Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Chance to Find those Hard to Find Wines

It is pretty noticeable to most people that wine is becoming more and more accessible. If your local chain grocery store is anything like mine, the wine aisle is ever expanding. No longer are you forced to choose between just Chardonnay, Merlot, or the dreaded White Zinfandel. Local, domestic, and international wines are all able to be found. Similarly, warehouse stores like Costco carry a plethora of wine options and have actually become the largest retailer of wine. However, there can be a downside to purchasing your wine at a Safeway or Costco. It is unlikely there is someone who can talk about all the wines available to help you with your choice and you are typically limited to wineries that produce wine in high volumes.

If you happen to live in an area with public tasting rooms your experience can be more personal with the opportunity to talk with knowledgeable staff and you might have access to more limited production wines. Maybe you get lucky and have the chance to talk to someone intimately involved in the wine making process. But what about all those winemakers who make small amounts of their wine and don’t have public tasting rooms...how do you get the chance to try these hand-crafted and unique wines? Funny you should ask!

This Saturday, February 4th from 11:00-5:00pm, seven of these “micro-wineries” are coming together in Santa Rosa for an open house and will offer the chance to try and buy their wines. With the winemakers on hand this is an excellent opportunity to learn about and hear the stories of these less accessible wines.
Logo courtesy of Two Shepherds website

Participating wineries include:
Tickets are only $20.00 and are available here: http://inspirationvineyards.eventbrite.com/

Photo courtesy of Wine with SLHousman
Still not convinced? That's okay, I've got more. What if I told you that your $20 ticket comes with $10 in wine bucks redeemable that night. Plus, if you register in advance, receive an additional $5 in wine and food bucks usable for wine or food from the Ultra Crepes truck on hand that night? So with a little basic math your ticket really only costs $5...admit it, you’re out of excuses not to attend. Quit stalling and purchase your tickets already!

I’ll be there trying these wines and stocking up for the Superbowl and hope to see you there.



Resolve To: A Week Of WestToast Resolutions - Day 2

Getting in shape, eating better, managing your money are common New Year Resolutions but sometimes the smarter goals to set are ones you know you’ll have no trouble accomplishing.

We all have our favorite flavor and I personally think that the average wine drinker cares more about the taste of the wine individually, than they do about how it mixes with food. Therefore no matter what you’re eating, if given a choice, you probably order the color you like best (bravo if you don’t!).

I don’t like to recreate the wheel so courtesy of Wikipedia here’s a little info about how your wine gets it’s color:
“The color of the wine mainly depends on the color of the drupe of the grape variety. Since pigments are localized in the exocarp (skin) of the grape drupe, not in the juice, the color of the wine depends on the method of vinification and the time the must is in contact with those skins, process called maceration. Teinturier grape is an exception in that it has also a pigmented pulp. The blending of two or more varieties of grapes can explain for the color of certain wines, like the use of Australian Rubired.
Red drupe grapes can produce white wine if they are quickly pressed and the juice not allowed to be in contact with the skins. The color is mainly due to plant pigments notably phenolic compounds (anthocyanidins, tannins ...). The color depends on the presence of acids in the wine. It is altered with the wine aging by reaction between the different active molecules present in the wine, these reactions generally giving rise to a browning of the wine, leading from red to a more tawny color. The use of a wooden barrel (generally oak barrels) in aging also affects the color of the wine.
Part of the color of a wine can be due to co-pigmentation of anthocyanidins with non pigmented other flavonoids or natural phenols (cofactors or “copigments”).
Rosé wine is made by the practice of saignée or by blending a white wine with a red wine.”

This year I challenge you to spread your wings and make ALL your taste buds happy.


Whether it’s with your next meal or during an upcoming social evening. As inclined as you might be to make your traditional order, change it up. If you’re at a nice restaurant ask the Sommelier [suhm-uhl-yey] for a suggestion. They get paid to know they’re stuff and if you tell them you usually drink xxx they’ll probably know a perfect wine to help you slowly transition over to the dark or the light side.

If you’re buying to drink at home I would suggest paying more than you normally would for a bottle. While there are plenty of inexpensive delicious wines, many are worth the extra expense, especially if you are working on acquiring a taste for it. Check out some wine bars/restaurants online see what’s on the the menu there -- then go pick up one of those bottles at the store to take home to try.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Resolve To: A Week Of WestToast Resolutions - Day 1

(photo from Winter 2011 Beer Tasting before tour At Odell Brewing Co.)

New Year Resolutions are usually more like January resolutions, if that. Most of us make them, or at least think about what we’d like to improve for the upcoming year. If you’re like me you’re scrambling to finish up a monthly goal in the next two days, maybe you’ve already revamped your original plans or you could be fighting off failure and making 2012 a success.

No matter what state your resolutions are in, this week I’m offering up some beer, wine and spirit goals that you can add to what you’re already working on in 2012 or maybe you can use them for a fresh start in February.


Whether your favorite local microbeer or one that you’ve just started to discover, they’re usually free and offer you and your friends and family (at least one I found does allow your kids) a great way to spend a weekend or even a weekday afternoon. It also gives you that behind the scenes look that teaches you where your beer is coming from and gets you more invested in one tasty local business.

Here are some options along the west coast.

Washington: Elysian Brewing Company
“We offer brewery tours by appointment, so if you have an interested party, please call our main office (206-860-1920) anytime between 8am-5pm to request a tour. If it’s just one or two people, you are also welcome to just ask at the bar when you come in and as long as the brewers are not too busy, they will take you back for a quick tour.”

Oregon: Rogue Brewing Company
Everyday at 3:00 Rogue offers tours of its World Headquarters in Newport. Just be in the downstairs giftshop at 3:00 for your tour of the brewery responsible for one of my favorites, Dead Guy Ale.

California: Lagunitas Brewing Co.:
This brewery, in the town I went to elementary school in, offers drinking tours Monday through Friday at 3:00. Then they offer walking tours that don’t involve drinking Wednesday through Sunday at 5:00 (the walking non-drinking tour is also available at 1:00 and 3:00 on Saturday and Sunday). Your kids are welcome on the non-drinking tour.

(photo from Widmer Brewery Tour Spring 2010)

So pick a brewery, pick a date and go visit. Then cross a 2012 WestToast resolution off your bucket list!

The Cougars Prowl to Woodinville

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I have a thing for Cougars.

No, I'm not talking about an older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man.

Believe it or not, I'm not talking about the Washington State University Cougars either, despite the fact that 100% of the WestToast staff are alumni in some way, shape, or form.

I've always been mesmerized by the mammal of the family Felidae, native to the Americas. The large cat species known as Cougars. Slender, sleek, and agile, I find Cougars to be elegant and graceful. It's long been a goal of mine to see one in the wild. I also fully recognize that if I do in fact encounter a Cougar in the wild, I'll likely be on the wrong side of the dinner plate and no longer will I find the animal elegant and graceful. Nonetheless.

Mirroring my impression of the large cat, the wines of Cougar Crest Winery have struck me as elegant and graceful since I first enjoyed them in 2005. Established in Walla Walla in 2001, the talent behind Cougar Crest comes from Deborah and David Hansen, respectfully a Pharmacist and Veterinarian by trade. For all intents and purposes Cougar Crest is an estate-only winery, with a few minor deviations for their second label.  A string of 93+ ratings for their Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from their Stellar, Cougar Hills, and Golden's Legacy vineyard has placed Cougar Crest as a go-to winery for me.

We've been drinking Cougar Crest for years, and have featured the wine on the blog a few times in the past...so why write about them now?  Allow me to direct your attention to the title of this post...something about prowling, Cougars, and Woodinville.

That's right.  I moved to Seattle so Cougar Crest opened a tasting room in Woodinville.  Imagine my joy and elation.  While I love trips to Walla Walla, the ability to hit up the tasting room on a random Saturday afternoon was significantly improved recently for all of the fans in the Puget Sound.

Walking into the Woodinville tasting room, you'll instantly be struck by the cozy, at-home feel as well as the prominent wrap-around tasting bar in the middle of the room.  You'll likely be greeted by Samuel Worden, the tasting room manager, who gladly pours 5 - 7 of their finest selections ranging from a Viognier to the Syrah, and everything in between.  I've taken two different groups of wine newbies to Cougar Crest so far, and both groups have walked away, bottles in hand, and a smile on their face.  Located in the same building as Zerba and across the street from a litany of tasting rooms, you can get your Eastern Washington wine fix without getting in the car.  I bought a magnum of the Cabernet Franc, which Rick and I gladly used to wash down the joy and festivities of New Years Eve 2012, enjoying every drop.

So the wine is simply fantastic, evidenced by both the smile on your palate and the wall of awards in the tasting room, and the staff and service is great.  It's one of those wineries, the list for me which is very small, where I enjoy pretty much anything they produce.

There are a few other factors that make Cougar Crest particularly compelling.  Beyond the obvious affinity to my alma mater, Cougar Crest also has a charitable side that has a really cool story behind it.  One of the wines that I've been enjoying lately is the 2008 Dedication Five.  A blend of four varietals -- Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc -- the Dedication series is dedicated to financially support the Doernbecher Pediatric Hospital at Oregon Health & Science University, where David and Deborah's daughter was saved years ago.  It's a great wine at a great price point, and you can feel good in knowing that a portion of your $20 is supporting charity.

Next time you make your way to Woodinville, stop by Cougar Crest and try some great wine.  They just opened a tasting room in Spokane as well, and the main facility in Walla Walla is gorgeous.

Cougar Crest Winery Woodinville Tasting Room
14545 148th Ave. NE #211
Woodenville, WA 98072

Friday, January 27, 2012

Seattle Food and Wine Experience

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Many years ago (8 months), in a land far far away (the West Coast), a little old blog (The Oregon 'freakin Wine Blog) completed a transformation of epic proportions.

No longer satiated with the sweet nectar known as wine...no longer content with the arbitrary constraints of the boundaries of the state of Oregon...six booze hounds made a critical choice:  expand or die.  Expand it was, and WestToast was born.

Among the most rewarding and intoxicating aspects of our rebirth has been the diversity of subject matter as we explore all formats of booze, near and far.


All fair game and all topics of recent coverage.  Throughout the years (months), however, we've found that most events are rather topical and specific.  Fun, sure, but I've been waiting to find that one perfect event, the one that touches on the full menagerie of our genre.  The one that reflects the diversity of our audience, the varied interests of our staff.

On February 26 the wait is over.

Peha Productions brings to you the mecca of events, the Seattle Wine and Food Experience.  More than Seattle, more than wine, more than food, and definitely an experience, join us at the Seattle Center to explore wine, beer, spirits, cider, and culinary culture.

According to Jamie Peha of Peha Promotions,

Unlike other events in the area, the Seattle Wine and Food Experience offers a comprehensive tasting that allows for a greater understanding of wine for the consumer. Although Washington wines are naturally showcased, this event also includes a special regional focus on Oregon, as well as wines from Idaho, California and major international brands.

See, I told you this was the mecca of events! In addition to the wine, the event features fine spirits at Distillery Row, a Beer and Cider exhibit, and gourmet treats created by more than 20 local chefs in the Artisan Food Shop.

Admission to the Seattle Wine and Food Experience is $49 per person and includes access to all areas of the event and drink and food samples. No one under 21 will be admitted and ID is required. A portion of the ticket sales proceeds will benefit The Giving Grapes Foundation, a 501c3 organization that assists local charities who provide financial assistance to service industry professionals who have to take time off work due to injury or illness.

For more information on the Seattle Wine and Food Experience visit: seattlewineandfoodexperience.com.

So what are you waiting for? It's got the makings of an awesome Sunday, and, supports charity. I'm sold.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Getting the High Desert Experience at Bendistillery

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It's been a year since I moved to Oregon and joined up as a regular staffer at West Toast (of course, it was The Oregon Wine Blog then). I've had too many adventures to count, and am looking out across the expanse of 2012 hoping that I am able to have even more. So many of those adventures have been while working on articles for West Toast. Whether sipping vodka in faux-fur jackets, drinking wine while perusing lingerie by bicycle, inventing drink recipes in our nation's capitol, or living it up in the MVP section of the Steve Miller Band concert, I've thoroughly enjoyed this past year of fun, friends, and quality beverages.

I rung in the new year with a trip to Bend, OR for some backpacking along the Deschutes. The trip was fantastic - just enough snow to be beautiful without hindering hikes, and more than enough sun to fry my face. Though I will say that the Willamette Valley and Pacific Northwest are becoming nearer and dearer to my heart (apologies to those who had to endure my whinging in earlier posts), I hold a special place for the desert. It was great to be at elevation among the sage and ponderosa again. On my way back home I noted a sign for Bendistillery along the highway. This was all I needed to justify planning a return trip.

The tasting room held the space and energy of the mountain west (photo from the Bendistillery website)

Two weeks later (much earlier than anticipated), I rolled back over the Santiam Pass to the juniper flats north of Bend. Just off of Highway 20, the Bendistillery stands in full view of the 3 Sisters among the sage and lava rock. Upon walking into the tasting room we were greeted with a warm welcome and an invitation to take a seat and try the full flight of spirits, along with a sample of a mustard made with the Mazama Pepper-Infused Vodka.

We tried 5 spirits, starting with Crater Lake Vodka. This award-winning spirit is the best known from Bendistillery, and is filered 10 times through charcoal and red lava rocks. It carried hints of vanilla mid-palette, with a textured mouth-feel and a slight bitterness after the final burn. After this we moved into a taste of the Diamond 100 Vodka. Made similarly to Crater Lake, this vodka takes 100 trips through the filtration system before landing in your glass. My companion Greg started the tasting claiming he'd have little to say, but immediately began assessing the Diamond 100's overall smoothness in comparison to the Crater Lake. The same hints of vanilla were there, with a silkier mouth feel and less of a burn at the end of the sip.

We tried the Cascade Mountain Gin next. When we took the distillery tour (thanks Faith!) we were told that the Bendistillery sits in the largest juniper forest in the world. Clearly it would make sense to put forth a gin! Slightly yellow in color, this gin was dry and full of juniper on the nose. I picked up on cardamom as well, and Greg noted that he both smelled and tasted licorice. The flavor was a well-spiced juniper. The mouth feel was oily and full, which made me want to mix it into a gin and tonic with extra lime.

Greg was most enthusiastic to try the Mazama Infused Pepper Vodka, but I was generally skeptical. I've tried a number of pepper-infused spirits at this point, and what I usually experience is simply a spicy spirit with little pepper flavor. That was not the case with this vodka! The flavor was thoroughly complex, with sweet bell peppers at the start leading into a smoky burn that was not overwhelming, but allowed me to taste the full spectrum of capsicum. I also enjoyed the mustard made with this gem, and found it to be unique and flavorful. I don't know that I would sip this vodka alone, but I would certainly mix it into any beverage that requires a little heat, and would use it as a flavoring in marinades, sauces, and perhaps even in pickling.

The tastes were beautifully and kindly presented by our friendly hosts

Our final taste was the Cofia Hazelnut Espresso Vodka. Syrupy and brown, this tasted less like a spirit, and more like a flavoring at a coffee bar (this makes sense seeing as it is 50 proof). Sweet with a creamy mouth feel, this vodka struck a strong balance between the hazelnut and coffee flavors, with hints of vanilla lingering after I swallowed. This would be a lovely addition to an evening coffee, a beautiful drizzle for ice cream, or perhaps a great sauce in which to soak a cake.

We were both grateful for a chance to try some quality spirits, tour the distillery, and chat with the amazing hosts in the tasting room. Not only did we get some great drinks, but were treated to some awesome insider beta on camping and caving in the area. The people at Bendistillery love where they live, and love what they do - it really shows. Thanks to you for your friendliness, hospitality, and wealth of information!

Friday, January 20, 2012

ZAP Festival 2012

Over the last year we have celebrated the existence andbeauty of many different varietals.There were tasting room specials for Cabernet Day and private events for Grenache Day. There are multiple events dedicated to Pinot Noir (Pinot Days and IPNC) and let's face it.....the New Years holiday is unofficially dedicated to bubbles. Now is the time of the year when we get to celebrate one of my favorites....Zinfandel!

Held at the Concourse in San Francisco, the ZAP Festival on January 26-28, is all about highlighting this single varietal that has a rich history andtradition in California. Brought to you by the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, a non-profit group of Zinfandel producers and enthusiasts, this 3-day, 4 event celebration is back in 2012 for its 21st go around. With something for everyone and several events to pick and choose from, the ZAP festival is sure to delight the casual Zin lover to the hardcore aficionado.

Epicuria(Thursday 1/26, 6-9pm)
Zinfandel, with traditional notes of spice and blackberry Zinfandel is a great wine to enjoy with dinner. Epicuria kicks off the festival by pairing Zinfandel with food from over 50 local bistros, cafes, and restaurants. Personally I am already intrigued by the lamb lollipop with a Zinfandel demi-glace from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and Bonneau Wines.
Flights(Friday 1/27 10:30-1:00pm) - SOLD OUT!
Want to learn more about Zinfandel from the experts? This seminar style event walks participants through a tasting and giving the history of the Zinfandel grape.

Dinner withWinemaker (Friday 1/27 5-10pm) - SOLD OUT!
Is further explanation really needed for this part of the festival? Imagine sitting down with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Geppetto after getting your very own Pinocchio doll. Here is your chance to sit down with the people who crafted what is in your glass.

Grand Tasting(Saturday 1/28, time varies)
The festival concludes on Saturday with the Grand Tasting, featuring hundreds of barrel samples, new releases, and premier Zinfandel. ZAP members get in early and doors open to the general public at 2:00pm

Starting out as a grape used primarily for jug wine, Zinfandel has been one of the biggest surprises in California winemaking and now shows up in as many styles as there are wine drinkers. From big, bold, with spice and smoke, to a more fruit forward style, Zinfandel offers a little something for everyone....even you!

Tickets are still available for Epicuria and the Grand Tasting by clicking here. Can't make it? WestToast is proud to have been invited to cover those two events, so be sure to follow us (and Jesse) on Twitter at @WestToast and @jesserandrews for live updates from the #ZinFest.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From Micro To Macro: 11 Years Later

It’s now the 3rd largest Macro brewery in the country behind Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada - but back when I first heard about them they were a small growing microbrewery. Best known around the country for ‘Fat Tire’ it’s the beer that made them famous and pays many of the bills, but it’s by far all New Belgium Brewing Co. has to offer.

It was ‘Sunshine Wheat’ that was my go to beer in college and what I referred to as my favorite beer for the better half of a decade. I even have a very worn in long sleeved sunshine shirt from my first visit to the Fort Collins brewery back in the summer of 2000.

(vintage photos from my college collection)
I’ll still grab a ‘Sunshine Wheat’ now and then but with the nearly two dozen choices that NBB has up for grabs these days, I try to test out the unknown. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to tour the brewery during a Christmas 2011 visit to Fort Collins. I’m going to blog about it now despite it being out of the WestToast region for a few reasons. You can find at least a half dozen NBB beers at most grocery stores and taverns up and down the West Coast, it’s grown from a garage operation into one of the most successful beer businesses in the country and it’s still employee owned and if you like beer chances are you’ll end up in Colorado at some point since all of us should for the Great American Beer Festival.

We were able to sign up for a tour time the day before since was the middle of the week, there were only five of us and it was a couple weeks before Christmas but by the time we arrived the next day our tour slot was booked up - so sign up in advance if you know you’re going to be in the area. You can do it online and they offer a ton of tour options. When you get there just let the bar know you’re there for a tour, show them your confirmation (mine was on my phone) and then just wait for someone to holler that the xx:xx time tour is starting.

The brewery keeps you stimulated from the moment you walk in the door and continues during the tour. The first room we entered had tables filled with beer knickknacks and of course our first sample. That sample was ‘Ken’s Beer.’ It’s a wheat beer that was created by Fermentology Master Ken. How’d he get his own beer you might wonder? Each year the brewery does a “Loose Lips” contest. They artyu; dump different amounts of three different beers together and employees who want to participate are sightless and taste the mix. Anyone who guesses not only what three beers are in there, but the proportion of each, gets to make a batch of their own. Ken did it so he created a canary-golden color but traditionally cloudy Hefe. This one had a peppery punch and left some spice on your tongue. These ‘Loose Lips’ beers are only available at the brewery.

We moved onto the kettle room next with a glass of ‘Jared’s Smoked Peach Porter’ in our hands. Another ‘Loose Lips’ beer this 8.0 ABV beer was intense. The first taste is the peach and you think it’s going to be a nice fruity beer but then the smoke hits you and you realize this isn’t the girly beer your lips first thought it was. In the kettle room we got to check out what was boiling, take pictures in the joyride photo booth while sharing NBB memories and tast the 9.5% ABV ‘Abbey Grand Cru.’ This is the company’s very first beer, what co-founder Jeff Lebesch first developed in his home brewery.

The tour then took us out back, to a newer expansion to the Brewery. On they way we passed dozens of fat tire cruisers. Some in racks for use by sales staff when they come to town and others belonging to employees. The company designs a new cruiser each year and on an employee’s first anniversary they’re presented with that year’s model as a thank you for what they bring to the business.

As we walked into the bottling plant (where more expansion is underway) we were poured ‘Fat Tire’ from 12 ounce bottles. The sixers had just come off the line and were nice and tasty.

In my opinion our tour guide saved the best for last. He took us into the barrel room and let us try La Folie sour brown ale. It was my first time trying a sour beer and I’m hooked. NBB ages this brew for three years in the barrel and for that reason it costs more than $15.00 for a 22 ounce bottle. The bottle’s label is silk screened on so along with the delicious taste you could always repurpose the bottle as a vase, candleholder or tiki torch fuel holder when you get done.
(group and slide photo courtesy: Carri Mahaffey)

At New Belgium it’s a work hard play hard attitude and giving back is part of the culture so drink up! For every barrel NBB produces it gives $1.00 to non-profits in the communities where NBB is sold, that includes WestToast states.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cheese Louise is Getting Gourmet in Richland

I'm the odd duck in my family.

Born and raised in Richland, Washington to extremely hard-working blue-collar parents, my brother and I grew up riding bikes amidst the dirt and sagebrush, watching little league games eating Frito Banditos, and at that point in time Shari's was the one of the nicer restaurants in town. It was a great childhood spent with bountiful fresh local produce and Columbia River salmon on the dinner table, however, rural Eastern Washington didn't present many opportunities to step beyond that culinary profile.  Nor did I want to in my adolescence.

At some point between then and now, I became a yuppie and it's never more evident than when I visit my family over the holidays.  I try to not be snobby, but sometimes I can't help it.  Maybe it was the extensive travel I did throughout college...maybe it was subsequent moves to more hippie, liberal, and metropolitan areas...maybe I've just drank too much wine over the years, who knows.  What is clear is that I'm the interloper in a group that is as uncomfortable in a winery tasting room as I am at a professional football game...not that there is anything wrong with that.

Imagine my joyous surprise upon landing at the Tri-Cities International Airport prior to Christmas when my brother said in a nasally voice, "We're going to Cheese Louise for lunch."  Despite multiple Richland trips since they opened, I had yet to stop by and was excited to check out of the fare.  I knew it wouldn't have been their first choice and it meant a lot that they were taking an interest in my interests.

Located in the Richland Parkway, Cheese Louise specializes in artisan cheeses of both domestic and international origin as a core business.  Regular cheese tastings offer exposure to some of the less common styles of cheese, and the shop carries a full line of cheese accessories to complement the experience.  And...who can have cheese without wine?  A robust selection of Washington wine graces the shelves and the Cheese Monger is happy to make a pairing suggestion for the hunk of cheese you just selected.

As if that all wasn't enough, the back of the shop is set up as a bistro-style restaurant, a rustic menu featuring...you guessed it...cheese!  My family and I sat down, was immediately greeted with samples of the cheeses they were tasting that day, and as we perused the menu I enjoyed a very nice Coyote Canyon Syrah. My brother and dad selected panini sandwiches; a gourmet grilled cheese featuring ham, onions, spinach, tomatoes with multiple cheeses and a steak sammi, shredded tri-tip with a torta and fromage fort. Mom went for a lighter cheese plate, and a flatbread caught my eye. A pizza-like creation featuring local cheese and meats, the flatbread was the star of the show and left my brother grabbing at my plate for the morsels left on the plate.

Fresh, flavorful food, awesome cheese, and great wine create the foundation of success but the atmosphere of Cheese Louise is what will keep customers coming through the door in Richland.  Comfortable, relaxed, and educational, the fact that my entire family was able to enjoy a pleasant dining experience where everyone walked away happy speaks volumes of the ambience. Seattle yuppies and down-to-Earth less-snobby folks alike will be at home at Cheese Louis, positioning it perfectly in the emerging wine country that is the Tri-Cities.

Cheese Louise on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Old Standbys: Deschutes Black Butte Porter

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Everybody has old standbys. You know, that beverage or the place around the corner that no matter your mood or the occasion always sound great. They may not be your absolute favorite nor critically acclaimed, but they always hit the spot and are easily obtainable. We tend to ignore our standbys and keep them to ourselves, but no longer. In part one of an infinite part series that I just now made up, we at West Toast will occasionally take a moment to share with you some of our own standbys that deserve mention.

When I think old standbys, nothing embodies that more for me than Deschutes' Black Butte Porter. This black, creamy porter is packed with hues of coffee and chocolate that almost always hit the spot. It stands up on its own as a session beer and just as easily pairs with pretty much anything. At 5.2%, it's a dark and complex beer you can drink all night without hitting the floor after three. Deschutes describes it as follows:

With a dark beer as our first and flagship brand, Black Butte defined Deschutes as a radical player. A slight hop bitterness up front enhances the distinctive chocolate and roasted finish. It’s prized for its creamy mouthfeel and intense complex flavors.

When thinking about Black Butte Porter, I can't help recall it being a part of some really great memories. It's also responsible for a few lapses in memory, but those were fun as well. Here are just a few highlights off the top of my head:

  • It's the first drink I ordered on my 21st birthday. My friend Cole bought it for me and it was magical.

  • When I studied abroad in Korea, it was the first beer I had when I returned home. After drinking cheap Korean lagers such as Hite and Cass/OB for half a year, Black Butte Porter tasted like a koala crapping a rainbow in my mouth. To this day, no single beer has ever tasted so great.

  • When working in Corvallis one Summer, Josh and Dominique had just returned from a lengthy camp retreat and I decided to great them when they got home with take and bake pizza and Black Butte Porter. While that part isn't quite exciting, the memorable part is that not only did I get to meet Dominique, but that night laid the foundation for what eventually became Death Pot Pie (our Rock Band band, duh). We also all magically woke up with no hang over. No idea how that happened.

  • Unrelated to the last story, I watched Josh break a bone in his hand while trying to open a bottle of one on the side of a desk. Good times.

  • Finally, our friend Gordon once used it to create his own iced coffee drink. The recipe? Ice, 1/2 old coffee, 1/2 Black Butte Porter. The verdict? Haven't had one since.

Does Deschutes make better beers than Black Butte Porter? Of course, but none of those are as affordable, easily obtainable, nor versatile as Black Butte Porter. It's the beer I grab when nothing else seems to stand out and I'll always take one when offered. So here's to you, Black Butte Porter, and to all the great times still to come.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Merry (Belated) Christmas Eve...

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Twas the season a while ago, and because I was tasting Jewish beer (see my contribution to Winter Beer Month) and drinking my Aunt's ridiculously good (and ridiculously strong) gin and tonics, I did not get to this post until now. I recently mentioned that my parents came to grand old Corvalley for Christmas this year. What with my not being able to return to the East so soon after Thanksgiving, and my sister splitting time for the holidays with my newly minted brother-in-law's family, it made sense to change things up with an Oregon Cady Invasion.

It being already a 'nontraditional' Christmas for the Cady Clan, we decided to forgo the making of the roast beast and the glogg for dinner out on the town. Our choice, Fireworks Restaurant and Bar - just a skinny mile from my house. We were promised not only a fabulous four course meal, but the chance to do a three wine flight, and Celtic Harp and Guitar by Sharon and David Thormahlen. The whole thing sounded positively divine! I'd been to Fireworks before to play at their Monday night open mic nights, but I'd yet to try any of their food, so I was excited to see what the night had in store for us.

The Menu:
Soup - Tomato Bisque with seasonal, local, vegetables
Salad - Baby Greens with Asiago, Crostini & Balsalmic Vinagrette
Entree - a choice of Honey Glazed Ham, Herbed Roasted Turkey, or Vegetarian Stuffed Squash
Dessert - a choice of Chocolate Lava Cake or Cookies and Cream

The Wine:
Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
A choice between Eola Hills Riesling or Pinot Noir

The food was excellent. The soup was hearty with strong flavors, and the salad brilliantly dressed and crisp. I enjoyed my dinner (I had the turkey) immensely, particularly the sauteed kale and mushrooms that were included as a side. Dessert was also delicious. The lava cake was moist and rich. My deepest compliments to the chef!

The wine was also delightful, and I was pleased with the pairings. The Sauvignon Blanc was lightly dry with a wonderful acid balance. I enjoyed the citrus front that lingered into mid-palette, ending with tart apple. It went well with the acidity of the soup, and (as all sav blancs do) made me, reminisce about my time in New Zealand. This slow sipper was supposed to get the Cabernet Sauvignon with her salad, but instead ended up not finishing until the entree arrived. I found the flavors in the Cab to be full and fruity, with a bold texture and a juicy finish. Though I would not generally drink something this powerful with a turkey dinner, I really enjoyed the flavors up against the creamy potatoes and the dark flavor of the kale with mushrooms. Because I had gotten out a sync with the pairings, the Manager offered me a sparking wine to go with my dessert (thanks Ocean!). Crisp with strong citrus and apple in the center of the taste, I found the Jaume Serra Cristalino Cava Brut to be a lovely compliment to cut the richness of the chocolate. The texture was light, and festive. I was pleased to get to try it.

The night was brilliant and beautiful. I enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and simplicity of the space. Throughout the night, the Thormahlen's kept us entertained with beautiful tunes. David actually built every instrument that they played from the harp to the mandolin to the guitar. I was blown away at the beauty of his craft. At a time in our lives where we are remaking what it means to celebrate, it was wonderful to have a place, space, and experience that complimented the things that we were seeking to do - enjoy each others' company, and celebrate the holiday.

Thanks to everyone who made Oregon Cady Christmas Eve a wonderful experience!

Monday, January 9, 2012

2011 From Our Glass To Yours

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Happy New Year!

It's 2012. Whew. We made it. What a fantastic year 2011 has been. Plenty of great booze, full bellies, and a writing team here at WestToast that you're not embarrassed to see the next morning when you don't quite remember what happened the night before.

Simply put, 2011 was fantastic both personally for our staff and for the blog. In the past year, 67% of our staff have moved or changed jobs, further broadening our coverage footprint in the meantime. In 2011, valued writer Clive Pursehouse launched his own blog, the Northwest Wine Anthem, and while we were sad to see him go, we are thrilled that Clare Cady and Andrea Flatley have joined the WestToast team this year. No longer is WestToast a veritable sausage fest, not that there's anything wrong with that...

Most notably was the transition in May from The Oregon Wine Blog to WestToast. Through 119 posts, the formal expansion into the beer and spirits industry in Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho has complemented our long-standing wine coverage quite nicely.

Starting the year with Pinot Noir and ending with our Winter Beer Month series, here are the highlights of 2011 from each of our staff. These "best of 2011" selections represent some of the best experiences, drinks, or locations we visited over the past year.  Pour a glass, sit back, and enjoy the read.

Clare's Pick:

Deco Ginger Rum

Why is the rum gone???

Oh yeah, 'cuz it's AWESOME, and I drank it all.

I was very nervous to branch out into spirits this year, but as things progressed I really got into it!. My pick for 2011 is my trip to the Deco distillery in Portland's distillery row. Augustina, our hostess in the tasting room, was amazing - funny, informative, and passionate about rum. My friend Jen and I enjoyed the art-deco decor, the open-air space of the tasting room, and, of course, the rum! We tried the Silver, the Coffee, and the Ginger in their unadulterated forms...then got to sample them in mixed drinks. Though I have really appreciated tasting spirits without mixers, and have learned that I actually do like liquor from doing this, I think this tack that Deco employs is phenomenal. Other tasting rooms I have been to will do this as well, but thus far, Deco has been the best.

And speaking of the best, the Ginger Rum!!!

I quote from my article: The flavor is unapologetically ginger - right in your face with the hot and spicy essence and experience of this incredible root. The rum is not sweet, but instead hits you hard at the front with a ginger spice that works it way through the palette and up into the nasal cavity, stimulating all of the senses at once with an explosion of ginger that is reminiscent of biting right into the freshly ground stuff. At the center there are hints of sweetness that come out more fully at the finish just alongside a final spicy nip. I totally took a bottle of this home with me! I've had ginger rum and cokes and ginger-pineapple coolers, but my favorite thus far? Ginger steamers with almond milk, fresh ginger, and nutmeg. Here is my recipe for you:

2c almond milk (or any other milk you like)
3T agave nectar or some other sweetener
1T freshly grated ginger
1t nutmeg
2-3oz of Deco Ginger Rum

Heat all ingredients on the stove until they are warm and sippable - enjoy.

Rick's Pick:

2 Towns Ciderhouse

By far, the greatest benefit of transitioning to WestToast has been the ability to write about a much larger scope of craft beverages. One type of beverage I knew almost nothing about previous to this year was cider. I understood the basic concept of it being fermented apples, but that's about it.

Little did I know that not only would I enjoy cider, but that my favorite thus far is brewed in a town I have twice called home. 2 Towns Ciderhouse in Corvallis, OR has introduced me to an entirely new realm of craft beverage and for that, I choose them as the brewery that most moved me in 2011.

After meeting Dave at the 2011 Cider Summit NW: Portland event, I knew I had to make it down to their open house. Accompanied by a team of elite cider connoisseurs (Alyssa, Theresa, and Claire), we tasted through ciders ranging from low in alcohol and high in apple flavor, to higher in alcohol and more resembling a white wine. Since then, I've sought out as much cider as possible in order to compare and contrast the vast spectrum of possible flavors. I've also become a member of their Cider Supporters Club to stay in the loop as best as possible from Portland.

If 2 Towns' trend of rapid expansion is indication of anything, expect big things and even broader distribution in 2012. Something special is brewing in Corvallis and it starts with apples.

Jesse's Pick:

Couloir Wines 2009 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir

It’s hard to reflect on 2011 and feel anything other than blessed and fortunate. This year brought many great things for me in terms of the blog. Struggling to gain exposure while still being a part of our predecessor, The Oregon Wine Blog, I considered branching off to create a California specific blog. Through a series of conversations when Josh and Rick introduced the initial concept for WestToast, I made the decision to stick with the team and I couldn’t be happier about it. I believe in what we do and more importantly why we do it. Blogging for WestToast has allowed me to establish myself in northern California as a blogger, attend incredible events, meet new friends, and taste some pretty unforgettable wines. I was also introduced to Mendocino wines, which led me to my “Best of 2011” wine selection.

While attending the Taste of Mendocino event (which would easily earn my pick for best event of 2011), I came across Jon Grant, winemaker for Couloir Wines. The twitter world was blowing up at this event, talking about the Pinot Noir, with one in particular, the 2009 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir. When I first met Jon he was going on and on about the passion he has for wine and how he wants the story to be apparent when you open his wine. When you try the Oppenlander Pinot you will see Jon was right on the money.

While many California Pinots are in the 14% abv range, the 2009 Oppenlander is at 13.5% abv, allowing the fruit to not only come to the party but be the center of attention the whole night. There is a sweetness that comes from flavors of red raspberry that is wonderfully balanced with dark spice and a rich dark cherry flavor. Rather than extracting all of the tannins from the grape skins, 50% of the grapes were processed whole cluster, allowing the stem tannins to provide much of the structure to the wine and adding to the flavor profile. Sitting here just thinking about it makes my mouth water and wishing I had a glass in front of me. Couloir is all about letting the fruit speak for itself without a lot of interference or tampering from the winemaker...an approach that is clearly working well.

Andrea's Pick:

Maryhill Winery Proprietors Reserve Serendipity

The best of the best when it comes to the West Coast, it isn’t the easiest thing narrow down. It’s got everything from spectacular views, great restaurants to wonderful people and of course fantastic beer, wine and spirits.

For me, the best part of the year really was becoming a part of WestToast. During the revamping of the site in May I was honored to be invited to become part of the staff. Since then I’ve gotten to taste my way through just a small part of what our region has to offer.

There have been some great new discoveries - Treveri Cellars and their Yakima Sparkling wine, old romances rekindled – Dry Fly Distilling’s Wheat Vodka and of course things that didn’t go down quite so well.

I would have to say my “I’ll start consistently keeping this on my shelf” wine of 2011 comes from the majestic Columbia River Gorge. It’s Maryhill Winery Proprietors Reserve Serendipity.

I first tasted this label in a line with others during a winery tasting but it stood out, though not at first. For me, it is a wine that at first sort of blends into the back but the flavors linger on your tongue and keep tantalizing your tastebuds long after your first sip. The label mentioned a variety of different blends on the nose and some different ones for your palate. I couldn’t smell nor taste them all but noticed cherry on the nose and plums and coffee on the nose.

The name says it all “Serendipity - the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way” and for $40.00 online or a trip to the breathtaking Gorge, you can experience it in 2012.

Josh's Pick:

Winter Beer

As I reflect on another year as a semi-prentious enthusiast of wine, beer, and spirits of the West Coast, highlights seem easy to come by as we've done so much cool stuff in 2011.

Celebratory wine has graced our glasses a number of times throughout the year, with Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, The Griffin, Col Solare, Leonetti Cellars Merlot, and Woodward Canyon Cabernet marking special moments of 2011.

During a trip to Walla Walla in March, we were able to share starkly different by equally awesome experiences at Stella Fino and Woodward Canyon with good friends of the blog. These two wineries showed us the best Washington Wine Country has to offer.

A summer concert experience at Chateau Ste. Michelle provided sweet redemption for a stormy Steve Miller Band experience a few years ago at Edgefield.

Perhaps the most unique, fun, and educational venture of the past year for me personally has been our foray into winter beer. Throughout the years, I've become progressively more appreciative of craft beer production. With so many similarities to the wine industry, the shift to WestToast has allowed us to play in the hop sandbox more frequently. While I spend much of my time focused on wine, Winter Beer Month on the blog provided the perfect outlet for me to have some boozy fun. Additionally this feature engaged all 6 of our writers in a collaboration that we hope to continue and an effort I'm proud of as Managing Editor.

I personally featured the Washington Beer Commission's Winter Beer Fest, Hales Barrel Aged Wee Heavy, and Maritime Pacific's Jolly Roger Christmas Ale throughout the month of December, but took our effort as an excuse to sample many more winter beers. I was surprised with how much I enjoyed this venture into the beer netherlands, but sure enough, I'm jonesing for some as I write this post.

Micheal's Pick:

East Valley Wine Association New Release Festival

2011 found me not consuming a lot of wine. I decided to cut back dramatically because I spent most of the year training for a half marathon, Not having run that far before, I decided it would be important to cut back on the alcohol intake. That being said, I did decide to take in what has become one of my new favorite summer events. I received a text from Jason Hanson of Hanson Vineyards asking if I would once again be willing to be a judge for the East Valley Wine Association New Release Festival. I had such a great time last year, that I had to say yes once again.

Held at St Josef's Winery, on the weekend of June 17th, 2011, there were several small and family owned wineries that reside to the East Side of the Willamette River Valley. There were several of us judging in the categories of Pinot Noir, Other Reds, Whites, Desserts, and Others, very similar to last year. There was music, chocolate, food, and other wares from different shops in towns in and around the East Valley area. What was lacking, unfortunately, was the sun, at least on Saturday.

I arrived fairly early on Saturday in order to get myself situated and in an attempt to pace myself for all of the wines there were to be had. To all of our surprises, the weather, in June, opted to not agree and be as it should have been. I was worried that the turnout would be not as well as hoped. That, however, would change, well not so much the weather. The turnout for the event would be a couple hundred more than anticipated and substantially more than last year! Turnout was so great they ran out of the commemorative wine glasses attendees were slated to get. What a great problem to have!

It was a fun day, and I appreciated the chance I had to attend. Thanks again to Jason Hanson for invitation to be a part of this event.

Until next time...

Thanks for sticking with us, and drink up! After all, the world could end this year...and life is too short to drink Night Train. In fact, we've found that drinking Night Train can make your life too short.