Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Living in Wine Country

I have never considered myself a wine connass...coiness...conassew...lover. Years ago I read and appreciated advice on how best to enjoy fine, California wines: pick up the bottle, break the neck over a rock, wait for the glass to settle to the bottom, take a swig and yell, "Yeehaw!"

Sally and I briefly took advantage of living in California wine country in 1985 by visiting several wineries in the Napa Valley. The tours were interesting -- I learned that a "punt" was something other than a football play -- and we even found a wine we liked: Beringer Chardonnay. After our tour of the winery and tasting, we bought a case. Only later did we discover that the same wine was available at our local grocery store for $2 per bottle less than the bargain we got at the winery. Kinda took the shine off things for us.

Well here we are in wine country again. Washington wines are gaining a wonderful reputation, and the industry has had an economic impact statewide. Small, eastern Washington towns that once boasted only a gas station and a grain elevator are now destinations on trendy wine tours. Who saw that coming?

Sally and I have again gotten swept up in the movement. At a nice dinner with Megan and friends in Richland, Sally ordered a glass of Washington Malbec with her meal. I ordered a Cabernet. In comparing tastes, we both preferred the Malbec. That was surprising mostly because I generally prefer drier red wines than does Sally. We both liked the Malbec.

After a quick bit of research on-line, I have learned that Malbec is one of six grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere, and Petit Verdot) included in red wine blends from Bordeaux in France, called by the same name. In Great Britain such blends are called Clarets (yes, you sound the "t"). International trade agreements now prohibit using names of French regions for wines grown abroad, and require licensing fees for other names, such as "Claret". As a result, red wine blends in the US combining the varieties of grapes associated with Bordeaux wines have been given other names, including Meritage (rhymes with heritage).

Though decent Malbec varietal wines are available from Argentina, Malbec is relatively rare, and thus expensive, as a Washington varietal. It is, however, commonly used in Washington clarets and Meritages. Sally and I, typically low brow, were drawn to another appellation: Freddie's Blend.

No, not Fred Meyer. Turns out that "Freddie" is Federique Spencer, and that she is a respected winemaker and master blender at Sagelands Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. We really like the Sagelands Bordea...clare...Merita... uh, Blend. It sounds like something we would drink, doesn't it? Freddie's Blend. And so, disguised as low brows, Sally and I are now secret connoisseurs, enjoying a really fine Washington wine. Pass the pretzels, would you?

1 comment:

  1. I love these thoughts! It was a visit to Walla Walla to stay at the cabin owned by my in-laws where I learned that wine should taste like grapes, red wines can have great legs, and that I could still spend less than $20 on something that I could pronounce. And yes, I too have learned to shop a bit cautiously--sometimes the wine at the site of the vine cost a bit more than at the local grocery store!