Drink 96 Cedars for Arbor Day

Planting trees is good work. So is making wine. Happy planet, happy humans. As a nod to Arbor Day this coming Friday, I found the perfect wine for you to enjoy: Auclair Winery 96 Cedars Washington State Red Mountain Red Wine. This wine is an homage to the exceptional grapes of Washington State (specifically the Red Mountain AVA) and to the trees that keep our Evergreen State verdant and beautiful.

I bought this delicious Bordeaux-style red blend a few years back at Costco for around $20/bottle. The 2016 vintage was comprised of 38% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% Petit Verdot. A large part of the reason I bought it was I got the chance to taste it in the store, along with another Auclair wine they were pouring. I wish more stores did in-store tastings; it’s effective and leads to increased sales. My notes from the time declare, “Very, very good! Will buy again.”

Let’s have the winemaker share with us about this bargain bottle from the 2019 vintage:

Auclair Winery 96 Cedars Washington State Red Mountain

The ultimate Arbor Day wine: Auclair Winery 96 Cedars Washington State Red Mountain

“This wine is a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, all grown on Red Mountain. The nose starts out with rich dark fruit, a floral element and some nice interesting spice notes. Allowing this wine to open up (and it does need time!) will bring depth and structure to complement the rich, dark fruit. The palate is rich, and full with dark plum, rich cherry, blackberry liquor, vanilla, and spice all show up for your enjoyment. The finish is dark, smooth and very, very long. This wine is structured and can be laid down for some time or you can enjoy it young in its youthful fruit forward stage.”

So why is this wine called 96 Cedars? For Earth Day 2007, Charlie and Debbie Auclair purchased 100 cedar saplings for planting on their property: “4 were planted at our home. 96 were designated for our mountain lot. Little did we know the work we had signed ourselves up for! This wine is dedicated to those trees and the work we put in that day planting them. Enjoy!”

My brief search on Costco.com leads me to believe they no longer carry it, but I could be wrong. Your local Costco warehouse might also prove otherwise.

You can sample 96 Cedars and other fantastic looking wines at Auclair Winery’s Woodinville tasting room by arranging an appointment here.

Your best bet is to purchase directly through Auclair Winery.

And purchase it you should! 🙂


Budget-Friendly Organic Wines for Earth 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.

Have you ever wondered about organic wines? Are they really that much better? Are you doing right by Mother Earth by buying organic wine? So many questions, and more than I can unpack here today, but I’ll do my best to skim the surface and give you a couple good organic wine labels to look for.

When I eat certain organic produce I usually taste a difference with better flavor. But price is also a factor in my food choices, as is size/yield (anyone ever seen those super tiny mandarin oranges? I just can’t bring myself to buy those). Lots of variables to consider with no cut and dry answer, and everyone has their own unique needs and situations.

It’s smart to recognize all things are not necessarily as they seem, and it’s worth investigating some facts about organic practices before buying whole hog into the organic religion. This article from Tiffany at frugal food/healthy living blog Don’t Waste the Crumbs has some interesting information on what “organic” actually means (as it pertains to the United States Department of Agriculture, not necessarily other organizations/countries) and how allowances in practice vastly differ from what is portrayed through their marketing claims.

While there is a lot of debate and controversy over conventional vs. organic farming practices, one thing (I think) we can all agree on is the need to care for the earth and not just decimate the soils supporting our beloved crops. Amen?

Here are two wines I picked out to spotlight in honor of Earth Day. Both use organic grapes and both are very reasonably priced at under $14/bottle. I have tried both Natura and Bonterra brand wines in the past and very much enjoyed both (I originally tried a Natura Carmenére and an unknown red from Bonterra).

Bonterra Merlot 2021

Bonterra Merlot 2021

Bonterra Merlot 2021

  • $11.49/bottle at Total Wine
  • Organic grapes from California
  • 13.7% ABV
  • Deep ruby with blue tint, fairly opaque
  • Aromas: blueberry, plum, black cherry, fig, bay leaf, savory meat, cinnamon, dusty cocoa
  • Medium or Full Body, juicy, plush wine with well-integrated tannins
  • Moderate mid-palate
  • Moderate finish

Natura Malbec 2020 Emiliana Vineyards

Natura Malbec 2020

Natura Malbec 2020

  • Organic grapes from Rapel Valley, Chile
  • $12.99/bottle at wine.com
  • Full body, 13.5% ABV
  • Medium ruby color but lighter around edge, more red tint (no blue)
  • Medium acidity
  • Dry
  • Soft, gentle tannins
  • Aromas/flavors: red fruits (currant, cranberry), black cherry, pepper, braised tomato, earth, leather, spice, gravel, herb, mineral
  • Moderate to long finish

I’ll admit I wasn’t overwhelmed with these particular two wines, but that could be due to my changing tastes and expectations. I wouldn’t say either was a bad wine at all – they just lacked layers of complexity. They do improve after being open for a day and getting a little love from oxygen. And I think they would do well with some pizza or other food to accompany and improve them.

Still, if you would like to drink organic wine in a budget-friendly price range, these are worth checking out. Both labels also make several other varietals. See other Natura wines here and other Bonterra selections here. Wines that are available through my wine.com affiliate link can be found here.

A cool feature at wine.com is that you can filter your search for “green” wines, which includes organic/biodynamic/sustainable wine producers. Check out their other organic offerings here.

Organic wines offer a product that purportedly benefits the land, crops, and our bodies. When you purchase an organic wine, you’re encouraging farmers to continue using organic and sustainable growing practices. And it’s nice to know that drinking an organic wine does not mean you have to pay a premium, unlike with other organic products at the supermarket. 🙂

Are there any organic wines you enjoy? Let the rest of us know in the comments!

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 wine.com
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 wine.com 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 wine.com, the 2020 vintage is available on wine.com 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

Tannat: The Polyphenol Jackpot

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.

There is a holiday for literally everything now. From World Compliment Day to Super Mario Day to No Dirty Dishes Day (does a magical cleaning fairy come on that day?), there is no shortage of weird holidays. And why not? Every day that we are alive is worth celebrating – might as well have fun celebrating different things.

As I was surfing the Interwebs not too long ago, I came across a scad of wine holidays, including today’s Tannat Day. Realizing I’ve only had one Tannat in my life (to my knowledge) and that I have never blogged about it on here, I took it as a good excuse to pick out a bottle and learn a little more about this prized grape. Learning never ends for an oenophile!

So, here we are… Happy Tannat Day!

Just what is Tannat, anyway?

A cluster of the French grape variety Tannat. Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof - 76833 Siebeldingen, GERMANY

A cluster of the French grape variety Tannat. Photo courtesy Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof – 76833 Siebeldingen, GERMANY

Tannat is a red wine grape that originated in southwestern France, where it is known as Madiran (French wines go by place name not grape name). French immigrants hauled cuttings of their favorite grape down to Uruguay in the 1800s and began cultivating it. While it is grown in numerous countries the world over (including the USA), it has established itself as the top dog wine of Uruguay, in much the same way Malbec has become Argentina’s flagship grape.

Tannat grapes have extra thick skin and a higher amount of seeds inside than other wine grapes. Tannins come from the grape skins, seeds, and stems, and become an important part of wine during fermentation. When the wine is put in oak barrels for aging and development, this also imparts wood tannins. Thus, Tannat wines are by nature super tannic, but good winemakers will tame the tannins through practices like micro oxygenation and oak barrel aging, which allow small amounts of oxygen to soften the wine’s tannins. But not too much, because the high tannin levels are also the trait that will make Tannats age well/last a long time.

So, what’s all the health hype about? Tannins are polyphenols (one well-known one is resveratrol), or antioxidants, which are extremely important for our cell health. Tannins in wine are what cause bitter, astringent, sandpapery, or gritty sensations in your mouth. And Tannat has among the highest levels of polyphenols of any wine period. Other wines with mega-high levels of polyphenols include Sagrantino, Touriga Nacional, and Xinomavro (Wine Folly The Master Guide, pg. 19).

A fellow wine lover’s description of this Tannat on Twitter was compelling enough for me to purchase a bottle of the famed elixir. I decided it was time to get fully acquainted with this varietal, and what better day than on Tannat Day.

You who like big, bold, full-bodied reds, meet your new friend. A high quality friend whose price tag is very reasonable. And one who is very amiable. 🙂

Here are the details and my impressions of the wine:

Bodega Garzon Uruguay Reserva Tannat 2020

Bodega Garzon Uruguay Reserva Tannat 2020

Bodega Garzón Uruguay Reserva Tannat 2020

  • Currently $18/bottle on wine.com
  • Deep purple
  • Medium/full body
  • Dry!
  • 14% ABV
  • Low-medium acidity
  • Very smooth texture
  • This wine is bitter from the tannins, but the resulting texture is not grippy or sandy at all, very well-integrated and full
  • Aromas upon opening: rustic, earthy, animal, herbal, black fruits more subtle
  • Aromas after decanting 1 hour+: black fruits, smoke, spice, minerals, graphite
  • Flavors: black fruits (berry, cherry, plum, olive), meaty
  • Not a long finish
  • This wine is fine to sip solo, but because it is quite dry and bitter, I would recommend serving this wine with food to really let it shine (barbecue obviously and other rich, fatty dishes)

So there you have it. You can’t go wrong with this Tannat; it has good ratings from critics across the board and is lauded for being a top example of Uruguayan Tannat in this price range. Start here and then proceed onward to other Tannats.

Raise a glass of Tannat today. Cheers to your good health! ❤

Anyone else imbibing Tannat today? Where from? Thumbs up/down? Comment!

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 barkingfrogevents@willowslodge.com. 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 wine.com.

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

Red Purists, Take Note: The Allure of Australian Chardonnay

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.

This Aussie Chardonnay May Make You Rethink Your Red Wine Only Allegiance

Most wine drinkers fall into the two main camps of red wine drinkers and white wine drinkers. While some are “all or nothing” red or white drinkers, I’d venture to say many of us prefer one camp over the other, but we don’t exclusively identify with just that one type of wine (ahem, politics, anyone?).

I myself prefer red wine over white. It’s usually much more interesting to me and also the health-promoting polyphenols are found in the reds, not the whites, so it’s for that reason also.

However, Chardonnay is a white wine that surprises me at each new encounter and causes me to question my red-wine-only preferences. It is such an intriguing grape, expressing itself in the glass in countless different ways. I’ve become fascinated with it lately, and my goal is to become better acquainted with it. #winegoals

Chardonnay is a noble white wine grape that is grown all over the world and does well in a variety of climates. It can be aged in oak barrels, which impart notes of vanilla, coconut, etc. or in stainless steel tanks, which do not impart any flavors and allow the wine to express itself in an unadulterated fashion. Some Chardonnays undergo malolactic fermentation, a process whereby malic acid is converted to lactic acid, and this results in the unctuous, buttery notes you sometimes get in a Chardonnay.

Penfolds Max's Chardonnay Adelaide HillsIn keeping with my little Aussie theme this week, I’ve got a wonderful Chardonnay for you (not Yellow Tail). 😉 This Australian Chardonnay I tried recently made me weep with ecstasy made me stand back and take note of how serious and attention-worthy some white wines can be! It’s from the Adelaide Hills region in South Australia. Penfolds notes that it is “A contemporary style Chardonnay, fresh and finely structured. This wine delivers pure fruit flavours balanced by bright, crisp natural acidity and complexity afforded from time in barrel.” According to Wine Folly: The Master Guide (As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases), some Aussie winemakers are – get this – bridging the gap between the two style camps of oak-aged Chardonnay and stainless steel Chardonnay, and combining the two in their bottles of wine. A great idea I can get behind because the wine it yields is outstanding!

Here is the scoop on the Penfolds Max’s Chardonnay 2018:

  • $20.99
  • Pale straw color
  • Full body, 13% ABV
  • Modest acidity
  • Aromas/flavors: stone fruits, baked apple, lime, grapefruit, rose, white flowers, balanced by compelling minerality
  • Moderate finish, good warmth and acidity on the finish

So, whether you fancy white or red, look around for this Chardonnay when you want a wine that is beautiful, strong, elegant, and endlessly intriguing.

How about you? Do you have an Australian (or any) kind of Chardonnay you love? Do tell!

*Unfortunately this particular wine is out of stock at the moment on wine.com. 😦

But when I asked for some other similar recommendations, these were mentioned. 🙂

Please note I have not personally tried these yet, but they sound great and are in keeping with the style of the Penfolds Chardonnay. Until then, keep your eyes peeled for this wine or try the following!

Margaret River: Fantasy Travel and Wine Destination

Fulfill Your Travel Fantasies through Tasting this Margaret River Australian Shiraz

I live in the Pacific Northwest, one of the most stunningly gorgeous places on earth. I am surrounded by pristine mountain ranges, bodies of water, nonstop greenery, and dramatic landscapes.

But, like most humans, the urge to blow the popsicle stand and pursue a change of scenery pops up every now and then. Especially during the colder, rainier, overcast months, and especially with spring break right around the corner. Cue wanderlust-inducing travel videos!

During the lockdown orders of the pandemic, after we would finish watching our online church service on YouTube, various other videos would automatically play as soon as our service was done. For some reason, this video played and it immediately captivated me (YouTube knows my heart!).

Who wouldn’t want to go here? Check this place out, it has everything! (drooling…)

Wow…. Now this is a place worth exploring – if not in person, then at the very least through the wines. Wine is such a great way to travel, am I right?

Margaret River is an Australian wine appellation world-renowned for incredible wines. Australia is famous for its powerhouse wines with full body, high alcohol, and gregarious tannins – thanks to all that sunshine and heat causing very juicy grapes with high sugar content. During fermentation, yeasts eat sugar and convert it to alcohol and carbon dioxide, so the higher the sugar content in the grapes, the higher the alcohol in the resulting wine. What makes Margaret River a little different is that while they still get lots of lovely warmth and sunshine, they are also right on the ocean and subject to cooling winds. This means the grapes stay a little more acidic and this yields wines with great acidity and structure to age well.

According to Totalwine.com,

“The same qualities that make Margaret River terrific beachfront property help to create outstanding wines. Margaret River wines benefit from the Mediterranean-style climate, with its consistent moderate temperatures and dry summers. The gravelly, sandy soils drain easily, and inland rolling hills and forests protect vineyards from strong ocean winds. The result is elegant and flavorful wines.”

I am working my way through the tail-end of the course The Everyday Guide to Wine (As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases). For the lecture on Australia and Tasmania, a recommended wine to taste was a Shiraz (just Australia’s way of saying Syrah, same grape) from Western Australia. Perfect opportunity to try a Margaret River wine!

The wine I opened is the Miles From Nowhere Shiraz. Here are the details and my impressions:

  • $14.99 at Total Wine
  • Year: 2020
  • 14.5% ABV
  • Medium-bodied, medium acidity, dense but silky, integrated tannins
  • Aromas/Flavors: black cherry, black currant, blueberry, spices, pepper, eucalyptus, bubblegum, tea tree
  • Very smooth
  • Long finish

In sum, this is a good wine and I would drink it again, but I would like to explore some other producers from the area just to compare.

Here is a great video from Wine Folly with a few more interesting details on what makes this region special and some perspective on three additional wines. I have not taken this particular Margaret River wine course but I use the book Wine Folly: Magnum Edition all the time in my studies (As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases). This course looks very cool. 🙂


How about you? Have you ever tried a wine from the Margaret River Wine Region? What would you recommend? I would love to hear your suggestions!

Happy taste bud travels! 🙂