Wines & Wineries

The Bordeaux region covers more territory than all of the vineyards in Germany combined, with over 15,000 growers, producing over 700 million bottles of wine each year. More than 80% of it is red, with the most important grapes being Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, nearly always blended together.  Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot round out the mix.

It was the Dutch who drained the marshy Médoc region in the middle of the 17th century, creating the land for vineyards that would soon produce the fine wines that would give Bordeaux its reputation. The Medoc, along with the Haut-Medoc and Graves (pronounced “Grahv”) regions, lie on the “Left Bank” of the Gironde river. The warmer climate here ripens Cabernet Sauvignon to an optimal point, so much of the Left Bank Bordeaux wines will have Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary varietal in the final blend.

A Map of Bordeaux

A (Simplified) Map of the Bordeaux Wine Region

On the “Right Bank” of the Dordogne river lies Pomerol and St. Emilion, where Merlot takes the driver’s seat due to soil composition and a climate more suited to Merlot’s growing habits.  Chateau Petrus is one of the most famous, most expensive, and one of the few 100% Merlot wines of the Right Bank.

The white grapes of Bordeaux include primarily Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (blended together). In the Sauternes region at the south of the Left Bank, some of the world’s finest dessert wines are created from these grapes (most notably, the famous and spectacularly expensive Chateau d’Yquem)

It was the Greeks who first brought grapes to France by establishing vineyards in Marseilles, but the infestation of the Phylloxera root louse destroyed any grape vines existing before 1866. American Labrusca species rootstocks (resistant to Phylloxera) saved the day … Vinifera species vines in Europe (and in the U.S.) are now commonly grafted to them, although there are still ungrafted vineyards left dotting the landscape around the world.

French culture dictates the qualities of Bordeaux, amid a confusing mass of classification systems born in 1855, emphasizing elegance and intensity of flavor rather than massive and powerful fruit or oak. The French start drinking wine in their youth, most often with meals. The resulting need for ample wine acids for food pairing and a subdued & elegant fruit balance of flavors is a tell-tale sign of a Bordeaux wine.

For more information

Chateau Margaux

Chateau Margaux

For many wine drinkers, sweet wines represent childlike or simple flavors.  This thought can be a stigma, rising from the fact that most beginning wine drinkers enjoy sweet & light wines while long-time wine drinkers move away from sweetness toward dry and complex wines.
Both kids and adults alike, however, still should enjoy the ‘sweet life’.  While kids enjoy Kool-Aid and banana splits, adults prefer more complex desserts like Crème Brulee and dark chocolate flourless tortes with raspberry sauce. All are very sweet, but the craft of creating luscious desserts is lost on kids, even if they enjoy the flavors.
There is a wide variety of sweet wines that have been artfully crafted to be complex.  The finest have delicate, enjoyable qualities or powerfully deep flavors.  Many have historical significance.  To ignore them as a wine drinker is to deny yourself some of the most unique experiences and most ideal food pairings.  It’s simply a travesty to discount the value of sweet wines!  Here’s a short run-down of several of the most popular sweet wines of the world:
Solera for Sherry

A Solera system of barrels used to make Sherry

Port, Madeira and Cream Sherry

Before yeast converts all the sugar to alcohol, extra grape spirits can “fortify” a wine to kill the yeast and leave some sugar remaining in the higher-alcohol result.  The Iberian peninsula is the birthplace of these full-bodied, complex after-dinner wines, where ships destined for the US and Britain were once filled with the stuff!

Each of these three selections has a different and unique production method.  Find out more about: Port, Sherry or Madeira.

Moscato & Brachetto

In Piedmont in northern Italy, Muscat and Brachetto grapes respectively create this pair of white and red semi-sparkling summer dazzlers.  Moscato d’Asti has a pear and apricot flavor profile while Brachetto delivers with Strawberry, raspberry and rose notes.  Drink them with fresh fruit and cheese platters at your next picnic.

Ice Wines

When grapes are left on the vine during the season’s first frost, the resulting juice squeezed from the frozen fruit is decadently sweet – a result of the water ice staying frozen while the sugary juice (which does not freeze at the same temperatures) flows under gentle crushing.  Canada has built a worldwide reputation for the best ice wines, which are only produced under the strictest regulations.  For more info:  Ice Wines

Botrytis Wines – Sauternes & Tokay


The Botrytis "Noble Rot" mold

Chateau d’Yquem is the most famous wine affected by the Noble Rot mold called Botrytis, yielding a complex and unique taste from the blend of late-harvested Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes in France’s Sauterne area of Bordeaux. It is the historical benchmark for similar wines produced worldwide.

Click here to learn more about Sauternes

Tokaj is a specialty of Hungary made from the Noble Rot grapes and is available in varying levels of sweetness, ranked increasingly sweet with higher “puttanyos” numbers on the label.  The Hungarian Wine Society can tell you more about this elixir.

Dried Grapes – Vin Santo & Recioto

Vin Santo is a product of Tuscany made with partially dried grapes, lending a raisiny quality to the full-bodied and nutty character.  It makes a perfect match to almond and pecan desserts. Recioto is made in the Veneto area of Northeast Italy near Venice, made from the dried  red grapes of Valpolicella.  Its flavors are deeper, richer, and more suitable for chocolate explorations.  Originally, dried-grape wines were invented by the Greeks, who coined the name Vin Santo. 

It’s time for adults to enjoy the sweet tastes

Drying Vin Santo grapes

Drying grapes for Vin Santo

There are many more sweet wines on the market, which pair beautifully with salty cheeses, spicy Asian and East Indian cuisines, fresh fruit as well as sweet desserts. Don’t miss out on your opportunities to experience these complex and unique expressions of the winemaking art as part of your passage through adulthood!

The Red Mountain grape growing region is Washington State’s smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA), defined in 2001 by the U.S. Treasury and the ATF. Located at the eastern tip of the Yakima Valley, just west of the Tri-Cities (Richland) area, this important area encompasses little more than 4,000 acres (only 700 acres are planted with producing vines so far) of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah grapes. But here is where you’ll find some of the best wine grapes in all of Washington.

The arid region is characterized by the springtime’s red Cheatgrass growing on the area’s rolling hills 500-1500 ft. above sea level. Daytime temperatures stay 90 degrees, with cooler nights reaching 50. Rainfall stays low, near 5 inches a year. The dry, warm temperatures are ideal conditions to grow the perfect grapes, You won’t find any “Old Vine” Red Mountain grapes yet but that time is getting close…the first wine grapes in the Red Mountain area were planted in 1972, on 10 acres of what is now Kiona.
Red Mountain

A view of Washington's smallest wine appellation

Only 14 wineries call this area home. Among them:  Hedges, Kiona, Seth Ryan, Oakwood, Blackwood Canyon, Taptiel Vineyard, Hightower and Terra Blanca. Additional grape-growers include Klipsun Vineyards (Ranked in the top 25 vineyards in the world by Wine & Spirits Magazine), Ciel de Cheval Vineyards, Artz Vineyards. Across the state, the finer wineries seek out the coveted Red Mountain grapes to blend into the growing number of outstanding Washington red wines. You’ll find Red Mountain grapes in the wines from Woodward Canyon, Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, L’Ecole No. 41, Washington Hills, Seven Hills and Canoe Ridge and more.

Success has come quickly… Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Top 100 Wines for 2002 listed Hedges Red Mountain Reserve ($46) and Sandhill’s Cabernet Sauvignon ($24), as well as Andrew Will’s Ciel du Cheval Merlot and Quilceda Creek’s Cabernet Sauvignon. Hedge’s Fume/Chardonnay ($11) also made the “Top 100 Values” from Wine Enthusiast’s 2002 list.

Look for increasing success and production in the region as more acreage is planted and more vines bear fruit with age. With such perfect growing conditions, and rising talent gaining experience each year, Washington’s Red Mountain will be the region to watch!

For more information

Home winemaking isn’t a new phenomenon.  When Romans discovered the process of winemaking (by stealing it from the Greeks, who gleaned it from others) many centuries ago, they spread the knowledge throughout Europe where it became a staple life-sustaining beverage.  While commercial enterprises have taken wine to new heights in the modern age, there are still plenty of hobbyists and pioneering sorts who desire to whip up a fresh batch of vino in their own homes. 

tastingbarIn Canada the practice is widespread.  The taxes on alcohol, the restrictions from imported goods, and the limited ability to create well-crafted commercial wines from Canadian crops build a trifecta of reasons to vinify one’s own private bottling.  Throughout Canada you’ll find shops where quality grape juice and all the equipment and supplies to turn it into wine are available for rent or purchase, with knowledgeable winemakers on staff to assist customers through the process.

Winemaking made easy in Vancouver (USA!)

In Vancouver USA, we also have a great shop to help you through the process of creating a batch of your own private wine.  Bader Winery near the corner of Grand Blvd. and Mill Plain Blvd. has been helping area residents vinify quality batches of great wines for many years.  Owner Steve Bader offers up several levels of packaged juice plus the expert guidance to ensure quality results. 

internationalFrom Australian Syrah to Italian “Super Tuscan” blends, Port & dessert to bone-dry big reds, grapes are harvested, juiced and packaged from around the world to give home winemakers a chance to create a wide range of styles to suit any palate. provides a line of high-quality products to choose from at the Bader Winery.

Kits range in price from $80 to $140, take from 4 to 8 weeks from first visit to bottling, and create about 30 bottles of great wine.  Additional supplies including bottles and labels are extra.  When finished, you can have your own private labeled cases of wine for drinking, gift-giving, or for celebrating a grand event!

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The winemaking bug continues to hit more and more people north of the river, with Clark County now boasting six wineries within a quick drive from Portland.  Each winery boasts a unique tasting room, beautiful grounds, and plenty of wine to sample! 

bethanylogoBethany Vineyard (map) is one of Vancouver’s oldest wineries, with lakefront grounds so beautiful that weddings are a frequent phenomenon.  You can imbibe in a large tasting room with an array of wines just off a cellar of their aging barrels. 

  • Visit Bethany Vineyard online,
  • call 360-887-3525
  • or set the GPS to 4115 NE 259th St., Ridgefield.

Confluence Vineyards and Winery (map) is one of Ridgefield’s youngest wineries, born in 2008 and is just west of I-5 using the 179th Ave. exit.  Their first vintages include Petite Verdot, Merlot, Syrah and a Cab blend.  Plans for the winery grounds are expansive, with a small ampitheater and enlarged cellars. 

  • Visit Confluence online,
  • call 360-887-2343
  • or head to 19111 NW 67th Ave., Ridgefield.

EastForkEast Fork Cellars (map).  Use the 179th street exit to visit the East Fork tasting room as well, straight ahead just north of the exit on NE 10th Ave.  Of the six area wineries, this is the easiest to spot and visit.  A large retail building features not just this winery but a thriving local seafood business sharing the same parking lot.  Their estate, locally-grown grapes include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. 

  • Visit East Fork online,
  • call 360-666-4514
  • or drive to 24415 NE 10th Ave., Ridgefield.

English Estate (map) is the most established local vineyard and is located at the Northeast corner of the Cascade Park area in Vancouver.  Their stately family-run grounds have welcomed visitors for over a decade to sample a range of Pinot Noirs, white wines, and dessert offerings.  

  • Visit English Estate online,
  • call 360-772-5141
  • or set the GPS for 17806 SE 1st St., Vancouver.

Rusty Grape Vineyards (map) is the eastern-most winery of the set.  The relatively youthful winery has an expansive and casual event space both outdoor and indoor, with weekly live music events.  Available wines include Syrah, Cabernet, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Merlot and berry dessert wines. 

  • Visit Rusty Grape online,
  • call 360-513-9338
  • or head to 16712 NE 219th St., Battle Ground.

ThreeBrothersThree Brothers Vineyards and Winery (map) sits directly behind East Fork Cellars.  Their local, estate plantings of almost 15 acres include a wide range of grapes:  Tempranillo, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, Gewurztraminer and Riesling.  An event room at the winery can accomodate events with up to 40 guests. 

  • Visit Three Brothers online,
  • call 360-887-2085
  • or check them out in person at 2411 NE 244th St., Ridgefield. 

The Salut! Wine Club

It’s time I added a French wine selection to the line up of our Best Wines on Planet Earth.  I sampled this wine a few months back and although it comes in at a value price, the quality of the blend stood out above the crowd with delicious flavors and balance, with full fruit while maintaining the character of the Rhone Valley. 

The wine is the Domaine des Lauribert 2007 “Les Truffieres” Visan of Cotes du Rhone Villages.  Thankfully, this pick coincides with a post I wrote a few weeks ago explaining the wines of the Rhone Valley.  “Cotes du Rhone Villages” refers to a section of the Rhone Valley wine map comprised of many villages, defined together as an appellation in a way that allows them to also mention the specific name of certain villages within…hence the village of Visan is mentioned in the title.

The Lauribert Visan is a traditional blend of Grenache and Syrah, revealing dry, brambly berry and a vein of pepper spice along with nuances of the minerals of the terroir and a bacon-fat lift in the mid palate.  But what also impressed me about this wine was the very approachable dark berry fruits opening up on the front palate, adding a refreshingly youthful vigor to this value release.  What a great wine to pair with spicy red meat fare!

From the importer:

Domaines de Lauribert has been in the Sourdon family for the last five generations. The fifty-four hectare estate is located on the Papal Enclave in Visan and Valréas and is planted predominantly to Grenache with lesser parts Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault. 75% of the estates production is Côte du Rhône Villages and the remainder is Côte du Rhône wine.

Robert Sourdon (the "bert" part of the Lauribert name)

Robert Sourdon (the "bert" part of the Lauribert name)

Until 1997, the wines of the Lauribert estate were vinified at the local cooperative cellar. When Laurent Sourdon took over the domain, he decided that it was time to produce and bottle wine under the name Lauribert. The name Lauribert is composed from letters of the family members’ names : LAUrent, MaRIE and RoBERT.

The Sourdon family consistently produces excellent value wines that posses all the hallmark character and flavor that Rhône is so well known for.

This wine is regularly sold for $12.99 but is available only to wine club members for $11.99!

Buy This WineMore Club Wines

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Great Food Pairings

Have you tasted this wine? When you’ve had a chance to enjoy this wine, please return to this blog and leave your comments! Others will appreciate your input, unique viewpoint, and recommendations.

regionprofileThe Rhone River begins its 250 mile journey high in the Alps of Switzerland and divides the wine regions of France’s Rhone Valley before reaching the Mediterranean Sea. 

It’s in this deep valley that some of the world’s most esteemed wines are created, using to a large degree just 7 grapes 4 red and 3 white (23 total, most of them rare, are allowed but relatively obscure).   Rousanne and Marsanne join the more widely known Viognier grapes for white wines, while Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault join the worldwide fame of Syrah to create the wonderful Rhone reds. 

 One Region, Two Distinct Traditions

France's Rhone Valley Wine Regions

France's Rhone Valley Wine Regions

Although “the Rhone” can be considered one of France’s most influential and famous wine regions, it has two very separate areas split North and South.  In the slim Northern section, you’ll find only the Syrah grape creating the red wines (no blends).  White wines here are more esteemed, with Rousanne and Marsanne hailing a larger reputation than the also-ran Viognier (Vee-own-yay) grape which has recently caught favor on America’s west coast. 

Viognier is grown for a more traditional and unique reason…as a white blending grape adding complexity to the red Syrah.  It is a widespread practice to add one to three percent Viognier to Syrah releases.  This added layer of delicate floral and stone-fruit notes adds dramatic aromatics and contemplative depth.

In the more broad area of the South, blending takes on a whole new meaning, with 23 different grapes allowed in blends that, instead, are usually comprised of “GSM” wines made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.

Blends Emulated Worldwide

Almost 95% of all Rhone wines come from the Southern area, which is one reason that blending Syrah with Grenache and Mourvedre is so popular worldwide.  California and Australia both take pride in Rhone-style blends vinified with a more new-world flair.  You’ll find big berry flavors bouncing from glasses of Yalumba or Rosemount G-S-M reds.  California’s “Rhone Rangers” have settled into the Sierra Foothills, Central Coast and beyond to create New World traditions of their very own, with more pronounced spice and tannin backbone to strengthen the impression on the palate.  (Even the Northwest’s Cougar Crest and Efeste wineries have joined the Rangers)

You’ll find the true, traditional French Rhone red wines full of gritty character with spicy, meaty personalities and blissfully complex aromatics.  They pair perfectly with full-flavored lean meats like venison and other game meats.  Don’t expect the full-fruit extraction of California Cabernet or Australian Syrah.  Fruit flavors will stand equally with the savory character, spices, and the minerality so important to culinary match-ups. 

cwesbanner2Join me as I give a Wines of the Rhone Valley presentation to the local Columbia Willamette Enological Society on October 14th, 2009 in Vancouver!  I’ll be serving up an assortment of 6 wines including both whites and reds to show you in detail how the areas and wines differ throughout the region, and how you can best enjoy these great French releases.

More Places to Explore Rhone Valley Wines & Styles

Vineyards in the Rhone Valley

Vineyards in the Rhone Valley

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