The quagmire of Washington Wine Month

From the Washington Wine Commission's Facebook page

This post originally appeared on Seattlest.

We’re into the second week of August and summer (by Seattle standards) has settled into a groove. Seafair is over. Bumbershoot is right around the corner. On the beverage front, we’re enjoying rose, sparkling wine, and lighter fare to match the breezy notion of the season. But as August is upon us, our focus goes to Washington Wine, which is what we’re led to believe. August is Washington Wine Month, so deemed by the Governor and the State Liquor Control Board. Or is it March? The folks at the Washington Wine Commission say March is Washington Wine Month. Therein lies the trickiness; can one state have two wine months?

Washington does in fact have two wine months. Both deemed as such by rather large and influential groups. And it doesn’t look like it will slow down anytime soon. Both factions have been entrenched with touting their months for the last few years. I do wonder why these two groups don’t convene to iron out which month is actually the one. I suppose having two wine months isn’t a bad thing; having more chances to celebrate and drink homegrown wine isn’t awful by drinking or marketing standards. And as we’re knee deep in August, the Washington Liquor & Spirits stores are ringing in the month by having specials on Washington wine. The catchy marketing slogan they are going with is ‘A Fine Time for Washington Wine‘. Here’s more info on the discounts involved.

For context, the March version of Washington Wine Month is more event-oriented than the August rendition. Wine shops and restaurants host dinners featuring Washington wines and wineries, and the headliner event is the grand tasting for Taste Washington. Seattlest went to the tasting this past spring, which is a part of a culmination of seminars, trade tastings, and dinners that put their spotlight on Washington Wine.

There you have it, we have two months among twelve to celebrate Washington wine. While the August version of Washington Wine Month doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance as the March version, it’s a notable effort to bring our state’s eleven American Viticultural Areas/appellations to the forefront for the second time this year. Afterall, budget cuts forced out the Washington Tourism office this year, let’s help support the Washington wine industry by buying local and drinking local. Enjoy Washington Wine Month this month, and when we begin March, we can do it all over again.

Washington’s burgeoning cult wines

This post originally appeared on Seattlest.

Cult wines. Ask wine people their thoughts on them and you’ll get divisive opinions. On one hand, you have wines of high vineyard quality, scarcity, and prestige. On the other, you have wines that are absurdly expensive, nigh impossible to get, and carry a snob level that is only matched by those that regularly read the Robb Report. So this recent article from local wine writer Paul Gregutt is an interesting shift on the notion of cult wines. The tenet is this: The main principles of cult wines and how the scarcity, high quality, allure, etc, can all be attained by delving into the world of Washington wines.

How did the market land at this nexus of bottles of wine that fetch $300 (and more) which are often more suited for collectors than consumers? How it started is debatable, but one of the first of the notable cult wineries mentioned is Napa’s Screaming Eagle. In the early ’90’s, the folks behind Screaming Eagle released a wine with high quality grapes, but low case quantities which received high scores from wine writers. Now, people go out of their way to acquire them and often spend time searching for the next cult winery. Cult wines are often a California thing as a number of their wineries sport this status. Other California cult wineries of note are Harlan Estates, Shafer, Sine Qua Non, and Opus One. In the case of Opus One, they are so revered that Jay-Z has namechecked them.

Ever since breaking into the market, Washington’s wine industry is always on the upswing. With a growing number of wineries, high quality vineyards, and talented winemakers, Washington is consistently poised to set their worldwide mark on the industry. Some feel that Washington is the next great wine region. And in Gregutt’s article, he used Washington wine to tweak the notion of how cult wines are perceived. Instead of thinking of them as difficult to obtain, he thinks of Washington wine as easier to get a hold of and not something for collectors. This speaks to the quality of Washington wine and it’s limited quantity by means of emerging producers, but not a purposeful mandate to produce a cult wine.

Access is one of the nice things that Washington wineries have going for them. While some may have closed mailing lists, they still want to get their wine into the hands of consumers, so they work hard on distribution – a little clever Internet searching and you can likely find most anything. An added bonus to high-end Washington wines? They won’t be as expensive as those in the Screaming Eagle and Harlan fold. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be cheap either.

Washington wines entering the mindshare of the new cult start that leap to mind are Quilceda Creek and Leonetti Cellars. They are often the standard bearers and in the case of Leonetti, starting a second label that draws upon its initial success. But there are other wines in our state that can place in the new cult: Abeja, Gramercy Cellars, Cayuse, Corliss, Long Shadows, and Rasa. All can be found at your local wine shop. This is exactly the advantage about this new cult that Paul Gregutt envisions; high quality wines can not only be found without having to empty the wallet, relatively speaking.

Enjoy searching for the next great Washington wine. Who knows, you may have the next Screaming Eagle in your cellar.

Seattle Wine Outlet’s new rooftop deck

This Sunday is the ‘Deck Warming Party’ for the Seattle Wine Outlet’s Interbay location. The Seattle Wine Outlet has long been a resource to score deals on wines from all over the world. But it also hosts classes and tastings, along with an upstairs room for private events. If you’ve ever been upstairs you know that it has access to a rather spacious deck. Prior to this Sunday, the deck wasn’t used for anything in particular. That has now changed as you can use the rooftop for events or to sip on vino or some noshes. Hopefully under the mercurial Seattle sun.

Richard Kinssies’ Interbay Seattle Wine Outlet is the largest of his three spots. The original, in SoDo, was the first and went through a remodel a few years back. Greenlake Wines is the newest one with more of a neighborhood wine bar feel. Interbay, with their new deck gives another reason to go. If not for the deck, visit for the various roast parties they host through the year. To tally them, they’ve had salmon roasts, lamb roasts, pig roasts, and wurst roasts.

For a fun excursion this Sunday, from 12-5pm, the Interbay Seattle Wine Outlet will be cutting the ribbon and celebrating their new rooftop deck. There will be food off the grill and wine deals to compliment. The three bottles that are priced to sell are an OR Pinot Noir ($7/bottle), Italian Gavi from Piedmont (3/$12), and a NZ Sauvignon Blanc (3/$12). Wine al fresco? I think there is a place for that in Seattle.

How to tick off a wine snob; ice cubes in wine

This post originally appeared on Seattlest

There are a host of faux pas that one can make when it comes to wine. Drinking wine too warm (or too cold). Storing bottles in too warm of a place. Keeping bottles in your car (don’t do this). Confusing your Cabernet Sauvignon from your Sauvignon Blanc. But there is perhaps none worse than putting ice cubes in wine. Or so I thought.

Before we get to the moment where I took pause with putting ice cubes in a glass of wine, let’s delve into why this is bad form.

Would you ever consider putting ice cubes in milk? Beer? Orange juice? Of course not, it’s weird. The additional frozen water just expedites the process of watering down your beverage. And watered down wine isn’t a good thing. It dilutes the flavor and thins out whatever nuance the wine has to begin with. Additionally, it’ll bring down the temperature a bit too quickly. Wine is intended to be served at room temperature, but note that this was room temperature from ancient times. The modern room temperature of 72 degrees is deemed too warm. Wine academics would prefer that wine is served about 12-15 degrees south of that.

But some folks still like putting ice cubes in wine. While there is nothing wrong with it, it’s not exactly suggested practice. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out that superstar chef (and Seattle’s own) Mario Batali adds ice cubes to his wine. But, Le Grande Orange does it a bit differently and he certainly ‘chefs’ it up. According to the folks at Grub Street, he makes a light simple syrup and squeezes some fruit juice in it before freezing the concoction as ice cubes. And then he adds it to Rosé. How about that? While this isn’t exactly an ice cube (it’s more of a light popsicle), it does the same thing as ice; it lowers the temperature and dilutes the wine’s flavor. Mario just does it differently and amps it with fruit juice and simple syrup. His noted celebrity chef status simply makes the whole thing sound plausible, so plausible that I even tried it.

In the end, while I’m not an advocate for ice cubes in wine, you have an option. But please don’t add ice cubes to red wine. If you really want to do that, make sangria.

Get Figgins on your wine radar

Figgins courtesy of CellarTracker

This post originally appeared on Seattlest.

Mailing lists are an interesting and quirky part of the winery/consumer relationship. You want to get on them for the access and perks. The big guys, like Leonetti, have the clout and know you want to get on the list and keep a Mordor-level entrance wall to control who gets through. In some cases, it can take years of waiting to even sniff one. Which is why it’s interesting to have an opportunity to get on the ground floor of a winery, bypass the waiting list, and get in line for some wine. Which is one of the reasons why wine drinkers are excited for Figgins, the new wine from the folks that brought you Leonetti Cellars.

It’s fair to say that Leonetti Cellars is in the upper pinnacle of Washington wine. So when they do something new, like Figgins, it’s worth noticing. My first alert of this venture was through a newsletter update from the Figgins family last year. It was from Chris Figgins, CEO and Winemaker for Leonetti, and it highlighted their excitement for Figgins and their cattle company, Lostine Cattle Co. Both were exciting, but for wine people, the news about Figgins was more so.

So when the update came that FIGGINS (they went all caps) would be available next month, I was all in. They say that the wine will be a varietal blend from a single vineyard of estate grown grapes. They mention that it’s a parcel of land that is special in their eyes and will let them make a wine of Old World style and ethos. Okay then. Featuring Bordeaux varietals, it’s from a vineyard in Walla Walla with a soil comprised of silt. The notion of terroir is decidedly French, it’s a romanticized ideal of being able to taste a sense of place. That soil and place will come through in the wine; this is a goal of Figgins.

Back to that mailing list. I’m still waiting to get on the list for Leonetti. Who knows when I’ll get in with them. Which is why I’m looking forward to this new venture. Now that I know I can get in with Figgins, I can get Leonetti quality in a new brand. It may not be ‘Leonetti’, but Figgins is likely made by the same people, from grapes they select, and with a similar mentality. For those curious oenophiles, click away to get added to the list. The wine is released next month and I’m sure the Figgins people are excited to see what the demand will be. Crossing fingers that the supply will suffice.

Food Network enters the wine game

photo from Eater

On the scale of interesting news this fits somewhere between ‘huh’ and ‘that’s cool, I guess’. As shared by the folks at Eater, the lifestyle behemoth that we know as Food Network is releasing their first series of wine.

Making and releasing wine can definitely be a vanity project. It’s filled with hard work, massive overhead, low margins and more, but when you’re playing at the level that Food Network is, it’s pretty much an opportunity to brand something that already existed. It’s not like they’re having Michael Chiarrello or Tyler Florence lend a hand in the wine-making. For that, the Food Network has relied on the folks at Wente Vineyards in California. They are calling their new wine ‘entwine‘, with a goal to create a wine that pairs well with food. Well, no crap. Most wines match well with food.

Here is what I find interesting. The pricepoint is $13 a bottle. Not bad, some decent stuff can be had at that level. (Though, it is awfully hard for small producers to meet that pricepoint.) But their bottles state ‘California’ as the region designate. What this says to me is that the grapes, and grape juice, used to produce their wine are sourced throughout the entire state and each vintage going forward could likely have different vineyard designates each year. I’m not a geography major, but I recall California being huge. Such vineyard designates can be anywhere from Napa Valley, Central Valley, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, or the dozens of other California AVAs. Or a combination of said areas.

While it’s possible one could get a good wine with no vineyard designate, it does raise an eyebrow as the yield of jug wines coming from California is staggering.  I personally want to drink and buy wine that celebrates its origin, not a chemical process that creates a consistent product. Buying grapes and grape juice on a spot market is a way to make winemaking more accessible, but purposely creating a brand that does not highlight the origins and producers that help to make the brand successful gives me pause. No matter how big of a presence you have, producing a wine like this will always be a community effort.

That’s not to say that entwine doesn’t have potential. I just happen to be skeptical of it. They’re making Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon a part of their suite of varietals. If you want to try these, they’ll be available nationwide soon enough. As for me, I think I’ll keep trying wineries closer to home with more character that aren’t conceived by marketing execs, rather produced by former marketing execs that are following a new passion and appreciating those who have helped educate them along the way to success.

It’s Hip to Spit: Tips for for Surviving Taste WA


Ed. note  – So I’m writing for Seattlest now (huzzah!). This is my first post and be on the lookout as I write more about wine and all things tasty there.

The Washington Wine Commission‘s flagship event is this weekend; Taste Washington. It is a huge party celebrating all that is good about our state’s wine industry and one that is worth experiencing. Throughout March, local wineries, restaurants and retailers celebrate Washington Wine month leading up to the grand event. Come and discover why our Syrah is distinctive or why our Merlot would make the Right Bank proud.

With an epic event like this, one needs a game plan to properly partake and enjoy all the wines that will be poured. Most importantly, one needs to rise above the fray and not come to Taste looking to get smashed. Here’s how to avoid that.

  • Take a cab or have a designated driver – You’ll be drinking a lot of wine, so enjoy yourself, get a cab, or recruit a friend that likes beer a bit too much to be the DD. Besides, you’ll pick up a ton of swag, they can be the one to carry it.
  • Eat! – There are a host of great restaurants serving food throughout the event. You’ve already dropped a C-note for this, so come with an empty stomach to try all sorts of eats. Plus, it helps to absorb the vino you’ll be imbibing. While you’re at it, stop by the Canlis booth and tell the guys your tall tale from last fall’s scavenger hunt and visit the Dahlia Lounge’s spot to congratulate the Tom Douglas Restaurant team on their James Beard nomination.
  • Have a wine tasting game plan – Washington has over 600 different wineries and the Grand Tasting will have upwards of 200, so your options at Taste can be overwhelming. Target about 12-16 wineries that you want to try and seek them out. Take a look at the event guide (PDF) and plot your plan of attack. Note that the biggies like Betz and Waters will have huge lines and will also pour all of their stuff early. This is where having a VIP ticket is advantageous.
  • Prepare to be surprised – There will be moments where you won’t know what to taste next. Luckily you can walk in any direction and someone will be pouring wine. See what varietals they are pouring and if one interests you, try it. Who knows, you may discover your next favorite wine producer
  • To spit or not to spit – This is a classic philosophical question. If you want to drink more than five wines, you’ll have to do one or the other. The Washington Wine Commission had a marketing campaign that was called ‘It’s Hip to Spit‘. While the naming of this campaign is silly, the spirit isn’t. Your palate will be fried with too much wine if you keep drinking. If you do spit, be polite, no one likes a messy spitter.
  • Drink lots of water! – Stay hydrated and drink lots of water. Have your friend the designated driver hold your bottle.
  • Ask questions – When at the table engage the pourer. Ask them about their wine and their role at the winery. The winery may be their life’s passion; what you may learn in these few minutes could go miles.

Have fun and enjoy the tasting – It’s only wine; a consumable meant to be enjoyed. Treat it as such and have fun. One last thing, take your time. The event goes from 4-7pm , so don’t feel you have to cover it all as soon as you get there. Take the evening in and enjoy a glass. Or two. Or seven.

Wine Tasting with Stephen Tanzer 2.0


In late-July I had the fortunate opportunity to drink some of the best wines from Washington with one of the best wine critics in the industry; that’s right, the second year in a row to have an evening of drinking wine with Stephen Tanzer of International Wine Cellars.

I went to this event last year and loved every minute of it. Last summer it was at the brilliant Art of the Table and I remembered all of those details vividly. The wine, the food, the conversations; at the time, my wine knowledge was just starting to come into its own. I was like a giddy kid on his first day of college; excited to get started with this next chapter, but humbled enough to know I had plenty to learn.

Fast forward a year later, and I know a bit more, but there is still so much I can glean. That’s why I was just as excited for this year’s tasting with Steve. The event was at Tom Douglas’ Palace Ballroom, a bit more spacious and a few more people were able to attend. One of the cool things at this year’s tasting was that four winemakers were invited to the event; Bob Betz of Betz Family Winery, Mike Januik of Januik Winery, Ben Smith of Cadence Winery, and Andrew Rich of Andrew Rich Wines. I thought this was really cool because they were able to share their expertise, insight, and stories as their wines were poured.

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Cool Wine Book: Heard It Through The Grapevine

While in Alaska last weekend, I wandered into the local’s bookstore of choice; Title Wave Books. I love stepping into bookstores and taking in the visual merchandising, the potential, and the dance of shopping. The clever ways that stores try to sell their stuff is something that I find entertaining (although a background in visual merchandising may have something to do with that). And like any good food nerd, I popped over to their food and wine section and was taken with one book in particular. Matt Skinner’s Heard it Through the Grapevine called out to me.

I knew of Matt because he is Jamie Oliver‘s wine guy. Jamie’s cookbooks are often great, always fun, and I liked the little touches that Matt would have for wine pairings. When I saw this book at Title Wave, I was intrigued enough to pick it up. A make-or-break deal with any food reference cookbook is to have a proper balance of visuals and content. We’re no longer in a culture where a cookbook can skate by on copy; it’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is. I’ve picked up and put down plenty of books that don’t have the initial grab and Matt’s Heard it Through the Grapevine definitely kept my interest.

This is a pretty fun wine information book. Matt’s style of writing is very easy to digest and take in. This makes for a decent read where the information is balanced with the brevity. It’s broken down to five main sections; Shopping, Drinking, Eating, Sleeping, Well-being. I will say this though; this book is more of an intro to the world of wine. I knew most of what Matt mentioned, and it doesn’t exactly break any new ground. But the nature in how the information comes forth feels fresh. That is why I think this book is cool.

One of the search terms that I get on this blog is ‘how to drink wine’. Kind of a funny term, but it makes sense. With the growth of wine drinking, the vast choices available to consumers, and the truckloads of information out there; a book like Matt’s will be helpful to wade through it all. Heard it Through the Grapevine just came out this spring and would make for a fun book to give as a gift to a friend that wants to step into the world of wine.

Wine tastings at Seattle Wine Outlet

I’ve talked about Richard Kinssies’ Seattle Wine Outlet an awful lot. And why not? From their celebratory roasts to their stellar wine deals, they are a great resource for wine drinkers around town. The next cool thing Richard is doing is hosting informal wine tastings at his Elliott Avenue store.

These tastings are part of what Richard calls the Producer Wine Tasting Seminar Program. It’s basically an informal sit-down tasting once a week from 7-8pm. Producers will share their info and you can taste their wines. Fun way to learn from the source.

I went to the tasting last night and the topic of the tasting was wines from Portugal. I’ll write a bit more about this event later in the week, but I had to share how great these events are. For $15 we were able to taste seven different wines and had reps from the two different wineries to talk about their wines and the regions they produce. All for $15!

So here is the schedule that Seattle Wine Outlet has for the rest of the spring. I’d suggest going to some if you want to step up your wine game at a budget.

4/15 – Grgich Hills Cellar (Napa Valley, CA) – Sold out
4/30 – Wines of St – Emillion
5/5 – Dona Paula (Mendoza, Argentina)
5/7 – Symington family port wines (Oporto, Portugal)
5/13 – Conde de Valdemar (Rioja, SP)
5/14 – Mastroberardino (Campania, IT)
5/20 – Elk Cove Winery (Willamette Valley, OR)
6/4 – Wines of Tramin (Alto Adige, IT)

Call the folks at Seattle Wine Outlet today to get yourself to these classes, see you at one soon!
phone: 206-652-1311