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, Recipe, Reininger Wines, Uncategorized, Wine Club, Winery
Being from Walla Walla, it’s hard to escape what I consider a part of my roots – delicious, homemade Mexican food. The closest “restaurant” to Reininger is a bait and tackle shop called the Worm Ranch which, unlikely as it sounds, also has some of the best hand-made Mexican food in the Walla Walla Valley tucked inside. It’s not uncommon to find us munching on camarones a la diabla, arroz con pollo, or a couple of amazingly fresh and beautiful fish tacos (all with hand-pressed tortillas!) on any given day at work. This is the food that all native Walla Wallans know by heart, whether they were born into it or were lucky enough to be adopted into a friend’s family for dinner every so often. Partly in honor of the release of the 2008 Mr. Owl’s Red, and partly because we have been pretty overwhelmed by chocolate talk recently, I wanted to share this, one of my favorite and signature repertoire recipes, with you.
Adapted, ever so slightly, from Bon Appetit (though it was pretty darn perfect to begin with)
3 tablespoons (or more) peanut oil (preferably unrefined), divided
5 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 cups orange juice
1 1/4 pounds onions, sliced
1/2 cup sliced almonds
6 large garlic cloves, sliced
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
4 ounces dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded, torn into 1-inch pieces, rinsed
4 ounces dried negro chiles, stemmed, seeded, torn into 1-inch pieces, rinsed
2 tbsp brown sugar
Orange peel from one medium-sized orange
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 3.1-ounce disk Mexican chocolate, chopped (if unavailable, I have used bittersweet chocolate and a tiny pinch of cinnamon in its place to great success)
Chopped fresh cilantro
1 small chunk of cotija cheese, crumbled (for a little salty bite)
Return chicken and any juices to pot. Add broth and orange juice; bring just to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until chicken is tender and just cooked through, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until golden brown, about 18 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add almonds, garlic, cumin, and coriander. Sautéuntil nuts and garlic begin to color, about 2 minutes. Add chiles and stir until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.
Using tongs, transfer chicken to large bowl. Pour chicken cooking liquid into saucepan with onion mixture (reserve pot). Add raisins, orange peel, and oregano to saucepan. Cover and simmer until chiles are very soft, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat; add chocolate. Let stand until chocolate melts and sauce mixture cools slightly, about 15 minutes.
Working in small batches, transfer sauce mixture to blender and puree until smooth; return to reserved pot. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Return chicken to pan and coat with sauce. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Chill until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm over low heat before serving.
While the chicken is simmering in its delicious mole bath, grill corn tortillas with a tiny bit of neutral (peanut, canola, etc.) oil in a nonstick skillet or grill pan, allowing about 20-30 seconds for each side of each tortilla. Keep warm in foil until all tortillas are heated.
Transfer chicken mole to bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro and cotija and serve with warm tortillas.
Filed under: Events, General, Helix Wines, Reininger Wines, Wine Club, Winery
LOVE wine? Check. Love chocolate? Double check. Love wine and chocolate together? Well that’s a whole new sticky (but decadent) subject to talk about. Pairing a Walla Walla Valley or Columbia Valley wine to a high quality chocolate can be a little tricky as both are intense, complex, and rich.
Reininger hosted our very first Red Wine Club Seattle pickup party at Theo Chocolates in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle in April, which was such a success that we had to host another one in May to accommodate our Seattle members. While it was a blast to see everyone and introduce some new wines to our club members, of course stuffing our faces with Theo’s amazing chocolates was really the highlight of the night. Through our tour with Molly, a seasoned veteran when it comes to eating chocolate and official tour guide for Theo, we learned what to look for in a chocolate to pair well with a Columbia or Walla Walla Valley wine of Reininger’s strong character.
Chocolate, like a great Washington red wine, has very intense flavors. It is, of course, chocolatey, but it’s also features characteristics that are similar to how we look at wine. Just like when taste our wines at Reininger to determine when they are ready to be released, chocolate has elements of sweetness, bitterness, acidity, and fruitiness. These distinctive qualities mean that you need to have a wine (especially if it is a dry red wine as opposed to a sweet dessert wine) that shows the same level of intensity in order to pair well. Look to your favorite fruity and bold wines, like the Reininger Merlot and Helix Syrah, to match a fantastic bar of 70% and above dark chocolate. The cocoa butter is able to mellow out some of the tannins and acidity from a big wine, while the cocoa solids linger on your tongue and blend with the lush fruit notes to create a magic taste explosion. We particularly like the Theo single origin 91% Costa Rica bar, the Theo 70% dark bar, and the Theo Cherry and Almond bar with 70% dark chocolate when paired with our features of the night, the 2004 Reininger Columbia Valley Anomaly and 2007 Reininger Walla Walla Valley Carmenere.
Up next, we delve a bit deeper into one of Chuck’s favorite topics, terroir, with wine and chocolate!
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.
Taste! It’s no surprise that most folks in the wine industry are a little unnaturally obsessed with food and we at Reininger Winery are absolutely not an exception. We get excited about it all, from party planning for our wine club to having after work bbq’s on the crush pad or just looking forward to leftovers eaten at our desks in the office. This enthusiasm has led to many, many hours spent looking for recipes for various wine pairings. Since we are focusing a bit on Walla Walla Valley Merlot and all of its deliciousness, I’ll share a few of our tips for pairing this rich and velvety varietal with some great foods.
- Walla Walla Valley Merlots – especially Reininger – trend towards soft, lush, and smooth with juicy red fruits (think raspberry and currant) and earth, making them perfect for a meal that is too delicate for bigger reds such as Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Consider the intensity of the Merlot you’re planning to drink and match your meal to that. Merlot definitely has a range depending on the winemaker and style, so one could be fantastic with grilled ribeye but overpower spring lamb chops.
- Pork, salmon, bacon, mushrooms, grilled veggies, savory greens like swiss chard, and bitter foods such as radicchio and olives pair beautifully with a Merlot from a Walla Walla Valley winery.
- When looking for recipes, consider going to the roots. Merlot is a Bordeaux grape, so natural pairings will come from that region (Perigord truffles and duck, anyone?)…et voilá!
- Don’t forget that there are fantastic non-meat foods to pair with Merlot. Mushrooms and blue cheese are two excellent and super flavorful matches for Walla Walla Merlot (and would make an excellent tart when paired together).
- Complicated doesn’t always equal awesome. Keep it simple to let the ingredients speak.
- Don’t get too wrapped up in it. It’s hard to go wrong when you buy good ingredients and prepare them lovingly, then serve them with a fantastic wine.
Next post: a perfect recipe to pair with a fantastic classic Walla Walla Valley Merlot!
Call me a sentimentalist, but I have a serious soft spot for Washington state’s first famous grape, and no AVA (in my opinion, anyway) does Merlot better than Walla Walla Valley. Admittedly, it’s not 1984 and the Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Valley AVAs have moved far beyond Merlot as their go-to rockstar grape, but the Merlot craze of the Reagan administration has strong footing in deliciousness, and is now primed for a comeback – sure to be more successful than Madonna’s latest reinvention.
What are the reasons to love Walla Walla Valley Merlot? Similar to the bookish nerd in the back of the classroom, Walla Walla Valley Merlots showcase consistency by being bold, rich, velvety, affordable, and food friendly…all without being showy or smug. This varietal is a team player, with the ability to step up to the plate to deliver a fantastic varietal wine or to lend a helping hand (in the case of Washington state Merlot) to round out some of the harsher characteristics of its brethren Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Walla Walla’s climate offers cool growing conditions combined with long, hot hours of sunlight, and raises our Merlot grapes as one-two punch powerhouses.The flavor profile tends to be more herbaceous less astringent than other Bordeaux varietals grown in Washington, making it a natural pairing for a range of foods without being overbearing.
Here at Reininger, Merlot holds an especially dear place in our hearts. Though we all have our favorites from vintage to vintage, Reininger Walla Walla Valley Merlot is a perennial sweetheart – a food-loving wine that we are incredibly proud to produce, and one of the three original varietals Chuck bottled over 15 years ago when Reininger Winery opened. Chuck’s Merlots are packed with flavors of juicy currant, black cherry, plum, raspberry, chocolate, earth, and often show hints of violet, caramel, clove, coffee, vanilla, and even rose, while the finely structured tannins he coaxes out allow these babies to continue to improve in the bottle for 8 to 10 years (I bet you won’t wait that long, though).
Other favorites for consistently great Merlot around the Walla Walla Valley are Leonetti Cellars (duh), Saviah, Dusted Valley, Seven Hills, and Pepper Bridge. What are your favs?