Friday, September 30, 2011

Wine in the Pines - Swiftwater Cellars - Suncadia Resort

Back at the end of August, I once again headed into the mountains to visit the beautiful Swiftwater Cellars (@SwiftwaterWine). If you remember, I visited back in June to tour the winery and learn about Wine in the Pines. Well, the event had finally arrived and we packed up the cars and headed east into the sunshine and some serious temperatures. The event was divided into several different sessions, which included the Celebrity Seminar, the Grand Gala tasting, and the concurrent “Meet the Maker” tastings and Winemaker Dinners. It was a jam packed day for attendees, but worth the drive and the heat!

I was excited to first attend the Celebrity Seminar, hosted by Evan Goldstein and Leslie Sbrocco. Evan is a Master Sommelier who has written numerous food & wine pairing books and is an overall “educator of wine”. Leslie is the head “Thirsty Girl” (@beathirstygirl), who’s charismatic personality and humor has landed her as a regular guest on the “Today Show”. Today was no exception! Leslie and Evan were a great team to lead this seminar, which featured lamb dishes from Chef Paul Cotta of Swiftwater’s Hoist House restaurant, Chef Andrew Wilson of Cle Elum-Roslyn’s Portals restaurant, Chef Liam Spence of Seattle’s LOLA, and Chef Jacky Lo of Seattle’s Wild Ginger restaurant. My favorite part of this seminar was that they didn’t provide dishes with paired wines that the “experts” thought paired best. Rather, they set out an array of 7 different wines in front of us, split between reds and whites, and different varietals. How fun! With each dish, we had the opportunity to taste each wine as we ate, and decide ourselves which we felt paired the best with the dish. First, however, we tasted through each of the wines, with input from our celebrity hosts, as well as a brief description from the winemaker or winery representative in attendance for the wine. As Evan stated when we started, “wine alone and wine with food are two very different animals”, and boy was he right. The flavors changed immensely from the taste through of the wines on their own to when we tried them with the flavors in each of the lamb dishes. And now, without further ado, the wines!

(Our seminar wine flight)

Our first wine was the Teveri Cellars sparkling wine, which was made available specifically for this event, as at this time it wasn’t even released yet! Teveri is a Yakima winery and this sparkling is 100% Chardonnay with no residual sugar, leaving the natural sugar to brighten the wine. It was interesting to learn that Teveri has only been open for just over 6 months and they expect a 5,000 case production by the end of the year! This one had a citrus after taste and was a very clean wine.

Next we sampled the Kiona Vineyards & Winery (@kionawine) 2010 Red Mountain Riesling. This riesling came from their old vines and as my friend attending with me stated “smells like starbursts” (I LOVE starbursts!). Kiona started in 1975 and was definitely one of the pioneers of the Red Mountain AVA. They started with planting 12 acres, 4 each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling. This has grown significantly, and Kiona now maintains over 300 acres of vineyard on Red Mountain. This Riesling has a nice tart acidity, which is definitely a key for food pairing. Kiona keeps it cold from fermentation to bottling, which offers a nice spritz on the end of each taste.

Also in our line-up was the Chinook Wines 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. As Leslie stated in the seminar, “it’s really about acidity”, as Sauvignon Blanc is known for high vibrant acidity. She goes on to compare wine to fashion & fabrics saying, “acidity is like a bra that lifts and separates and makes everything look perky”. That quote really got the room going and also made us realize how right she was. It really does enhance wine and make it “perky” when needed. The Chinook Sauvignon Blanc is fairly oaky for this varietal and had what seemed like peet flavors, reminding me of a scotch. My opinion of this wine definitely changed once we paired with food. More on that later..

Next up was the Swiftwater Cellars (@SwiftwaterWine) 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. As Evan stated about Pinot Noir, it “has both red wine and white wine characteristics”. This particular Pinot had good tannin on the finish. Interesting to note about this wine is that these are OR grapes. Tony Rynders, one of the Swiftwater winemakers, is one of a half dozen winemakers in WA who are playing around with Pinot Noir, and this vintage was the first they’ve made at Swiftwater. Impressive wine, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of this varietal from this winery.

Our next red was the Hightower Cellars (@hightowercellar) 2007 Columbia Valley Merlot. Evan made a great point, that Merlot is “a good table mate that finds itself happier on the table than by itself” and that it “has lighter acidity and softer, more plush tannins”. The Hightower Merlot is mostly Red Mountain fruit, with some from Horse Heaven Hills. It has a bit of Cabernet Franc in it, which gives a nice pepper on the finish. Kelly Hightower explained how Hightower makes their blends barrel by barrel, which “is a lot like cooking but you only get one chance at it”. How true! There’s no starting over when it comes to wine blending. You only get one shot with that juice!

The line-up continued with the Efeste (@efeste) 2008 Ceidleigh Red Mountain Syrah (which is sold out according to the Efeste website!). This wine had a smooth nose and almost a hint of cherry on the taste. Part of this Syrah comes from Kiona Vineyard, part of Ciel du Cheval, and part from Klipsun. The blend on it changes with the vintage, which always keeps it interesting! Winemaker Brennon Leighton tries to keep the New French Oak fairly low on this one and uses 100% native fermentation.

Finally we had the Woodward Canyon Winery (@WoodwardCanyon) 2008 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Woodward Canyon was the second winery in Walla Walla and is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year! They started their Cabernet in 1977 and released their first commercial vintage in 1981. Winemaker/owner Rick Small explained about their vineyards and how there are 1,600 plants/acre at 3x9 spacing. I love picking up these fun wine facts at events like this! This particular Cabernet comes from 70% new wood. Rick really has a passion for food & wine pairing and stated “I want my wine to complement food”. What an amazing job he has done in achieving that!

And now for the food! We had four small plates of lamb dishes, as the American Lamb board was a sponsor of this event. They were brought out two at a time, and we were able to taste the dish with our wines and decide which we felt paired the best. Everyone had a different opinion (for the most part), so it made for a very interesting tasting.

Our first dish was from Chef Paul Cotta from Swiftwater’s Hoist House Restaurant. He served up a lamb terrine gratin with curried Walla Walla onion mustard, baby greens and preserved lemon-pistachio gremelata. Remember when I said earlier my opinion of the Chinook Sauvignon Blanc changed with food? This was it! I loved it along with the flavors in this dish! It just goes to show you how wine alone and wine with food can be so drastically different.

(Chef Paul Cotta's lamb dish)

Next was a dish from Chef Andrew Wilson from Portals Restaurant. He presented a sumac crusted lamb loin with carrot purée and frizzled shallots with a lamb jus lie. The lamb in this dish was tender and amazing. Much like our first dish, this paired brilliantly with the Chinook Sauvignon Blanc. Also a nice pairing was the Kiona Riesling.

(Chef Andrew Wilson's lamb dish)

The next round of two dishes started with a lamb dish from LOLA’s Chef Liam Spence. This delicious plate was a slow roasted lamb leg, feta, bacon and huckleberry jus. It was hard to pick just one wine that paired well with this dish. My picks for this were the Hightower Merlot, the Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Swiftwater Pinot Noir. The Kiona Riesling was amazing along with the bread pudding part of the dish. Boy oh boy what I wouldn’t give for some more of that…

(Chef Liam Spence's lamb dish)

Finally, we enjoyed a dish from Wild Ginger’s Chef Jacky Lo. This was a lamb rendang, a classic Malay curry with lemongrass, ginger, galangal, red chili and spices in house made coconut cream. This dish is traditionally made with beef, but since lamb was the name of the game today, we were able to enjoy a different variation. My favorite pairings with this dish were the Swiftwater Pinot Noir, the Chinook Sauvignon Blanc, and the Kiona Riesling.

(Chef Jacky Lo's lamb dish)

I really enjoyed this seminar because, as I said before, it gave us the opportunity to make our own food & wine pairings from a selection of different varietals. I think this “trial and error” approach really helps in the pairing education. It was also great to get the commentary from our seminar leaders, Evan and Leslie. They have so much knowledge between the two of them!

(Grand Gala glasses ready for the tasters)

The rest of our time up at Wine in the Pines was spent at the Grand Gala, the tasting where wineries and restaurants were available to provide tastes and bites. While we got lucky with the weather on this day with the sun shining, it was almost TOO hot for outdoor wine tasting. I found myself doing a loop around the indoor and outdoor winery tables just tasting whites before I made it back around for reds (which, after sitting in the hot sun for awhile, were a little toasty). Even though it was quite warm, it was still a lot of fun. The crowd was just the perfect size to not feel too cramped in the space and it was great to interact with several of the winemakers and winery representatives there that I knew.

(Mercer Estate pouring at the Grand Gala)

(Barrage Cellars at the Grand Gala)

(Gard Vintners at the Grand Gala)

While I didn’t get a chance to attend the later “Meet the Maker” tastings or Winemaker dinners, I still felt like I got the most out of my visit to Wine in the Pines. This was an all-day, fun-filled event in the most perfect of settings. I’m so excited to see how this event develops in the next few years and I definitely hope Swiftwater continues to host in their beautiful facility, it was perfect!

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