Wine Travel – Washington’s Eastern Region Shines

If you’re a wine travel lover, Washington is an especially rewarding destination. Practically everywhere you turn, there’s an interesting winery to discover, not to mention vibrant cities, natural wonders galore, and a pleasing four season climate.

In our estimation, many Washington wines are becoming as well known as California’s. It’s not surprising, as Washington is the second largest wine producing state in the country. To illustrate the importance of Washington’s wine industry, over 500 Washington wineries add almost $3 billion to the state’s economy, and employ more than 29,000.

There’s so much to discover about Washington wine, so let’s focus on Washington’s eastern area, known as the Inland Empire, and in particular the strikingly beautiful city of Spokane.

Introducing Spokane

One of the first things you’ll notice about Spokane is how the great outdoors literally snuggle up to this friendly city. Bisected by the Spokane River, white water rafting, skiing, cycling tours, and hiking opportunities abound. And yet, the vibrant pulse of this high tech city is always on display, with live music and fantastic restaurants just steps away no matter where you turn.

The city itself is wonderfully walkable, interspersed with historic architectural gems that have been restored and reinvented. Our first evenings discovery was the Davenport Arts District, a lively arts and entertainment area.

The Davenport Arts District is really where you’ll feel Spokane’s pulse. Historic buildings house galleries, restaurants, and unique shops. This is an ideal late afternoon and early evening stroll, with extra time the next day to fully appreciate all the District has to offer.

Just a few of the shops we discovered were Simply Northwest, which features specialty foods, wines, and regional gifts, and the whimsically named Spokandy, a local candy making institution since 1913. Next, it was time for dinner at the Steam Plant Grill, housed in an historic handsome landmark former steam plant.

This was dinner as it should be. Steam Plant Grill focuses on local ingredients, hearty portions, and reasonable prices. Try the planked salmon, beer cheese soup, and the basil cream ravioli. Don’t miss dessert … the vanilla bourbon stout float is made with the onsite brewhouse’s oh-so-delicious dark stout beer and creamy premium vanilla ice cream.

Spokane Wineries

Twelve wineries call Spokane and the surrounding area home. Spokane itself is compact enough, so driving distances aren’t burdening. Many of the wineries are clustered fairly near downtown, with others just slightly farther afield. Conveniently, 12 of the 14 are quite near the Spokane River, which bisects the Spokane area as it meanders east/west.

Wineries East Of Downtown

Arbor Crest Wine Cellars: Wine Spectator named Arbor Crest one of “50 Great Producers Every Wine Lover Should Know”. It’s located in the Cliff House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located high on a bluff overlooking the Spokane River, the view is almost better than the wine here. Look for award winning Cabernets in particular.

Knipprath Cellars: Located in a handsome old red brick schoolhouse, Knipprath boasts an impressive selection of Port wines, a favorite of ours. Have you ever tried a Vanilla Port or a Chocolate Port? You can here! We also loved the Moonstruck Merlot, with its notes of brown spice and plum.

Latah Creek Wine Cellars: If you like Rieslings as we do, you’ll enjoy Latah Creek. The extensive gift shop here is one of the nicest we visited on this trip. Also be sure to try a Washington specialty, the Huckleberry d’Latah. This wine is a blend of huckleberries, a small blueberry-like fruit, with Riesling.

Nodland Cellars: What a wonderful small boutique winery this is. Just like many European estate wineries, Nodland produces only one red and one white wine. These wines are aged in French Oak barrels, adding to the smooth complexity of the finished product.

Wineries North Of Downtown

Mountain Dome Winery: Located in the foothills of Mt. Spokane, Mountain Dome is something of a change of pace, as they are Washington’s premier sparkling winery. One of the key differences between production of sparkling wines vs. regular wines is the lengthy bottle aging, thereby producing a secondary fermentation. These wines are fun to drink, and add a new dimension to a wine lovers palate.

Townshend Cellar: This small winery north of Spokane offers small lots of quality wines, many of which have been praised by the wine press. The reds are the star here, especially the rich dark fruit taste of their Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wineries In And Near Downtown

Barrister Winery: We literally walked right into this winery, housed in a early 20th century brick building in the heart of the Davenport District. It’s red wine heaven here. Barrister produces limited quantities of Bordeaux style reds and Syrahs.

Grande Ronde Cellars: Wine Specator loves Grande Ronde Cellars, having raved about their Cabernet and Merlot. The real star for us, though, was the creamy Chardonnay. The bouquet of apricot and peach truly was the forebearer of great things to come.

Lone Canary Winery: This was our personal winner of “best winery name” in the Spokane area. But Lone Canary is more than just a name, although the logo is eye catching and named after Washington’s state bird, the wild canary. The wines here have great depth and complexity, from the deliciously fruity Cabernet Sauvignon to Bird House Red, a red blend.

Robert Karl Cellars: Located in the heart of Spokane’s historic warehouse district, Robert Karl Cellars specializes in premium Cabernets. These wines are ideal to cellar for a time to bring out their true mature flavor. In particular, we recommend the rich red Syrah and the Claret.

Vintage Hill Cellars: This downtown Spokane winery is a very comfortable and pleasant place to stop and taste. We bought a few bottles of Vintage Hill’s Sauvignon Blanc and the Riesling.

Of course, eastern Washington and Spokane are just a part of Washington’s wine scene. In the meantime, don’t overlook Spokane! This is an appealing destination whether you crave outdoor activities, historic architecture, city life, or all of the above!

A Toast to Champagne and Sparkling Wines

In December, we travel across the ocean to discuss one of nature’s gifts, Champagne! Champagne is a wine region in France, so only wines from this area may be properly called Champagne. Any “champagne” produced outside this region in France should be referred to as Sparkling Wine.

No other beverage in the world symbolizes a celebration better than Champagne/Sparkling wine. These beverages help usher in the New Year as well as weddings, birthdays, promotions and any other special occasions. This time of year is when approximately 80 percent of this beverage is consumed. At holiday parties, my catering company likes to set up a sparkling station near the front door, greeting guests with a festive glass of bubbly.

Wine speak

The Champagne region in France is located about 90 miles northeast of Paris. In the late 17th century, French Champagnes were formally recognized as a new style of wine. Champagne’s unique effervescence came about due to the cooler climate of northern France. Grapes from this region generally had not fully ripened nor totally fermented in the Fall when wines are traditionally placed in barrels. Over the winter, the champagne was dormant, then began fermenting once again in the Spring. This led to a fizzy beverage that was cloudy, due to the spent yeast floating in the barrels. At the time, this was considered an inferior product.

The French in the Champagne region created a new process to clarify their beverage. Instead of traditional barrel aging and storage, champagne was the first wine to be stored and aged in individual bottles with corks. This new process, Methode Champenois, (still in use today) involves inverting the bottles in racks and gently turning the bottles (riddling), to help the yeast collect in the neck of the bottle.

Next, the neck of the bottle is submerged in a brine solution that freezes the yeast section. The bottle is popped to expel the plug of yeast (disgorgement), resulting in a clear beverage. The champagne is then topped off with still (non-fermented) wine held in reserve for this purpose. A small amount of yeast and sugar are added to the bottle, then corked. This starts the second fermentation process. As the yeast consumes the sugar, a small amount of alcohol is created, as well as carbon dioxide. This allows the bottle to regain its fizz.

Today there are about 100 Champagne Houses in the Champagne region that are supplied with grapes or grape juice from over 15,000 local growers. Given the cooler climate, faster ripening grape varietals are used exclusively in this region; Chardonnay (used exclusively in Blanc de Blancs), Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (used with Chardonnay in Blanc de Noirs and Roses). There are three different methods to produce Champagne; the traditional Methode Champenois where wines ferment in individual bottles, the Charmat Process where wines are fermented in large steel vats and, third, the Artificial Carbonation process where wine is injected with carbon dioxide – which is the most inexpensive approach (and can lead to headaches). Quality Champagnes cost more due to the winery’s use of higher quality grapes, the blending of aged, still wines and the cost of storing the bottled Champagne for years before release.

There are three different styles of Champagne or Sparkling wines, ranging from light to medium to full body (based on the amount of time the yeast is left in contact with the wine). Also, sparkling wine’s sweetness levels ranges from Brut (dry) to Extra Dry (semi-sweet) to Doux (sweet).

Food and wine pairings

As discussed, the holidays are when the majority of Sparkling wines are consumed. They tend to be food friendly due to their higher acidity levels. This refreshing beverage is an ideal aperitif (lighter style is best) or can be used throughout a meal (heavier, more yeasty styles). They tend to match well with spicy and salty dishes. When served as an aperitif, my catering company tends to pair the lighter style Sparklings with sushi, smoked salmon canap├ęs, garlicky shrimp crostini, spicy chicken sate and grilled ahi tuna skewers with a wasabi aioli. They also pair well with goat cheese and semi-soft white cheeses that offer mild flavors.

Sparkling wines have been a house favorite for years. Personal favorites from California that I recommend include Schramsberg and Domaine Carneros, which we just visited this past October. On the French side, a smaller House that is receiving great accolades is Charles Ellner, whose Brut Champagne Seduction ($65) and Brut Reserve ($40) offer tremendous value for the money. Included in the following are suggestions from local merchants of Champagnes and Sparkling wines and their retail prices, which may vary:

Picks

$10 range

Pierre Delize Non-Vintage (NV) Blanc de Blancs – France – $7

Domaine Ste. Michelle (NV) Brut Columbia Valley – Washington State – $12

Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Nature – Spanish Sparkler – $10

Rotari Brut – Italian Sparkling (not from the Asti region) – $12

Daniel Pardiac Brut Blanc de Blancs – France – $12

$25 – 40 ranges

Roederer Estate (NV) Brut – Anderson Valley, CA – $22

Domaine Carneros Brut Carneros – Napa Valley, CA – $25

Schramsberg Brut Blanc de Noir – Napa/Sonoma Counties, CA – $30

Joseph Perrier Brut – France – $26

Bollinger NV Brut – France – $40

Charles Ellner Brut Reserve – France – $40

Bob Kovacs of The Wine Seller in Geneva reminded me of Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “Champagne, in defeat you need it – in victory you deserve it!”

Happy Holidays and Cheers!

Top 10 International Travel Destinations for 2013 – 2014

Trying to choose the most interesting international travel destinations can be difficult since many people have different ideas of exactly what makes the perfect vacation. Whether hiking in the mountains, sunning on a beach, or exploring an ancient ruin is the favorite option, there are exciting and interesting destinations in many countries of the world.

1. France – is the most visited country in the world, with the city of Paris being the most popular destination. Most people are attracted to the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Versailles Palace, and the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. The multitude of quaint cafes and picturesque villages are a major draw for other visitors.

2. China – home to one of the greatest architectural accomplishments in history. Any tour of major international travel destinations should include a stroll along the Great Wall of China.

3. Spain – From the running of the bulls in Pamplona, to the Roman built Aqueduct of Segovia, to the party life of Ibiza Island, Spain has something to offer nearly everyone’s idea of an ideal vacation spot.

4. Italy – One of the most visited places in the world is Vatican City in Rome. The center of Catholicism is only one of many beautiful, historic, and culturally significant attractions in Italy.

5. Turkey – With its unique ancient monuments, minaret filled skylines, and natural land formations, Turkey is one of the most interesting countries in the world to visit.

6. United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. The United Kingdom is home to some of the most historically significant structures in the Western World. Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Tower of London are just a few of the capital city’s attractions. Elsewhere in the country, Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge attract their fair share of visitors.

7. Germany – Beautiful gothic architecture dominates the main attractions in Germany. Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria provided inspiration for the fairytale castles in Disney theme parks around the world. Cologne Cathedral is another example of extraordinary architecture, and is one of the most famous landmarks in Germany.

8. Malaysia – The vast, naturally beautiful landscape of Malaysia draws thousands of visitors every year. Taman Negara provides one of the best preserved ecosystems in the world. Endangered animals, such as tigers and leopards, roam the rain forest while the longest catwalk in the world transports visitors above the forest floor.

9. Saudi Arabia and UAE – With an eclectic mix of modern and ancient structures, Saudi Arabia is one of the most interesting international travel destinations. Najran, located along the Yemeni border, is one of the best places to visit if a tourist friendly, market style shopping experience is desired. Just south of Jeddah, located on the coast of the Red Sea, some of the most amazing scuba diving locations exist. Several historically significant mosques can be found scattered throughout the country. While you are in the area, hop over to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) one of the hottest international business and resort location on the Persian Gulf.

10. Greece – Nothing can compare to the history and beauty of Greece. With its glistening white temples and sparkling blue waters, Greece offers a wide variety of beautiful and fascinating attractions. Every city, town, and village on the island has something to offer those who are seeking to explore ancient ruins, and those that have been preserved or restored.

Vacationing outside the USA is often a once in a lifetime occurrence. Regardless of the type of vacation desired, finding fascinating international travel destinations should not be difficult. Planning your trip is half the fun, so enjoy the ride from start to finish, no matter what happens along the way!

Copyright 2013 Taylor Hill, GWT Marketing. All Rights Reserved