A restaurant wine list can be overwhelming, sometimes looking more like a catalog. Even worse is the swanky restaurant that has a wine list delivered by a sommelier…intimidating to say the least. But take a breath. If a restaurant has a sommelier, thank them! The sommelier is there to help you! That should make you happy not intimidated. Talk with them on whatever level you are, and they will gladly meet you there.
Whether working with a sommelier or not, extensive wine lists should not be overwhelming. If you find yourself weaving through the pages of a wine list, here are a few tips to give you the upper hand. You can use just one of the tips or use them all to narrow down your decision:
Choose a grape variety – a helpful website to learn about grapes is www.nosnob.com/about-grapes. It will teach you information like, Merlot is pronounced “mur-lo,” it is a medium bodied, ruby colored wine tasting like cherry, plum and chocolate and pairs with pasta, grilled meat and chicken. No internet? Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wineby Madeline Puckette is an excellent source (you should buy this book anyway, it’s a great reference).
Choose your style of wine –
Sparkling (examples – Champagne, Cava, Prosecco)
Aromatic White (examples -Riesling, Gewurztraminer)
Choose by price point – if a sommelier or wait staff is involved, pointing to a general price on the menu is a tactful way to give the sommelier an idea of your price range. This is especially helpful if you are on a first date or treating a group of people to wine and want to be incognito about how much you would like to spend.
Bottom line, it is your dining experience and your dollar, so take the time to make a decision that will make the occasion an enjoyable one.
When it comes to white wine, the choices are varied and vast: sweet Riesling, light Pinot Grigio, spicy Chardonnay, aromatic Gewürztraminer, etc. I’m a fan of them all but there is one that consistently has a place in my top ten – the lovely Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc’s origin is from the Bordeaux region in France where it is typically blended with Semillon. Head up north to the Loire Valley and you’ll find Sancerre, the most famous Sauvignon Blanc of the region. In California, Sauvignon Blanc is sometimes referred to as Fumé Blanc. Robert Mondavi came up with this term in the late 1960’s after barrel aging Sauvignon Blanc to improve the negative reputation of the wine.
Light, fresh and intended to be consumed young, Sauvignon Blanc pairs perfectly with shellfish, such as crabs, oysters, and mussels. It is also a quintessential pairing for chèvre.
An outstanding characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc is it’s grassy component. It literally shares the same chemical compound found in freshly mowed grass. This peculiar feature may be difficult for some to overcome but makes it easy to discern.
The tasting profile of Sauvignon Blanc varies greatly depending on the origin of the wine. French Sauvignon Blanc has citrus notes of lime and gooseberry with a good hit of minerality. Washington, California and Oregon Sauvignon Blanc have similar citrus notes with grapefruit and white peach showing up in the warmer climates. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has tropical flavors coming forth, like passion fruit and also has a dominant presence of pungent green capsicum (green pepper).
No specific recommendations this time because I have not met a Sauvignon Blanc I did not like. Grab one with a cool label, from your favorite appellation, or the right price. I am sure you will not be disappointed.
You have probably been around someone who uses crazy words to describe their wine. If you drink enough wine, you may be one of those people. So why do we use these terms? Wine descriptors help us put words to our wine. Imagine if someone were to ask you to describe what an apple tastes like. What would you say? It taste like an apple! The only way to describe the apple would be to come up with similarities or comparisons. When someone says a glass of wine tastes like black cherry, plum, dark chocolate and spice you can hear the words and know what they mean when you drink the wine.
So let’s break down some of those crazy descriptors:
Chewy/Furry – the wine has a ton of tannin and dries out your mouth so much that you almost feel like chewing; your mouth is dry to the point of being completely void of moisture and feels furry
Cigar/Cigar Box – usually found in refined red wines and is the presence of the smell/flavor of tobacco or tobacco leaves like a cigar; when it is slightly sweeter and has cedar wood and smoke, this is cigar box
Creamy – white wine or sparkling wine fermented or aged in oak that takes on a creamy feel in your mouth – the term buttery is also used (can be due to Malolactic Fermentation)
Grassy – it is actually legitimate when a person puts their nose in a glass of sauvignon blanc smells freshly mowed grass – that aroma in the wine shares the same chemical compound found in the smell of mowed grass
Green Pepper – some grapes carry the same savory aroma compound (pyrazines) as a bell pepper, especially Bordeaux origin grapes like sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc; the smell and taste will be similar to a cut bell pepper
Jammy – thick, cooked berry taste, smell and sometimes feel in the mouth often used to describe grenache, shiraz, and zinfandel
Leather – found in quality red wine because of tannin present in grape skins, seeds and oak barrels; tannins are also used to tan leather; smell and/or lick your belt or purse, you’ll get the idea
Toast – aroma due to wine being aged in toasted oak barrels; not bread toast, more like barely burnt caramel
Seattle has become the epicenter for successful business. As of 2017 fifteen Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in and around the city. Some of the more well known of these: Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Costco and Expedia. In addition, there are giants like Boeing with more than 70,000 employees. These excessively successful business genetics spread to Woodinville, located just beyond Seattle’s 405 beltway. There, a unique urban wine scene has evolved. The heart of Washington’s wine country is a three hour trek over the mountains from Seattle, too far to draw the citified sprawl of wine seekers who prefer to live and work within the city limits; thus, the business of wine and winemaking gravitated towards Seattle and centers in Woodinville.
The romance of rollings hills and vineyards may not be part of Woodinville, but everything from production to bottled wine has been captured. The precise moment the grapes are picked, they are driven to fully operational production facilities, co-located with the tasting room or in separate facilities. There are several places to visit – the “Warehouse District,” for example, is exactly as it sounds, rows of warehouses with winery signs over the doors, pick up trucks and forklifts whizzing around, winery dogs on the premises, barrels stacked high, and the smell of wine in the air.
Woodinville has over 100 wineries and tasting rooms, a handful of microbreweries, multiple distilleries and cideries, and 26 restaurants and eateries. The wineries represent every appellation in the state of Washington and encompass everything from mass production to a one-man show. Your visit may start with a tasting tour at the renowned Chateau Ste. Michelle, the first pearl in the “string of pearls” of the enormous Ste. Michelle Wine Estates conglomerate, and you may end your tasting at a boutique winery where the winemaker is about the only guy showing up to work…and winemaking is his second job.
WINERIES OF WOODINVILLE
Woodinville is easy to navigate because it is sectioned off into four distinct districts: The Hollywood District, The West Valley District, The Warehouse District, and The Downtown District. Each district is located in different areas of town, although none too far from the other. The Hollywood District and The Warehouse District are home to most of the Woodinville wineries. Some of The Warehouse District wineries also have tasting rooms elsewhere so plan ahead in order to make the most of your time. For a complete list of wineries, visit Woodinville Wine Country. Many excellent local wineries make it difficult to narrow down a list, but here are ten excellent choices to get you started:
THE HOLLYWOOD DISTRICT
Betz Family Winery – Bob Betz has been making wine since 1975, by 2005 the Betz Family Cabernet Sauvignon was named “Number One Wine Of The Year” by Seattle Times wine critic Paul Gregutt and in 2014 their 2010 Pere de Famille was ranked #6 in the world in Wine Enthusiast “Top 100 Cellar Selections”
Chateau Ste. Michelle – Washington’s oldest winery and one of Seattle’s top spots for visitors offering complimentary tours daily and seasonal concerts. Col Solare, the partnership between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori has a tasting room located within the Chateau. Tastings with Col Solare Bottega are by appointment only.
If you get the chance to meet him, winemaker Jerry Riener will exude his passion for winemaking. Jerry is one of those winemakers mentioned earlier who makes wine as his second job. He is a full time police officer who has creatively intertwined his career with his passion as is evidenced by wines with names like “The Alibi,” “Chalkline,” and “Gunmetal.” Guardian Cellars has a tasting room and production facilities in The Warehouse District, as well as a tasting room in The Hollywood District. Jerry was kind enough to show us Guardian Cellars production facility the day we visited.
DeLille Cellars – Consistently rating 90+ points on wines year after year from multiple publications with a focus on Bordeaux style wine.
Owner Kit Singh is another winemaker who expertly juggles a full time career and winemaking. When not in the cellar of his boutique winery producing 90+ point wines, Kit can be found at his dental practice in Redmond, WA.
Gorman Winery – Not your average winemaker producing outstanding wine. Wine Spectator named Chris Gorman one of the ten rising stars in American winemaking in 2008.
A family owned and operated winery producing fantastic wines often rating 90+ points and focusing on Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. Winemaker Linn Scott graciously hosted and allowed us access to Sparkman’s production facilities on a day grapes arrived from the vineyards. Sparkman Cellars has production facilities and a tasting room in The Warehouse District as well as a tasting room in The Hollywood District.
THE WAREHOUSE DISTRICT
Barrage Cellars – This is truly a one-man show producing excellent wine. The best part of visiting this winery, the guy pouring the wine is the guy making the wine. Make sure to check the hours of operation because they are limited.
Efesté – Producing wines using native fermentation resulting in richer, fuller, more complex wines that possess unique aromas and flavors. Efeste wines repeatedly earn high accolades.
Two Vintners -Thinking outside the box with a desire to produce wines that expose consumers to the uniqueness of Washington. Two Vintners is one of the few winemakers producing orange wine.
Selected for Condé Nast’s Gold Traveler’s List in the heart of The Hollywood District is Willows Lodge, a luxurious get-away offering cozy rooms with fireplaces, a full service spa, and top notch dining options with impressive wine lists to match.
For a more intimate experience, Matthews Winery Bed & Breakfast has a simple but elegantly furnished bed and breakfast with two rooms, the Merlot Room and the Syrah Room. Each room offers a king size bed, complimentary tasting for two, a bottle of their award winning Claret, and complimentary breakfast in the morning.
If you are looking for more mainstream lodging, you can find many of the major hotel chains within 10-15 minutes from the heart of Woodinville.
Barking Frog at Willows Lodge features a warm, inviting dining room and even more inviting patio for the summer months. Executive Chef Bobby Moore and his culinary team create dishes using fresh, local ingredients complemented by a noteworthy selection of wines sourced locally and from around the world.
Located on the grounds of Willows Lodge is internationally renowned The Herbfarm Restaurant, winner of AAA’s 5 Diamond Award. Diners can enjoy a nine course wine pairing dinner seasonally inspired and finalized mere hours before being served. The Purple Cafe & Wine Bar in the Hollywood Vineyards Plaza is situated amongst a slew of tasting rooms making it a great place to escape for a tasty break from sipping wine. The food is eclectic and creative, and the wine holds up to the menu beautifully. For another equally enjoyable option located in the same plaza with a more casual, hip vibe, visit The Commons Kitchen And Bar.
Urban wineries and the development of wine scenes are becoming wildly popular across America. They are a great way for city dwellers to enjoy the fun of wine tasting without leaving the comfort of their city limits. It is a perfect scenario for busy lifestyles, not to mention an advantageous business move for wineries. But do not worry if the evolving urban wine scene is not for you. There will always be room for the romantic side of wine that draws people to acres of vineyards, stately chateaux and villa-inspired tasting rooms surrounded by gnarled vines…even if they are 3 hours away.
Summer is in full swing so it’s “legal” to wear white….and drink white wine! Okay, there’s no rule about white wine but it is a good excuse to start if you haven’t already!
There’s so much great white wine out there from light Pinot Gris to full body Chardonnay and plenty in-between.
LIGHT-BODIED white wines are known for their dry, refreshing flavors. They are intended to be enjoyed young while at their peak acidity and fruitiness. They’re the perfect accompaniment for warm, summer days, food optional. Some of the tastiest are Albariño, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Soave and Vermentino.
AROMATIC white wines are some of the most interesting. People either love ‘em or hate ‘em. They have distinct characteristics that set them apart and make them unique. As I’ve mentioned, I am not one to throw back a lot of wine. I am, however; one who likes a wide range of wines so this category is one I appreciate. These guys are highly perfumed often with sweet fruit aromas like guava and lychee. They have floral notes of rose, jasmine, honeysuckle, and geranium. They can even be peculiar with notes of beeswax and petroleum. Their descriptors can make them sound mostly sweet but they can also be very dry. Aromatic wines are the ones to drink if you’re eating Asian or Indian cuisine. Look for Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc and Torrontés.
FULL-BODIED whites are known for their rich, bold flavors. These fellas (I assume they are dudes, I guess) are often aged in oak barrels or on their lees (dead yeast cells) giving them creaminess and flavors of butter and vanilla. You are probably familiar with Chardonnay, but try branching out to a lush Viognier or a meaty Roussanne.
If none of these “WOW” you, there’s always sparkling wine…but that is a whole other post.
I discovered Lauren Ashton Cellars while living in Washington state. My husband, Joe, attended the Northwest Wine Academy and was in a class with Riinu Rammal who co-owns LaurenAshton Cellars with her husband, Kit Singh. A few weeks later, Joe and I topped off a date day with a visit to LaurenAshton‘s tasting room in the Hollywood District of Woodinville where we became hooked on these fantastic wines. LaurenAshton focuses on traditional French style wines that reflect Washington terroir. They have just released two pretty fabulous wines that I am delighted to share with you:
A Bordeaux style white wine made up of 55% Semillon and 45% Sauvignon Blanc fermented like a white wine should, low and slow, in stainless steel tanks and neutral barrels. Cuvée Méline shows a purposeful balance between high acidity and lushness with green apple, grapefruit, peach and green melon followed by an intriguing suggestion of fresh bread. I paired this wine with sweet potato gnocchi and it was a cohesive, delicious duo.
Also Bordeaux inspired, from the Right Bank with a Merlot predominance, is Cuvée Arlette . A blend of 59% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and a token of Malbec and Petit Verdot. Cuvée Arlette is a dignified wine with aromas of dark fruits, spices and earthy minerals. On the palate, flavors of black raspberry, black currant and black cherry with a sway to perfectly roasted coffee beans, warm baking spices and clay pot. The finish lingers on the palate providing an elegant, pleasing culmination.
For the first time ever, Lauren Ashton has released a Chenin Blanc. The wine is whole cluster pressed resulting in a high quality, refreshing wine with crisp acidity. The aroma is fruity with a hint of mango and flavors of ripe Bartlett pear, yellow apple, and pineapple with undertones of honey and chalk. I tasted this little lovely in the morning before eating, which I admit, is something I do often while my palate is most attentive. It would pair well with Asian food or simple chicken and fish dishes.
Whether you are looking to stock a cellar, enjoy a bottle or two in the next few months, or polish off immediately, these are excellent wines worth considering. Lauren Ashton distributes to many states as well as ships to any state without restrictions. To order Lauren Ashton wines, click here.
As wineries occasionally do, Lauren Ashton sent the above wines to me. I only promote wines I thoroughly enjoy since my name is essentially on them at the point of promotion. As I state in my bio, "I am here to inspire you to treat yourself to great wine experiences as often as you possibly can!" I recommend wines that, in my opinion, can create great wine experiences.
I have done some self-reflecting on my relationship with wine. I grew up in a moderately conservative Christian home. Alcohol wasn’t necessarily banned, but wine was never a dinner table staple. Nowadays, my parents lean further away from wine and my sister is completely against it. This has led me to do some self-examination as wine has become my life’s passion.
When a person says they love wine, it seems most people imagine someone who can drink a half bottle or more a night or someone who can hit 5 or more wineries on a wine tasting trip. Of course, I genuinely enjoy (most) wine but by all accounts, I’m an anomaly in the wine world. Make no mistake, I am fairly consistent with my glass of wine at dinner most evenings but beyond that I rarely stray. I have to carefully drink red and white wine if both are part of an event and cannot really throw sparkling wine into that mix. If I go wine tasting, the perfect day stops with 2 wineries and even then, I’m spitting most of my wine or sharing with my husband. Yep, I’m a wine wimp!
So what is it I love about wine then? I love the story of wine. I love that wine starts with grapes in the vineyards, vines that farmers optimally want to struggle but baby at the same time then pick on the precise day they are ready. I love that once in the cellar, the winemaker carefully takes over nurturing the grapes from fruit to juice, then fermenting and patiently waiting, aging the wine to perfection before letting go in hopes the consumer will find true enjoyment from his labor. In the hands of the consumer, I love that wine has the gift to bring people together, making ordinary meals extraordinary events and searing good times into lifelong memories.
Basically what Andre Simon says:
“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.”
Maybe it’s because I recently moved from Washington where this grape is thriving but much to my delight, I’ve noticed more and more Mourvèdre being bottled as a single varietal. Mourvèdre is a thick skinned grape, moderately drought tolerant and requires a lot of sunshine to ripen which makes it perfect for eastern Washington and the Sierra Foothills of California – both places where it’s showing off proudly as a single varietal wine.
Mourvèdre is an old varietal and probably first became known in Spain as Monastrell. It gained popularity in France, particularly as Provence’s most noble wine, Bandol. It’s also used in the Southern Rhone wine, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a blend of at least 13 different grapes and is used in both southern France and Australia to add structure to Grenache and Syrah blends. You may have heard of Mourvèdre referred to as Mataro in Australia (or California back in the day).
The beauty of the desert like sunny days of eastern Washington and parts of California let this grape express it’s complexity and richness giving way to bold blackberry, blueberry and plum fruit with a wonderful hit of freshly ground black pepper that is stunningly unique and enticing. There may also be nuances of lavender, sweet tobacco and cocoa. The Spanish Monastrell will show more roasted meat aromas. An added bonus to Spanish Monastrell, is it’s affordability.
Mourvèdre is a full-bodied wine with big tannins. For me, this is not a patio sipper. I’d pair Mourvèdre with a steak, bbq, or rich tomato based pasta in the middle of winter…or during one of those heavy rainfalls seasons many of us seem to experience now-a-days.
Mourvèdre/Monastrell To Look For ~
Tarima Hill Monastrell, Bodegas Volver, Alicante, SP $14
Terre Rouge Mourvédre, Sierra Foothills, CA $28
Syncline Mourvèdre, Columbia Valley, WA $30
Bunnell Family Cellar, Northridge Vineyard Mourvèdre, WA $36
Many people sniff wine before sipping. If you don’t, you may be perplexed by this seemingly improper behavior.
There is good reason for sniffing wine and it’s even considered proper. Think about when you wake to fresh brewed coffee…the aroma is so alluring! Even non-coffee drinkers appreciate the smell. That’s because our sense of smell is highly sensitive and impressively vast. Humans can detect thousands; some say trillions, of different scents. The sensory organ for the sense of smell is called the olfactory epithelium and contains millions of nerve cells that give the ability to enjoy aromas in coffee, food, wine, etc.
Our sense of taste is strikingly limited compared to our sense of smell. There are only five sensory properties associated with taste: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savory, protein taste found in foods like aged cheeses or ketchup). You may think you’re “tasting” flavors but it’s your nose flooding you with those aromas. To prove this, do a quick experiment with a raisin. Eat a raisin as you normally would then eat a second raisin while plugging your nose. You will notice the raisin you eat while plugging your nose taste only sweet (sensation associated with taste). It is not until you release your nose (even after swallowing) that the aromas come rushing through. That’s because the flavors you taste are due to the scents reaching the nose when the raisin is in your mouth.
The same is true for wine. Wine contains around 200 aromatic compounds and by sniffing into your glass, you can direct all those scents to the olfactory epithelium giving you enjoyment. This sense of smell will continue as you taste then swallow the wine. So don’t be shy, get your nose in the glass and sniff!
Lauren Ashton Cellars has become wildly popular for their Rosé. They’ve been sold out of the previous vintage for months and much anticipation has surrounded the release of their 2016 vintage which is set to release April 22-23 at their tasting studio in Woodinville, Washington.
Winemaker and owner Kit Singh along with his wife and co-owner Riinu Rammal are part of a growing number of wineries who love giving back and decided since the release of their Rosé was so popular they would include the community and incorporate a charitable element to their Rosé release event, “Release the Rosé.” A portion of the proceeds from the sales during the Rosé release weekend will be donated to the Susan G. Komen Puget Sound chapter. I love when this sort of out pouring of generosity happens in the wine industry.
So about this Rosé….
Wow, is it beautiful! It’s a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Counnoise from Columbia Valley. The wine is bright, fresh and well balanced with flavors of strawberry, raspberry, watermelon, ripe white peach with a delicate floral note. Last night, I paired it with pork carnitas from pinch of yum and the flavors played off of each other delightfully!
If you find yourself in the Woodinville area during their “Release the Rosé” event, I highly recommend picking up some fantastic wine and supporting this great cause, it’s a win-wine (see what I did there)!