Friday, September 7, 2012

Vintage Olympic Peninsula

Olympic Cellars attracts a crowd for its summer concerts
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Now that Idaho Wine Girl has left the Snake River Valley of Idaho for the Dungeness Valley of Washington, it's time to report on a few wineries that made a big impression on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Technically in Port Angeles, though somewhat closer to Sequim on Highway 101 is Olympic Cellars. Set in a gorgeous old barn right off the highway, it's a well-run place that hosts a lively outdoor Saturday-night concert series of local acts -- ten bucks and you're in. This affords you the opportunity to buy wine and snacks, including Mystery Bay clams and oysters.

Kathy Charlton of Olympic Cellars
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Kathy Charlton, one of the smiling faces behind the Olympic Cellars story -- the others are Molly Rivard and Lisa Martin -- is a former Texas Instruments exec who made a 180-degree career turn. Here, she produces wine made from Eastern Washington grapes -- no one really seems to grow grapes seriously out here. But, among many other labels, her Working Girl white -- a scrumptious blend of Chardonnay and Riesling -- and Handyman Red -- a drinkable Cabernet Sauvignon/Cab Franc mix --  are available not only at the winery but also my local Safeway and stand up to any $10 bottle fom California, in my book. Their winemaker is a French gal in Walla Walla named Virginie Bourgue.

Tempted to stop in? The tasting room is open daily until 6 p.m. through October, and till 5 p.m. after that till March. Five bucks will net you generous pours from a list of selections, and there are generally little bowls of munchies, too. Enjoy!

☻☻☻ Always a positive experience at the big barn at 255410 Highway 101, Port Angeles. 360-452-0160. OlympicCellars.com

David Volmut of Wind Rose Cellars in Sequim
Photo by Meg McKenzi
Wind Rose Cellars is run by an enterprising young couple making a go of it in the quiet downtown area of Sequim. Set back from Cedar Street (just north of the main street, which is Washington), their tasting room is set in a narrow building but is pretty easy to find.

Young husband-and-wife David Volmut and Jennifer States distinguish themselves from the Washington wine-making crowd by sourcing only Italian-style grapes (nebbiolo, dolcetto, barbera and pinot grigio) from Yakima, and some of their bottles (the 2011 Rosado, a dry rose selling for $11.99, for example) are great choices to present to a dinner-party host or simply to enjoy at home.

☻☻☻ David and Jennifer have added tables to the patio next to their tasting room for the summer. While not the most scenic vista on earth (it backs onto low-income housing), it's a welcome addition to the farmer-ville Sequim scene, and it's only five minutes from the highway. Hours are 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays, May through October. Prices vary. On a recent Friday, I stopped in during the monthly art walk and found they weren't offering a tasting but instead sold me a glass of their Brava Rosso for $7 (plus 60 cents tax).
155-B W. Cedar St., Sequim WA 98382.  360-358-5469. Windrosecellars.com.

Judith Collins, co-owner of Marrowstone Vineyards
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Marrowstone Vineyards is set on a lovely island just south and east of that bustling Victorian home-laden Puget Sound city Port Townsend. I sort of stumbled upon the winery on a recent Saturday outing -- I'd never been to Marrowstone, though I've been living on the Olympic Peninsula for eight months now. Heading up a hill, I saw a sign stating the tasting room was open.

At the top of the hill, I drove right by the vineyards because co-owner Kenneth Collins hadn't put the sign out yet, but I saw the grapevines and made my way into the tasting room, a clean and lovely former horse barn that's been completely remodeled by a pair of energetic former San Franciscans.
Judith Collins, a cheery blonde, greeted me with a lovely smile, and before long I was telling her the story of my life (that's how friendly she is, and how delicious the five bottles of red were that I got to try for five bucks). Only one was their own vintage, being that they're brand-new: a light but drinkable Oregon-style Pinot Noir. The others were from Richard Sorensen of the defunct Port Townsend Soresnsen Cellars, and boy were they good. I bought a bottle of his 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon for $20 (plus tax). Yumm-oh! as Rachael Ray once said.
☻☻☻ Lovely setting (they host weddings here, by the way), friendly folks and good wine. Give them a few years, and they'll be cranking out cases of their own stuff. In the meantime, enjoy the best a great Port Townsend vintner has to offer. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May to November. 423 Meade Road, Nordland, WA 983658. 360-385-5239. Marrowstonevineyards.com

My ratings go from one grape (poor) to five grapes (excellent) and are based on accessibility, price, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wines.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What to like in Woodinville

Welcome to Silver Lake!
Photo by Meg McKenzie
When I was in Seattle a few weeks ago, I made sure to budget some time in Woodinville, which is just east of the city and consists of a lot of wineries clustered along Route 202 (via many confusing roundabouts). It being Thursday, several of the ones I was most eager to visit were closed, which surprised me as it was the week after Thanksgiving. It now being December, many are only open on the weekend, so check ahead before you go (Silver Lake being the exception: It's open every day!).

Of course I hit the huge ones (see my previous post), Ste. Michelle and Columbia, first. But if you've been following my blog, you'll know I tend to view the huge corporate wineries as necessary evils, luring wine lovers to a destination that then offers up its small, delectable tasting rooms for your wine-drinking pleasure.

Silver Lake's holiday display
Photo by Meg McKenzie
And thus it was in Woodinville. 

My first stop was at Silver Lake Winery, which also has a sister winery in Zillah (see my earlier posting on the Zillah Fruit Loop outside of Yakima, Washington). The Woodinville branch is in a handsome, modern building just off Woodinville-Redmond Road not far after you turn off 405; inside, it's clean, nice-looking and dotted with merchandise. I arrived just as a couple was completing a purchase. As I waited for the pourer, a quirky dude named Frank, I chatted up an affable gentleman of Asian extraction who seemed quite conversant on all things Silver Lake and had a pretty good sense of humor (after we both tried 2006 Leone Vin Dolce Cab Franc, he suggested we call the pourer "Cab Frank.")

According to Cab Frank, Silver Lake was started by three professors at the University of Washington and is now owned by 1,200 shareholders. With 60 varieties, it is one of the state's largest locally owned wineries. Its primary source of grapes is in Zillah, in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. 

Now you see him, now you don't: "Cab Frank" ducked
below the counter just as I snapped this photo.
Photo by Meg McKenzie
I gave Cab Frank my blogger card and requested to take a picture. And he did something really weird (something I guess he's done before, since it happened in the blink of an eye). As I aimed the camera and pushed the button, he ducked below the counter quick as a bunny, so all I got was my Asian pal leaning against the bar. Ha ha! However, he did give me an industry discount on the tasting, so I guess I'll just chalk it up to quirky Cab Frank's irrepressible hijinks.

The tasting flight offered that day consisted of five tastes for $5 and 12 tastes for $10 -- which, considering you get four measly samples for $10 down the road at Ste. Michelle, is a really good deal. The wines ran the gamut from the gold-medal winning 2010 Silver Lake Riesling (awfully sweet, which Rieslings tend to be) and the 2007 Silver Lake Syrah (really dry but with a nice bouquet). Other choices include several Merlots, a Pinot Gris, a 2006 Sangiovese and the aforementioned Cab Franc.

Silver Lake has a wine club with two levels (Discover, with two bottles, $10-15 each, shipped each quarter from the cask series) and (Voyage, with two bottles, $15-25 each, from the cask or reserve series).

Apple Farm Village
Photo by Meg McKenzie
As this was my first stop in Woodinville, however, I pressed onward, ever onward. And I was glad I did, because my last stop of the day was, in fact, my favorite. I stopped off for lunch and dallied at the big two, then headed east.

Here lay a busy commercial stretch with another confusing roundabout, which shot me north. But as I sped past, I spied a quaint wooden ("woodin"?) building, called the Apple Farm Village Shoppes, that looked to host a variety of different wineries. I turned back and parked, then headed down the steps to the first cute place I came to, which was Cougar Crest. 

As I toured the small but adorable tasting room, a light bulb went on over my head. I had tasted Cougar Crest wines in Walla Walla at their ginormous new tasting room! This was familiar territory, and I was here for new experiences. However, Sam Worden, the handsome tasting room manager, graciously poured me two tastes of their Estate Merlot to test a theory of mine -- that 2007  seemed an incredibly better year than 2006. Sure enough, the '07 Merlot ($35 retail) sang, while the '06 merely hummed. Thanks, Sam!

Zerba tasting room manager Shawn Chandler and Blue
Photo by Meg McKenzie
I took my leave and continued down the steps to the next cute shop I found, which turned out to be Zerba Cellars. I was met at the door by a huge shaggy Australian shepherd-border collie mix named Blue (for his bluish eyes, I guess) and greeted from behind the counter by Shawn Chandler, the personable tasting room manager, whose card says "Family & Manager." 

With its twinkling fairy lights, folksy atmosphere and Adele playing on the stereo, Zerba's atmosphere is like being invited down to the cellar of a (well-off) friend and getting to sample the best bottles they have. Which is my favorite kind of tasting room experience! As I tasted, we chatted. Shawn told me a lot of people think it's Zebra wine and not Zerba wine. I wanted to say, "Maybe it's because there's a zebra on your label," but I wisely kept my trap shut (for once). (Actually, the zebra is only on the bottle I got; the rest have a big, huge "Z.")

Zerba's lineup of tasty wines
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Zerba Cellars, Shawn told me, is actually an Oregon winery located just over the border from Washington in the Walla Walla Valley. It was started by Cecil Zerba. The talented winemaker is Doug Nierman, a UC Davis grad who worked at Pepper Bridge before joining Zerba.

I have to say, there wasn't a wine there I didn't like. The '07 reserve blend ($50 retail) called Equilibrio had a peppery Sangiovese kick to it. Another big seller is their '06 Late Harvest Syrah Port ($30). But the wine I warmed to (and in fact ended up buying a bottle of) was their 2008 Wild Z Red Wine, a Northwest Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot ($20 retail). Thinking about that yummy bottle makes me wish I'd bought two!

Zerba holiday display
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Zerba Cellars
14525 148th Ave. NE
Woodinville, WA 98072
www.zerbacellars.com; (425) 806-BRIX
Open Friday-Saturday, 11-6, Sunday noon-5 p.m.


☻☻☻☻
Small, intimate, charming -- with a down-to-earth, knowledgeable pourer, and the fluffiest, most disarming dog in the world. All this and delicious wine at reasonable prices. What more could a person want?

Cougar Crest Estate Winery
14545 148th Avenue, Suite 211
Woodinville, WA 98072
www.cougarcrestwinery.com; 9425) 806-1700
Open Thursday-Saturday, 11-6; Sunday-Monday, noon-6 p.m.


A quaint, charming offshoot of the huge Cougar Crest winery in Walla Walla. Sam, the tasting room manager, is cute and nice. The wine is fairly priced, dependably good with that oomph you can only find from Walla Walla vintages.


Silver Lake Winery
15029 Woodinville-Redmond Road
Woodinville, WA 98072
www.silverlakewinery.com; (425) 485-2439, ext. 109
Open Monday-Saturday, 11-5, Sunday noon-5 p.m. (tastings end at 4:45 p.m.)


☻☻☻
Silver Lake Winery is definitely worth a stop if you're in Woodinville wine country. It's easy on, easy off the well-traveled Woodinville-Redmond Road and open daily. A dozen tastes for $10 is a bargain, and "Cab Frank" is a hoot

My ratings go from one grape (poor) to five grapes (excellent) and are based on accessibility, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wines.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Into the Woodinville Wonderland

Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville -- or is it France?
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Imagine a city of theme parks -- as if such a thing existed! -- and there were two gi-normous ones right across the street from each other! One would be named Disney World, the other Universal Studios. The two parks are almost identical. Almost. One is the stately original, greeting guests with classic castles and tradition. The other is a brash clone, beckoning visitors with new-fangled rides like Harry's Wizarding World. Oh, and classic castles and slightly less extensive tradition.

Such was my dilemma upon turning onto Route 202 in Woodinville, Washington. Left led to Universal, I mean Columbia Winery, and to the right was the big dog, Chateau Ste. Michelle. Being Idaho Wine Girl meant there were good reasons to visit both: Ascentia Wines owns Columbia Winery AND Ste. Chapelle, the local big dog in Idaho. On the other hand, several of Idaho's best winemakers have made wine at Ste. Michelle, among them Melanie Krause, whose Cinder Wines just outside of Boise have been garnering awards by the barrelful. Plus, with its long, French-looking avenue leading to its large, French-looking buildings, Ste. Michelle had the edge in grandiosity. I turned right.

The entrance to Ste. Michelle's tasting room
Photo by Meg McKenzie
It was a cold, damp day at the end of November when I made my pilgrimage -- great for evocative photos of fog but not so much for hanging out on their impeccably groomed grounds. I scurried inside and what did my wondering eyes behold? A huge hall of merchandise, lavishly strewn with Christmas baubles, and beyond that, the many tasting rooms of Michelle, which was founded in 1934 and is the oldest winery in Washington state, though I guarantee the building is more recent. 

I was there for the wine, not the wine-themed dog sweaters, so I kept heading back, past the wall of single varietals (where I had a cute but rather awkward exchange with a Japanese tasting room employee named Ritsuko) to a barrel room where a tour was just ending at the bar. There were barrels reribboned for the holidays, a glowing Christmas tree and a bizarre yet cool little enclave encased in glass where the Col Solare wines, a pricey collaboration with Italy's Antinori, are meant to be tasted at premium prices.

Holiday-decorated barrels
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Since I wasn't part of the tour, the blonde gal behind the bar just totally ignored me. Finally, a girl sitting at the cash register scared up a person to serve me -- Ritsuko! 
Rit, as I will shamelessly refer to her, ushered me back into the other room, shook me down for the $10 tasting fee and gave me a menu of four wines to try. I opted for their sparkling (2005 Luxe, $23 a bottle retail) since I'd read it had bested France's finest Champagnes in a blind tasting. I have to say, it was fine. 

Ritsuko pouring at Ste. Michelle
Photo by Meg McKenzie
As I was mulling my next choice, a rich-looking couple from California (I knew, because they told Rit, "We're from California!") arrived at the bar, and Rit went over and spent time with them. I heard her mutter something about a Reserve tasting they could sign up for, and they departed. Then she came back to me and poured my next request, the 2008 Indian Wells Chardonnay ($18 retail). No mention was made of Reserve tasting to moi. I felt like I'd just been pre-qualified, like at a car lot. (I would have paid, honest!)

To her credit, Rit was knowledgeable and polite -- she whipped out a huge laminated map to show me where Ste. Michelle sources it grapes (Columbia Valley, out near Walla Walla) and even slipped me an extra taste of the 2007 Cold Creek Merlot in addition to the two reds I tried (the $25 2008 Mourvedre and $30 CSM Red Wine blend, both of which were earthy and jammy and all those good things Washington wines are meant to be). The $30 Merlot was also very good.

The wrap-around porch at Columbia Winery in Woodinville
Photo by Meg McKenzie
However, similar to the feeling you have when departing Space Mountain through the Space Mountain gift shop, I was itching to get onto the next ride, so I took my leave and hightailed it across the street to Columbia. It was equally huge and grand, though a little less French chateau and a little more Southfork Ranch. Outside, a cute chef was cooking crostini at a 600-degree oven, and I stopped and chatted with Joshua, who is getting his degree in sustainable practices and was really nice and friendly. Inside, the tasting room was smaller, but equally as gift-laden as Ste. Michelle. And there at the bar was the California couple! Arrgh!

I went back outside and asked a passing workman what the enormous building next-door was that I could see through the trees. He told me it was the Red Hook brewery which served great food. It being lunchtime, I decided to postpone my Columbia experience and go have brats and beer at Red Hook. Which I did, and it was cheap and delicious. (Word to the wise: the restaurant is way in the back of the brewery by the delivery docks, so don't park in the front and walk a mile through the cold like I did.)

The restaurant at Red Hook - yum!
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Returning later to Columbia, after warming myself at their crackling fireplace, I was greeted warmly at the bar, given an industry discount for my bloggery and treated to an assortment of their wines. They were apparently having a case sale for the wine club, because right next to me was a crowd of members who were getting the full treatment from the other bar man -- "This one is going to literally talk to you!" he advised them. "When I come back, I'll find out what it said!"

I tried Columbia's 2009 Viognier, which was almost overpowering in its floral/orange blossom goodness ($26 retail), its 2010 Rose of Syrah (again, a big floral nose of roses and strawberries, $20) and the 2009 Sangiovese, which had the cherry thing going on ($30). They didn't speak to me (in English, anyway) but all smelled and tasted very good.
Columbia Winery display ... there's that California couple!
Photo by Meg McKenzie
So which was the best in Woodinville? Neither of these behemoths, I have to say. They were both very good, but a little lacking in that intimate winery feel I crave. You'll have to wait till my next posting to find out -- coming to the blog soon, I promise!

Chateau Ste. Michelle
14111 NE 145th, Woodinville, WA 98072
(425) 415-3300, www.ste-michelle.com
Head winemaker: Bob Bertheau

☻☻☻ Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates has all the bells and whistles, including a bit of a snobby attitude, which I guess some wine geeks crave, but not me. It's a lovely destination during the holidays -- all it needed was a dusting of snow to look postcard perfect. They offer a four-grape experience except for that $10 tasting fee -- ouch!!! I guess the pained grimace as I pulled out my ten-spot disqualified me from being asked to join their Vintage Reserve Club!

"The wine will talk to you!" 
Columbia Winery, Woodinville
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Columbia Winery
14030 NE 145th St, Woodinville, WA 98072
(425) 488-2776, www.columbiawinery.com
Winemaker: Kerry Norton

 ☻☻☻ Columbia Winery was founded in 1962 and touts itself as Washington's first PREMIUM winery. Not sure what that means, but they welcomed me with an industry discount, which means they'll probably cut a nice deal for most people on bottles and cases of their premium wines. Their tasting room with its wide wooden porch and crackling fire reminded me of a fancy ski chalet. Nice!


Note: My ratings are based one grape for poor and five for excellent and are based on accessibility, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wines.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Walla Walla Bing Bang! Part I

School is now in session (wine school, that is!)
Photo by Meg McKenzie
"I told the witch doctor I was in love with you ... And he said oo ee oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang ..." 

So goes the old Doctor Demento song, and so it goes in the wine town of Walla Walla, Wash., which I am in love with, because what other place are there 170 wineries vying for your attention? You heard me right, folks: One-seven-oh. They're down for the count in W-W. Which, incidentally, reminded me a lot of D-W in Orlando, Epcot to be exact. Note to the Walla Walla Vally Wine Alliance: Get a monorail to woosh us along Route 12. It would save a lot of time getting from one amazing wine temple to the next.

Belly up to the bar at L'Ecole
Photo by Meg McKenzie
But I digress. Back in October, I took a little sojourn to the Oregon Coast (where I did make a pitstop in Willamette Valley -- I'll save Pinot World for another posting), but planned an extra day to detour to W-W on my back to Boise. Unfortunately, most of the day was eaten up on I-84 getting from Point A (Cannon Beach) to Point B (the wineries of Walla Walla), so I didn't arrive till about 3 p.m. Which gave me exactly two-and-a-half hours to sample all the wine I could and still stay on the right side of the road. So without even pausing to check in to my room at the Holiday Inn Express, I hit the ground running on my way into town -- and luckily, I was armed with a map. Unfortunately, I had to make it home to my Real Job the next day, so the East Side and South Side tasting rooms will have to wait for another time.

Study your wine before recess
Photo by Meg McKenzie
As it happens so often, however, my first stop was my best stop. Not to say that I'd have missed trying the other wines I sampled after L'Ecole No. 41's wide array of unbelievable vintages in their oh-so-charming converted schoolhouse (which was so picture perfect, it really did resemble something from Epcot) but there you have it: L'Ecole est fantastique.

Not only were the 15 wines-- especially the "white label" ones made from Seven Hills Vineyard grapes -- super scrumptious, but the atmosphere in the second-floor tasting room was convivial yet respectful. I met a charming couple from Seattle who helped guide me through the long list of wines, which range in price from the $49 2008 Estate Perigee -- an intricate blend of the usual suspects: Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec that will make you swoon -- to the $13 2009 Semillon from Columbia Valley. 

L'Ecole No. 41
41 Lowden School Road
P.O. Box 111
Lowden, WA 99360
Phone (509) 525-0940
 Wood
Owners: Megan and Martin Clubb
Winemakers: Martin Clubb and Mike Sharon

☻☻☻☻☻

Easy off, easy on the busy Highway 12 (watch out for those speeding cement trucks - yowch!), A lovely, old-fashioned, impeccably redone tasting room with a long bar and seemingly endless varieties of luscious wines. $5 tasting fee. Knowledgeable pourers. Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). Everything a tasting room should be in this most perfect of wine worlds.

The old farmhouse by the side of Route 12 is really a winery
Photo by Meg McKenzie
A little way west of The School of Wine is the more modest Woodward Canyon Winery. Located in an old farmhouse that reminded me of the one that landed on the witch in "The Wizard of Oz," this winery reeks of "the real deal" -- a started-from-the-ground-up, 20-year-old business that earns your respect with their small-batch Merlots, Cabernets, Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. Young pourer Eric was a little taciturn at first, but I warmed him up with my non-stop banter, and he was soon suggesting a restaurant for dinner -- the White House Crawford, which I did go to; more on that later. Their current releases range from the $79 2008 "Old Vines" Cabernet (yummy) to the $20 2008 Nelms Road Merlot (ditto).

Welcome to Woodward Canyon Winery
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Woodward Canyon Winery
11920 W. Highway 12
Lowden, Wash. 99360
(509) 525.4129

Owners: Rick Small and Darcy Fugman-Small
Winemaker: Kevin Mott

☻☻☻
It's the first tasting room you come to after Umatilla, a slightly fusty low-key farmhouse with some seriously good wines sourced from estate and Washington grapes. $5 tasting fee. Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). 

Next post: I venture along Old Highway 12 to some ornate, new-fangled wineries. (Thar's money in them-thar hills...)
Ratings go from one grape (poor) to five (excellent) and are based on accessibility, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wine.




Saturday, October 29, 2011

A visit to Hell's Canyon Winery

Jocelyn at Swallow's Wine Bar at Hell's Canyon Winery
Photo by Meg McKenzie
There aren't many signs to get to Hell's Canyon, up on top of the hill overlooking Ste. Chapelle, Williamson and most of the other vineyards in Canyon County, Idaho. You either have to have a map or know where you're going. So for this reason my visits to this intriguing winery came pretty late in the summer. Intersperse a road trip to Oregon and Walla Walla, the Idaho Wine Competition, and other distractions, and you'll get why my review is coming so late in the season. But better late than never.

The best way to get to Hell's Canyon is to go left on Chicken Dinner Road off Route 55 going toward Marsing. You'll pass apricot and peach trees, and various and sundry farms and failed housing developments. Finally, you'll come to Symms Road. Take a left, go half a mile, and there's the cute little sign (and cute little winery) overlooking a lovely display of grapevines.

The patio at Swallow's Wine Bar
Photo by Meg McKenzie
One thing you'll notice as you enter Hell's Canyon -- I mean, Swallows Wine Bar -- is that this vineyard tasting room isn't the usual tasting room, where you pay a $5 tasting fee -- or hopefully, nothing -- to sample an array of their best wines. No, here it's more like having a prix-fixe dinner at a fancy restaurant. They have a menu of wines they're pouring that day, a set price, and what they pour is what you get. The flight is served, I'll hasten to say, on a cute tray with coasters that give the provenance and tasting highlights of each wine, just in case you need help discerning the top notes. They also have a menu of some wonderful munchies that go great with each wine -- bread, pesto, cheeses, olives, etc. Although the wine bar itself is tiny, the patio is the draw here: in summer, the six tables on the terrace under the shady trees and overlooking the peaceful vineyard is a pretty sweet place to set a spell. And though I've only been during the afternoon, I would imagine the sunsets there are magnificent.

 A display inside the wine bar
Photo by Meg McKenzie
But let me backtrack a little and tell you something about the owners of Hell's Canyon/Zhoo Zhoo/Swallows. The Robertson clan are among the founders of the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, Steve Robertson having staked his claim to some perfect grape-growing terroir back in the 1970s. Now, his daughters have joined in the family business, thus explaining the separate brands. Daughter Bijou went out on her own and created the Zhoo Zhoo brand, with its colorful, artistic and rather risque labels. Other daughters Jocelyn and Hadley man the winebar and help out in other ways, no doubt. It's a small outfit, only 2,500 cases a year, but you can find their wines at Fred Meyer, the Boise Co-op, A New Vintage Wine Shop and Ericksons. Their most popular? Retriever Red and Bird Dog White. They recently won three bronzes at the Idaho Wine Competition.

The menu at Swallow's Wine Bar
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Inside the bar/shop is a counter where one of the girls takes your order. You then wait outside for your drinks/eats to arrive. The day I went, back in August, I chose the red flight, and only got to taste the Zhoo Zhoo (three small pours for $7). The middle one was just called Brunette -- 56 percent Merlot, 24 percent Cab Franc and 20 percent Cab Sauvignon. At $10 a bottle it’s the cheapest. My favorite was the first wine I tasted, the $19-a-bottle ’03 Claret, which was 70 percent Merlot, 20 percent Cab Sauv and 10 percent Cab Franc. The final wine was a ’06 Syrah. After a while, though, from going back and forth between the three, I found I was creating my own blend (good thing I took notes!). I didn't feel like ordering an entire plate of munchies, but luckily I got to chatting with a friendly couple from Kuna at the next table. Chris and Diann generously shared tastes of their crackers and chorizo ($7) and pesto and French bread (also $7) with me -- both were really, really good and complemented the red wine nicely.

Hell's Canyon Winery/Zhoo Zhoo Wines
18835 Symms Road
Caldwell, ID 83607
(208) 454-3300; hellscanyonwinery.com, zhoozhoo.com

Winemakers: The Robertson Family

 ☻☻☻ - Hell's Canyon/Swallows has a charming setting overlooking 40 acres of wine grapes, and the Robertson clan are friendly and sweet. Not a conventional tasting room, but a wine bar with a prix-fixe pouring menu, so I never got to taste the Hell's Canyon label, only the Zhoo Zhoo on the day I visited (and I didn't get to mix and match the reds and the whites). Signage to find the winery doesn't come into play until you're almost on top of the winery, but the wine commission map should aid you in your quest. The appetizers ($5-$7) I tasted were delicious.

My ratings go from one grape (poor) to five (excellent) and are based on accessibility, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wines.





Thursday, October 13, 2011

A visit to Cold Springs Winery

Bill and Bing Ringert at their Cold Springs Winery
Photo by Meg McKenzie

When Cold Springs took gold this week for their Astrology Merlot, the first thing I thought was, it couldn't have happened to nicer people. Bill and Bing Ringert have been quietly running their winery out in Hammett for the past 10 years and are some of the pioneers of the Idaho wine movement. They were so very gracious to me on my recent swing through the eastern part of the Snake River AVA wine trail (more on that later) I cheered when Andy Perdue announced their gold as one of the Wine Press Northwest’s first awards of the day at the blind tasting held Columbus Day at Ste. Chapelle in Caldwell.

The next thing I thought was: Where can I get some of that wine right away (Boise being a good hour’s drive from Hammett)? My first thought was the Garden City Fred Meyer on State Street across from the racetrack (it’s at 5425 Chinden, in case anyone’s interested). Why? Its selection of Idaho wines had impressed me (it’s a big, spacious section next to the produce, not stuck over by the frozen meats like at the other store), and so had their prices.

And I was not disappointed. Friendly and officious wine steward Austin Drehmel led me over to the Cold Springs’ display, and they did have the '07 Merlot (hooray!) And at a good price, too. (I think I paid $12 per bottle.)

Coming up the hill to the winery
Photo by Meg McKenzie

But back to my vineyard visit. If you read my Holesinsky posting, you’ll recall it was 4 o’clock by the time I hit the road from Buhl, and I was really pushing it to get to Cold Springs by closing time at 5 (I’d decided to catch them on the flip side, since even Idaho Wine Girls have their limits when it comes to tasting wine before breakfast). But as luck wouldn’t have it, the on-ramp to the highway was closed at Buhl, so I had to drive 30 miles east to Jerome to get on I-84! I knew I wouldn’t make it, so I called ahead to the winery, and thankfully heard they would stay open for me if I got there soon. So I floored it (luckily no ISP were in the area that day)!

One thing that was in my favor: Unlike some vineyards that are tucked away up impenetrable mazes of country roads, it’s really easy to find: “COLD SPRINGS” is writ huge -- bigger than a billboard -- on the roof of their wine shed. I was raising dust clouds up the dirt road through their acres of vines, and there at the top was an unprepossessing, but very welcome sight: their sunny tasting room and winery.

Beth Ringert with award-winning Merlot
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Waiting for me inside was a double delight: the owners themselves, Bill and Bing! The only people missing were their daughter, Beth, who designs their lovely new labels, and Jamie Martin, their obviously very talented master winemaker. 

Later on, however, at a pouring at Fred Meyer in Garden City, I had the opportunity to talk to Beth and get the skinny on her scientific/artistic labels. She's a delight: down to earth and fun to chat with. And I have to tell you: their Astrology Merlot just got better and better with every taste. Right up there with the finest of (mystical Washington wine country) Walla Walla.

I really enjoyed getting to know the Ringerts. But enough about me: Go see for yourself.

Cold Springs Winery
7853  W. Ringert Lane
Hammett, ID 83627
208.366.7993 email: vino@coldspringswinery.com
Owners: Bill and Bing Ringert
Winemaker: Jamie Martin

☻☻☻☻
Easy to find: just look to the left as you come over the hill to Hammett from Boise: The huge sign on their roof will just smack you in the face. The tasting room is comfy and cozy, the Ringerts and their help are just as friendly and unassuming as you could find (and Bill is a lawyer! Showing there’s an exception to every rule). Their wines are great, and fairly priced. Open Saturday-Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. or by appointment. $5 tasting fee applied to purchase.

My ratings go from one grape (poor) to five (excellent) and are based on accessibility, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wines.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Live from the Idaho Wine Competition!

Mulling it over at the 2011 wine compeition
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Boy, you would think a wine competition would be all fun and frolic, but I'm here to tell you: It sure ain't. Very quiet and serious. (I've been to OpEd conferences with more frivolity!) But this is a good thing, folks. Why? Because some heavy Northwest wine hitters are taking Idaho wines seriously, that's why. 

Moya Shatz from the Idaho Wine Commission is buzzing around the mezzanine at the Ste. Chapelle winery here in Caldwell. Andy Perdue is seated at a table with his laptop, doing the live chat with the gold medal announcements, flanked by two tables of wine experts who are doing a lot sipping, spitting, discussing and awarding. Photographer Katherine Jones from the Idaho Statesman is taking some arty shots of the judges. Meanwhile, behind the screen that runs the length of the room, people are pouring the wines so the judges don't know which bottle they're tasting from.
Wines await their fate
Photo by Meg McKenzie
 So who are these judges, you may well ask. They are, alphabetically, Winnie Alberg from Ellensburg, Wash., Leil Cardozo from the Boise Coop, Ilene Dudunake from New Vintage Wine Shop in Eagle, Kathryn House from Washington state, Dixie Huey from Vancouver, Wash., Dave Rader, a "financial consultant" (that's all Andy divulged), Ken Robertson, a longtime Wine Press columnist, and Dave Seaver from Richland, Wash. Jon Bauer from Mount Vernon, Wash., (where my daughter Gwen is stage managing Tosca for the Skagit Opera Co. this very weekend!) is moderating one panel; and moderating the other is Wine Press columnist Eric Degerman. So, it certainly is an interesting "flight" of judges, I would say.

They have their work cut out for them: 170 wines were entered. Their criteria must be pretty rigorous, since no golds were awarded for any of the Cabernets (gasp), though I guess they did give out a bunch of silvers. According to Andy Perdue, each judge goes through the flight silently, then turns in his or her scores. The scores are put together, and majority rules. They can judge a wine gold, silver, bronze or no medal, based on the quality of the wine.  

Andy's at center background, Eric's in the black shirt
Photo by Meg McKenzie
They just broke for lunch, and the full lineup of medals should be made available by 4 p.m., Perdue (who is a very friendly big bear of a guy) told me.

They started early, and Perdue has been releasing the names of the gold medal winners in real time on his live Internet chat (and I have been tweeting them #idahowine). In order of appearance, here they are by category:

Mead - Camas Prairie 2011 Raspberry Mead
Rose - Williamson's 2010 Blossom Rose
Gewurtraminer - Sawtooth Winery's 2010 Estate Gew├╝rztraminer. 
Pinot Gris - No golds
Merlot - Cold Springs Astrology 2006 (!)
Syrah - Snake River 2009, and Cinder
Malbec - No golds, but three silvers (full list will appear below)
A helper gets wines ready backstage
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Cabernet Franc - Woodriver Cellars 2008 Cab Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon - No gold, six silvers
Red Blend? - Koenig 2008 Alden Cuvee Private Reserve
Riesling - Snake River 2010
Chardonnay - Cinder 2009
Ice Wine - Koenig 2009 Riesling (double gold)
Late Harvest Riesling - Ste. Chapelle
Best White Wine - Sawtooth 2010 Estate Gewurztraminer
Best Dessert Wine - Ste. Chapelle's Late Harvest Riesling
And best red wine (drum roll) goes to Woodriver Cellars' Neil Glancey and his Cab Franc!!!!

Best in show... coming up!

OK, the award we've been waiting for all day:

Best in Show goes to Sawtooth Winery 2010 Gew├╝rztraminer

Just for fun, let's go back to my postings and see whether I singled out any of these award-winning vintages... guess what? I did!
If you go back to my July review of Woodriver Cellars, here's my takeout on the Best Red: "Of the wines I tried, the 2008 Cabernet Franc was by far my favorite..."

Well, it's been an exciting day for all. Congrats to the winners (silvers and bronzes and the totals listed below). I look forward to tasting and retasting all your fabulous wines! And may I say, I love the fact that two big dogs (Sawtooth and Ste. Chapelle) were duking it out with some small, special wineries (Williamson, Cold Springs) and some maybe underappreciated ones (Woodriver, Snake River) for best in show. What a great, diverse group of wineries we have in Idaho! And to those who didn't win ... remember, it's all subjective. And there's always next year...

Here's the breakdown of medals by winery, and below that you'll find which wine won what:


Snake River Winery – total of 10 (1 double gold, 1 gold, 2 silver, 6 bronze)
Indian Creek – total of 10 (7 silver, 3 bronze)
Sawtooth – 9 (1 gold, 3 silver, 5 bronze)
Ste. Chapelle – total of 8 (1 gold, 3 silver, 4 bronze)
Cinder – 7 (2 gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze)
Bitner – 7 (3 silver, 4 bronze)
3 Horse Ranch – 7 (3 silver, 4 bronze)
Colter’s Creek – 6 (3 silver, 3 bronze)
Pend d’Oreille – 6 (2 silver, 4 bronze)
Vale – total of 6 (1 silver, 5 bronze)
Williamson – 5 (1 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze)
Clearwater Canyon – 5 (4 silver, 1 bronze)
Fraser – 5 (4 silver, 1 bronze)
Fujishin – 5 (2 silver, 3 bronze)
Koenig – 4 (1 double gold, 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze)
Huston – total of 4 (2 silver, 2 bronze)
Woodriver – 4 (1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze)
Parma Ridge – total of 4 (4 bronze)
Cold Springs – 3 (1 gold, 2 bronze)
Snyder – 3 (3 bronze)
Lost West winery – 2 (2 bronze)
Zhoo Zhoo – 2 (2 bronze)
Camas Prairie – 2 (1 gold, 1 bronze)
Coiled – 1 (1 silver)
Hells Canyon – 1 (1 bronze)
Frenchman’s Gulch – 1 (1 bronze)
Blue Pine – 1 (1 bronze)


Silver
Ste. Chapelle NV Sparkling Riesling, Idaho, $9
Indian Creek Winery 2010 Muscat Canelli, Snake River Valley, $12
Snake River Winery 2009 Arena Valley Vineyard Estate Sangiovese, Snake River Valley, $20
Huston Vineyards 2009 Merlot, Snake River Valley, $27
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2009 Merlot American, $25
Colter's Creek Winery 2009 Syrah Columbia Valley, $12
Coiled Wines 2009 Sidewinder Syrah, Snake River Valley, $25
Koenig Vineyards 2008 Amelia Cuvee Reserve Syrah, Snake River Valley, $50
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2008 Estate Malbec, Snake River Valley, $25
Pend d'Oreille Winery 2007 Freepons Vineyard Malbec Washington, $28
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2009 Malbec Washington, $25
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2009 Cabernet Franc, Idaho, $28
Snake River Winery 2008 Arena Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $15
Ste. Chapelle 2008 Winemakers Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $11
Bitner Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $24
Fraser Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $26
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $25
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Washington, $28
Woodriver Cellars 2008 Cal-Malbec, Snake River Valley, $25
Bitner Vineyards 2008 Merlot/Petit Verdot, Snake River Valley, $22
Fraser Vineyards 2009 Couloir Cuvee, Snake River Valley, $17
Colter's Creek Winery 2009 KoosKooskia Red, Snake River Valley, $16
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2008 Estate Syrah/Mourvedre, Snake River Valley, $25
Pend d'Oreille Winery 2008 Bistro Rouge Washington, $12
Woodriver Cellars 2007 Red Meritage, Snake River Valley, $18
Fraser Vineyards 2009 Petit Verdot, Snake River Valley, $24
Fujishin Family Cellars 2009 Petite Sirah, Snake River Valley, $20
Fraser Vineyards 2009 Petite Sirah, Snake River Valley, $24
Cinder Wines 2009 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley, $28
Fujishin Family Cellars 2008 Mourvedre, Snake River Valley, $20
Indian Creek Winery 2010 Late Harvest Riesling, Snake River Valley, $16
Bitner Vineyards 2010 Late Harvest Riesling, Snake River Valley, $18
Indian Creek Winery 2010 White Pinot Noir, Snake River Valley, $9
Indian Creek Winery 2010 Viognier, Snake River Valley, $12
Cinder Wines 2010 Dry Viognier, Snake River Valley, $17
Sawtooth Winery 2010 Estate Pinot Gris, Snake River Valley, $13
Indian Creek Winery 2010 Mountain Syringa, Snake River Valley, $12
Colter's Creek Winery 2010 Riesling, Idaho, $10
Vale Wine Co. 2010 Reserve Riesling, Snake River Valley, $14
Indian Creek Winery 2010 White Riesling, Snake River Valley, $9
Sawtooth Winery 2010 Estate Riesling, Snake River Valley, $9
Williamson Vineyards 2010 Riesling, Snake River Valley, $9
Huston Vineyards 2010 Private Reserve Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $24
Ste. Chapelle 2010 Winemakers Series Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $11
Sawtooth Winery 2009 Estate Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $9
Indian Creek Winery 2010 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $10
Bronze
Ste. Chapelle 2010 Winemaker Series Sauvignon Blanc, Snake River Valley, $9
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2008 Estate Roussanne, Snake River Valley, $15
Indian Creek Winery 2009 Pinot Noir, Snake River Valley, $16
Williamson Vineyards 2009 Sangiovese, Snake River Valley, $18
Vale Wine Co. 2009 Merlot, Snake River Valley, $20
Woodriver Cellars 2008 Merlot, Snake River Valley, $15
Fujishin Family Cellars 2008 Reserve Merlot, Snake River Valley, $22
Frenchman's Gulch 2007 Syrah Washington, $25
Ste. Chapelle 2009 Winemakers Series Syrah, Snake River Valley, $11
Vale Wine Co. 2009 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $22
Pend d'Oreille Winery 2009 Reserve Syrah Washington, $30
Parma Ridge Vineyards 2008 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $15
Zhoo Zhoo 2006 Model Y06 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $19
Pend d'Oreille Winery 2007 Wood River Vineyard Malbec, Snake River Valley, $28
Colter's Creek Winery 2009 Cabernet Franc, Idaho, $28
Camas Prairie Winery 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Washington, $18
Indian Creek Winery 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $15
Fujishin Family Cellars 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $20
Sawtooth Winery 2009 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $25
Pend d'Oreille Winery 2008 Meyer Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Washington, $35
Snyder Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $11
Koenig Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $20
Hells Canyon Winery 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $30
Cold Springs Winery 2008 Chronology Merlot Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $20
Cinder Wines 2010 Laissez Faire, Snake River Valley, $17
Zhoo Zhoo NV Brunette, Snake River Valley, $10
Snyder Winery 2007 Midnight Train to Ketchum, Snake River Valley, $11
Cinder Wines 2009 Cabernet Merlot, Snake River Valley, $27
Williamson Vineyards 2007 Homestead Red, Snake River Valley, $18
Lost West Winery NV Old Shed Red, Snake River Valley, $10
Parma Ridge Vineyards 2009 Heidi's Blend Red, Snake River Valley, $25
Huston Vineyards 2009 Chicken Dinner Red, Snake River Valley, $18
Bitner Vineyards 2008 Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley, $27
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2009 Renaissance Red, Snake River Valley, $23
Snyder Winery 2008 Ruby LaRue Soft Red, Snake River Valley, $11
Parma Ridge Vineyards 2003 Melange, Snake River Valley, $22
Sawtooth Winery 2009 Estate Reserve Carmenere, Snake River Valley, $25
Snake River Winery 2008 Arena Valley Vineyard Estate Blauer Zweigelt, Snake River Valley, $15
Snake River Winery 2008 Arena Valley Vineyard Estate Tempranillo, Snake River Valley, $18
Snake River Winery 2008 Arena Valley Vineyard Barbera, Snake River Valley, $18
Snake River Winery 2008 Arena Valley Vineyard Grenache, Snake River Valley, $18
Sawtooth Winery 2009 Estate Petite Sirah, Snake River Valley, $25
Ste. Chapelle 2010 Special Harvest Riesling, Snake River Valley, $9
Colter's Creek Winery 2009 Late Harvest Riesling, Idaho, $12
Sawtooth Winery 2007 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Snake River Valley, $
Indian Creek Winery NV White Port, Snake River Valley, $
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2010 Reserve Rose, Snake River Valley, $15
Cinder Wines 2010 Rose, Snake River Valley, $14
Ste. Chapelle 2009 Winemakers Series Gewurztraminer, Snake River Valley, $9
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2007 Estate Viognier, Snake River Valley, $17
Vale Wine Co. 2010 Viognier, Snake River Valley, $16
Parma Ridge Vineyards 2009 Viognier, Snake River Valley, $13
Williamson Vineyards 2009 Viognier, Snake River Valley, $15
Fujishin Family Cellars 2010 Viognier, Snake River Valley, $15
Fraser Vineyards 2010 Willamson Vineyards Viognier, Snake River Valley, $17
Lost West Winery NV Old Shed White, Snake River Valley, $10
Huston Vineyards 2010 Chicken Dinner White, Snake River Valley, $16
Bitner Vineyards 2010 Coyotes High Desert White, Snake River Valley, $12
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2010 Reserve Riesling, Snake River Valley, $14
Blue Pine 2009 Riesling, Snake River Valley, $1
Bitner Vineyards 2010 Riesling, Snake River Valley, $14
Vale Wine Co. 2010 Riesling, Snake River Valley, $14
Snake River Winery 2009 Cobble Hill Block Estate Arena Valley Vineyard Riesling, Snake River Valley, $13
Cold Springs Winery 2009 Phrenology Riesling, Snake River Valley, $10
Colter's Creek Winery 2009 Chardonnay, Idaho, $12
Snake River Winery 2010 Arena Valley Vineyard Unoaked Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $12
Vale Wine Co. 2010 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $16
Bitner Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $16
Pend d'Oreille Winery 2009 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $20
Sawtooth Winery 2009 Estate Reserve Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $15