Organic, Delicious, and from Washington State

Yesterday, Josh Wade at Drink Nectar lamented, to an extent, the growing pains of the wine industry in Washington. Among his highlights, he noted that Washington’s QPR is generally extremely agreeable, albeit more select, and that Washington State’s boutique wineries would have a hard time matching the production and pricing of California, as selling under $30 would necessarily cut into their profits necessary to survive. He also laments the lack of Washington wine available across the country. Lower volumes attract less interest in larger distributors, leaving the massive of the massive in California to take over the world. Shops have to actually put in some effort to invest in Washington wines.

Per Josh, Washington's production pales in comparison to California's, 150,000 tons annually to 4 million tons

Lucky for you and me both, some of Washington’s wines still make it across the country, although it’s typically the lower-end fare. Regardless, finding Washington State is always a fun challenge, and if you can find a palatable wine, such as Badger Mountain‘s Organic Riesling, for the typical California-level bargain prices, well, it just gives me hope for the future of the region.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a fairly deep straw color and a fairly full viscosity.

The nose of the wine is an orchard-like blend of flowers, pear, and citrus, accompanied by a very light minerality and baking spices scent.

The mouth feel of the wine is very smooth and tangy, with a delightfully active acidity that dances on the tongue.

The flavor of the wine is not quite as full as the nose would suggest, with underripe clementines, tart pear, and green apple on the finish. There’s a hint of minerality, and it comes with a delightful baking spice that really matches the light fruit flavors extremely well. Very dry, and everything about this wine is crisp and pure. When paired with havarti cheese, the fruit flavors intensify and the sweetness comes forward even more.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a good entry-level wine if you’re trying to explore the Pacific Northwest. Different from the Finger Lakes and California, this Riesling has a more Alsatian style, offering very little sweetness, and instead being bolder and more nuanced. Don’t expect a dessert wine, I guess is what I’m saying. Pair with light seafood or chicken dishes… spice will overwhelm this, and heavier meats will utterly clash with the flavors.

Conclusion:

At a price of $11, this wine is definitely worth a try. It’s not representative of the best that Washington has to offer… not even close… but you’d be hard-pressed to find many wines of this quality at this price. Oh, and it’s organic, which is certainly a plus! 6/10

In Case You Missed It:

Wine: N-S-A Organic Columbia Valley Riesling

Producer: Badger Mountain Vineyards / Powers Winery

Region: Columbia Valley, Washington, United States

Varietal(s): 100% Riesling

Vintage: 2008

Residual Sugar: 1.7 g/l

Alcohol: 13%

pH: 3.08

Price: $11

Purchased at: Weaver Street Market, Hillsborough, North Carolina

Beer is Hopping on the Organic Bandwagon

As much as I hate to admit it, wine is not the only passion in my life. I know, I know, boo, hiss, all that. Please stop firing Champagne corks at me. Today I’m changing my moniker from Wine(Explorer) to Beer(Explorer)… but I’m not changing my logo. Forget that. That thing is set in stone.

The Back Story:

Our beer sampling today is from Peak Organic, a brewing company in the alcohol mecca known as Portland, Maine. Seeing as how I’m a fiend for IPAs (I’ve probably single-handedly paid an executive bonus or two at Dogfish Head), I decided to give theirs a try.

IPA, in case you’re not a craft beer kind of person, means India Pale Ale. Despite its name, it’s darker than the more wide-spread macro beers (Budweiser, Heineken, Corona, etc), usually some shade of amber, though deeper hues of red or brown are often present. The “pale”  originated from the pale malts used to brew this style of beer back in the 17th century, and the “India” is an homage to the East India Company who first spread it throughout the world. The brewing process usually gives it a more bitter and hoppy taste and a higher-than-average alcohol content. The most expensive and high-quality IPAs approach or even exceed 10% alcohol, making them an incredibly rich experience that also packs a punch.

Peak Organic’s IPA is brewed in a similar tradition, except they don’t use any traditional hops. Instead, they use a combination of Simcoe, Amarillo, and Nugget hops, all of which are specialties used to impart certain flavors to certain beers. Simcoe is a fantastic bittering hop that is often used in IPAs. Amarillo is a very aromatic and flavorful hop with fairly high acidity; use of this newer variety results in robust citrus and floral notes. Nugget hops is a hybridized variety that’s typically used in American lagers. Its flavors tend to be more herbal or spicy, and it also has a high acidity.**

**I didn’t know a lot of this hop knowledge, by the way. I definitely have to credit Brew Dudes for researching the hop varieties. There’s a wealth of beer knowledge over there that I will happily explore outside of this blog post.

As you may have gathered from the company name, Peak Organic specializes in organic beers. I’m just going to let them tell the story:

With roots in home brewing back in the 90s, brewer Jon Cadoux set about combining his love for beer with an ethic for sustainability. Whenever possible, he would go out and find ingredients from local organic farmers for his homebrews.  It was a defining day when Jon discovered that you don’t need to sacrifice flavor for sustainability, but that better ingredients actually made the beer more delicious.

Well done, Jon. Well done.

The Results:

The appearance of the beer was a deep gold with a healthy reddish-brown tint, a little paler than I prefer for an IPA, but that’s mostly because I like my beers dark. For an IPA, it’s at a very good level. It formed a thick, enduring head that lasted for several minutes, becoming denser rather than dissipating as it shrank. That is phenomenal head retention, helping to keep the aromas and flavors in the beer better than most.

The nose of the beer was very appealing. It had a strong bouquet of orange zest, fairly sweet, and an herbal undertone that suggests a crisp but not overpowering bitterness.

The mouth feel of the beer would best be described as luxurious. It was very smooth but tangy, with a nice bite that I could feel in my jaw.

The flavor of the beer was extraordinarily complex. It began with a burst of sweet citrus, both lime and grapefruit, more sour than the orange nose suggested. There was definitely a floral taste, though nothing in particular I could nail down. The flavor suggested to me the overall smell of a budding garden, a combination of similar, jostling scents that result in a recognizable but hard to pin down aroma. After the initial flavors faded, the bitterness came forward, accompanied by a vanilla mocha taste, much softer and tamer than the stark coffee flavors of darker ales. The beer had an incredibly long finish that to me tasted of autumn leaves.

For the Casual Drinker:

This beer is much more complex than the widespread lagers and pilsners of the world. Most people find IPAs off-putting if they’ve never had a darker beer. It’s not as light as American macrobrews, and it’s simultaneously more sour, bitter, and sweet, but it’s not as medicinal or spicy as European-style ales. As long as you’re expecting the bitterness and the change of flavor that occurs after the initial sip, you might find this an interesting beer, especially paired with a spicy or otherwise aggressively flavorful meal.

The Conclusion:

This is the first organic beer I believe I’ve ever had, and I’m very glad I decided on it. I think I’ll have to agree with Jon (the founder, in case you skipped the back story): natural ingredients lead to better brews. At $8.99 for a six-pack, it’s a fantastic craft beer for a very reasonable price. 8/10.

You can learn more about Peak Brewing Company and their other beers at their website, www.peakbrewing.com or on Twitter at @PeakBrewing.

This post written entirely to Bright Eyes. What, like you never experienced teenage angst?

The Best Boxed Wine You’ll Ever Buy (No, Seriously!)

The Back Story:

The first time I’d ever heard of Yellow + Blue Wines was at an organic wine tasting at Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough. I usually taste the wines first, then ask about the ones that intrigue me rather than learning about the wines’ varietals, regions, producers, etc. first. I like to think that somehow makes me impartial. Of course, not having encyclopedic knowledge of wine varietals and regions also makes me impartial through ignorance, but I digress. In this case, I was intrigued before I even put the plastic sipper full of wine to my lips because the stalwart bartender was pouring this wine from a carton.

yellow and blue torrontes carton

Yellow and Blue Torrontes Carton (from http://www.thedailygreen.com)

For all the talk about organic this and green that, most (I would estimate 98% of) wineries still ship their wine in bulky, heavy, decidedly non-environmentally-friendly glass bottles. Not only does creating these bottles use many more resources than necessary, but the added weight increases the fuel consumption required to ship the wine. Those extra few pounds per case add up on a cross-country or cross-ocean excursion for a container full of inefficient bottles. Some wineries are experimenting with lighter, thinner-walled glass, which is a fantastic and applaudable step in the right direction, but most wineries are too rooted in tradition to consider alternative packaging.

Come to think of it, all those boxed-wine companies might be on to something… hmm…

Regardless, the philosophy at Yellow + Blue is based entirely on good will. They truly respect the earth and, recognizing that embracing new, greener technology is actually cost-effective, are passing the benefits on to their consumers. Each carton of wine holds one full liter, one-third more than the standard wine bottle, and they still charge a very reasonable price for their wines ($12.99 for all the varietals at Weaver Street). They currently offer four wines: two from Argentina and one each from Chile and Spain. They keep the grapes for each varietal from a single vineyard, preserving the integrity of the wine while sampling as much of the world as possible. Their only allegiance is to the consumer and the environment.

I’m getting sidetracked again… back to the wine.

The Yellow + Blue Torrontes comes from the Cafayate valley in the Salta province of northern Argentina. The high elevation (around 5,500 feet) leads to a lack of humidity and precipitation and extreme day-to-night temperature swings, two oddly desirable climate traits that prevent mold or other parasites and preserve acidity. All this means adhering to organic practices is remarkably simple, resulting in one of the purest wines available on the market.

yellow and blue torrontes glass and carton

Yellow and Blue Torrontes in a glass (from http://www.astorwines.com)

The Results:

The appearance of the wine suggested a good wine character: the wine had a deep yellow hue, with a slight green tint, and the swirl suggested a very pleasant, creamy texture.

The nose of the wine was immediately floral, though not overwhelming, with a pleasant, not-too-heavy rose scent. Green apple also presented itself along with a honeyed bouquet that lended the wine a much sweeter nose than the taste would warrant.

The mouthfeel of the wine was magnificent, with a good, thick texture and a tart bite. The two words that best describe it are smooth and pleasant.

The flavor of the wine was rather dry, crisp and very suggestive of apple. Despite the dominance of this flavor, the taste was surprisingly complex: a hint of citrus, sort of a hybrid of lemon and lime, came forward, and there was a fantastic mineral finish, combining with the long apple and citrus to leave a few seconds of very sweet tonic water on the palate. As the wine warmed in my glass, it began to release a fantastic floral taste, coming forward even over the apple. This was a very multi-faceted wine. At 13%, the wine suggested not a single hint of alcohol flavor, even when it warmed.

I paired the Torrontes with creole flounder stuffed with crab, shrimp, and peppers, and the combination was immaculate. Even with the wine fully chilled right out of the bottle — er — carton, the fish brought out the floral characteristics and pushed the apple back to the finish, and the dryness and texture countered and cooled the spicyness perfectly. I was thoroughly impressed with the synergy.

An interesting note, as I sampled the wine, All in the Family came on TV. An apparently sweet-smelling wine disguising an aggressive and complex flavor was an interesting counter to Archie Bunker, an aggressive and complex character who hides his sweet side. At least, I thought so anyway.

For the Casual Drinker:

If you’re looking for an easy-drinking wine, this is definitely it. It goes down smooth with a fairly tame acidity, meaning you’re not risking heartburn. Despite how it smells, it’s not going to be a sweet wine, so be prepared. Expect a drier, fruity wine, but not too fruity. I would call it crisp and refreshing. If you’re going to serve it with a meal, try it with lighter meals and avoid pairing it with red meats or tomato-based soups and pastas. The compact carton makes storage simple, and you’re getting one-third more than a normal bottle of wine that fits less overall space.

Even if you’re not into the complexities of wine-tasting, I still think you would enjoy this wine.

The Conclusion:

Considering everything I liked about this wine, the absolute lack of complaints I had about it, the environmentally-friendly nature, and the bang for your buck, I’m tempted to give this wine my highest rating so far, and I will. The 2008 Yellow + Blue Torrontes Cafayate gets a 9/10.

One last note, you can follow Yellow + Blue wines on Twitter @ybwines. He’s one of the growing number of winemakers who actively engage their followers, and he’s a very friendly guy besides. You can also learn more about their wines at www.ybwines.com.

This post was written entirely to Jakon Dylan’s Seeing Things album. Good, chill blog-writing music.

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