What Makes Avennia a Leading Winery in Washington

Although it is my regular practice to spread the word about notable wines and wineries, I don’t normally write about clients. However, these are far from normal times. Not to mention, I have been a fan of Avennia since the release of their inaugural vintage in 2012. Working with them for nearly two years in order to help wine lovers connect with the brand has just been icing on the cake. I consider myself extremely fortunate to assist such a celebrated winery and a team of generous and talented people. Through our partnership it’s become clear that there’s a lot to admire about the winery in addition to first-rate winemaking. Here’s an insider’s update on what’s happening at leading Washington winery Avennia lately, along with an exploration of some of their wines I’ve recently opened and the foods paired with them.

Avennia Winemaker, Chris Peterson (photo via Facebook)

Founded by Marty Taucher and Chris Peterson, Avennia is based in Woodinville, Washington about 20 miles outside of Seattle. The two met while working harvest at DeLille Cellars in 2009. When Chris reviewed Marty’s business plan for a winery, an innocent inquiry as to who was going to make the wine led to a partnership. By the 2010 harvest, the two were working Avennia’s first crush. Since then, Avennia has amassed top accolades and earned some of the highest scores in Washington State for their world class wines. Marty manages the business side of the winery while Chris oversees the cellar.

Avennia Founding Partner Marty Taucher during Avennia’s first live tasting

At the first signs of the pandemic, my company was impacted significantly. As business plummeted, so did my spirit. I remember speaking with Marty on the phone right when everything started going in a tailspin. Thankfully, the first thing he did was offer reassurance, “Don’t worry, Nancy, we’ll get through this.”

Principled Leadership

It turns out that Marty had read an article of mine that highlights five lessons on marketing during these challenging times. Like so many other businesses, Avennia was planning a quick pivot. In order to stay engaged with customers, social media would play a key role much to my relief! Additionally, employees would be kept busy with curbside pickup and wine delivery to customers’ homes. Remarkably, the winery also stepped up to help out the distressed hospitality industry.

With news of rising wine sales making headlines, it seems that most people are under the impression that the wine industry as a whole is booming. It may be true for wine sales in grocery and chain stores. Conversely, that is not the case for the majority of boutique wineries. The pandemic has forced the closure of tasting rooms and the cancellation of events. At the same time, wineries faced the shuttering of restaurants that carried their products. Wine sales have actually diminished for many smaller operations as a result. This is by no means an easy time for independent wineries.

Nevertheless, in the face of all these challenges, Avennia’s leadership remains community oriented. They even found ways to give back to the restaurants that have been part of their story.

Delivery of Frank the Tank, a Bordeaux-style wine that Avennia makes for Ethan Stowell Restaurants (ESR), was bumped up. This enabled ESR to offer the wines for take-out with ESR@HOME meals to go.

Over the years, a collaboration between Chris Horn, Purple Café’s lead wine buyer and beverage director, and Avennia winemaker, Chris Peterson, resulted in wines made under the Purple label. The folks at Purple Café, like so many other restaurants, had to close and lay off their employees. So, Avennia offered these wines for purchase. For every bottle sold, they pledged $5 to a GoFundMe account in support of those employees currently out of work. A donation of nearly $5,000 was contributed.

Adapting to Change

With wine club events cancelled, Winemaker Chris Peterson stretched beyond his routine activities and immediately began making videos as another way to connect with club members and customers. Chris and Marty also hosted their first virtual tasting, with more to come.

As of this writing, Avennia includes local delivery or UPS ground shipping with all new purchases of 3 or more standard bottles or 2 or more magnums. As the weather warms up, shipments are put on hold so take advantage of this great deal now if you can! Alternatively, local customers can request no-contact curbside pickup.

Tasting kits will soon be available in the local market. Each kit serves at least two people and contains 5 different Avennia wines in 5 oz. bottles. Plus, three different options are currently available.

Also, it’s the season for the annual release of the ever popular L’Egerie Rosé (it sold out in just three weeks last year!). The wine is currently available exclusively to their club, which makes it a great time to become a member.

Acclaimed Avennia Wines

One of the characteristics of Avennia’s wines that I most appreciate is that they truly showcase the vineyards from which the fruit is sourced. That’s partially because the wines are fermented with native yeast. It’s one component of Avennia’s winemaking philosophy based on doing less in order to let the fruit speak for itself.

During the stay at home order, wine from our cellar has been making more frequent appearances on our dinner table. The following are bottles we’ve recently enjoyed. Although these vintages may not be readily available, don’t fret. Avennia’s wines offer consistent quality year in and year out.

Note that I do not receive sample bottles from the winery. Bottles purchased at the winery included a modest discount.

Avennia Cabernet Franc 2016

Champoux Vineyard
Chris told me that 2016 was stellar across the board. So, although it is still a little young, it’s a terrific vintage to open now.

One of the calling cards of Cabernet Franc is a green bell pepper trait. However, Chris makes a point of not picking too early so that it doesn’t dominate the finished product. What does shine through, is a beautiful essence of violet that I associate with wine sourced from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Additionally, raspberry, dark chocolate, and tamarind comingle without any one flavor dominating. It’s a stellar expression of this variety and this vineyard. Open a bottle to transform a night from ordinary to extraordinary.

Cabernet Franc Wine Pairing
A recipe for a pasta dish by Nigel Slater recently published in Food + Wine Magazine made a wonderful partner for the wine. A creamy Dijon sauce envelops the pasta and incorporates Italian sausage and fresh basil. It’s an absolutely harmonious pairing.

Avennia La Perle 2017

This blend of 55% Roussanne and 45% Marsanne was Avennia’s inaugural release of their Rhône style white wine. It is an elegant wine delivering flavors of pear and apple followed by a sophisticated mineral/chalk driven texture.

La Perle Wine Pairing
Although it’s an upscale wine, we poured it with a simple dish of Kielbasa and apples over polenta in order to elevate another night of quarantine cooking. After all, this is a wine that deserves to be the star of the show.

Frank the Tank 2016

Purchased at Frelard Pizza, this accommodating red wine is a steal of a deal at just $20 a bottle! Chris crafts this fruit forward Bordeaux style blend specifically for Ethan Stowell Restaurants. While the restaurants currently focus on takeout, this easy drinking wine is also available to go.

Frank the Tank Wine Pairing
Frank is one of our favorite wines for pizza or spaghetti night. Then again, it would also perfectly accompany fancier fare that features red meat.

Avennia Arnaut Syrah

I am a sucker for Syrah from Boushey Vineyard, so we will likely be uncorking at least one of our bottles of Arnaut Syrah in the near future. Chris notes that the 2013 vintage of Arnaut is in a real sweet spot right now. Also, the 2012 vintage was one of the leading vintages to date.

These are all top notch selections showcasing the quality of Washington State vineyards. Consider treating yourself to wine from Avennia.

Resources

Avennia Website
Follow Avennia on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube
Tips for Pairing Cabernet Franc with Food
Ethan Stowell Restaurants – ESR @ Home Meals to Go
Heavy Restaurant Group Employee Relief Fund

Oregon’s Alternative Wines for the Adventurous

It’s easy to return to the familiar wines. The wines we know we like. After all, there’s comfort in the familiar, right? However, during a time when it’s critical to exercise caution in the everyday routines of our lives, wine is one aspect where we can choose adventure. Let’s talk about the less talked about wine varieties and explore Oregon’s alternative wines.

Think about wine from Oregon, and Pinot Noir is sure to come to mind. Or maybe one of the other leading planted varieties – Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Each of them fine selections in their own right. However, given the choice between those or a juicy red Zweigelt or fragrant Gewurztraminer I say back the truck up and head down the road less traveled! In fact, there are over 70 varieties beyond Pinot Noir grown in Oregon.

Did you know that Muller Thurgau is the seventh most planted variety in Oregon’s Willamette Valley? In case you’re not familiar, Muller sounds like Bueller, as in Ferris Bueller – the very one that took an infamous day off. Gewurztraminer is sixth. Pinot Blanc fifth. What makes these varieties compelling? Distinct personalities. Food friendliness. Character. Ultimately, this is the kind of juice I’m craving right now.

Oregons Alternative Wines

Six of Oregon’s Alternative Wines

While in Oregon last summer on a wine-soaked journey hosted by some of Willamette Valley’s wine industry veterans, I was exposed to a number of the ‘other varietals’. These are the wines that captivated me.

Gamay Noir
Brick House Vineyards
$34 SRP
Don’t confuse Oregon Gamay Noir for the highly promoted Beajuololais Nouveau. Although the same red grape variety is involved, carbonic maceration is not used here. Brick House practices Biodynamic farming on its 40 acres and ferments with indigenous yeast. The result is a serious wine with notes of cherry, baking spice, and slate. I was extremely excited when I saw this wine being carried at VinoSocial client Esquin!
Try this if you like:  Pinot Noir.
Pair with:  roast chicken, Asian cuisine, sausage, and special occasions.

Kerner

Minumus / Craft Wine Co.
$30 SRP
Prepare a picnic, pour a glass of this captivating white wine, and get lost in the moment. The name of the grape is pronounced similarly to coroner but with an e instead of o. Sure, maybe coroner isn’t the best word to use but isn’t it going to be easy to remember now? The name comes from Dr. Julius Kerner who developed this delectable cross between Riesling and Trollinger. This fascinating wine inspired me to take advantage of a recent shipping deal and order more of the Minumus alt wines, Vermentino and Muller Thurgau among them.
Try this if you like:  Picpoul or other refreshing white wines.
Pair with:  bacon wrapped goat cheese atop a salad.

Muller Thurgau

Sokol Blosser
$28 SRP
With limited free time during a day of wine education at the property, I ventured into the tasting room for a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am sampling and purchased this bottle as a result. Sokol Blosser is one of the founding wineries of the Willamette Valley, family owned and operated, and deeply committed to being good stewards of the land. They also happen to be the first commercial producer of Muller Thurgau in the U.S. This fragrant, pretty white wine evokes spring.
Try this if you like:  Torrontes, or off-dry white wines.
Pair with:  Thanksgiving dinner. Some sweetness on the wine also lends itself to spicy food.

Pinot Meunier

Left Coast Estate
$50 SRP
This red grape is mostly known as a blending partner in Champagne. Here it is on its own, opulent, fruity, and delightfully gulpable. I can’t wait to get my hands on more of this wine!
Try this if you like:  Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir.
Pair with:  risotto and a drizzle of truffle oil.

Pinot Noir Rosé

Maysara Winery
$20 SRP
Okay, okay, so it’s made from Pinot Noir. However, rosé of Pinot Noir drinks differently. After a tour of Biodynamic Momtazi Vineyards, I couldn’t resist purchasing this alluring bottle at the tasting room.
Try this if you like:  rich, fruity rosé.
Pair with:  sunny days on the deck and summer influenced food.

Pinot Blanc

Native Flora
$34 SRP
Scott Flora’s fascinating philosophy of farming is all about experimentation and improvability. This wine is for people with an adventurous spirit who desire a glass filled with something that gets along well with food.
Try this if you like:  Pinot Gris.
Pairs well with:  light seafood.

Now is a great time to pour something other than the usual in your wine glass. Let Oregon’s alternative wines take you to another place.

Resources

Willamette Valley Wine

Risotto Style Tomato Bacon Barley Recipe and Wine Pairing

Cooking can be a challenge while trying to avoid going to the store. So, when I don’t have all the ingredients called for in a recipe, I manage by making substitutions with what is in the pantry. After all, things are hard enough so why not give yourself permission to incorporate non-traditional ingredients if that’s all you have? No matter what you cook, remember it can be elevated by serving a terrific wine with it any night of the week. That’s why this satisfying risotto style barley recipe and wine pairing is what you need right now.

This hearty dish is a twist on a recipe from the lovely photo-filled cookbook, Jerusalem, by acclaimed duo Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. My addition of a bacon jam condiment from Seattle’s Eden Hill Provisions adds another layer of flavor. It is also one of the indulgences we’ve enjoyed during the stay at home order, purchased to champion the neighborhood restaurant’s efforts to keep going and support its employees. Eden Hill makes it easy to order – purchase selections online and choose pickup or delivery. I received notice that my order was ready less than 15 minutes after placing it. Plus, wine is available for purchase, so stock up!

Let’s Get Cooking

Recipe serves 4

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced (I used a red onion, but you can use whatever you have)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup pearl barley
1/3 cup red or white wine
2 tablespoons bacon jam or 1 slice bacon
2 teaspoons smoked paprika (less if you don’t like such a smoky flavor)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chicken stock (vegetable stock or beef stock are fine substitutes)
1 jar or can crushed or chopped tomatoes, 18 ounces
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
4 tablespoons chevre

Rinse barley.

In a medium pan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the olive oil. Put the onion and garlic in the pan and sauté for about 5 minutes until they become transparent. Then, add the barley and stir for about a minute. Pour in the wine, increase the heat to medium high, and bring to boil for a few minutes until the wine starts to reduce. Next, add the bacon jam (or bacon), paprika, bay leaf, salt, and stock. After mixture reaches a boil, reduce heat to low. Let mixture cook for 30-45 minutes. Stir regularly to prevent the grains from sticking to the bottom of the pan. It is ready when the barley is tender.

While the barley is cooking, toast the caraway seeds for 1-2 minutes in a dry frying pan over medium heat. Be sure to stay at attention so as not to burn them! When the seeds are fragrant remove pan from the heat, usually 1-2 minutes.

Serve the barley, topping each portion with some of the goat cheese and sprinkled with caraway seeds.

Wine Pairing for Risotto Style Barley

The great thing about barley is that it has a heartiness to it, helping it stand up to a similarly hearty wine. Additionally, this preparation includes wine (an easy bridge ingredient), savory herbal notes from the bay leaf, and some smokiness from the paprika and bacon. For a veggie oriented dish like this, I often turn to Cabernet Franc. With bacon involved, I consider Oregon or California Pinot Noir. Or, to highlight the smoke factor from the paprika, Syrah or a Rhone style wine that mirrors that smokiness comes to mind. It would also be interesting to try Malbec with this recipe.

In celebration of Walla Walla Valley Wine Month, I opened a sample of Spring Valley Vineyards Cabernet Franc to accompany this risotto barley recipe. As the first sip washed over my tongue, clouds parted, horns trumpeted, and everything seemed right in the world. Okay, not really, but this was a WOW bottle! The red wine offered all bright fruit at first, then transformed to a subtle note of green bell pepper, bay leaf, followed by chocolate. I appreciate that the wine is focused on the fruit and a sense of Walla Walla, rather than oak. What is more, paired with the barley, the food and the wine celebrated one another.

Spring Valley Vineyard
2015 Katherine Corkum Cabernet Franc
Walla Walla Valley
SRP $50

If you don’t have access to this wine, look for the varieties below to complement this savory dish.
Cabernet Franc
Pinot Noir
Gamay Noir
Syrah
GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blend
Malbec

Should you prefer to cook something simpler than this risotto barley recipe, check my Washington wine pairings for pasta marinara.

What are you cooking up these days? Head on over to Instagram or Twitter and #LetsTalkAboutWine. Be well!

Resources

Exciting Walla Walla Wines
Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance
Eden Hill Provisions
Spring Valley Vineyard

New Walla Walla Winery: Devison Vinters

Some things never change. Spring eventually comes, a rebirth takes place in gardens and vineyards, and the latest rosés are released for consumption. Last year my beverage of choice for sipping on the deck in the days of sunshine and warmth was the beautiful Devison Vintners Rosé. My latest order of the wine from Walla Walla winery Devison Vintners recently arrived on our Seattle doorstep. Clearly, spring is here!

A new vintage of blushing wine is a reminder that there are still exciting things happening. For Peter and Kelsey Devison, it means the launch of their brand, Devison Vintners, along with highly anticipated newly released wines. Coincidentally, the couple also have a baby on the way! So, let’s hold onto a sense of optimism, talk about the winemaking, and dive into a couple of their fantastic new bottles with eager anticipation.

Photo courtesy of Devison Vintners

Winemaking Style

Continue reading “New Walla Walla Winery: Devison Vinters”

Pairing Pasta Marinara with Washington Wine

Here we are stuck at home. Well, at least there’s pasta in the pantry. Truly, no pantry should be without dried pasta and jarred sauce at any time. In this case, we’re talking about pretty much any dried noodle with a tomato based sauce, such as marinara. This pantry meal is a weeknight miracle enabling dinner to get on the table in a minimal amount of time. Now, let’s take it to the next level and talk about pairing pasta marinara with wine.

Wine Pairing Guidelines

When you hear wine pros talk about selecting a pairing for tomato sauce they talk about acidity. The rule in wine pairing is that the wine acidity level should be equal to or slightly greater than the level of the food’s acidity level. Since tomatoes are an acidic food, it follows that the wine to complement tomato sauce needs to meet or slightly exceed the sauce’s acidity. Blah, blah, blah, right? Who typically knows what that heck that means? Honestly, it wasn’t until I started seriously studying wine that I even contemplated acid in wine. So, here’s one way to simplify it. Think about how a squeeze of citrus can wake up a dressing or fried fish. Ta daaaaa! It’s because that squeeze of lemon or lime adds acid.

How do you know if a wine has bright acid? Basically, if the wine makes your mouth water after you swallow a sip then bingo, you have a winner! Several go-to red wine varieties with this characteristic are Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Barbera.

Pairing Pasta Marinara with Washington Wines

Pro tip:  when heating up the sauce, add a splash of wine. A splash for the cook might be just the right thing, too!

Washington State wines offer a New World interpretation of Old World varieties. The following are a few Washington wines I’ve had the pleasure of tasting recently and recommend.

As I write this, Washington State is under a stay-home order due to the recent pandemic.  Local wineries have been hit hard as a result. Forced tasting room and restaurant closures combined with canceled release parties have resulted in decreased sales for many. Thankfully, a number of wineries have quickly pivoted and offer online and/or phone orders with options such as no-contact curbside pickup and even delivery. Some have shipping specials as well. If you are a wine lover and able to spend money to enjoy some wine at home, purchasing direct from wineries can help keep these businesses going. Just be sure to check each winery’s website or Facebook page for current updates. Don’t let these challenging times prevent you from getting your hands on some delectable juice and supporting the wine industry!

Foundry Vineyards 2016 Sangiovese

$32 / bottle
This wine is 100% Sangiovese from the acclaimed Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla Valley. Aged 24 months in 50% new French Oak barrels, I noted flavors of root beer candy, anise, Italian plum, and raspberry. It’s been dubbed the “yeah, sure” wine by tasting room staff because it’s what they say whenever asked if they want to open a bottle. In addition to being my recommended pour with pasta marinara, they suggest pairing it with everything from pho to tikka masala. The Foundry Vineyards Sangiovese is a delightfully juicy, lively wine.

Patterson Cellars 2017 Sangiovese

$38 / bottle
This wine is 91% Sangiovese and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet brings some chocolate to the party, making it a deeper, moodier style. In fact, if Cabernet Sauvignon is usually your go-to wine, this could be the gateway to other varieties. The Patterson Cellars Sangiovese is an ideal selection for those who appreciate a full bodied red wine.

Cascade Cliffs 2018 Nebbiolo

$55 / bottle
A lighter option, this Washington State example is crafted with fruit from the winery’s estate as well as McKinley Springs Vineyard. I picked up notes of leather and vibrant strawberry on the palate. This sassy Nebbiolo from Cascade Cliffs is delightfully approachable. I also couldn’t resist purchasing a bottle of their Dolcetto.

If you’re looking for an alternative to pasta marinara, check out my easy pairing for puttanesca sauce and red wine.

Are there other pantry pairings you’ve enjoyed lately? Head on over to Twitter or Instagram, share, and tag me!