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, 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!
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!
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/.
Remember our post where we talked about the fascinating history of Carmenere? We told you all about how the grape varietal was one of the star blending varietals back in Bordeaux before the Phylloxera plague of 1867. After Phylloxera swept through Bordeaux and many wine growing regions of the world, most wine makers thought Carmenere was a lost varietal. Fortunately for us, they were wrong!
As it turns out, Carmenere vines were alive and well, producing some pretty unusual “Merlot”. Noticing the distinctive qualities of Merlot emerging from Chile, a man named Jean-Michel Boursiquot, a professor from the Montellier’s school of Oenology, decided to investigate this overly spiced, bold variety of Merlot coming out of Chile. After extensive DNA testing, Bourniquot announced in 1994 that much of the Chilean Merlot was unusual and distinct due to the fact that it was actually the long lost Carmenere, not due to unique growing conditions. Wine makers around the world rejoiced to have reclaimed this extinct grape.
Once they determined that Carmenere was alive, phylloxera free, and thriving in Chile, the next question was how it got there in the first place. It is known that growers in 19th century Bordeaux frequently sent cuttings to Chile. These exported cuttings were typically Merlot, but obviously, whether by accident, or intention, Carmenere cuttings were mixed in. Entire vineyards were planted with Carmenere and mislabeled as Merlot. Up to 50% of the total Chilean “Merlot” volume in the 20th century was actually Carmenere. The natural boundaries and light rainfall in Chile helped protect Carmenere from the Phylloxera invasion that devastated most of the varietal abroad. Mislabeled Carmenere has also been discovered in Italy, though in much smaller quantities than in Chile.
Today, Carmerere thrives in Chile, the Walla Walla Valley of Washington, and California. Carmenere grapes grow best in areas with long growing seasons and moderate-warm climates. The grapes suffer if exposed to too much rain or irrigation water.
We love the dramatic story of Carmenere: a prestigious varietal devastated by Phylloxera, thought to be lost forever, only to be rediscovered centuries later in Chile! Join us in toasting this fantastic wine with a bold taste to match its exciting history. Order the 2007 Reininger Carmenere here (link).
Before we get too carried away and reveal the rest of the tantalizing and mysterious tale of Carmenere, we need to share the most important details with you. As fantastic as the history of Carmenere is, and let’s be honest, it reads more like a novel than a true story, it’s even better when read while enjoying a glass of the Reininger 2007 Carmenere, from Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla. We’ve always found that the best way to study a wine is to taste it. Something about having the wine in hand, admiring the deep color, tasting the flavors and smelling the aromas really allows the story to make a lasting impression. While the history of Carmenere will appear soon, today the focus is on the seductive Reininger ’07 Carmenere.
The Reininger 2007 Carmenere is comprised of 100% Carmenere grapes from the Seven Hills Vineyard, in the Walla Walla Valley. It was aged in French oak, and bottled in 2009. Our national sales manager, Justin Vajgert provided the following tasting note:
“Like a steamy Danielle Steele novel, our Carmenere is bound to make your heart race. Aromas of forbidden stewed fruits, fresh, decadent strawberries, and spicy black pepper pique your interest as you then delve deeper into the big, ripe, blackberry, rich black cherry, and peppercorn on your tongue. Swoon over the incredibly smooth mouthfeel as the flavors coat your tongue and coax you into ecstasy.”
Our Reininger 2007 Seven Hills Carmenere is every bit as exciting as the history of the Carmenere grape itself. This Carmenere is to die for, so order a bottle here to savor while you learn all about the history, flavors, and facts of Carmenere. We promise to give you some amazing food pairings soon, check the blog soon!
If you missed the initial history of Carmenere, you can catch up here.
We hope you’ve enjoyed the employee profiles we’ve shared recently. But enough about us, let’s talk about wine! Reininger makes a wine from a very rare lost grape variety with a history full of tales of mystery and discovery. Lost in Bordeaux, found in Chile, and thriving in Walla Walla, this intriguing grape is Carmenere. More to the point, you can find this amazing grape at Reininger, in the Reininger 2007 Carmenere.
The storied Carmenere is one of the oldest European wine grape varietals. Although some scholars assert there are allusions to this vine in ancient Roman and Iberian texts, Carmenere is commonly thought to have originated in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France. Historically, the Carmenere grape was widely cultivated in Bordeaux where it was typically used as a blending variety. The excellent quality of wines produced from Carmenere grapes helped establish the lasting reputation of some of the best Bordeaux vineyards.
The widespread reign of Carmenere tumbled with the invasion of the 1867 Phylloxera plague, an invasion of minuscule pests that decimated the vast majority of grape vines in France. After the Phylloxera plague, Carmenere was almost impossible to find in Bordeaux, and the low yields of the remaining vines led growers to abandon the grape in favor of heartier varieties. The Phylloxera destruction, and subsequent abandonment of Carmenere vines led to the common belief that Carmenere was an extinct variety, lost forever to history.
Obviously the Carmenere grape wasn’t entirely extinct, as we have some for sale here.
Jazz and Wine for a good cause (not that you really needed an excuse for either…)
Clear your calendars and head to Walla Walla this weekend! The Friends of Children of Walla Walla is hosting the 4th annual “Jazz and Wine Among Friends” festival this Friday, August 26th- Sunday, August 28th, 2011. The festival includes a myriad of great regional jazz artists performances at some of our favorite locations in Walla Walla. Tickets can either be purchased for each individual day, or together as a package for $100 (which would save you $10) on the Friend website www.wallawallafriends.org/Events.html or downtown at the Walla Walla visitor center. All ticket sales directly benefit children served by the Friends program. Please call the Friends office at (509) 527-4745 with any questions.
Friday Events: regional jazz artists at downtown venues: $20 for access to five performances
• 4:30-6:30pm – Sinclair Estate Vineyards – Paul West
• 6:00-9:00pm – Walla Faces – The Crawford-Glenn Band
• 6:30-9:00pm – Marcus Whitman Hotel – The Darin Clendenin Trio
• 7:00-10:00pm – Laht Neppur – Philly King Bee & The Stingers
• 8:00-11:00pm – Sapolil Cellars – Mark Brown, Gary Romjue & Friends
Saturday Events: Waterbrook Winery performances: $60
• 6:30-7:15pm – Pete Crawford, Dave Glenn and band
• 7:30-9:30pm – Gail Pettis Quartet
• Tickets include entrance to both performances, gourmet appetizers, desserts, and a glass of Waterbrook wine
• Additional wine, including bottles with a custom Friends label designed by local artist Matt McKern, will be available for purchase
Sunday Event: New Orleans-style jazz brunch at Whitehouse Crawford restaurant: $30
• Seatings at 10 am and 11:30 am
• Tickets include mimosa and two course Southern-style meal from award-winning chef Jamie Guerin
• Entertainment includes a live processional and performance by The Uptown Lowdown Jazz Quartet from Seattle
We can’t think of a more fun way to help out a great cause. We hope to see you there- it should be a lot of fun!
We’ve already shared two of our favorite summer whites with you, the Reininger 2010 Semillon and the Helix 2009 Aspersa, but we couldn’t resist telling you about this one too. One of our favorite pairings in the summer is the Reininger 2010 Viognier and a spinach-raspberry salad. The raspberries are finally in season, so go grab some Reininger 2010 Viognier and toast the best of summer! Round out the perfect summer dinner with some grilled chicken or halibut cheeks.
Chuck Reininger describes the Reininger 2010 Viognier as “gorgeous, lean, crisp, and lively”. Viognier is a tricky varietal to grow due to the narrow window of time when the aromatics and acids are at their peak. But when you do it right, Viogniers are expressively aromatic with well-balanced fruits and acids. And if we do say so ourselves, the Reininger 2010 Viognier is exemplary, with vibrant acid that ushers in white peach, orange blossom, kiwi and hints of island spice. The 2010 Viognier was barrel fermented to dryness in a two year old 500 liter French oak puncheon to provide a clean, silky mouth feel.
Though Semillon was traditionally grown in the Bordeaux regions of France, one of the best new world growing regions is Washington State. Semillon is one of the most commonly planted grapes in Washington, a fact often offered up as proof of Washington’s “Bordeauxesque” characteristics. Young Semillons are loved for their freshness and vibrancy, and the Reininger 2010 Semillon won’t disappoint on either account.
Chuck Reininger describes the Semillon as “a crisp, focused wine displaying lemon grass, honeydew melon, saffron and a hint of grass, which seems to define classic Washington Semillon. This is 100% Birch Creek Vineyard Semillon that was fermented to complete dryness in stainless steel to respect the acid and food worthiness proffered by a cool 2010 vintage.”
This fantastic Semillion would be perfect with oysters and shellfish such as clams, mussels or scallops, accompanied by grilled asparagus. Or spice things up and pair the Semillon with fusion-style foods utilizing soy and cilantro. Be on the lookout for an upcoming recipe that highlights the incredible flavors of this wine.