Thursday, December 6, 2012

A little bit softer now

Holiday meals call for special wines, and for me that usually means a big, beautiful Bourdeaux-style bottle.  A velvety Cabernet or Merlot sings when paired with a Christmas beef Wellington.   But some holidays --  Thanksgiving, for example -- center around lighter fare.  I know, I know, ain’t nothin’ light about Thanksgiving, right?  Except the meat.  If you’re serving turkey for Christmas, or pork roast or Dungeness crab or any other “white” meat, you might find joy in a bottle of Grenache.

One of my favorites is from Barnard GriffinWinery.  Rob Griffin’s Grenache is one of my go-to bottles for lighter foods. A few days before Thanksgiving I stopped by the tasting room, and gave instant thanks that I snagged possibly the last two bottles of the '08 vintage.
As the longest-practicing winemaker in Washington, and co-owner (together with his wife Deborah Barnard) and head winemaker of one of the largest wineries in the state, Griffin’s got some chops in the business.   In my way of thinking Grenache is Washington’s answer to Pinot Noir," he says."That is to say light body, lowish tannins and bright acidity."

Grenache is a traditional Rhone grape (think lighter, fruitier varieties like Cinsault or Pinot), but make no mistake, this is no light-weight wine. It has a heft all its own, with distinct flavors of red berries and a long ripening time that can yield high sugars that often translate into high alcohol content.  But it’s a thin-skinned grape, with naturally low tannins that produce a softer red wine than you would expect in a Cabernet or Merlot. 

 “When I came to Washington in 1977 one of the most interesting wines I had to deal with was a 1976 Grenache,” Griffin told me. “The wine was rose-like in color and had an intensity of fruit that was almost beyond belief. This particular block was frozen out in 1977 but Grenache was a factor in those days. Ste. Michelle had lots of it down on the Columbia River.  Fast forward to 2004 and a revived interest in Rhone varieties with more appropriate clones, and away we go."

Rob Griffin
Barnard Griffin’s Grenache, sourced from the Lonesome Spring Ranch in the Yakima Valley and Gunkel Vineyards near Maryhill,  has just the right acidity to balance the fruit, with a soft touch of oak. The 2008 growing season kicked off with a long cool spring, but the warm autumn made up for the early worries.  Harvest began at least 2 weeks later than normal, enabling the grapes to develop strong varietal character without a lot of excess sugar.  The wine was perfect with turkey, and would be just as intriguing with a spicy pork chop or salmon.

The 2008 is sold out, but Barnard Griffin will release the 2009 Grenache soon. Watch for it.



Monday, November 19, 2012

Pumpkin Week

This is Pumpkin Week. We are very excited.  Pumpkin Week includes the days scooting up to Thanksgiving, also known as Turkey Day, and right into the days following, also known as Football Weekend. Turkeys are nice. But nothing makes me give thanks in the chilly days of autumn more than pumpkin.

We begin the week with chocolate chip pumpkin bread. We will probably end the week with chocolate chip pumpkin bread too, we love it so much. It’s full of anti-oxidants and beta carotene and all kinds of vegetable wonders. And some sugar and butter and chocolate, too. All things good for you. Chocolate chip pumpkin bread will make you smarter. It will make you younger. It will make you more beautiful. It will fill your house with aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg and pumpkin. You should make some right now. Then you should give thanks.

Of course, Pumpkin Week also includes pumpkin pie. Mmmmmm – warm, custardy pumpkin pie, with a cool dollop of whipped cream melting across the top. This is living. Pumpkin pie is one of the most special things about Thanksgiving. I only make it once a year, and I always use the recipe printed on the back of the can of Libby’s pumpkin. It’s a very reliable recipe.

Of course, reliable can be a little boring, so you’re free to personalize your pie any way you want. If you’re really fussy, you can cut out little leaves and acorns from the pastry and scatter them across the top of the pie.  Or you can mix a little cinnamon into your whipped cream.  But if you’re seeking a subtle, decadent way to make your pie the most delicious, satisfying pumpkin concoction you’ve ever served, try this:

And this:

Whiskey adds a nice little punch to pie crust. Just substitute it for the water. Toss it gently into your  shortening and flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the pastry barely sticks together. You can use a little more liquid with this method because the alcohol helps keep the pastry from becoming too thick and heavy. A shot of whiskey equals a flaky crust, and surprisingly, lends only a smidgen of flavor to the finished product.

But the cream….oh, the cream. One year I found myself halfway through my pumpkin pie preparation, with no evaporated milk to be found in my house. You’d think I would remember this one very important, very specific ingredient. And I did remember it. I wrote it on my Thanksgiving shopping list, and I know I tossed a can or two into my grocery cart. But somehow it never made it home.

The day was saved when I found a carton of cream in my refrigerator,and substituted it for the evaporated milk. You should always keep cream around the house. A smidgen of cream where 2% milk normally goes launches so many foods into the stratosphere of deliciousness. A nudge of cream in my morning latte makes me feel loved. Cream makes mashed potatoes softer, gentler, kinder. And don’t even think of alfredo sauce without cream. It can’t be done. Just can’t. In a pie, cream takes standard pumpkin custard and turns it into a warm embrace. It wraps you in blankets of love. It compels you to give thanks for cows.

But, although pouring cream where you expect evaporated milk might be rich and satisfying, it is not particularly good for your cholesterol levels. So for good health, start your day with a cinnamon, gingery pumpkin smoothy.

Pumpkin, spices, vanilla yogurt, a splash of milk – all very healthy. Mix 'em up any way you like, then top it off with chopped spiced pecans. Then go for a hike. You’ll be glad you did.  Happy Thanksgiving.
Here's the recipe for the best chocolate chip pumpkin bread ever:

1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 eggs
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Beat together butter, pumpkin, eggs and water.  Sift together the sugar, flour, baking soda, spices and salt, then stir in the chocolate chips to coat well.  Combine the dry ingredients with the pumpkin mixture until well blended.  Pour batter into loaf pans ( one 9x5 inch, or two small loaf pans).  Bake for one and a quarter to one and a half hours. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center.  Bread should be very moist.

Friday, August 24, 2012

More Pinot, please

I just returned from the Wine Bloggers conference in Portland. Oregon is full of beautiful vineyards.  They look vastly different than the vineyards here in Washington, with their rolling hills fringed with evergreens.  This is a vineyard at Willakenzie Estates, in the Yamhill Carlton district of the Willamette Valley.  Gorgeous.

Over the weekend, we tasted a lot of Oregon Pinot Noir – and a few sips of wine from the rest of the world, too.  Seems like every corner of the globe was represented. Not really. It just seemed like it.  We never tasted any wines from China, for example. 

But we did stroll through a festive tasting hosted by the Oregon Wine board. We sipped the wines of Argentina while watching dancers tango across the ballroom.  

We hopped from Italy to France to Greece at the international wine night.  We even tasted some delicious Washington wines.  Home, sweet home.

 Some of the more fun events of the conference are the Live Speed Blogging sessions. Tables of eight to ten writers wait expectantly in a large ballroom, fingers hovering over keyboards and smart phones, waiting, waiting, waiting….
when suddenly a host of winemakers fly across the room toting bottles and handouts describing everything you could possible want to know about their wines.  The winemakers are allowed 5 minutes at each table, pouring, talking about vineyards and elevations and growing conditions and oak, until Bong! -- the bell sounds signaling time to move on to the next table.  Frantic for the winemakers and the wine tasters alike, but lots of fun. 
A few wines stood out:

Alexana Winery  2009 Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard, $75                                  
Winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash blends the best nine barrels from Alexana’s annual production for this signature Pinot. Born in Oregon's Willamette Valley, this wine is bright, full-bodied – a perfect balance of oak and acidity, and a notably different style than the Pinots  Penner-Ash makes for her own label.  Only 265 cases produced.

Johan Vineyards 2009 Nils Reserve Pinot Noir, $45
2009 was a hot year, but Johan Vineyards’ proximity to Oregon’s Van Duzer corridor, with its consistent coastal breezes, gave it a welcome temperature drop every evening. That led to longer hang times and ripening days without elevated sugars.  This wine opens up with lots of woody, cedar aromas and earthy, mineral flavors, all delivered in a lovely low-alcohol (12.7%) wine. Tastes like more.

Seufert Winery 2009 Vine Idyl Pinot Noir, $30
This wine piques interest in every direction.  Spices and lilac, along with lots of bacon, coffee and smoky leather make an intriguing Pinot. Vine Idyl is a teensy little two-acre vineyard producing some classic Oregon Pinot Noirs.

Coppola 2010 Diamond Collection Claret, $18
Claret is a British term used to describe Bordeaux blends. This California offering of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc is classic.  Rich woody flavors of plum, leather and anise are….comforting.  That’s a good thing in wine, right?  And at $18, the ratio of cost/quality makes this my favorite wine of the redwinespeedbloggingsession.  Amen.



Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Let it rain

We’re enjoying a topsy-turvy summer here in eastern Washington.  While the rest of the country bakes under an unrelenting heat wave, we’re dodging thunderstorms.  In just the last week and a half, we’ve been snapped and drenched by three, maybe four storms, the kind that split the sky shooting skeletor-like bolts of electricity.  It’s very entertaining.  

People stand outside on their driveways gaping.  It’s like we’ve never seen rain before.

Normally we get somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 inches of precipitation here.  Total.   Per year.  That’s not a lot of water, but we like it that way.  Our arid climate and sandy soils are perfect for wine grapes, forcing the thirsty vines to probe deeper and deeper through the rocks and substrata for a little sustenance.  It helps make them strong, and does wonderful things to the grapes as they ripen. 

So the occasional rainstorm is a fun diversion.  One lovely storm blew through Walla Walla a few weeks ago during a barn dinner at Glencorrie Winery.   The tasting room fills the front half of a former equestrian barn, situated at the base of some rolling hills just outside Walla Walla.   They like to serve wine club dinners in the long, narrow space between the tasting room and the former horse stalls.  

The night we joined them, dinner included grilled sausages, tasty short ribs, a beautiful salad colored with fresh berries, and the delicious baguettes winemaker Ronn Coldiron loves to bake for his wine club members.  (If you catch him when he’s in town, he’d be happy to teach you his technique.)  

Dinner started with soft breezes drifting through the open ends of the barn and the sun growing softer as it set.  Then the rains came.  The lightening crackled.  The thunder boomed.  The lights went out. 

After a few minutes, the storm settled into a quiet rain, giving the wine barrels and the grassy hills a soft glow, and sparking a gorgeous double rainbow.  Some of us ran outside to take pictures of it. 

The horses on the hill behind us just kept on grazing. 

So did most of the people. I guess not everyone gets gaga about a little rain.  

Glencorrie Winery
Walla Walla
 Founded by a pair of Californians looking for a spot in Washington that embodied their ideal wine – complex yet “food-friendly” and balanced.  Ronn and Dean Coldiron source their grapes from some outstanding vineyards, including Wienbau, Stillwater Creek and Windrow Vineyards.  Wines trend toward high alcohol (14.6% and above), with tasting notes that emphasize cocoa, black fruits, mint and rhubarb.
Notable  – Cuvee Marquis, a Bordeaux-style blend of Columbia Valley grapes. A rich, clean mouth with layers of flavors and balanced tannins.

Friday, June 29, 2012


Lulu B. lives. 

Well, not really. She’s just a line drawing on a wine label.  But the mother, so to speak, of Lulu B. actually answered my email a few weeks ago.  Karen Anne Maley is a savvy marketing wiz who works for a company called Kruger Wine and Spirits, and she’s pretty much the brains behind the label.

This is not the same thing as being the brains inside the bottle.  As a rule, those creds go to winemakers.  But it takes a certain pizzazz to get a winemaker’s labors into the mouths of the public, and Ms. Maley has plenty of pizzazz to share.

When her company acquired Lulu B. wine it was marketed the traditional way – to men.  This bored Ms. Maley. But she liked the name.  So, handed a product with such an enticing moniker, she went right to work.

“More than 65 percent of the people who buy wine priced below $10 are women,” she said.  “And when are women usually drinking wine?  With their girlfriends.”

Maley launched a complete marketing redesign, and came up with the curvy, friendly young woman on the label.  “I usually don’t like it when wine companies try to market to me,” she said. (Neither do I.)  “The graphics always show a 25-year-old, skinny, hipless woman who looks like she works for Ad Age in San Francisco or New York.” (Oooh, I hate that.  Even though I don’t regularly read Ad Age.)

The new Lulu scored crazy high on likeability tests, and the bottles flew off the shelf.  Score one for the curvy girl!  In fact, the brand is so girlishly likeable, Kruger is launching a line of Lulu B. cocktails, a collection of fanciful, low-cal treats like margaritas and chocolate martinis.  These are not exactly my cup of tea.  When it comes to cocktails, I say go big or go home.  A martini is supposed to be the hard-core heavy-duty boozy choice of people like James Bond.  Low-cal should not be an option.

However, not everyone is a Bond.  James Bond.  There are lots of Mary Goodnights and Pussy Galores out there, too, who will enjoy an occasional chocolate martini, or a nice glass of red wine.  Read the label.  Lulu B. “pairs well with girlfriends.”  Amen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sellin' it, baby
I am at the heart of a marketing maelstrom.   I am prescient.  I am wise beyond reason.  I can, simply by slapping an adorable nickname on a child, define the full fruit and body, indeed the character, of a wine.  Of an entire marketing campaign supporting the heart and soul of a wine-making organization.
I am a branding phenom. Check it out:

This is a picture of my three daughters.  Just kidding.  Obviously, it’s a picture of three bottles of wine, and my daughters, lovely, charming, intelligent young women that they are, are not inside them. Or are they?

It starts with Cupcake Vineyards. Actually, it starts with Princess Cupcake.

That’s the nickname I gave my first-born little princess when she was just weeks old.  She was an adorable child. 

Now she’s an adorable adult, and she still answers to Cupcake. Sometimes.  But never in public.  When she finished graduate school a few years ago and moved to Chicago, my sister gave her a housewarming present of a case of Cupcake Vineyards Cabernet, a cute and thoughtful gift designed to remind her of home and all the people who love her enough to call her Cupcake.

At about the same time, my favorite wine vender made space on her shelves for a made-for-the-masses line of wines called Middle Sister.  The clever label immediately caught my eye.  I am not a middle sister.  I am one of six sisters, but I landed in the top half of the pack. I grew up being called one of the Big Kids, a much more favorable role than Little Kid.  But I have had a life time of dealing with middle sisters, and let me tell you, sister, they are a complicated bunch.

This is the middle sister in our house.  She resembles the Middle Sister wine labels featuring cute illustrations of snappy young women embodying personality types like Rebel Red, Wicked White, Drama Queen, Goodie Two Shoes, and Surfer Chick, all of whom are presumably middle sisters.

When I saw these labels I thought about buying a bottle for my middle daughter, then thought about how that would only fuel the fire of her middle-sister angst, then thought about how cute the Middle Sister labels are, then thought about how cute my middle daughter is, and then my mother, who is herself a middle sister, bought her a bottle of Middle Sister Rebel Red.

Even though she’s not a rebel, per se.  She’s cute, feisty, energetic, creative, and fun.  Not a rebel.
This is complicated, isn't it?  But it doesn’t yet add up to a marketing maelstrom.

Enter Lulu B.  When I first saw this label, my jaw dropped to the floor.

 How! Did! They! Know????

This is my youngest daughter.  We call her Lulu (that’s a nickname, not her real name).  We also call her Lala, but for today’s purposes we’ll stick with Lulu. 

She’s a delightful young woman, vibrant, intelligent, strong-willed, kind, a recent college graduate (WSU biochem – I'm so proud of you, Lulu!) and my third addition to the wonderful world of wine marketing. 

This is Lulu B., the sassy young woman who is the face of Lulu B. wines.  She’s lunching in Paris, perhaps.  Her travel bag hints at her search for the finest varietals from France, Italy, Spain, California.  Lulu B. is very mysterious. I do not know how she came to be, or which marketing genius gave birth to her. All references to her whereabouts on her website lead to cryptic comments from Lulu B. herself. “When life gets a little crazy, Lulu B. understands you need a little ‘Girlfriend Therapy’ time,”she says at About Us.   “I want to hear your ideas, thoughts and suggestions,” she chirps at Contact Us.  “Please send me an email  and I’ll do my best to back to you as soon as possible.”

I'll get back to you when I find out who she is.  In the meantime, if you need help naming your next wine, give me a call.

Friday, February 3, 2012


Here at Vinotable, we like good wine. We also like good food. Quite often, we like to enjoy them together. There are many people just like us. Perhaps you are one?

Whether it’s a full-blown seven-course winemaker’s dinner or a pannini/pinot pairing on the patio, some of our most enjoyable dining experiences are at wineries, so we’re launching a new feature. On a semi-regular basis, we will highlight an interesting food/wine pairing from a winery dinner or other culinary event.

First up:

Braised Oxtail Shepherd’s Pie with Januik Winery Merlot

The Winery:
Januik Winery, Woodinville, Washington

• Launched in 1999 by Mike Januik after 10 years as head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle
• Named one of the world’s ten “Masters of Merlot” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine
• Named one of the top wineries of 2011 by Wine &Spirits Magazine

The Chef:
Megan Hartz

• 2004 graduate of Seattle Art Institute’s Culinary Arts Program
• Formerly chef at The Ruins, Seattle’s famed private dining club
• Currently leading the culinary program at Januik Winery
• Creates seven-course Harvest Dinners in the fall and spring, featuring fresh local foods paired with Januik Winery’s finest wines
• Also serves Sunday Suppers at the winery, informal seasonal meals served family-style, with wine tasting preceding dinner

The Pairing:

“Hmm, that’s really tough,” mused Hartz, “but I’d have to go with braised oxtail and a Januik Merlot we served at a Harvest Dinner. I don’t even remember the year, but any vintage would work. Mike makes some of the best Merlots in Washington.”

The Recipe:

“I don’t really work from recipes. Mike had picked a big Merlot from the cellar, so I knew I had to create a dish that would keep up with it. My husband and I had just returned from Barcelona, where we ate a dish similar to this, and it was fabulous. I served it like a shepherd’s pie – braised oxtail, layered with roasted parsnips and onions, and covered with Yukon Gold potatoes. A very rich dish for a great Merlot.”