Washington girl in Napa Valley

“So, you are from Seattle.. what do you think of Washington wine?”

I was asked this question about 3 times from 3 different wineries in Napa Valley this past weekend.

” I enjoy Washington wine, as well as Napa wines, Italian wines, Spanish wines, etc.” It seemed like an odd question to be asked so many times. Talking about this with my mom, we came to the conclusion that Napa, California in general, may be getting annoyed of Washington, since we make some outstanding wines. We are giving California a run for their money. They may feel threatened, since Washington wine country is becoming more known throughout the world. For the longest time, California had their niche in the US wine market. But we are closing in on Napa Valley and producing high quality vino!

With that said, it seems funny that this Washington girl would head over to California for wine, since we have some amazing wines in this state (which was solidified by the worried questions of the Napa Valley wine salesman). But, there are times when one needs to leave town for the weekend and find sun. And that is what I did. My mom and I hopped on a plane and met up with some friends in the heart of California wine country.

 I attempted to go on a budget this time, which is extremely hard to do in Napa (those who have been are nodding their heads in agreement). There have been occasions where I have become carried away in the amount of wineries I visited in one day, as well as the need to bring many bottles home. This time, my finances were low and I had to stay on a budget. Times are tough at the moment and many people are not throwing down $100 on a Napa Cabernet right now. People want to spend $20 a bottle of wine. Napa is feeling the pressure and have dropped their prices, slightly. Still,  it is very rare to find a winery that sells a bottle of wine under $20… at least the one’s I visited.

Most wineries in Napa charge a tasting fee. It can range between $15-$50. You are able to taste 3-5 wines and some places the waive the fee if you purchase a bottle of wine. I (somewhat) planned my visits this time, so every last cent I was not just on tasting fee’s. We were able to hit a few new wineries this time, which is difficult since I have  loyalties to certain wineries. My repeats  this trip were, Cakebread Cellars, Salvestrin and Flora Springs (check previous blog Washington vs. California wines). The three new wineries I explored were Frogs Leap, Chimney Rock and Domaine Chandon.

Here are some updates on the new wineries I visited!

Frogs Leap winery, Oakville

www.frogsleap.com

Tasting fee: $25

Frogs Leap has sentimental meaning to me, since as a child I remember my parents enjoying Frogs Leap wines. I have heard many wonderful things about the winery itself, in person I was stunned. What gorgeous grounds! And on top of that, family friendly. I saw kids running through the vineyards, tweens playing bocci ball and adults basking in the sun relaxing in Adirondack chairs. We lounged on the deck, enjoying the 5 tastings poured right at our table – along with a small cheese platter. The three outstanding wines in my book were the Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Petite Sirah.  But all of the wines were superb and reliable… and the winery itself is a must see. Even if you have your children in tow.

 

Chimney Rock Winery, Stags Leap/Yountville

www.chimneyrock.com

Tasting fee: $20-45

What do you do if you have a 1987 bottle of Chimney Rock Cabernet in your wine collection? You visit the winery (and open that bottle soon). This was a pick of my mom’s. Chimney Rock is located in the Stags Leap district and are known for their kick butt Cab’s. But world-renowned Cab’s lead to out of this world prices. I assumed this winery would be out of my league. I just knew when I walked in, Wine Spectator would be checking palates to see if I was worthy of stepping into the building. I was prepared to be kicked out for being a novice. Alas, I was wrong. Talk about a place I assumed to be pretentious, but was the opposite. They were very willing to help a novice on her journey to learn wines. Yes, pricey wines… but I tasted an 2006, 2007 and 2008 Cab and was shocked at how different each vintage tasted. All so different, yet all so silky and sleek. Mom joined their wine club, so I am excited to enjoy bottle sometime soon (probably on a special occasion, since their wine was the cost of my childs college tuition).

Domaine Chandon, Yountville

www.chandon.com

Tasting fee: $15

If you are in your early to mid twenties, single, wear over sized sunglasses, skinny jeans and Jimmy Choo’s, this is your hang out. Chandon is very pretty and makes decent bubbles. But Napa offers other excellent sparkling wines, without the intensity to dress up in heels. This was our first stop during our Napa weekend. We purchased a glass of bubbles (you don’t have to taste, you can also purchase bubbles by the glass as well as small bites) and a Panini to share. We basked in the sun, sipped rose bubbles,  planned our next stop and jetted off. I am glad we visited, but I have no need to go back. Unless I find myself suddenly single and need to pick up on 23-year-old men in skinny jeans.

My trip was fantastic. I had great wine, bonded with my mom and was able to say good-bye to some dear friends who are moving to the UK. However, I am ready to hit the Washington wine market… I need to help keep California nervous of Washington wines. Hmmm, what shall I pop open tonight?

Cheers!

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Deutsche Weine

Recently, a blast from my past told me she really enjoyed reading my wine blog. She also sparked my interest in re-visiting German wines. I spent a good part of my mid-twenties travelling back and forth to Germany (for reasons we don’t need to get into). In all my travels over to Deutschland, I never toured their wine regions; or really drank their wine for that matter. I remember fondly one day, outside this cute German town Lauda (most German towns are pretty cute I have to say), going for a jog  and stumbling upon hop’s growing. I was so impressed, despite not being a huge beer fan. These hops stuck with me and I really just thought of Germany as a beer country. Also at that point and time, I was beginning my wine kick and it never dawned on me to check out their wine regions. Plus, I was a” mature” red wine drinker (this was during my anti-white wine phase) and German’s are known for their white wines. So, I just stuck with beer when I was visiting; felt it was safer.

With this blast from my past on the brain, I decided to explore the area of German wines, since they actually make some of the best Riesling in the world. Around 6 months ago, I took a class comparing wines from different regions; one varietal being German Riesling vs. Washington Riesling; which made my teeth ache from just the thought of drinking all that sweet wine. I sucked it up though. If I was ever going to be taken seriously (ha!) about my knowledge of wine, I needed to understand the difference in regions. Now, I don’t like to admit when I am wrong, but boy was I wrong. These wines were delicious. Yes some were sweet, but some surprisingly were not. And I hate to say this, but I really prefered the German Riesling over Washington. They were less sweet and had a little more mineral flavor, which my taste buds prefer. Sometimes I enjoy being wrong, especially when it come to wine.

Really brief history on German Riesling :

Riesling loves Germany. Because of the cool climate, it helps the grape retain their acidity. German Riesling is the world’s top food wine – because of the low alcohol.  Riesling can be sweet, dessert wines but also can be dry (my preference).  My advice would be to let your wine salesman (woman) know if you prefer sweet or dry, and they can point you in the right direction.

Tonights Tasting

2008 Loosen Brothers Riesling, Mosel Valley of Germany   ($12.00 West Seattle Cellars)

Upon reading about this wine region, I found out a famous German winemaker, Dr. Ernst Loosen came to the US looking for a perfect place to make Riesling’s on this side of the world. He picked Eastern Washington and approached Chateau Ste Michelle about a joint venture. The product was a very fine American Riesling called Eroica (from What’s a Wine Lover to Do? by Wes Marshall, 2010).

This particular wine was alright… but not something I would purchase again. It was more dry than sweet, and had some lime/mineral flavoring – but it also combined grapefruit and granny smith apple flavors – which was overly pungent for me. Too many flavors going on in my mouth that didn’t blend well. I like explosions of flavor, but these flavors exploded in different and awkward directions for me. Now, my husband liked the wine. He enjoyed the combination of flavors. So, it does go to show different palates prefer different flavors. My recommendation, whether you want to try this particular wine or another German Riesling, you must try a bottle. Riesling compliments a wide variety of foods, that you really won’t be disappointed with your bottle. Just remember to let the wine sales clerk know if you want more sweet or dry… or just try both. You never know, you may love each one equally.

Prost!

Where is the best place to buy wine?

This is a question I am asked often. Where is the best place to purchase wine? This is a hard question to answer, since there are so many ways to get your hands on a great bottle of wine. I have my favorites, which I am sure you are sick of hearing me talk about, but it is hard for me to answer that question for anyone else. It depends. Where do you live? How far are you willing to commute for a bottle of wine, how much do you want to spend, are you ok buying wine along with your gas, etc.? The list of questions could go on for hours. So, I figured maybe I should do a little research and compile a list for you.

This is an intriguing topic for me to also talk about, since I was close to purchasing a wine shop around 6 months ago. I wanted to open a shop where my fellow novices were comfortable coming into a non, pretentious store where they wouldn’t get eye rolls for asking where the white zin is (although, there would be no white zin, I would point them into another direction). I was so excited about the possibility of opening a wine shop for people like me in the world – those who want a good bottle of wine, at an inexpensive price – without getting laughed at! Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be at this point in time.

I am sorry to say but this list does discriminate against those living outside Washington. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but I am not sure (besides the obvious grocery stores, Costco’s and BevMo’s) where the best wine shops are in your neck of the woods. I would love it you made comments to let me (and my fellow wine novices) know! For those living in the great state of Washington, below is a list of wine shops I have frequented or heard about through fellow novices.  I want to make sure I lead you in a direction of discovering fine wines. I am in NO WAY paid by or asked to promote these businesses. This list is made up solely on my opinion, which I at least regard highly. If I have missed some special shop (because it is difficult for me to make it to every shop in WA), please let me know. I would love to have a long list overflowing of great wine shops and wine buys.

1.) West Seattle Cellars, West Seattle

www.westseattlecellars.com

Ok, I know you are sick of me always talking about WS cellars, but I cannot help it. Tom and Jan are the most helpful people in the business. They will bend over backwards to get you that special wine. And how can you pass up their $10 and under bins of wines OR their amazing Consumer Wine club where for $100/month you get 12 wines… all personally picked for you. To top all that off, they offer weekly wine tastings (free) and classes (not free, but around $25). I literally drive from my North Seattle home to their shop off California Ave, because they are worth it.

2.) Greenlake Wines/Wine Outlet, Seattle area

www.greenlakewines.com

The Wine Outlet has been in SODO and lower Queen Anne for ages, but they recently opened up Greenlake Wines and Wine Bar. I met up with some girlfriends at GL Wines one night and was pleased with the wine’s by the glass (and flights). They also have some very yummy small plates to accompany the wines. The shop is small and intimate, but when I went back on my mission to find a Spanish wine under $10, they were able to accommodate. Richard, the owner, was incredibly sweet, knowledgable and quick to point out his other shops had a larger selection.

3.) Costco, throughout the good ol USA

Costco is everything that is wrong with America, in my humble opinion. I cannot stand the place. Everything in bulk, bright neon lights burning you,  promoting overeating and overspending. I am not trying to rag on Costco, or those who love it. It has its place in the world. My blog isn’t to complain things I don’t like (that is why I have a husband). However, I do give Costco a little credit, they have a great wine selection. And they do a nice job stocking the shelves with local wines. If you live in an area with no wine shop and need a decent wine, wear your comfy shoes, brave the crowds and check out Costco (make sure you go hungry, they do a good job feeding you with free samples).

4.) Whole Foods, various US locations

www.wholefoods.com

Ok, I know, whole paycheck… but get this? Not with their wines. Holy moly. They have a fantastic wine selection, wonderful help and great prices. I even had an employee offer to help me find a wine, with a screaming toddler. Now, that takes patience (and why I needed that bottle of wine). The only downside I have heard about Whole Foods, from a wine maker over in Eastern WA, is that it is difficult for small, local wine makers to get their wines on the shelves. Beyond that, from a consumers viewpoint, I very much appreciate their selections of wines.

5.) The Grape Choice, Kirkland WA

http://www.thegrapechoice.com/

This shop is more nostalgic for me than anything. I have never purchased a wine from The Grape Choice. My parents frequented their shop and my dad even held a few of his company Christmas parties at The Grape Choice. It is also highly regarded within the community of Kirkland. If you live on the eastside, hop in your Land Rover and cruise on over … you will see why my parents loved the shop so much!

6.) QFC/Fred Meyer, various locations

You need to grab a bottle of wine, while buying your groceries, QFC is probably your best option (WAY better than the wine I have seen at various Safeway’s and Albertson’s). They tend to have a bigger wine section than other supermarkets and try to have a decent local selection. Fred Meyer surprised me with in their wines as well. Very impressive, large wine department!

7.) The Grape Adventure, Kent WA

http://www.thegrapeadventure.com/

If you read my previous blog, which I am sure you all have… I talk about what a great find this is!! If you are in the south sound, check them out. Also a wine bar; with tasty small plates.

8.) Town and Country Markets (Ballard Market/ Greenwood Market/Central Markets), Seattle, Mill Creek, Poulsbo, Shoreline, Bainbridge Island.

http://www.townandcountrymarkets.com/location.html

For a small market, they actually have wine experts to help you! I love this about Town and Country/Central Markets. Wine section is small, but very thorough in selection!

9.) Vino Verite, Capital Hill

www.vinoverite.com

I have not been to this shop, but have heard amazing things from patrons. I plan on making up to Capital Hill to visit, I just need a babysitter so I can take my time to look around (any takers to babysit?).

10.) Cellar 46, Mercer Island

www.cellar46.com

Also a wine bar – very nice atmosphere. Small wine selection, but very, very nice wines. A little pricey, but worth the stop to grab some tapa’s and have a nice glass of vino.

 11.) Wicked Cellars, Everett

http://wickedcellars.com/about_us.html

This is the only wine shop I recommend, but have not shopped at. Same with any novices I know. I saw their ratings on the internet and explored their site. Seems like a non-snooty, helpful wine shop. I am happy to see Everett opening up some fun shops!! Plus, I love the name. Go E-town!

Eastern WA –

Sorry, but you have wineries in your backyards – so I have not included you. You are lucky SOB’s who can frequent your favorite winery any time.. even in snow, since you know how to drive in it. Seriously though, those living East of the mountains, let me know your favorite shops for wine.

I hope you find this list helpful. I know good wine is to be found anywhere (hey, I have found excellent bottles at a gas station), these are just a few places to guide you in your journey for the perfect wine.

Cheers!

Affordable, yet good, Malbec

For the longest time, if I had to choose a favorite varietal wine, a Malbec would have been close to the top of my list. Something in my taste buds have changed recently. I don’t know if has been the crummy, cheap, way to fruity Malbecs that I have been served in restaurants or what, but they are working down my list of favorites. I have been less than pleased with the selection of Malbecs in restaurants lately. Now, you all know I don’t believe in having a “favorite” type of wine, because every wine, winemaker or country can be different. Which means I need to revisit this wine and realize I enjoy a nice, rich in fruit tasting, but not to fruity, Malbec ( I know, I am very confusing). A typical Malbec is very dark in color. Some wine experts call it a “rustic” version of a Merlot. Most Malbecs have a fruity, smoky, plum flavor (hence some having way to much fruit taste for this gal). Malbecs typically come from France, Argentina and Washington.

To get over my sour taste with some of them, I decided my Tasting Tonight would be on an Argentina Malbec.

Tonights Tasting

2010 Zolo Gaucho Select Malbec    ($9.99 Whole Foods)

 My go-to, cheap, yet very delicious Malbec is a Mendoza, Argentina Malbec called Zolo.   It started a few years back, when my girlfriend/co-worker Alyssa and I decided to stop at this new wine bar, at the time, in Kent, WA  called The Grape Adventure. First of all, I am very proud of Kent for having a wine bar ( I live in Seattle where a wine bar is on every corner, next to all the Starbucks, but the suburbs don’t have that luxury of having a variety of small wine bars). And the Grape Adventure is a wine bar with a good wine selection and delicious food (you must try the avocado humus). To top it all off, it is a wine shop as well, so if you can’t stay for a drink, you can pop by after work and pick up a decent bottle of wine.

 We had a glass, or more, of wine that evening; one of them being a Zolo. It was love at first sip, so I of course snagged a bottle to take home. Zolo is not overly fruity, yet you can still taste the cherry, berry and plum notes – very rich in flavor and color. And the taste lasts on your tongue for a long time, yet it is not overpowering. It also has a rich violet smell.  The even better thing about Zolo, is the price point and the ability to find it anywhere. I have been able to find this wine at wine shops, grocery stores, BevMo (for those lucky to have a BevMo.. we don’t in Washington) and Costco all for $9.99 or under. Seriously, a price you cannot simply just walk by.

I have become picky with Malbecs, only because I do not enjoy an overly fruity, cheap tasting wine. Zolo is a wine you must keep a couple of bottles on hand, because it is a nice every day, drinking wine. And the name is also very fun to say.

Salud my friends!

Oh, if you live in the Kent, Maple Valley, Covington area, check out The Grape Adventure – 12930 SE Kent-Kangley Road
Kent, WA  98030 http://www.thegrapeadventure.com/