Take a drive out to the picturesque McMinnville Foothills in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and explore a winery built on the American dream and Biodynamic soil. Turn into Momtazi Estate, and the road ultimately leads to the impressive Maysara Winery. I had the pleasure of visiting this family owned and operated winery this summer as a guest while attending the 2019 Wine Writers Educational Tours. Our revelatory introduction to the 532 acre estate was led by owner Moe Momtazi.
Here in Washington State, the wine world is growing. In fact, we recently passed the 1,000 winery mark! To help spread the word about our world class wine region, the Washington State Wine Commission has invited select wine lovers to take part in a campaign to Sip the Season, and I am very excited to participate. As such, I am introducing friends and family to some wine samples during the holidays. I feel it would be remiss, however, if these wines and stories aren’t also shared here on the VinoSocial blog.
Seven Hills Winery
Walla Walla Valley Merlot SRP $25
This Merlot is elegant and succulent. While it’s easy to get distracted by all the shiny new wineries starting up, Seven Hills serves as a great reminder not to lose sight of the original brands that paved the way. Be sure to stop in at the pioneering winery’s tasting room on a visit to Walla Walla. Housed in the charming historic Whitehouse Crawford building, it’s a sentimental favorite of mine. This was one of the very first tasting rooms I visited in Walla Walla years ago.
Cabernet Sauvignon SRP $25 This lively red wine from the folks behind Hightower Cellars was perfect for a weeknight pasta meal (Andrea Robinson’s book, Everyday Dining with Wine has a great recipe for Linguine with Walnuts, Arugula, and Olives). It bears repeating that the Hightower Cellars Merlot wowed me earlier this year. Plus, with prices ranging from $20 to $55, the wines crafted by Hightower Cellars exemplify fantastic quality for the price. These folks are definitely on our radar to visit next time we head to Red Mountain, one of Washington’s smallest and most prestigious wine growing regions.
2017 French Creek Chardonnay SRP $28 Ashley Trout, founder and winemaker of Vital Wines, has both a winemaking style and an ethos that resonate with me. Her Vital Wines project is a non-profit winery whose profits go entirely toward health care for those in the wine industry. Buy this mouthwatering wine knowing that it tastes good and does good.
Ashley is also the force behind Brook & Bull, and I was overjoyed to recently attend a popup in Seattle featuring that Walla Walla winery’s latest releases. The wines are so popular that there weren’t any available for me to purchase and take home that day! If you appreciate wines of balance that aren’t overpowered by oak such as an elegant Cabernet Franc, and a smooth Malbec, give these wines a try.
This tempting wine is waiting patiently to be uncorked at a holiday party next week, and I am eager with anticipation! Meanwhile, here’s a cool thing to note about Matthews Winery – a visit to their tasting room is at their serene farm in rural Woodinville. Their summer dinners should be on the radar of those who are fans of farm to table fare.
Basel Cellars is based in Walla Walla, about a 5 hour drive from Seattle, and a wine lover’s dream region featuring fine wine and delectable food. However, laws have changed in Washington State enabling wineries to have multiple tasting rooms – and Basel Cellars has three! Find them not only in Walla Walla, but also Woodinville, and Leavenworth. Meanwhile, this enticing bottle of Claret is getting shared with friends coming over for a holiday dinner featuring beef skewers and Romesco sauce.
Vin du Lac
2017 Viognier SRP $24.95 This wine made its way to Thanksgiving dinner in order to be served with turkey. Although the in-laws are not typically wine drinkers, they thoroughly enjoyed this thirst quenching white. When visiting the Lake Chelan area, stop at the winery’s lovely grounds for a meal at their bistro.
If the wine gracing your table this time of year is from Washington State, be sure to share it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #siptheseaon. It will help you connect with other wine lovers exploring our region’s great wines!
Washington State not only has more than 1,000 active winery licenses, it is the birthplace of some incredibly giving wineries. A perfect example is Vital Wines.
I first discovered Vital Wines during a visit to Walla Walla, the winery’s home base. During check in at the hotel, we were invited to a wine tasting in the lobby. Vital Wines as well as the Brook and Bull wines were being poured. Of course, I couldn’t pass that up, and am glad I didn’t! The entire array of wine was a tempting treasure trove full of gems. Ashley Trout, one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top 40 Under 40, is the powerhouse behind both brands. Suffice it to say, I am a big fan of her winemaking.
On that same trip while catching up with winemaker Peter Devison of Devison Vintners and Cadaretta, he mentioned that he’d contributed wine to the Vital project. Well then, there is no doubt that quality product is involved here. Plus, he’s not alone. A community of supporters has donated everything from fruit, corks, capsules, labels, graphic design, winemaking, and lab work to sustain Vital Wines.
Wine with a Cause
What’s the big deal, why are all these people involved? As noted on the winery’s website, “Vital Wines is a non-profit winery whose 100% profits go toward better healthcare for vineyard and winery workers in the Walla Walla Valley. All profits go to the SOS Clinic, a free, non-profit health care clinic in the Walla Walla area dedicated to helping people get the healthcare that they both need and deserve with no questions asked. Winemaking and vineyard work is both physical and seasonal, making it a prime industry for this kind of care.” When it comes to wine, we may forget that getting the grapes into our glass is a labor intensive process. Many of those who work in the industry do not have company sponsored health insurance.
During the opening session of the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference (now the Wine Media Conference) in Walla Walla, Ashley pointed out that in the next decade she’d like for Vital Wines to solve more problems on the worker side and address social responsibility. For example, light was shed on the fact that lots of vineyards in the region are planted in a way that doesn’t allow mechanical harvesting. As such, Ashley feels that wineries need to work with vineyards that prioritize care of people working the vines, and that is has to be done en masse.
Vital Wines Chardonnay
This holiday season, I had the good fortune to receive a sample bottle of the 2017 vintage of Vital Wines Chardonnay from the Washington State Wine Commission as part of the Sip the Season promotion. I could hardly wait to share this Chardonnay with others. Not just because I anticipated a delectable bottle of wine, but because it would give me a chance to spread the word about the worthy mission behind the winery. The more people who discover Vital Wines, the better!
An invitation to dinner at a friend’s house included a menu of sous vide chicken and lemon risotto. That sounded like the perfect pairing for Chardonnay, so a plan was hatched to open the bottle from Vital Wines that evening.
Like biting into a pastry wrapped baked apple, the Vital Wines Chardonnay delivers a sense of comfort and happiness. Indeed, it was a wonderful complement to the flavors on our plates and we all enjoyed it!
Fruit from the Vital Wines Chardonnay comes from French Creek Vineyards, one of Washington State’s oldest Chardonnay vineyards established in 1981, planted to Wente Clone Chardonnay. The wine retails for $28.
Now it’s time for you to discover Vital Wines! If you’re looking for wine with meaning this holiday season, look no further than the crowd pleasing Vital Wines Chardonnay. Then, be sure to share it on the Insta or Twitter. To discover others sharing the magic of Washington wine this season, follow the hashtag #siptheseason. Cheers to Vital Wines and doing good!
December 4th is Cabernet Franc Day. It’s a way to prove that this variety is “More Than a Blending Grape!” Plus, I suspect that some of my readers will be celebrating. After all, my top post is all about Pairing Cabernet Franc with Food!
Wine Geek Info
Cabernet Franc Day was founded by Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines. Why? In short, she was disappointed that there was not a designated day for her favorite wine variety. Not to mention that Cabernet Franc is one of the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon. So, if Cab Sauv gets its own day, shouldn’t Cabernet Franc as well?
As far as selecting the date goes, Lori explains, “Cabernet Franc is believed to have been established in the Libournais region of southwest France sometime in the 17th century, when Cardinal Richelieu transported cuttings of the vine to the Loire Valley. December 4th is the anniversary of Cardinal Richelieu’s death.”
Although Cabernet Franc thrives in France, it can also be found in the new world. Here in Washington State, some producers I favor include Brook and Bull and L’Ecole.
Like most wine holidays, join the celebration by uncorking a bottle and sharing the experience with fellow wine lovers on social media. Simply take a picture of the wine you’ve chosen for the day (bonus points if you include your food pairing!) and post it on social media using the hashtag #cabfrancday. See what other folks are drinking, comment, and ask questions. Maybe you’ll discover a new wine to seek out! At the very least, participating in the conversation will help bring attention to Cabernet Franc.
While most of the activity will likely take place on Twitter, there are sure to be related posts on Instagram as well. If you’re based in Washington, you may recognize Damsel Cellars among participating wineries.
I look forward to seeing how you celebrate Cabernet Franc Day. #LetsTalkAboutWine
If you feel so inclined, learn more about the establishment of this wine holiday on the Dracaena Wines Blog.
Pairing Pinot Noir with food is one of the best ways I know of to up your dinner game. After all, this variety of red wine is generally lighter in body and lower in tannin than most red wines. Those qualities can make it quite food friendly. Think of Pinot Noir as a refined dinner date that offers engaging conversation while gradually revealing its sophisticated personality.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, incredible examples of Pinot Noir can be found in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. While attending the Wine Writers Educational Tour in August, I was taken on a far-reaching journey, exploring the diverse characteristics of the AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) within this region.
The Dundee Hills AVA is generally known for producing Pinot Noir that is red fruit oriented. By contrast, the Yamhill-Carlton AVA can tend to produce wines with riper, blue fruit characteristics.
Wines from the Eola-Amity Hills AVA were explained by Shane Moore, Winemaker at Zena Crown, as depicting circular shapes.
“Elevation is a big dictator of the wine you’re going to get,” remarked Luisa Ponzi, second generation winemaker at Ponzi Vineyards.
Not only do different vineyard sources influence what’s in bottle, winemakers have different styles. For example, winemaker Erik Kramer of WillaKenzie is looking for “flavor town” when making picking decisions.
By contrast, Aaron Bell, winemaker at Domaine Drouhin, is “looking for liquid cashmere.”
What does this all boil down to when selecting a recipe to serve with a bottle of Pinot Noir? It means that those softer, circular wines can work with lighter fare. Alternately, those riper styles can make a nice counterpoint to a fattier, hearty dish. Below are some further guidelines to help pair Pinot Noir with dinner.
Flavors in Pinot Noir
Consider the flavors of the wine, and create a match by incorporating or complementing those flavors in the food: Cherry Raspberry Strawberry Vanilla Clove
Start with one of these proteins to pair with Pinot Noir: Chicken Duck Rabbit Quail Salmon Tuna (think Ahi/seared or grilled) Pork (to be clear, this includes bacon and sausages) Beef Lamb
And/or include ingredients that connect the wine with the food: Beets Berries Cherries Dijon Mustard Eggplant Lentils Mushrooms Truffles
Suggested Dishes for Pairing Pinot Noir
Consider Pinot Noir for a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner.
Following the classic “if it grows together it goes together” theory, Pinot Noir and salmon have long been a definitive Northwest pairing.