Visit out to the Wild Wild West…. Part 1
Getting to travel to the West Coast and in particular Washington and Oregon, to visit wineries and restaurants is always a treat and educational as I meet new people and experience new wines. For six days I travelled almost 1200 miles and visited 17 wineries and tried over 200 wines. This trip had a little bit of everything – great wines, good wines and wines that made go what the H%$L is this, and then there are the people we met along the way (a whole book could be written on this subject) For your sake (and time) I will break this into several parts to give you the perspective of what I experienced.
Washington State is different than most wine regions in that most of the wineries have their tasting rooms far away from the actual winery. About 140 wineries have tasting rooms in Woodinville, a Seattle suburb about a 45 minute drive south of the city; while others are opening urban wineries in place called Georgetown. This area is cool because it is the location where most of the manufacturing in the Pacific Northwest was done and in fact Boeing still has a facility at the end of Georgetown. It is here that my adventure begins, in an old Dr. Pepper factory overlooking the landing strip of Boeing’s facility.
I went to taste wines at the Charles Smith winery where they have named their new company Wines of Substance. They produce several labels out of this facility – Sixto, Substance, K Vintners ViNO, CasaSmith, B. Leighton and Charles & Charles. Being the first stop coupled with the excitement of being at the first winery of the trip, when asked what I wanted to try I said, “show me everything” ….well 20 wines later I left with a smile on my face I knowing I started off in the right spot. The ViNO wines offer up great values which were exciting to taste and can see finding spots on our shelves in the coming weeks. The Sixto, K Vintners wines are big bold, rich, complex, dynamic and excitement straight out of the bottle and into the glass. New to me were the B. Leighton wines which are the label of winemaker, Brennon Leighton, creative I know. These wines were not your typical Cab/Syrah monster reds from Washington State; instead they were restrained, fresh, with bright fruit, and well balanced with a wonderful smooth finish. Blown away by the tasting had to pick up a bottle to drink later in my trip. After the tasting I had to ask where else to go and they recommended a little brewery just around the corner called “lower case brewing.” There I did a flight of their brews, which were a great refresher for my palate after tasting all of those wines.
After those two great tastings I was ready to explore Seattle and find more hidden gems… First stop was a French Wine Bar called La Caviste where I left my choices in the hands of the bartender not only for the wines but also the cheese and charcuterie, and he chose a couple of killer wines from Beaujolais and Samur. After that I made the short walk over to the Space Needle where I plopped down $26 to ride up an elevator and walk around only to come back down a few minutes later (I don’t understand the fascination). I walked past several of the landmarks in town including the iconic Pikes Public Market where they have all of the fresh seafood, veggies, flowers and whatever ingredients you need to make a great meal at home. By this point my stomach was calling out, “feed me” and with dinner time nearly upon me I headed off to Capital Grille where I could have a nice steak and a yet another glass of wine. The perfect ending to my first day.
The next morning I awoke refreshed and charged up for my first appointment of the day at one of Washington State’s oldest wineries – Ch. Ste. Michelle. Before you all stop reading and say wait a minute don’t they make wines we see in grocery stores? Yes but they also make wines at other levels and have partnerships with two of the biggest names in Europe Dr. Loosen and Marchese Pero Antinori. The wines they are producing at each level are fantastic and great representations of price to quality ratios (overdelivering at all levels.) My appointment included doing a blending seminar, which enabled me to make my own blend, assimilating their top blend Ch. Ste. Michelle Artist Series, a Cabernet inspired red using fruit from Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley. I began by tasting the 2011 Ch. Ste. Michelle Artist series which had plenty of dark fruit, cassis, dark chocolate, leather, cigar box notes with plenty of tannins and great acidity. Then I got to taste the 5 different barrels and varietals of Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec which my blend would come from. Starting with the Malbec which was lush with fruit and a boatload of tannins. There were two single vineyard Merlot’s – Canoe Ridge and Cold Creek vineyards, which I knew I was putting into my blend; especially the Cold Creek because of its elegant layers of fruit and supple tannins which I really enjoyed and then the power of acid and intense fruit of the Canoe Ridge was one I wanted to have in my blend to give the wine structure. But when talking Washington wines Cabernet is still one of the kings and the Canoe Ridge and Cold Creek vineyards also produced BIG ASS CAB’s and I made the decision to make the bulk of my wine Cabernet. While I enjoyed the Cold Creek Merlot better I felt the Canoe Ridge Cabernet was much more structured and balanced. After mixing up several different blends alternating the percentage of each wine I finally settled on a blend I was happy with, my blend: 1.5% Malbec, 8% Canoe Ridge Merlot, 25% Cold Creek Merlot, 15% Cold Creek Cabernet and 50.5% Canoe Ridge Cabernet. Once I bottled my blend I created my own label and then wrapped the bottle to bring back with me and to put in the cellar to drink next year. What an experience – I highly recommend signing up for the seminar if you are out the area.
How could I top that? Tune in next week to find out….