What to Drink with Easter Dinner (or, Why Pinot Noir Is Your Answer to Everything)

The Easter holiday is fast approaching, and so is the pressure to go shopping and pick out the perfect wine to go with your feast. As if the rest of the to-do list weren’t enough! Trying to match the right wine to your meal can cause so much stress it makes you want to dive head first into the Peeps and jelly beans! If you’re putting out the wine S.O.S. signal, I see you, and I’m here to help. Deep breaths, ahhhh.

First of all, banish the word perfect from your wine vocabulary, and replace it with great. Trying to find the perfect wine pairing sounds like too much pressure and highly unrealistic. But a great pairing, that is doable!

If you’re doing something traditional along the lines of ham, lamb, or salmon, you need to set your sights on delightful, drinkable Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is one red wine that will go beautifully with all three of these proteins. While no two Pinots are exactly the same, in general this is what you will get from a glass of Pinot Noir and why it is a consummate pairing wine for so many foods:

  • Light to medium body, although some verge on medium to hinting at full-bodied, depending on things like climate, weather, region, etc. The body of a wine should match the “weight” or heaviness, of a food in your mouth.
  • Subtle, integrated, elegant tannins that don’t clash or compete with the texture of the food.
  • Moderate acidity. A wine needs to be more acidic than the food at hand, so this is a great option for pairing that won’t get lost in your mouth.

Fair warning: I prefer my Pinots to have more heft, fullness, and richness than some, so if you err on the side of super light-bodied Pinots with ultra-delicate aromas and flavors, these might not be up your alley. When I drink wine, I want to taste wine, not fruity water, right?

Anyway, here are two Pinot Noirs (one from Washington and one from Oregon) that I really admire and that deserve a spot on your Easter table. The Washingtonian clocks in at $27/bottle and the Oregonian at $35/bottle. Both are delicious wines and excellent values for their quality tiers.

Pike Road Corrine Vineyard Pinot Noir

Pike Road Corrine Vineyard Pinot Noir. Photo courtesy Pike Road Wines.

For the Oregon selection: I tasted the Pike Road 2019 Corrine Vineyard Pinot Noir at the McMinnville Wine + Food Classic this past month. It is $35/bottle and utterly delicious! The grapes are from the Chehalem Mountains AVA, and the Corrine Vineyard was planted in 1989 at the intersection of marine and volcanic soils. The vineyard is a “warmer site for Pinot Noir, producing intense fruit, heady aromatics, and lots of structure.” Yum! You can “expect wines with a big ripe core of concentrated fruit and a bright, fresh profile” with red fruit, spice, and floral tones. Sounds lovely.

For the Washington selection: who else but Skagit Crest Vineyard & Winery? All of their Pinot Noir is estate grown and produced. I have tried the 2016, 2017, and 2018 vintages, all side by side, and all are completely different wines. I love each one for different reasons. Right now I’m drawn to the 2017 Pinot Noir, with its “red fruit, rose hips, forest floor and spice rack components, framed by raspberry tea tannins and lemon oil.” We will most likely be opening this up Easter night.

Skagit Crest Pinot Noir 2017

Skagit Crest Pinot Noir 2017

I asked Owner and Winemaker Chuck Jackson what he would recommend, and while he said either vintage would go well with any of the meats, he would opt for the 2017 Pinot Noir with darker meats & heavier seasonings and the 2018 Pinot Noir with lighter meats & less intense seasonings. He would definitely choose the 2018 Pinot Noir for lamb. This beauty has elegant, subtle fruit and spice in the vein of Burgundian Pinot Noir, and is drinking round and balanced right now.

There are tons of great wines out there – so dang many. Don’t get hung up on finding the ultimate “perfect” pairing for your particular food, because there is definitely more than one wine that will work with your food. Some may be more wonderful than others, but it’s a fun chance to learn.

Obviously you can pair more than just Pinot Noir with these foods, but I hope you see the broad appeal and versatility of this grape, and why it can work so well with so many foods.

What wines have you enjoyed pairing with ham, lamb, or salmon? Tell me about it in the comments. One can never have too many good food and wine pairing ideas!

Happy Easter!

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A New Favorite: Bacovino Sangiovese + Recipe

Bacovino Winery: Creating Beautiful and Bountiful Wines that are Truthful Expressions of Washington Terroir

If you’ve been drinking wine long enough, and tried a good handful of varieties, you get it – we all have certain wines that are not at the top of our favorites list. I’ve mentioned a time or two that I could care less about Pinot Grigio (ugh, even saying it gets me annoyed, ha ha). Well, the red wine equivalent of that for me has tended to be Sangiovese. When doing a red wine tasting, no matter where, the Sangiovese is often my least favorite wine. Yes, sometimes they’re OK, but I’m not usually compelled to purchase a bottle like I would a tried-and-true Cab or Syrah.

But that all changed at Bacovino Winery. My typical aversion to Sangiovese toppled when I tried this particularly wowing wine.

Bacovino Winery opened its tasting room in November 2021 in Tukwila, Washington, which is literally the first city bordering Seattle to the south. Owner and Winemaker Randy Brooks is an ardent fan of Washington grapes (me, too!) and is committed to honoring the character of each grape variety through the highest quality winemaking. You can read more about his winemaking philosophy and practices here.

I have been in the tasting room several times now and every time I have gone in I am treated extremely well by friendly, knowledgeable people, and I enjoy some truly special and delicious wines. The wines are outstanding examples of Washington terroir. My personal favorites are their Viognier, Merlot, and – whoddathunkit – Sangiovese (I will post on these other favorites in the future!). In fact, their Sangiovese might be my favorite of their wines, and it is definitively one of the best Sangioveses I have ever had.

So how does one of my lesser favorite red varieties hop to the top of my “MUST DRINK” list?

This is not a typical Italian/Old World Sangiovese with sky high acidity, brisk/coarse tannins, and even a touch of bitterness. This is Washington/New World fruit that has been made into a very pleasing and drinkable wine. It’s got the lightest amount of sweetness, round and present fruit and spice notes, and balanced acidity, alcohol, and tannins that make it exceedingly food-friendly. As a native Washingtonian it probably comes as no surprise this is my preferred style.

Hooray, I finally found a Sangiovese I LOVE!

Here are my impressions and some details of the Bacovino 2018 Signature Sangiovese:

  • $32/bottle
  • Medium garnet color
  • Medium body
  • 15.05% ABV
  • Aromas/Flavors: Cherry, Currant, Fig, Tomato Leaf, Brown Sugar, Vanilla, Licorice
  • Moderate acidity: just right!
  • Tannins pleasantly robust and blend perfectly with the rest of the wine
  • Lovely finish

This wine is distinct and fabulous on its own, but I wanted to challenge myself so I decided to research a great food pairing for this wine, and I found one. Eating Well’s Cheesy Marinara Beans taste like something you’d order at your favorite Italian bistro but are quite easy and affordable to make (plus vegetarian and gluten-free, if you prefer such things) – all bonus virtues right now with inflation!

Here is the recipe. This dish went GREAT with the wine!

A great food and wine pairing tip to remember is that Sangiovese is an ideal mate for foods with tomato sauce.

Go do a tasting at Bacovino, get some of this Sangiovese, make this recipe, and you will be one very happy camper. Don’t be surprised if you discover some new favorites yourself! 🙂

Speaking of cheese, Bacovino offers a veritable plethora of community events and classes, from live music to paint nights to floral arranging workshops to CHEESE classes! Haven’t you always wondered how to make all the different types of cheese (while eating them, no less)? I personally have not taken a class yet but it is on my to-do list. 🙂 Definitely check out these wonderful classes for a fun activity.

In Sickness and In Health: Hot Toddies are the Prescription

It’s February, which means we’re in the height of cold and flu season. Blargh.

I am battling the first cold I’ve had since December 2021, when we all got hit with Omicron. So I’ve had a pretty good run! But now, back to reality (sigh… I knew this day had to come at some point). 😛

When you have a cold, your senses of taste and smell diminish while your immune system kicks into overdrive to kill off the nasty bacteria or viruses inside you. Obviously not a great time to drink wine, as taste and smell are essential to wine’s enjoyment.

There are few things that help one more when sick than a hot toddy cocktail (although chicken soup and thyme tea are also great). It’s got all the components to help soothe the upper respiratory tract and sinuses. Alcohol kills germs, and while a high level of ethyl alcohol will kill germs on a surface, drinking high ABV spirits, sadly, will do nothing to get rid of viruses or bacteria in your body, as our bodies immediately break down the ethyl alcohol.

Oh well. If nothing else, it dulls the pain.

Even if you’re blessed to be in good health at the moment (kinda jealous), a hot toddy is still a heartening and health-promoting companion for a cozy February evening, along with your favorite couch, blanket, book, Netflix show, what have you.

Hot Toddy Cocktail

Hot Toddy… Your sick drink of choice!

Here is my very loose recipe for a hot toddy (because measuring ingredients when you’re sick is too taxing). Best enjoyed in the evening when you are at home, not driving anywhere, and feel like absolute crap (and also not taking any medications that don’t mix with alcohol). Just keep telling yourself, this too shall pass.

  • Boil hot water. Take a deep breath. Soothing relief is mere minutes away!
  • Pour whatever amount of your preferred/available spirit (whiskey, bourbon, rye, brandy, or dark rum) you desire into mug. Eyeballing it, I do about 2-3 tablespoons or so. Lots of great options out there – let me recommend Christian Bros. Brandy or Two Stars Bourbon. But any of the above spirits you like will do. We are not paying attention to subtle flavors and aromas right now, dammit, we’re sick!
  • Once your hot water is boiling, pour desired amount into mug. Though tempting, don’t inhale as the evaporating alcohol will definitely trigger a hacking fit!
  • Add honey to taste and stir to combine. Honey is not just for sweetness; it will coat your sore throat and ease your cough.
  • Cut up however many slices fresh lemon you desire, stab the flesh (of the lemon!!) a few times with a fork to get the juices flowing over the mug, then drop into mug. Make sure nothing drips from your nose into your mug, because, gross!!!
  • Bonus: peeled, sliced ginger is also excellent for the immune system. Drop some of that in if you have it!

Stay well, everyone!

Five Star Cellars Creates Five-Star Wine

Merlot has suffered a plunge in popularity over the last decade or so, though not for good reason. It’s been crowded out by favorite luminaries Washington Syrah, Oregon Pinot Noir, and California Cabernet Sauvignon (at times, perhaps justifiably so). But my heart aches for the underdog, especially when that underdog is just as bright as any other star in the firmament.

Image courtesy Five Star Cellars.

Image courtesy Five Star Cellars.

Five Star Cellars, one of my absolute favorite wineries, uses only the top fruit from the top vineyards in Washington state, and their wine confirms this. I’ve been lucky enough to drink their acclaimed wines on numerous occasions now, and I have to say that if I were to ever join a wine club, Five Star Cellars would be one of them! Every bottle is exceptionally tasty and mind-blowing, so no regrets when it comes to regular purchases. While I enjoy all of their wines, my sweetheart wine is their Merlot. Oh yeah, Merlot! 🙂

This is one of the best Merlots I’ve ever had; perfect balance, perfect texture, lovely lovely bouquet and taste. I can’t say enough good things about it. Their 2009 blend is 92% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Malbec. Fruit is all from the Walla Walla Valley; hailing from the stellar Seven Hills, Pepperbridge, and Blue Mountain vineyards.

According to the winemaker’s notes: “Fleshy fruits dominate the nose followed with hints of oak. Bright cherry notes combine with blackberry and currant flavors. Well integrated tannins with great acidity carry the long finish.”

See? I’ve made your Valentine wine selection a cinch! This wine is perfect on its own, accompanied by some nice olives, cheese, and crackers, or with a moderately rich beef or pasta dish.

When it comes to Merlot, don’t be too quick to judge. Let this wine change your mind and set the bar for enjoying all other Merlots. It does, after all, shine in a class of its own.

“Be mine!”
XOXO, Merlot

Microwineries: Serving Up Macro Wines

A lovely Petit Verdot leaf.

A fabulous trend I’m a glutton for is the “micro” trend. Not microwaves, microfiber, microfiche, or Microsoft even, but microwineries… limited production facilities where the wine is high quality because it benefits from the extra love and attention of the winemaker, like an illustrious private school for grapes. Also, the grapes can be from prized, small lot vineyards. Microwineries (and breweries, for that matter) are concentrated havens of artisanal artistry and craftsmanship. Fortunately, micro is no trend du jour; it is a permanent fixture on our gourmet food and beverage landscape. Has the espresso-to-go trend died yet? Nope, and neither will this! We humans love our high-quality handcrafted beverages, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get our hands on them.

As we get less and less handy in modern American society and purchase more of our needed items pre-made, do you think there is a correlation to our desire and propensity for all things “hand-crafted?” Discuss.

A particular wine from a particular microwinery I’m quite fond of and that I encourage you to try is the Andrew Rich Vintner 2008 Columbia Valley Petit Verdot Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. This treasure was found on one of our Willamette Valley wine trips.

First of all, who is this winemaker, Andrew Rich? From the winery website: “Named one of Wine & Spirits magazine’s top 100 wineries of 2009, Andrew Rich Wines has been crafting distinctive wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley since 1995. Along with Pinot Noir, RhĂ´ne Valley varietals from the Columbia Valley–including Syrah, Roussanne, Grenache, and Mourvèdre–take pride of place, though the winery is equally well known for its seductive GewĂźrztraminer dessert wine. Production averages 5,000 cases per year.” (www.andrewrichwines.com).

Andrew Rich crafts his premium wines in the state-of-the-art Carlton Winemakers Studio, the nation’s first “green” cooperative winemaking facility. An “environmentally friendly facility,” the Studio is home to several wineries that seek to produce wines of the highest caliber. My husband and I showed up there five minutes to close, but the gal in the tasting room was kind enough to let us do a quick tasting and we loved the Petit Verdot and wound up taking a bottle home.

On a side note, what should you call someone who works in a tasting room? Might I suggest something colorful, like Bar-ista, Grape Goddess, Sip-erintendent… stop me now!

What is Petit Verdot? Single varietal Petit Verdot wine is like black ink in a glass. Petit Verdot is typically used in small quantities in Bordeaux blends to lend tannic structures and flavors. Just remember, if red wine grapes are on a spectrum of darkness/thickness/intensity, Petit Verdot is as far away from the light as you can get… a dark, inky black wine with dynamic flavor and complexity. It is more successfully cultivated as a single varietal wine in the New World as opposed to the Old World (aka the cradles of civilization where wine was first made, e.g. France, Greece, Italy, Hungary, etc.). How did “A Whole New World” get stuck in my head? Great, moving on….

Now, about the Ciel du Cheval vineyard. Those of you possessed of Washington Wine Wherewithal know that the Ciel du Cheval Vineyard is equivalent to a Gucci or Prada handbag. It is one of the best vineyards in the USA, and arguably the world. According to Cole Danehower at Northwest-Wine.com, “Famed for the elegance and complexity of the wines it produces, Ciel du Cheval and its owner Jim Holmes have become near-legendary exemplars of what Washington wine is all about. The desirability of fruit from Ciel du Cheval can be seen in the names of the wineries that produce wine from the vineyard. Culling through a client list that includes 25 producers in Washington and Oregon reveals some of the Northwest’s most prestigious labels: Fidelitas, Mark Ryan, Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, McCrea Cellars, Cadence, Betz Family . . . among others.”

I will review some of these wines in later posts (hold your chevals!). 🙂

Andrew Rich’s tasting notes sum up this wine perfectly:

“Long-time club members know that I’m not able to get this fruit every year (there was an ’07; there’s none in ’09). This vintage continues the tradition of massive fruit, tannin, and acidity seamlessly sewn into a pitch-black cloak of mystery. What the heck does that mean? Taste and ye shall see.”

Perfect in time for Halloween: a dark, mysterious red wine! Hop on board the microwinery train with this Petit Verdot!

Oregon, You’ve Been Upstaged!

Fact: Oregon’s Willamette Valley region is an ideal climate for growing world-class Pinot Noir: it is cool and at the same latitude as Burgundy, France, where Pinot Noir has been cultivated for ages. Fact: Washington’s AVAs (winegrowing regions) such as Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley, Walla Walla, etc. tend to favor bold, earthy reds, such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Different vines flourish in different climes, and this is the magic of biology and terroir! Like East Coast versus West Coast swing or rap, both are distinct art forms in their own right; both calculatingly sizing up their opponent, abiding side by side, careful not to step on each other’s toes or get cacked by a hater. No puns intended, of course.

So what happens when a Washington Pinot Noir sidles up to an Oregon Pinot Noir (gasp!)? When an ambitious “newbie” contender enters the competitive ring of primo Pinot Noir? Does it even stand a chance? Can the shepherd’s stone even graze, let alone slay, a giant?

Chateau Faire Le Pont Milbrandt Vineyards Pinot Noir (90% Pinot Noir, 10%
Syrah) is a Washington Pinot Noir that upsets the apple cart… or the grape bin,
choose your fruit metaphor. We purchased this wine this past summer 2011 while visiting Leavenworth and then dilly-dallying into Wenatchee (a juicy wine destination you must visit!). Chateau Faire Le Pont is one of my favorite wineries because every wine you try is pure awesomeness brimming with wow factor. Though stepping onto long-hallowed “exclusive” Oregon turf, this winery proves it can pull off a remarkably delicious Pinot Noir made from Washington grapes that can compete with the best of them.

After having tasted a number of Oregon Pinots now, I have to admit I like this
Washingtonian better than many of its Oregonian counterparts, perhaps due to
the generous 10% Syrah that gives it a bit more tartness and dimension. See my previous post about AVAs for more deets on the Wahluke Slope and Milbrandt Vineyards, where these stellar grapes hail from.

This Pinot will not disappoint and will surprise many Oregon Pinot fans. It
could not have been pulled off without the talented winemakers of Chateau Faire
Le Pont. From the back label: “… our 2007 Pinot Noir was created in a more
graceful, enjoyable medium-to-full-bodied style. Refreshing and extremely well
balanced, rose petal and violet aromas intertwine seamlessly with raspberries,
strawberries, chocolate covered cherries and delicate tannins throughout the
smooth, lingering finish.”

Take a sip, sit back and experience psychedelic visions of chocolate covered
fruits and flower petals swirling and waltzing around in your head! (Red wine
is so much safer than LSD).

Oregon, you’ve been upstaged!

To be continued….