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Amavi 2014 Sémillon

Tonight I’m drinking the Amavi 2014 Sémillon.  According to the winemaker notes on Amavi’s website, it:

smells like: honeysuckle, orange blossom, lemon zest, wet stones
tastes like: granny smith apple, grapefruit, honeydew melon
mouthfeel: refreshing acidity, rich & balanced structure
drink with: rich fish & shellfish; spicy dishes

Varietal(s): 85% Sémillon, 15% Sauvignon Blanc
Vineyard(s): 46% Les Collines, 29% Seven Hills, 25% Goff
Appellation: Walla Walla Valley
Oak Program: 100% neutral French Oak

amavi-2014-semillon

I paired mine with some leftover Étouffée from our fabulous local Cajun restaurant.  It goes nicely with the spice of the dish.  It is perfect for this hot summer Pacific Northwest evening!

I could have sworn that I had some photos of my visit there last summer, but I can’t seem to find them, so you’ll just have to check out their website to see how amazing their setup is.  If you go, sit on the deck.  Trust me, just do it…

Happy Sunday, I hope your week gets off to a good start…

 

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Dinner with Friends. And Wine.

Over the weekend Jon and I had some friends over for dinner.  It was kind of funny actually, because I had gotten an email from my friend Bliss about getting together for dinner, and responded with some dates, and then realized that it was an email from several weeks before.  We had already set up and had that dinner even!  But they were available on one of the dates I had suggested so we got together again.   YAY!

We had turkey tacos, topped with sauteed cabbage and peppers, avocado, tomatoes, sour cream, salsa, and olives.  And Spanish Rice.  Because tacos are always better with Spanish Rice.

When they got here, we uncorked the 2011 Stella Blanca by Northstar Winery – a blend of 93% Semillon and 7% Muscadelle.  Bliss hasn’t tried many white wines, and apparently she is anxious about buying whites, because she is worried that she won’t like them.  But she has liked the whites that she has tried at my house, and was excited about trying another.  This one didn’t disappoint!

The Stella Blanca was crisp and citrusy, without being too acidic.  I thought it paired quite nicely with the tacos, with just enough citrus and acidity to cut through the mild spice of the meal.

2010 Arbor Crest Malbec and 2011 Stella Blanca by Northstar Winery

2010 Arbor Crest Malbec and 2011 Stella Blanca by Northstar Winery

The second wine that we opened was the Arbor Crest 2010 Malbec.  This was a wine that I picked up on a trip to Spokane Valley, WA for a conference, back in August (I haven’t had a chance to blog about that trip yet – but soon!)  This was actually the first tasting room I have ever visited in a shopping mall!  To tell the truth, I was a bit skeptical about their wines – given that we were tasting them right next door to the food court, but I was quite impressed!

The Malbec was produced from grapes grown in the Wahluke Slope Vineyard.  The Wahluke Slope AVA lies entirely within the Columbia Valley AVA, and has some of the warmest, driest weather in Washington.  It is a bold wine, but nicely balanced, with black cherries, chocolate and lots of spice.  This one was a real crowd pleaser at dinner.  I was the only one who had tasted it before and it was so neat to see a wine I had chosen get such rave reviews!

We finished off our meal with a fantastic apple crumble pie from the Farmer’s Market.  The apples were fresh and delicious and the crumble on top was perfect – sweet and sugary.  Terrible for the waistline, I’m sure, but good for the soul.  A fantastic evening spent with friends.

Northstar Winery – the Tour Begins…

After our lunch at Olive, Jon and I decided to begin our day tasting at Northstar.  Northstar came with the recommendation of a friend of mine from childhood, and since we didn’t really know much about any of the Walla Walla wineries, that seemed good enough for us. Northstar was founded in the early 1990s, with their first vintage in 1994.  David Merfeld has been their winemaker since 2005.

Our server was a friendly gentleman who had spent years in the ski industry, and then started working part time at Northstar after he retired.  We were the only ones there, which seemed a little unusual, as it was about 2 in the afternoon on a Saturday, but we chalked that up to the mountain passes being bad (two other couples were heading in as we were heading out).

Northstar Winery

Northstar Winery

If you know anything about Northstar, you know that they specialize in Merlot.  Their lineup has 3 Merlots, but it also had 5 other wines – you get to taste 7 of the 8 wines.  4 of the wines are only available at the winery.  Here’s what we tasted:

  • 2011 Stella Blanca Semillon – a blend of 93% Semillon and 7% Muscadelle – which was interesting because Muscadelle is not typically seen in Washington.  The Stella Blanca was crisp and bright, with flavors of honey and citrus – it was very appealing.  The tasting notes say there are flavors of coconut, but I didn’t taste any.  Since this was one of the wines only available at the winery, I made sure to buy a bottle.
  • 2009 Stella Maris Red Blend – another blend of 65% Merlot, 12% Syrah, 11% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% Cabernet Franc.  This blend was a pretty bold spicy blend with flavors of vanilla interspersed.
  • 2009 Northstar Petit Verdot – I’m always intrigued when a winery does Petit Verdot as a varietal wine, and this one is very good.  It is dark and rich with fruit, and would be excellent paired with dark chocolate.  Also available only at the winery, so I left with a bottle of this one too.
  • 2009 Northstar Malbec – Interestingly, this wine is the only wine sourced from Northstar fruit, plus Spring Valley vineyard grapes.  Considering their specialty is Merlot, I would have thought their estate would be planted with Merlot.  This Malbec is fruit forward and smooth, with white pepper flavors adding a bit of spice.
  • 2009 Northstar Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine had flavors of blackberry, raspberry and vanilla, and was lightly oaked.  I often don’t favor Washington cabs, as they are too bold and oaked, but this one was approachable and pleasant.
  • 2009 Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot – Our server did a side by side tasting of this wine and the Walla Walla Merlot (below), so you could compare the two wines and the differences imparted by the vineyard and the climate.  This wine had flavors of of vanilla and blackberry, and was very smooth.  After tasting both wines several times, this one was my favorite by a nose.
  • 2009 Northstar Walla Walla Merlot – this wine has flavors of raspberry and blackberry and excellent, but it was still a bit tart.  I think this would have been my winner if it had a few more years on it.  Jon declared this wine his favorite.

All in all, Northstar has some very good wines, and there certainly wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch.  I have to disagree with the Merlots being their best wines though – I thought their standouts were the Stella Blanca, the Petit Verdot and the Malbec.  The tasting fee is $7, but is refundable with purchase – and the spacious tasting room would certainly be able to accommodate busy days without making the place seem crowded.  If I get the chance to visit in the summer, the patio would be a great place to relax and enjoy a tasting or a glass of wine.

After we purchased our Stella Blanca and Petit Verdot, I asked the server which other places he would recommend, particularly any wineries that had some white wines.  One of his recommendations was Va Piano, which I had never heard of before we started getting ready for our trip.  And that’s where we headed next!

Chelan Saturday – Wine and Smoke

Part two of our September Chelan trip…

On Saturday, we slept in and relaxed in the morning before we headed out to do some wine tasting.  We had planned to do some hiking while we were in Chelan, but the air was still so smoky that it would have been impossible.  I have asthma, and that would not have been a good idea for me to be breathing in all the smoke, which hung visibly in the air, giving it a dirty orange color.  We got moving (at a leisurely pace) and decided that we would head out to Manson, which is about seven miles from Chelan, and where a lot of the area’s wineries are.

Our first stop of the day was at Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards.  This place is fun – taking its name from one of the more colorful parts of the area’s history.  Back in the day, the 1930s to be more precise, construction on the Grand Coulee Dam was shutting down, and hiring was picking up at the Howe Sound Mine.  The mine produced mostly copper, but also gold, zinc and silver.  A group of enterprising “professional” ladies, who had been working down at the dam, decided to move into an abandoned lodge at Point Lovely, a couple of miles up the lake from the Howe Sound Mine.  So, one of the locals opened up a water-taxi business, rowing men from the mine the few miles up to the lodge.  Hard Row to Hoe – get it!?

The tasting room capitalizes on the story, featuring photographs of Victorian prostitutes and with a space decked out in velvet wallpaper, beaded lampshades and a beautiful velvet upholstered settee.  If you haven’t heard the story when you arrive, they are happy to tell you the juicier details.  And even their website gets into the act, featuring a graphic of a man rowing a rowboat across the water, and topped with Mae West quotes on every page.

Hard Row to Hoe Tasting Room

Ah, but enough about the story, you want to know about the wines, right?!

We started off with the Shameless Hussy Rosé.  It is a blend of Pinot Noir and Sangiovese that is off dry and with just a hint of sweetness.  I really liked this wine, but Jon always tells me I have too much Rosé.  What?  I don’t understand what that even means!

Then we tried the Marsanne, which is not often done as a single varietal wine.  The wine had flavors of lemongrass and oak, and the server explained that it was aged in a neutral oak barrel.  The tasting notes say it tastes of honey and grapefruit – I didn’t really get citrus flavors out of this wine, but who knows, my sniffer might have been off because of all the smoke in the air.  Jon liked this wine quite a bit, but I prefer a less oaked white wine.  I should mention it won Gold at the Seattle Wine Awards.

Next up was the Semillon, a crisp wine with a light butter flavor.  It was very nice.  I can’t tell you any more about it, because it is not mentioned on their website.  Then came a Cabernet Sauvignon, with light tannins.  It was a very laid back Cab, with the grapes coming from the Wahluke Slope in the Columbia Valley.  The Wahluke Slope has about 15% of the grape acreage in Washington State.    I liked it, but Jon likes a bigger, bolder Cab – this one was softer, with a more widespread appeal.

Their 2008 Lickety Split is a blend of two different Syrahs and a Primitivo.  All the grapes for this wine are also brought in from the Wahluke Slope.  It is a smooth balanced wine that is perfect to drink now.  A wonderful wine, but priced a bit high for my taste.  The 2007 Primitivo, again with grapes grown on the Wahluke slope, is also very smooth, with light tannins and blackberry flavors.

There wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch here – just some that were more my taste or Jon’s.  It was a real treat to try Primitivo grapes fresh from the cluster, because they were doing crush right outside!  The grapes were very sweet – sweeter than I was expecting them to be.   And the tasting room staff were fun and friendly, and were willing to give lots of information about the wines.  We came home with three wines and they are just waiting for the right night to open them!

Hard Row to Hoe Picnic Area – It would be a great day if not for the smoke in the air!

After Hard Row to Hoe, Jon and I decided to try Atam Winery.  Atam Winery is one of the areas only estate wineries – growing their grapes and producing the wine on site (more on estate wineries in an upcoming post).  It is close by, and a guy I met at the conference said that he had been there with his family the night before and was pleased with it.  So off we went.  It is up a huge hill, with vineyards and a horse pasture in front of the winery.  The winery is the lower floor of a home built into the hill, and the day that we were there, the tasting room door was fully open onto a big patio where you could sit and enjoy a glass of wine.  But unfortunately, the experience went downhill from there.

There were the birdscarers…  I know they want to protect the grapes and all, considering it was really close to harvest, but trying to enjoy wine while a sonic boom goes off outside every 15 seconds is just impossible.  Jon thought they were gunshots, and was having all sorts of thoughts of crazy Eastern Washington folks shooting their guns off everywhere!

And then, the server was a bit stiff.  She poured the red wine, a Barbera, first and said that since the wines were made in the German style, they sampled the red wine first, like the Germans do.  But that was all the information she offered up.  She didn’t tell us why the German style wines should be sampled in that order.  She didn’t explain why or how a Barbera, which is an Italian grape, was being made in the German style.  She didn’t say anything about any of the wines!  So I’m left wondering if what she said is true, that the Germans do their wine tastings with the reds first.  If you know the answer please let me know.  And if you know why – even better!

So, we tried the Barbera – it had a slight foam on top which was strange -the wine was so-so.  The Riesling we tried next was sweet but flat, and had no acidity to balance it out.  The Gewürztraminer was like grape juice; it had no structure.  I didn’t like any of the three, so I won’t delabor the point with any more detail.  At that point, Jon just wandered off, out to the patio and then further away… I knew he wasn’t coming back.  What to do now!?  I hate leaving a winery without making a purchase, because these are generally small businesses, and people’s livelihoods, but I really didn’t like any of these wines…  I said thank you and departed, and then chastised Jon when we got back in the car for bailing on me!

And I certainly won’t be taking anymore wine recommendations from my conference friend!

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!