Monday, November 11, 2013

A Marathon of Wine Tasting Through Wallingford & Ballard - and Woodinville

The last two weeks have been a wine-drinking marathon.  Reds, whites, and more reds.  For many years my wine preferences were seasonal - reds in the colder months, whites and rosés in the warmer months.  But that was years ago, and now it doesn't seem to matter anymore. I'm still a bit of a renegade when it comes to food pairings, however.  Some rules are meant to be broken - either that, or my palate knows no boundaries.  I haven't taken time to figure that one out.  My lack of drinking boundaries is probably what led to the marathon of wine.  Since I'm a Ballardite, I usually drag my bones around the nearby neighborhoods and occasionally venture out to Woodinville, the wine and food Mecca of Western Washington.

So I found myself landing at some old favorites and making a beeline for the barstool.  I'm a fan of tiny bars.  There are a few notable ones around town that are stand-outs (La Carta de Oxaca and Hazelwood in Ballard are the first ones that leap to mind).  Literally four people can sit at these bars.  One of these micro-bars to which I made a beeline is located in Smash Wine Bar in Wallingford, one of my favorites on 45th Street, the main drag.  I can sit there and sip my wine and stare at the wall and no one cares.  Fortunately, they have some delicious Washington wines and because I like to drink local, I usually seek them out.  They cracked open a sumptuous Washington syrah for me on several occasions.  It seems to me that Washington just keeps getting better and better at making this southern Rhone style red blend.

Eventually I found myself at Ray's Boathouse.  I'm not sure how I ended up there, but I do know that even if I was blind I would be able to find my way to Ray's Boathouse.  Neither wind, nor sleet, nor rain...etc.  This time it was for a late lunch, and I can always find a fabulously prepared bivalve or salmon on the menu.  I ordered one of my favorites, the spinach and arugula salad with a 4 oz. piece of coho salmon plunked down on top of the greens.  I could have ordered any kind of red to go with this salad, and an Oregon pinot noir would have been a fantastic match.  But I was compelled to order the lovely Washington sauvignon blanc.  The sauv blanc from Washington is definitely its own style, and very different from the well-known New Zealand sauv blancs, which are famously citrus-y.  The Washington style is crisp and dry, but lacks the citrus tones and reflects the mineraly character of our terroir, which this grape interprets so well.  It was a good lunch, and I had the view for dessert. 

And of course, I couldn't let two weeks go by without slithering up to Woodinville for a couple of tastings.  I enjoyed one of my favorites, the Sur La Mer from William Church Winery, which I tasted in their Hollywood Hill tasting room next door to Purple restaurant.  I also indulged in the stellar Stella Mae bordeaux blend at Sparkman Cellars, also in the Hollywood Hill district.  This and the Ruby Leigh are my perennial favorites among Washington reds, truly impressive blending and attention to detail, good for both sipping and drinking with a meal.  But at some point the marathon ends and it's time to warm up for the next event.  Cheers!


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fall Trip to Woodinville in the Sammamish River Valley

Somehow I ended up in the Warehouse District of Woodinville.  How did I get here?  It happened to be a Saturday that found me with nothing urgent on the calendar for the next two weeks.  My curiosity about some Woodinville wines I've been hearing about sucked me like a magnet up to the Woodinville area, which lies in the northern reaches of the Sammamish River Valley on the far northeast side of Lake Washington.  The vast majority of the wineries in the area are found either in the Warehouse District or the Hollywood Hill District.  The number of wineries in the Warehouse District is almost overwhelming, but I was on a mission to find Matthews Winery.  It was easy because it was just a few doors down from William Church Winery, where I needed to stop to pick up another bottle of their Viognier and some other favorites.  I could barely get in the door because they were about to start a winery tour and there were many revelers milling around waiting for the tour.  But it thinned out quickly and I moved into position to prepare for a tasting of the Viognier and their delicious reds.
My Stash From Woodinville     ©Jill J. Smith 2013
Being fully satisfied, I slithered a few doors to the west to land at Matthews.  I had long been curious about this winery, and to my knowledge, have never tasted any of their wines.  I'll just say right out of the chute that my favorite of the wines available for tasting that day was the 2010 Reserve, a red blend of Columbia Valley cabernet, merlot, and just a bit of cabernet franc.  They do a spectacular job of blending because this is one of the most balanced blends I have tasted in a long time.  This is a 15.2% ABV wine, but I wasn't overwhelmed by the higher alcohol content.  The merlot gave it a smoothness from start to finish.  I was also stunned by their 2010 claret, and learned that they are able to use the word "Claret" on the label because they were using the term before the law changed in March 2006, when the US and EU signed an agreement prohibiting the use of the term on the label unless a winery's use of the term was grandfathered in under the agreement.

I always go in person to Woodinville to pick up my wine club releases instead of having them shipped to me.  I typically learn bushels of information from the tasting room staff wherever I go.  Matthews' tasting room is tiny, but the wines available for tasting are anything but that.  They also have another tasting room on the road up to Hollywood Hill which I have yet to visit.  Having just tapped the tip of the iceberg about Matthews Winery wines, both red and white, there is much more to know, as they have a premium line known as Tenor, which I didn't taste, but I'll be back!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Belltown, 1st Avenue, Exit Strategy

As I emerged through my escape hatch, which takes me down 1st Avenue in Belltown, I decided to decompress at one of my favorite classic Seattle hideouts.  The court proceeding at the King County courthouse was exhausting, so I made a beeline down 4th Avenue and dropped down Seneca to 1st.  I was just in time for happy hour at Queen City Grill, where I could collect myself and gird my loins for the next battle.  This has long been one of my favorite spots in the city, and it remains so.  Perfect for decompression after a harrowing court appearance.

Queen City Grill makes some of the drop-dead best salmon and mussels in the city, and that's saying a lot because there is quite a bit of competition, especially in the Pike Place Market area.  They almost always have some wild mushrooms on the menu, which are locally sourced because there is no shortage of wild mushrooms around these parts, especially on the Olympic Peninsula.  And now it's chanterelles.  Could there be a better tonic with which to decompress?  That and the amazing northern Italian wines they offer.  They have some amazing Barolos and Barbarescos (not by the glass), which is the perfect complement to those chanterelles.

Once, about 26 years ago, I camped out on Slumgullion Pass in the San Juan National Forest in Colorado, elevation 11,530 ft.  My campsite was in a spruce-fir grove just off the summit of the pass, which straddles the Continental Divide.  It was October so the campgrounds in the area were already closed, so I was off in the woods in my tent.  I woke up in the morning and there was a heavy frost on my tent and everywhere else in the vicinity.  The sun was coming up but it hadn't hit the forest yet, and even when it did, there wasn't much sunlight to warm things up because of the heavy forest cover.  I clambered out of the tent and started piling up tinder and kindling to get a fire going.  As I was walking around the woods looking on the forest floor for the perfect sticks, I stumbled upon a small patch of chanterelles.  I couldn't believe it.  There was a delicious breakfast staring me in the face.  And I thought I was going to just make some dense coffee and pack up and go.  No, I was afforded the luxury of having sauteéd chanterelles for breakfast at 11,530 ft., 35ºF, in a spruce-fir campsite in October, while the aspens were still golden.  This is my fond chanterelle experience, and I've revered them as a religion ever since.

So with my fondness for chanterelles, I was drawn like a magnet to the dark den that is Queen City Grill in search of the Holy Chanterelles.  And I was not disappointed.  The ones in Washington are much larger and a paler orange color than the ones on Slumgullion Pass, which were smaller and bright orange.  But the flavor remains the same - savory and tender.  After finding my religion, the court hearing that day was almost a distant memory.  If you can't be eating chanterelles in October on the Continental Divide, eating them with an Italian wine at Queen City Grill in Seattle is the next best thing.

6,000 Year-old Wine Found in Greece

Wow... This is stunning:

6,000-Year-Old Wine Found In Greece; Ancient Samples May Be Oldest Unearthed In Europe

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted:   |  Updated: 10/03/2013 8:41 am EDT
6,000-Year-Old Wine greece

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Vancouver - Vacation Skills Act II, Scene I

                                        ∫  ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ • ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∫
And now I'm in Vancouver BC, where I cannot practice law.  Whew.  I set out this morning to find out what's happening in the BC wine scene and I learned plenty.  While plodding around some of the downtown neighborhoods of Vancouver, I turned in to Liberty Wines and found a BC rosé tasting going on.  Stunning is all I have to say about that.  If it was a blind tasting I would have guessed Provence.  I don't claim to be an expert wine taster, a sommelier, or a vinologist, but I have been told by several different people that I have a more sensitive palate than most.  I'm not sure how that translates to knowing a lot about wine, but I do know that there are a wide range of flavors among all varietals, I know what I like, and that's what I tap into.  These BC rosés mostly looked pale salmon-colored, tasted dry and complex, and it was apparent someone was paying attention to detail.  The Okanagan has in many ways a climate similar to eastern Washington for growing grapes, with the cool nights especially being a great benefit.  It shows.

Progressing further down my urban wine trail, I next turned into a nice little bistro called Whet where I had the pleasure of experiencing more delicious BC wine from the Okanagan Valley.  I started with some lovely Kusshi oysters from the BC coast and paired them with a glass of Poplar Grove Chardonnay from Penticton, a sub-area of the Okanagan VQA.  It had a nice, not-too-oaky silkiness and a dry finish.  Then I progressed to a succulent piece of wild salmon on a bed of wild greens with strawberries and goat cheese and combined it with the Black Hills Sauvignon Blanc from the Oliver area, another subarea of Okanagan just south of Penticton.  This one had the characteristic mineral and steel of this varietal, but drier overall than the chardonnay.  Both were stunning and a tribute to the styles.

Kusshi Oysters in Vancouver            ©Jill J. Smith 2013       
I also had the pleasure of discovering Kettle Valley wines, and the 2009 Pinot Noir was surprisingly delicious.  It is definitely a BC style, which to me differs from the Oregon style.  It was produced from grapes grown in the Lazy Dog vineyard in Penticton, the Elgert vineyard in Okanagan Falls, the Hayman and Trovao vineyards in Naramata and the Thibault vineyard in Summerland, according to their web site.  This is a light, elegant style with almost no tannins.  It seems to have a lighter structure than Willamette pinot noirs.  I am a giant fan of Oregon pinots, but they definitely have some competition in BC.  Good luck coming over to my living room and expecting to try a glass of the Kettle Valley pinot.  I can't guarantee there will be any left.  This is the type of wine I might stash under my desk when churning out a late night brief.  Woe to my opponents if that happens.


Kettle Valley Pinot Noir and Sauvingnon Blanc      ©Jill J. Smith 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Warming Up My Vacation Skills

This doesn't happen very often - I am taking the week off.  This is my summer vacation.  My last summer vacation was in October 2009.  Yeah, I've taken a few days off here and there, a long weekend now and then, or a quick getaway to BC, but not a real vacation.  The current summer vacation started yesterday and it was very confusing.  Since I am a workaholic, I wasn't sure where to start.  It is a real syndrome that is only exacerbated by the mandatory technology like the "crackberry," the iPad, and gmail.  Not to mention tweeting, which has got to stop.

But one thing I was not confused about was that I would have a beverage, and by beverage I mean wine, duh.  Since one of my missions while on vacation is to be able to be unplanned and spontaneous as much as possible, I tooled around Ballard and found Skillet Diner for a late lunch.  I learned that they prefer to serve Washington wines, which I was pleased to hear.  I had a Washington sauvignon blanc with a very tasty Cobb salad, which I highly recommend (if you haven't noticed already, I am a proud day-drinker).  It was a nice place to drop into in the middle of the afternoon, as they have an open-air dining room, at least during the warm weather, a mandatory long diner counter that doubles as a bar, and a partial view of the kitchen.  Late afternoon was a good time to banter with the staff as it wasn't super busy and they were happy to shoot the breeze with me.  This is a good thing.  I don't know if most of my bartenders know this, but I view them as my therapists most of the time.  Say what you want.

In the next day or two, I am going to Woodinville for my next episode of slithering around the wine bars and tasting rooms.  Since it has been dark and stormy lately, I am anticipating less slithering and more planting my drinking elbow in only a couple of lounges.  I am tardy in picking up my wine club shipment from William Church Winery, another of my favorites and a winery with a very pleasant tasting room.  They focus mostly on reds, but they do a beautiful Viognier.  This shipment includes the 2010 2 Spires, a Syrah/Cabernet blend, and the 2010 Sur La Mer, their flagship, Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend, perfect for fall sipping or pairing.  I'm already warming up my culinary thought process so I can determine which tasty slab of protein I want to prepare to go with these beauties.  Now I have enough time to do that.