wine weekend


We spent our Labor Day weekend as usual, driving through the Yakima Valley ostensibly to play music at the Tumbleweed Festival in the Tri-Cities, but also (mostly?) to visit wine country. The weather was gorgeous and we hit all our usual favorite wineries, plus a few new ones. Continue reading

April at Gretchen's

Gretchen's Cooking School

In addition to all the other stuff we’ve been doing this month, we’ve helped out at three different classes at Gretchen’s Cooking School: Peter Belknap’s class on the food of Marseille, an all-Malbec tasting with Renee Stark of Noble Wines, and tapas with Knut Christianson. Lots of chopping, lots of dishes, and some fabulous food and wine. Here are some pictures showing highlights from the various classes (click on the images to see more info at my Flickr account).

Gretchen's Cooking School

Gretchen's Cooking School

Gretchen's Cooking School

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Santa Cruz wet wine walk

rainy day

The last time we visited my brother-in-law, we had to drive to get to the local wineries. Up into the hills, usually, on windy roads designed to get the casual tourist completely lost. And many of the Central Coast wineries weren’t open to the public, anyway. This has all changed with the advent of the Swift Street Courtyard complex, now home to at least six different wine tasting rooms and a brewery. Part of the same complex that houses Kelly’s French Bakery (and a number of other shops), this is a wildly accessible arrangement for a person wanting to taste as much Santa Cruz wine as possible. Which we did.

And thanks to everything being so close together, it can all be done on foot even in a pouring rain. Which it was.

Bonny Doon

Bonny Doon

Our first stop was Bonny Doon. Their new space is very spiffy, with a long curving bar and tables set into gigantic barrels, with melted wine bottles for lamps. They had two tasting flights on offer, a regular and a reserve, so we bought one each and figured we’d share. The woman pouring for us took it upon herself to switch around the order of the wines so our two flights would overlap in the most enjoyable manner. We ended up with an exciting spread of bottles in front of us.

Bonny Doon

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wine tasting: some good stuff

holiday wine tasting

We can always count on Tom Saunderson, Young’s Columbia rep, to bring good stuff when he does a wine tasting at Gretchen’s, and he definitely didn’t disappoint this time. And the food wasn’t too bad, either.

holiday wine tasting

We started off with a bang, with flutes of sparkling Riesling from Pacific Rim Winery, and an assorted plate of goodies including scallops, shrimp, green onion gougères, green salad and blue-cheese-wrapped grapes rolled in pecans. The following wine, a 2007 Willakenzie Pinot Gris, went beautifully with the food but almost everyone had cleaned their plates already.

holiday wine tasting

holiday wine tasting

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holiday wines & appetizers


Our latest event down at Gretchen’s Cooking School was a wine tasting with wine rep Tom Saunderson. The theme was holiday wines, and the food (prepared by us and Susan, the class coordinator) was a selection of appetizers: mostly finger food, featuring plenty of cheese.


There were six wines: four whites and two reds, which made for a different assortment than the usual. A lot of people do forget about white wines in the winter, but this was a lovely assortment with a wide variety of flavors.

Malibran Prosecco: one of the nicest Proseccos I’ve ever had. Bright, fizzy, and fabulously drinkable. We bought some.

Ponzi Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley: we have a bottle of this at home from the last vintage. It’s incredibly tasty and clean, with a bright grapefruit aroma. Continue reading

a few Washington wines

whidbey island wine
red wines

There was a nice little wine tasting at Gretchens last week, led by Noble Wines rep Renee Stark and featuring wines from Washington State. It was nice and relaxing for us (the kitchen help), since there were only two food platings and most of the cooking was either done ahead or very simple. Some of the wine highlights:

Novelty Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2005: Very drinkable, with good body. Not terribly acidic, but pleasant with the food.

Whidbey Island Lemberger 2006: I find straight Lembergers to be a bit one-dimensional, with very little body to the wine, but this had a nice flavor. Might be a good summer red, since it had a very clean finish.

Tamarack Cellars Merlot 2005: The star of the show. I’m not generally a big merlot drinker, but this was astonishing.

Bergevin Lane Calico Red 2005: A soft, rich, comfortable red blend from Walla Walla. Nice. Continue reading

to Kennewick and back

view from Red Mountain

As some of you may know, I play in an Irish band with J and my parents. Because of that, Saint Patrick’s Day tends to be a bit fraught for us, trying to cram in several performances during the prime “season.” This year we played two concerts, one in Wenatchee and one in Kennewick. Lots of driving, but the weather was clear and, as we usually do when we head out to the Tri-Cities area, we made the most of the chance to visit some of the many, many wineries along the way.

Food-wise, we started out well. The morning after our gig in Wenatchee we drove over Blewett Pass to Ellensburg, home of one of our favorite casual restaurants of all time, the Valley Cafe. The Valley’s been around for ages – my parents took me there when I was a kid – and J and I had the good fortune to live four blocks away from it for two years. Sigh…

the valley cafe

Anyway, the Valley continues to be a great place. They specialize in sort of elegant but gooey Italian bistro food, particularly pastas, and they usually have some interesting meat or seafood specials going, and their wine list features loads of the local wineries. I find it a deeply comforting place to eat, but that’s partly because I remember what good care the waitstaff took of me when I would wander over there for lunch on my work break.

squash, cashew and artichoke lasagna at the Valley Cafe Continue reading

tasting Oregon wines


We had our first class of the new season at Gretchens, a tasting of wines from the Willamette and Rogue Valleys of Oregon. It’s been a long time since the last one – it felt good to be back volunteering in the demo kitchen. The class was full, which was great – the tastings don’t always get as good a response as the cooking classes, which is always a shame. But this was a good one, and Tom the wine rep outdid himself as usual.

Tom the wine rep

willamette wines

The lineup was unusual in that there were as many whites as reds. I’ve recently been feeling more interested in whites, so that was cool with me. The wines we tasted (with some of my notes that I scribbled down) were:

  • Willakenzie Estate Vineyards Willamette Pinot Blanc: very acidic, clean tasting.
  • Ponzi Estate Vineyards Willamette Pinot Gris: bright but a little creamy, holds up to spicy food very well.
  • Kings Ridge Willamette Riesling: very good, not very sweet. A little creamy with a definite floral note.
  • Rex Hill Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir: nice pinot, excellent with smoked blue cheese
  • Hinman Vineyards Rogue Valley Red Blend: nice big tannic red, great with steak.
  • Silvan Ridge Rogue Valley Reserve Syrah: round and fruity, very straightforward and tasty.

infinite shrimp cake and crostini

To go along with the wines, we did three plates of appetizers. Continue reading

cooking class: shellfish and wine

Knut's mise en place

Last Thursday at Gretchens we volunteered for a class focusing on shellfish paired with wine. The food was prepared by Knut Christiansen, the wine was provided by Randy Finley, owner of Mount Baker Vineyards. We were there for five hours and I think I’ve eaten enough butter sauce to last me for a week or two, but it was a fun class.

Mount Baker wines

Randy brought a good assortment of wines. We had the choice to begin with a sip of viognier or reserve merlot – both were excellent. Then he poured a rosé which was interestingly substantial, with almost an oaky quality. It went with the first shellfish course, which was:

mussels with olives and tangerine Continue reading