Archives

Chelan Beginnings – Day 1

At the end of September, I had a conference over in Chelan, Washington.  I headed over with my coworkers on Tuesday, and attended the conference session from Wednesday through noon Friday.  Jon then took Saturday off from work and drove over Friday after he finished work to meet me.  Chelan is east of the Cascade mountains in Washington and typically gets hotter drier weather than we do in Western Washington.  This year the temperatures were nice, but not overly warm.  I could walk around in a skirt and t-shirt and be quite comfortable – which typically isn’t the case at the end of September at home.  But sadly, there wasn’t much sun to be found.  Because even though the sun was up there in the sky, it was obscured by the thick smoke in the air from the nearby wildfires.

Friday after Jon arrived, we spent the afternoon wandering around the shops in the downtown business area.  Chelan has about 3500 year round residents, and the population balloons by several thousand during the summer.  But with the season winding down, and the heavy smoke in the air, it was certainly less busy than I think it would usually be.  After wandering around and checking out the shops, we decided to head out to Tsillan Cellars to go do a wine tasting.  I had their Sinistra wine a few years ago, and it is one of my favorites – but I hadn’t tried any of their other wines for a couple of years.

Tsillan is on the main drag just outside of town – up on a slope overlooking the lake (although you couldn’t see down to the lake because of the smoke).  They grow some of their own grapes, and some they truck in from the Yakima Valley.  For a $5 tasting fee, you can sample five wines (they did pour us a sixth though).  Jon and I shared a flight, and we started with the 2009 Estate Chardonnay.  This Chardonnay had a nice light butter flavor, but without being too heavily oaked.  It was one that we could both agree on.

Tsillan Cellars Tasting Room and Restaurant

Their 2009 Estate Riesling was very floral at first taste, but then settled into a rich pear flavor with the taste of vanilla.  It was a drink now wine.  The 2011 Bocciolo di Rosa was a light Syrah based Rosé with flavors of honeydew melon.  It had a light sweetness, and did not have much acidity.

The 2009 Bellissima Rossa is a Syrah Merlot blend, with big structured tannins and flavors of smoke and caramel.  The 2009 Reserve Syrah had even bigger tannins, and tasted of brown sugar, ripe cherry and lots of prune.  I liked the wines more than the reds at Tsillan, with the exception of the Sinistra that I love so much, but sadly it is sold out for the season!

Tsillan Cellars Tasting Room

After the winery, we pondered what to do about dinner.  Tsillan Cellars has a large Italian restaurant at the winery, but neither of us felt like eating heavy Italian food.  We decided to head back to the hotel and walk somewhere downtown.  We asked around for some other suggestions, and everybody kept recommending Local Myth Pizza.  It is apparently the best pizza ever – based on the numbers of rave reviews I have heard!  I’m convinced that these pizza place owners are true geniuses and are paying people off for the recommendations, because to be honest, I had their pizza a few days before and just was not that impressed.  It was one where you had to blot the oil off the top before you could eat it – with the New York style flat crust.  Jon is not a fan of heavy, greasy foods on his best days, so I knew there would be no way he would like it.

We decided to go to a place that served burgers and salads called BC MacDonald’s.  We both had salads that were nice and big, and Jon had a glass of wine.  My iced tea was good too.  The ambience was not great – there were two men in the bar arguing loudly, but the server was fast and attentive and we both left satisfied with our meals.  But the reviews on BC MacDonald’s are mixed, so I could easily see having a much worse experience than we did.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and relaxed with some wine and TV watching.  Vacation is the life!

The Biltmore Estate Wine Tasting

Included in our Biltmore Estate admission was a free tasting at the Biltmore Winery. I knew Biltmore had a winery, but they don’t have distribution on the West Coast, so I had never had any of their wines before, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect… On walking into the winery, you are immediately struck by how big it is. There are at least 6 islands, with tasting space for at least 20 people at each island. Wow!

On Our Way to the Winery – Jon on a Mission

It wasn’t super busy, and we were led over to an island with about 8 other people.  The interesting thing about the Biltmore tasting is that you can taste everything if you want. And it is no small selection – they have 24 wines on their complimentary tasting menu! I figured that since I wasn’t driving, I would take them up on the offer!

The Biltmore’s Tasting Room

The Tasting Room building used to be the estate’s dairy barn.  The wooden beams on the ceiling and the steel cross bars are leftover from the dairy days – I don’t know why they decorated the steel structure with white banners, I think it looks weird.  I think that they should have tried to retain more of the original dairy barn features, because you would never guess that it was a dairy barn when you walk into the building now.

Our server was a young man who looked to be about 21. I wondered if the Biltmore wines are the only wines he’s ever had. He was friendly and knew the answers to basic questions about the wines, but was stumped when I asked him anything more in-depth.  I imagine our server sees mostly tourists, and not many tourists who are serious about their wine, so he probably isn’t used to questions like mine.  He commented a couple of times on the detailed notes I took. I didn’t think they were that detailed – certainly not as detailed as what I’ve included below, this is after I went back and expanded them a bit. So, without further ado, my take on the Biltmore wines (and see Dad, I didn’t try them all!)

Whites

  • Sauvignon Blanc – This wine was very floral, like a Viognier, with a grassy flavor. Not my favorite.
  • Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc – didn’t try, assuming it would also be very floral
  • Reserve Chardonnay 2009 North Carolina – Very buttery. I prefer a crisper stainless aged Chardonnay, but Jon liked this one.
  • Chardonnay Sur Lies – the server explained that Sur Lie means that the yeast settles on top for a couple of months, like beer. This wine was light, with a hint of carbonation. Interesting, but not a knockout wine.
  • Pinot Grigio – This one had a honeysuckle nose, with a light citrus flavor, a slight tartness and a hint of honey. Pretty decent!
  • Riesling – This wine was honey sweet and syrupy, with not crispness at all. I was not a fan.
  • Century White – I didn’t try this one.
  • Chenin Blanc – This wine was sweet with a slight syrupy feel. It tasted of pineapple and honey.  It was decent, but I like my Chenin Blanc more on the crisp side.
  • Limited Release Chenin Blanc – Our server told me that this wine was sweeter than the regular Chenin Blanc, but I found it to be less sweet. It has more of a tropical fruit taste, without the honey of the regular Chenin Blanc. I liked this one quite a bit!
  • House White – This wine was very floral, and sweet at the same time. An interesting combination. Our server told us that it is a blend with Malvasia, which is a sweet white. I hadn’t heard of Malvasia grape before – it originated in the Mediterranean and is typically used in white blends, sweet wines, and some dessert and fortified wines. I didn’t love the Biltmore House White, but I’ll have to keep an eye out for this grape in the future.

Rosés

  • Century Rosé – This is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Grenache. This wine has a very light taste of strawberry. It was good, but almost didn’t taste like a wine – more like a fruit juice.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc de Noir – This wine was a light melon flavor. It was very enjoyable!
  • Zinfandel Blanc de Noir – This wine was very good, with raspberry and tropical fruit. It was sweet, and I imagine it would be a wonderful summer wine with chocolate!
  • 2012 Festival of Flowers Rose – This wine was sold out, so we didn’t get to try it. The name implies it is a floral wine, which I’m not a bit fan of, but the description said it is sweet and fruity. I guess I’ll never know.

Reds

  • Pinot Noir – This Pinot was very light and seemed watered down and lacked much flavor. It was pretty disappointing.
  • Cardinal’s Crest – This wine was a blend of the kitchen sink – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Grenache, but it works! It has a taste of blackberry with light oak. It is fairly tart, it needs to age just a bit to settle some. It would be a great wine with a meal, the perfect spaghetti wine!
  • Merlot – I didn’t try this one.
  • Sangiovese – This wine smelled strongly of smoke, and had a berry and plum flavor. It was ok, but not spectacular.
  • Century Red – This wine is a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. Jon didn’t like this wine, but I did. It has the taste of plum and vanilla and smoke on the nose.
  • Syrah – I didn’t try this one.
  • Zinfandel – This wine has a lot of berry taste and tart acidity with a light mouth feel. The tasting notes described it as having tobacco and caramel aromas, which I did not get from it though. It was decent, but not great.
  • Limited Release Merlot – This wine was very bitter on the back of the throat. It was heavily oaked, and I didn’t like it at all.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – Jon didn’t like this one, which was odd as he typically likes Cabs best. I thought it was nice, as it was not very oaked.
  • House Red – I didn’t try this one either.

The winery has some premium wines that you can taste for a fee, but we decided not to.  Maybe if the complimentary wines had been a bit more impressive…  All in all, I thought that the Biltmore wines were very drinkable, but not great wines.  I liked the Rosés the best, perhaps because a Rosé is supposed to be a light, refreshing summer wine, and it doesn’t need the structure to age.  It seems that Biltmore still has a way to go in order to get to where many of the Oregon, California and Washington wines are. And that’s ok, since wine tasting wasn’t the focus of this trip. And we had plenty of historic sites still to come!

The Biltmore wines are all reasonably priced, so I did walk away with 3 bottles – my favorites from the tasting.  As we were only on the second day of our trip, I knew we would have an opportunity to drink them before we got back on the plane to come home…  I bought the Limited Release Chenin Blanc, the Zinfandel Blanc de Noir, and the Cardinal’s Crest.  We brought home a couple of their logo glasses too, to remember the trip long after those bottles were gone.

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!

Who Knew Jon Would Be Craving a Rosé…

The recent days of sunny weather put Jon in the mood for more Rosé, so we opened up a bottle of Syncline Wine Cellars 2010 Rosé.  Syncline is a small family owned winery in Lyle, Washington, on the Washington side of the Columbia River, right along the border with Oregon.  We had stopped there for a visit on our 2012 President’s Day Weekend Wine Tour.  For more information on that visit…

The Syncline Wine Cellars owner and winemaker tends toward the science of winemaking, and it is apparent when you read the tasting notes on their website.  It is made in the Saignée style, where the skins remain on the grape for a short period of time to impart some color, but the juice (the must) is drained off before it darkens to the color of a red wine.  Syncline uses a different blend for their Rosé each year, sampling some of the best grapes of the year from around the region.  This year they sourced their fruit from the Columbia River Gorge (Pinot), Horse Heaven Hills (Grenache and Mourvedre), and McKinley Springs (Grenache, Cinsault, Couniose and Carignan).  And throw in a bit of Red Mountain for good measure.

Syncline 2011 Rosé Label - a Different Blend than the 2010

The 2010 Syncline Rosé is a blend of 33% Pinot Nor, 17% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 15% Carignan, 9% Mourvedre, and 9% Counoise.  Other than the Pinot Noir, these are all relatively rare grape varieties, and all ones that I have really enjoyed in other wines.  This blend  has a melon nose, with bit of grapefruit.  It is a dry wine which has a brief taste of strawberry, but a lingering taste of honeydew and grapefruit.  It has a very dry finish. Jon announced that it is one of the more complex Rosés he has tried.  On a hot day, this wine will really hit the spot.  I recommend it for when you are in the mood for a dry Rosé.

The Crusher – What More Can I Say?

Let me just say, I wasn’t at a WWF match over the weekend, although with a wine named The Crusher, I can’t blame you for being confused.  I’ll explain.  On the day that Jon and I went down to see Gauguin at the Seattle Art Museum, we stopped at the Cost Plus World Market on the way home and perused their wine selection.  They sometimes have a better price on a wine we have had before and liked, and they carry a lot of California wine that we haven’t seen anywhere else.  The Crusher was one of those.

Of course, the first thing that catches your eyes is the name.  But the label is so nondescript!  I suppose if you have a knockout name like The Crusher, you have to tone down the rest of the label to be taken seriously.  I picked it up and saw that it is a Rose of Pinot Noir (one of my favorite grapes!) from vineyards in Clarksburg, produced by Don Sebastiani and Sons (who apparently also produce Smoking Loon, Pepperwood Grove, and several other brands I hadn’t heard of).  But at the $6.99 price point, I was willing to take a chance on an unknown.

We brought it home and it sat on the “everyday drinking wines” rack, and I opened it up last night with dinner.  When we first opened the bottle, the wine didn’t have much of a nose.  It was hard to get a sense of what it would taste like.  So we poured.  And swirled.  And sniffed again (still not much smell).  So we tasted.  My first reaction was… eh… not much there.  It was ok.  And I kept working on dinner and came back to the glass about ten minutes later.  Now I smelled just a hint of strawberry, with a tiny bit of smoky spice.  And the second taste was much improved. This is a good everyday wine.  It is very dry, which cuts off the lingering sweetness of the strawberry flavor.  My only complaint is that the finish is a teensy bitter.  But for $6.99, I would certainly buy it again when I see it around – but I’ll let it breathe for a little while before the first taste.

A great summer patio wine!

And this takes the cake.  This evening, day two of this bottle, I was sitting on the deck in the sunshine writing this blog post, when a hummingbird flew up and hovered about a foot from my face, and only about 2 inches from my glass of The Crusher Rose.  He was checking it out!  That was very neat to see.