05 Amavi in a magnum and a few other odds and ends. I arranged to meet him, like any smart Craigslist shopper in a public area, the Southcenter Mall parking lot. In hindsight not necessarily a safety move.

The prices on a lot of these wines were in the $5-10 neighborhood though and if this was someone trying to rob me, they were looking to get like $40, which didn't seem like such a risk. So I wasn't worried. I bought about 8-10 bottles of wine. Given the prices of the 98 Columbia Crest Two Vines, at $5, I had taken a wine glass and a cork screw with me, I bought one and opened it. It was pretty darn good for a value wine going on 15 years old. I bought more or less everything the guy had. (His brother was a contractor who would often buy homes from estates and he wasn't into wine at all. They ended up in this guy's hands and he'd sell them to make a few extra bucks on Craigslist.) No attempt was made on my life.

One of the wines I picked up was a 1998 Andrew Will Merlot, from Ciel du Cheval vineyard on Red Mountain. I think I paid like $20 or $25 for this wine from this Craigslist guy's trunk. I bought it because probably a year or so before this weird Craigslist ad came upon my radar I had a Andrew Will Sangiovese from 1992 and it was pretty fascinating so I thought why not give this one a try.

The bottle sat for a couple more years and it was only recently that I had the occasion to open it.

So, what can you expect from a 17 year old Red Mountain Merlot? I think it's important to first point out what happens to wine over time. First off, everything changes. Some wines age better than others. Perhaps the most often thought of wines when it comes to aging are Burgundy and Bordeaux, but German Rieslings, the really nice ones, age unbelievably, and maybe better than anything.

But none of those last two or three sentences answer the question. Over time wine is exposed to oxygen via the cork enclosure, it's permeable in a very tiny sense of the word. The wine and little bit of air inside the bottle exchanges oxygen with the air outside the bottle. Over time the wines can change substantially. If you like the wines you buy and open immediately, you may not necessarily like the same wine in 10 or so years. The fruit character often fades and gives way to earthen or herbal elements. The acids typically fade, and the wine tastes old, nuanced but certainly different. Old wine though can be pretty fascinating in their own right. Most Washington wines benefit from a few years of aging, say three, but typically top out in terms of an upwards pointing trajectory around eight years in my experience.

The two most salient factors in aging wine are supposedly tannin and acid. Both of these elements of a wine's chemistry protect the wine from oxygen. I've had a lot of Washington wines which typically have good tannin that tasted over the hill after about the 12 year mark. On the contrary, I've had lots of Oregon wines, think lower tannin, higher acid that have aged unbelievably. Given that this wine was from Red Mountain, which is known for it's tannin, not for it's acidity, I really had my doubts.

The 17 year old Merlot was a wildly pleasant surprise. I don't know that I would have picked it out as Merlot blind but for 17 years, the wine showed a lot of freshness. On the first pour, it was a wild color, almost like liquefied brick, and it was seemingly lacking any fruit character whatsoever. Instead the wine showed lots of earth, dust, mushroom and peat character.  But that changed over the next hour or so. The strictly earthy wine went to tart cranberry and Montmorency cherry. The acid on this wine was truly unbelievable given its origins.

Typically older wines tend to drop off after they're opened. The sudden exposure to oxygen doesn't do them any favors and so they go into a quick fade. Not so with this Andrew Will Merlot, it got more interesting. Was this wine better now than it was then? It's highly unlikely as Chris Camarda makes some really nice wines, but it was certainly interesting and worth what little I paid for it to take a look. Another point of note was the alcohol percentage of the wines. It's often the case that red wines from Red Mountain are fairly big, this wine in particular is from perhaps the states most well known vineyard for producing structured, ripe wines, but the abv was 12. something. The acid was present, lively and it really delivered a somehow fresh 17 year old wine.

Perhaps the strangest part of this story, even more than the Craigslist car trunk acquisition was the cork. After about an hour of drinking I picked it up, parts of it has broken off when it was opened. It said "Guido" and had a 206 phone number on it. I started punching the number into my phone and was about to hit send when my friend Sean Sullivan stopped me. "Wait, let me see if that's still his number." It turns out it was Chris's home number and I had nearly dialed him up at 11pm.

I ran into Chris a couple weeks later at an event on Vashon Island. He chuckled at the idea that he still nearly got a late night phone call from one of his older wines. "I used to get a lot of phone calls like that, and they typically started around 10pm." He was excited to hear that the wine was still holding up. I asked what he remembered of the 98s, and he called it a vintage that produced exotic wines, and he'd had one recently. "The vintage didn't get great press and so it was slow to sell at first but eventually people came around to it. I had one the other night and they're still very interesting wines." Guido is his nickname and he's (smartly)gotten away from putting his home number on his wines these days.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Taste Washington 2015 Strategery (Which by the way is not a word.)




Taste Washington is a wine tasting extravaganza and it's not for the faint of heart. (In that spirit I have reprized a post from a few years ago to hopefully provide some advice on how to navigate the event.) With 250ish Washington wineries in attendance, this is serious tasting business. Multiply the number of wineries (250) by the average number of wines each table will pour (2 or 3) and the numbers start to get serious. What's clear is that this is perhaps the greatest wine tasting event in the free world and given that the un-free world probably doesn't have any wine tastings, maybe just the world. I already mentioned the 250 wineries, but there's also an oyster bar, a desert bar, beer, coffee, an incredible array of some of Washington's finest chefs and restaurants. Along with chef demonstrations. 

What all of this means, however, is that you would be ill-advised to show up at Taste Washington without a plan; you would be eaten alive. Didn't you read the previous paragraph? It's serious. Here's the thing, it's a week out and you need a game plan if you're going to do this right. Luckily for you, we're here to help.


The best way to approach Taste Washington is to have a strategy. I would hazard a guess and say that you're not very strategic. I mean, maybe you do okay, but you're not as strategic as, say, a General. My point being there's a lot of military history, you're busy, let's just borrow what's worked well for them. You're far from Sun Tzu and General Patton; you're more a General Tso's than anything. So, ladies and germs we bring you the Anthem Military Strategy Guide to Taste Washington:

-Blitzkrieg: German for "Lightning war" is the use of speed, maneuvering and the shock of sudden attack at an enemies fortifications. It was often thought of as a mechanized war maneuver. Since tanks are frowned upon in the CenturyLink Event Center (if not outright illegal), we've pared it down considerably. Basically, the Taste Washington Blitzkrieg has you just drinking Germanic varietals. I count 33 of them from just the website. Largely these are Rieslings with a handful of Gewurztraminers throw in the one Gruner I counted too. Some notable producers include a Riesling from Cote BonnevilleFiggins Family. and Cooper Wine Company as well as the always fantastic Riesling from O-S. I'm happy to see there are more Rieslings than there were just a few years ago including a lot of newcomers.

-Scorched Earth: typically the military strategy by which a force goes about destroying anything that might be of use to the enemy, including roads, bridges, food sources etc. Because this is a wine tasting and not an actual attack on anyone, we're going to change it up. Go after the high alcohol wines or "hot" wines, (get it? 'scorched'). Approach each table and ask, "I'd like to try your highest ABV wines." Or you could simply say "if it's below 15% then I ain't drinking it." You will absolutely get strange looks and will likely be drinking a lot of Zinfandels and Primitivos but with alcohol percentages creeping up you'll also likely be drinking several of the Bourdeaux varietals and sadly some Syrah as well. The thing is, there are some really well made wines with higher alcohol percentages where the high alcohol is so well integrated that it's damn near imperceptible. While on its face this seems like a bit crazy, it'll give you a sense of how Washington is dealing with its rising alcohol issue. I highly recommend that you spit.

The Flying V: a strategy developed by perhaps one of the greatest minds of warfare, Alexander the Great. When times were simpler and people fought hand-to-hand, this tactic was used to push into enemy lines. People would form into the shape of a V or wedge and force their way through enemy fortifications. In our version, again, no violence: you're only drinking Viognier. Lucky for you Washington produces some pretty beautiful examples of Viognier. In this strategy we're also allowing White Rhone blends that include Viognier. My count includes 8 such wines being poured.

Tactical Positioningfrom Sun Tzu's timeless classic The Art of War comes the concept of defending existing positions until one is capable of advancing. The Taste Washington version of this is to stick to the varietals that you know you love. If you love Merlot, Miles be damned, then try as many Merlots as you can get your hands on. If you're a big fan of Washington Syrah 
(and why wouldn't you be?), then go ahead and stick to Syrah. While staying comfortable is nice don't forget the "advancing" component. If you love Syrah, try some Grenache and Mouvedre as well, stretch your legs a little. If you love non-vintage rhubarb wine, there's only one of those, so probably pick something else to base  your strategy off.

Shock & Awe: is the last and least recommended approach. One may go about this approach by drinking as much wine as possible, exhibiting boorish behavior until everyone around is thoroughly shocked. Don't be that guy.

At the end of the day, Taste Washington is great opportunity to sample some of the best wines in Washington State. Many of the people pouring at the event made those wines they're pouring you. Talking to the winemakers, the winery staff and the many guests and you might be talking to Bob Betz or Dick Boushey. Learn what makes Washington special and certainly, don't miss out on the oyster bar.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Clone Wars: The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium


In 2012 Paul Durant of Durant Vineyards and Erica Landon, of Walter Scott Wines collaborated on the first of what has become an important and successful annual event, The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium. The event has sold out every year (maybe go buy your tickets before you finishing reading this.) This year the technical panel and tasting is being moderated by Rajat Parr, and will include some of the Willamette Valley's most vocal champions of the clone debate. Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards and John Paul of Cameron. (More on this later.)

The event features a technical panel, as well as a grand tasting to follow. This year's iteration, The Attack of the Clones, yes really; takes place on March 14th.

After Paul had returned to his family's business in the Willamette; one of the things on his mind was a childhood memory; chardonnay. "I'd always had an affinity for chardonnay and I think it goes back to when I picked it as a kid. I loved the taste, it's always been a strong memory for me; it's like that smell you remember when you walk into your parents' house."

While at this point it's safe to say that Oregon's chardonnay has arrived, it is very much a comeback story. Chardonnay remains under-planted in the Willamette Valley, The Durant family who have been one of the vineyard stalwarts in the Valley since just about the beginning originally had a fair bit of chardonnay. Much of their chardonnay though was for years, going towards sparkling wines made by Rollin Soles at Argyle.  After phylloxera forced a large replanting at Durant, many former chardonnay rows gave way to pinot gris or pinot noir.

That story is retold throughout much of the Willamette Valley. While chardonnay's star has undoubtedly risen, it still has a way to go to gain the sort of respect it surely deserves. Not only in acreage planted but in the marketplace as well.

Despite Paul's fondness for the grape, the market for Oregon chardonnay has shown a real lack of appreciation. "We started making really impressive chardonnay in around 2007, they were showing some promise. But you know we weren't getting paid (that much) for chardonnay and it's growing on some of the best vineyard ground in the Valley." One of the goals of the event is to draw attention to the kinds of chardonnays the Willamette Valley is producing, and make a case for a wine that deserves a higher price-point. 

To that end the Oregon Chardonnay Symposium began as an opportunity to educate consumers and showcase what winemakers throughout the valley were doing with their chardonnay. "It can still be a hard sell in the tasting room. You'd be surprised how resistant some people are to trying it." Which is a shame, as Oregon's chardonnay has the potential to make any doubters a believer. 

The number of participating wineries have nearly doubled each year and what Paul has really found encouraging was the number of consumers who were attending the technical panel. One guy is flying out from Minnesota. 

Aside from the overt quality, there's a bit of a chardonnay counter culture movement happening right now in the Willamette Valley, which brings us back to that clone debate I mentioned earlier. The rising tide of Oregon chardonnay has coincided with the popularity of Dijon clones being planted in the Willamette Valley. Get the back story here. The fact of the matter is though, the Valley was originally planted widely with 108 and Wente clone chardonnay. Those in the Dijon camp claimed they were simply not able to get these California clones to ripen in the cool Willamette Valley. While many folks perhaps pulled their vines, either to plant more pinot noir or as they did at Durant as a result of phylloxera, there's a lot of folks who didn't want to or didn't have to. Some of them are making dynamite chardonnay from those older "heritage" clones and so all this Dijon or the highway talk is rubbing them the wrong way. 

Others just think that a lack of diversity, or a sort of hegemony of Dijon chardonnay stunts the growth of a region, in the case of Eyrie, it's hard to argue with the kind of success and longevity they've had with their original plantings. The Eyrie original chardonnay planting is made up of what is called the "Draper Selection" a collection of clones that David Lett brought north from California. 

So it'll be great to hear from both clone camps at The Oregon Chardonnay Symposium.  If you care about what's going on in the wine scene here in the Northwest, I recommend you think seriously about this event.

2012 Stoller Family Estate Reserve Chardonnay Melissa Burr reliably creates some of the most compelling Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley each vintage. Aromatics of coriander, honeysuckle, lemon zest and pineapple. Mostly neutral French oak gives this wine depth, texture and complexity and ample lemon creme, wet stone and peach skin. Mouth watering acidity and overall elegance. $35

2013 Kramer Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay Rich, rounded and redolent. Aromatics of baked apple, cinnamon and nutmeg. The wine really evolves over the course of an evening, fruit forward particularly with tropical notes and hints of spice. The combination of stainless steel and neutral French oak produces a great mouthfeel and texture, but the acidity seems to drop off a bit at the finish. $28

2013 Walter Scott Cuvee Anne, Willamette Valley A blend from vineyards in both the Eola-Amity Hills as well as the Chehalem Mountain AVA. The result is super. From Walter Scott who produces tiny quantities, this chardonnay is what I have come to think of as Oregon's wheelhouse. Bright floral and citrus aromatics give way to a substantial mouthfeel and texture. Classic lemon creme elements that have become for me a signature of these Willamette chardonnays are the signature of the palate. The mouthfeel is both rounded and vibrant with a pulsing current of lively acid. $45

2013 Durant Vineyard Chardonay "Raven" Made by Isabelle Duarte of De Ponte Cellars for $25 this is an out of sight and overtly elegant chardonnay. Can something be overtly elegant? Beautifully aromatic with chamomile, white flowers and jasmine, and early season nectarine. The palate is layered citrus, stone, fleshy and yet streaked with minerality and lively, lively acidity. This wine screams buy me and punches well above it's price-point. $25 

2012 Evening Land Vineyards, La Source Chardonnay Old vine Dijon clones from 1995 create a powerfully pretty and robustly ripe chardonnay. The floral aromatics are effusive, white flowers, jasmine and green tea. The palate continues a strong case for Dijon clones in the Valley, super balanced  lemon creme core along with a stone, chalky minerality. Fresh, vibrant yet loaded with layered fleshy fruit. $65

These wines were provided as samples.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Have You Ever Been Experienced? The Seattle Food & Wine Experience

Well, Valentine’s Day is over, my friends. By this point the chocolates you received are probably gone and the roses your boyfriend sent to your office are wilting (but of course, they will stay on your desk for the rest of the week anyhow, to remind your cubicle neighbors that their boyfriends and husbands didn’t send them flowers at work. Just pretend not to notice the petals falling all over the floor).


And President’s Day was good for just one thing: Sitting on your couch in yoga pants enjoying free online shipping from Ann Taylor Loft. (Or hiking, if you were feeling adventurous. It was beautiful outside).


But have no fear, ladies (and gentlemen), for the Seattle Wine and Food Experience is being held this Sunday, February 22, from 1-5 pm at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall.


And the key word here is: Experience.


"Crafting a unique tasting experience or interactive aspect offers the ticket buyer extended value and turns the event into an experience they will remember,” Jamie Peha, of Peha Promotions, producer of SWFE explains. “We want guests to walk away with education about the beverage and food products that they encounter at the event.”


And the lineup promises no disappointments! (No, I’m not going to list them all out right now. Be patient!) With so many scrumptious nibbles at your fingertips and inspired beverages at your lips, you will need a guide to get you through this delectable experience in a mere four hours. A girl needs a plan, and here is mine:


I will arrive promptly at one o’clock and head straight for the Top Pot Doughnut & Coffee Bar. (This will make up for the fact that I didn’t eat breakfast). After I’ve had my coffee I will sip some Sun Liquor spirits while I try to decide which pairs best with Top Pot’s Feather Boa versus the Old Fashioned.


Next I will stroll over to the Stella Artois Bistro & Chef Stage where I will snag my very own Stella Artois chalice and watch Diane LaVonne of Diane’s Market Kitchen create luscious little morsels - and then I will sample them. All of them. And I am sure they will all pair delightfully with that Stella, because everything pairs well when you’re drinking out of a chalice.


Once I have some food in my system and I’ve tried spirits and beer, it will be high time to move to wine. However, before I get to really indulge I think I will let my nose lead the way to the Wente Vineyard Aroma Experience. This will be a great opportunity for me to improve my abilities to pick out specific aromas in wine and learn to identify and describe them more easily. Toasted. Cocoa. Cherry blossoms. Sulfur. How many adjectives and synonyms can the average wine blogger use when testing her nose? After smelling and carefully sipping the Wente Vineyard family of wines, I’ll report back.


After my science lesson, it will still be time for wine. (Plus I’ll have that chalice to drink out of!) I think I will visit the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Tasting Bar and take the “Riesling Challenge,” ostensibly to identify my preferences for Dry, Off Dry, or Sweet Rieslings. Truth be told, I already know my preference, (off dry), but this will be my opportunity to taste selections from their entire portfolio, including Chateau Ste. Michelle, Anew, 14 Hands, Columbia Crest, O Wines, and Red Diamond.


By this point on Sunday I am going to be ready to eat more food, (specifically some protein), and so I will make my way to the Heritage Meats Butchery Block. This year master butcher Tracy Smaciarz, who owns Heritage Meats, will be on hand to show off his skills with a blade. No, really, he’s going to be demonstrating butchery techniques and we will be able to feast on bites from Bell + Whete, featuring Gleason Ranch Beef, and my favorite Pioneer Square haunt, Delicatus, featuring Jerry Baker Pork.


Once I’ve had my fill at the butcher’s I will take a very quick stroll through the Sip Northwest Distillery Walk. Tasting some of the region’s hottest craft spirits should be just enough to convince me to find a seat at a cafe table at the Tim’s Cascade Snacks, Beer and Cider Exhibit. Those famously salty chips and fluffy popcorn will be a nice follow up to the pork and beef, and I think ending my day with a refreshing Washington cider would be exquisite.


However, folks, this plan (though impeccable, if you ask me), still doesn’t leave time for a tastebud tour from Yakima Valley Tourism, or the 600 other wines that will be waiting for you from Washington, the Northwest, across the United States, and from around the world! I didn’t even mention the QFC Advantage Lounge, where we can taste reserve wines from Brown Family Vineyards, Erath, Col Solare, Mercer Estates, Northstar, and many others.


And of course, I haven’t drawn attention to the most important part: This event will be hosted by members of Les Dames d’Escoffier Seattle, celebrating its 25th anniversary, and the SFWE is supporting this incredible organization in raising funds for scholarships for women in the culinary, beverage, and hospitality industries.


So yes, you can experience all this exquisite food and booze and help sponsor women who want to study in the culinary field. This is definitely better than online shopping in your yoga pants.


Tickets for this unique culinary experience are still available from Brown Paper Tickets.


And just think of how nice that chalice will look on your desk once you finally throw out those dead flowers.

I will see you there. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chelan Celebrates With Bubbles

From Marty Sparks(ling wine)

Bubbles!

If you thought that sparkling wine was only for ringing in the New Year, toasting newlyweds or christening yachts you should think again.
Sparkling wine is great throughout the year for all sorts of occasions.  Pop the cork on some bubbly and watch that magical sound bring a smile to anyone’s face.  Not only do bubbles bring fun to the party they also bring great acidity that makes them an excellent pairing for all kinds of food.
The sparklers are bursting on the scene in Lake Chelan like the jet stream of aromas and flavors carried on the millions of tiny bubbles bursting forth from a champagne flute.  Lake Chelan has a thriving wine community that is growing in number of wineries and quality wines.  With the dynamic collection of wineries, Chelan is becoming a destination that is about more than summertime fun in the sun.
Each January Chelan celebrates the beginning of the year with their Winterfest.  It is a fun way to kick off your new year and explore the wines of the Lake Chelan AVA.  This year the organizers added a new event, the Bubble Bar.
The Bubble Bar featured sparkling wines from four Lake Chelan wineries and amazing small bites from Erik and Adrianne of Canella Kitchen.  Three of the winemakers are using grapes grown in the Lake Chelan AVA and there is good reason for that.  The climate surrounding the lake is proving to be ideal for growing the grapes most commonly used to make sparkling wine – chardonnay and pinot noir.  In fact, the microclimate created around the lake is proving to be one of the few locations in our state where pinot noir will grow happily.

Cairdeas Sparkling Grenache Blanc is 100% Grenache Blanc from the Boushey Vineyard in Yakima.  Charlie Lybecker, the wine maker, originally picked these grapes to use in his Southern White Rhone style wine.  He was inspired by the floral aromas and acidity of the grapes to use them in his latest sparkling wine.
Charlie makes his sparkling wine in the Italian style used to make Prosecco.  The wine undergoes secondary fermentation in tank rather than in the bottle.  The result is a crisp, light and delicious sparkling wine that really lets the character of the grape show through.  The nose features notes of white flowers, light honeysuckle and citrusy lemon zest.  The palate follows with lively bubbles featuring light crisp flavors of lemon and green apples.
Karma Vineyards, Hard Row to Hoe and Tsillan Cellars all make their sparkling wines in the French method champenoise style.  These sparkling wines all undergo secondary fermentation in bottle.  The wine remains in contact with the lees until the bottle is disgorged to remove the yeast and cork the wine for consumption.  The additional time the wine spends in contact with the yeast cells results in the yeasty bread characteristics found in Champagne and sparkling wine made in the champenoise style.
Karma Vineyards specializes in sparkling wines (you can read an earlier profile here on the Wine Anthem).  They offered two choices for the Bubble Bar.  The 2011 Pink made from 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay and 2008 Brut  de Brut.  My favorite was the 2008 Brut de Brut made with 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir (60/40).  This sparkling wine had beautiful notes of yeast, pears, green apple and a hint of lemon zest.

Tsillan Cellars provided their 2013 Sparkling Brut Pinot Gris made from grapes grown in their estate vineyard on the South shore of Lake Chelan.  This sparkler had notes of pear, yeast and green apples.  It paired very nicely with the bite sized smoked salmon quiche from Canella Kitchen.

Hard Row to Hoe produces their Good in Bed Sparkling wine from Pinot Noir grown at the Clos Cheval vineyard on the South side of Lake Chelan.  Judy Phelps, Hard Row’s wine maker, picks the grapes in mid-September with the intent to make her sparkling wine.  Picking the grapes early results in higher acidity that you typically find in sparkling wines.  The grapes are whole cluster pressed which results in a beautiful sparkling wine that is slightly salmon colored.  The nose shows notes of yeasty pear followed by a palate that features lively tight bubbles bursting with green apple, pear and lemon zest.  Good in Bed paired well with the sweet and savory Pear and Blue Cheese tartlets.
Lake Chelan is becoming a year round destination for fun, especially if you are a wine lover or explorer.  Many of the wineries are open through the winter.  If you are looking for adventure you should head on out to Chelan to explore the burgeoning wine scene.  Most of the winemakers work in their tasting rooms.  That provides the perfect opportunity to learn about these fabulous wines from some of the friendliest people in the Washington wine industry!

Monday, December 29, 2014

All Horses Go to Heaven...The Horse Heaven Hills AVA

the view from Coyote Canyon Vineyards
Whenever I'm out in the Yakima Valley I always look to the south side of the river along highway 82 at those beautiful rolling hills and think, "those are the Horse Heaven Hills." And sometimes I even say it out loud, if someone is with me in the car. I suppose it makes me feel smart or informed, but in reality, while that is technically correct, that's really just the tip of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA and nowhere near where all the big work in the growing region is being done.

To get to the Horse Heaven Hills, really get there, you gotta go up over those pretty hills just behind Prosser and then drive for sometime. You'll pass some conventional farmland and then eventually you'll come to the Columbia River. This is important because as you note along your drive, much of the Horse Heaven Hills is arid, high desert. It's the Columbia River's moderating influence that even makes quality wine grape growing something you can consider out here.

It's a confluence of conditions, the Columbia, the canyons that run up from the river into the plateau above and the dry, sandy soil. In 1972 Walter Clore approached Don and Linda Mercer and convinced them to take a chance on wine grapes. Their family had been farming the Horse Heaven Hills since the 1930s growing a cornucopia of crops, wheat, onions and carrots, to name a few. The Cabernet they planted in 1972 has gone onto 100 point greatness in what is now known as Champoux Vineyard as an important part of the Quilceda Creek reputation.
Mercer Estates Spice Cabinet Vineyard
Horse Heaven Hills has certainly grown since then, McKinley Springs planted in 1980, and in 1991 Chateau Ste. Michelle planted what has become one of the AVA's most signature sites in their Canoe Ridge Vineyard. The AVA has really grown up, it's total acreage is 570,000 so it's an expansive region with only about 12,000 acres planted to vineyards. I say only but the HHH AVA comprises 25% of Washington's total wine acreage.

The wines from the area have developed a style certainly that has become a signature of the AVA, Raymon McKee the winemaker for Chateau Ste Michelle's Canoe Ridge finds the signature to be "an expression of the soil, particularly in the tannin." The tannins tend to be the most notable, they bring a real sense of elegance, and add a dusty or powdery backbone to the wine. The palates are marked with redder fruits like cranberries, or red cherry. As warm as the area is, there's definitely a structure to the wines that leans more towards Old World wines like those from Bordeaux than you'd expect.

The region is in good hands and its reputation only continues to grow as it benefits from seeing how its older vines produce outstanding fruit. The pioneering vision of the Mercer family, the talents of someone like Paul Champoux and reach of Chateau Ste Michelle, along with the fine wines the region has gone on to produce will make it a region, that while perhaps a bit out of the way, is deserving a noteworthy stake on any map of the American wine landscape.

2013 Mercer Estates Reserve Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills While the Horse Heaven Hills seem heaven sent for Cabernet; Chardonnay from the region can be outstanding. The Mercers are the original wine growers in the HHH,but they haven't rested on their laurels and continue to push the region forward as both growers and a winery. Jessica Munnell shows a skill set where Chardonnay is concerned with this wine, it's opulent and oaky without being buttery and boring. Aromatically rich with hazelnut, toasted bread and baked apple, the wine carries through on the strength of it's fruit and acidity. The palate is rich, balanced and ripe. $32

2012 Columbia Crest Reserve Chardonnay Horse Heaven Hills Columbia Crest has over 2,000 acres of vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills and with their H3 line has showed an incredible commitment to the AVA. That line of wines represents one of the state's best values year to year and in the sub $20 price point is a go to Tuesday night wine for many serious wine aficionados as the quality is just so high. This Chardonnay is another case maker for the wine in the HHH. Aromatically round and ripe with notes of vanilla, nutmeg and ripe pear the palate shows a vibrancy that is too often lacking in American oaked Chardonnay along with rounded fruit flavors of pear and creme brulee. $20

2010 Double Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet is king of course, and that holds true here in the Horse Heaven Hills, whether it's Champoux Vineyards or just across the street at Phinny Hill it's Cabernet that made this region famous. The Double Canyon Vineyards are just north of the Champoux Vineyards at a total of 88 acres and the connection to Phinny Hill is not just as neighbors. (Family is a thing that you hear time and again here in the Horse Heaven Hills and so Will Beightol son of Phinny Hill's Dick Beightol is managing the vineyards for this label with Napa and Willamette Valley roots.) The quality is present from the start with the fine tannin and superb structure that the more you familiarize yourself with it, you come to expect from HHH Cabernet. Aromatics of anise, black tea and dust, the wine is offers depth, and a elegant structure along with a present acidity. Flavors of mocha, red fruits and barrel spice. $40


2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc, Horse Heaven Hills While Cabernet and Chardonnay show so well from the HHH this wine is ridiculously good each year. Stainless and a heaping dollop of acidity make this vibrant white from one of the states warmest growing regions pulsate with citrus and stone fruit aromatics. The palate is cut fresh fruit and wet stone. For the price one of the state's best white wines year in and year out. $18

2010 McKinley Springs Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills There are many different varieties planted in the region and Malbec is one you're really seeing distinguish itself. This wine is elegant and while it offers plenty of blue and black fruits it is structured (again those dusty tannins) and very lively. (I tasted it beside a well regarded Argentinian Malbec which frankly seemed down right dumb in comparison) This wine shows aromatics, acidity, earth, spice and stony minerality along with it's dark fruits. $24

2012 Columbia Crest Reserve Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills This Malbec is a part of the limited release wines from Columbia Crest and the wines are made with an incredible amount of care. An inky black wine to behold as well as on the palate. Black fruits, smoke, earth and clove spices. Fantastically structured, with a core of black fruit. $45