Join the Syrah Challenge

Each year wine reviewer Sean Sullivan poses a challenge to wine lovers to explore one specific underappreciated variety of Washington State wine. Participants who agree to the challenge simply uncork a bottle of that variety at least once a month and report back. Fun, right? This year the chosen grape is Syrah. Will you join the Syrah challenge? If you’re not exceptionally familiar with Washington Syrah, don’t worry! After all, this is your chance to learn more.

There are a number of ways to tackle this monthly endeavor. Don’t get too hung up on that, just start the challenge! Then if more focus is needed, here are some suggestions.

  • To get the most out of the challenge, include some bottles from wineries, vineyards, and regions that are new to you.
  • Each month open a Syrah from different Washington State American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
  • OR, take a deep dive into just one or two AVAs.
  • Try Syrah from different vineyards.

What’s so captivating about Syrah? At a past Taste Washington seminar, Wine Bible author Karen MacNeil waxed poetic about Washington wine, vividly describing each pour as only she can. As the audience sipped on Syrah from cult producer Cayuse she uttered,

“This wine is primal scream. Wonderfully corrupt.”

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Explore Division Winemaking Co.

If the new year inspires you to try new things, say alternative wines, be sure to explore Division Winemaking Co. and their fun offerings. I’ve been tasting my way through a recent shipment from the Portland, Oregon based winery and have to say that each selection so far has brightened up our winter.

By alternative wines, I mean beyond the mainstream varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Way beyond. Consider cofermented Grenache and Albarino, Pet Nat made from Gamay Noir,  and carbonic Cabernet Franc leaning toward bright, fruity, and fresh. After all, just because the weather is dark and brooding doesn’t mean your wine has to be too. It also doesn’t hurt that the winemakers have a passion to work with well farmed terroir expressive vineyards, many of which are organic and/or Biodynamic®.⁠

My Chief Feline Officer, Baron Auslese, gives these wines two paws up and says all the cool cats who dig vinous interpretations of styles from the Loire, Beaujolais, Burgundy or the Northern Rhone should check out this winery!⁠

Explore Division Wine Co. Wines

Explore Wallace's Cuvee
Baron Auslese has his eye on Wallace’s Cuvee

“Wallace’s Cuvee”

A surprising blend of 65% Grenache and 35% Albarino
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Historic Moment in Washington State Wine

The movie Bottle Shock tells the story of a 1976 wine competition in which California wine was victorious over French wine. Known as the “Judgement of Paris”, it’s a tale that many are familiar with. It seems, however, that few are aware of an important historic moment in Washington State wine. The hero in this story is the pioneer of vinifera grape growing in Washington State that has been producing classic European varietal wines since 1967, Chateau Ste. Michelle.

At a blind Riesling tasting sponsored by the Los Angeles Times in 1974, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 1972 vintage of Johannisberg Riesling won top honors. Moreover, although Ste. Michelle Johannisburg Riesling was the least expensive wine in the tasting, it beat out German, Australian, and California Rieslings. It is significant to note that producers included P.J. Valckenberg in Worms, the oldest family-run wine export company of Germany, as well as Liebfraumilch Madonna, the oldest brand of German wine. Domestic producers included a who’s who of California stalwarts such as Beaulieu Vineyards, Heitz Cellar, and Freemark Abbey.

The Real Johannisberg Riesling

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Roasted Grape and Garlic Compote

Add this sweet and savory roasted grape and garlic compote to your cheese board to take it up a notch!

This slow roasted condiment is inspired by one introduced to me years ago at a cooking school called Culinary Communion. Not only does it fill the house with an enticing sweet and savory perfume while it’s cooking in the oven, it perfectly complements an evening of wine and cheese consumption. Best of all, it’s EASY to prepare. In other words, throw a few ingredients into a cooking vessel, put it in the oven, and let it take care of itself.

Roasted Grape and Garlic Compote Recipe

• 1 – 2 pounds of seedless grapes
• herbs of your choice – a couple of sprigs of rosemary or thyme
• 1 head of garlic, cloves removed and peeled
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• pinch of salt
• approximately 1/2 bottle white (Riesling was used here) or red table wine

Preheat the oven to 350°.
Place fruit, herbs, garlic, olive oil, and salt in a medium baking dish or Pyrex bowl. Then pour enough wine so that it is almost level with the top of the fruit. Place the dish in the oven and cook for about 50 minutes until the wine becomes  syrupy. While in the oven, check on the dish periodically and if it is getting overly brown around the edges or cooking down too fast, cover it with foil.

Let the compote cool then serve it with some delectable cheese. We love aged cheddar, a bloomy rind cheese such as brie, and goat cheese on our cheese plate for a contrast in textures and flavors. Toast some bread to make crostini, or pile some crackers onto the platter. Voila, you’ve got an easy and delectable snack or dinner course.

Wine Pairing

This dish has herbs in it to add a savory note. However, the grapes bring sweetness to the compote. Keep that in mind for your pairing. A wine with a little residual sugar (RS as they say in the wine biz) wouldn’t hurt. In fact, a sweet dessert wine with a cheese course is divine.

One of my favorite pairings with a cheese board is sparkling wine. The cheese coats the mouth with all its rich deliciousness. Then, the fizzy bubbles come along and scrub a dub dub to keep your palate ready for more!

Riesling would be a lovely complement to the compote, especially if it’s the wine used for the recipe.

For red wine lovers, prepare the compote with a red wine then use the same wine to accompany your finished preparation. I tend to look for a lighter bodied wine so that it doesn’t duke it out with the cheese or fall flat from the sweetness in the compote. Some of the “alt wines” coming out of Oregon such as Gamay Noir or Pinot Meunier come to mind.

However, this is wine and cheese territory. Fun stuff, right? So, experiment and find what YOU like.


Shop for Wine Around Seattle

It sounds like a lot of people are planning to spend Black Friday at home in pajamas this year. Well, then, I say we start a movement and #optforwine! To that end, here is your guide on how to safely and effortlessly shop for wine and gifts around Seattle this holiday season.

Local Delivery

One of the silver linings of the current pandemic guidelines is that some wineries offer to deliver wine locally. In some cases my wine was even delivered by the winemaker! First, check the winery’s website or social media channels to ensure delivery is available. Some wineries have a dollar or quantity threshold before delivery is available. Typically, wineries request that the option for “pick up” be checked while placing an order online along with a note requesting delivery in the comments section. Then they text or email delivery information.

Locus Wines

The tasting room is based in Pioneer Square (former home of The Estates Wine Room). At this time, orders of $75 or more may be delivered in Seattle but I’m not sure how long the offer stands. My order was delivered the next day.

BONUS:  tack on an order of pastry squares to your order for $12.

Nota Bene Cellars/MCM Wine Co.

Delivery included in the Seattle Metro area. I am now well supplied with some lovely 2016 Cabernet Franc.

W.T. Vintners

For the next couple of weeks, local delivery is available within 25 miles of the Woodinville winery with a $150 minimum purchase. Shop online and select “Pick-Up” at check-out. Then make a note you’d like your wines hand delivered and they will text or email to coordinate.

Pro tip:  be sure to buy some Boushey Vineyard Grenache!

Library Wines

Is there a better way to explore the difference a year makes than by exploring one wine from several vintages? It’s certainly the best way I know how while we’re at home!

For the holiday season, Avennia has two of their signature wines – Arnaut and Sestina – available in 3-year vertical sets.

Virtual Auction

Would you like to add some Quilceda Creek or Leonetti library wines to your collection AND support a good cause at the same time? Check out the Auction of Washington Wines Bid for Bottles through December 3rd. Winning bids & donations support the wine industry directly through Washington State University’s wine science research – securing the future of the Washington wine industry. This virtual event also supports Seattle Children’s Hospital. So go on, bid on one of a kind wines from the Private Barrel Auction, magnums, verticals, and more from some of Washington State’s most celebrated producers.

Tasting Kits


This leading winery in Washington State has really stepped up its offerings this year. Among them, a self-guided tasting will be available for pickup from the tasting room. Include it in a minimum order of $150 for complimentary delivery in King County.

Dusted Valley Tasting Kits

Experience a winemaker-guided tasting from the comfort of your own home.

Office Gifts

Elsom Cellars

The Office Holiday Party Kit includes a Cheese & Charcuterie Platter featuring a multitude of Seattle Made and Seattle Good Business Network member products, and of course, a bottle of Seattle Made Red produced and bottled by Elsom Cellars!

Gift Cards

Many wineries and local wine shops offer gift cards. Do you know a frontline worker who might appreciate the chance to order wine of their own choosing? Support a local business, celebrate a real life hero, and get all the feels! Effortless online gift card purchase are available from the following establishments.

Avennia (Woodinville)
Esquin Wine & Spirits (SODO)
Locus Wines (Pioneer Square)
Viscon Cellars (West Seattle)

Additional Offers

Curbside pickup and online ordering are standard offerings at most Seattle area wineries. Some continue to offer tasting but under the current restrictions do so outdoors. If you’re comfortable with that, try to make an appointment ahead of time  since seating is usually limited. Also, remember to dress accordingly.

Washington wineries outside the Seattle area such as Chelan based Cairdeas offer shipping included with online purchases. Plus, it arrives in Seattle the next day! We ordered a case of their Diffraction Red which is now our “house wine.”

Remember to take the pledge to support locally owned wineries! Now go shop for wine around Seattle.


In the interest of full disclosure, some VinoSocial clients are mentioned here. However, this is not a sponsored post, and I do not receive payment if you purchase from them. I also paid for all the wine I received via delivery.