By Chuck Hill
About Chuck CHUCK'S CURRENT EARLIER COLUMNS REVIEWS BY
VARIETAL OTHER STUFF
REVIEWS BY VARIETAL
Wines of the Week Archive
After slurping wine and slurping oysters for seafood guru Jon Rowley for 18 years in his Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, I have now reached a similar milestone in my slightly different approach to wines for mollusks. In Jon’s quest for the perfect oyster wine — served ice cold with unadorned raw oysters on the half shell, there are many wines that don’t make the cut, but are fine wines in their own right. Serving the wines slightly less chilled and offering an additional cuisine of mussels steamed over wine, herbs and shallots seems to broaden the universe of delicious wine and shellfish “shuck cesses.”
With the cooler weather, oysters are coming into their prime season. After a very warm summer in the Puget Sound region, oyster lovers are rejoicing as waters chill and oysters firm up for the winter.
Oysters and mussels for our tastings are provided by Taylor Shellfish of Shelton, WA. Taylor farms the ultimate half shell oyster - the petite, sweet and succulent Kumamoto. They also harvest Mediterranean Mussels, which we steam (see above). If you are near Seattle, visit their new Melrose Market location near downtown where you can buy shellfish to take home, or slurp some there with wine or beer – fresh chowder, too. (Anywhere else in the U.S. you can use Taylor's online store to have your shellfish shipped fresh in custom packaging that insures your order arrives in the best condition. www.taylorshellfishstore.com/)
L’Ecole No 41
L’Ecole No 41 is one of the pioneering wineries in the Walla Walla Valley with nearly 30 vintages of experience in vineyard management and winemaking. Semillon was the first white varietal crafted by the winery and it has been produced in every successive vintage. Those seeking out the few Semillon wines produced in the Northwest appreciate the bright pear and earthy aromas. and the rich palate of white fruits and citrus. The wine pairs well with both mussels and half-shell oysters.
Northstar winemaker David Merfeld included five percent Muscadelle in his Semillon-based Stella Blanca white wine and aged the wine in French oak, 25% new. The result is a complex and refreshing wine showing only the positive indications of oak aging. Flinty mineral, white peach and honey greet the nose, while the palate offers flavors of crisp grapefruit, citron and vanilla – a tasty sip with mussels and sautéed oysters.
Grapes for this wine were harvested from the Walla Walla Community College estate vineyard named in memory of Stan Clarke, the Founding Associate Director of the college’s Enology and Viticulture program directed by Myles Anderson. Four student winemakers (all concurrently working in the local wine industry) crafted the wine and created a rich Semillon offering a flavorful balance of citrus, white peach and toasty cedar components.
Mark Newton and his wife Donna DiStefano continue to evolve their winery in the northeast corner of Woodinville wine country. In addition to making great wines that accompany food, they offer special events, winery dinners and special tastings. Be sure to make this a stop on your harvest wine tour of the area. The 2012 Semillon is rich and complex with ripe apricot, honey and herbs on both the nose and palate. Crisp acidity and hints of grapefruit help this wine pair well with both oysters and mussels.
Arcane Cellars is located in the Eola Hills AVA of the northern Willamette Valley, nearly adjacent to the historic Wheatland Ferry. For wine tourists looking for a scenic route back to I-5, this is a not-to-be-missed experience. Jason Silva crafts this Semillon from grapes grown at the winery estate – one of northern Oregon’s only Semillon plantings. My tasters enjoyed the contrast of soft white-fruit flavors of peach and pear with crisp acidity and notes of citrus. The wine is available only at the winery.
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Chateau Ste. Michelle crafts delectable oyster wines each year from their vineyards in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA. This bottling offers the combination of bright flavor and aroma while leaving a refreshing balance on the palate to accompany the half-shell oyster. Look for aromas of grassy herbs and earthy toast with flavors of herbs and citrus and notes of stone fruits and lime zest.
Retired Microsoft marketing director Marty Taucher and his partner winemaker Chris Peterson merged their creative talents to start Avennia winery in Woodinville. Their only white wine is Oliane (a family name from winemaker Chris Peterson’s Scandinavian heritage), a crisp Sauvignon Blanc crafted in the 2012 vintage from grapes grown at Boushey and Red Willow Vineyards in the Yakima Valley. New French oak and sur lie aging gives this wine a rich earthy/citrus character that pairs superbly with our mussel dish and with sautéed oysters rather than half shell.
Jeff and Sheila Jirka established Davenport Cellars with their first vintage in 2007, buying grapes from established vineyard sources and hoping to one day plant their own vineyard on Red Mountain. Plans have changed with the winery now committed to using purchased grapes from the best sources available. The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc offers aromas of mown hay, earth and spice, with flavors of zesty citrus and balanced acidity caressing delicate half-shell oysters. (Currently offered through the winery only.)
The Hedges Family Estate on Red Mountain produces four main wines with wide distribution and an avid following of fans. This crisp Sauvignon Blanc offers distinct character of the varietal as grown in Washington, though it also shows notes of gooseberry and spice that will please the devotees of the Marlborough, New Zealand bottlings of SB. G reat value and a superb accompaniment to half-shell oysters!
Mark Newton and his winemaking team have another winner with his 2012 Sauvignon Blanc. The immediate impression of the wine is earthy-flinty minerality which moves aside to allow herb and fruit flavors to become part of the experience. Notes of gooseberry and grassy herbs appeal to oyster lovers, yet the wine has ample body to accompany rich steamed mussels.
Arbor Crest Wine Cellars
Arbor Crest winery in Spokane is a long way from the ocean, but you’d never guess that with the way their Sauvignon Blanc dances with delectable half-shell oysters. Winemaker Kristina Mielke-van Löben Sels made the wine from grapes grown at the venerable Bacchus Vineyard north of Pasco in Washington’s Columbia Valley. The long 2012 growing season, combined with the deep-rooted vines at Bacchus Vineyard, allowed the grapes to produce a wine with complex aromas and flavors of earthy herbs, tropical fruits, flint, vanilla and even a hint of rising bread dough!
The Snake River Valley of Idaho has been producing superb wine grapes for the winemakers at Ste. Chapelle since the winery was founded in 1976. Today, Ste. Chapelle produces wines of excellent value that compete on price for quality with wines from anywhere in the world. This versatile Sauvignon Blanc offers aromas of melon, grassy herbs and floral perfume, leading to a flavorful palate with notes of grapefruit, white peach, green olive and earthy mineral.
Winemaker Aryn Morell uses the Sauvignon Blanc wines of the Loire Valley as his inspiration to craft Matthews Estate Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc. His 2012 vintage offers round and mellow aromas and flavors showing tropical fruits, pear and hints of grassy herbs and gooseberry. The wine is an excellent sipper and accompanies both seafood and more substantial fare. The Matthews Winery is in the heart of Woodinville Wine Country, open daily from Noon to 6pm. A small-but-elegant bed and breakfast is part of the winery estate.
Chateau Ste. Michelle
The winemaking team at Chateau Ste. Michelle blended 12% Semillon in to this delicate and tasty Sauvignon Blanc to add complexity and length, and a small portion of the wine was barrel fermented with most seeing only stainless steel. Notes of melon, herb and citrus reveal the Northwest origin of the wine, which is a versatile accompaniment for lighter warm-weather fare or a companion to sip on its own.
Three Rivers Winery
If it weren’t for their tasty wines, you might think that Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla was in the business just to entertain their customers and touring visitors. The winery offers Friday night music events, outdoor movies for the family in their amphitheater, cooking classes and gourmet dinners. Finally when we get to the dinners, we can make the wine connection! The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc is blended with 18% Semillon showing aromas and flavors of citrus, Asian pear and notes of herbs and vanilla.
Wines from other areas:
British author Hugh Johnson has written, “New Zealand has made an international impact with white wines of startling quality.” My tasters agree. This is the second year that Wairau River has topped the charts in its flight for its quality and its refreshing affinity for oysters and mussels. Bursting from the glass with fresh gooseberry and green olive, the nose also hints at melon and citrus. The palate is rich and crisp with tropical fruits, citrus and a dry finish.
Vineyard sites from the warm Wairau Valley and further south in the cooler Awatere Valley were selected for this wine. The clay soils of the Wairau vineyards and the fast-draining gravelly soils of Atawere vineyards each infuse unique characteristics to the structure, body and aromatics of the wine. Cool fermentation coupled with sur lie contact created a complex and appealing wine. Look for aromas and flavors of gooseberry, grapefruit, fresh herbs and hints of stone fruits. It almost overwhelms a delicate oyster, but stands up admirably to rich and hearty mussels.
Dry Creek Vineyard
This wine is a perennial favorite with oyster-wine tasters and completes the promise implied when author Tom Robbins stated, “Eating a raw oyster is like French kissing a mermaid.” The wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (90%) and Sauvignon Musqué (10%), yielding a rich tropical fruit nose with notes of orchard blossom and grassy herb. The palate offers citrus, melon and herb in just the right proportion to complement the oyster flavor and refresh the palate. Also look for Dry Creek’s Fumé Blanc (100% Sauvignon Blanc) that is a slightly more austere version but equally mermaid-friendly.
My tasters continue their love affair with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc by lauding another Marlborough wine from winemaker Sam Smail of White Haven in Blenheim, New Zealand. In the quintessential Marlborough style, this selection offers ripe gooseberry and tropical-fruit aromas with hints of mineral and peach, leading to a medium-bodied palate of gooseberry, olive and refreshing citrus flavors.
Cogent thoughts from winemaker David Ready, Jr. “The 2012 was predominantly fermented in stainless steel to retain the expression of bright citrus and tropical-fruit aromatics, while the balance was barrel fermented in French and American oak to increase the mouthfeel and develop lush flavors of white peach and honeydew melon. The Semillon (7%) adds wonderful expressions of floral notes and adds nice texture.” True Dat.
Having fresh half-shell oysters of the highest quality, paired with a wide range of Sauvignon Blancs and Semillon of the highest quality, is always one of the year’s most anticipated tastings. Massimo Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc was another top-rated participant in this enologic orgy, showing bright grapefruit, guava and lemon grass aromas with oyster-friendly flavors of gooseberry, lime, fresh herbs and earthy mineral.
It is nice to know that a crisp, refreshing Sauvignon Blanc can be had for just a few bucks. This vintage is blended with Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Albariño, creating a memorable aroma and flavor profile that is the envy of many wines at twice the price. Look for aromas and flavors of melon, pear and grapefruit with hints of gooseberry and lime. Delicious with oysters and other seafood favorites.
Whether you are looking for a green way to drink wine, or you are having a get together on a budget, there could be room in your refrigerator for a box of wine. Box wines save on the carbon footprint of making bottles, shipping costs and recycling glass, and the wine is darn good! This Chilean Sauvignon Blanc from Black Box impressed my tasters with aromas and flavors of grapefruit, earthy herbs and white peach, and was a nice accompaniment to oysters and mussels.