Archive | May 2012

Come Put Your Blindfold on For This Wine Tasting!

Over the weekend, Jon and I hosted our first blind wine tasting party.  I blogged about the rules in a previous post, here, if you want to know how I intended it to work.  A few weeks ago I put out the invites and everybody selected a different varietal.  Somewhat oddly, we ended up with a near perfect balance of 6 whites and 7 reds.

My Dad was generous enough to do the honors of keeping things truly blind.  Guests bagged their wines before they came in the door, and then my Dad uncorked the wines, mixed them up and labeled them with letters.  So nobody knew which wine was in which bag.  And even if you thought you knew the shape and color of the bottle you brought, you quickly forgot once the festivities got underway!

While Dad was busy uncorking, I had everybody introduce themselves, and explained the rules, and handed out score sheets and tasting notes.  Yes, that’s right.  I’m a nerd!  I trolled the internet and my wine books for notes describing the characteristics of each varietal.  I tried to make them as helpful as I could.  The rules of the game were simple; each guest had to taste each wine and guess the varietal.  They could get a bonus point for guessing the right region.  There was no penalty for incorrect guessing.  As soon as Dad had the wines were ready to go, the party began!  (And yes, in case you were wondering – I party with my parents.  I’m sure that makes me old.  But hey, they are fun!)

The Hidden Labeled Bottles

Once everybody got down to tasting, it was hysterical!  There were as many different types of tasters as people at the party.  One friend pored analytically over the tasting notes while tasting and tried to find the identifiable scents and tastes.  He was so serious!  But interestingly, he finished before any of the rest of us.  Some tasters wrote down their first guess and did not waver.  Others scratched out their guesses several times.  The ladies were laughing uncontrollably as we tried to figure out the wines.  One of the ladies (I can’t remember who now) was wandering around saying (multiple times), “I’m looking for melting butter.”

We all were confused when we got to Wine “F”, which was a white wine.  It poured red!  My mom dumped it out the first time because she wanted to taste all the whites first.  I kept my mouth shut and pondered to myself, because I thought my Dad had made a mistake and put a red in with the whites – but he is an engineer, and normally so meticulous!  So I tasted it and knew instantly that it was a Muscat – a Black Muscat!

As for me, I did really well on the whites – I guessed all 6 correctly!  The reds were a different story.  They were tough!  I couldn’t even guess the Cabernet Sauvignon correctly – none of the wines seemed very oaky, and they were all smooth and delicious.  The further along we got, the tougher it was – thank goodness we had the region bonus points!

Blind Wine Tasting Score Sheet

When everybody finished up with their tastings – we did the big reveal.  I had everybody guess which varietal they thought it was before I opened the bag.  We almost peed our pants laughing when I asked for a guess on a white wine and one of Jon’s friends called out “Merlot!”  Much hooting and hollering occurred when we got a wine right!  It was like being in South America when the home team scored a soccer goal!  The winner for the most correct guesses received a bottle of wine, and we gave a magazine on wine for the guest who got the least correct.  That was a 3 way tie for the worst score – 1 point (out of 26 possible)!  So I had them duke it out via a rousing game of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ for the prize.

All in all, the party was certainly fun, and definitely something that I would host again.  I think everybody had fun – at least I hope everybody did!

The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts

I recently read The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts, by Burke Davis.  It is a collection of short stories and musings on the Civil War.  It is one of those books that is a hodge-podge (I love that word) of random information that the author came across while researching for another book, and couldn’t use.  But of course, us history nerds don’t want random trivia to go to waste, so what better place to compile a bunch of random facts than a book about random facts!?

The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts

Davis does a great job of choosing some of the more obscure trivia from the war.  He details friends of men from north and south, and one horse who had four brothers shot and killed on his back.  He tells stories of military inventions, and descendents of famous Civil War figures who went on to their own fame.

However, some of his stories are widely known.  Like the fact that the Civil War began on Wilmer McLean’s farm in Manassas, Virginia, and ended on the same man’s farm at Appomattox Courthouse (the man moved after the first battle to get away from the fighting).  Or the story of the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel.  Of course at the time that Davis wrote this book, in the 1960s, the Hunley had not yet been found on the seafloor, recovered, and placed in a museum.  So I can give him a break for that one, since the story of the Hunley was probably not as widely known 40-some years ago.

That leads me to a few problematic time references.  Several times in his stories, Davis makes reference to Civil War descendents (usually sons, but once a widow) who are still alive.  It took me aback several times thinking “but the war was 150 years ago”!  Once I realized that the book was first published in the 1960s, the references made more sense.  And it would be difficult to update them to modern day, since the story explores these Civil War connections in the modern day (by modern day, I mean the 60s, when the book was written).

All in all, it’s an interesting book for the Civil War buff.  You aren’t going to learn anything deep about a battle or a man, but it’s worth a read for the interesting trivia that he has uncovered.  Enjoy.

Smell This Wine – is that Cat Pee?

I hosted a blind wine tasting party for some friends and family this weekend.  So, to get ready for the fun, I wrote up some tasting notes for guests and it got me wondering about the adjectives that are used when describing wines.  Some of the flavors and aromas, I totally get.  To say something has a lot of minerality, or tastes like green apple, I can definitely see what you are talking about.  But other descriptions are a bit more – let’s just say – out there.

I’ve seen wine reviewers describe a red wine as tasting like leather.  Huh?  Now I grew up with horses, so I have actually had leather in my mouth from time to time while holding my horse’s reins between my teeth so I can free up my hands for something for a minute (not that I would recommend that as a super-smart thing to do, but don’t tell my mom).  But I have never set out to taste leather, and I wonder why a wine reviewer would have tasted leather.  Biting a leather strap while having his foot amputated without anesthesia?  Or maybe he rode horses too, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but why would he assume all his readers have tasted leather?

Once, a wine reviewer described a wine as having a hint of petrol flavor.  It was in a newspaper review, but I don’t remember the winery or the wine that the reviewer was discussing.  Now this is just wrong on several levels.  First off, we’re in the United States – we call it gas.  And then, who in their right mind would taste gas?  Do you just wake up one morning craving a shot out of the pump at the corner station?  I suppose maybe you have tasted gas if you are siphoning a car, but I tend to think that is generally a criminal activity, and call me biased, but I don’t think your run-of-the-mill gas thief goes for a fine bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on the weekend.  Imagine being the winemaker whose wine was just described as tasting of petrol!  That’s gotta hurt!

Which brings me back to the wine tasting notes from this weekend.  Gerwurztraminer, a German varietal that I generally associate with being a sweet wine, was described as having a taste that ranged from apricot (yes, I totally get this), to perfume and bath salts.  Bath salts?  Is somebody not getting enough sodium in their diet that they have to gnaw on a bath salt?  Let me just say, I am pleased to not have come upon a Gerwurztraminer that I would say tasted like bath salts.  Not yet anyway, I’ll keep you posted.

One of the richer adjectives that I left out of my notes for my guests was that Sauvignon Blanc can smell like cat pee.  I had never noticed a Sauv. Blanc smelling like cat pee before, and some of my guests were not “experienced” tasters, so I didn’t want to freak anybody out.  So we are standing around the table tasting “Letter E”, and my mother in law says, “Smell this.  It smells like cat pee.”  And it did!  Amazingly like cat pee.  Of course, sadly, by this time it had been several days since I had drawn up the tasting notes, so I couldn’t remember which wine was supposed to have this aroma.  Next time, I’ll include the reference for sure!

I’ll be sure to blog about the blind wine tasting party soon – there were other memorable moments besides the cat pee comment.  But a good time was had by all!

Biz is in for More Surgery…

Tomorrow afternoon I’m taking Biz up to the vet clinic for another round of tooth extractions. We know he’s definitely losing one, but they may decide to pull a second as well, because the one that has to go is one in from the edge, and when it goes, there will no longer be any stability for the outermost incisor. So, that means I’ll be doing double duty again – flushing his mouth with saline solution as the wounds in his mouth heal.

For those of you who haven’t heard these stories before, Biz has EOTRH – which is the long acronym for a disease with an incredibly long name – Equine Odonoclastic Tooth Resorptive and Hypercementosis disease. In short, Biz’s teeth are getting spongy on the inside. And as they get spongy, his body creates balls of “cement” around the root of the tooth to try to prevent the tooth from just deteriorating and breaking off. This latest tooth is close to breaking and is very loose in his jaw, so it’s gotta go. Better to have a planned extraction than an emergency trip because it broke. So tomorrow, Biz will take the trip up to the vet clinic, get sedated, have a nerve block, and have that long, spongy, breaking tooth tap-tap-tapped out of his jaw. Likely in several pieces. And with much cringing by his human mother throughout the procedure. Because unlike last time, I know what to expect – and it’s worthy of some cringing.

Actually, I’m pretty lucky that my horse’s vet is one of those gentle kinds of vets who has a true fascination and passion for the work that he does. He genuinely wants to teach others what is going on with the disease processes of their animals. And because he knows I’ve been to hell and back with Biz (see my other posts about Biz if you have an interest in those other traumas), he doesn’t worry at all about me breaking down in the operating room. So I get to watch! Although there is an element of squeamishness, I get to stay throughout the procedure, talk to Biz, and see firsthand how big a horse’s tooth is, all the way to the end of the root. And just how firmly rooted it is in that jaw, even if it is falling apart.

So, even though I try not to worry, I will anyway.  I’ll feel a lot better tomorrow afternoon when Biz is done with his surgery and he’s home… Why can’t we stop time and stay young?  I guess that’s a post for another time.

Anacortes Spring Wine Festival

April 14, 2012 was the 4th Annual Anacortes Spring Wine Festival.  I heard about it for the first time last year and wanted to go, but ended up not being able to.  This year, Jon ended up having to work late, so I was almost thwarted again.  But our friends Kiera and Joe wanted to go!  So I left Jon at home and we embarked on my adventure…

Joe was nice enough to drive us, so we all piled in the car and headed down to the Port of Anacortes.  I had been down to the Port’s offices before, so I knew that the Wine Festival takes place at the Port’s main office, which is an old warehouse right on the dock, with offices around the side of a main, open warehouse.  They had the big bay door rolled up because it was sunny and beautiful, which let a bit more light and fresh air into the warehouse.

They did a very good job at this festival.  The servers were friendly and outgoing, and the winery stations were well equipped with easily accessible dump buckets, and water  pitchers to rinse your glass so you could move easily from reds back to whites.  There was also an ample supply of breadsticks to cleanse your palate between tastes.  After so many wines, these are vital as you get that dry, tart, tannic taste in your mouth, and you wonder if the next wine really tastes exactly like the last wine, or if that is just the residual taste in your mouth.

I do have two suggestions for the festival organizers, if they ever happen upon this blog and want to make it an even better experience than it already was.  1.  Please have some wet wipes (either bleach wipes or baby wipes would do just fine) for those of us who want to wipe off the stem and outside of our wine glass.  The servers try hard, but inevitably when tasting for a long time, you get drips down the side of your glass, and your hands get sticky.  YUCK.  A mid-day wipe for the glass would be awesome – Thanks!  2.  You could make better use of the center space.  Put some of the winery tables back to back there in the middle.  There was way too much underutilized space in the middle and the wineries were all crowded around the edges.  That made it a bit tough to get to them, and you don’t feel like you can spend much time chit-chatting because others are trying to elbow their way in.  That would be great!

The festival also had several restaurants who were serving amazing small bites.  We had the opportunity to sample all sorts of goodies, from meatballs, tarts, salmon wraps and salads.  The food was all excellent – there wasn’t anything I didn’t like.

So, without further ado, I’ll give you the rundown on the wineries that I visited at the festival.  Of course, I didn’t have time for all of them, but I listed all of them in case you want to see who was there.  I’ve indicated where I tasted and where I didn’t.

Bunnell Family Cellars – I had read about them when we were heading to Yakima last year, and was curious about them, but we ran out of time and didn’t make it there.  I was excited that they had a presence at the festival.  Since they were the first winery alphabetically, they had a spot right by the door, so we headed over there right away.  I first sampled their Malbec, which was delicious.  It tasted a bit young, with a tannic tartness that will smooth out over time.  I also tried their Syrah, which was extremely dark and smoky, with heavy oak and tannins.  I could imagine Jon really liking the Syrah, but it wasn’t the wine for me.

Challenger Ridge – Challenger Ridge is located in Concrete, Washington, off the beaten path.  Their location is the reason I haven’t been there, because we just haven’t been all that excited about driving all that way for one winery.  So, I was excited about trying it – I tasted the Kiss Me Kate Rosé, and the Savant, which is a Pinot Noir, Merlot, Tempranillo, Grenache blend.  They explained that the Kiss Me Kate was a Rosé that didn’t have a lot of sweetness, but I actually thought it was one of the sweeter Rosés that I’ve had.  Not that the sweetness was a bad thing, actually it was quite a good semi-sweet summer Rosé.  The Savant was good too, a nice Pinot blend.

Chandler Reach Vineyard – Chandler Reach is a Yakima Valley winery in Benton City, Washington, and they had available for tasting a Viognier, a Sangiovese blend, and a Cab/Merlot blend.  I tried the 2008 Corella, which is 75% Sangiovese, 20% Cab Sauvignon, and 5% Merlot.  It was smooth and delicious and ready to drink now.  Joe sampled the Cab/Merlot blend and thought it was great – and at a $12 price point, it is hard to go wrong with it!

Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery – These wines did not do it for me.  At all.  I tried their Syrah and their Tre Amore and didn’t like either.

Coyote Canyon Winery – I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see that they had the Albariño!  Jon and I sampled this wine while it was in barrel during Red Wine and Chocolate weekend in Yakima in February 2011, and I have been hoping since then to get some of this wine!  It is everything I like in the varietal, crisp and citrusy with a light minerality.  Excellent!  I bought two bottles.  Can’t wait to break one of these babies open on a hot summer day!

Dusty Cellars – Dusty Cellars is located in Camano Island and is run by a husband/wife team, Ryan and Dusty Kramer.  The tasting room is only open one weekend a month, and Camano Island isn’t exactly right in the heat of the Seattle scene, so it was nice that they were at the festival.  I tried their Syrah, which was a nice balance of a fruit forward taste with lots of spice.  I also sampled their Queen (yes, that’s actually the name), which is a 90% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% Syrah.  I enjoyed both of these wines quite a bit.

Gecko Cellars – Gecko is the 2nd label of Michael Florentino, offering wines at more reasonable prices. They had a Malbec that was very good, a nice balance between fruit and tannins.  The Sangiovese was also a solid, but not outstanding wine.

Glacial Lake Missoula Wine Company – I was sad that their Gamay Noir Rosé was not available yet, as Tom thought it would be. However, I am always glad that Tom does not put a wine on the market before it is ready. Can’t wait until it’s here! But in the meanwhile, the Mars (a white Marsanne aged with the skins of Cabernet Sauvignon to impart a blood red color and a robust structure) is always a winner.  If you haven’t tried it, I recommend you do.  Or don’t… and that leaves more for me!

Jacob Williams Winery – These guys were recommended by the owner/winemaker at Waving Tree in Goldendale, WA when we were there in February, and Jacob Williams is right down the road from Waving Tree in the Columbia River Gorge, in Wishram, Washington.  But at the time, well, we just didn’t have time.  But now that I have tasted their wines, I realize that driving by was a mistake!  The Sadie’s Red is a blend of 6 Gorge area varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc.  It was a great everyday drinking wine.  The Zinfandel was bold yet smooth, with good spice.  At this point, they don’t have a large distribution outside of the Gorge and Portland, Oregon, but I’ll be watching out for these wines.

Lantz Cellars – At this point, Lantz Cellars is still pretty small, but Kevin Lantz seems destined for great success with his wines.  I tried the Syrah, and it was great – on the fruiter side, which I like!

Michael Florentino Cellars – They had four wines to sample, including one white, a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion blend.  It was very nice, crisp and light with excellent structure.  I also loved their Miscolato, a Grenache blend.

Saint Laurent Estate Winery – Saint Laurent is not a winery I had heard of before the festival, and I found out they are located in the Wenatchee Valley just outside of Chelan.  It is a family owned winery that started out growing cherries, apples and other fruit, and then diversified into wine grapes.  I tried their Chardonnay, which was a lovely, lightly oaked style.

San Juan Vineyards – San Juan Vineyards is in Friday Harbor, Washington, and they grow their own grapes for about 30% of their total production.  Grapes that are estate grown, and grow well in the cool climate of Northwest Washington are Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe.  I tried Madeleine Angevine and was quite pleased with the crisp taste of citrus and stone fruits.  A must have for any hot summer day.

Whidbey Island Winery – We have visited Whidbey Island Winery before while down visiting Jon’s parents, but haven’t been there in a while.  Their Pinot Grigio was a light semi-sweet wine with pineapple and apples and a hint of oak.  Well done.

Willow Tree Vineyard – Willow Tree is brand new in the wine world, opening their tasting room in Everson, Washington only a year ago.  But their new Malbec is very good, with excellent structure and a nice plum flavor.

Live Music and Wine Stations

So, any wine festival is going to have more wines than you can try, and Anacortes was no exception.  Here’s the list of other participating wineries, that we didn’t have a chance to make it to.  This is no way indicates that I didn’t think they were worth trying!  Sometimes, I’ve tried their wines on other tasting tours, sometimes I didn’t know enough to have developed a curiosity, and at some point, you know how it goes – we just got plain, WINED-Out!

So, in alphabetical order, the other participating wineries are: Carpenter Creek Winery, Chinook Wines, Dubindil Winery, Eaglemount Wine and Cider, Finn River Cidery, Foxy Roxy, Kana, Maryhill Winery, Masquerade Wine Company, Milbrandt, Okanogan Estate and Vineyard, Pasek Cellars, and Vartanyan Estate Winery.

And worthy of special mention:

Lost River Winery – I’m not sure what the deal was here, but there was one lonely bottle chilling at their station and never a server to be seen. I would have tried their wines, if only there had been any.  Perhaps this means they were unprepared for the interest in their wines, and sold their entire stock early on.  I can only speculate.

Terra Blanca Winery – After I came home, Jon asked if I had tried their wines.  I told him that I hadn’t had time.  Then he told me I really should have because he had tried one of their wines before at his uncle’s house and thought it was excellent – thanks babe, you might want to mention that BEFORE I go!

Blind Wine Tasting Party!

Jon and I decided that we wanted to do a Blind Wine Tasting Party. We have heard about them from time to time and it sounds like it would be fun. Jon and I frequently open blended wines and try to guess which grapes went into the blend, but we haven’t ever tasted wines where we have no information ahead of time about the wine. So, we came up with a plan and a strategy.

For a Blind Wine Tasting Party, You Need Wine!

Here are our proposed “rules”, so to speak:

1. We had to limit the guest list. Unfortunately, if you leave it open ended, then you either end up with too many choices of wines, or not enough wine in each bottle for everybody to taste it. Plus the logistics of pouring small pours at stations in our kitchen, and too many people could make for a lot of bumping into each other, and the potential to spill wines or break glasses. The web (and isn’t the web always right!?) says that a tasting party gets unmanageable at more than 12 people. I invited more than that, but the laws of adult responsibilities mean that some of my friends won’t be able to attend.

2. Each guest has to bring a single varietal wine, and inform me ahead of time which varietal they are choosing to bring. Only one bottle of each varietal will be allowed. This is so we have some variety (get it, variety – varietal?  I know, that was dumb…), because it would be a different kind of tasting if everybody brought a Cab. Although that might be a different wine themed party someday!

3. Jon and I want to play the game too, so to maintain the mystery of each wine, each guest will place their bottle in the “oh-so-classy” brown paper bag before they come in the house. This is so I can have the neighbors believing all my friends stroll about town with a shopping cart and a bottle of booze in a brown paper bag!  Then the guest will uncork the bottle and remove the foil top, so nobody can read Chateau Ste. Michelle on the foil.

4. Then we’ll shuffle all the reds and all the whites, and then assign each one a letter, for anonymity.

5. Guests can talk among themselves about the wine, but we really do want each guest to try to guess for themselves. What’s the fun in copying from your neighbor? Ok, I’m sure some of you will say that was easier in High School, but that doesn’t make it right.  Plus, I have a feeling this will be ten times more difficult to judge whether a Sauvignon Blanc has those characteristics if you can’t see the bottle to know that’s what it is.

I’ll give everybody a score sheet, with a section for each lettered wine. Guests will try to guess the varietal and the region for each wine. And of course, we’ll have a section for tasting notes, so guests can let us know which ones they like best, in case they want to go out and find that wine! I’m going to be nice too, and even provide a primer on the characteristics of each varietal, for my less wine-adventurous friends.

It’s all in good fun, but we’ll see who gets the most points to decide the King or Queen of the glass! I’ll let you know how it goes, but let me know if you have any suggestions for how to make it better. Now I just have to wait for the party!