Wine in Sacred Places

In Which I Discover Phenomenal Cabernet from Mosquito Fleet Winery

Do you have those sacred places on earth where you feel at home, or somehow closer to heaven because of the beauty of the place? Is it a beach, a mountain, a cute small town? Hood Canal, WA is one such place that holds a special spot in my heart. My great-grandparents built a cabin out on a piece of property right on the water, and it’s still standing and in the family! It has been a huge part of my life, from childhood through parenthood. It’s been a refuge, especially during the pandemic when we were isolating and being careful. A place to fully relax and be.

Hood Canal

My sacred place… Hood Canal

In recent years, every time my husband and I would drive out for some down time at the cabin, we would pass by a tasting room in Belfair with “Mosquito Fleet Winery” printed in elegant script across the building, tempting us with the prospect of delicious wine. A wine-tasting room to me is like an iPad to a kid – very very hard to resist! 🙂 Every time we passed it we said to ourselves, “We’ve got to stop in there sometime.” But with young children in tow, and often on a tight schedule, it just didn’t happen.

Mosquito Fleet Winery SignageWell, we finally DID stop in – last summer, I believe. Our kids were with us but they are older and better able to handle the occasional wine tasting with Mom and Dad every once in a while. It’s not like it takes all day to sip 5 or 6 wine pours… it’s good to learn some patience and that the day is not just about what they want to do. The people working at the tasting room were very kind and even gave the kids some popcorn and juice for a snack.

I should pause a second and give you a quick bit of history on the winery’s name. And I must say, it’s nice to have a Washington state winery pay tribute to local history rather than donning an awkward mock French name like Château Belfair or Domaine du Canal. 🙂 Also, while there are literal fleets of mosquitos at Hood Canal (I wish they didn’t love me quite so much – must be the wine in my bloodstream?), the name has no connection to that ecological fact. 😉

For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Mosquito Fleet refers to the fleet of various steamboats that transported people and cargo throughout the many waterways of Washington state, from the inlets of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, from the 1840s until about the 1950s. Mosquito Fleet Winery honors the spirit of bringing people together through their wines. I love it!

Anyway, hubby and I each did a tasting and enjoyed the wines presented. We wound up going home with a gorgeous bottle of Mosquito Fleet Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2019. To me, this was a standout wine – the kind of excellent Washington Cabernet Sauvignon you can pull out and enjoy with an equally excellent steak dinner, or simply to savor uninhibited. Perfect for Memorial Day BBQ fare, I may add.

Here are the details of this particular wine:

Mosquito Fleet Winery Cabernet Sauvignon

Divine wine from Hood Canal: Mosquito Fleet Winery Cabernet Sauvignon

355 cases produced
13.8% ABV
95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc
From the winemaker: “A beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of blueberry, blackberry and anise. It has a beautifully full mouthfeel with nice, juicy acids and beautifully rounded out tannins that linger. It was aged predominantly in new French oak barrels which lend a nice aroma of oak and elegance.”
My impression: superb fruit, rich yet elegant, appealing texture, noteworthy balance – a wine of outstanding quality! ❤

Mosquito Fleet Winery prides itself on producing wines that are “hand-crafted with time-tested ‘Old World’ winemaking techniques of centuries past. This small lot, labor intensive approach helps produce memorable wines and memorable times for any occasion.”

As someone who just purchased a very disappointing bottle of cheap-sad-crap-red from the grocery store for our latest excursion to the Canal (I’ll blame the economy, whether I’m justified or not), I understand and appreciate the effort that goes into crafting fine Cabernet Sauvignon using the best fruit, the best winemaking techniques, and new French oak barrels. There is such a difference, and while I can’t afford to drink higher-priced wines every day (let’s be real, I don’t drink wine every day), if I want to experience real pleasure from a wine, I usually have to spend a bit more. But it’s well worth it. There truly is nothing like a truly fine wine. Truly. 🙂

Hood Canal is a beautiful place to relax and unwind, especially with a visit to Mosquito Fleet Winery thrown in. Go try it sometime. Maybe it will become one of your special places. ❤

Drinking wine at Hood Canal

Full disclosure: this was not Mosquito Fleet Cab, rather, ’twas a bland and mediocre substitute, but I was still determined to enjoy my time at the beach! 🙂

Let’s toast to those who made the greatest sacrifice on this Memorial Day 2023. ❤

American Flag and MoonSpecial thanks to Jacquie for your assistance in answering my questions!

Nat Geo Wines of the World


Table for 12: Dishing Up Cooking and Community

¡Ay, caramba! We’ve had a whirlwind tour of Mexico this past week, haven’t we? Maybe you’ve whipped up a Prickly Pear Margarita or considered trying some Mexican wine. Well, this week I’m wrapping it up with one last post focused on one of the world’s greatest cuisines: Mexican food.

The simple things are often the best things, and to me Mexican food is perennially popular because the ingredients are specific to Mexican land and culture but they are simple, wholesome, and flavorful, which gives the cuisine broad appeal.

If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you may have seen some photos I shared a while ago about a certain cooking class. That was in April, and so today here is the post I promised. Enjoy! (Hint, hint, this event makes a great Mother’s Day present for those shopping for the occasion.) 😉

Table for 12 Edmonds

Table for 12
Edmonds, Washington

My mom treated me and my husband to a night out in Edmonds at Table for 12, a recently-opened studio kitchen in which to take group cooking classes and also the home of food production company, 12 Tomatoes. Check out their drool-worthy videos on their YouTube channel! I’m fixing on making something from them soon.

The theme of our class was Street Taco Table. All of us rallied around the table and every person had a hand in creating this gigantic, awesome feast. The vibe is relaxed and all about being together and having fun while cooking, not trying to be Master Chefs. And whaddya know, we also learned some better cooking techniques too while having fun. 🙂

We each had several things to do throughout the night: I chopped veggies for salsa, shredded lettuce, made vinaigrette, and tossed salad, among other things. I also got to fry tortilla strips for the salad, which was good practice for me to deep fry without fear (I avoid deep frying in my home kitchen). My husband also chopped produce, roasted veggies for salsa, and helped make tortillas.

Chef Dom did a great job explaining our tasks and delegating just the right amount of work to each person. It’s great to have access to a professional chef for 3 hours to ask any and all your nagging cooking questions! I should also mention they pay the highest attention to hygiene and safety for all their events at Table for 12, and that all levels of cooking experience (or lack thereof!) are welcome.

I’ve been to a number of cooking classes and demonstrations over the years… ones where you are required to stand and cook most of the time, others where you are seated and watching a chef create magic. This event struck a happy balance between watching and learning from the chef-expert and getting to practice cooking skills (i.e. chopping, sautéing, etc.) – just the right amount of activity at each end of the spectrum. One cooking class I took in the past had me standing and hustling most of the night, with little to no chance to sit down. It was interesting and fun but tiring. This was definitely not tiring, with plenty of time to cook, seated or standing, and plenty of time to sit down and sip our wine or beer (or muy deliciosa agua fresca). 🙂

The event ran from 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm. Because you don’t eat the dinner until 9:30 pm or later that night, I recommend adjusting your eating schedule the day of your event and either have a late big lunch in the afternoon or normal lunch and then a light snack or meal to tide you over until later. We did have chips and salsa to nosh on, but the point is to be cooking, not sitting and dining.

All classes are limited to 12 people, and since there were about 4 no shows, we had a slightly smaller group. Group size is a very important factor for an event: just the right amount to get to know folks, but also not so few that all the work falls on a couple people. Can I also say how thankful I am to be back in person, out and about doing things with other humans after COVID? It’s so great. ❤

Street Taco Table, Table for 12 Edmonds

Street Taco Table
Table for 12
Edmonds, Washington

Here is the menu. Everything was fresh, colorful, flavorful, and delicious. It proved to us how relatively easy it is to prepare Mexican food at home that tastes WAY BETTER. We are not shy about making our own tortillas now. We got to take home printed copies of the recipes and we also got to take home leftover food. We gave it to my mom and she verified it was excellent. 🙂

Street Taco Table Menu

  • Crunchy Green Taco Salad 
    This is what salad is all about: rainbow colors, flavors, and textures. I could eat this salad every day. Sorry I don’t have a better picture of the salad; above it’s buried under other food.
  • Dry-Rubbed Carne Asada with Fresh Flour Tortillas and Salsa Roja
    Carne Asada was terrific. The salsa was fantastic. The freshly made tortillas beat anything I’ve bought at the store. Going to be making these at home.
  • Spanish Rice and Brothy Beans
    This was not your average rice n’ beans snooze fest from your average Mexican restaurant. Hearty and with amped up flavor. ❤
  • Mango Tres Leches with Fresh Mango and Salted Whipped Cream
    Even though I was getting quite stuffed after the main meal, I still saved a little room for dessert, and am I glad I did! This dessert was amazing not just for taste, but it was light and refreshing after a hefty meal – how many cake recipes do you know of that can achieve that after dinner?
Mango Tres Leches Cake, Table for 12 Edmonds

Mango Tres Leches Cake
Table for 12
Edmonds, Washington

While this was not a wine event per se, our tickets included two beverages (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) for the evening. We also had the option of purchasing additional beverages or bottles à la carte. I had a glass of both their featured white and red wines, which came from the excellent wine shop next door, Arista Wine Cellars (they are listed on my Places to Taste page). The white was the 2021 Domaine De L’arfentiere, Macon Uchizy Chardonnay Burgundy France and the red was the 2020 Mark Ryan Lu & Oly Red Blend Columbia Valley Washington. Both super delicious wines I enjoyed that each went very well with our Mexican cuisine.

Want to know something super cool? You can even take FREE CLASSES from Chef Dom online. He offers a wide variety of topics and recipes. Great option especially if you are out of town. Here is a class happening this Wednesday: Southern Comfort.

Personally, while I’m thankful for technology, nothing beats the in-person experience, so please take a look at their current classes, gather some friends (or go solo and make friends!) and go to a live class. Prices as of May 2023 are $99/person before tax and tip.

¡Salud! 🙂

Muchas gracias a mi madre por una noche sabrosa y divertida.

Say “Kia Ora” for International Sauvignon Blanc Day

Happy Cinco de Mayo! I trust you’re all set up now with your Mexican vino and Prickly Pear Margaritas for today. 🙂 But did you know that today is also International Sauvignon Blanc Day? Goodness gracious me, so it is. Better slap a blog post together! 😉

It’s been a while since I’ve chatted with you about Sauvignon Blanc, hasn’t it? I’m surveying my long list of wines to share, and this is one that MUST be shared. Absolutely MUST! In case you didn’t read that clearly, MUST. SHARE.

This is for all my friends and readers who belong to the white wine cult branch of Sauvignon Blanc. 😉 I’m probably more in the red wine cult branch of Cab/Pinot/Merlot type thing, but Sauvignon Blanc is a solid choice for utter white wine devotion.

For starters, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the noble grape varieties (it can be grown in a wide range of places and always exhibits specific characteristics, no matter where and how it is grown), traditionally hailing from France. It is planted all around the world, and excels mightily in New Zealand, especially in the prime region of Marlborough. Wines are typically light bodied, with high acid and moderate alcohol.

This Sauvignon Blanc serves as a great introduction to New Zealand Sauv Blanc as a genre (like California Cab or Argentine Malbec, places famous for excelling at certain varieties) and also stands squarely on its own as an outstanding wine. The reason I haven’t tried a lot of other NZ Sauvignon Blancs is because this one is so incredible and irresistible I keep returning to it. Why bother with anything else?

Here are the deets on this beguiling wine, the Kia Ora Signature Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc:

  • $17/bottle at
  • 13% ABV, light body, crisp and refreshing
  • FLAVOR EXPLOSIONS (caps intended!) of passionfruit, kiwi berry, lime, grapefruit and herbs
  • Mouthwatering acidity
  • “Reflects the ultimate New Zealand flavor profile”

I tasted this wine at Total Wine one time and I commented to the gentleman pouring that I’d had it before and loved it. He said his wife loves it so much they buy it by the case. I believe it!

Fun fact: my grandmother lived in New Zealand for part of her childhood on a sheep ranch. She always wanted to go back to visit, but never got the chance. I figure this is one small way I can honor her memory of this beautiful, vibrant land. That and watch Lord of the Rings whilst quaffing this Sauv Blanc (hey, there’s a Friday night idea).

According to Wikipedia, kia ora is a Māori greeting which means “have life” or “be healthy”, wishing the essence of life upon someone. So, kia ora, readers! 🙂

Happy International Sauvignon Blanc Day! Any favorite Sauvignon Blancs you would like to share? Comment below!

Prickly Pear Margaritas for Cinco de Mayo (and Beyond)

Disclosure Statement: This post contains affiliate links. When you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own.

Cinco de Mayo is happening this Friday. Or, for those whom the actual holiday has no personal cultural relevance, Cinco de Drinko: a day for Americans to down Margaritas and Mexican food.

I hope you enjoyed my post on Mexican wine, but – de veras – this holiday demands a Margarita. Nothing short of a Margarita will suffice for today. And this Margarita recipe is sin igual in terms of show stopping good looks and jaw dropping flavors.

This recipe is courtesy of Keli Sim DeRitis – an artist, designer, passionate cook, teacher, and tour guide. Her business, Poggi Bonsi, offers all manner of gorgeous and delicious things, including cooking classes, European tours, and special import gifts and food items for your home kitchen.

My husband and I took a cooking class with her a couple years ago on Sicilian cooking and wines and it was fantastic and utterly delicious! You can buy her cookbook on Amazon (As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying links), which includes several themed menus grouped by European travel destination. Check out her website for more information.

What makes this Margarita extra special is the Prickly Pear syrup. Prickly Pear is a flowering plant of the cactus family, and according to the Mayo Clinic is reputed to help treat diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and hangovers.

Laugh. Out. Loud. Combining this lovely plant with sugar and alcohol per-rob-ably won’t help with the above ailments, but, like the overweight American who orders the Diet Coke with the huge cheeseburger and extra large French fries, we optimistically and ignorantly think that one small “good” deed outweighs all the other poor dietary choices.

Gotta laugh at ourselves, right? 😉

This Magnificent Magenta Margarita is not only supremely photogenic, its refreshing and diverse flavors sweep over you and ferry you to Margarita bliss.

Give it a try, I’m pretty sure you’ll love it. 🙂

Recipe notes: I doubled the recipe to make 2 drinks. Use only fresh-squeezed lime juice. For the sugar/salt/lime zest mix for the glass rim, massage the three ingredients together with your fingers to release those lovely lime essential oils.

*Prickly pear syrup can be purchased online. Look for Cheri’s Desert Harvest. The only ingredients are sugar, prickly pear cactus, lemon, and citrus pectin. And yes, that color is real! (As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying links).

For an alcohol-free mocktail: throw some prickly pear syrup, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and club soda together. ¡Deliciosa!


Prickly Pear MargaritasIngredients

  • 3 ounces tequila blanco (aka silver tequila or tequila plata)
  • 1/2-ounce Cointreau or Triple Sec
  • 1 1/2 ounces freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • 2 ounces prickly pear syrup*
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon turbinado sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • Prickly pear or lime slice for garnish


  1. Pour the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and prickly pear syrup into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously to incorporate. Alternately, you can blend the cocktail ingredients with ice in a blender.
  2. Combine the salt, sugar, and lime zest on a small plate. Run a slice of lime around the rim of a chilled glass and dip into the mixture and coat the edge.
  3. Fill the glass with ice and pour in the margarita. Garnish with a prickly pear slice (available at many Hispanic and Asian markets) or a slice of lime.

Happy 11th Birthday to The Rambling Vine!

Disclosure Statement: This post contains affiliate links. When you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own.

The Rambling Vine turns 11 today! I published my very first post here on 4/20/12 (purely coincidental date), lamenting the imagery of the word “blog.” Now, likewise, I can’t bring myself to use the word “blogaversary” – such a tangled, ugly word, am I right? We’ll stick with birthday, or anniversary. 🙂
I began this website as a place to record memorable wines and as a creative playground for my writing alter ego. I am having so much fun getting back into blog life; crafting posts and sharing about the special and interesting wines I have come across. Those of you reading along, THANK YOU, especially those of you who have been patiently waiting while I raised babies and was kinda busy. Sticking to a schedule has definitely helped keep me consistent.

In honor of hitting blog adolescence (I’m sure this will be much easier than human adolescence), I am sharing with you a red wine that I’ve not simply loved and been impressed with, but a wine that is in a whole other category unto itself. Everything I desire in a great wine is here in spades. I can’t recommend this enough.

Like adolescence, this wine is powerful with a lot going on, but unlike adolescence, it is balanced and knows who it is.

Here you go:
Ancient Peaks Zinfandel Paso Robles Santa Margarita Ranch

Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Zinfandel Santa Margarita Ranch

The zin that stole my heart! Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Zinfandel Santa Margarita Ranch.

$18/bottle on
Full body, 15% ABV
This was a wine that originally came home with us from La Conner Sips, a wine shop in one of our favorite small towns to get away. My initial thoughts were that this was as close to red wine perfection as you can get! Everything is in perfect balance and harmony – good fruit, good strength, sweetness/dryness, etc. Stunning how excellent this wine is.

Here are the winemaker notes:
“The 2017 Zinfandel presents bright boysenberry aromas with hints of sandalwood and vanilla. A juicy, jammy texture is loaded with generous flavors of wild raspberry, black cherry, plum, mocha and cedar. Spicy black pepper notes join mouthwatering acidity on a beautifully balanced finish. The juicy, spicy character of the 2017 Zinfandel is a perfect match for fine comfort foods, including grilled chicken flatbread, Italian sausages, Santa Maria-style tri-tip and Pepper Jack cheeseburgers.”

Wilfred Wong of described the 2017 vintage as “an explosion on the palate” and that this wine is “not for the faint of heart.”

Don’t let that description of a wild pre-teen freak you out. It still boasts exceptionally balanced richness and depth.

While I originally tried the 2017 vintage and that is out of stock on, the 2020 vintage is available on through my affiliate link here.

Here are the tasting notes for the 2020 vintage. It’s still Zinfandel from the same vineyard and winery, so very similar:

“The 2020 Zinfandel makes an immediate statement with bright, jammy aromas of raspberry, cinnamon spice and vanilla cream. Luscious, rounded flavors of red cherry, raspberry and blackberry unfold across a beautifully weighted mouthfeel, all under- pinned by deeper hints of roast coffee and black pepper. Smooth, juicy acidity brings impressive balance to a uniquely elegant finish.”

Words fail me. I don’t know how to stress how exceptional this wine is, other than the fact that I chose it as my blog anniversary celebration wine.

Grab a bottle, it’s only $18! And raise a glass to your favorite wine blog. 😉

Happy 11th birthday, Rambling Vine! You’re turning into an incredible young blog and I can’t wait to see what your adolescence holds in store for you. ❤

(And by the way, it’s time we had some “talks.”)

An Argentinian Treasure for World Malbec Day

Disclosure Statement: This post contains affiliate links. When you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own.

Hear ye, hear ye! Today I doth proclaim World Malbec Day, a day to solemn ourselves and pay tribute to the magnificent Malbec grape, and all its vinous manifestations, forsooth (rolls up scroll).

Yep, here we are with another wine holiday on our hands. This time it’s World Malbec Day; yea verily yea (I really need to start using that phrase IRL)! It’s interesting that Tannat Day and Malbec Day are so close together on the calendar, and they are the signature grapes of neighboring countries Uruguay (Tannat) and Argentina (Malbec). Not sure if this was done on purpose or not, but it makes sense to continue our little South American sojourn, so vámanos.

Malbec is a wine I have intensely adored, especially in my beginning days of wine exploration. And I still love it. I haven’t had it as much lately because I’ve been spending my wine budget elsewhere, but for me and many in the world it’s a classic.

I’ve had wonderful Malbecs from my home state of Washington, but today I’m unlocking my wine treasure chest to introduce you to one of my favorite Argentinian Malbecs, which will give you a great idea of why Malbec shines in this country.

Malbec and Tannat have similar backstories. In the 16th century, Spanish missionaries spread vinifera plantings throughout Argentina to establish a supply of sacramental wine. Using the farming practices of the natives, the Spanish irrigated the vineyards in the valley with ice/snow melt from the Andes Mountains. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many European immigrants came to Argentina and brought with them new grape varieties, including Malbec. Both Tannat and Malbec are grapes native to southwest France.

This particular Malbec is magical. I used this wine in a class I taught to illustrate Old World vs. New World wine characteristics (essentially, warmer climates yield grapes with higher sugar content, and cooler climates yield grapes with higher acid content, because they don’t ripen as much as their warm climate counterparts). Everyone loved it, and this beauty just got more interesting and sumptuous the longer it revealed itself in the decanter.

For best results, decant for 30-60 minutes prior to drinking. If it’s for a group, pour out the whole bottle into a decanter.

Here are the details and my impressions of the wine:

Phebus Malbec Gran Reserva Mendoza Argentina

Phebus Malbec Gran Reserva Mendoza Argentina. Photo courtesy Total Wine.

Phebus Malbec Gran Reserva Mendoza Argentina

  • $27/bottle at Total Wine
  • Full body, lots of heft, 15% ABV
  • Good acidity providing solid structure
  • Bold, unfolding layers of blackberry, black cherry, coffee, chocolate, tobacco
  • Velvety texture
  • Long, complex, irresistible finish

As I have regrettably lost my tasting notes from the last time I had this wine, my list may be missing a few details, but I’m providing you with the product description from Total Wine, which sums up my recollection as well:

“A very complex and elegant wine with floral aromas of violets, black cherries and licorice. On the palate the wine is deep and rich, perfectly balanced with delicate silky tannins and well integrated French oak. Perfect with a juicy steak, game, rich cheeses and chocolate desserts.”

My husband picked up this wine from Total Wine years ago. We first had it with a roast and it was magnífico. It’s one wine we turn to again and again and we are always floored by its quality. Remember, Argentina is also famous for its excellent beef, so Malbec + steak = natural harmony.

Total Wine also sells the Phebus Malbec ($14) and the Phebus Malbec Reserva ($17) in addition to the Gran Reserva ($27). I’ve had the Reserva which is still excellent – not as outstanding as the GR but nevertheless a wonderful wine for the price. You can try the others, but the Gran Reserva is unbeatable in style and quality. Go ahead and splurge on this version, I assure you it’s worth it!

For fun, buy all three bottles and do side-by-side tasting comparisons. See if you think they are each worth their price. Call it your World Malbec Day fiesta!

Happy World Malbec Day! Do you have a favorite Malbec I should know about? ¡Dígame! 🙂

Nat Geo Wines of the World

Willows Lodge Secret Supper Series at Barking Frog with Côte Bonneville Wines

Disclosure Statement: This post contains affiliate links. When you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own.

Spoiled. Utterly spoiled to the hilt. That was my March 2023, and I am not complaining. I hit every single possible type of wine event last month – a wine festival, a tasting, a seminar, a wine club event, and an unforgettable, luxuriously indulgent multi-course wine and food pairing dinner, generously provided by my exceedingly gracious in-laws. That dinner was the Secret Supper Club at Barking Frog Restaurant, featuring Côte Bonneville wines.

About Barking Frog/Chef Dylan Herrick
Willows Lodge is a luxury hotel in the heart of Woodinville (WA) wine country (which boasts over 130 wineries!), and Barking Frog is its signature restaurant. Here is what makes Barking Frog special:

“Barking Frog is a culinary experience known for innovative seasonal menus, award-winning global wines and its signature ambiance. When you pair this with our exceptional service it is easy to see why it is one of the most widely desired restaurants on the eastside.

In collaboration with local farmers, food artisans and foragers, Executive Chef Dylan Herrick has built a talented culinary team that draws its mastery from modern and classic techniques, creating dishes that are inventive yet timeless.”

In addition, Barking Frog has received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for five consecutive years. No bad wine here!

The Secret Supper Series is an opportunity for Chef Dylan Herrick to be creative and come up with some fantastic dishes that he pairs with the equally fantastic wines of a featured winemaker; in this case, Cote Bônneville Winemaker Kerry Shiels. The collaboration between a chef and winemaker is akin to a dancer and a musician working together – two diverse but essential elements needed to create a masterpiece. The congruity of the food and wine was outstanding. Mind and taste buds blown.

About Côte Bonneville Wines/Winemaker Kerry Shiels
Côte Bonneville is an estate winery located on world-renowned DuBrul Vineyard in Sunnyside, WA, in the Yakima Valley AVA. In 1991, Hugh and Kathy Shiels (parents of current winemaker Kerry Shiels) purchased some land and tore out the existing apple orchard. In 1992 they planted DuBrul Vineyard. According to their website, DuBrul Vineyard is “consistently recognized as one of the top vineyards in Washington State…. DuBrul Vineyard designated wines, from Côte Bonneville and others, have consistently been well received by critics and sought after by consumers world wide.” Grapes grown here have unique flavors and structure that put them in the class of ultra-premium wines. Côte Bonneville Winery was founded in 2001 to “produce classically styled wines that best express our particular site.” Learn more about DuBrul Vineyard and Côte Bonneville.

Kerry was great to talk to and learn from. A former engineer turned winemaker, she received her master’s degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis. After gaining winemaking experience in California, Australia, and Argentina, she came home and got to work as head winemaker at Côte Bonneville in 2009. She brings exacting precision, immense knowledge, excellence, and the utmost care to her winemaking and her wines show it.

An interesting fact I learned about Kerry’s vineyard crew is that they are all women. This is unusual since over 75% of winery workers are male. She told me they tend to be “more nurturing and detail-oriented in the vineyard. They take great pride in helping grow some of the best grapes in the state!”

The Dinner
This was so much fun! There were only 9 of us guests total, 11 counting Kerry and Dylan. In my opinion, this is the perfect group size for an intimate evening, and being able to actually talk to each other and get to know each other proved very pleasant. It was also nice to be able to hear the discussions, and not be trying to shout above the din, like at a loud, crowded event. We were able to ask questions of Dylan and Kerry, and had great conversations. The service was impeccable so a big thank you to the team that served our group that evening.

Every wine I tried was pure loveliness and went beautifully with the food pairings. It was a flavor celebration from start to finish. I probably moaned, rolled my eyes, and made hand gestures a lot, but I can’t help it when I have amazing food and wine!

Here is the menu and my review of the meal. I am missing a description and photo for the starter, but it was super tasty. I did not photograph the wines, but I assure you I drank them (I think you can imagine what a glass of cab or chardonnay looks like)! 😉

Roes & Rosé
Cured Salmon/Trout Roe/Citrus Panna Cotta/Local Honey Espuma
2022 Côte Bonneville Rosé

Roes and Rose course, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

Roes and Rose course, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

The Rosé is made from Cabernet Franc grapes that are grown specifically for becoming Rosé wine, not for making Cab Franc wine or to be blended with other red grapes. Deep, beautiful fruit aromas, medium body, bright acidity. An intriguing wine and perfect pairing with the salmon and trout roe. Welcome spring!

Five-Spice Sakura Pork
Indian Curry-Spiced Romesco/Pomegranate/Arugula/Pineapple Kombucha Caramel
2019 Côte Bonneville Chardonnay

Five-Spice Sakura Pork course, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

Five-Spice Sakura Pork course, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

Holy cow (or should I say, holy swine). This was my favorite food of the night. I am going to have to get creative and re-create this flavor palette at home sometime. Classy, rich pairing with the chardonnay. Hats off to Chef Dylan on this one!

Roasted Wild Mushrooms
Currant/Chimacum Valley Chimatomme/Potato Glass/Toasted Rice Oil
2012 Côte Bonneville Cabernet Sauvignon

Roasted Wild Mushrooms course, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

Roasted Wild Mushrooms course, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

My absolute favorite wine of the night had to be the Cabernet Sauvignon. There were zero faults with this wine: it was smooth, full, rich, pure, balanced, complex, elegant – basically every positive adjective you can throw at a fine wine. Because it’s an epic $200 bottle of wine, it probably won’t make my acquaintance again for a while. I didn’t know the price of the wine until I looked it up afterwards, but I could definitely tell I was drinking something extremely special in a whole other league of wine. Brava, Kerry!

Intermezzo (a palate refresher between bites)

Intermezzo, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

Intermezzo, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

The Intermezzo was one of the more memorable things I’ve consumed in a long time. This is not a complete list, but it did include kiwi juice, pop rocks, basil seeds, foam, etc. It hit every last pleasant taste bud receptor on the tongue and every food texture sensation. Wow and yum! I can still taste it.

Whey-Braised Lamb Shoulder
Vanilla Scented Parsnip/Fennel Two Ways/Cocoa Nib Hummus/Yogurt Drizzle
2014 Côte Bonneville Syrah

Whey-Braised Lamb Shoulder course, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

Whey-Braised Lamb Shoulder course, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

Another delicious dish with delicious wine. The lamb, with the cocoa, vanilla, and yogurt flavors played very well with the Syrah.

Lemon Pound Cake
Chamomile Noodles/Citrus Salad/Mandarin Caramel/Lemon Curd
2009 Côte Bonneville Late Harvest Riesling

Lemon Pound Cake course, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

Lemon Pound Cake course, Barking Frog Woodinville Secret Supper, March 2023

I am a chocolate lover so the dessert I could have easily passed on (and I’ll be honest, the look of the noodles was a bit off-putting), but the flavors did make for an excellent pairing with the Riesling. The Late Harvest Riesling reminded me of Tokaji (toe-kai), the famed Hungarian dessert wine. Just enchanting. ❤

News/In Sum
If you love wine (check) and food (check) and pairing the two (check), Barking Frog will soon be rolling out some new food and wine pairing menus, presumably featuring slightly smaller food portions similar to this multi-course dinner format. The aim is to present foods that will complement featured wines and deepen their enjoyment through pairing. I would love to go back again, if not for a winemaker dinner, then at least to try these new pairing menus. Keep tabs on their happenings here.

If you’d like to know more about Barking Frog’s Secret Supper Club, you can request an invitation by emailing These events are not published on their website so you will need to be on their email list. Expect to spend approximately $285/person plus tax and gratuity.

Check out Côte Bonneville’s current releases – they can be shipped around the country. Information on their tasting room hours can be found here. You can also purchase their Carriage House Red Blend through my affiliate link at

A tasting out at Côte Bonneville is a must on my spring or summer to-do list!

Special thanks to Rich and Dustin for snapping pics while I lived in the moment. 🙂

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!

Blind Tasting Seminar: Washington vs. the World

Disclosure Statement: This post contains affiliate links. When you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, I receive a commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own.

UFC fanatics thrill when two top contenders have a highly anticipated match. With similar fervor, oenophiles get excited over blind wine tastings. Which Sauvignon Blanc will come out on top… the Chilean or the Washingtonian? Should Bordeaux from France hold the keys to the chateau, or does victory belong to another rival? There’s nothing quite like squaring off two anonymous glasses of vino to see what they’re really made of.

I had the great fortune to attend a blind tasting seminar in Seattle at Taste Washington, the state’s premier food and wine festival. For those unfamiliar with blind tasting, it simply means being able to see, smell, and drink a glass of wine but not knowing any details at all about the identity of the wine until the very end of the tasting. In this seminar, called “Washington vs. the World: The Ultimate Blind Tasting,” several of the best Washington wines were pitted against several of the best wines of other famous world regions. Here was the course description:

“Washington wine continues to captivate a global audience. From incredibly high scores from critics, and growing international investment in our state, this has become THE place to make wine. The number of those considered ‘legends’ in Washington wine is increasing at a rapid clip, and the wines they produce continue to cannonball onto the world stage. This is your chance to get into the heart of the action with the winemakers, themselves, and take a deep dive into some of our state’s most chart-topping wines. We’ll even take it one step further by putting some of them up against the best from around the world so you can decide for yourself where Washington stands.”

Taste Washington 2023 Blind Tasting Seminar Panel

Members of the panel for the Taste Washington 2023 seminar, “Washington vs. the World: The Ultimate Blind Tasting”

The seminar was moderated by Doug Charles, owner of award-winning wine shop Compass Wines in Anacortes, WA (on my list to visit!). The rest of the panel included Washington winemakers and a wine educator/writer, all of whom were also tasting the wines blind:

  • Peter Devison | Devison Vintners
  • Jason Gorski | DeLille Cellars
  • Devyani Gupta | Valdemar Estates
  • Justin Neufeld | JB Neufeld
  • Alex Stewart | Matthews
  • Elaine Chukan Brown | Award-Winning Global Wine Educator & Writer

We went through each wine one by one, with plenty of time to swirl/sniff/sip/savor/spit (if needed), jot down notes, and listen to the panel share their thoughts on the wines. It was also open to audience participation, so we were able to ask questions and share feedback. The whole event ran for an hour and a half.

Here were the wines we tried (order in picture: 1-5 is bottom row left to right, then 6-10 is top row left to right):

  1. Château Picque Caillou, Blanc, Pessac-Léognan, 2017, $42
  2. DeLille, Chaleur Blanc, Columbia Valley, 2021, $42
  3. Devison, Above the Flood, GSM, Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley, 2020, $54
  4. Sadie Family, Soldaat, Piekenierskloof, 2021, $92
  5. Matthews, Reserve, Columbia Valley, 2013, $55
  6. Château La Fleur, Grand Cru, Saint-Émilion, 2019, $146
  7. Grgich Family, Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2018, $75
  8. JB Neufeld, Old Goat Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, 2016, $55
  9. Valdemar, Syrah, Blue Mountain Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, 2020, $75
  10. Porseleinberg, Syrah, Swartland, 2016, $102
Wines used in Taste Washington 2023 seminar, "Washington vs. the World: The Ultimate Blind Tasting"

Wines used in Taste Washington 2023 seminar, “Washington vs. the World: The Ultimate Blind Tasting”

I enjoyed each wine for different reasons, but if I had to pick a couple that really stood out to me, I’d pick #3 and #9. These are wines I would pour a nice big glass of and relax with on the couch, or pour for company to savor together. Both featured wonderful Washington Syrah (from Yakima Valley and Walla Walla Valley, respectively), and I appreciated getting to try a couple different producers I’d never had before.

Thanks to all my studious drinking, I did happen to guess all of the Washington and other origin wines correctly (not the other locations specifically, just that they were clearly not Washington). It has definitely helped that I have been trying wines from around the world through The Everyday Guide to Wine course (As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases) so some of these flavor profiles and styles were not completely out of left field. I also know my own backyard Washington wines well enough by now to be confident in my assessment. This was a really great exercise for me to do and it was worth the investment ($95 for the event). Considering several of the bottles sampled were very costly, it was a small price to pay for the chance to try these wines and others, and to hear experts discuss them simultaneously. I hope to attend another seminar next year.

A few things I learned from this experience:

  • A couple wines reeked on the nose but tasted amazing on the palate. That was surprising. I’ve had wines with Brett (Brettanomyces yeast) – the funky barnyard/Band-Aid smell – and I usually appreciate it, but not everyone does. I did not mind it in the #7. The other unusual trait I hadn’t encountered before was volatile acidity (I think – I am not 100% certain on this – my notes failed me). All I know was that one of the wines had a highly unusual, pungent note on the nose, but on the palate was delicious. Funny how that works.
  • Washington wine is insanely brilliant and is perhaps my all-time favorite wine region. So many fantastic iterations and interpretations. So good it’s scary.
  • I will never learn everything there is to learn about wine… it is endless. Perfect material for a blog! ❤

Have any of you ever participated in blind wine tastings? Or did anyone attend Taste Washington this year (2023)? Comment below!

World Taste Tour – Only $59.99 for 12 globetrotting wines, BONUS bottles and glasses

McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023: A Review

On Friday, March 10th, I got up early and hit the road to make the journey down to McMinnville, Oregon, where the 30th Annual McMinnville Wine + Food Classic was taking place. I had not been since 2019, so the absence had definitely compounded my excitement.

This event goes for three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, and is a fundraiser for St. James School in McMinnville, OR. You can purchase tickets for as many days as you like. They even offer shuttle service from downtown McMinnville to the Museum.

McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.

McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.

There are tons of wineries, but also distilleries, cideries, meaderies, breweries (all the eez). There is obviously food, and a handful of artisans and crafters. You can peruse all of the 2023 participating vendors here.

I tried numerous pours of wine. I would have loved to have tried some other alcoholic products but stuck to my original plan (maybe next year).

Your ticket purchase includes two tasting tokens. At most places, one token is equal to one pour, but for certain specialty and library wines, two or even three tokens might be required. I wound up purchasing 15 additional tokens, and that was MORE than enough. Having an additional day or two to try more wines would be ideal but I could only attend one day.

Tasting tokens for the McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.

Tasting tokens for the McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.

I obviously was not able to try every single wine and winery at the festival, but out of the ones I did, here are five wineries and their wines that stood out to me, and that you would not be remiss in checking out. Please note that at some of these vendors I only tried one pour, so this is based on the limited amount I tried that day. I also would have loved to have purchased more bottles but, alas, budgets. 🙂

  1. Denison Cellars 2019 Björnson Vineyard Pinot Noir: This wine really captivated me. Their Pinot was elegant, complex, expressive, beautiful. I sure wish I could have tasted their full line-up but I was trying to spread my tasting tokens out to try more wineries. Time to plan a private tasting at their vineyard in Salem! From the tasting notes: “The resulting wine is deep ruby in color and displays aromas of black cherry, pomegranate, and cranberry. With hints of cola and all-spice, the ripe, velvety tannins provide structure for rich, mouth-filling volume. Flavors of dark red fruit persist into a lingering finish.” $48/bottle. *Of special note for Oregonians: FREE LOCAL DELIVERY for those in Yamhill County, Salem, and Portland with any 3+ bottle purchase. I cannot wait to return and taste more of their wines.
  2. Patton Valley Wines 2018 Lange Vineyard Pinot Noir: Patton Valley has been a brand for over 25 years, but at the moment they are a nomadic winery with no permanent tasting room. I think that’s cool because I’m sure it allows them to save a ton of money and put that towards great winemaking; plus it’s a chance to get creative and have some fun, different tasting options. This was a delicious Pinot Noir I decided to take home as well. $55/bottle. According to the tasting notes, it has a “lush red fruited nose” and a “broad and silky palate.” This is a winery whose offerings you must try if you’re into specific Pinot Noir clones from particular Willamette Valley area vineyards. Visit their website to order wines and to learn where they are pouring.
  3. Domaine de Broglie 2019 Clone 777 Pinot Noir: Established in 2019, Domaine de Broglie is a more recent newcomer to the Dundee Hills AVA. This estate is owned by Francis Ford Coppola and was previously Vista Hills Vineyard. At the 2023 McMinnville Wine Competition, this showstopper wine took home Best of Show, Best Red Wine, and Double Gold! Uh-huh. Here are the tasting notes, you’ll see why: “Aromas of mushrooms, cedar, and forest floor mingle with sweeter aromas of vanilla coffee. A savory, well rounded palate counterpointed with notes of strawberries, red fruit, and salted caramel. An outstanding wine, showcasing the range of expression found in Oregon Pinot Noir.” $62/bottle, 100% Pinot Noir. This wine is music in a glass! This is the indulgence bottle. I did take this beauty home. (I also recall a tried a very enchanting Chardonnay).
  4. Rue Cler 2019 Rocks Syrah: Oh, wow! This is one I will be buying in the future, so intriguing and delicious. $48/bottle, sourced from Noble Rock Vineyard in Milton-Freewater, OR. From the tasting notes: “Black fruit takes a backseat to savory meats, crushed violets and brine…. Huckleberries and wet stone give great acid that lingers on the finish…. Decant to discover layers of earth and umami in your glass.” If you like wines with savory flavors and plenty going on, you’ll love this! Side note: I did not try their Walla Walla Syrah, but one of my tasting companions did and she kept going back for more sips. 🙂
  5. Siltstone 2021 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: What I especially enjoyed about Siltstone Wines was they make a very good, very drinkable Pinot Noir for $24/bottle. You’re greeted with aromas of cherry, red fruit, and vanilla spice on the nose, and flavors of cherry cola and plum on the palate. The wine is medium-bodied with balanced tannins and a soft smoky finish. As much as I love ultra-fine, premium Pinot Noirs, I just can’t afford them all the time, and I’ll bet you can’t, either. And while $24 for a bottle of wine is a lot for many people (especially right now), when you look at overall pricing for good quality Pinot Noir, you’ll see that it’s very difficult to find GOOD stuff like this in this price range. This is a bargain for lovely Pinot Noir. I also would love to try more of their wines someday.

This event is a great way to get acquainted with a variety of fantastic Willamette Valley wineries all under one roof, and a great excuse to do something fun with your friends.

Have you been to the McMinnville Wine + Food Classic? If so, what did you try and like there? Comment below!

McMinnville Wine + Food Classic 2023, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.

Definitely the best dressed guest! Photo courtesy Eagle Eye Droneography.