Newport Seafood & Wine Festival

Those in the wine industry know that any event worth having isn't worth it unless those of us from The Oregon Wine Blog are there. This fact was reiterated as a few weeks ago we took our horse-drawn carriage to the end of our office's cobble stone driveway and retrieved a parcel from our pillar box. In it was two invitations to the Newport Seafood & Wine Festival. It had been quite some time since we visited our manor on the coast, so we attached a note to our carrier pigeon and sent it in the direction of our airfield. With our steamer trunks packed, we boarded our prepared jet and began our journey.

Seven minutes later, we landed in Newport and were greeted by our chauffeur. As our Rolls Royce approached the venue, I was immediately appalled by the parking situation. Not only were people parking their vehicles in grass and mud, but we didn't even have a reserved parking space! Nobody did! I don't know who was in charge of planning parking, but this is completely unacceptable.

After pulling up to the venue and exiting our vehicle, we were shocked by yet another facet of this event. The entire venue was a giant tent. A tent I say! You know, the temporary structure that ruffians erect in forests and imbibe canned beer in. We're respectable journalists, however, and decided to enter anyway. It helped that our passes allowed us to enter from the rear entrance instead of having to wait in line with the peasants up front.

Before I continue about this event, let us take a moment to list the components of a phenomenal wine event:

-The venue is either a vineyard, chateau, 5 star resort, or other similar structure worth more than your average small town

-The people attending are well educated about wine, dressed in formal attire, and moderate their alcohol consumption not to embarrass themselves

-The food consists of cheeses, vegetables, and animals most people haven't even heard of

With that out of the way, allow me to get back to this event.

Upon entering the tent, the first thing one notices is that the ambiance is a mixture of county fair, trade show, Mardi Gras, and frat party. Throngs of commoners wearing colorful beads and denim are squeezed in like sardines as they indiscriminately imbibe whatever falls into their glass. To make things worse, some get so inebriated that they drop their commemorative wine glass onto the paved floor. This sends the entire crowd into an uproar as they take a moment to remove whatever fried food on a stick they're consuming from their mouths and mock the now glass-less individual by "whoo"ing. Wine is serious business, which is apparently lost on these people.

All of that aside, there really were a lot of incredibly-respected wineries at the event. We had quick, yet pleasurable experience talking with the gents from Zerba out of Walla Walla. The only problem is that there were so many people incredibly intoxicated that not only was it almost impossible to chat with winemakers and do actual wine tasting, but few people actually cared! I even got bumped into so hard by some drunken ogre that my monocle popped out.

In short, the Newport Seafood & Wine Festival is not for the typical wine-goer. If your tastes are unsophisticated enough to enjoy a casual atmosphere with plenty of eclectic fair food, access to dozens of spectacular wineries around the Pacific Northwest, the possibility of meeting new friends or a one night stand, and amateur wine fans being loud and having fun despite the usually snooty reputation that wine has, then by all means plan on attending next year. Just remember to bring your favorite comically-oversized foam hat, a vulgar t-shirt, and your drinking boots.

As for us, don't expect to see our Rolls in the parking lot next year. Well, except Clive. He'll probably be there.

Fortified (Port-Style) Wine of the Yakima Valley: Episode 2; Syrah

When a wine is referred to as 'fortified,' it means it's been made stronger (or 'fortified') by adding a distilled beverage, traditionally brandy. The brandy is added before the fermentation process is complete, which kills the yeast, leaving behind more sugar, which results in a stronger, sweeter beverage. As I mentioned here, to properly be called Port, the wine must hail from the Duoro Valley in Portugal. Since the wines I received were grown and bottled in Washington, they are more properly 'port-style' or 'fortified wines.'

The first stop in our Yakima Valley fortified wines was Cabernet Sauvignon. Today's post will focus on Yakima Valley fortified wine made from the Syrah grape.

I received Syrah based fortified wines from Daven Lore, Tucker Cellars and Kestrel Vintners.

The fortified Syrah wines has much more variance in style than did the Cabernets. Tucker Cellars sent two port style wines; one of which was done in a Tawny style. A Tawny style port is technically one that is barrel-aged for a long period of time so that the wine oxidizes and turns to a brownish gold color. The Tucker Tawny style was definitely lighter in color than it's Ruby counterpart but not the brownish gold of some tawny Port that you'll find out of the Duoro Valley. The Tawny Black Rock Creek port had an obvious presence of oak in the bouquet that came out in vanilla and smoky notes. The oak gave the wine a nuttier caramel flavor and was a welcome change of pace from the ruby ports we were drinking.

The Tucker Cellars Ruby Port was also quite good in a more typical style. This port was more fruit forward than the Tawny, with pomegranate and blackberries on the pallet. Both are fortified using grape spirits.

The Daven Lore Syrah Forte was a chocolate pairing delight. The grapes for this port-style wine are harvested from the Snipes Mountain AVA. The Forte is also fortified with grape spirits. This Syrah port-style wine aged 525 days in the barrel. The Daven Lore Forte has dark, dark cherries and rich red raspberries on the pallet. We had the Forte again recently at dinner at Picazo 7Seventeen in Prosser, and Chef Frank Magana paired it with his Strawberry creme brulee with chocolate ganache. It was an incredible pairing. The Daven Lore Forte was definitely the smoothest of the three Syrah port style wines that we sampled.

The Kestrel 2005 Syrah fortified wine is a very well balanced and interesting wine. Unlike many of the Washington wineries using grape spirits to fortify the wine Kestrel is using the more traditional Brandy. This creates a old world smoothness and the use of Brandy pulls out blackberry and dried fig aromas, as well as a deep dark smooth fortified wine.

Our final installment to come will cover two kinds of ports, a traditional Portugese style blend, that includes Souzao, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao in the blend. These ports are made by Hedges Family Estate and Thurston Wolfe. There will also be one outlier, a Sangiovese port style wine by Lopez Island Vineyards.

Pairing & Preparing: Eat & Drink in the Northwest Cookbook Review

I came across the Eat & Drink in the Northwest cookbooks at Village Wines in Woodinville when my sister-in-law, Jen, pointed them out. The books were created by Marcus Pape and Melissa Peterman. Melissa crafts the recipes, which are then paired with wine by Marcus. Marcus has a background in visual marketing but is a self-proclaimed vinophile. Marcus and Melissa sent me all four books that were available at the time to take a test drive.

The Eat & Drink Northwest cookbooks is a series of books that come out approximately 3 times annually. They are small format, and come at a very reasonable $8.95 per volume. Each book contains about 20 recipes, and while the first in the series also included 20 wines, the wine pairing suggestions have tripled in later volumes. I love the way they approach the wine pairing. Not only do the suggest a varietal, but they typically offer two to three Northwest wines to choose from. Each recipe has a photo of one or two of the ingredients and a few bottles of wine, some of which are smaller local labels.

The cookbooks were made in a smaller format so that you could take them to the grocery store or the wine shop, which I like. We would have preferred if the books had page numbers and either a Table of Contents or an index. While the books are small, I think it would make them even easier to use - particularly when you have more than one of the books.

All in all, we made close to ten of these recipes, and there wasn't one that we won't make again. Volume 1 makes a point of saying that "these recipes are not meant to be thrown together in 20 minutes around the hustle and bustle of your daily routine. Instead, they are intended for a time when you can slow down, relax, and share the event of cooking with family and friends." I appreciate that and I think the food benefits from this approach. I think too many books are jumping on the bandwagon of 'quick and easy and under 20 minutes.' That's not to say there's not a place for that type of cooking - there definitely is - but there's something to be said for spending time with food as you cook it. It brings a greater appreciation to the table. I also liked that the books don't shy away from including sauces. A perfect example is the stuffed poblanos in (Vol. 2 Ed. 1), which were spicy but had a good flavor profile. The spice was not overwhelming and the roasted yellow pepper sauce did a really good job of balancing the spice from the poblanos. We paired the dish with Delille's Doyenne Rose and it was a great compliment. We found, however, that one pepper apiece wasn't quite enough for a meal in and of itself; when we make this again, we'll very likely add rice to the stuffing mixture to make it heartier.

The Prosciutto Wrapped White Fish with Roasted Vegetables was paired with a Horse Heaven Hills Grenache we went with Maison Bleue though it's not in the book. The fish is a roulade with a sun-dried tomato puree. The sun-dried tomatoes give the fish a rich Mediterranean taste that speaks of a long and deep marinade. The reality, though, is the cook time on this dish was more than reasonable. The Grenache was a good choice as the wine stood up well to the rich layered flavors of the fish as well as the simplicity of the vegetables.

One of our favorites, and one that will definitely be making future appearances in our house, was the Slow Cooked Tomato and Duck Ragu with Bowtie Pasta.

Slow Cooked Tomato and Duck Ragu with Bowtie Pasta (shared with permission)
Make a little extra time for this one. The sauce simmers for two hours, but trust me when I say that it's well worth it.
2 duck breasts
4 slices bacon
1/2 c small diced carrot
1/2 c small diced celery
1 1/2 c small diced sweet onion
coarse salt and cracked black pepper
2 garlic cloves
3 T sherry vinegar
2 T tomato paste
1 c red wine
1 (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 1/2 c chicken stock
1 tsp cinnamon
2 dried bay leaves
1 rosemary stem
1 package bowtie pasta

  1. Trim off excess fat from each duck breast and discard. Chop duck breasts into medium dice and saute in a large, dry pot over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook for five minutes, stirring constantly. Remove duck and bacon and all but 2 tablespoons of liquid from the pot and into another bowl.
  2. Add carrot, celery and onion to the pot over medium-high heat and stir. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. cook for 5 minutes, add garlic and cook another 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and deglaze with sherry vinegar and stir. Add tomato paste, stir, and cook for another 3 minutes.
  4. Add wine, stir and cook for a few more minutes. Adjust to medium-high heat. Add the can of whole tomatoes, chicken stock, bay leaves, rosemary stem, and stir (If you have a Parmesan rind you have been saving for sauce, this would be a great time to add it).
  5. Bring up sauce to a low simmer and cook for 2 hours uncovered. Every 20 minutes, skim the fat off the surface and discard. Taste for seasoning and adjust with sale and pepper and sherry vinegar.
  6. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  7. Serve Slow Cooked Tomato and Duck Ragu over bowtie pasta.

I paired the food with wines I had on hand, what I love about these books however is that they recommend specific Northwest wines from smaller producers, like Buty, Pend Oreille and Amavi. And because of the books size, you could take it to a well stocked grocery and pick out the particular wines they recommend should you choose. I also want to acknowledge my lovely wife Gwynne and her help with working on this post with me. Her blog, Look What I Made You is a great stop for food and craft folks.

Picazo 7Seventeen Part 2: Food, Wine, and Fullness

On Friday, we shared the first in this two-part series on our experience at Picazo 7Seventeen,  a casual fine dining wine bar and restaurant in Prosser, Washington.  See that article to read all about how our wagon got hitched to the Picazo post, Chef/Owner Frank Magana, and the philosophy of the restaurant.  Now it's time for the food and wine, yo.  As a refresher, or for those who didn't read Part 1, the orgasmic experience that will soon be described consisted of a 7-course meal presented by Chef Magana for the staff of The Oregon Wine Blog, each course paired perfectly with a local wine by General Manager Trina Cortez.

Josh Gana (that's me) from The Oregon Wine Blog (this very publication), described dinner at Picazo in a unique way:

...[a] grab on to the headboard and hang on for the ride type of culinary experience.

Come along for the ride!  Oh, and I fully acknowledge that  I may fall into that snobby, food and wine writer tone.  Sorry if that's the case.  We really aren't snooty, I promise.

First Course

After we had been seated, Trina and Frank approached our table and inquired as to whether there were any food dislikes or allergies, as they had "prepared a little bit of everything to put on the table." Luckily, we're an easy group in that respect and love a chef's surprise. They had prepared 7 courses, and hoped we didn't mind. No, indeed, we didn't mind at all.

The Wine:  2008 Alexandria Nicole Cellars Horse Heaven Hills Marsanne (pre-release)

The Food:  Sweet onion and squash stuffed calimari on a bed of greens with a tarragon balsamic vinaigrette made from a chardonnay/vanilla pressed oil and a grilled pepper.

The Assessment:  This course was our preview of greatness to come.  We found that the puree literally melted in our mouths and the produce was fresh and vibrant.  The tarragon added a wonderful complexity, and the simple unassuming pepper was to die for.  On the wine, we found a hint of residual sugar and were lucky that Trina had shared the pre-release wine with us.  It was simply an outstanding pairing, with the Marsanne perfectly complementing the calimari.  As Gwynn put it,

Would it be in poor taste to lick the plate?

Second Course

As Trina was pouring our second glass of wine for the evening, she nonchalantly pointed to a family two tables away, stating "oh, there's the winemaker of this wine."  That kind of camaraderie part of the magic of Picazo.

The Wine: 2008 Cooper Pinot Gris

The Food:  Firecracker prawns with red chili flakes and harissa (a North African hot chili sauce).

The Assessment:  Umm, so you could remove the word "fire" and the "er" from the name of these prawns and you'd end up with their true nature:  crack.  They are amazing.  The flavor complexity of the spice profile was transformative, and the pinot gris was a perfect wine to cut the heat of the harissa.  It was a well-balanced pairing, and we used the bread to soak up the delicious sauce when the prawns were gone.  Cooper wine is tasting-room only at this point, but watch out because their doing great things on Red Mountain.  This was our favorite course.

Third Course

Immediately prior to dinner, we had done a tasting at Airfield Estates a few blocks away.  We knew Picazo was featuring some of their wines, so were excited to dig in to a glass.  Oh, and yea, this is sort of a crappy photo. I was so excited that I started eating and then remembered to take the picture -- so the presentation was shot.

The Wine:  2008 Airfield Estates Thunderbolt (95% Sauvignon Blac, 5% Semillon)

The Food:  Seafood pasta puttanesca with scallops, salmon, clams, and mussels laid on fresh squid ink noodles.

The Assessment:  The delicateness of the seafood was complemented by the hearty noodles -- which our group described as amazing and interesting.  In fact, Micheal commented that the noodles tasted like an ink pen, "in the best possible way."  The wine was delicious and perfect with the seafood, but didn't stand up to the strength of the noodles.  According to Clive:

This is the greatest pasta sauce to ever walk the face of the Earth.

Fourth Course

At this point in the dinner, my notes started to become a bit illegible and I believe I was in the restroom when the wine was poured.  Just another day's work for a wine blogger.  Neil Cooper, the winemaker from Cooper Wine Company, also stopped by during this course and we had a great chat.

The Wine:  2008 Airfield Estates Dolcetto

The Food:  Pork tenderloin encrusted with coffee and chili powder, paired with a romesco sauce, marconi almonds, and grilled green onions.

The Assessment:  The wine was smoky and sweet, pairs well with any grilled meat.  The biggest pleasant surprise was the coffee encrustation -- it was spicy and bold, but the nutty romesco sauce mellowed it out.  Micheal had some trouble finding that balance, but the rest of us loved the combination of coffee flavor and sauce, and the dolcetto was amazing with the onion.  Quote of the course:

I want to live in that sauce.

Fifth Course

When the chef brought this course out, he acknowledged the quantity of wonderful food to grace our table thus far, and noted that they had tried to keep this course small.  They broke down a whole tenderloin, though, so it small just wasn't in the cards.  Darn.

The Wine:  2007 Cooper L'inizio (9 vineyard, 4 varietal Bordeaux blend)

The Food:   Maple bacon wrapped beef tenderloin with a kumquat demi glaze bbq sauce reduction, laying on a pastini.

The Assessment:  A communal "holy shit" emerged around the table upon tasting the tenderloin with the wine.  The kumquat was all over the delicious sauce, and the knife cut the beef like hot butter.  It was amazing.  A perfect pairing, we noted that the bread under the beef had even been carefully prepared, even though one may never see the grill marks, signaling the sheer attention to detail on the meal.  I'll be honest that there are a number of other comments I wrote down about this wonderful course; I just can't read the "5-glasses down" handwriting.

Sixth Course

Honestly, we couldn't believe there was more amazing food coming.  There was.

The Wine:  2007 Cooper Cabernet Sauvignon (decanted for 1.5 hours)

The Food:  Dijon encrusted rack of lamb with a local chukar cherry peach salsa and an artichoke risotto cake stuffed with manchego cheese.

The Assessment:  Micheal was clearly making googly eyes at the wine from the initial pour.  He rated it as one of his top 10 cabs ever.  He also noted that he wanted to buy Neil a bottle of wine, it was so good.  We found the lamb to be wonderfully prepared, with the tart dijon balancing the wine.  Clive summed this dish up by saying,

This is comfort food if your mom is Jesus.

Seventh Course

Dessert, need I say more?  I suppose I do, this is a blog after all.  So with this course, both Frank and Trina joined us again and informed us that they couldn't agree on a wine pairing, so I'll be damned if they weren't going to have to serve us both selections.

The Wine:  2007 DavenLore Winery Syrah Forte (Port Style) & 2008 Alexandria Nicole Cellars Syrah Ice Wine

The Food:  Strawberry creme brulee layered on chocolate ganache.

The Assessment:  Rick immediately noted that this was the first ice wine that he has enjoyed.  The ice wine paired perfectly with the creme brulee, and we found the forte a wonderful partner to the chocolate ganache.  In a way, you could say the ice wine enhanced a delicious flavor, and the forte complemented the chocolate.  We were left nearly speechless with the fresh strawberry essence.

Thanks for sticking with us through this journey. Hands down, it was a wonderful dinner with perfectly paired wines. On the drive back to Yakima, we were debating as to what the most favorite / least favorite dishes were - and we just couldn't decide. They were all amazing and the wines were spectacular. The entire experience was really special. Please, check out Picazo...and Cooper Wine Company, Alexandria Nicole Cellars, Airfield Estates, and Daven Lore will be the best decision you ever made.

Picazo 7Seventeen: A Slice of Culinary Heaven, Part 1

Have you ever had one of those "grab on to the headboard and hang on for the ride" types of culinary experiences? You know...the kind where you wake up the next morning, still in a coma of epicurean delight, and your body is almost worn out from digesting so much amazing food?  The staff of The Oregon Wine Blog had precisely that experience last week at a classy joint in the heart of Yakima Valley wine country:  Picazo 7Seventeen in Prosser, Washington.  I can't possibly do our experience justice in one post, therefore this will be the first in a 2-part series.  First up, the story behind the story -- the chef, the restaurant, and the philosophy.

The Story

It all started one gorgeous August day on top of Red Mountain.  Rick, Chris, and I had just completed a wonderful tour and tasting at Col Solare, and even though I grew up in Richland, it has been years since I have lived there so I was wholly incompetent in making a dinner recommendation for our group.  We asked Wendi Warner, the Tasting Room Manager, for a few suggestions and the first words out of her mouth were "Picazo 7Seventeen in Prosser".  For a variety of reasons, Prosser was not in the cards for that trip, although we filed the suggestion away for future reference.

Frequent readers of the Blog know that our day jobs involve student services work at colleges and universities throughout the Northwest, and a conference in Yakima brought Rick, Clive, Micheal, and myself together in the same place at the same time, for the first time in Blog history.  We were excited to spend some post-conference time exploring the Yakima Valley wine region.  Knowing that "the company" was covering finances for the non-wine portion of the trip prompted a desire for a nice dinner at the end of the trip; we need to pay attention to those things as the Blog doesn't come with an expense account!  While driving past fields of grazing sheep on OR34, Picazo popped into my head so Rick tweeted Trina Cortez, Picazo's General Manager and Wine Goddess, and a few tweets later we were on with a reservation for the following Wednesday. For the record, the sheep were adorable.

After the conference ended, Clive's wife Gwynne joined us, and after some tasting in Rattlesnake Hills and Airfield in Prosser (who happened to be the featured winery at Picazo this month), we arrived at the restaurant hungry, thirsty, and not quite sure what to expect - in a good way, though, like when you are opening a gift from your best friend.  We walked in to find Picazo in the midst of industry night, so wine makers, families, and friends were abound.  We were quickly shown to our table, and out came Trina and Executive Chef/Owner Frank Magana to introduce themselves.  Pleasantries out of the way, turns out Frank and Trina had developed a special menu paired with local wines for our staff, and we were about to engage in culinary warfare with the winner being our stomachs.  More on the food, later.  We promise.

The Chef

Chef Frank Magana.  Haven't heard of him?  You will.  We've collectively eaten a lot of great food in our days as Bloggers, and never have I met a young chef with such a dynamic combination of vision, talent, personality, and humbleness.  Trained at the culinary school of South Seattle College, Chef Magana has over 17 years of industry experience in high end restaurants and catering establishments.  His dream and passion come through in his cooking and the realization of his vision -- Picazo 7Seventeen.

Throughout the evening, one of the burning questions on my mind was "Why Prosser?"  After all, we were having a world class dining experience in rural Eastern Washington - who would have expected it?  I posed that question to Chef after he served one of our courses (I know, you're interested in the food...but that will just have to wait).  His answer was simple and indicative of the attitude that has driven him to success.  A Seattle transplant, Frank shared his story of coming to Prosser one weekend to enjoy the wine scene, and looking for a good place to eat.  Tumbleweeds....there wasn't anything.  In his mind the answer was simple, so to Prosser he moved with his wife and from that came Picazo 7Seventeen.

The Restaurant and Philosophy

As you walk through the doors and enter the restaurant, you're immediately struck by a gorgeous yet somewhat trendy bar area, with a wine rack to die for.  Eclectic art and vibrant colors adorn the walls, and the restaurant is large enough to serve groups but small enough to keep an intimate setting.  A comfortable feel conveys an unpretentious attitude, and as we looked around we noticed very pleased patrons and quite attentive service.  Again, you'll ask yourself, "I'm in Prosser, right?"  All kidding aside, the wine industry is booming there and we're glad to see the culinary world catch up.

Awarded "Outstanding Wine List" by Wine Press Northwest, the essence of Picazo is truly the bounty of the local land.  Frank focuses on local, fresh ingredients at a reasonable price point...meeting the needs of both locals and tourists alike.  A rotating seasonal menu with unassuming food and a local winery of emphasis each month, seafood is prominent and Frank spent ample time describing the farm fresh philosophy that drives their sourcing partnerships.  In fact, 90% of the ingredients are sourced from the Valley.  Monthly winemakers dinners feature wineries from the Yakima Valley in a prix fixe fashion. Franks mission with Picazo is to showcase the fruit of the valley, where at one dinner you can eat produce grown across the street from the winery that produced the beverage in your glass.

The End?

Not yet.  Fortunately for you and us, this is only half of what we have to say about Picazo 7Seventeen.  Picazo is one of those few places in the industry where you see a true connection between passion, vision, wine and plate - and we want to spend the time to do it right.

Next up, we'll bring you a review of our dinner specifically:  7 courses of heaven with 8 amazing local wines.  Pictures and all.  In the meantime, if you are within driving distance of Prosser, get over to Picazo while you still can.  We predict at some point in the future  if you don't have a reservation, you're out of luck.

Seattle's Urban Wineries Part 5: Hidden Gem; Laurelhurst Cellars

Two observations about Laurelhurst Cellars are apparent before you even get to taste the wine. First, Greg, Gabe and Dave are incredibly nice and down to earth guys. Also, the barrel room is harder to find than you would imagine. Thank you Tom Tom.

I contacted Gabe Warner, the winemaker at Laurelhurst Cellars, about the Washington Syrah Terroir post I recently did. Gabe invited me down to Laurelhurst to pick up the wine and he said "...plan on staying awhile and we'll taste through some of the barrels."

This is where I say sure, see you when?

When Gwynne and I found the "tasting room", Gabe invited us in and explained a little bit about how Laurelhurst Cellars got started. Gabe got his start making beer in California studying at UC Davis and working at a Bay Area microbrewery. When he moved to the Seattle area, Gabe brought his beverage and chemistry background to the creation of the Laurelhurst wines. Gabe partnered with his neighbors from the Laurelhurst neighborhood: Greg, an experienced wine afficionado, and Dave Halbgewachs, an experienced wine buyer.

The three started out making wine for each other and their friends. The first three years were in Gabe's basement. They quickly outgrew that space, and moved to the back room of Greg's business, their current location. Laurelhurst Cellars is up to their 7th vintage with their 2009 wines in the barrel.

We got around to the tasting and we had a hell of a good time. The Laurelhurst guys took us through a good chunk of their 08s. We started out with a Cabernet Franc followed by a Boushey Vineyards Merlot. They've made an effort to really focus on varietals as opposed to blends because they want to showcase the excellence of Washington fruit. When they do blend, they've put a lot of effort into figuring out the balance of how to best highlight a particular varietal.

We moved on to the amazingly inky and dark Zephyr Petite Sirah from Horse Heaven Hills AVA, part of only 80 acres of Petite Sirah in Washington state. From there we moved on to Klipsun Vineyards Merlot. To date, Laurelhurst Cellars has been using 100% new French oak, but as they've accumulated barrels, they're moving towards blends of new and neutral oak, though they do love the vanilla and toasty elements that the oak gives their wine.

As we tasted Gabe and Greg explained that an important part of their winemaking process is the conflict that the three of them go through when they decide on the blending ratios. They discuss and taste and hash out the balance and structure until they arrive at what they're looking for. Greg, though, is a little old school in his analysis: he knows that the wine is right when it gives him goosebumps. As they've gone through their blending process, they've noticed distinct changes in their palates that have affected how they make their wines. These changes have only been for the better and we'll get to benefit in the long run.

You can find Laurelhurst Cellars in a number of Seattle area retailers, and pouring their wines at the SSAW events. Do yourself a favor and check out their wines.

Newport Seafood and Wine Festival - Coming Soon!

Once upon a time (February 26 - 28, 2010) in a land far, far away (Newport, Oregon) comes The Original, and Still the Best:  The 2010 Newport Seafood and Wine Festival.  And surprise surprise...The Oregon Wine Blog will be there.

I suppose it isn't that big of a surprise that we'll be there, after all, there will be world class, ocean fresh seafood, local Oregon wines, and if we are to believe the marketing pictures, many Oregonians wearing pirate hats and crab costumes.  Sounds like a recipe for an amazing weekend!

Since the first festival in 1978, the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival has been a weekend packed with food, fun, and wine; this year appears to be no exception.   Featuring both an amateur and commercial wine competition, we're looking forward to sampling some of the medal-winning wines and chatting with some winemakers.

The festival is located in the South Beach Marina Parking Lot (near Rogue) and tickets are still available online for $10 for Friday, $15 for Saturday, and $5 for Sunday.

See you there?

Upcoming Event: Seattle Food & Wine Experience

The Seattle Food & Wine Experience is coming up soon, and I, for one, am really looking forward to the event. On February 28th between 1-5pm the wine and culinary worlds will converge in the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall.

Winemakers from ten different countries will be available, as well as special "Pavilions" for certain regions, including Washington, Oregon and California. Other countries, such as Italy, France and Australia will also be showing their wares.

I'm looking forward to seeing some Northwest favorites like Delille Cellars and Kiona Vineyards as well as TOWB favorite Terra Blanca.

In addition to the wine, food will also be a major part of the experience, with chefs from nearly 20 restaurants providing appetizers to pair with the wine.

The event proceeds benefit Beechers Flagship Foundation, an organization that looks to educate kids in fourth to sixth grade about the risks and realities of food additives.

Tickets are $49 in advance and $59 on the day of the event. Admission comes with 50 tasting tickets, with each tastings 'costing' between 1 and 3 tickets. No matter how you do the math, you're going to have a great experience. I hope I'll see you there.

Non-Traditional Wines: Cabernet Franc

Like that last bottle of wine you popped, our series of non-traditional wines of the Northwest must too come to an end. It's been a blast and we've learned a lot, but our huge stockpile of review bottles is down to only one varietal.

The final wine in our series of non-traditional wines of the Northwest is one that's actually very common on our wine rack. While we've covered multiple cab francs in the past, it's still a wine that is very much off the radar for the average wine drinker. Cab franc is actually what sparked my interest in wine in the first place, so I anticipate this is going to be a lot of fun.

Joining us for this event are two new friends to The Oregon Wine Blog; Lizz and Rob. Lizz and Rob are at that awkward phase where they know more about wine than your average fan, but don't feel completely confident in their ability to write about it. After one night with Josh and I as well reading some of our articles, I'd bet the anxiety just flew out the window.  I'd even wager they immediately felt smarter the second we opened our mouths. Look forward to hearing more from these two in the future.

Without further ado; wine!

About Cabernet Franc

As with our previous posts, we'll be consulting the fine folks at Wikipedia for the majority of our vast knowledge. For starters, cab franc has historically been used as a blending grape. It's lighter than a cab sauv, which is typically used to mellow out cab sauvs and merlots. In some regions of the world, the grape has even been flat out mistaken for cab sauv.

In recent times, it turns out some of the earliest plantings of cab franc in California were mistaken for merlot. Once wine makers were convinced the grape could hold up by itself, many wine makers in the Northwest have been planting it due to its relatively low level of maintenance and early ripening.

In short, you may have had cab franc without even knowing. That bottle of merlot? Maybe cab franc. Or maybe it was a cab sauv. It probably isn't a riesling. Not sure? Just say "cab" and cough/mumble a bit.

The Wine
Like the rest of the wine in our non-traditional wines series, all of the following wines were sent to us for free. A huge thank you goes out to each vineyard for sending us the following wines: Kestrel Vitners 2006 Winemakers Select Cab Franc, Pend D'Oreille 2005 Cab Franc, Dusted Valley 2007 Cab Franc, Tamarak Cellars 2007 Cab Franc, and Gamache Vitners 2006 Estate Cab Franc. Perhaps the coolest aspect to this tasting is that each wine comes from a different AVA. While all of the wines were great, the four of us have narrowed it down to two favorites:

Kestrel Vitners 2006 Winemaker's Select Cab Franc Hailing from Yakima Valley, Kestrel's offering won over all four of us. Our self-reported tasting notes indicated hues of strawberry, dark fruit a sweet yet bold aroma, and pairing well with some mango we had cut up. We all also agreed that this wine holds up by itself just fine, so it's completely up to you whether or not to pair it with food.

Kestrel's own tasting notes indicate that this 100% estate-grown cab franc presents what we mentioned as well as "dark spice, herbal, and floral layers that are typical of the variety." Kestrel's offering definitely stands out as one of the best offerings out of the Northwest and at only 250 cases produced, it won't be around for very long.

Pend d'Oreille 2005 Cabernet Franc: Pend d'Oreille has officially become the biggest surprise of this entire series. Once again their offering was unanimously agreed upon as one of the best of the night. We noted a sweet nose that Lizz especially really enjoyed. This wine prevented a medium fruit profile that was noted as not very complex, but very comforting and true to the style. While it was great straight from the bottle, the wine's more complex flavors came out after opening up for a while. Looks like we definitely need to make a trip out to Sandpoint.

Final Thoughts
Cab Franc is an incredibly versatile wine that appeals to a very wide audience of red wine drinkers. By itself or paired with food, it's very hard to go wrong with a good bottle of cab franc. Thanks again to Lizz and Rob for joining us for this review and everybody else who gave feedback for previous posts. Thanks as well to every winemaker who helped make this series a huge success. We hope you've learned a little something about non-traditional varietals and feel more confident is picking one up at your local winery. Look forward to our next upcoming series that will be as educational as it is creative (or just weird).

Fit for Ceres: Dusted Valley Comes to Woodinville

Dusted Valley, Walla Walla's 52nd winery, has been making wine since 2003. Brothers-in-law Chad and Corey, originally from Wisconsin, decided to pursue their love of wine by moving to Walla Walla and are now making 4,000 cases yearly.

Dusted Valley recently changed labels with their 06/07 releases and in one man's opinion, this was a huge move in the right direction. I know it's what's in the bottle that counts, but marketing does matter and it would appear that given a lot of their recent moves, Dusted Valley has really got the marketing line down. There is a lot that's new with Dusted Valley: the newer labels, the most brilliantly named wine club in Washington, the Stained Tooth Society, as well as the new Woodinville location are making Dusted Valley a name and wine that should be on everyone's lips.

The Dusted Valley tasting room opened in Woodinville this past July, located in the small plaza with Purple Cafe, right off of the roundabout (behind Brian Carter and DeLille's tasting rooms).

The Dusted Valley space is a store front and is very well decorated on the inside. Their emphasis is on maximizing the space, meaning there's not a ton of wine on hand, but they've been able to have a cozy tasting room in the front of the shop, and a space that's large enough for small private events as well.

The wines are very well done and they showcase the Washington fruit very nicely. Dusted Valley makes wines out of Walla Walla, Columbia and Yakima Valley fruit. While Dusted Valley is a smaller operation, they make a variety that is enviable. The tasting room had on hand the 2006 Chardonnay, the 2007 Grenache, Cab Franc, Mouvedre, three different Syrahs, and the Barrel Thief Red, a Sangiovese and Tempranillo blend.

All of the wines were good. My favorites were the un-named Syrah ($27), the Grenache ($28) and the Barrel Thief Red ($26). The $8 tasting fee can be applied to a purchase (Dusted Valley waived my fee. Thanks, guys!)

Dusted Valley is "cork-free" on all of their wines which is not only about protecting their investment, but it also had to do with their commitment to sustainability and the impacts of cork harvesting.

Dusted Valley has an interesting barrel project in the works, using oak from the winemaker's home state of Wisconsin. If you're in Woodinville you should make the Dusted Valley tasting room a must do; they're open daily from 12 to 5pm.

Seattle's Exotic Wines Festival

Groundhog's Day marked the date for the Seattle Exotic Wines Festival at perhaps one of the most exotic locales in Seattle, Teatro Zinzanni. I made my way there after work to find the place already packed to the gills.

This was a Seattle Uncorked event, which are incredibly popular, and pretty imaginative. The wines were not your usual suspects; tonight featured, among others: Mouvedre, Roussanne, Grenache, Carmeniere, and Petit Verdot.

The event featured 23 different Northwest wineries, including friends of the Oregon Wine Blog Kana Winery and Gilbert Cellars. I finally met the lovely (and boa-wearing) Katherine Goodson, the GM at Kana Winery, in person. Kirsten, the tasting room manager from Gilbert Cellars, was also dressed to the nines.

Kana and Gilbert were examples of some of the fine wineries and delicious wines that were on hand. These were smaller, premium winemakers who were venturing off the beaten path and trying their hands at the less commonly grown varietals here in the Northwest. While the wine drinking public loves Chardonnay and Merlot, these winemakers are willing to give a more interesting, less commerical wine a whirl. What they've done is commendable and delicious, and we get to reap the benefits.

Some highlights of the evening were The Bunnell Family Cellars Mouvedre 2007. I love this varietal, and the Bunnell Family Mouvedre was well-balanced with neutral oak and lower alcohol (14.4%) that allowed the fruit to come through. It seems that a lot of Northwest Mouvedre comes in way over 15% and I have found the fruit difficult to taste. This wine was very well done and gave the fruit it's due.

The aforementioned Kana Winery's Masterpiece, was again very well done. Maybe the best white wine in the house. Kana's blend of Viognier, Roussane and Marsanne is a complex white wine that will stand up to any meal you pair it with. I believe that Kana belongs on a short list of Northwest white wines with both the Masterpiece and the Cuvee Blanche.

The Reininger Carmenere 2006 was an excellent example of the varietal. It was well-balanced and full-bodied, with the signature rounded mouthfeel that makes Carmenere so appealing.

The event included meats and cheeses and lots of good company. I met one woman who was actually allergic to Merlot. I found this dubious, but nonetheless interesting. For her, this event was perfect because save a few exotic blends, there was no Merlot present. The undeniable highlight of the event was the Teatro Zinzanni trapeze performance. A tiny performer spun and flipped above our heads while we all looked on in amazement. Her escort was a man who stood 6 foot 5 inches in heeled boots and red sequin pasties.

The event benefited Art with Heart, a local non-profit organization that works with children by using art, creativity and expression to get them through difficult stages in their lives. Art with Heart has helped over 41,000 children deal with family tragedy and natural disasters.

Guests could purchase their favorite bottles or participate in the silent auction to benefit Art with Heart. I made sure to do my part, and took advantage of the opportunity to restock the Kana Wine at home.

Seattle Uncorked offers events like this with some regularity. David LeClaire is the brains behind the operation, and he puts on a good event. In this instance he has really pushed people to think beyond their typical wine experience. Rather than feel like they're being lectured about what's beyond their typical wine experience, Seattle Uncorked makes it an adventure of discovery. David was kind enough to invite me free of entry to this event, and I hope the chance to attend some of their other functions in the future pops up.

Matthews Estate: The Kids are Alright

In conjunction with the release of their 2007 Claret, Matthews Estate recently had a barrel tasting of their 2008 Claret. I learned about the event through Twitter, an aspect of social media to which I'm relatively new. Matthews Estate, like many wineries, is making moves toward pulling in a younger demographic. They've thrown in with youth in hiring of winemaker Aryn Morrell who is not yet thirty and has cut his teeth at wineries down in Napa Valley including Silver Oak.

I was hopeful that this event would shed some light on how Matthews was utilizing social media to bring a younger crowd to their wines. Our first impressions were a bit auspicious - we parked next to a Bentley, not the typical car for the under forty crowd. The barrel room was packed with people. Overall, the crowd was quite young. I'd put the average age of everyone in attendance at around 40, which is pretty goodfor a private wine event for a premium winery in Woodinville.

I spoke with one of the owners, Cliff Otis, about the direction of Matthews Estate and the role he sees social media playing. Matthews has a presence both on Facebook and Twitter, as well as a web presence. The Matthews website is very interactive, with videos of the winemaker, Aryn, tasting through the wines. Matthews hopes to bring young people into the experience with them. Cliff explained that what fascinated him about wine was the "Ah ha!" experiences that comes from learning how wine gets from the vineyard to the bottle, from understanding the role that barrels play in the nose and palate of a wine, and how varietals blended can compliment and accentuate one another. The folks at Matthews want to share that "Ah ha!" moment with a younger generation of wine drinkers.

So, how was the wine? The 2008 Claret was showing very well and it will spend another year in the barrel. The Claret is 55% Cabernet and 45% Merlot. Aryn pulled the half of the pour out of new oak and the half from a one year old French barrel blending them in the glass. The wine was a dark cranberry color, with that new French barrel lending notes of currants and oak on the nose. The wine showed flavors of blueberries and bright cherries. This young Claret is very good, and will only get better.

Matthews is excited about the future, and what Aryn's winemaking will bring to their repertoire. They've got big plans for their brand, and for Washington Wine.

Non-Traditional Wines: Grenache!

Friends, readers, and critics...thanks for sticking with us for the longest feature series published to date on The Oregon Wine Blog!  Without further ado (well, perhaps just a *little* ado) we bring you the next and second to last in the Non-Traditional Wine Series -- Grenache.  The day of this tasting started as one of wine, fun, and fellowship; the night culminated with some greater insight into Pacific Northwest wine.

A sunny afternoon spent at Willamette Valley Vineyards enjoying the Mo's Crab and Chowder Festival was just wrapping up and Rick, Zac, Micheal, and I had finished demolishing four large plates of crab, a tablecloth, a bottle of wine, and our hands in the process.  Not quite ready to end the day, I mentioned that the crew should come over and assist with our tasting of Grenache.  Zac immediately said, "gesundheit."  Thankfully, it wasn't a sneeze, rather, the name of one of the most widely planted red wine grapes in the world.

About Grenache

Our friends at Wikipedia were more than happy to provide an overview of Grenache for you. We didn't actually ask, but we're sure they won't mind. A late ripening grape requiring hot, dry conditions, Grenache flourishes in Spain, the South of France, and the San Joaquin Valley of California. Conveniently for all of us, Eastern Washington is aptly hot and dry. Often used in fortified wines due to a high sugar content, it was one of the early grapes planted in the Washington wine industry with notoriety in the Yakima Valley as early as 1966. It is a growing local varietal as part of the Rhone Ranger movement in the state. A side effect of high sugar content? Often a high alcohol content.

The Wine

We received two bottles in the Grenache genre for review as part of this series.  As with a few of our other tastings, this panel presented two wines that were completely opposite and both quite delicious; quite representative of the terrior of origin.  In alphabetical order...

Dusted Valley 2008 Columbia Valley Grenache:  This wine immediately presented some tantalizing aromatics with notes of cranberry, cherry, pepper, and cinnamon.  All of us found this wine very approachable, fruit-forward, with the ability to completely stand on it's own or pair with a medium-red appropriate culinary delight.  Zac noted that it was "good" and Micheal made a comparison that I cannot decipher from my notes...probably because the wine was so tasty I focused more on drinking than transcribing.  All in all, we loved this wine and I particularly enjoyed the prominence of black cherry.  With only 175 cases, this wine "is about as rare as a Sasquatch."  At $28 per bottle, this gets a "highly recommended" from us as an everyday wine.

K Vintner 2007 "The Boy":  Described by the winemaker as "Truly a vineyard in the bottle", The Boy is actually a blend of 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah - and wow does the Syrah add some complexity!  With Walla Walla Valley fruit, we got an earthy, gamey nose that Zac noted, "took command of his nostrils."  The weak of heart may be off put a bit by the aromatics, but it would be a mistake to give up there.  Upon taste, we found a bolder, passionate wine that had spice with a sweeter finish.  This is definitely a food-pairing wine that would be awesome with a steak.  It's another limited production at 340 cases, so if you run across one at $40 this gets a "highly recommended" from us with a slab of red meat.

There it is: a journey on the Grenache train through two bottles -- one delicate and fruity, one bold and brawny -- both delicious in their own special way.  We all walked away with a new appreciate for Grenache and the variances in the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley terrior.  Props to K Vintners and Dusted Valley!