Raising my glass to readers, wineries

December 28, 2011

For the past five and a half years, it has been my privilege and pleasure to write this monthly wine column. During that brief span, the number of wineries in Washington has doubled, and the region’s reputation has soared. The Spokane wineries have played an important role in several ways.

It’s no secret that the best way to convert an occasional wine sipper to a dedicated wine enthusiast is to invite him or her into your tasting room. Spokane now benefits from a number of exceptional tasting rooms, from the eagle’s aerie elegance of Arbor Crest, to the downtown underground hipness of Barrister, to the jazz-infused artists’ hangout that Nodland Cellars calls home. Josh Wade’s Nectar Tasting Room opened this past year, bringing the wines from five different Washington wineries together under the same roof.

In my ongoing reviews for a national wine publication, more than a few wines from this area have made good scores and “best buy” designations. There is so much going on in the area that it deserves a wine columnist who is local, who lives in Spokane, and who can keep a close watch on all the latest developments. With this column, I am handing in my corkscrew for the next person who takes the helm.

Meanwhile, a toast! If you have not yet stocked up on Champagne for your New Year’s Eve celebration, this is the time to do it. During the holiday season, Champagne producers offer specials that are hard to beat. Even if real French Champagne is a rare treat at your home, there is no better time to raise a glass of the best bubbly in the world than at the turning point of the year.

Among the basic, nonvintage brut Champagnes are many of the most familiar brands – Duval-Leroy, Louis Roederer, Moët & Chandon, Nicolas Feuillatte, Perrier Jouët, Piper Heidsieck and Veuve Clicquot – all widely available and justifiably popular. My personal favorite brut producers include Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck, Delamotte, Deutz, Drappier, Henriot, Laurent-Perrier and Pol Roger.

You will find more totally dry Champagnes than in the past, labeled brut nature or brut zéro. These are not for everyone, nor are they always successful. But it is a category that is rapidly gaining interest. (Remember that Extra Dry and Sec Champagnes are actually sweeter than brut, for some unfathomable reason).

Vintage, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs and Rosé Champagnes will usually cost you a bit more than the nonvintage bruts, and in return they offer more focus and individuality. The Billecart-Salmon Rosé is perhaps the most popular of all the pink Champagnes. I also like the rosés from Deutz, Laurent-Perrier, Louis Roederer, and Pol Roger.

Grower Champagnes have also made an impact in recent years. In contrast to the big Champagne houses that buy from dozens of growers and blend to a particular style, these wines come from individual grower/producers. They can be fascinating, but don’t look for uniformity. Grower Champagne prices average $10 to $15 higher than other nonvintage bruts. Three to look for are Camille Saves Carte Blanche, Joel Falmet, and the Legras & Haas Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs.

Wherever your palate leads you in the coming year, I encourage you to explore at least one new wine region in person. Have you visited the Columbia Gorge or Lake Chelan? Both of these tourist-friendly destinations feature breathtaking scenery, a multitude of outdoor activities, and a growing number of small, young wineries whose owners are usually on hand to greet you.

If you want to venture farther afield, the Willamette Valley wineries of western Oregon can fill not one or two, but many days and itineraries. Visit http://willamette wines.com for an online guide to upcoming wine events, maps, and a smartphone-friendly Mobile Wine Tour. It provides directions to more than 180 wineries and tasting rooms, with information on the wines and the hours of business. Wine touring was never easier.

After 25 years writing a regular wine column, I am all too aware of the limitations of my knowledge and experience. There is always more to learn, to discover, and to enjoy. As I continue my own explorations, I hope you will visit my blog ( www.paulgregutt.com) or check in with me via email (paulgwine@me.com).

My sincere wishes to all of you for a Happy New Year, and may we all enjoy the best wines of our lives in 2012.

Grapevine 2.0

Starting next month, correspondent Michael Guilfoil takes over Grapevine for a series of stories featuring wineries of the Inland Northwest. He’ll reintroduce area winemakers and bring readers answers to common questions about the businesses.


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