‘Tis the season of squash, dark & sturdy greens, roasted chickens, and of course, pumpkins! As the weather drops at night to (as I like to call it) “snuggle weather” (you can barf now) you really need to eat comforting foods that are loaded and tons and tons of vitamins to help protect you against the season of sickness. Everyone loves a good creamy, velvety pumpkin soup spiced with nutmeg and laced with heavy cream…who could resist that? For the sake of those of us who are lactose intolerant/sensitive, vegans (with a quick swap of stock), and everyone watching their waistlines, this is a great everyday option for pumpkin soup.
- 4 cups peeled and diced (medium dice) pumpkin or hard squash
- 2 cups peeled and diced (medium dice) red potato
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
- 4 leaves fresh sage, chopped
- 2 medium purple onions, coarsely chopped
- 2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
- 2 red or yellow bell peppers, coarsely chopped
- 3 cups chicken stock (or for vegetarians, a good mushroom or veg stock)
- Salt and white pepper, to taste
- 1 can white beans or 2 cups dried, soaked, and cooked white beans
- 3 cups cleaned and chopped kale
Preheat oven to 375°F. Chop vegetables. Place pumpkin and potato in a large roasting pan and toss with oil, garlic and herbs. Roast for about 30 minutes, uncovered. Add remaining vegetables except kale. Roast for another 20 to 30 minutes or until vegetables are well-browned but not charred. Remove pan from oven. Place roasted vegetables and stock in a large stock pot. Season to taste. Heat over medium-high heat until pumpkin begins to soften and combine slightly with stock. Add chopped kale and beans and cook over medium heat until done, about 10 minutes.
You know you’re truly spoiled when you are looking around for a bottle of wine to make sangria with and the most appropriate bottle you can come up with is the Reininger 2008 Mr. Owl’s Red. It’s kind of a shame, and I’m sure there will be an outcry regarding my blasphemous behavior, but seriously, on a hot summer evening I can’t help but jones for light, fruity, sweet sangria. Also, I’m lazy, and always running behind, and have a hard time planning for things, so this recipe was born out of all of these things plus the help (and ingredients) from a good friend who makes everything taste good.
Sangria is traditionally made with a mix of fruits, brandy, and a sweetener like honey or sugar. The last time that I made it I had to hunt down brandy and simple syrup and all kinds of juices, which was just sort of lame and took forever. Here is our recipe for easy sangria, to be enjoyed on a sun-filled deck while playing backgammon and chatting (or doing anything enjoyable of your choosing).
Mr. Owl’s Easy Sangria:
1 bottle of Reininger Mr. Owl’s Red (I can’t promise the deliciousness of any other bottle of wine)
1 can of guava/pineapple juice, though we debated and almost put in a can of sparkling blood orange
1/2 cup Cointreau
Juice from 1 lime
sliced fruit like strawberries, oranges, lemons, peaches, etc. if that’s your thing
As you can imagine, it’s pretty easy. Combine the liquids and slices of fruit into a pitcher and let it sit for a few minutes – or not – then serve over ice. Perfection in about 5 minutes.
Terroir – this sense of somewhereness in wine – is imperative to Reininger’s style of wine making. Chuck’s love affair with geology is one of the reasons he became enthralled with wine making in the Walla Walla Valley and one of the reasons Reininger maintains its truly unique flavor profile. As I discussed in the last post, terroir is a difficult word to really define, but there are pieces that can be described to get a sense for the meaning. Here is a great scientific explanation of how the place affects the grapes which grow in it, from Wine Portfolio:
Some say that they can taste when a wine has a specific mineral in it, due to its high concentration in the soil. Botony, or the scientific study of plants, renders this argument rather moot, as, biologically; this is not how plants interact with their soils. A more progressive view takes the stance that terroir is not due to subsoil structure, but rather to drainage. Plant reproduction is based on the principle that if their environmental conditions are good, the plants will have vegetative growth. If the conditions are bad however, they will reproduce sexually, meaning the production of fruit. While this seems a little counterintuitive, viticulturalists aim to create an environment where they are harsh enough on their vines so that the production of fruit is emphasized, though not too restricting as to cause a mineral deficit, which would sabotage the ripening of the fruit. Restricting their environment causes the roots to grow deeper and more laterally in search of nutrients. The deeper the roots grow, the more constant their environment becomes with a reliable source of mineral and water supply. Having the deepest roots, this explains why old vines produce some of the best wine.
So what does terroir add to wine? Unlike honey, which can be controlled and gathered from bees visiting specific flower fields (lavender, chamomile, wildflower, etc.), wine does not pick up characteristics that directly. Terroir is, rather, the essence of place in any given year. Those fond memories of a warm day in Walla Walla sitting outside on the patio and enjoying the smells of fresh rain right before wheat harvest can be found in the bottle. The terroir can ad anything from minerality to a farmy quality to a subtle soil taste that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s the difference between a good, solid wine and a truly fantastic, very balanced, memorable wine.
Filed under: General, Helix Wines, Reininger Wines, Winery
Though you may think we are only concerned with the harvest of one particular crop, those who live in the Walla Walla and Columbia Valleys know that this is an incredible time of year. The entire landscape has changed from bright greens and cerulean blues to brilliant golds and cadmium yellows and the smell of toasted wheat fills the valley. Wheat harvest is the finale of an entire year’s work and commencement of the next; it is the time when farmers see the fruits of their labor and, for no-till farming, to play in the dirt.
Ahhhh dirt. It shapes the rolling hills of our valley, creates the nutrient-dense grains that provide food for far away parts of the world, and gives our grapes a taste that indescribable without the word terroir. What is terroir? This term we throw around so often in the wine industry can be quite confusing to those who don’t talk wine (or, commonly, coffee, cheese or beef) all day. Terroir (pronounced tair-wa) is “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate” according to the Oxford dictionary. It can also be referred to as goût de terroir or taste of the earth. The basic idea is that some regions – like the Walla Walla Valley or Columbia Valley AVAs – or vineyard plots have a quality that makes them special…so special that if you took the same grape variety, followed the same winegrowing practices, winemaker and techniques but grew it anywhere else in the world the wine would never taste quite the same.
Terroir is comprised of four main factors: climate, soil type, topography, and surrounding vegetation. The interaction of climate and terroir is generally broken down from the macroclimate of a larger area, down to the mesoclimate of a smaller subsection of that region and even to the individual microclimate of a particular vineyard or row or grapevines. The element of soil relates both to the composition and the intrinsic nature of thevineyard soils, such as fertility, drainage and ability to retain heat. Topography refers to the natural landscape features like mountains, valleys, and rivers, lakes, and streams which affect how the climate interacts with the region, and includes elements of aspect and altitude of the vineyard location.*
How does that affect Reininger wines? Chuck’s goal is to capture and enhance the essence of each vintage by exposing its terroir. That amazing, earthy, old-world French feel of our Reininger Syrahs, Merlots, and Carmeneres? There’s a whole lotta terroir coming forward, making them so unique and special. Chuck feels that you must always be aware of these factors when making wine. He says, “wine is a reflection of everything that’s happened to the grapes, a time capsule, I enjoy bringing out the flavors locked in the grapes and making them shine.”
In the next post, I will further discuss terroir’s influence on winemaking and affect on all of those delicious wines. See you soon!
*From the Oxford Companion to Wine, 2006
Filed under: General, Helix Wines, Reininger Wines, Wine Club, Winery
Ahhhh Grenache. I think this was the first wine that I ever saw for the second time in the toilet bowl after one too many pulls from the ol’ bag of Franzia at a frat party. Grenache isn’t a sleazy grape, though, and my recent experiences with it have been downright delightful. Originally from Spain (though you might hear differently if you ask an Italian), Grenache made a splash in California as an ever-popular Grandma grape in the early wine making days and has more recently come to the Columbia Valley AVA for use in Rhône blends like the Helix SoRho.
It is generally spicy, berry-flavored and soft on the palate with a relatively high alcohol content, but it needs to be carefully controlled in the vineyards. It tends to lack tannin, acid, and color due to it’s thin-skin and is usually blended with other varieties such as Cinsault and Mourvèdre, like in the SoRho, as well as Syrah and Tempranillo. Sadly, in the early days of US wine production, Grenache’s characteristics and high yields were perfect to make the dreaded jug wine, giving the poor grape kind of a bad rap. Some of the flavors we look for in our production of Grenache at Reininger are raspberries, strawberries, intense notes of black currant, black cherry, black olive, coffee, honey, leather, black pepper, and tar. Despite being one of the world’s most widely planted grapes, it only exists in Washington State within the Columbia Valley AVA. In the Helix SoRho, we like it because it adds body and fruitiness to complement all of those rich, gamey, and tannic characteristics found in Mourvedre and Cinsault.
Who’s ready for a recipe? Don’t worry…I’ve got a great one picked out for you.
Filed under: Helix Wines, Reininger Wines, Wine Club, Winery
I have to admit that Izzie’s employee profile really inspired me to write about the Helix SoRho, which just happens to be not only her favorite Reininger wine, but mine as well. Why has this unassuming little bottle created such a stir amongst Reininger staff? The answer is simple; this Columbia Valley blend has great character, is unique for our valley (and our own production), and pairs extraordinarily well with food. I’ll even let you in on my secret…I really, REALLY didn’t like the first vintage of this wine. I found it too light, gamey, and almost bitter. I know now that, aside from the bitterness – which I attribute to a much younger palate…the same reason Taco Bell used to drive me wild – the lighter, meaty, rustic qualities of the SoRho are exactly what make it so great.
So what is the deal with this wine? The 2008 is a blend of Grenache (gren-aash), Mourvedre (MOOr-ved’r), and Cinsault (SAN-soh), which are all Southern Rhône varietals and, in various combinations that could include other grapes, make up the wildly popular Côtes du Rhônes. While the Helix SoRho is not a Côtes du Rhônes, much like sparkling white wines made outside of the Champagne region are not Champagne, it showcases the best qualities of those grapes and the very special terroir of the Columbia Valley, making it truly unique. The lightness of it doesn’t fatigue your palate as quickly as headier reds of the Columbia and Walla Walla Valleys, and it also makes it a easier to drink with meals composed of spicy sausages, game birds, rich cream sauces, and the like. If you are a Francophile at all, I strongly suggest that you try this. It is truly made for you and all of your sunshine-picnic, lavender fields, baguette-&-brie-eating daydreams. In the next few posts, I’ll go through the unique characteristics of each of these varietals and what they bring to the Helix SoRho, and, of course, I’ll follow it all up with a recipe for pairing this great wine with great food.
Filed under: General, Helix Wines, Reininger Wines, Uncategorized, Wine Club
One trend worth following is the single origin chocolate bar. As with wine, a single origin chocolate comes from a single place, and in some cases, a single estate. Also like wine, it is a fantastic way to showcase the terroir of the region and how it affects the flavor. We have done single vineyard wines many times at Reininger; the Reininger Walla Walla Valley Ash Hollow Syrah, the Helix Columbia Valley Stillwater Creek Merlot, and the blend, Helix Columbia Valley Stone Tree SoRho. The flavor profile of chocolate will vary tremendously depending on where the cacao, or chocolate bean, is grown. Terroir refers to the characteristics of the region in which something is grown. The Walla Walla Valley AVA has a distinct terroir from the greater Columbia Valley AVA, though soil is only one factor (albeit a major one). Terroir also includes the air, minerals, humidity, sun, fog, flowers, plants, and animals. Each of these elements affects the taste of the fruit, whether it is the cacao bean or Walla Walla wine grapes. Fruit which is subjected to consistently high temperatures and low rainfall will have a very different character than those grown in a cooler climates where fog keeps the fruit from ripening too quickly. There are even microclimates within the terroir, meaning that winemakers and chocolatiers may treat each sub-plot or vineyard differently due to the traits it highlights.
To be clear, we are discussing pure cacao here…not the type of chocolate you might find in, say, a Reese’s. Trust me, I love a good PB cup every so often, but it’s completely different than the kind of chocolate you will find in a bar of Theo, Dagoba, etc. A bag of wine slung over your shoulder probably goes really well with a frozen pizza, but you probably don’t expect it to have many of the same complexities as a finely crafted Walla Walla Valley Malbec or go as well with that steak with chimichurri sauce that you spent two days creating. When tasting a great chocolate, treat it like tasting great wine. Take note of the texture; is it silky smooth? What does the grain feel like? Allow a small chunk to melt on your tongue and move it around your mouth to hit every taste bud then exhale through your nose to experience the aroma. Is it fruity or earthy? Is it flowery? Wait for the finish and pick out the nuanced flavors that you can only taste after swallowing.
This sounds pretty familiar, right? These steps are the same for tasting great wine or, really, anything worth truly savoring. There are great aroma wheels for both chocolate and wine available online. Here are two good ones, just in case you decide to get really into this or even host a party. There may be no going back after you take the time to taste the chocolate!
Wine Aroma Wheel (if you recently upgraded your wine club, you already have one of these on hand):
Next time on the Reininger Winery Blog : a fantastic recipe to feature both wine AND chocolate, perfect for a decadent evening with friends or a week’s worth of amazing lunches at your desk!
Washington State, particularly in the Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Valley, puts out some of the best red blends on the market. There’s no doubt that a great red blend goes down easily and combines well with foods. The idea is that the best aspects of each fruit are brought forward, playing together harmoniously and pulled together by the appropriate amount of oak and bottle aging. Winemaking as a true art form reaches its potential when the skilled and free hand of the winemaker is allowed to blend multiple varietals each vintage, whether that is to round out a varietal wine or to create a more encompassing blend. Vintages vary widely from year to year in Washington, and blending allows the winemaker to coax the best qualities from each harvest by varying the combination and amount of each varietal to balance the flavors, structure, and acid in each wine.
Washington State wineries, including Walla Walla Valley’s own Reininger, got their start emphasizing single varietal wines such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carmenere, etc. Over the past several years, however, you might have noticed that many Walla Walla and Columbia Valley wine growers and producers are putting out an increased variety of blended, high-end, older vintage wines that are anything but the mutt mix that so many red table wines of the past used to be. Reininger Winery in itself has introduced several high-end blends to our lineup since 1999, including the Super Tuscan-style (and ever popular) Cima, the Bordeaux power houses 2004 Anomaly and 2003 Desiderata, and the Southern Rhone-style Helix SoRho. These blends have allowed Chuck to balance the structure, flavors, and acidity of the fruit that grows best in our region, combining together for overall complex and interesting wines.
One of our favorite blends that we produce at Reininger is the Mr. Owl’s Red. Started in 2002, the Reininger Mr. Owl’s Red blend was named in honor of our Cellar Master, Raul, after Chuck’s young children had trouble pronouncing his name. Thus, Mr. Owl was born and the blend that followed is always lighthearted in spirit, but seriously manly (just like Raul). A blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Sangiovese, the 2008 cannot be defined for its region of origin. This year for our release of the 2008 Reininger Mr. Owl’s Red, the Reininger and Tucker families have decided to donate $5 of every $30 bottle of Mr. Owl’s Red to the Yakima Farm Worker’s Clinic, to help families travel together to reach specialized medical care in Spokane and Seattle. Since its release on May 5, we-and everyone who has bought a bottle-have raised more than $600 for donation! This promotion only lasts until the end of June, so if Mr. Owl’s Red blend is something that intrigues you, please buy a bottle or two to help a family in need. If you only try one blend, make it the Mr. Owl’s Red not only because it is totally delicious, but at it’s affordable price point and charitable heart, it’s one feel-good wine.
These days, it’s hard to find any product that doesn’t claim to somehow benefit the environment. “Greenwashing” has become such an abundant marketing and PR move which fortunately hasn’t (yet) hit the wine industry in quite the profuse way as other products, but has nonetheless affected our business. We, along with select other Walla Walla Valley wineries, have always maintained a high level of social and environmental responsibility. At Reininger, we have believe that to create the best possible wine we must use the highest quality fruit and treat it with the most respect to ensure that no part of the fruit is unnecessarily wasted. We strive to create the best wines possible using the best Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Valley fruit while utilizing modified traditional practices that impact the environment in the least possible way. Though there are many squabbles in the office about the thermostat setting in the winter, which has led to a vast wardrobe of sweaters and coats, here are a few more significant ways Reininger Winery practices what we preach:
- Exclusively use recycled glass bottles for both the Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Valley varietals, manufactured by an environmentally responsible company, which we highly recommend (http://www.saint-gobain-northamerica.com/about/Sustainability.asp)
- Reduce the need for mechanical cooling by using specially sized and spaced fermentation bins that allow the natural heat from the fermentation process to dissipate without additional refrigeration
- Source fruit from sustainable and Certified Salmon Safe vineyards where possible (fruit from Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Seven Hills Vineyard, and Stillwater Creek Vineyard go into our Walla Walla and Columbia Valley Syrah, Carmenere, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot varietals)
- Use harvest waste – pomace (the skins and seeds from those beautiful little grapes) – as compost and mulch in our winery landscaping and gardens. The added bonus is seeing slightly intoxicated deer wandering around the fields during the month following harvest.
- Let the abundant and beautiful natural Walla Walla sunshine in to light the winery via skylights and double paned windows so Chuck, Raul, and Felix can work and get some of those feel-good rays during the work day.
In storage and the tasting room:
- Selectively use nighttime cooling fans to capture our arid climate’s chilly night air instead of running them all day
- Those beautiful wide-plank wood floors? Yup…those were the the siding of the original buildings. Our amazing tasting room and production areas were actually two reclaimed potato storage sheds, of which we reused every possible material within the re-design of the space.
- Not only do we save corks for our tasters’ and Wine Club members’ crafty ideas, but we also recycle used corks via the ReCORK Program (http://recork.org/)
- Recycle all capsules as tin
For me, it has taken many years of travel and living in super population dense cities to fully understand just how wasteful we really are. One of the reasons the Walla Walla Valley and Pacific Northwest are so prized is for their natural beauty and ecologically diverse landscapes (if you haven’t lived in smog, please trust me that the air is way better here, too). It affords us to be able to produce some of the most complex, rich, interesting wines available in the world, not to mention the ability to take off from the winery for a long weekend filled with climbing, skiing, boarding, kayaking, hiking, etc.! It has never been a marketing ploy for us at Reininger Winery, and we certainly do not claim to be perfect in our efforts, though we try. While we want to make an impact with our delicious wines, we hope to leave the smallest impact possible on our planet.
“We do it the right way because it’s the right thing to do.”
Please visit Vinea, the Winegrower’s Sustainable Trust, to see more of the ideals that we support in our wine making practice at http://www.vineatrust.com/.
Part of the reason we at Reininger love Merlot, is that we are in the perfect place to grow it. The Walla Walla Valley is an amazing location for growing Merlot grapes, and we’ll tell you why. As a disclaimer, we are obviously biased, but we don’t like to spend a lot of time bashing California wine. It’s not our style, and they make some amazing wines down there. That being said, California’s climate is just not ideal for growing Merlot, and we’ll explain that to you to in as neutral a voice as we can manage. This lesson on the 2007 Reininger Merlot is all about location.
The plump, lush fruitiness of Merlot helps explain its popularity and subsequent frequent planting. Although Merlot is one of the most planted red varietals in the world, we maintain that all terroirs are not created equal. The terroir of the Walla Walla valley is wonderfully suited to creating lush, deep Merlots. As of 2007, Merlot was the second most planted grape in the Walla Walla AVA (What’s an AVA? Catch up here), making up 26% of all grapes planted. Merlot showed an affinity for the Walla Walla Valley growing conditions early on, attracting critical acclaim and notice. Wine writer Leslie Sbrocco proclaims the union of Merlot and Washington State to be “a marriage made in heaven”. The long sunny days and cool nights lend Washington Merlot grapes the necessary time to gradually develop complexity and ripeness without sacrificing acidity. The sunny basin of the Columbia Valley created well-structured, ripe flavored, fruity Merlots.
The Walla Walla Valley in particular is a prime spot within the Columbia Valley. Sbrocco praises Walla Walla Merlot’s as being “intense, voluptuous and velvety… as Pomerol-like as you can get outside France”. Washington Merlots tend to differ from California Merlots based upon bright fruit flavors and relatively crisp acidity.
California does produce some good Merlots, but their growing climates are just not as well suited and therefore do not have the same potential as Walla Walla or Bordeaux. California’s Merlot plantings were largely a result of the frenetic trendiness of Merlot in the 1990′s, which we talked about here, rather than a well inclined terroir. Many wine scholars question the suitability of Merlot to California, especially due to the warmth of the soil, citing numerous examples of bland wines that damage the varietal’s reputation in general. The quality of California Merlot’s suffered greatly in the late 1990′s when demand for the varietal radically outstripped the supply, tempting many growers to use wine making techniques to stretch their yields in less than optimal ways. To be fair, some very skilled growers are coaxing out fantastic California Merlots, namely from Napa’s Stags Leap District, the Russian River Valley and the Santa Ynez Valley. These good quality California Merlot’s are typically blended with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon in order to soften the tannins.
The 2007 Reininger Merlot is a shining example of the best Walla Walla has to offer. Order some here today to see what the buzz is all about!