Sunday, July 25, 2010

Passaggio Wines Does It Again!

A few months ago, I introduced you all to a good friend of mine, Cynthia Cosco--winemaker and lab assistant at Crushpad, San Francisco's famous custom crush facility. Well, a lot has happened since then! Crushpad is now a reality in Napa Valley, having moved their crush facility to a location on the Silverado Trail--complete with a vineyard. And as for Cindy, she's still with them and still making her own wine and yes, folks, she has done it again! Cindy is on a roll, having just released not one but two excellent wines I feel everyone should know about! There's a big buzz out there about her wines and I have a feeling the buzz is about to get bigger!

I recently received samples of the new releases. The first release is the 2009 Passaggio Wines New Generation Unoaked Chardonnay. Last year, I went on and on about how refreshing the 2008 release was and how I'd learned to embrace unoaked Chardonnay because of Cindy! Well, I am here to say that the 2009 was such a lovely surprise and the flavors this time are even bigger! So tropical and absolutely wonderful. Bursting with pineapple and guava goodness. She really has her finger on top of a formula I hope keeps evolving because it is truly wonderful! This wine is $16 a bottle. Worth every penny!

This year, she decided to surprise us with a new wine as well. The 2009 Passaggio Wines New Generation Pinot Grigio is a breath of fresh air! I'm not a big fan of Pinot Grigio. I tend to find them boring and uninspiring. This one is completely different. I enjoyed it from the first sip. Lemons, pears, crisp, refreshing! Way more flavorful than the traditional Pinot Grigios coming out of Italy. Just superb! $14.

With wines this nice and flavorful, Cindy's star is definitely on the rise! I hope to see many more wines being created in the coming years. Perhaps a Rosé or how about a Riesling? Maybe she'll even venture into making red wines! The possibilities would be endless! Let's hope so! So, where can you get these great wines? They are available through her website at She also has them available at Crushpad if you were to pop in and visit. I know I'm a bit late in saying this but she does have a "Summertime Special" going on for the month of July! Save 20% when you purchase six or more bottles of Passaggio Wines. Now that's a deal!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cellarmistress Does Woodinville Part Two: The Grand Tasting

Upon leaving Chateau Ste. Michelle, our group of bloggers was whisked away across the road to the Willows Lodge, home of the famous restaurant, The Barking Frog. As we walked through the building, I spotted a sign reading “Private Event Wa. Wine Bloggers. Thank You For Joining Us!” At that moment, I felt pretty special! In the courtyard stood many eagerly awaiting winemakers and winery representatives from wineries right there in Woodinville! This tasting would take awhile and in the interest of time, I’m going to discuss a few of the producers. You all know how long-winded I am! I’d be writing a novel if I mentioned every single detail! Anyway, I was like a kid in a candy store! What do I try first? Who do I meet first? Everyone began disbursing to the different tables and guess what?

I spotted vintner Bob Betz of Betz Family Winery. I approached with caution because I didn’t want to seem too eager but who was I kidding? I knew that Bob had a huge history in the Washington wine industry--that he’d worked for Ste. Michelle back when it was Stimson Lane, that his wines were worshipped by many faithful followers, that he had a MW (Master Of Wine) as a title and that his winery’s mailing list had been closed for quite some time. If my trip had ended right there, I’d have had no regrets, after all Bob Betz was legendary! Who would regret sampling two of his finest wines---one of them yet to be released to the general public??? Not I! So I sauntered over and introduced myself! He was as charming and pleasant as could be as his daughter, Carmen, poured me a sample of 2008 Syrah La Côte Patriarche (Est. retail $55, 215 cases, to be released October 2010). I remember thinking, “Wow!” this is going to be the benchmark for everything else I try this week! Sourced from Yakima Valley’s Red Willow Vineyard (the oldest Syrah planting in the state), this wine was velvety with bursts of dark fruit and a very long, lingering finish! And yet to be released! How fortunate could I get? The next wine I sampled was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Père de Familie. ($60 retail, 815 cases-sourced mostly from Ciel Du Cheval, Klipsun and Kiona Vineyard on Red Mountain). Very big, dense fruit with mineral qualities, a bit tight but would open up nicely with decanting or aging, Now that was an experience and I still had several more tables to visit!

The next person I met was Darren DesVoigne of DesVoigne Cellars. I had never heard of them before but the labels on their bottles caught my eye. They had beautiful artwork of jazz musicians on them. I went back to white wines and started off with his 2009 Menina Flor Columbia Valley Viognier/Roussanne. That’s an interesting varietal combination I’d never run across before! I wanted to run away with the bottle! It was unbelievably creamy with a melange of citrus! And for only $20 and 136 cases produced, I’m sure it would sell out quickly!

Next up was owner/winemaker Steve Snyder of Hollywood Hill Vineyards. The sun was beating down on me so I asked to sample a white. One thing you need to know about me is I am crazy about Roussanne. It’s just not a wine I can find a lot of and coming to Washington was the best thing because it opened my eyes to some of the best Roussannes out there! Hollywood Hill makes a fine one, 2009 Horse Heaven Hills Roussanne. ($24, 70 cases produced). Guess I was lucky to sample it because production is so small! Full-bodied and lush with ripe pineapple flavor. Just scrumptious!

At the recommendation of my friend, wine blogger Bill Eyer, I ventured over to the Baer Winery table where I met Lisa Baer, representing her family. Her table featured two reds, 2007 Ursa and 2007 Arctos. Washington has a lot of best kept secrets. Here’s one of them! These two Bordeaux blends are amazing! My first thought was that the price points would be very high and I almost hesitated to ask. I was stunned to find out the 2007 Ursa ($35, 997 cases produced) and the 2007 Arctos ($41, 267 cases produced) were so moderately priced. Good Lord! Beautiful wines at an incredible price! Highly recommended!

distefano and Sparkman Cellars shared a table. Though I will talk about Sparkman Cellars in a later post, I did want to mention that distefano was named 2008 Winery Of The Year by Wine Press Northwest and 2009 Best Winery by people’s choice 425 Magazine. The 2005 Sogno (which means dream, in Italian) was my favorite at this table. Yet another great value , this wine was 98% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was very spicy, with cloves, mint, eucalyptus and blue fruit. Another jaw dropping moment occurred when I saw the price point, $32 (550 cases produced).

Finally, we move on to dessert. Dessert wine, that is. My friends, Mike and Kate Sharadin of Northwest Totem Cellars made a fine fine dessert wine, the 2007 Elerding Vineyard Late Harvest Viognier! ($27) Slightly sweet, with honeysuckle notes and so smooth. I was loving this wine and Mike came up behind me and handed me a bottle to take back to Iowa! I want to thank him for doing this because it’s a beautiful wine and I can’t wait to share it with my family and friends!

Alas, the tasting had to come to an end and we were directed into the Barking Frog restaurant where DeLille Cellars owner/partner Jay Soloff was waiting to pour us some more of his wines with lunch. Stay tuned for my next post featuring Jay and his wonderful wines and the awesome cuisine of Chef Bobby Moore! If you are interested in getting to know these wineries better, all of them have tasting rooms in Woodinville, Washington, which is a suburb of Seattle.

You may access more information on their respective websites below:

My thanks to Bill Eyer for providing the photo of Darren DesVoigne and the distefano and Hollywood Hill Vineyards wines! I also wanted to thank Marcus Pape for all the hard work he put into bringing this all together! And--I want to say how excited I was that I finally got to meet three of my good Twitter friends: Margot (@writeforwine), Shona (@shona425) and Bean (@winebeerwa)!!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cellarmistress Does Woodinville Part One: Chateau Ste. Michelle

Well, I'm back from Washington state! Most of you have probably figured this out from my never ending tweets--screaming how thrilled I was to be there! So, how was it anyway? Well, it all started on the evening of June 22nd, when I departed my humble abode for the thrill of the Pacific Northwest. A flight that was late, a run through the airport (again), a second flight that was a rollercoaster ride (sat next to some people from W. Virginia-their first flight-thought they were going to scream bloody murder!) and a long wait at the airport for my hotel shuttle...But, I finally made it, sleepy-eyed and dead to the world at 1 AM (which was really 3 AM my time!). Four hours later, my wake-up call rudely awakened me and I stumbled into the bathroom to make coffee, only I forgot to put the actual coffee pot under the coffee maker and made a complete mess all over the floor! Could it get any worse? I made it downstairs, woke up, ate breakfast and soon I was off my airport shuttle and in the lobby at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Seattle, waiting to begin my big journey-- for WBCorBust to begin! I sure hoped so!

After a few formal introductions, myself and my fellow WBCorBust winners, climbed aboard our bus and took off for Woodinville!!! First stop--a tour and private food and wine pairing at Chateau Ste. Michelle!

Most people are familiar with this winery in some way or another. (If not, I am not sure where you've been hiding all these years!) I have to be up front and say that I was not sure what to expect with this visit. I knew they were famous for their Riesling. (I did a post about this awhile back) But that's all I knew. This was a large-production winery and its parent company, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, owned many wineries including Snoqualmie, Columbia Crest, Spring Valley Vineyard, Northstar Winery and Col Solare (along with a few others in Oregon and California) The winery also owned 3500 acres of land in the Columbia Valley and made many, many wines. What was I in for? I'd never visited a winery this large before.

My mind was put completely at ease when we were joined by Lynda Eller, Director of Communications for the winery and winemaker Wendy Stuckey, who oversees the production of white wine. Both were very personable and informative as they led us on a tour of the production facility. As they walked us through the facility, I noticed large billboard displays showing their vineyards, wines and special joint projects lining the walls. Down below and through safety glass, one could watch wine being bottled. The moment I was there, they were bottling Chardonnay. We walked downstairs to the stainless steel tanks and I witnessed cold fermentation, with frost on the outside of the tanks! I had never seen this before. The barrel room was absolutely huge, with row after endless row of oak barrels. The smell of those barrels was just intoxicating! I loved it!

We went outside for a moment, then back inside into another room where they had set up the private tasting for our group. The room was intimate and there were tables lined with white linens and many tasting glasses set-up on each table. Each person had their own little private menu printed on paper and each glass was set on on a labeled tasting chart, so you'd be able to tell the wines apart. We all took our seats and Wendy introduced us to the winery's culinary director, John Sarich. This winery knows how to pull all the stops! What commenced was an amazing marriage of beautiful food paired with elegant wines and made for a memorable morning!

We began with our first plate, which had Indian Spiced Prawns with Tomato Chutney, Sesame Seared Halibut with an Orange-basil Thai Curry, Coconut Rice and Citrus Salad, and some Currywurst. The three appetizers were paired very nicely with three Rieslings: the 2008 Eroica Riesling from Columbia Valley (a project between the winery and famed German winemaker, Dr. Ernst Loosen-$24), 2009 Dry Riesling from Columbia Valley ($9) and 2009 Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling from Columbia Valley ($15). I have to say Riesling is one of those wines I've always overlooked and don't drink much of. However, this tasting has saved me! These plates, paired up with these wines, have succeeded in making me a Riesling fan for good! Wendy talked about the wines while John explained the pairings and the thought behind them. (later on at the Wine Bloggers Conference, we all received a copy of John's book, "Chef In The Vineyard"--a gorgeous book with many recipes and photos! I'm excited to start cooking!) Before moving on to the next plate, we were given the opportunity to barrel taste a sample of the 2009 Eroica, which still had a ways to go but showed promise. I will attempt to pair up all my spicy dishes with Riesling going forward and see how they fare! All three of the above Rieslings are available through the winery and in most U.S. markets.

Next up, we all received a second plate which featured Roast Duck with Cherry Merlot Sauce, a Sweet Potato Cake and Manchego Cheese. This plate would pair up with Merlot. There's nothing to fear about the Merlot from Chateau Ste. Michelle! The flavors are huge-lots of dark chocolate, spicy cherries! We had 2007 Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot from Horse Heaven Hills ($22), 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot ($28) and a very special wine, their 2006 Artist Series Meritage (which contained Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot-$50).

After much swooning, I embraced what was next, dessert! Basque cookies with Rasberries were paired up with the 2005 Ethos Late Harvest White Riesling from Horse Heaven Hills ($35) It was liquid heaven! So rich and sweet-tasted almost like honey!

I have to say, in retrospect, it couldn't have been anymore perfect! I came home from Washington with a whole new respect for this brand and its wines and people! I am really looking forward to getting to know them better! After a perfect morning, we were whisked off to another tasting in Woodinville but got to enjoy some of the Ste. Michelle wine portfolio again later in the week at the Wine Bloggers' Conference in Walla Walla. There's a lot more to this adventure so please stay tuned in the coming weeks for a lot more excitement! I'd like to thank my two WBCorBust co-horts in crime, Bill Eyer (who took the wine photo) and Tom Plant (who took the food photos) for allowing me to use their photos which were better than mine! Cheers to everyone!