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Taste Washington

Seattle, April 6, 2008

Grand Tasting
Today is Wednesday, but Sunday still resonates with me. Sunday was Taste Washington Seattle, “the ultimate wine experience” which showcased an amazing assemblage of Washington’s best Wineries and Restaurants. The Washington Wine Commission is the Host for Taste Washington. Although this was a two day event, I attended only on Sunday for the Grand Tasting. I have to say that this was absolutely the best wine event I have ever had the honor to participate in as a Washington Wine Ambassador. I was a volunteer at the Washington Wine Ambassador booth.

Washington Wine Ambassador Program
The Washington Wine Commission established the Washington Wine Ambassador program for Washington wine enthusiasts like yours truly. I became a Washington Wine Ambassador in 2006. As a wine ambassador you have many opportunities to educate others about Washington wine, volunteer and support the Washington wine industry, pour at events and stay current about the growth and successes of the Washington wine industry. Taste Washington is one of the many successes.
This year the Grand Tasting was held Sunday, April 6 at Qwest Field Event Center. Over the weekend I stayed with family on Bainbridge Island - enjoyed the ferry ride, loved visiting with family. Sunday I hoofed it from the Seattle ferry terminal to Qwest Field. It was an easy hustle down 1st Ave to Qwest. I worked with four other friendly volunteers at the Wine Ambassador booth from 2 pm – 8 pm. We rotated our shifts, an hour on and an hour off. I have to admit, I was always on and could not help sharing with everyone I met, that I was there as a Wine Ambassador and was having a remarkable time. Hopefully we recruited some new Wine Ambassadors too - there certainly was a lot of interest.

During “breaks” I had the opportunity to sample wine and food. What an incredible venue. Over 200 wineries attended, accompanied by 40+ restaurants. I exercised restraint while sampling, but managed to taste from several wineries I did not know, as well as taste some varietals I did not know. Many exciting happenings in Washington wine cellars.

A Well Executed Event
Before I left town for Taste Washington, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the event. The list of wineries participating was intimidating. But, my fears were without merit as the Washington Wine Commission did a spectacular job of planning and executing this event - kudos. Thank you and well done – what a terrific job representing the Washington wine industry. Yes, the turnout was larger than last years event, but wineries and restaurants were well placed. No one had any difficulty navigating from section to section. Excellent flow, excellent wine, excellent food, friendly staff and I had an absolute blast! If it seems like I’m gushing a bit, it’s because I was very impressed by the venue and by all who participated.

Now for my impressions of wine, wineries, hosts and people I met. Although this is my wordiest post to date, bear in mind, I’m working from memory and did not take any written notes at Taste Washington. Next time I’ll bring a pen, if not paper with me, and I'll use my camera more effectively. To be as fair as possible, I’ll list wineries in alphabetical order. Besides, I doubt I could retrace my steps in chronological order. Also, many of the wines I sampled were either new releases or soon to be released vintages. I did not sample one bad wine at Taste Washington – if had to mention a fault, it would be "youth" some of the wines were still unreleased or recently bottled. If you are a fan of white wines, I apologize for my red wine bias. The few white wines I do mention are mentioned because they truly impressed.

Impressions of Wineries and Wines:

Bookwalter Winery – Richland,
Bookwalter Winery is located just three minutes away from my home. John Bookwalter was pouring Sunday. John has done an amazing job growing the business and keeping Bookwalter wines exciting. John poured two Merlots for me – the one I still remember is the 2006 Preface Merlot, an extraordinary wine. The grapes were hand harvested and hand sorted. You’ll have to contact the winery to find price and availability. This wine hit all my buttons - beautiful structure, firm tannins, I love grippy wines. Both wines were delicious.

Eagle Harbor Wine Company - Bainbridge Island, 206-842-4669
I stayed with family on Bainbridge Island this weekend. Bainbridge Island is an easy ferry ride to Seattle. But, I did not know until Sunday, that Bainbridge Island is producing outstanding red wine too. My cousin José is in the restaurant business on Bainbridge Island, he works for The Four Swallows. José personaly introduced me to several of his favorite winemakers. Eagle Harbor Wine Company is one of his favorites. I sampled the 2005 Raptor – a yummy red friends and highly recommended. Hugh Remash poured for me – a great guy producing outstanding wine. They have a tasting room on the Island, call the number above for address and directions.

Gamache Vintners – Richland,
I find it curious that it took a drive to Seattle for me to sample some outstanding wines from a winery located five minutes from my home. But that is what it took. Roger Gamache poured for me several of his best red wines. I sampled the 2004 Estate Syrah and the 2005 Malbec. Simply stunning. You know by now that Syrah is my deal of late, but the ’05 Malbec is high on my list now. Malbec is really starting to shine in Washington. Save the airfare to Argentina and spend your money in Washington instead. Roger said I have to stop by the tasting room and sample all the wines I missed tasting on Sunday. Roger, that’s a deal.

K Vintners - Walla Walla,
Charles Smith is the winemaker at K Vintners. This was the first time I had the chance to taste his wines and meet him in person - my cousin José is a big fan and introduced me. Charles has a large personality, unique labels and amazing wines (interchange words as you see fit). Since I’m a Syrah fan, and he had several different bottles of Syrah to taste – that is what I did. This where taking notes would be of benefit, I sampled at least three different Syrah. Possibly, “The Deal”, “K Syrah Milbrandt”, “Boom Boom”, or was it the bottle with the skull on it??? I don’t know, but all you have to know is his wines are to be sought out and enjoyed.

Merry Cellars – Pullman,
Merry Cellars was pouring just across from the Wine Ambassador booth I was working. But, it took a nudge from Coke Roth, who writes and judges for Wine Press Northwest magazine, to approach them. My first effort was rebuffed by the small gathering engaged by winemaker Patrick Merry. My second effort was successful. I sampled the 2006 Crimson and 2006 Syrah. Pullman, Washington is Cougar country – Washington State Cougars. Now, Pullman is known for a world class winemaker too. This is another label on my “must find” and “must buy” list. Amazing, amazing.

Michael Florentino Cellars – Prosser,
Why this has to be the business card I can’t find, I don’t know. Michael poured for me and was a great host. He’s worked for several wineries and has impressive credentials. Now making his own label, Michael released his first wines just 9 months ago. He was pouring Tempranillo, Malbec, Red Table and Port. Red biased like me. The advantage and disadvantage of tasting Port – good port that is – is that it erases all memory of the wines you tasted before it. The 2005 Quinta De La Dolce Bella Port is a fabulous Port and the only Port I sampled at Taste Washington. I’m sorry I don’t recall the Tempranillo or Malbec – I must remember to bring pen and paper to these events. I’ll see if I can track down his wine on my own. Keep your eyes open for this exciting new label. Fantastic and recommended of course.

Nefarious Cellars – Lake Chelan,
Dean and Heather Neff, husband, wife and co-winemakers, poured for me Sunday. Dean poured his 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and Heather poured her 2007 (soon to be released) Viognier. Dean joked that when they make a Rosé, they will have to make it together. Both wines are outstanding, but the wine I remember most clearly is Heathers 2007 Viognier. This friends is a classic Washington Viognier – floral, fruit, elegance, and oh so tasty. For anyone in love, share this wine with your partner. This is a date wine, for the just in love or the still in love after all these years. Find it and share it. Fantastic!

Nicholas Cole Cellars – Walla Walla,
This is another Walla Walla Winery my cousin José is a big fan of. You need to know them too. Even though my cousin lives on Bainbridge Island, he's in the restaurant business and food and wine are his speciality. It would have been a shame to miss tasting their 2005 Camille and 2005 Michele. Ah, Camille, my favorite Camille. Even with a slightly tired palette, this wine stuns you with flavor and finish. Camille you have great structure, I love your tannins too. I suggest you find their wines and enjoy - incredible. How many times can I say “amazing”?

Otis Kenyon Wine – Walla Walla,
Otis Kenyon wines are crafted in limited production by Stephen Otis Kenyon and Deborah Dunbar. Cousin José did not want me to miss this winery. This was one of the last wineries I had a chance to visit – so the only wine available to taste was the delicious 2005 Matchless Red. You’ll have to call the winery for availability. Or go bug your local wine merchant. Otis Kenyon is a unique label, with an interesting history. Visit their Web site for details. Recommended.

Powers Winery – Kennewick,
I’m including Powers Winery here because they were at Taste Washington. I did not stop by their booth Sunday because I just visited their tasting room three days before. Saturday evening, the day before taste Washington, I shared a 3 liter box of Powers 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. For those of you who have never tasted high quality wine out of the box – call the winery and order the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. An amazing deal I recommend. And if you have time, stop by their tasting room. They have a very extensive list of wines, including Organic and NSA (no sulfites added) wines.
Rinaldini Distribution, Inc. - Laguna Nigel, California,
Roberto Rinaldini, President of Rinaldini Distirbution, Inc. was demonstrating a very cool piece of machinery. If you have been to Manhattan, Chicago or a deluxe wine bar, then you may be familiar with the Enomatic Wine System. You may have seen, but not known that it was called an Enomatic Wine System. Roberto had several bottles of wine hooked up to this sytem - one button push delivered a 1/2 ounce pour, two button pushes deliver a 1 ounce pour and three button pushes delivered 2 ounces. This system uses Argon gas to keep the air out of the bottle, which helps preserve the wine for up to a month. It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Rinaldini and I enjoyed talking with him. Several of us migrated here towards the end of the event and had a good time talking and testing out the Enomatic Wine System - it worked every time. This is one cool system for wineries, wine bars or even restaurants. Very impressive. You can even have the system outfitted with pre-paid chip cards - so customers can pour and pay for their own on their own. Now that's my kind of wine tasting! Serious cool stuff - check them out.

Robert Karl Cellars – Spokane,
Robert Karl Cellars was next to the Washington Wine Ambassador booth I was working. So I did not have a chance to taste their wine until much later. They were pouring their 2005 Claret, Horse Heaven Hills. This is a very good for the price Claret, which I think will become more interesting throughout the year – buy a few bottles and pop a cork every three months to find out. I like the blend too, recommended.

Syncline Wine Cellars – Lyle,
Syncline Wine Cellars is located in the Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River Gorge is a beautiful location for a winery. It is closer to Portland, Oregon than it is to Seattle and worth the drive. James and Poppie Mantone are the owners and wine makers. Poppie poured for me and she was the perfect host, friendly and fun to speak with. Their 2005 Subduction Red has been one of my favorite red blends since I first discovered it at the local grocer. And I was eager to try some of their other wines. I loved the 2006 Mourvedre Poppie poured. As this was my first Mourvedre, I had no expectations. I paired the Mourvedre with Ruth’s Chris Steak House bacon wrapped tenderloin – stunning pairing. The Mourvedre perfectly complemented and was complemented by the tenderloin – wow. Next I tried the just bottled 2007 Rosé. This is summer in the glass friends. I can’t wait to spring this on company at my next barbecue. If you can’t wait for summer, this would be the perfect Mother Day brunch wine. What a treat, pretty color and lovely aromas, recommended.

SYZYGY – Walla Walla,
SYZYGY has a passionate following. Even though I can’t pronounce the name, I’ve heard about SYZYGY for several years and my cousin José highly recommends them. Kelsey Harmon poured for me and I had a chance to talk to Zach Brettler the winemaker as well. Good people. I recall sampling their 2005 Red Wine and 2005 Syrah. These were the first two wines I tasted so details suffer from my lack of note taking - shame on me. To make things right I’ll have to schedule a trip to their tasting room in Walla Walla, open Saturdays 11 am – 4 pm and by appointment.

Tamarack Cellars – Walla Walla,
Everyone who stopped by and sampled the 2006 Firehouse Red should be happy campers (if not now then soon). I’m a huge fan of the 2005 Firehouse Red – which I enjoyed earlier this year - outstanding. Ron, Danny and Martin know what they are doing. Go and find their wine. Take the time and plan a trip to their Walla Walla tasting room - well worth it, and another recommended winery.

Vin du Lac – Lake Chelan,
I enjoyed a wonderful vacation with my family at Lake Chelan two years ago. Lake Chelan has glacial water, the Cascade Mountain range and at least a dozen wineries. It was my misfortune to skip over Vin du Lac two years ago. I did not miss them Sunday. Joan Corsi poured two white wines for me. I know Joan because she used to be a wine merchant in the Tri-Cities, before she moved to Lake Chelan. It was great visiting with her. How do I say this? The 2006 “LEHM” Dry Riesling (Michaela’s Vineyard) was the driest Riesling I have ever tasted. This wine takes the moisture out of your mouth like my favorite tannic red. This is the most stunning Riesling I ever tasted. If you like it dry, you’ll enjoy. This wine rocks! I encourage everyone who likes dry white wine and dry red wine to make it a mission to buy a bottle of this wine. This wine stunned me and was one of the highlights of the weekend. A white wine, I know, who would have thought? The other wine Joan poured for me was the 2005 Barrel Select Chardonnay. Yummy – sometimes I crave Chardonnay, and this Chardonnay is on my list for that day. Vin du Lac makes premium white wines. I can’t wait to try their red wines, recommended.

Wine Library TV - New Jersey,

That's me mugging it with Gary Vaynerchuck. Gary "V" Vaynerchuck was at Taste Washington. Mott was there too, camera in hand. If you don't know who Gary V is, then check him out on the Web. You can also find him on Itunes in the Video Podcast area. He's passionate about wine and does an amazing job describing wine, aromas, flavors and where to spend your hard earned money. I'm a big fan.

Wines of Substance – Walla Walla,
Wines of Substance struck me as an odd label, and their business cards are square, not rectangular. Their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2006 Merlot are anything but odd. Rudy Suppard was pouring his wines and I was enjoying them. I tried to learn more about the winery from their Web site, but their Web site is odd too. Good luck finding their wine – a great product, worth the effort to find. Go visit your local wine merchant and have them do the leg work for you. Recommended! *I found their Cab. Sav. and Merlot in town!

Yellow Hawk Cellar – Walla Walla,
Yellow Hawk Cellar is one of those wineries I seem to bump into at wine events. They poured their 2006 Muscat Canelli, 2006 Barbera and 2004 Sangiovese. I really liked their Muscat Canelli. A well crafted, delicious Muscat, I consider it a treat. Serve chilled before or after dinner, or have it out on the deck with friends, “just because”. This is a lighter Muscat than some and probably why I enjoyed it so well. The 2006 Barbera may need a little more time in the bottle, but it rocks too. These are Italian varietals produced in Walla Walla, Washington. Walla Walla is doing it.

Closing Words
What do you see when you walk past hundreds of bottles of wine? To me, some of those bottles of wine are faces, personalities and memories of talking to interesting people who share a passion for wine. For every label I recognize, I recall who made the wine, where they live and whether I have actually met and spoken with them. You can bet Taste Washington is influencing my wine purchases.
In closing, I would reiterate that I had a great time at Taste Washington Seattle 2008. An impressive venue with so many amazing (there goes that word again) people involved. If you missed Taste Washington Seattle, don't miss it next year. The best Washington Wine event I've had the pleasure to attend.

- William Pollard Jr.

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