Saturday, August 28, 2010

Thinking Pink: A Rosé Exposé

It’s summertime and summertime begs for patio time with a nice, big refreshing glass of…pink…What???? No, I’m not crazy! I don’t mean for you to rush to the store to buy the first pink wine you see. (Chances are the first pink wine you’ll see in the grocery store aisle and is called White Zinfandel, a sweet wine that earned popularity in the 70s in Napa Valley. And it kind of just never went away. There are people out there that really like it and that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that, however, I am going to move away from this.) Today’s lesson is to teach you that there is more to “pink wine” than the obvious. Case in point--I have recently learned that there are Rosé wines made from nearly every red grape varietal. I’m so glad I've been introduced to the fabulous world of Rosé wines. I really can’t get enough of them!

There's a huge misconception about Rosé. Once people realize how wrong they were about it, it will be enough to make them, no pun intended, BLUSH! Many just assume it is sweet so they stay away. But the reality of it is that the hgher alcohol levels (13%+) make for a flavorful dry wine and the perfect accompanyment for your outdoor sipping needs. Awhile back, I posted a poll on Facebook's WineBeagles application. I asked if anyone was up for sipping Rosé this Summer. Most said "No! EW! I'm not drinking that!" They had no clue. So I did my research. I found many that offer something for everyone. A crisp cool Summer drink for even the most picky of red wine lovers.

What is Rosé and how is it made? There are three ways to make Rosé. The first would be to crush the red grapes and have the juice come in contact with the red skins for a relatively short period of time. The skin of red wine grapes contain all color and tannin. The longer the juice has contact with the skins, the darker and richer the color of the wine will be. This method is used primarily when the main purpose is to make Rose’ wine only.

The second method is called “Saignee” which literally means to bleed the vats. Sometimes during red wine production, a winemaker will remove some of the pink juice in an effort to make a more intensely colored and flavored red wine. The pink juice is fermented separately to make Rosé.

There is a third way to make Rosé, though it is uncommon. It involves blending red and white finished wines to create a pink wine. And no, there is no such thing as adding red food coloring to a white wine to make pink as someone pointed out once in a wine class I attended. This isn’t Kool-Aid, people!

After many months of searching, sampling and taste testing all kinds of Rosé, I came up with a list of fine examples! To the winemakers who created these wines, you should be proud. These, in my opinion, represent some of the BEST Rosé wines available right now!

The 2008 Corazon Napa Valley Rosé was recently sent to me by the winemaker herself, Cathy Corison. Cathy is a Napa Valley key player and legendary producer of Cabernet Sauvignon. Her winery, Corison Winery, is located in St. Helena right on Highway 29. I was pleasantly surprised to see how light in color this wine was. Light in color but definitely not light in flavor. This wine, bottled only weeks ago, has tremendous potential. At the moment it tastes like a cranberry-plum Jolly Rancher if there ever was such a flavor. The finish lingers on and on and it’s just amazing. I want to be sitting on a patio in Napa Valley sipping on this! Let this wine sweep you away too! It‘s a keeper! $24.

The next one is the 2009 Dry Creek Vineyard Petite Zin. Recently I had the pleasure of hanging out with friends Kim Stare-Wallace, whose family owns Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Vineyard in Healdsburg and Bill Smart, the winery’s marketing coordinator. We were in Washington and I was going on and on about Rosé, so they gifted me their latest and greatest addition to their line. What a great addition! I could seriously drink this wine forever! Imagine a watermelon-rhubarb mix with a peppery kick. Bone dry and fabulous! (and yes, it may be made of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah but it is not a White Zinfandel!) And for $17, I hope it comes to a store near you--and me!!!

Next is the 2008 Dusted Valley Ramblin’ Rosé. Awhile back I did a nice post on Dusted Valley, Wine Press Northwest’s Winery of the Year for 2010. During the WBCorBust trip, I spent my last evening tasting wines at a private party held at Basel Cellars in Walla Walla. There I met Dusted Valley co-owner/winemaker Chad Johnson and I managed to sample an entire line-up of his wines including 2008 Ramblin’ Rosé--a Rosé of Mourvedre. Yep, you are hearing it right… I am enamored with this wine! Deep plummy flavors and a slightly spicy kick. This wine was fabuloso! Alas, I have to wait until the next vintage to get more as this one is a popular one for them and they cannot ship to me during the Summer months!

Next, we’re on to the state of Oregon, where Pinot Noir is KING and where the most sophisticated of wine lovers will find great Rosé made of Pinot Noir! I recently attended a local wine club and the evening’s theme was wines of the Willamette Valley. I was pleasantly surprised to find the 2009 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé to be a wonderful value at $13! Light pink with just a touch of cranberry, cinnamon and watermelon flavors--it was a near perfect balance of a refreshing warm weather quaffer coupled with the sophistication of an Oregon Pinot Noir. Mighty tasty!

Who knew they made a Rosé of Malbec? They do in Argentina! A couple nights ago, I participated in a TasteLive event on Twitter. The event featured Argentinian white wines and the token Rosé . I had received them as samples and I was bursting at the seams with joy when I opened the box and I saw the 2009 Crios Rosé Of Malbec!! A $12 value worth every penny! It was the darkest in color of all the ones I had tried having been created through the “Saignee” method. This was like drinking a glass of rich, flavorful red wine only cool, crisp and refreshing. Winemaker Susana Balbo treats all her wines as if they were her children. She truly knows the secret to making a great Rosé. I want more of this wine, please!

Last but not least, I'd like to mention one more wine I feel deserves merit. Unfortunately, for the time being, it is sold out. The 2008 Selene Wines Napa Valley Rosé . I am anxiously awaiting the next vintage because it is really tasty! I was so excited when a sample of this wine showed up at my house! I knew it was going to be great! It is made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes by Mia Klein, a Napa Valley winemaker who has generated a lot of media buzz the past few years. Best known for her Cabernets and Merlots, she has made a really wonderful Rose’ worth seeking out. Loads of fruit (pomegranate comes to mind) and tropical undertones! $20.

For more information on these and other wines from the wineries featured in this blog post, please check out their websites:

Please note: I was unable to find a winery website for Crios. You may be able to learn more at

So please go ahead...Don't be afraid! Enjoy the remaining days of Summer with a crisp, refreshing Rosé! You'll be happy you did! Cheers!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

WBC or Bust Day One: The Seattle Winemakers Dinner

Our first official evening in Seattle was spent on Pier 70 at the famous Waterfront Seafood Grill. It was so beautiful outside that evening and I soaked in every second of being near the Puget Sound, watching the boats and the sunset. What a great place!! In the midst of all this awaited a fabulous five course dinner with three to four wines per course and some winemakers along to speak about their wines. The host wineries were Sparkman Cellars, Nota Bene Cellars, Cadence Winery, Andrew Will Winery, Fall Line Winery, OS Winery and Sleight Of Hand Cellars...

When we first arrived, we were encouraged to grab a glass of wine and enjoy the view outside. It was gorgeous and I just relaxed and let my mind float away…all the while sampling my first wine of the evening, 2009 Sleight of Hand Cellars The Magician’s Assistant--a Rose’ of Cabernet Franc.

I strolled around outside enjoying the view and enjoying this wine. I’d never had a Cab Franc Rose' before. Delicious! I have heard from the winemaker himself, Trey Busch, that the winery, located in Walla Walla, is about sold out! Get it while you can!($19).

Then it was time to bring on the fabulous wines and food! What a treat it was!!!!!

The first course of this fabulous tasting dinner was a small plate with a roasted snail with a lemon garlic butter sauce. I sat there staring at my plate and thinking, “Oh my God! I’m gonna eat a snail!“ They were meaty but rich and the acidity of the two corresponding wines, 2009 OS Winery Champoux Vineyard Riesling ($20) and the 2008 Sparkman Cellars Lumiere Chardonnay ($25 and sold out) did them well! Here’s a small bit of history on these two wineries…

O.S. Winery stands for Owen & Sullivan. The winery was founded in 1997 by winemaker Bill Owen, who attended our dinner and Seattle-area banker and wine-lover, Rob Sullivan. Their winery, located in Seattle, is known for its “Opulent and Voluptuous Reds”. Indeed, as we would find out later in the evening.

Sparkman Cellars is a small family-owned winery. Chris Sparkman, the winemaker, is also the general manager of the Waterfront Seafood Grill. He and his wife make handcrafted, traditional wines that are very popular with local wine-lovers. This was the first time I had tried their wines and I have to say I was very impressed! I hope I get the chance to visit their winery some day!

The second course was a seared sea scallop atop a bed of wilted spinach in a red wine butter sauce. Three wines accompanied this dish: 2007 Andrew Will Two Blondes Yakima Valley Red ($50), 2008 OS Winery Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Franc($35) and 2006 Fall Line Winery Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($28). Now, I had never thought to pair up scallops with reds but this pairing really worked!

What can I say about Fall Line Winery? Their story is inspiration for anyone wanting to take a hobby and turn it into a career. Winery owner Tim Sorenson and his wife Nancy Rivenburgh are college professors and together they have made their dream of owning a winery a reality. They have chosen to keep their day jobs in addition to making wine! Tim has educated himself in wine at UC Davis and is working to further his education. The winery is located in the South Seattle neighborhood of Georgetown for those of you who would like to visit. I really enjoyed their wines.

Another seafood pairing that worked with reds was our third course--Columbia River Sturgeon with braised fennel, watercress coulis, shallot and bacon relish. This was paired with three big red wines: 2006 Fall Line Winery Artz Red Mountain($30), 2007 Cadence Bel Canto Cara Mia Vineyard (a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, $55) and 2007 Nota Bene Una Notte Columbia Valley($32). Heaven!

Cadence Winery is owned by a couple of Washington transplants, Caye McNutt (originally from Texas) and her husband, Benjamin Smith (who is from Ohio). Ben, a former Boeing employee, and Caye strive to make the best Bordeaux-style blends from Washington’s best vineyards. Their wines are top notch and it shows! The two we sampled at this dinner were spectacular! These wines are highly rated and definitely worth seeking out!

I could have stopped right there but course four was upon me: An Angus Beef short rib with red wine sauce, horseradish and French fries! This course just couldn’t have been anymore decadent and the big reds they chose to pair with it were over the top!!! The 2006 Nota Bene Syrah($30), 2007 Cadence Tapteil Vineyard Red Mountain (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, $45) and the 2008 Sparkman Cellars Darkness Syrah Yakima Valley ($48) were all exceptional red wines. I can honestly say the Darkness Syrah is by far one of the best Syrahs I encountered in Washington. Wow! I really enjoyed the Nota Bene Syrah as well! (Remember, I am Syrah-challenged! That’s changing quickly however…)

Nota Bene Cellars is truly a family affair! Owner/winemaker Tim Narby started out at Boeing as a systems analyst. He joined the Boeing employees wine and beer making club and quickly moved up the ranks becoming their vice-president. He and his wife, Carol Bryant, an attorney, decided to venture out on their own, and now that their kids are old enough to join the ranks, everyone in the family plays a role in the winery’s everyday operations--even their dog and cat! Their wines are a terrific buy for their price points!

We had some fabulous wines that evening as you can see. But the wine that stole my heart was the 2007 Andrew Will Ciel Du Cheval! ($65) This Bordeaux-style blend was paired with the meat course. Having just sampled the 2006 vintage recently, it was my favorite and everywhere I went that week, Andrew Will wines were by my side. I was so excited to find out that Andrew Will’s assistant winemaker, David Oldham, was in attendance at our dinner! Meeting him made the evening really special for me! He and winery owner, Chris Camarda, make some really special wines at their Vashon Island winery and they are not to be missed! David was funny, very personable and as you can see from the video above (shot by the WBCorBust crew), he was having a whacky and wonderful time! Chris and David source their grapes from different vineyards in Washington state. The Ciel Du Cheval Vineyard, where this wine's grapes come from, is located in Benton City, Washington in the Red Mountain AVA and I was so fortunate to be able to visit the vineyard later in the week and meet the vineyard's owner Jim Holmes! Some of Washington state's most expensive and sought after red wines come from this AVA and their ageability is just amazing! They're a great investment!

I was still drinking these wines when the dessert course arrived--a panna cotta with bing cherry, star anise, black pepper and chocolate. Simply wonderful!

Alas, the day finally had to come to an end and I was, pardon the pun, “Sleepless In Seattle” as I pondered about my wonderful experiences that day. Surely there was more to come, but a little piece of my heart remained in Seattle as we headed east towards the Cascades, Yakima and Walla Walla. This was just the beginning of a new love affair I'm having with Washington state wines! Stay tuned for more of my escapades in the coming weeks!

My thanks again to Cuvee Corner Blog's Bill Eyer and Tom Plant of Wineormous for some of these fabulous photos! I should take you both on all my wine country trips!

For more information on the wineries and the restaurant, please see the following websites:

WBC or BUST Day One: Making More Great Memories in Washington State

This week, I am doing something a bit different than my usual posting. I will be posting two back to back. How come? Because the first day of our WBCorBust adventure was so incredible that the afternoon and evening segments needed their own posts to give them justice. I love it when I get these bursts of creative energy and I need to act upon them! I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I enjoyed being a part of them.

After a wonderful morning of touring and tasting in Woodinville, we made our way into The Barking Frog restaurant for lunch. This was no ordinary lunch but a dazzling three-course menu by Chef Bobby Moore and accompanied by three wines poured by DeLille Cellars’ owner/partner Jay Soloff.

DeLille Cellars, housed in a gorgeous French Chateau-style winery, was founded in 1992. They produce exceptional and highly rated wines with an emphasis on Bordeaux and Rhone varietals. Jay was one of the most genuine and approachable people I met that week and his passion for teaching us all about his wines and where they came from really stood out. His excitement about being a part of our event was infectious and I couldn't wait to sample the wines and get to know more about them! Check out this video below, filmed by my friend, Bill Eyer of Cuvee Corner Blog at our Woodinville producers tasting earlier that day...


Our first course was the restaurant’s signature appetizer--Grand Marnier Prawns with mixed organic greens and a lemongrass vinaigrette. Jay poured his 2009 Doyenne RoseYakima Valley--a tasty and refreshing Rhone-blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsault.$24.

For the second course, we were given a choice of chicken or seafood and I, of course, chose the seafood. Washington has some of the best seafood in the world so it was a natural choice for me. The entrée of seared sea scallops was accompanied by asparagus risotto, baby spinach, pancetta, Cipollini onion and a carrot reduction. It was magnificent! The wine, 2008 DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Blanc Columbia Valley was a white Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. $34. A very classy pairing. (We would sample this wine again during the “White Wine Speed Blogging” session in Walla Walla later in the week!)

The dessert course was amazing! A dark chocolate coffee ganache with a milk chocolate cremieux and salted caramel. It was so beautiful resembling a work of art! I could’ve seriously run away with that dessert! It was paired up with the 2007 Doyenne Signature Syrah. $37. The plum and raspberry -pepper flavors melded with the chocolate and made for a sinfully rich experience!

I could have used a nap after lunch but our chariot awaited to take us back to Seattle for a tour of the Pike Brewing Company. The Pike Brewing Company, located in the heart of Seattle, was a busy brew pub with whimsical decor. I don’t usually drink a lot of beer. However, I was game because every so often, I crave one so I used the hour or so we were there to sample a few of the beers and relax in the moment. The tour was a lot of fun but since I am not swell-schooled on beers, so I will let you imagine what it was like visiting through photos. "I Like Pike" is their motto and I think we all felt that way when we exited...

My thanks to friends Bill Eyer of Cuvee Corner Blog and Tom Plant of Wineormous for use of some of their photos and video. You guys are the BEST!

For more information on DeLille Cellars, The Barking Frog Restaurant and Pike Brewery, please visit their websites:

Following the tour, we made our way back to the Renaissance Hotel to check in and relax for a very short time because what awaited us was a magical, wonderful evening on Pier 70. Stay tuned for part two!!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Chat With Winemaker Kent Rasmussen...

Interviewing people, especially people I admire such as winemakers and grape growers, has always been a difficult thing for me. As I forge ahead in the blogosphere, I am going to be interviewing people more and more. As frightened as I am at the prospect, the thing I love the most about it is what comes after I've listened to a winemaker talk about their labor of love. It's such an awe-inspiring feeling!! And it makes me wonder why I was ever frightened in the first place! Recently, I was given the opportunity to interview Napa Valley winemaker, Kent Rasmussen of Kent Rasmussen Winery--a little goldmine of a winery that sits on the Silverado Trail. I was nervous, but excited because giving the small family winemakers all the exposure I can is what it is all about! He was great to speak with and made me feel completely at ease!

My chat with Kent lasted around 50 minutes and during this time, he painted a beautiful and realistic picture of what life as a Napa Valley winemaker can be like. I've recently found that there are so many interesting reasons why people get into winemaking and I'd like to put them all together in a book--one of my many future projects! Winemakers come from all walks of life and when I first approached the subject, Kent hesitated, stating that his story was not glamorous by any means. No matter! I still wanted to hear it and what he mentioned was really interesting.

Kent Rasmussen didn’t come from a winemaking family like some did and he wasn’t a wealthy venture capitalist who decided to get into winemaking. Kent had been working as a librarian at UC Berkeley and was somewhat of a home winemaking hobbyist. I recently met an old aquaintance of his, Washington state winemaker, Katy Perry of Tildio Winery. When I spoke of the winemakers I had talked to, she mentioned she had worked with Kent in the early days and he had specialized in African Studies, not the usual tale you'd expect to hear. One day Kent looked out the window and decided he just couldn’t spend his life working indoors anymore. The idea of making wine appealed to him, having had a bit of the home winemaking experience. He decided to go back to school for some viticulture and enology education . What followed was work at Robert Mondavi Winery but Kent was interested in venturing out on his own.

This was still in the late 70s when the price of land was still reasonable. Kent and his wife Celia (pictured above) decided to forge ahead and slowly but surely they began making their own wine. In the beginning, they planted a few acres of Pinot Noir in Carneros, the southern end of Napa Valley--where the cool climate is ideal for this grape. They also purchased Chardonnay grapes from others. Kent's work ethic was a prime example of how working slow but steady leads to success. Their wines became well-received over the years and what they have now are award winning wines and a piece of Napa Valley history.

I have to say, I have been very impressed with Kent’s wines. The sample package I received contained the 2007 Carneros Chardonnay, 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir and the 2007 Esoterica Petite Sirah. The Chardonnay was sampled for a live event I participated in a few months back on Twitter. One of the most interesting Chardonnays I’ve ever encountered, the 2007 Carneros Chardonnay was multi-layered… Each layer would meld into something surprisingly new. It was vibrant and exciting with full-bodied richness. Tropical fruits, vanilla, spice and a long, lingering finish. But not buttery-oaky or over the top. It was about as great as a Chardonnay could be! Borderline grand! A truly unique experience. (I could go on and on...) Kent said the formula for this Chardonnay happened by accident. One year he had barrel sampled the wine too soon, then forgot about it for a bit longer than normal. Sounds like a winning formula to me! I’m sold. I am pretty sure you will be too! $29.

Now, mind you, I am just getting into Pinot Noir and having sampled so many different ones, it's tough for me to choose one style I love over another. The Carneros region of Napa Valley is known for it's cool climate and the perfect place to grow Pinot Noir grapes. The 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir is enjoyable with subtle raspberry and cranberries that flow into dark chocolate mocha and cinnamon spice flavors. One sip and you recognize where it comes from. It has a dry, spicy finish and is the perfect food wine. Kent has been making Pinot Noir for over 25 years so I would guess this has to be his flagship. It is truly "Purely Poetic Pinot Noir" as they would put it! $40.

The third wine I sampled, the 2007 Esoterica Chavez-Leeds Vineyard Petite Sirah is classic!It recently won a huge accolade from Wine Enthusiast Magazine---94 points! The Esoterica label is Kent’s side project--his “fun” label-the “thrill of discovery” as he puts it. Every year he releases something fun and different using the label. This Petite Sirah is fabulous! It’s dark, tannic, and bold! Yet it is also well-balanced so it can stand up to some heavy duty dishes and still pair well with a simple grilled meat! This wine has been dubbed "The Petite Sirah for Cabernet Lovers". Rightfully so as it is majestic and magnificent! Don't miss out on this fabulous find! $40.

In addition to the Kent Rasmussen and Esoterica labels, Kent has a companion label named after his wife, Celia Ramsay. You may recognize the wines with the Ramsay label as they are distributed nationwide. They are food -friendly, easy drinking wines and can be found in many restaurants and wine shops.

I am planning a little jaunt over to Napa Valley this coming October and I am planning on a stop at Kent Rasmussen Winery. You will find they are truly a gem not to be missed. The winery is located at 1001 Silverado Trail S. in St. Helena, CA. Open daily from 11 AM to 4 PM. I’m excited to visit! If you can't make it out to visit them, here is some important information on how to get some of these great wines: Some of the wines are distributed in certain states, but the best way to get them is to contact the winery directly. Please contact Michelle Hunt at (707) 963-5667 or e-mail her directly at

I’d like to thank Michelle for arranging this opportunity and turning me on to such a great story! It was a pleasure speaking with Kent and I know he will continue to keep making a name for the winery for many years to come. My thanks to Kent for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with me! Hope to see you all in October!!