Friday, April 29, 2011

Washington Goodbye in Walla Walla

After a good night’s sleep in my apartment at Walla Faces Inn, Erica Waliser of the Washington State Wine Commission picked me up for my final day in Washington.  We went over to L’Ecole No 41 winery to meet with Marty Clubb, a member of the family that has owned one of the region’s oldest wineries for nearly 30 years.

In the 1980s L’Ecole only produced about 1,000 cases and they were all self-distributed.  The wine can now be found in all 50 states and has also become popular in Canada and Japan, producing 35 times what it did at the beginning. The winery itself is housed in an old schoolhouse built in what was a small French town in the early 20th century. They make wine under three labels: L’Ecole No 41, Columbia Valley and Salmon Safe.

L’Ecole is known for its Merlot, but the collection here includes something for everyone and it seemed like Marty was ready to pour it all for me to try! My favorites were the 2010 L’Ecole No 41 Chenin Blanc, crisp and slightly sweet, with lots of pineapple, lemon and grapefruit; 2009 L’Ecole Estate Seven Hills Luminesce, a blend of Semillon (67%) and Sauvignon Blanc with lots of fruit forward, especially the melon and tropical notes from the Sauvignon Blanc; and their 2007 L’Ecole Columbia Valley Merlot, smooth and fruity, like a fruitcake in a glass!
After L’Ecole, we went down the road to Waterbrook Winery, a large, modern facility. It’s only been open for three years and is welcoming with a large outdoor deck for events, with bocce ball and croquet on the sides. We met with winemaker John Freeman and did some barrel tasting of so wines I can’t wait for, like the 2010 Waterbrook Melage Blanc, a perfectly suited blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris, and toured the 53,000 square foot modern facility before heading to their tasting room for lunch.

It’s hard for me to decide which I liked better at lunch, the wonderful selection of wines or the incredible food by Executive Chef Ceil Blaine.  Let’s just say it started with a salad with Red Onion, Avocado and Mint accompanied by the perfectly balanced 2010 Waterbrook Rose, and ended with a Tart with a Seeded Crust, Pumpkin, Walnuts and Cream with Bing Cherries soaked in Syrah and Triple Sec paired with Chocolate Shop Wine!

Our final wine stop of the day was the total opposite of the previous. The recently opened tasting room at Gramercy Cellars by Greg Harrington and Brandon Moss garnered accolades as the Best New Winery of 2010 by Food & Wine Magazine.  When you walk in here, you feel like you’ve entered a bachelor pad (Greg is actually married, his wife Pam is a founder), with leather coaches and a dart board in the tasting room. Tastings here are by appointment only and it won’t take very long – there are only about a dozen wines.

We met with Brandon Moss, who looks like he’s barely old enough to drink, but he’s an experienced winemaker and he proved it by pouring me the 2008 Tempranillo.  It’s a grape I haven’t seen a lot of in the U.S., with lots of earth and spice, finishing with a bit of fruit. The 2008 Walla Walla Syrah is full of more fruit and less spice than most, which Brandon attributes to the whole cluster fermentation. I also enjoyed their 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with merlot, cabernet franc and petite verdot.  
I ended my final day in Washington with a fantastic dinner with two of the friendliest people I have met on this trip (and that is saying a lot considering how hospitable the Pacific Northwest has been to me). Eric Dunham of Dunham Cellars and wife took me to dinner at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, a very popular Walla Walla eatery. The food was excellent, as was the wine and company.  Eric gave me a quote that I think may be my new motto, “Wine is opinion in a glass.” I certainly agreed with his opinion when I tasted the 2009 Shirley Mays, a chardonnay made in honor of his grandmother which garners donations for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Eric also talked to me a bit about his partnership with actor Kyle McLachlan*, a Yakima native with whom he produces wine under the Dunham MacLachlan label. Thus far that has been one wine, Pursued by Bear, a cabernet sauvignon that is up there with the best I’ve ever tasted. They now have a second, Baby Bear, which looks to reinvent great syrah.  I didn’t get to try that yet, but I have no doubt after the last week of exploring this region, I will be looking to taste a lot more Washington wine.

Celebrity Cruise Line

The Pacific Northwest was really calling me this year!  I’m spending a good part of my spring exploring this beautiful area and tasting its wine so stay tuned. British Columbia, Canada is next, followed by a Pacific Coastal Wine Cruise on the Celebrity Millennium. I will be checking out the wine of each region on and off the ship, as well as doing some interesting and unusual tours.  Stay tuned for my coverage through the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia; Catalina Island; Napa and Sonoma; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Victoria, BC, Canada; and Vancouver, BC, Canada. It’s going to be a blast!

*I had a great conversation with Kyle MacLachlan about wine and television. The story on the latter appears at Yahoo! TV.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Leaving Wine and Chocolate in Tri-Cities for Walla Walla

The sun continued to shine as I made my way east through Washington.  I had plenty more to see and taste, but first I had to eat some chocolate.

Jordan from Tri-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau met me for breakfast at the Courtyard Richland early in the morning. I was a bit curious why we needed to get up early to stop by a “Country Mercantile,” but that question was answered when we got there. This was no country store, this was the country store.  As we toured with Max, I saw aisles and aisles of local products from produce to sauces to to tamales. This family-owned business has a place to get fresh made sandwiches and an area filled with over 40 flavors of homemade ice cream – not far from all the homemade fudge in every flavor imaginable.  And, in the back, there is a chocolate factory that would make Willy Wonka jealous!

I left Country Mercantile with some goodies (it’s worth a trip just for the Big Foot, full of nuts, caramel and chocolate), not imaging a better place to stock up between two wine regions.  We were heading to my last stop in the Tri-Cities, Preston Premium Wine. A self guided tour takes you through this winery, offering plenty of seating if you just want to sit and sample for awhile. I enjoyed the wide selection of estate grown wines here, especially the 2009 Long Tail Lizard, a pomegranate and Riesling based wine which is sangria-like and not too sweet. Their just released 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is also a winner, presenting an earthy nose with a finish that’s a lemony floral.

I was met at Preston by Erica Waliser, Public Relations Coordinator for the Washington State Wine Commission.  She was leading me to Walla Walla through the green rolling hills, where we saw more hops than grapes for awhile in one of Washington’s best known wine regions. Our first stop was at Spring Valley, a small, family owned and run winery under the Chateau St. Michelle brand. It is literally in the middle of nowhere and they only have a few wines to taste by appointment, but it was a great way to introduce me to what Walla Walla is all about – deep, rich, fruity reds.

Spring Valley offers only six wines right, all reds and all named after members of the family, I’d recommend them all, especially the 2007 Uriah, a blend of mostly merlot, with cabernet franc, and petite verdot for a more complex taste and the 2007 Frederick, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petite verdot mixed into a deep rich color and full of berries.

From Spring Valley we headed to Pepper Bridge, where we tasted those wines over lunch. We relished both with some incredible views of the vineyards in front of the Blue Mountains from the new location that were so great I wasn’t sure if I was looking at a picture or out a picture window.  We were joined by winemaker Jean-Francois Pellet for a delightful hour, highlighted by their brand new 2010 Amavi Walla Walla Valley Sémillon, which includes a bit of sauvignon blanc to up the earthy citrus taste. With our sandwiches from the Graze Deli I also took notice of the 2008 Pepper Bridge Merlot, with a bit of cabernet franc and a touch of malbec to give you a black cherry and licorice scent before the fruit fills your mouth with baker’s spices – cinnamon, clove and maybe some nutmeg. Jean-Francois explained his feeling on very low impact to the wines because he believes that it should all come from the grapes and I couldn’t argue.

I checked into my apartment at Walla Faces Inn, right in the center of downtown. Erica picked me up a few hours later and we headed down to Seven Hills Winery.  Casey and Vicky McClellan actually originally had their winery in Oregon, which I soon found out actually has vineyards within the Walla Walla AVA so many around here continue to use grapes from both states. Vicky poured me some great 2009 Seven Hills Oregon Pinot Gris, which overwhelmed my nose with citrus and pineapple, but was light and easy on the palate. The next winner here was the 2009 Riesling, made from three different vineyards in three different areas. It seemed to pick up the best of all worlds, starting out with lemon and grapefruit and giving me a long apricot finish.

We couldn’t stay long at Seven Hills because we were having dinner next door at Whitehouse-Crawford with the Chad Johnson and Corey Braunel, also known as the Dusted Valley boys. This duo (who married sisters) is actually from Wisconsin, but they’ve settled down in Walla Walla, Washington and made some wonderful wine.  I had actually tasted a bit the week before at their tasting room in Woodinville, loving the 2009 Boomtown Pinot Gris and the 2008 Tall Tales Syrah (which has a touch of viognier to soften it).

The dinner was quite an experience with two guys who love wine as much as they love to make it. We told stories for hours as other vintners came by the table to say hello.  I felt like I really and truly was in the middle of this town. The 2010 Dusted Valley Rose was a tasty blend of grapes with a hint of pepper and the 2009 Boomtown Unoaked Chardonnay was superb.  I learned how even though the winery is here, their oak comes from Wisconsin and the super tight grain helps bring out the best in their wines. I also tasted another wonderful chardonnay the Old Vine Dusted Valley, which brought in some banana to the fruit-filled mix. 

As for the food at Whitehouse-Crawford –  Duck Terrain, local goat & sheep cheese, Fettuccine with Lamb Ragu and Salted Caramel Ice Cream – I couldn’t have asked for any better way to end the day, my first of two in Walla Walla.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Navigating Washington Wine from Yakima to Tri-Cities

I can’t imagine anything better than starting off your day at the spa, especially if it is an Ummelina Spa, where relaxation through scent and water is the theme.  The Yakima location was right in the lobby of the downtown Hilton Garden Inn I was staying at so I didn’t have to go far. I had been spoiled with spa treatments over the past week and I was about to have an experience that would be at the top of the list.

My experience began in the quiet at calm of Ummelina Spa with one of their many herb teas. I chose to have the “strong hair & nails” while I relaxed in a soft chair and had my feet massaged.  We then moved on to the rain forest room, where I enjoyed the steam and mist in private relaxation before the therapist came in for my salt scrub and body spray.  I was in perfect comfort by the time we finished and I then headed into yet another quiet room for my grape wine facial.

My face was sprayed, patted and scrubbed until it felt soft and silky.  It wasn’t easy for me to leave, but owner Nina Ummel helped me along with a few more treats. This spa has a line of scented oils, moisturizers and makeups with the same natural ingredients as the spa.  I had a great makeover and then left with a few products, including a Peaceful Moments Aromatic Mist to take along on my travels.

Yakima Valley’s Director of Tourism, Katie Heaverlo, picked me up and brought me to Prosser’s Vintner’s Village where I was to meet Jordan Young, Director of Marketing for Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau. We were scheduled t have lunch at Wine O’Clock. This restaurant is owned by the Bunnell Family, wine producers of the area.  Susan and Ron Bunnell, owners of the Bunnell Family Cellars, a house that likes to blend hand processed grapes, took good care of us at the restaurant they opened in January of 2009.  I found quite a few wines here I enjoyed, with special note to the 2009 River Aerie Chardonnay, an unoaked vintage with lots of pineapple and florals that is both light and tropical.
Jordan told me about the Tri-Cities – Kenewick, Pasco and Richland – where there are 160 wineries within an hour of the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  It’s the land where the water Washington is known for meets the dessert and a rainy state turns into 300 days of sunshine a year.  A place where you can find 10 golf courses that get little snow, and a farmer’s market every night in the summertime.

I learned a lot as we enjoyed a great lunch, which included a Morrocan Spice Carrot and Garbanzo Bean Bisque;Savoury and Sweet Pizzetta (pears, bacon, green onions and white cheddar); a Foie Gras with Pistacho and Coriander; Pulled Pork with Asian Spice & Noodles; and a Decadent Brownie with Tahitian Vanilla Whip Cream.  Everything was wonderful and I was glad there was time to digest before the next stop.

 As we got into the Tri-Cities, I noticed a change in the terrain.  It was more hilly and colorful and the Columbia River ran through the valleys.  Before long we had arrived at Terra Blanca. The visit to Terra Blanca was informative, tasty and fun, with a special thanks to Heather Unwin, who had been making me feel welcome even before I arrived.  This is a huge landscape within the Red Mountain AVA that even includes caves that reminded me of my visit to Champagne. We started the tour with a 2007 Onyx, a Bordeaux blend that’s mostly cabernet sauvignon, with a bit of merlot , cab franc and petite verdot. It had a typical cab sauv cherry nose, with a peppery and tobacco taste the was a bit different as I was soon to learn was typical of Red Mountain.

The tour took us through the winery as I learned how the floods 40,000 years ago created this unusual land between three mountains that would produce memorable wine. There would be quite a bit of it here and I would also learn that a pattern was emerging in the area not of the strong reds as everyone expected, but in the unoaked chardonnays.  It seemed that Columbia Valley’s chardonnay grapes could stand up on their own and produce without needed heavy wood behind it. The other emerging grape her was demonstrated well by Terra Blanca in the 2006 Merlot, full of blackberry, plum and dark raspberry, with a hint of spice.

I had a bit of a wine break at Black Heron Spirits, a brand new distillery in the area. Owner Joel Tefft is actually a former winery owner who has gone over to “the other side” and I think he’s made a good transition. The Desert Lightening White Whisky is made with locally grown corn and is quite good.  Huckleberry Cordial is brandy-based and full of fruit, without being overly sweet.  The Limoncello is made from a grape vodka and includes lots of zest. A Rayn Anjel Gin is very different than any I’ve had in that spirit, light on the juniper and full of sage and lavender. We finished up with the Ink, a barley vodka that somehow has hints of vanilla grape and even a bit of chocolate.

Jordan dropped me off at the Courtyard Richland, a new hotel with a great view of the Columbia River from the balcony of my suite. I had a nice walk and soaked in a bit of sun before he picked me up for dinner on Clover Island.  Just before we went into the restaurant we got to see a colorful sunset over the bridge. It was one more reminder that I have managed to avoid virtually all rain during my Washington trip. We then ate at Cedars Restaurant, where I started off with a Washington Apple cocktail, Crown Royal, Apple Pucker Schnapps and cranberry juice on the rocks. It was a nice mix of sweet and sour.  I had the Chicken Marsala for dinner with the Hogue Riesling and a bit of crème brulee for dessert. I was soon back at the Courtyard for some sleep before my early breakfast and day checking out some more of Tri-Cities before I head to Walla Walla.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Horses and Wine in Yakima

I left the Seattle area for my first major Washington wine country – Yakima. It was a few hours away and it was decided I would take a short flight on Alaska Airlines so I could be there in time for the horseback riding tour. Katie Heaverlo, Director of Tourism for Yakima Valley, picked me up at the airport and we were quickly on our way between the mountains, following the Yakima River into the valley.

When I was first approached with staying in a teepee and going wine tasting by horseback, I wasn’t sure if the PR agent was joking. I soon realized she was serious and agreed to give it a try. The teepee wasn’t available for the night, but the horseback riding would work in the schedule.

I arrived at Cherry Wood Bed, Breakfast and Barn in Zillah to meet wrangler/owner Pepper Fewel and take a quick tour around the teepees (which are soon to have their own built in spa, under the support of the Ummelina brand) before meeting up with the tour group. It was to be all women, who were spending the weekend celebrating a bachelorette party for bride-to-be Meg, and we were all outfitted by Pepper in cowboy hats and boots.

Before I go any further, I need to make a full disclosure: I did not stay on the horse for very long. The idea was originally presented to me as a shorter tour with just a few minutes between wineries, but it turned out it was going to be a lot more. Had I been on vacation, I would have loved to join the bachelorette party for a day of riding (and carousing). I was instead “working,” which consists of trying a lot of wines, taking a lot of notes, speaking with a lot of winery owners and, most important of all, being able to get up the next day and do it again!

I didn’t say on the horse, but I did follow the path of the tour, which went through just a few of the valley’s 70 plus wineries.  The first stop was at Cultura where Tad and Sarah Fewell (Pepper’s son and daughter-in-law) have created some wines worth remembering. This winery had two things against it as far as my personal preferences go. First, according to Sarah, they “run with what we do best – all reds, all the time.” Second, they believe in a long oaking which translated to 31 months for all of their ’08 wines. Despite this, I found two that I really enjoyed.

The 2007 Kairos, an equal blend of merlot and cabernet franc, was full of complex fruit and a cinnamon spice rather than picking up the wood. I also thought the 2007 Chronos (45% cabernet sauvignon, 45% cabernet franc and 10% merlot) was even fruitier, with just a hint of spice.  In only their third season, I think the Fewells are getting it right, and the abundance of peach and apricot trees on the property are certainly helping (and the horses agreed).

After the bachelorette group and I enjoyed a chicken salad lunch, it was off to Silver Lake Winery where there was  quite an impressive collection of wines, offering something for just about everyone. I was immediately intrigued by the Girly Girl Wines, a collection developed not just to attract women, but to help them, as a donation to help breast cancer is given with ever purchase. Not only are these wines charitable, but they are delicious. I absolutely loved the 2008 Girly Girl Pinot Gris, with tropical overtones, a bit of minerality and a lot of peach to go with the pineapple. The 2008 Girly Girl Chardonnay, an unoaked version, was also great, with the buttery vanilla taste of a chardonnay, while keeping the lemon zest you have when you don’t keep it in wood. Another find at Silverlake was the 2008 Roza Rose, with lots of strawberry and red fruits in a semi-sweet wine. I have to say there wines – at under $20 – are well worth stocking up on.

The group then stopped at Agate Field Vineyard, a boutique winery that only produces estate wines.  I could see how their 2006 La Moisson Red was a top seller, with cabernet sauvignon and franc, and the nose of fresh raspberry with some allspice on top. The 2007 Cabernet Franc, which was aged in only 30% new oak, was also very good.

We left the girls on the trail and headed over to Bonair. I was quite impressed with what looked like a European chateau.  Shirley Puryear, who owns the winery with husband Gail, treated us like we were neighbors when we came in to see what she had and we were in for some shockers, starting with the 2008 Dry Gewurztraminer. Gewurztraminer isn’t exactly a popular grape in Washington to begin with, but a dry one?  I have to say that it didn’t work for me. The light pineapple, peach and floral belongs in a sweeter wine. I did find some other wines here that left an impression. The Bung Dog Red, an inexpensive blend of five grapes, was fruity and light, and the Sunset Pink, a mix of Riesling and cabernet sauvignon, was a cross between a rose and a white zinfandel – very fruity, but not too sweet.

After a day of wine tasting, Katie and I settled in downtown Yakima at Santiago for a great tamale dinner before I retired at the Hilton Garden Inn down the block. I had yet another big day ahead of me, but it would get started right -- at the Ummelina Spa.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Washington Wine From Woodmark to Willows in Woodinville

The title may sound like a tongue twister, but that’s how my second full day in Washington progressed as I continued to enjoy tasting my way around the state.

The day started with breakfast at the Woodmark Hotel’s Beach Café. Joining me was Jodi Forslund, Regional Director of Sales & Marketing for MTM Lodging. As we gazed out at the lake (and enjoyed pancakes) she told me about the group of properties that included this one and the hotel I was heading to, Willows Lodge. The company believes in pampering, but not overdoing on the luxury to the point of stiff. I can quote her as describing the rooms as “WWF – wild, whimsical and fun!”

After the tour, I headed down to the spa for my Mimosa Manicure & Pedicure. Though we had to do a bit of an alteration to the theme (since I have a citrus allergy), I thoroughly enjoy the hand and foot pampering with a glass of sparkling wine in hand. It was the kind of indulgence I never do at home and, actually, I don’t think I ever sit still for that long anywhere without a computer or IPhone in front of me!

My trusted driver from British Motor Coach picked me up for the 15 minute ride to Willows Lodge in Woodinville.  I could tell instantly that this was the place comfort was made from and the large fireplace and woodsy look helped to enforce that.  I couldn’t get comfortable for too long, though, because Rhanda Rosselot came to give me a tour of the property.

I enjoyed the décor inside and out at Willows Lodge. We went through The Herb Farm restaurant and – after seeing the beautiful table settings and impressive wine collection – I wished I could stay an extra day to eat there. I also stopped short at the garden for a moment of déjà vu.  It all made sense when it was explained that Bardessono – one of my favorite hotels – was a sister property and this garden was replicated there. I would have a chance to sample some of the garden later in the night during my dinner at the Barking Frog, but first I had to go check out some wine!

Cynthia Daste, Executive Director of Woodinville Wine Country, picked me up to show me around town. It’s not really a place filled with wineries and vineyards, but more the home of tasting rooms from wineries around Washington, over 80 in all. We did go first to one of the few that have it all, Columbia Winery.  The tasting room is in a large building that also houses rooms for events, a large shop and a wood-burning oven, from which I had a delicious Spring Asparagus Flat Bread.  I enjoyed quite a few of the Columbia Wines, especially the 2009 Cellar Master’s Riesling with its pineapple and peach, and the Rose, an unusual one made of Petit Verdot, which was very fruity without being too sweet.

We made a quick stop at Dusted Valley (I will save that info for later in the week when I have my dinner in Walla Walla with owners Chad and Corey), before we headed to Brian Carter Cellars. While I really liked the 2009 Oriana (55% viognier, 29% roussanne, 16% riesling, with fruit and floral), I was extremely excited about the 2008 Abracadabra. This blend is different each year and contained 10 wines in ’08. It’s named for the “magic at the end of the vintage” and it had enough magic to satisfy this woman who favors whites.

I only had a short time to change before heading down to the Happy Hour at the
Willows Lodge's
Fireside Cellars. I enjoyed some great music and a Page Sauvignon Blanc before my hosts arrived.  It would turn out to be quite an evening at the Barking Frog as Restaurant & Wine Managers Matt Davis and Jennifer Schmitt, as well as Chefs Bobby Moore and Matt Kelley, would take turns sitting with me between courses.

I started with a cocktail, the Spring Thistle Martinez that was made with Voyager Gin, Cardamaro, and Spiced Orange Bitters.  It worked well with an excellent Seared Fois Gras, but I was fine with giving it up for a spectacular 2009 Chateau St. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Eroica Riesling.  Soon I had a great Roasted Heirloom Beet Salad  with goat cheese and hazelnuts in a vanilla honey drizzle in front of me and was wondering why I ever said I didn’t like beets.  It blended with the fresh Sourdough Bread garnished with Sundried Tomato Pesto that waiter Brian (who has been at the Barking Frog for nine years) brought me.

Next to arrive was the Celeriac Soup with fennel and shaved black truffle, paired with an oaky 2009 DeLille Chaleur Blanc, followed by Focaccia and Prosciutto with Fig Preserve and a 2009 Alexandria Nicole Viognier from Crawford Vineyard, my favorite wine of the night.  I was glad to have a quick break from food and had the pleasure of sitting next to a lovely couple who shared some positive thoughts on their appetizers, the Popcorn Lobster and Black Quail & Pepper Waffle.  I thanked them by sharing some of the overabundance of wine I had and got back to “work.”

Brian arrived with an English Pea and Shitake Risotto Pistou and a Warm Watercress Leek Salad, and before I knew it there was another glass of wine in front of me, this time a 2005 Tranche Barbera, a red on the milder side that I preferred to the peppery next one, 2008 DeLille Doyenne AIX.   I cleansed the palette with some Coconut Sorbet with Pineapple and then ate what I could of the Muscovy Duck with Smashed Fingerling Potatoes and Fois Gras Huckleberry Demi Glaze, followed by a tasty Sous Vide Tenderloin on top of Egg Yolk Ravioli, with Caponata.

As much as I love chocolate – and the Dark Chocolate Valhrona Tart with Cinnamon Chantilly was the perfect dessert specimen – there wasn’t too much room left in me for that or the just sweet enough 2003 DiStefano St John Dessert Wine, a semillon, sauvignon blanc blend.  I left the restaurant feeling totally stuffed to the brim with excellent gourmet food (and impeccable service). When I returned to my room at Willows Lodge I had a surprise waiting for me – a bubble bath in the large soaking tub!  I couldn’t have asked for more on a long day and it helped me relax and settle in for the night before my morning flight to the next area of Washington wine country – Yakima.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Learning to Wine, Dine and Spa in Washington

When I received my itinerary for my trip to Washington, I was surprised to see all the fine dining, wine bars and spas on the schedule.  I knew Washington was now a well-known wine destination, but I didn’t know that it was such also a great place for foodies and spa goers. I began to really experience this on my second full day in town.

After a battle with the coffee press (they are serious about coffee in this state), I started my morning with a Veggie Omelet and some incredible Corned Beef Hash on the recommendation of Tawny Papera, the hotels Director of Sales & Marketing. She then took me on a tour of Hotel 1000, located in downtown Seattle. It’s a modern accommodation with some very unusual (and desirable) amenities meant to make you feel the luxury while keeping you comfortable.

When you enter Hotel 1000, you are offered complimentary hot apple cider or sparkling wine. The Studio Lounge is warm and inviting with a center fireplace and Microsoft Surface tables (which look like a big – forgive me Bill Gates – IPhone) around the room. Everything in this hotel has attention to detail.

The Hotel 1000 has a Virtual Golf Club where you can practice your swings if you can’t make it to one of the nearby courses. There’s also a fitness center and Spahh, where was I indulged.  Nita took good care of me, massaging my back and arms with warm oil before a complete facial that included exfoliation, cleansing, mask and moisturizer on my face and neck.

Chef Angie Roberts was busy when I dined at Boka Kitchen (which is open 18 hours a day) the night before, but she and friend/bar manager Misuk sat down with me a bit before I left the hotel to talk about their use of the freshest local ingredients in food and drink, the addition of Washington wines to the menu, and how they work together to design food to go with wine and wine to go with food. They also insisted I try the Truffle Fries and -- not wanting to be rude to my hosts -- obliged, devouring every morsel in the container!

British Motor Coach sent along a driver for me to make the short trip over to the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland. It is owned by the same group as Hotel 1000, but the Woodmark is in a more suburban setting, on a large property on the lake.  It was there I was met by Kirsten Anderson, the public relations agent that had painstakingly organized my entire trip, coordinating with each person that was to meet and take me around.  Our evening was planned at the hotel’s main restaurant, Bin On The Lake. The name does justice to the view, but it doesn’t begin to tell you about the unbelievable selection of food and wine.

Darren Nicholas was waiting for us and we started in the bar area, where the automatic pourers can not only give you a choice of 83 wines by the glass, but they can give them to you at perfect temperature in any size glass you want.  I always try to stay with local wines when on a trip and this one was no different. I started with the Delille Sauvignon Blanc & Semilon, which had a bit of a mineral nose, but the taste was more toasty and vanilla.  The 2009 Mark Ryan Chardonnay was still a bit oaky for me, though the fruit balanced it a bit more than the 2008 Chris Gorman Chardonnay, which Darren declared as a “white that wants to be red” and may appeal very well to certain drinkers.  My favorite was the Transche Roussane Viognier Blend, with a lemon nose and very light tropical flavors going down.

We had plenty more wine to go with the exquisite menu prepared by Chef Paul Hyman, whose company we enjoyed as much as his food.   It’s a menu worth repeating in its entirety here and, though I liked every bit, I have to give major shoutouts to the soup, lamb and pudding cake...

Roasted Creamy Cauliflower Soup
Beehive Cheddar, Truffle Oil and Chives
Paired with: Rombauer Vineyards, Chardonnay, Carneros, CA

Warm Cypress Grove Goat Cheese
Sea Salt, Herbs, Olive Oil, Crostini
Paired with: Domaine Thomas, Sancerre, "La Crele", Loire Valley, FR

Salt Roasted Beet “Panzanella”
Ciabatta, Red Onion, Pancetta, Almonds
Arugula, Two Faced Bleu, Balsamic
Willamette Valley, OR

Artisan Sonoma Duck Breast
Creamy Spring Parsnips, Swiss Chard
Roasted Grapes, Verjus, Saba         
Paired with: Corliss, Red Blend, Columbia Valley, WA

Martinez Ranch Washington Lamb
Lamb Loin & Ragu, Broccoli Rabe, Cipollini’s Creamy Polenta,
Mint Salsa Verde
Paired with: Long Shadows, Sequel, Syrah, Columbia Valley, WA

Dark Chocolate “Budino” Pudding Cake
Mascarpone, Candied Orange, Citrus Olive Oil Sea salt

Tiramisu Crème Brûlée
Housemade Espresso Biscotti, Organic Raw Sugar

As hard as it was to go to sleep after that huge meal, I was exhausted, so I settled into my beautiful suite at the
Woodmark Hotel Yacht Club & Spa,
which had large windows and a balcony that overlooked the lake, and got some rest for another day of wining, dining and spa treatments in Washington.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Washington Wine Begins in Seattle

Quite honestly, my only view of Seattle has been my weekly sit down with Grey’s Anatomy and my only real time in the Pacific Northwest was when I was covering the Davis Cup Final while finishing my book.  While I would have no problem taking a ferry with Patrick Dempsey in any weather, I found eight days of solid rain depressing on my Portland trip.  I was determined not to let that image stay with my for this trip and it turned out I didn’t have to worry about that at all.

There was a bit of rain when I got off my plane, but Dave from British Motor Coach, who picked me up and dropped me at the Hotel 1000, assured me it was going to pass.  I took his word for it and, after I settled in, I headed a few blocks downtown to the Market, where all the rain really began to disappear. Seattle became a bright and bustling city with blocks and blocks of a market the likes of which I had never seen. 

I wandered for about two hours, wishing I wasn’t allergic to seafood as the fish flew at the Pike’s Place Market, and gazing over the crafts and jewelry trying to figure out how much room I had in my suitcase (as well as my wallet).

In the Market of downtown Seattle you can find just about anything you want to nibble on, from delectable from chocolates at Chuckars Cherries to The Confectional, which had me with a sign that read “Confess Your Love for Cheesecake.”  I also went by the first ever Starbucks, with a line that went down the block despite the fact that there were two more Starbucks on that same block!  I had to save my appetite, though, for a big dinner at Boka Kitchen, the restaurant at Hotel 1000.

I am traveling alone on my Washington adventure and was happy to hear my friend Evan Zeder of Athletic DNA was in town to join me for dinner.  It was great catching up with Evan, a former Illini tennis player, who is the manager of Sales and Sponsorship for this rapidly growing Seattle company.  We chatted about Washington over one of the restaurant’s signature drinks by Misuk, Vamp a mixture of vodka, ruby port and house crème de cassis, with a drop of whiskey. We also nibbled on a delicious baked herbed goat cheese and roasted tomatoes, and an order of grilled flat bread.

The food of Chef Angie Roberts continued to impress.  I had the Brick Chicken, which was pan roasted and served with Celery Root Mashed Potatoes and bacon braised Brussels Sprouts, perfectly paired with a light and fruity 2009 Distephano Sauvignon Blanc, while my dinner companion enjoyed the Apple Wood Smoked Painted Hills Ribeye with a Huckleberry glaze. The meal was finished with Chocolate Decadence, which definitely was!

After a long, leisurely dinner, I settled into the night in my spacious corner suite at the Hotel 1000 (the views are really spectacular).  I had a very full day ahead of spa treatments, wineries and more gourmet food, as I was heading to Kirkland.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Calistoga Girls’ Getaway, Part Two

It always amazes me how much can be squeezed into a day and my Calistoga visit was no exception. After a good night sleep at Solage Resort, it was back on the trail for some more wining, dining and spaing.

We met Eden Umble, Public Relations & Marketing Manager for the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce, downtown at Café Sarafornia.  It is known in the area as a great place for breakfast and I can’t disagree. The menu was filled with the usual and the unusual and I decided to go for the latter. The Cheese Blintz and Apple Crepe combo was just what I needed to ease my morning sweet tooth and keep me fueled for the day ahead.

After we enjoyed some time learning more about the many varied accommodations, restaurants and wineries in Calistoga, we walked down the block to the tasting room for Kenefick Ranch.  Dr. Thomas Kenefick went from mastering Neurosurgery in San Francisco to operating on vines in Napa and he made the transition well.  His 2009 Pickett Road White (50% viognier, 25% Grenache and 25% marsanne) is wonderful, full of tropical flavors and florals like honeysuckle.  It was aged just a bit, but isn’t at all oaky.  On the other end of the spectrum, the 2007 Merlot (served at Solbar as well as French Laundry) is a complex fruit-forward blend of cranberry and raspberry, finishing with lots of cinnamon and allspice.

Our next stop was Vermeil Wines. For those of you who don’t know (and I freely admit football ignorance), Dick Vermeil coached football powerhouses from Stanford to the Philadelphia Eagles – one of the two teams he captured the Super Bowl with.  His team’s history can be watched in the movie “Invincible” and is captured in this tasting room/museum in downtown Calistoga along with the wine history. You can learn about it all from the vivacious Mary Sue, who goes back generations in Napa and specifically with Vermeil Wines.

The selection here is wide and varied. At the top of my recommendation list is the 2008 Vermeil XXXIV (named for the winning Super bowl) Proprietary Red which, despite being 82% cabernet sauvignon, is one of the fruit-filled reds I’ve had, almost to the point of being semi-sweet. And speaking of sweet, do not leave before sipping the Sweet Semillon. The 2009 is full of honey, apples and peach.

Lunch was at the Calistoga Inn & Brewery, where Rosie Dunsford took us on a tour of the hotel and restaurant she’s been part owner of since 1989. It’s an adorable place inside and out, but you won’t be lacking any gourmet food… or fine wine… or complex cocktails… or great beer here. Sam was my beer taster and picked the American Wheat Ale, a light beer served with a lemon wedge, as very good and the Calistoga Pilsner, with Saaz Hops, as a delicious stronger selection.  I stuck with the cocktail menu and choose the Tall Blonde (Bacardi Apple Rum, soda and a splash of pineapple), which was refreshing on a warm and sunny day.

The food at Calistoga Inn is also worth a trip.  The appetizers were Garlicky Oysters and Butternut Squash Soup (with a touch of yam and a bit of cream), a Turkey Brie sandwich on Grilled Foccacia, and a Risotto filled with fresh vegetables and cheese. Everything was delicious and we hardly had room for dessert, but had to take a few bites when the waiter brought over a Cheesecake made with the Lindy’s recipe and a Peanut Butter Pie with Fudge Sauce!

After lunch there was another spa on our schedule and I think this one may turn out to be one of my all time favorites. Lavender Hill Spa does Zen like no other. The cottage we were brought to was filled with soft lighting and relaxing scents. Jessica prepared our baths – Lavender for me; Magical Mustard for Sam – filled with salts in warm water.  We each had a little table with cucumber water, a soft scrub for our face and a moisturizer to apply after. Jessica came to check on us every 10 minutes, turning on the tub’s jets, bringing cool compresses and generally attending to our every need.

When our baths were finished, we walked up a few steps to the massage table where our feet were gently massaged before we each had our own masseuse for the full body massage with the fragrant oils. It was a hard place to leave, but after two hours we needed to get back in the car and head on the scenic road to Marin.

You can read more about my Napa trip next month on Girls’ Getaway.  In the meantime, I’m off for the beginning of what will be nearly two months across the Pacific Northwest.  The next week will be all Washington, beginning with some time in Seattle at the Hotel1000.

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