Spring Tasting – Chardonnay

Five weeks have come and gone since “The Napa Wedding” and those weeks have been filled with various wine related activities.

Somehow or other I have turned another year older. To commemorate this momentous occasion a good friend, Damon LaLonde, who is a vineyard manager, allowed me to ride along with him around Red Mountain and also visit a newly acquired vineyard, French Creek, in north Prosser. French Creek is splendidly peaceful and as picturesque a property as I have witnessed to date. If there is Heaven on Earth – it is here. The vines are among some of the oldest in our area, being planted around 1980. There is a debate on exactly when they were planted and that matter should be left to those that actually stuck the canes in the ground.

The day also included my favorite lunch of tacos Jalisco at a little tienda in Benton City and a surprise wine tasting activity with Rob Griffin, Megan and Mickey at Barnard-Griffin winery.

Look at all those glasses

Look at all those glasses

I will only say here that I felt like I was in way over my head. That being said, it was a vacation day well spent to say the least and one like I have never experienced before and perhaps never will again. For the evening, V&I were going to Thomas O’Neil Cellars and catch Primitive Circus for a birthday celebration, but the winery seemed to be hosting a special event. Here I thought I was the only one that had a special event on that day in May. Someday the stars will align, Thomas O’Neil’s will be open and we will be there.

For the Memorial Day holiday, V&I took a picnic lunch out to French Creek vineyard and ate it and drank a little Chardonnay in the back of the SUV while a light rain came down. That was kind of romantic to say the least. It was like a scene out of a Nicholas Sparks novel. The dog, unaware of the idyllic setting, was busy sniffing down sage rat holes. He did flush one out, chased it, and ran smack into a boulder trying to grab its tail as it dove down another hole. He turned around and looked to see if we were laughing at him and much to his dismay we were. He begged that no pictures of said event be posted and we had no recourse but to acquiesce to the request.

During May we also attended a couple of events at Fidelitas; the feast of St. Fidelis and a discussion on equipment and fermenting techniques held by Charlie Hoppes and hostessed by his proficient tasting room personnel at his Wine Boss production facility. We consider ourselves students and any time we have the opportunity to learn about any aspect of wine growing, production, and marketing – especially from Charlie, we jump at the chance. If we aren’t first in line, we are a close second. I’ve been fond of saying that St. Jude is my patron saint (Desperate Cases and Lost Causes) by the way.

We even managed to get together a couple of times with friends at the Barnard-Griffin wine bar for good food, wine, music, and “bonding” as V&I like to say. In addition, we attended a class hosted by Barnard-Griffin and conducted by Castle Catering on how to make BBQ sauce from scratch. That was quite fun and the result of the “Team Effort” of V & K was quite tasty. I tagged along to provide immoral support per my normal role. VandK
During the past five weeks we also were carefully fine tuning plans for the spring double-blind wine tasting event we host annually. We had settled on Chardonnay very early in the year as it seemed that we have neglected the largest portion of the white wine market by not running through samples of this varietal. How could that have happened? After all there are over 7,500 acres planted of the varietal planted in Washington. Sometimes it is the most obvious which escapes our attention. It is interesting how things work out as the French Creek vineyard features a large planting of Chardonnay and V captured some great pictures of this year’s growth during breaks in the rain during our little picnic.

May down, 4 more to go

May down, 4 more to go

Row 15 is special

Row 15 is special

Our invitations included the criteria for the tasting; Please show up at 6:00 PM, Bottle must say “Chardonnay” on the label, Bottle must be able to be purchased at a local retailer for $25.00 or under, and lastly – Please bring the bottle chilled. Normally we provide a meal after the tasting but we changed things up a bit on the invite by asking our guests to bring toppings and sauce for two pizzas that we will place on pizza stones on the grill. We would supply the skins to facilitate rapid pizza preparation and deployment.

Our plans for the tasting also included some changes incorporated after lessons learned from past functions. For example, instead of trying to get all the preparations complete the day of the function we started a day early by V straightening up the house, planting some new flowers, and running some errands. Me? I paid the young fellow who lives next door to mow our lawn the day before the function. I also went over to the neighbors on the other side of us and requested that they not run their sprinklers in the late afternoon as we might have some “blow over” and it wouldn’t due to have the guests uncomfortably damp. I like to think my part was important as this year’s tasting event would be held outside. V seemed content to let me have my little fantasy.

Twelve of our friends arrived at the appointed time, bottles in hand. It was quite interesting that this year there were no duplicates. Normally we purchase extra bottles and stash in case there are but we didn’t have to use any this year except to offer to guests to drink with the dinner of salad and pizza. The tasting entrants and the appellations represented were:
1. 2010 Rulo (Walla Walla)
2. 2010 J. Lohr (Arryo)
3. 2010 Maryhill (Columbia Valley)
4. 2010 Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve (Santa Barbara and Monterey)
5. 2011 Barnard-Griffin (Columbia Valley)
6. 2011 Waterbrook (Columbia Valley)
7. 2011 La Crema (Sonoma)

I went into the spare room to setup the tasting, placing the 7 bottles in similar brown paper bags, pulling the corks or unscrewing caps and placing standby corks in the bottles, thus keeping all readily identifiable markings out of eyesight. V then came in after me and tied numbered tags on the outside of the bags and placed the chilled bottles into the waiting cooler.

We like to keep things cozy at these functions and this time was no exception. Everyone is gathered around a makeshift table I have crafted of pine planks and wine barrels outside by our little Zen corner of the world.

Did you get oak on that one?

Did you get oak on that one?

For some odd reason the first bottle I pull out of the cooler has the #7 tag on it so it looks like we are descending numerically this evening. Any observations by the tasters are recorded on the scientific scorecards we copied from John & Dottie. We are shameless in that plagiarism and offer no apologies. Whenever they want to discuss this use of their creativity we would welcome the opportunity to do so over a bottle of their best wine. The cards have rows for eight wines and six columns across the top of the scorecard which are titled; Yech! Good, Very Good, Delicious, Delicious! and Comments. We clink and then go through the ritual. Look at the color, sniff, swirl, sniff again, and sip. With fourteen of us engaged in this little endeavor the pours are light and there are some not-so-quiet remarks being made regarding the extent of the generosity of the Irish in everything not involving alcohol. I choose to ignore those and move on. Lucky they are too, as we have 6 more wines to taste.

There seems to be an air of competition anytime a score is recorded and compared, this time is no different. After hosting numerous tastings we have come to the conclusion there are no winners or losers. In fact we are all winners because we have a better understanding of the varietal we are tasting, sharing a meal, and developing relationships.

This tasting was a little more difficult than in other years we have held them, as all the wines graded fairly high. It would have been nice to be able to have seven glasses, one for each of the wines per guest. According to my math, that would be 98 glasses. As V&I weren’t winners in the latest $590 million Powerball drawing each attendee gets one glass and has to suffer through tasting, making notes, tasting again, then perhaps when all the wines have been run through requesting another taste of a specific number to see if they “got it right.”

After all of the wines have been sampled, the scorecards are gathered and undergo tabulation under the strictest of scrutiny. Where are those auditors anyways? Probably out back still involved in tasting. Oh well, we will just have to press on without them. Hors d’oeuvres of cedar planked Copper River Salmon spread and pepper jelly on the side and a Lobster salad with various crackers were offered to the guests to pass the time. A couple of comments were extended, “A great way to be reintroduced to Chardonnay.” “Thanks for putting together that handout.” “Salmon is awesome” (I will only take a little credit for the last one as I planked the salmon earlier but V assembled the spread and Lobster salad).

Salmon and Lobster - what could be wrong about that?

Salmon and Lobster – what could be wrong about that?

As said earlier, V&I love being students and these times are no exception. All the wines were good, hard to rank, and caused considerable conversation amongst the guests.

The tabulator is finished. There was some discussion about the technology help and why didn’t we have something like the spreadsheet this past fall? It is nice to have good friends who despite the appearance of a conflict of interest are good natured enough to dive in head-first to make sense of the “Xs” in the boxes of our highly sophisticated score card. We are blessed to have people in our life like that. Thanks T.

Hmmm, I wonder what is in those bags?

Hmmm, I wonder what is in those bags?

The bottles are lined up on the table according to the score attributed to each and talk is getting louder, more animated now. Most of the talk has centered on the tasting experience. A few bits and pieces of the talk; this bottle being more oaked than others, one bottle showing more fruit than other bottles, one bottle having almost no aroma or flavor, while another exhibited a vanilla butter taste.

Time for the unveiling:

The results are surprising, as they normally are at these functions. There are mathematicians out there who would invalidate the results due to some theorem, statisticians who would question the sample basis and wonder about application of the standard deviation, and wine industry folks who would say this is not the proper way to perform a double-blind tasting as too much bias was introduced. V&I have come to the conclusion they are all jealous because they didn’t get invited.

Ranked Left to Right (Highest To Lowest)

Ranked Left to Right (Highest To Lowest)

There were no disqualifications and the results stand as the cards conveyed the interpretations of the tasters:
Bottle # 2 – 61 points
Bottle # 3 – 58 points
Bottle # 4 – 51 points
Bottle # 5 – 47 points
Bottle # 1 – 46 points
Bottle # 6 – 46 points
Bottle # 7 – 42 points

The pizzas constructed and we thoroughly enjoyed were:
BBQ Pulled Pork
Mango Curry Chicken
Hot Chili Pineapple
Taco with Duck Sausage
Sausage Mushroom Peppers Kalamata Olives
Kale Sausage
Sausage Peppers Mushrooms
Sausage Mushroom
BBQ Chicken Apricot and Cherries (This was ours – we used the sauce we made at the Barnard-Griffin class and it turned out pretty decent)
Asparagus Ricotta Pesto Goat Cheese Prosciutto

You are putting Kale on a Pizza?

You are putting Kale on a Pizza?



Wait!  There's more???

Wait! There’s more???

There were two dessert pizzas as well; Strawberry-Rhubarb and S’mores

The pizzas were all yummy and as individual as our guests. Lesson learned for the next time; have everyone bring toppings and sauce for one pizza per couple. There is way too much pizza sitting in our freezer as the guests didn’t seem inclined to take leftovers home. Having salad for lunch every day this coming week isn’t going to be a bad thing. Oh wait, I normally do that anyways.

Our double-blind function is about having fun first and enjoying the companionship of our friends, learning a little more about wine second and enjoying the companionship of our friends, enjoying a good meal third and enjoying the companionship of our friends. You have probably caught on by now; we firmly believe there is no value that can be placed on having good people around us to enjoy the best of times. V has a sign up in the kitchen that reads, “A good cook knows it’s not what’s on the table, it is who is in the chairs.” Wine taste is a bit subjective anyways. We are quite sure that there are those judges out there which might disagree. That’s their prerogative. A tasting held again in a couple of weeks or a month with the same wine and guests, or even those expert judges with well developed palettes I’ll wager, and the results could be completely different. That is just how V&I see things through the lens of our wine glasses.

We would be remiss here if we didn’t extend gratitude to our friends who chose to spend a Saturday evening with us to get reacquainted with Chardonnay, share some salad and grilled pizza, and spend some time laughing and gabbing around the fire pit afterwards.
We also would like to extend our gratitude to the inventor of the DVR because the first game of the Bruins versus Penguins playoff series started that evening at 5:00 and we got to watch the Bruins get off to a great start after everyone went home! Go Bruins!!!

Thanks for a memorable event!

Missed you D&K (perhaps the Fall Tasting???)


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4 Responses to Spring Tasting – Chardonnay

  1. Jill says:

    This was fun…you two are such an inspiration and source of good, fun info! :-) Keep it up!

  2. vanessa says:

    i am still a little offended that my favorite came in last!!! LOL…but ALWAYS a great time with friends and vicki’s great cooking..and benn’s too…cant’ wait for the next one and our next wine tasting adventure

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