Spring Weather Watch in the Vineyards 2015

Spring typically marches in funky weather (especially here in the Seattle area).  March brought us not surprising announcements that Washington and Oregon will be facing drought this year. Drought has plagued California for the last four years.  Even with current government restrictions, California is facing a losing water battle.  In the agriculture, drought can be devastating.  In wine agriculture it needs to be planned for to minimize the impact.  Why?  Vines love stress- but wine makers… not so much!

Washington’s warm winter brought us rain, and very little snow packs to feed our rivers.  Governor Jay Inslee requested emergency federal funds focused on agricultural business.  One of the most difficult patterns with drought years in the PNW is spring frost.  These frosts impact bud break and growth. Careful planning through selection of vineyard sites, delayed pruning and if lucky frost protection.  Most Washington wine makers are patiently waiting for Mothers Day, the benchmark for warmer safe weather in the vineyards.

WA frost

In Oregon, pinot noir prefers cooler climates.  Temperatures ranging in the upper 50’s or lower 60’s are ideal.  Frost and early rain are definite issues, but since Oregon is coastal the burden to splitting fruit.  With a different perspective of planning, some wineries have invested their Oregon vineyards in warmer weather varietals with the theory that wineries will continue to move north as California grows arid.

For California’s four year drought, it’s the small producers of inexpensive wine that are hit hardest.  These small producers are not necessarily the bulk producers that we associate with California’s mass wine production.  Hot weather is great for boutique wines that bring out more diverse flavors and can plan for smaller production and ask for higher prices.  The drought will run out the small family producers that are not invested into smaller production and cult pricing.  As irrigation begins to impact production, especially with a water restrictions, success will fall upon those that can wean themselves away from irrigation practices.  Solutions are found through vinification practices.  Pioneers such as Frogs Leap use old world practices.  Dry farming is the process of stressing vines so that their roots grow deep so that they can source their water rather than irrigation.
CA Drought
2015 will usher in full bodied, rich wines.  Vineyard management will be telling of the quality of wines that we see in the PNW and California.  Trends toward more extreme weathers will keep our wine makers on their toes with plenty of stories to share.

Happy Earth Day!

Sommelier, food+wine writer

Articles that inspired this conversation:
Oregon Live
Great NW Wine, Frosts
Press Democrat
Wine Maker Mag
Daily Bray
Extension (image credit)
Circle of Blue
(image credit)

April 22, 2015 at 7:43 pm Leave a comment

Pairings with Northwest Fresh & Foraged!

NW Bounty_Fiddlehead fronds_Jaci_040815

Photo credit:  Photo Guide: The ABCs of Northwest Spring Produce>

I have been blessed to work with many local chefs that utilize and live by the standards that their cuisine should reflect what is currently produced.  Right now, Chef Don Curtiss at Volterra is using fiddlehead fronds, English peas and morels served with a scallop which admittedly sparked this article.

I LOVE fiddlehead fronds.  They are the youthful beginning of ostrich ferns that curl tightly and have the same texture as slightly cooked pea vines. Some say fiddlehead fronds are similar to asparagus.  I do not find them as bitter and the flavor is richer.  At Volterra, we pair the scallop and spring vegetables with Montenidoli Vernaccia.  However if you are cooking these at home without morels, try them with a verdejo such as Chamelin (currently on close out SALE for $10.99 | Mixed Case $8.79) or a local Washington Sauvignon Blanc.   (But please not a New Zealand or Loire- too much citrus, not enough grassy undertones.)

Mmmmmm…. Morels!  A meaty mushroom treat sautéed in butter and red wine- serve this with any local Syrah, such as Darby or 5 Oros Tempranillo (Spain).

Dandelions tossed in a salad with some pansy petals or sautéed with a touch of oil and sea salt… pair this with VVS Arengo Barbera or Barbanau Rosé.  Or both. 

NW Bounty_Morels_Jaci_040815
are a bit time consuming to harvest but such a healthy and unique delicacy.  These are another bitter green yet high in iron.  Nettle gnocchi, similar to spinach gnocchi, paired with Noveau Aligoté or Tenuta Giaccobe Soave.

The beautiful white flower, Elderflower, with its delicate fragrance is a fantastic dessert as a simple syrup.  I like Dolin Blanc on the rocks with a touch of Elderflower simple syrup.  Chef Don Curtiss served his lemon mascarpone custard with Elderflower simple syrup last fall! We paired that with VVS Brachetto.

Watercress salad or garnish with Ossau-iraty and enjoy with Clos du Bosqut Pinot Noir

Rhubarb as a pie is always nice- but as chutney with your pork tenderloin…  Yes please.  Pelassa Barbaresco with its rich cherry undertones, tannins and soft leather is a great match.

Next time you are at your local farmers market, ask for something off your beaten path.  How is your local farmer cooking it?  What are your local chefs growing and bringing in?  Each season presents bounty here in the PNW.  Portalis is here from 11am-5pm on Sundays if you are at the Ballard Market and need a pairing with your freshly foraged produce and local finds.

Sommelier, wine+food writer


April 9, 2015 at 5:31 am Leave a comment

The Wine Regions of WA State

Map_WA State

Cows, wheat, orchards and wine!
Layered with apple orchards, entrenched in wheat farming, milk and cattle production, wine production in Washington began in the mid 1970’s.  Wine still relatively new in the scheme of agriculture output for Washington State and the region has a finite supply of water for irrigation.  Quality over bulk quantity is regulated by irrigation needs.  With the exception of approximately 80 acres of vineyard near Seattle in Puget Sound AVA, the state’s wine regions are all located to the east of the Cascades, where the mountains’ rain shadow effect makes irrigation commonplace—rainfall is often less than ten inches a year.

Eastern Washington experiences a true continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters; frost and winter freezes are serious concerns for growers.  Soils consist of basalt bedrock and thin alluvial topsoil, deposited by the same Missoula Floods that washed through the Willamette Valley at the end of the last ice age.  Loess is everywhere, as well as layers of sand and gravel.  Why does this make a difference?

Each appellation has its own unique characteristics that allow it to be defined separately than the Columbia Valley.   The factors that play major roles in defining each AVA (or appellation) are the soils, the climate impact of each region and the subtle nuances of land masses that create microclimates and impact the quality of the vines and grapes.  The diversity of each appellation is as follows:

  • Columbia Valley encompasses these appellations except the Puget Sound. 99% of wine grapes grown in Washington State.
  • Columbia Gorge cut back by the Columbia River Gorge which alters the climate from eastern WA dessert climate to cool maritime. This is protected by a rain shadow effect from Mount Hood and Mount Adams.  The heat allows for excellent Bordeaux and Rhone varietal ripening.
  • The soil composition of Walla Walla Valley with its continental heat allows for excellent drainage- and heating of the vines for ripening.
  • Lake Chelan has a higher elevation with lake effects that create temperate growing and ripening. The soils are also much different due to glacier aspects; we find more sand, quartz and minerals.
  • Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley are canyons that were stripped away by glaciers. This low-nutrient, fast-draining soil is perfect for growing wine grapes because the vines must struggle to survive and thus focus their energy on producing high-quality fruit.
  • Wahluke Slope is the driest appellation in the State; surrounded by the Columbia River and the Saddle Mountains.
  • Naches Heights is situated on ancient volcanic bedrock plateau with high elevations and clay for water retention.
  • Yakima Valley is Washington’s oldest wine making region and hosts 1/3 of the state’s vineyards, including Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills and Snipes Mountain. The cool nights of this valley allow for excellent acid chemistry.  Silt-loam soils predominate allowing proper drainage.
  • Red Mountain is a steep southwest facing slope, near the Yakima River that maintains those hot days and cool nights classic of the Yakima Valley.
  • Snipes Mountain is the second smallest AVA, with elevated topography and unique soils (ardisols) not found elsewhere in the Yakima Valley AVA.
  • Rattlesnake Hills sit higher than the Yakima Valley with vineyards typically located on ridges and terraces. Good air drainage avoids late spring and the early fall frost or winter kill.
  • Horse Heaven Hills has a proximity to the Columbia River which creates 30% more wind while moderating the dessert temperature extremes. Steep south-facing slopes are optimum vineyard locations and providing well-drained, sandy-loam soils.
  • Puget Sound is located on the western side of Washington; the maritime climate is drastically different than the continental and desert like qualities of Eastern Washington which allows for different varietals such as pinot gris and pinot noir.

The nuances of soils, climate, territorial structures and elevations create Washington’s niche in supporting and creating a diverse wine region.  In forty years of production, the wine production exceeds an annual billion dollar revenue with over a billion in wine related tourism.  Over 40 different varietals are now grown with 50,000 plus acres dedicated to vineyards.  That creates over 20 million gallons of wine from over 850 wineries!  Washington may still be fields of wheat and cow farms, but vineyard production is a growing crop commodity.


For more details read below:

The Columbia Valley is the largest appellation in Washington State.  It encompasses all other AVA regions except the Puget Sound and is located in Eastern Washington.  The Columbia Valley contains 99% of wine grapes grown in Washington State – 43,000 acres (16,207 hectares).  Vineyards are planted on predominately south-facing slopes, increasing solar radiation in summer and promoting air drainage in winter.  AVA 1984  Many wineries list only Columbia Valley as they source grapes from multiple vineyards.

Columbia Gorge is the southernmost Washington appellation.  The Columbia Gorge wine region is defined by the Columbia River Gorge, a narrow passage that marks the dramatic transition from eastern desert to cool maritime climate as the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range on its way to the Pacific Ocean.  The region encompasses the corridor flanking the river in both Washington and Oregon and includes the Columbia Gorge and the southwestern part of the Columbia Valley American Viticulture Areas (AVAs).  As this region lies to the east of the summits of nearby Mount Hood and Mount Adams, it is in rain shadow of these Cascade volcanoes. The region is significantly drier than the Portland metropolitan area to the west. Elevation in the region varies considerably, increasing as one travels from the Columbia River into the plateaus on either side, and the strong Columbia Gorge winds also play a factor in the region’s climate. Eastern vineyards have a continental high desert climate with just 10 inches of annual rainfall but plentiful sunshine to ripen hot-weather Bordeaux, Rhone and Italian varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and Barbera.  AVA 2004  Cascade Cliffs and Syncline Cellars are a few of our favorites.

Walla Walla Valley is primarily loess, cobblestone river gravels, dark basalt stones, and beneath the loess are coarser layers of sand and gravel.  The sand and gravel were deposited by catastrophic, glacial floods that swept through this region about 15,000 years ago.  Loess is derived soils which are essentially unconsolidated, unstratified calcareous silt.  It allows for excellent drainage. Dark basalt stones soak up the warmth of the sun before releasing it back at the vines after twilight and provide rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and other minerals that fuel remarkable flavors.  The varietals are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  Grape growing began in the Walla Walla Valley in the 1850s by Italian immigrants.  Walla Walla Valley is made up of over 100 wineries and more than 1,600 acres (648 hectares) of vineyards.  AVA 1984 Reininger is one of our favorites out of Walla Walla

Lake Chelan has a higher elevation and more temperate climate than the more southern AVAs also contained within the Columbia Valley.  Due to the ice age glaciers that formed Lake Chelan, the soil surrounding it has distinctive properties such as coarse, sandy sediment with notable amounts of quartz and mica.  These soil distinctions result in grapes with discernable textures, minerals, and nutrients.  The AVA is also distinguished by a significant “lake effect” that creates mild and favorable temperatures for surrounding areas, resulting in a longer growing season and a reduced risk of frost.  Primary varietals grown are Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.  AVA 2009 Nefarious Cellars is a must check out!

Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley is located with the Beezley Hills to the north; the eastern edge of the Quincy Basin defined by the manmade Winchester Wasteway canal to the east; the Frenchman Hills to the south; and the western shoreline of the Columbia River creates the border to the west. The famous Gorge Amphitheatre resides on the western edge of the AVA.  The Ancient Lakes are canyons that were outlet points in the Quincy Valley for the floodwaters, which essentially stripped away the soil to barren scabland.  In the ensuing centuries, wind has blown in sand that has created the soil in the Ancient Lakes and elsewhere in the Columbia Valley.  This low-nutrient, fast-draining soil is perfect for growing wine grapes because the vines must struggle to survive and thus focus their energy on producing high-quality fruit.  Varietals are predominately Riesling and Chardonnay. AVA 2012  Milbrant Vineyards, Jones Vineyards, and Cave B are all located in this canyon.

Wahluke Slope is naturally bounded by the Columbia River to the west and south, by the Saddle Mountains on the north, and on the east by the Hanford Reach National Monument.  It has the driest, warmest climates in the state, allowing nearly complete control of vine vigor and ripening through irrigation.  AVA 2005  Milbrant Cellars also grows here.

Map_WA State_v2
Naches Heights is the first AVA to be recognized as fully sustainable.  It is located within the Columbia Valley on an ancient volcanic bedrock plateau; Naches Heights is above the level of the Missoula Floods, at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 2,100 feet.  The boundaries of the Naches Heights are the Naches River to the north and east; Cowiche Creek to the south and west; and the lower Tieton River on the west.  The soil is comprised of windblown soil, also known as loess, which is heavy in clay and helps the soil to retain water. Around 10 to 13 inches of rain fall annually in the Naches Heights region. It is considered a cooler region for Washington State. AVA 2012. Naches Heights Vineyards as well as Harlequin are located in this area.

Yakima Valley is Washington’s oldest wine making region and hosts 1/3 of the state’s vineyards with Chardonnay varietal prominent.  Yakima Valley vineyards produce wines that are characteristically rich and well-developed, due to the long and consistent growing season. With cool nights, warm days and controlled water, Yakima Valley vineyards tend to have a longer growing days and season compared to other wine regions. These regional growing characteristics help to develop fully mature fruit whose acid chemistry maintains balance during the cool nights.  Silt-loam soils predominate allowing proper drainage necessary to keep vine’s vigor under control.  As an appellation it hosts sub-regions of Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills and Horse Heaven Hills.    AVA 1983  Lobo Hills and Chinook Cellars are here in Yakima.

Red Mountain is not necessarily a mountain, more of a steep slope, which faces southwest near the Yakima River.  More than 15 wineries are located in the Red Mountain AVA, with many additional Washington wineries sourcing grapes from Red Mountain’s premiere growers.  The area has a desert climate with average yearly rainfall of five inches per year. During the growing season daytime temperatures average 90 °F (32 °C) with night time temperatures dropping below 50 °F (10 °C).  The varietals grown here are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Sangiovese, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. (Trade tasting 3/23) AVA 2001  Guardian Cellars sources his grapes here!

Snipes Mountain is the second smallest AVA in Washington, bigger only than Red Mountain, and home to six wineries. While the Snipes Mountain AVA lies entirely within the boundaries of the Yakima Valley AVA its uniqueness comes from an elevated topography and unique soils not found elsewhere in the Yakima Valley AVA.  In the 1850s a rancher named Ben Snipes built a house and settled his cattle operation on a Yakima Valley mountain north of the Yakima River, later known as Snipes Mountain.  Snipes vineyards grow more than 30 different wine grape varieties and the fruit is used in more than 25 wineries.  Vineyards have been planted on Snipes Mountain and Harrison Hill since 1914.  Washington State’s second oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines have been producing grapes on Harrison Hill for more than 40 years.  AVA 2009  Upland Estates is here and DeLille sources from Harrison Hill Vineyard located here too.

Rattlesnake Hills encompasses an expanse of hills running east to west along the northern point of the Yakima River and south of Moxee Valley; the Rattlesnake Hills AVA lies within both the established Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley appellations.  Beginning at an elevation of 850 feet and rising up to 3,085 feet, the viticultural area sits higher in elevation than the surrounding Yakima Valley region.  The first commercial vineyards in the region date back to 1968.  Vineyards are typically located on ridges and terraces and in areas with good air drainage to avoid late spring and early fall frost and winter kill.  AVA 2006.  Silver Lake and Porteus are here.

Horse Heaven Hills is located in Southeast Washington with a total area is 570,000 acres (230,679 hectares) of which about 10,130 acres (4,099 hectares) planted to grapes.  It represents 25% of Washington’s total grape production.  Proximity to the Columbia River creates 30% more wind while moderating temperature extremes, providing steep south-facing slopes for optimum vineyard locations and providing well-drained, sandy-loam soils.  Elevations range from 1,800 feet at the area’s northern boundary to 300 feet at its southern.  Outstanding sites that have been developed in this area include Alder Ridge, Andrews-Horse Heaven Vineyard, Canoe Ridge, Champoux Vineyards and The Benches at Wallula Vineyard.  Growers have raised grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills region since 1972.  AVA 2005  McKinnley Springs is located here.

Puget Sound is located on the western side of Washington, which is divided by the Cascade Mountain ranges that run North and South along the coast.  Its temperate climate rarely suffers from prolonged freezes in winter and enjoys long mild and dry summers.  However it is a maritime climate and drastically different than the continental and desert like qualities of Eastern Washington.  Semi-permeable cemented subsoil allows the deep-rooted vinifera vines to survive the late summer soil water deficit.  Madeleine Angevine, Siegerebbe and Muller-Thurgau are the predominant varietals.  Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir also show promise in this appellation.  AVA 1995  Bainbridge Island Winery, San Juan Winery and Vashon Winery are all great examples.

Jaci Kajfas,
Sommelier & Wine Writer

March 12, 2015 at 7:08 am Leave a comment

Cheese & Wine ~ Your Pairing Guide

Wine&Cheese Pairings_Feb 2015
The quintessential match made in heaven, right? Here’s a website that does a great job giving you the nitty-gritty on the cheese: The Cheese Course> We’ve taken it a step further and paired each type of cheese with a wine in the shop that would taste fabulous!

Category 1: FRESH CHEESE – fresh, tangy & crisp flavors
o Chevre- goats milk- tangy and crisp.
Pair with: Chateau de la Bigotière Muscadet (Loire)
o Burrata- soft, rich and creamy texture.
Pair with: Nottola Chianti Colli Senesi (Tuscany)
o Triple cream- layers of delicate soft creaminess.
Pair with: Cave de Bissey Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy)
o Feta- herbaceaous and salty
Pair with: Bodega Casto Pequeño Chamelin Verdejo (Rueda)
o Smoked Mozzerella- delicate and moist
Pair with: Domaine de Marcé Sauvignon Blanc (Touraine)
o Ricotta- subtle sweetness with soft creamy texture.
Pair with: La Farra Sparkling Rosé (Veneto)
o Mascarpone- naturally sweet
Pair with: Castlefedder 15er Pinot Grigio (Alto Adige)

Category 2: BLOOMY RIND– soft, delicate flavors
o Boucheron- goat flavors, tangy hints of citrus, and an herbal quality
• Roche de Lune Vouvray (Loire)
o Camembert- mushroomy, garlicky, woodsy flavor
• Domaine Perraud Le Grand Sorbier Bourgogne Rouge (Burgundy)
o FROMAGER D’AFFINOIS- aromatic and delicate brie.
• Domaine La Bessonne Rosé (Provence)
o PIERRE ROBERT- Classic triple cream brie.
• Domaine de Frégate Bandol Rosé (Provence)
o GAPERON- assertive cheese, with a Brie-like texture, flavored with chunks of garlic and cracked black pepper.
• Domaine de Nalys Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Rouge (Southern Rhône)
o L’EDEL DE CLERON- gently sweet, slightly woodsy and quite delicious.
• Maison Paul Reitz Vosne-Romanée (Burgundy)
o LANDAFF- flavors, tangy with a clean finish. The open and buttery texture.
• Nottola Tre Pezzi Toscana (Tuscany)

Category 3: WASHED RIND– creamy, funky with occasional brine rind
o EPOISSES- aromatic and creamy.
• Domaine Claude Nouveau Santenay Le Chainey (Burgundy)
o CHAUMES- rich, full-bodied flavor and creamy texture
• Chateau des Roques Vacqueyras (Southern Rhône)
o GUBBEEN- mushroom and earth.
• Palazzo Malgara Primitivo di Manduria (Sicily)
o MUNSTER- supple and golden, slightly sticky and sweet, with huge flavor, rich and beefy.
• Domaine Moltès Riesling Réserve (Alsace)
o RACLETTE- deliciously fruity mountain cheese is traditionally melted over open flames.
• Pelassa San Vito Roero Arneis DOCG (Piedmont)
o TALEGGIO- farm yard and cream
• Vincho Vaglio Serra Barbaresco DOCG (Piedmont)
o L’AMUSE GOUDA- aged amber, hazelnuts and butterscotch.
• Le Gravillas Sablet AOC (Southern Rhône)

Category 4: BLUE CHEESE– pungent, sharp & salty
o CAMBOZOLA- mushroom, lemon zest
• Domaine de Nalys Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Classique Blanc (Southern Rhône)
o CASHEL BLUE- sweet creamy tangy
• Chateu des Eyssards Sec Cuvée Prestige (Bergerac)
o GARROTXA- mild herbal flavors with a hint of hazelnuts.
• Tenuta di Corte Giacobbe Soave (Veneto)
o GORGONZOLA NATURALE- firmer texture with more pronounced, intense flavor.
• Nottola Anterivo Supertuscan (Tuscany)
o MONTBRIAC- blue version of a double-cream Brie
• Bodegas Rauda Tinto Roa Crianza (Ribera del Duero)
o VALDEON- salty, pronounced, piquant and long lasting.
• 5 Oros Vendimia Seleccionada DOC (Rioja)
o STILTON- rich, creamy taste with nuances of honey, nuts and leather.
• Chateau Franc Grace Dieu Saint Emillion Grand Cru (Bordeaux)
o ROQUEFORT- soft, crumbly paste melts in the mouth with an intense and complex spicy, salty, flavor.
• Bodega Casto Pequeño Gravedad Tempranillo (Toro)

Category 5: SEMI-HARD RIND– full rich & bold flavors
o APPENZELLER- herbs, spices, white wine, and salt which contribute to its sophisticated, fruity flavor.
• Torre Gajo Pinot Grigio delle Venenzie IGT (Veneto)
o BEECHER’S RESERVE CHEDDAR- smooth, grassy and slightly sweet.
• Wish Wine Co Cabernet Sauvignon (Northern Coast, CA)
o BRA TENERO- soft, delicate and aromatic.
• Vinchio Vaglio Serra Dorato Gavi DOC (Piedmont)
o EMMENTHALER- sweet, nutty flavor
• Weingut Prechtl Satzen Zweigelt (Weinviertel)
o FONTINA D’AOSTA- firm, but supple paste with flavors of grass, nuts, and fruit.
• Zuazo Gaston Finca Costanillas DOC (Rioja)
o CABRA AL VINO- aka Drunken Goat, due to the dousing in red wine that gives this cheese a sassy edge, while the interior is mild and smooth.
• Señorio de Fenojal Reserva DOC (Rioja)
o GRAFTON 4 YEAR CHEDDAR- sharp, earthy flavor and a slightly crumbly texture. Made from the raw milk.
• Les Chevaliers de Dauprat Pauillac Rouge (Bordeaux)
o PETIT BASQUE- sheep cheese with an oily and slightly woodsy flavor.
• L’Adage Saint Emilion Rouge (Bordeaux)

Category 6: HARD RIND– mature & developed flavor
o WENSLEYDALE- It has a smooth thin natural dry rind which is bound in muslin with a moist hazelnut creamy taste and salty tang.
• Pelassa Bricco Enrichetta Langhe Barbera/Nebbiolo DOC (Piedmont)
o TOMME DE FEDOU- a mild earthiness to the aroma and flavor of the cheese while the interior has a firm texture and flavors of hay and nuts.
• Domaine de la Croix Bouquie Sauvignon Blanc (Touraine)
o PIAVE- an intense, full-bodied flavor, reminiscent of Parmigiano Reggiano, that intensifies with age and makes this cheese absolutely unique
• Palazzo Malgara Shiraz (Sicily)
o OSSAU-IRATY- lactic, nutty, rich slightly oily, firm texture.
• Bodegas Maset Reserva Cava Brut (NU) (Penedès)
o MANCHEGO- delicious briny, nuttiness; earthy, hearty and wonderful.
• Bodegas Tavera Cendal (La Mancha)
o MAHON- bold, magnificent one that could never be called mild. The yellowish-orange rind conceals a soft, salty and decidedly spicy interior.
• Domaine Le Mourre Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Southern Rhône)
o IDIAZABAL- buttery, balsamy taste and a nutty finish.
• Cruz de Piedra Umbral de los Tiempos Malbec (Mendoza)

Any questions? Stop by and visit with us about it. You’d make our day!
Jaci Kajfas, Sommelier

February 26, 2015 at 8:50 pm Leave a comment

Off the Beaten Path Varietals: Kerner

Castelfeder_Vernatch harvest_2014
Developed in 1929 in Lauffen, Germany by German grape breeder August Herold, Kerner has quickly become a popular varietal throughout Germany, Austria, and parts of Northern Italy. Herold crossed the varietals of Trollinger (also known as Schiava Grigia or Grauvernatsch depending on what part of the world you’re in; photo: Castelfeder Vernatsch harvest, 2014) with the classic Riesling grape.

Herold named his invented varietal after the poet Justinias Kerner, known for composing classic German drinking songs. Released for general cultivation in 1969, Kerner is one of the youngest commercially available varietals. It was firstly introduced to Germany, followed by Austria, Switzerland, and Italy (where it was introduced in the early 1970s). It’s now planted throughout the world in such places as: South Africa, British Columbia, England and Michigan.

Kerner is a very aromatic varietal and is easily paired with foods much like Riesling wines tend to be. This grape tends to be much more robust than Riesling however, making it a much more appealing grape to plant. Kerner has been known to survive temperatures below freezing in the winters and usually has larger yields. Kerner wines tend to have similar taste characteristics as Riesling wines (refreshing, with aromas of exotic fruits, strong spicy notes on the palate, and fruit forward), but it can have much lower acidity and a more rounded body than is typical of Riesling wine.

While easily paired with most dishes, Kerner is best served alongside light appetizers, salads, seafood, poultry, asparagus, or mild cheeses. Not surprisingly, Kerner is not easy to find in Seattle. We carry a lovely example from the Giovanett family of Weingut Castelfeder in Northern Italy. Ines Giovanett will be in Seattle at the end of February, and we will most assuredly taste this wine, so stay tuned for dates.

In the meantime, here are tasting notes for:
Label_IT_Castelfeder Kerner_no frame
Castelfeder Kerner Vigneti dell Dolomiti DOC “Lahn”

Reg $22.99 | INSIDER $21.99 | Mixed Case $17.59

Originally founded in 1970 by A. Giovanette, then taken over by his son, Günther Giovanett in 1985. Continuing in the same tradition as his father, Günther still has close contact with winegrowers, careful selection of the best production areas and well-aimed cultivation of choice varietals

Involved in every aspect of the winery: this passion for winemaking begins in the vineyard with the planting of the vines, advising and working with the winegrowers and continues through the harvest and gentle pressing of the grapes in the cellar up to the vinification of the wines and finally to their marketing. The result of this difficult but rewarding job is wine to be proud of.

Grapes: 100% Kerner
Viticulture: After a short skin contact period (4-8 hours) the grapes are pressed, decanted, and finally fermented separately in stainless steel tanks at low temperatures to retain classic regional qualities.
Alcohol: 13.5% vol.
Appearance: Straw yellow with green reflexes
Palate: Fresh & aromatic. This wine has a high acidity & a spicy aftertaste.

January 26, 2015 at 11:28 pm Leave a comment

The End of an Era on Ballard Ave

Portalis Wines_Julie&Jens_800The news is out! The For Lease sign is up! Portalis Wines is nearing the end of our 10-year lease in this spot (12 years on the street!), and we’ve decided it’s the end of an era for us on Ballard Ave. What a run! When we first opened in 2003 (up the street at 5310 Ballard Ave) Ballard Bookcase was across the street next to Ernie’s motorcycle & metalworks shop (now Bastille). Ernie had “The Pisser” in the window, a life-size metal figure of a man ready for you to hook up your hose so he could water your lawn as he did his business! Anyone remember? The Wilson Ford building was next to us, empty and dilapidated. Madame K’s was still on the block. Ballard Hardware was in its original location, and we could go on!

As part-owners in the building, this is a good move for us. For you, it will be good because we promise to find a new location with improved parking! The only change (and it’s a big one) is that our new venue will only have a wine shop, no wine bar. J. Strecker Selections (our wine import company) has taken off, demanding much more of our time. We are looking forward to this change, but in the meantime, it’s been a great ride with the wine bar, and it’s time to celebrate:

It’s time to celebrate a great run! It’s time to celebrate the development of this great street & neighborhood. And it’s time to celebrate the people (employees, winemakers, cheesemongers, chocolatiers, artists & patrons) who helped create such a great wine venue through the years. Here’s to:

(the best photos from our archives; sadly we are missing many from the early years)
End of an Era_Guests_011814
Row 1: Jeff Porter|Stone Brewing (CA), Matt Gubitosa|ANIMALE (WA), Massimo Gonzi|Nottola (Tuscany), Tenuta Vitanza (Tuscany)
Row 2: Tony Dollar|Lobo Hills (WA), Michael Glauser|Jumi (cheese) Imports (Switzerland), Tom Stocks|Taylor Shellfish & Ines Giovanett|Castelfeder (Alto Adige), Ernie Loosen|Dr. Loosen (Germany)
Row 3: William Woodruff|Chloe Wines (Seattle importer), Peter Devison|Efeste (WA), Fernando Rojo|Bodegas Rauda (Spain), David Oldham|Andrew Will (WA)
Row 4: Teresa Slechta|Vinum Imports (Seattle), Daniele Pelassa (Piedmont), Mark Ryan (WA), Sophia Berquist|Quinta de la Rosa (Portugal)
Row 5: Jamie Brown|Waters (WA), Madame Schoenheitz|Schoenheitz (Alsace), Neil Ellis (South Africa), Mark Davidson|Wine Australia
Row 6: Janet Shimada|Cadeaux Chocolates (Seattle), Alberto Anoz|Zuazo Gaston (Rioja), Luke Bradford|Cor Cellars (WA), Brandee & Brian Grasso |Structure Cellars (WA)
Row 7: Emiliano Morando|Vinchio+Vaglio Serra (Piedmont), Linn Scott|Sparkman Cellars (WA), Francois Blachon (France), Brian Patterson|San Francisco Wine Exchange
Row 8: Eleni Papadakis|Domaine Serene (OR), Marc Picon|Pares Balta (Spain), Trey Busch|Sleight of Hand Cellars (WA), Penny Murray|Planeta (Sicily)

THE FOODHail to Chef Tracey>
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THE WINES (some of our favorites through the years)
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End of an Era_Art_102414

THE TEAM (truly a great group through the years!)
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Row 1: Dennis, Sky, Stacey|Erin, Johnny
Row 2: Lisa|Kimber, Gina, Joel, Brandi
Row 3: Katie, Julie|Jens, Amanda
Row 4: Jim, Tracey, Sky|Donovan, Pavel
Row 5: Brian, Karli, Matt, Travis
Row 6: JJ, Mark, RhiAnnon, Gavin
Row 7: Logan, Evann, Daniel, Debi
Row 8: Corinne, Ross, Craig

We look forward to seeing you at 5205 Ballard Ave through the end of the year!

Cheers to Ballard & cheers to wine!
Julie & Jens, Owners
Portalis Wine Shop + Wine Bar

October 28, 2014 at 2:32 am Leave a comment

Spanish Wine Pilgrimage

BLOG_Jaci's Wine Tour of Spain_081014_stars
Summer is in its peak.  It is a time of harvest, growth and a bit of spiritual retreat.  We give salutations to Spain with this pilgrimage through our Spanish selections in honor of our many friends that live in Spain and walked the El Camino de Santiago:
BLOG_Jaci's Wine Tour of Spain_081014_map_v2
The El Camino de Santiago or the St. James Trail travels through the northern border Pyrenees mountain range between France and Spain. Travelers walk this path for personal and spiritual growth.  Imagine if you were on that journey.  You finish your day at St. James in Santiago in the most North Western coastal corner of Spain and begin your journey through the wine regions of Spain.  The journey begins in the northwest coastal areas of Spain across the northeast coastal then down to the center of Spain in La Mancha.

From Santiago, you will travel to Rias Baixas.  The calmest coastal area on the Atlantic coast, it is one of the exclusive areas to harvest sea life.  It is also known for refreshing Albariño and with rich pine and eucalyptus landscapes. The lush maritime area of the North West Spain is where the sea rules cuisine and industry.  Our producer, Bodegas as Laxas has been producing  Albariño since 1975.  A refreshing wine, with a glyceric finish, it lingers on the palate with exacting acidity. Pairing with this would be a hearty ceviche halibut salad tossed with fresh pimentos, oranges and crisp jicama.

Town Hall in the village of Valderas (Castilla y León) where Bodegas Casto Pequeño is located

Town Hall in the village of Valderas (Castilla y León) where Bodegas Casto Pequeño is located

Though as hard as it may be to extract oneself from the coastal winds and scents, we continue to move forward to dive deep into the heart of Spain to find red varietals.  On to the plateaus of the Iberian Peninsula, we travel to Castilla y León.  Nestled together and surrounded by Cantabrian mountains to the north, Zamora mountains to the south, and Sistma Iberico mountains to the south east, the Meseta plateau is at a higher elevation providing hotter days and cool evenings.  These landscapes protect the vineyards from the coastal influences we just experienced in Rias Baixas.  Here, the Duoro River begins and travels east through Portugal to the Atlantic Ocean.

Casto Pequeno_Bodega_web
Bodega Casto Pequeño cultivates its Tempranillo here in these dynamic conditions.  With vineyards in Castilla y Leon, Rueda and Toro, Bodega Casto Pequeño produces complex wines, with suppleness and structure and rich cherry and strawberry driven wines.  Classic regional pairings would be Judias del Barco con chorizo (sausage and bean soup), Morcilla de León (blood sausage) and Cangrejos de río con tomate (Crabs Rio in tomato).
Castilla y Leon_traditional food_Judias del Barco con chorizo

Due east in the area of Spain in the in Ribera del Duero region, Bodegas Rauda  produces Tempranillo in a more refined modern fashion with ample fruit and elegance.  Pairings with these wines would be similar however preferred favorites are braised hen with saffron and tomato or Manchego cheese with roasted peppers and mushrooms!

Burgos hosts Ribera del Duero's annual “Fiesta de la Vendimia” or Harvest Festival

Burgos hosts Ribera del Duero’s annual “Fiesta de la Vendimia” or Harvest Festival

Crossing over plateaus to the Ebro River, we will head due east to the Navarra and Rioja regions directly under the Cantabrian Mountains.  The transition from the dry plateau climate with Atlantic coastal influence to the continental plateau climate with mountain winds highlights the varietals distinctness and shows how they thrive in different environments. It is here that a stronger prominence of other varietals are grown, such as Garnacha, as well as a stronger use of French varietals (including Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) in conjunction with the traditional Tempranillo.

Joaquín Lozano & his father who together run Bodega Marqués de Montecierzo

Joaquín Lozano & his father who together run Bodega Marqués de Montecierzo

Navarra is nestled north east of Rioja, and is part of the Way to St. James if one walks through the vineyards of Valdizarbe.  It is a historic area, more noted for tradition than wine, and secretly one of my favorite regions in Spain.  Marques de Montecierzo is rich in culture almost as much as the pilgrimage to St James.  Limestone clay soils and tunnels underneath an ancient mill house, the family cultivates the vineyard in sustainable practices.

plaza oyon
Rioja, southwest of Navarra, has grown dramatically in popularity.  Driven primarily by Tempranillo and Garnacha, the French influence is still strong with notes of French oak rather than American oak.  Our friends at Zuazo Gaston are located near the village of Oyón (pictured above), and they highly recommend the nearby town of Logroño for local cuisine. Alberto Anoz, our contact at Zuazo Gaston says that a typical local menu would be: “Menestra de Verduras” (vegetable stew) or “Patatas a la Riojana” (potatoes with Spanish sausage) with “Chuletillas al Sarmiento”  (baby lamb chops grilled with vine branches, pictured below). He recommends the following local restaurants: En Ascuas (where they make very nice grilled meats, including Chuletillas al Sarmiento) & Cachetero.

He also suggests visiting the “Calle del Laurel”, a local street in Logrono with plenty of small bars and excellent tapas.

Traveling to the north eastern part of Spain, sitting on the Mediterranean coast is the Catalonia region (pictured below). Here we enter Spain’s most cultivated and modernized wine region, but even with growth and investment, they cherish their traditions and have stayed close to their roots.
Maset_penedes in June_FB1
Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine, hails from this area and is produced with the varietals Macabeo, Parellada, Xarello, methode tradionale.  The bubbles are sassy and vivacious with lush textures on the palette. Bodegas Maset has taken great care in executing an elegant and voluptuous Cava.  They are also known for their production of exciting reds with varietals such as Cariñena and Garnache.  Pairings for Catalan regions are influenced with Mediterranean coast (olive oils, vegetables, legume, pastas), lamb, cheese, anchovy, tuna and cod.
BLOG_Catalonia cuisine
For a special local dish, our friends at Bodegas Maset recommend Pollo asado con chalotas, ciruelas y piñones (roast chicken with shallots, prunes and pine nuts). Their dear friends Sandra & Xavi (who live in Barcelona less than an hour due east of the winery) write a cooking blog, Els fogons de la Bordeta, where you can find this recipe!

Castillo de Almonacid in Castilla-La Mancha

Castillo de Almonacid in Castilla-La Mancha

Into the heat and depths of Spain, we find La Mancha. Low density and difficult living conditions due to the arid temperatures, however wind mills and agriculture thrive.  This intensity produces some thrilling Tempranillo and Syrah.  Bodegas y Vinedos Tavera blends their Cendal with a touch of Syrah which is able to withstand the hot days and chilly nights.  In Valdepeñas and Tierra de Castillo, the Bodegas Juan Ramirez family stands firm with tradition and makes their wines with 100% Tempranillo (vineyards pictured below).  Pairings in this region would be Cocido Madrileño (meats, sausage and garbanzo beans), garlic soup and pisto (vegetables of squash, tomato and peppers).

Time restricts our travels but journeys never have to end, Spain can be limitless.  Hearty in its wine, food, tradition and culture, each region is represented through and noted through its specific nuances from its agriculture, culture and growth throughout the centuries. Spain is an exploration of the senses and a heartwarming reminder that tradition is a foundation not a decal.  A pilgrimage for the spirit as is many times found through sharing with good friends at the table from a vineyard and the land.

Jaci Kajfas
Guest Wine Writer, Sommelier & Dining Room Manager at Volterra in the historic neighborhood of Ballard in Seattle, WA

Interested in taking a wine tour of Spain? All the wines mentioned above as excellent examples from their respective regions are available at Portalis Wine Shop:
Rias Baixas | As Laxas Outon
Castilla y León | Bodega Casto Pequeño
Ribera del Duero | Bodegas Rauda
Navarra | Marques de Montecierzo
Rioja | Zuazo Gaston
Catalonia | Bodegas Maset
La Mancha | Bodegas Tavera
Valdepeñas | Bodegas Juan Ramirez


August 10, 2014 at 10:50 pm Leave a comment

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