If you think of the most inhospitable or unlikely vineyard sites in the world, the state of Washington may not come to mind. There are two dramatically different landscapes in Washington. There’s the one most of us think of when we think of the Pacific Northwest — cool, damp and foggy. But most of Washington’s most exceptional vineyards are located in the other one — amid dry mountain air, scarcely populated and barren ridges in the Columbia River basin.
The Columbia River basin is a unique viticulture map. It is on approximately the same latitude (46 degrees north) as some of the great French wine regions. The Columbia Valley is much different from Seattle’s rainy climate thanks to the Cascade Mountains. It lies in the rain shadow of the mountains with an annual 6 to 8 inches average rainfall, compared to 100 plus on the Olympic Peninsula. This sparse rainfall allows vineyards to control vine vigor through irrigation from the rivers. Without human effort of irrigation, this whole area would be a sun parched expanse. Irrigation has changed this area into a prolific wine grape growing area. Another contributing factor to its success is the advantage of long hours of sunlight, averaging 17 hours during the growing season.
Washington’s American Viticulture Area, or a AVA, comprises 14 regions — Ancient Lakes, Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, Lake Chelan, Lewis-Clark Valley, Naches Heights, Puget Sound, Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, Yakima Valley, Wahluke Slope and Walla Walla Valley — with many subappellations all within the Columbia River basin. The Columbia Valley is the largest with almost 11 million acres and with the exception of the Puget Sound and Columbia Gorge, all growing regions are subappellations of the Columbia Valley.
How this summer’s widespread wildfires will affect this year’s grape crop remains to be seen. However, it is possible the smoke from the fires could transfer to the grapes, tainting the vintage, according to reports on KOUW.
In 2007, Washington winemakers crushed 127,000 tons of grapes, last year they crushed more than 250,000 tons. In other words, the Washington wine industry has nearly doubled in size in just a decade. If you are looking for a region in the world to watch, this is your state.
- 2016 Hogue Riesling, Columbia Valley (about $13 retail)
- 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer, Columbia Valley (about $12 retail)
- 2015 Snoqualmie Naked Riesling, Columbia Valley (about $14 retail)
- 2015 14 Hands Merlot, Columbia Valley (about $15 retail)
- 2015 Columbia Crest H3 Horse Heaven Hills Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills (about $20 retail)
- 2015 Eroica Riesling, Ancient Lakes, Yakima Valley, Columbia Valley (about $29 retail)
I can confidently say, Jason Lede knows the Lede Family Wines portfolio intimately. The son of founder Cliff Lede, he has been around wine most of his life. Jason was born and raised in Alberta, Canada, and spent summers as a teen in California’s Napa Valley. His passion continues as he works to spread the winery’s name around the word. During lunch recently, I was honored to hear the story behind the winery and, of course, enjoy a tasting of the impeccable wines.
It was his father’s love of wine and enthusiasm for building that would point the family in the direction of Napa Valley. (That knack for building was no ordinary hobby, his father helped run one of the world’s largest construction companies.)
Cliff Lede Vineyards (pronounced “LayDee”) was founded in 2002 after Cliff Lede, a Bordeaux enthusiast, bought a 60-acre estate in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. From a viticulture standpoint the vineyards have the best of both worlds with valley floors and hillside land.
If you read my column regularly, you know I always enjoy hearing the stories behind the wines. Jason’s explanation of the vineyards was a favorite. Instead of numbering the vineyards’ blocks, as is often done, Cliff Lede devised a system better fitting his style. He named the blocks after famous rock albums and songs including “Walk on the Wild Side” “American Girl” and “Dark Side of the Moon.” Today they are referred to as the “Rock Blocks.”
In 2005, a 25,000-square foot winery and cave system were built into the hillside overlooking the estate vineyards. The winery was designed by world-renowned architect Howard Backen. And staying with the rock theme, the winery features the White Room, named after The Beatles’ White Album.
- 2016 Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $27 retail)
- 2014 Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $87 retail)
Labor Day is a celebration of America’s labor movement and the contributions of American workers, but for most it is a time for family and friends to convene on location — preferably near a body of water or forest — and enjoy the last three-day weekend of summer.
There is no better time to keep wine choices uncomplicated and versatile. For this week’s recommendations I’m focusing on value wines from American wineries.
- 2015 Simple Life Pinot Noir, California (about $14 retail)
- 2015 Bogle Essential Red Blend, California (about $13 retail)
- 2015 Force of Nature Red Blend, California (about $18 retail)
- 2014 Cline Zinfandel, California (about $17 retail)
- 2015 Sean Minor Pinot Noir, California (about $14 retail)
- 2015 Francis Coppola Diamond Edition Claret, California (about $16 retail)
- 2015 14 Hands Merlot, California (about $15 retail)
- 2015 Bell Red Blend, California (about $18 retail)
- 2015 Seven Falls Cellars Merlot, Washington (about $16 retail)
- 2015 Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $17 retail)
- 2015 The Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $16 retail)
- 2016 Five Rows Chardonnay, California (about $17 retail)
- 2016 McManis Family Vineyards Viognier, California (about $14 retail)
- 2016 Simi Chardonnay, California (about $20 retail)
- 2016 Bell Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $17 retail)
- 2016 Olema Chardonnay, California (about $15 retail)
- 2016 Charles Smith Vino Pinot Grigio, California (about $15 retail)
- 2016 Charles & Charles Riesling, California (about $16 retail)
- 2015 Kendall Jackson Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $12 retail)
- 2016 Leese-Fitch Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $12 retail)
- 2016 Sivas-Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $15 retail)
- NV Scharffenberger Methode Traditionnelle, California (about $20 retail)
- NV Roederer Estate Brut, California (about $32 retail)
- NV Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blancs, California (about $22 retail)
- NV Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs, California (about $29 retail)
- NV Gruet Brut, New Mexico (about $19 retail)
- 2012 Domaine Carneros Brut, California (about $36 retail)
- NV Chandon Brut Classic, California (about $24 retail)
I am constantly exploring the changing world of food and wine pairing. What once was a very straightforward concept of red wine with meat and white wine with fish just doesn’t fit anymore. A recent posting of the hottest food trends of 2017 from the National Restaurant Association shows our preferences are changing, and with that comes an opportunity for more wine matchups. I looked over the top 20 trending foods and did a little research.
STREET FOOD INSPIRED DISHES
With the popularity of food trucks on street corners showcasing cuisines from around the world, many cooks are looking to re-create these dishes at home. Today you can find an array of tastes, from gourmet burgers to vegan wraps. When I researched the top street foods, many were based on “comfort foods” (generally defined as foods providing consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically with high fat and carbohydrate content). Consider a refreshing simple white wine with high acidity.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
One common misconception is that fruits and vegetables can only be paired with dry, light bodied white wines. In fact, fruits and vegetables often add more flavor to a dish than the main protein. Consider a wine showing the same characteristics as the dish. If the dish has high acidity from fruits or earthy taste from vegetables, serve a wine that will share in the flavors. Sparkling wines with strawberries, citrus; acidic white wines with tomatoes and green salads; aromatic white wines with herbs, bell peppers, carrots, beets; creamy lush white wines with corn, beans; light red wines with mushrooms, root vegetables, carrots; sweet red wines with plums, berries, oranges.
Many international cuisines are distinguished by the spices and aromatics used in preparing them. The key to a successful wine and spicy food pairing is to consider the spices. If you are creating a Mexican dish, most likely the spices will be cumin, garlic, cinnamon and coriander; Thai (basil, ginger, turmeric, chile); Indian (cardamom, cumin, turmeric, garam masala, curry); Cajun (cayenne pepper, onion, garlic, paprika, bay leaves). Most of these spices have a distinct flavor so staying with wines that won’t compete is your best bet. Consider light-bodied white wines with refreshing, simple flavors and good acidity like pinot grigio, sparkling, rose, sauvignon blanc and unoaked chardonnay.
This trend is broadly defined as seafood caught or farmed in a manner that can maintain or increase production in the long term, without jeopardizing the health of oceans and their aquatic life. Begin with the “weight” of the fish. Weight refers to richness, texture and fat. Consider the many types of seafood and the array of textures and weights. You can compare the hearty weight of salmon, tuna or sea bass to lighter filets of flounder or tilapia, or the rich taste of lobster versus the delicacy of an oyster or scallop. Consider chardonnay, pinot grigio, riesling or pinot noir.
These are my recommendations for the most versatile wines with these trending food and wine pairing options.
- 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer, Oregon (about $12 retail)
- 2015 Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris, California (about $19 retail)
One of my favorite things about writing this column is answering your questions. And based on reader feedback, it’s one of your favorites, too. This week I’ll address decanting boxed wine, the difference between sulfates and sulfites and the term “Cape red.”
If you have a wine question, please don’t hesitate to write or email.
We don’t like putting boxed wines in our refrigerator because we just don’t have room. Does transferring the box wine to a bottle change the quality?
Box wines can be bulky, making storing them in a full refrigerator difficult. But decanting a boxed wine for storage defeats the purpose of the box. The boxed wine has a bladder inside that collapses when wine is poured, giving it a protective layer against oxygen. My concern when transferring wine from the pour spout to a bottle is you are immediately introducing a lot of oxygen to the wine. This act alone can begin to make the once-fresh wine taste stale. My advice, if you’re looking for refrigerator space, is to consider removing the bladder from the box, making it less bulky. Be sure to place the spout lower than the wine in the bladder to avoid letting air in when you open the spout. My recommendation is to keep bottled wine bottled and boxed wine boxed. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with decanting a boxed wine for serving.
What is the difference between sulfates and sulfites?
Sulfates and sulfites are both sulfur-based compounds. You most likely encounter sulfates daily. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a strong detergent additive that aids in removing grease by binding oil to water. You will find this in most dish soaps, floor cleaners, shampoo and body washes.
Sulfites are found in most wines. They are naturally occurring and act as a preservative by inhibiting microbial growth. Again, just as with sulfates, you are most likely encountering sulfites daily. They are found in many foods including dried fruit, candy, deli meat, canned soups and hot dogs. Even though sulfites are naturally occurring, most winemakers also add sulfur dioxide during the winemaking process to ensure against spoilage.
What does the term “Cape red” mean when I see it on South African wine labels?
A quick geography lesson while looking at a map of South Africa can explain the term “Cape.” It’s any large piece of land protruding into the sea from the coast. South Africa has the Cape of Good Hope, the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Cape Peninsula. What does this have to do with wine production? Along the southern coast of South Africa is where the warm currents of the Indian Ocean meet with the cool currents of the Atlantic Ocean. Many South African vineyards are spread throughout these regions. This occurrence where two oceans meet creates a specific climate with a lot of influence on winemaking. A strong, dry wind known as the “Cape Doctor” can damage unprotected grapes but has the positive effect of limiting growth of debilitating fungus and mildew in the vineyards. “Cape reds” are generally South African red wines made from a blend of the country’s most prestigious red grapes, syrah, pinotage, merlot and cabernet sauvignon found in these regions.
As many of you know, I am a rose fanatic and I’m always eager to explore my favorite styles of wine. So when “frose,” the coolest summer cocktail, and our Southern heat came into my life at the same time, I thought what a better time to give this refreshing drink a test?
Frose (fro-ZAY) also known as frozen rose is an adult slushy that combines the cool, refreshing acidity and fruitiness of rose wine with a fresh fruit, sugar and ice.
When mixing any wine into a cocktail I always advise drawing a fine line. Don’t choose the best bottle from your cellar, but as with any recipe, the quality of the wine will contribute to the outcome of your cocktail.
This summer treat can be made ahead and frozen for up to a week. I adapted this recipe from Bon Appetit.
1 (750-mL) bottle hearty, bold rose (such as pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
8 to 10 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 cup crushed ice
2 ½ ounces fresh lemon juice
Pour the rose wine into a 9-by-13-inch pan and freeze 6 to 8 hours or until almost solid. The alcohol will keep it from freezing completely.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan bring the sugar and ½ cup water to a boil; cook, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Add strawberries and remove from heat. Let this mixture sit for 30 minutes to infuse syrup with strawberry flavor. Strain the mixture (do not press on solids) with a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.
Using a large fork, scrape the frozen rose into a blender. Add lemon juice, the strawberry syrup and 1 cup crushed ice. Puree until smooth. Transfer blender jar to freezer and freeze until mixture is thickened to about the consistency of a milkshake, about 30 minutes. Blend once more until slushy. Divide into glasses and serve. To add a special touch, serve in martini, hurricane or margarita glasses and dip the rim of your glass in sugar for an added sparkle.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
- 2016 Crios Malbec Rose, Argentina (about $10 retail)
- 2016 Montes Cherub Rose, Chile (about $14 retail)
- 2016 Calcu Rose, Chile (about $15 retail)
- 2016 Bodega Norton Rose, Argentina (about $13, retail)
- 2016 Concha y Toro Frontera Rose, Chile (about $10 retail)
- 2016 Hogwash Rose, California (about $18 retail)
- 2014 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rose, Oregon (about $17 retail)
- 2016 Presqu’ile Vineyard Rose of Pinot Noir, California (about $20 retail)
- 2006 Turkey Flat Rose, Australia (about $18 retail)
Thank you Kelly Brant for the photo.