Life is more than just a bowl of Cherries!

“Life is just a bowl of Cherries; Don’t make is serious; Life’s too mysterious.” Life is just a bowl of Cherries: Song by Doris Day

I have often thought July should really be National Cherry Month instead of February. After all in the Pacific Northwest and especially in Washington State that is when the cherries season begins. Washington is the top producer of Cherries grown in the United States with two varieties, Sweet Red and Rainier Cherries making up the majority of the 10 commercially produced types of Cherries. There is a National Cherry Day in the United Kingdom that is celebrated on July 16th, but no National Cherry day is celebrated in the United States. There are national cherry food days, but nothing that gives this beautiful fruit the celebration that it truly deserves in the month of its harvest. For this reason I am declaring my own Cherry celebration with some recipes that bring out the natural flavor of this sweet fruit.

What is Celebrated in July is a collection of popular cocktails. July 10th was Pina Colada day, today July 11th is National Mojito Day, and the 19th is National Daiquiri Day. Fresh Ripe Cherries can bring a bright and refreshing twist to homemade cocktails with their robust sweet flavor and striking color.

Cherry & Mint Simple Syrup

A delicious Cherry & Mint Simple Syrup can be used in both of the following cocktail recipes. To prepare the simple syrup begin by boiling 1 cup of water and 1 cup of granulated sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add 1 1/2 cup of pitted crushed cherries and 20 fresh mint leaves. Let it set and cool for 30 minutes, then strain and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Celebrating National Mojito Day with a Washington Cherry Mojito.

The mojito is a traditional Cuban highball, and is rumored to be a drink favored by the author, Ernest Hemingway.

yield: 4 TO 6 COCKTAILS

1 1/2 cups pitted fresh cherries (reserve a few for garnish)
½ cup Cherry & Mint Simple Syrup
2 limes
8 ounces white rum
club soda, chilled
ice cubes

In a blender or food processor, blend chilled simple syrup and cherries. Pour through a strainer, discard the cherry pulp and keep the sweetened cherry juice.

Place 4 to 5 mint leaves in the bottom of 4 to 6 tall glasses. Squeeze half a lime into each glass. Add 2 ounces of rum to each glass. Use a muddler (or the handle of a wooden spoon) to smash the mint leaves, lime juice and rum together. Divide the sweetened cherry juice between the four glasses. Top each drink off with chilled club soda. Stir and add an ice cubes, garnish with fresh cherries and mint leaves.

If life gives you lemons return them and ask for cherries and make a Cherry Mojito!

A frosty and sweet Cherry Daiquiri with a chocolate twist.

A Cherry Daiquiri that is fun and refreshing, served this Frozen Daiquiri with a scoop of Tillamook Chocolate Cherry Fudge Ice Cream for a spiked float.

Frozen Cherry Daiquiri

1 cup cherry juice (I used the Simple Truth Brand Dark Cherry Juice, do not use tart cherry juice).
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 cup white rum
2 cups frozen sweet cherries (pit cherries and freeze overnight)
1/2 cup Cherry & Mint Simple Syrup
Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream or Vanilla ice cream
Start by making the Cherry ice cubes as they need time to freeze. Pour one cup of cherry juice into an ice cube tray (approximately 12 ice cubes) and freeze until solid.
Place 1/2 cup cherry juice, cherry & lime simple syrup, lime juice, rum, frozen cherries, and all of the cherry juice ice cubes into a blender. Blend until completely combined and slushy. If desired, add additional plain ice cubes to thicken it or additional chilled cherry juice to thin it out to meet your desired consistency. Serve immediately. Add a scoop of ice cream to make a decadent float.

“Never economize on the small luxuries of life. Drinking fine wine and eating chocolate won’t solve your problems – but they won’t hurt either.” -Ernie J Zelinski

It is no secret that chocolate and cherry make great flavor companions. For a quick and delicious chocolate and wine pairing dessert make a batch of Roasted Cherry Dark Chocolate Brownies, but lets booze those cherries up before roasting for some extra flavor.

Prior to roasting the cherries I selected a Barrel Finished Honey Spirit from Up North Distillery to soak the cherries. Place the cherries in a mason jar and fill with a selected spirit for at least an hour.

Roasted Cherry Dark Chocolate Brownies

1 cup fresh pitted cherries (soaked in the spirit of your choice)
Ghirardelli Ultimate Fudge brownie mix (prepared according to directions)
Ice Cream
Drain the cherries and cut in half. Sprinkle with raw or brown sugar and roast at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.
Prepare brownie mix. Remove cherries from the oven and reduce oven temperature according to brownie directions.
Mix cooled cherries into the brownie batter and bake according to brownie directions. Top with ice cream!

This brownie is made even better with a scoop of the same Tillamook Chocolate Cherry Fudge Ice Cream used in the Frozen Daiquiri recipe.

The Cherries and Chocolate lead nicely to a pairing with a Zinfandel.

1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel

This tangy and balanced wine is full of intense red fruit aromas with swirls of spice and pepper. Luscious deep blackberry and spice flavor mingled with the smokiness of the new bourbon barrel aging make for a perfect pairing with the Roasted Cherry Dark Chocolate Brownies.

Celebrating Cherry Season doesn’t get any sweeter than this.

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

Food & Wine Pairing Experience at Seven Hills Winery

There’s nothing Wine Lovers enjoy more than a perfectly balanced food & wine paring. 

When it comes to Food & Wine Pairings, it can sometimes feel like a struggle to find a well orchestrated combination. There are numerous books about Food & Wine Pairings, blog posts written about the subject, and it is mentioned everywhere on Social Media. Understanding why some foods pair better with select wines can be challenging. With the bounty of ingredients, spices, fusion cuisines and the incredible amount of wine available it can be a daunting task. By attending a professionally prepared Food & Wine Pairing widely available at local wineries now, we can get a bit more insight into the popular Food & Wine Experience.

Seven Hills Winery is located in the historic Whitehouse-Crawford building in downtown Walla Walla, Washington.

On a recent trip to Walla Walla I was invited to attend the Friday Food & Wine Pairing at Seven Hills Winery. Having the opportunity to journey through some of Seven Hills finest limited release wines, expertly paired with small bites by local chef Sarah Mayhew, was a food & wine experience that I did not want to miss.

The Food & Wine Pairing is limited to 8 guests which allows for a more intimate experience and personal impression of the wines and how they pair with the specially matched foods.

Our Food & Wine Experience was hosted by Seven Hills Tasting Room Lead and Sommelier Danielle Christopher. Danielle has worked for Seven Hills Winery for over two years and had a wealth of knowledge about the limited release wines that we tasted.

Food Pairing was provided by Chef Sarah of Sipid Bites Catering.

Unique Pairings to Test Your Palette

Seven Hills 2017 Carménère, Walla Walla Valley
Hush Puppies, Thick-cut Bacon, White Cheddar, and Scallions Aioli.

The Carménère was a perfect pairing with the Hush Puppy as it was a great food wine that allowed you to enjoy the food yet finished with a touch of spice. On the nose this wine was full of floral notes with touches of Red Raspberry and remnants of fresh Spring air. The pleasantly light rounded acidic flavor of the wine with energetic raspberry notes blended well with the crispiness of the Hush puppy and the delectable Scallion Aioli.

Seven Hills 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, McCellan Estate
Savory Bread Pudding, Mushroom Medley, Local Greens & Manchego

This 2016 is drawn from the original estate founding Cabernet Sauvignon blocks at Seven Hills Vineyard, which were planted by the McClellan family in 1980. The vintage marked the 29th year of making Cabernet Sauvignon from these old vines. In this pairing, the delicate and sweet vanilla flavors of the Cabernet played well with the creamy mushrooms and herbs of this Savory Bread Pudding. Within the Cab the aroma of dark cherries draws you into an herb garden that wraps around around your tongue with each sip. This wine perfectly accentuated the nutty Manchego Cheese with flavors of plum, cherry and tobacco. A wonderfully executed pairing and the wine was so good that a bottle went home with us that day. With cellaring, this Cabernet will continue to develop and mature for years to come.

2009 Pentad, Vintage Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley
Blackberry-Braised Brisket, Sweet Corn Polenta, Blackberry Wine Au Jus

This pairing was the second most discussed within our group as we all felt the Pentad, which due to an unforeseen circumstance, had been decanted for only an hour and was not quiet ready to drink. This is not to say the Brisket and Polenta bite was not delicious, but at the time we sipped and discussed this wine it was almost unanimously deemed the least favorite wine. However, the Pentad was not quite ready to roll over and claim defeat. As we continued on our tasting journey the wine began to open up in our glasses, further exploration into this wine had before the end of the tasting everyone had changed their tune.

With notes of blackberry and a light acidity on the nose, the flavors of this wine completely popped with a bold fruit forward wild and peppery taste that gave way to an image of walking through a forest filled with wild blackberries. The 2009 Pentad, was rated 96 Points by the Wine Enthusiast and named #31 on their list of the TOP 100 Cellar Selections in the world.

2012 Merlot, Seven Hills Vineyard
Savory Sweet Potato Pie, Black Pepper Pretzel Crust, Nutmeg Crème Fraîche
The pairing of this Savory Sweet Potato Pie with this stunning Merlot was an absolutely fantastic ending to this pairing flight.

I think that it is fair to say to the whole group enjoyed this combination the most. There was just something about the spicy creaminess of the Sweet Potato Pie that meshed so well with this perfect Merlot. Yes, I said it, a perfect Merlot! A bottle of this Gem came home with us as well. Aromas of earthy over ripe dark fruits with toasted barrel spices catches your attention instantly. The Black Pepper Pretzel Crust in the bite added to the Merlot with its own flavors of deep smokey fruit and layers of depth with peppery tones. This 100% varietal wine is full of richness and will offer plenty of pleasure when opened after a rest in the cellar.

I learned so much more about Seven Hills Winery’s wines, vineyards and enjoyed a continued education on food pairing from this experience. After the food & wine experience we were also treated to a tour of the winery and a special tasting from one of the barrels. I would like to thank Seven Hills Winery and especially Danielle Christopher for making this a memorable visit to their tasting room. I would love to hear about memorable Food & Wine Pairing that you have experienced.

Food & Wine Parings are available at Seven Hills Winery on Fridays and Saturdays at 11:00 am (limited to 8 guests). Fee is $55 per guest ($45 for wine club members). Allow 90 minutes. For more information or to book a reservation, please contact Danielle Christopher at 509-529-7198 or

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

A Summer Fling in the Garden with Rosé

Far beyond the array of pink hues there’s something special about Rosé, a quality that sets it part from other wine.

With the arrival of June you can hear the cheers of joy from Rosé Wine Lovers far and near, “Rosé All Day!” So, it should come as no surprise that with the start of the first Summer month a day would be put on the calendar to celebrate this popular pink wine. Today is National Rosé Day, held annually on the second Saturday in June. National Rosé Day was started by Swedish Rosé house Bodvár to raise a glass to this delightful favorite summertime wine. To ring in the arrival of Summer I wanted to pay tribute to Rosé Day by introducing some Washington and Oregon Rosé wines that I will be enjoying this summer in my favorite place, my backyard and garden.

A Bouquet of Summer Rosé

In April I traveled to the Newberg area of the Willamette Valley for a wine and food experience. While there I was able to pick up five Oregon winery Rosé to sample and enjoy during the Summer months.

Let’s be honest. Pinot Noir Rosé from Oregon is a desirable, eloquent wine that is easy to love. Do not however consider it a singular wine because Pinot Noir Rosé comes in a wide array of styles. Although the majority of the Rosé produced from Oregon is Pinot Noir, the grapes being used from 8+ AVA Pinot Noir terriors ensures that each is unique in color, aroma and flavor. Below are five excellent examples of the diversity of Oregon Pinot Noir Rosé.

An Oregon Rosé Arrangement

Ayres 2018 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir

Ayres 2018 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir is made from the Pommard Pinot Noir grape.

After tasting Ayres new 2018 Rosé in their tasting room and talking with winemaker Brad about the vintage, I was thrilled to be able to bring home a Sample of this wine to enjoy this summer. Buoyant and bright, this Rosé showcases the best of a Pinot Noir Rosé with notes of morning dew rose petals, and ripe Spring strawberries on the nose. The same crisp flavors can be found on the palate, with the addition of a pleasant smoke and spice combination that is light as air. If you are looking for a unique Rosé to help you pass those summer days, then look no further than this Estate wine from Ayres.

2018 Bells Up Prelude

A perfect Rosé to sip on the front porch.

I was really excited to finally have the opportunity to visit Bells Up Winery in Newberg, after corresponding with Sara Specter and her husband Dave for over a year. When they sat down with me and poured their 2018 Prelude Rosé I knew instantly that I was in for a treat. The deep pink color, almost a translucent red was just beautiful and when I was given a Sample to bring home, I knew that I would be saving this ‘Prelude’ for something special.

This is Bells Up wineries Second Estate Wine release, made with Estate Vineyard Chehalem Mountains AVA grapes. The 2018 Bells Up Prelude is like a sunny summer day picnic in a bottle. All of the flavors of a picnic in each sip, like a blanket laid out with strawberries, watermelon and pink lemonade. A well balanced Rosé with citrus undertones and a dry finish. This musical Rosé was named for Franz Liszt’s “Symphonic Poem No. 3: Les Preludes” and will be a Romantic Era addition to any summer picnic. I’m going to pretend that this is the end of an Opera Aria (and not a Symphony score) and give a loud hearty “BRAVO” to this Prelude.

Soter Vineyards North Valley 2018 Pinot Noir Rosé

North Valley 2018 Pinot Noir Rosé looks right at home among the apples forming in my backyard garden.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to visit Soter Winery in the beautiful Yamhill-Carlton countryside. The setting of the winery was as inviting as the wines being poured and for me their Rosé hit all the right marks. This wine had an amazing sense of place. Both on the nose and palette you get a bright and lovely blend of sun kissed wild strawberries, and cooked bursting open cranberries. Creamy with that sprinkle of sea salt on the tongue, I loved the slight hint of white peach and blink of tartness. This was a smooth and elegant Rosé that enticed me enough to purchase a bottle to enjoy this Summer.

Roco Winery 2018 Gravel Road Rosé

The color of ROCO’s Rosé looks beautiful next to my ripening garden strawberries.

This Sample from ROCO Winery is one that I have not tasted yet but if it is anything like their other wines than I know this will be a special Summer sip. Below are tasting notes from ROCO’s website.

“The aromas remind me of the beginning of a red wine Pinot Noir fermentation. There is a “sweet” blending of cherry blossom scents with delicate fresh Willamette Valley strawberry fruit and a base of early summer treats like rhubarb pie and Royal Ann cherry fruit. The wine immerses you in flavors of raspberry, Oregon strawberry, and Bing cherry. The balance of bright acidity and rich, complex fresh fruit in this wine lends it incredible versatility when enjoyed alone, with friends, and with a plethora of food groups.” – Rollin Soles, Winemaker

Alexana Winery 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir

In April during the Release party I heard more than one person requesting a case of the Alexana Rosé of Pinot Noir. With only 130 cases left at the start of the Release Party it was a much sought after bottle. Alexana makes their Rosé with whole clusters of fruit that is immediately pressed and stored with barely any to juice contact in an aged barrel of 100% French Oak for 4 months.

Do you know the smell of a Creamsicle Cream Bar on a stick when you are eating it. You get the smell of the orange and cream but also a light wood scent from the popsicle stick from this Rosé, a dreamy aroma. On the palate the Rosé was like tasting honey and citrus soaked edible flowers. This wine was purchased and found a spot my cellar until the perfect warm summer evening arrives.

A Corsage of Washington Rosé

A Summer Fling would not be complete without some Washington Rosé

A wide variety of grapes for making Rosé, from pinot noir to grenache to cabernet franc to sangiovese and more are used by Washington winemakers. As diverse as the grapes are that make Washington wines so desirable, the winemakers attention to every aspect of the Rosé making process, promises a unique Rosé from each of these three Washington wineries.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard The Expedition 2016 Rosé

An old favorite finds room in my Summer Rosé collection.

Always a fan of Canoe Ridge Vineyard Rosé I took a chance when I found some bottles recently at my local store of the 2016 Vintage for a great price. However, like an old flame, past seasons of Canoe Ridge Vineyard Rosé have me reminiscing and as with many other wineries this years 2018 release will soon find a place in my wine fridge.

Many people say drink Rosé young and I agree but these bottles were purchased to expand on the strawberry and watermelon flavors of this wine when incorporated into a Summer Rosé Slushy. I will be writing more about this later this Summer, when it is hot and a refreshing Wine Slushy is just the thing to enjoy outside.

Va Piano Winery 2018 Rosé

I can’t say for sure if this Rosé from Va Piano will still be around when the tomatoes are ripe on these plants.

If you are not familiar with Walla Walla Winery Va Piano, then let me tell you that you are in for a nice surprise. I visited Va Piano last month for the first time and came home with 2 bottles of this lovely Rosé and a bottle of their Chardonnay. Looking for more than just Washington Red Wines on this trip I was thrilled to purchase this wine after a wonderful visit to the Va Piano tasting room. Now I do not want to give away too much because I will be sharing more of this visit soon but I had to add this Rosé this list. Intrigued, I hope so!

“Spending time in Nature has a way of nourishing the Soul.” Katrina Mayer

Seven Hills Winery 2018 Dry Rosé

A Summer would not be complete without some Seven Hills Winery Rosé.

Another disclaimer here, I haven’t tasted this 2018 Rosé from Seven Hills Winery yet. But, don’t let that sway you in adding it to your Summer Rosé list. Seven Hills Winery was kind enough to give me a sample of this years release after I visited them in Walla Walla a few weeks ago, and I can’t wait to open this bottle. Truth be told, each year I add several bottles of Seven Hills Rosé to my Summer wine collection. Another disclaimer, I am a huge fan of all of Seven Hills Wines. I hope that you give it a try and wait for a story about Seven Hills Winery to come later this summer.

Tasting notes from Seven Hills Winery Website: In the tradition of the classic French Rosés, ours is delicate and refreshing, pale in color, and bone-dry. Primarily Cabernet Franc, with small amounts of Petit Verdot for additional structure and Malbec for expressive fruitfulness, this wine exhibits flavors of peach, grapefruit, and papaya along with fresh herbs and minerality.

Sipping a glass of Rosé sipped on the back deck on a beautiful Summer day is my kind of day.

I hope that I introduced you to some new Summer Rosés and that you add a few of them to your summer sipping list. Rosé is such a versatile wine that works with any meal and is perfect for picnics, summer parties and camping. I would love to hear about your favorite Rosé and what you pair it with.

For more information about each of the wines introduced here please visit them at:

The Custom Drink In Nature Pillow was made by

“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.”

― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

Wine Boot Camp: Session One

Woodinville Wine Country 2019 Wine Boot Camp

“I’m Still Learning.” Michelangelo at age 81!

Life is best experienced when we continually learn new things and broaden our horizons. One of my goals this year was to try and fill in as many of the gaps that I could when it comes to my knowledge of wine, winemaking, and wine regions. When the opportunity arose to attend the Annual Wine Boot Camp put on by Woodinville Wine Country, I knew it would be a perfect way to “keep learning”.

Four in-depth wine education sessions taught by winemakers and industry educators from around Woodinville.

Decoding Foreign Wine Labels

For this blog post I wanted to focus on the first of the four Boot Camp sessions, Decoding Foreign Wine Labels. Foreign Wine Labels have always perplexed me, especially while trying to choose a “just right wine” from the wide selections carried by many big box wine retailers. I really wanted to learn how to decipher these information filled labels. Designed as a practical lesson to help you understand the basics of foreign wine labels, instructor Tanya Morningstar Darling covered the history and origin of foreign labeling, and how to apply what you learn selecting a wine from a wine list or wine store.

Tanya Morningstar Darling has been working in the wine industry; in restaurants, retail, and education for more than two decades. She has been teaching about wine since 2004.

Each of the following wines were introduced with an in depth education about how the particular country generally labels their wines. As much as I would love to share all the information I learned about Decoding wine labels, this was Instructor Tanya’s class and I do not want to just copy all the information she provided. So, I wanted to instead highlight the six wines tasted, after all isn’t this the best part, being able to taste each of the wines? The line up for the first session included a impressive array of different wines, each in their own way peaking my interest. These wines, all listed below, are available at Esquin Wine & Spirits locally in Seattle. ( )

  1. NV Maurice Bonnamy Cremant De Loire Brut Sparkling Wine
  2. 2016 Schlossgut Diel Dorsheim Riesling
  3. 2017 R. Dubois & Fils Bourgogne Rouge
  4. 2016 Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino
  5. 2011 Diaz Bayo Ribera Del Duero Reserva
  6. 2015 Chappellet Mountain Cuvée

Before I delve into each of these wines, I have to share how impressed I was with the Instructor Tanya Morningstar Darling, and her enthusiasm for wine and educating others about wine. Tanya expressed things about tasting experiences that I have always felt when it comes to wine, like “What you smell is yours, there is no right or wrong about it”. This says so much because of the four people at my table, we rarely agreed on what we smelled or tasted when it came to tasting the same exact bottle of wine.

NV Maurice Bonnamy Cremant De Loire Brut Sparkling Wine

Starting a tasting flight off with a Sparkling Wine is always a treat, it helps ready the palate, and gives you something to sip between each of the remaining wines to reclaim your palate. The NV Maurice Bonnamy Cremant De Loire is a Non-Vintage Sparkling wine that drinks incredibly well for a $15 bottle. On the nose you get Apple and Quince with notes of mineral elements floating up with the bubbles. On the palate is was refreshing (especially for 9:30 in the morning), it was fairly dry and actually lacked much fruit flavor, what amazed me was the mineral flavors present in each sip that I previously smelled. I don’t know if I would rush out and buy a bottle of this Sparkling Wine but I also would not put my hand over my glass if someone were to offer me a pour.

2016 Schlossgut Diel Dorsheim Riesling

One of the first things that struck me was the vintage of this Riesling, a 2016? This added to my continual education that some white wines can age quiet well and this Riesling was an example of this fact. This 2016 Schlossgut Diel Dorsheim Riesling was lovely on the nose with a intoxicating smell of pear and apricot blended with a slight mineral edge. Some in the room said it smelled of petrol, but I could not detect this. A citrus flavor on the tongue, it felt rich but dry and a little salty but still pleasant to drink. A nice introduction to a German Riesling, at $32 a bottle I personally would like to try other Riesling from the same region before investing in bottles to cellar.

2017 R. Dubois & Fils Bourgogne Rouge

As much as I wanted to like this 2017 R. Dubois & Fils Bourgogne Rouge I enjoyed the aroma more than I did the flavor. With the smell of vanilla soaked blueberries and blackberries, smelling this wine made me think of berries that are almost overly ripe in the middle of August. The flavor was very dry and full of ripe fruit but it really lacked a depth that was needed to draw me in completely. For this wine I focused on learning more about the label to help me decode French wine labels. This Pinot Noir sells for $18 a bottle.

2016 Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino

Sangiovese from Tuscany, Italy

The 100% Sangiovese grapes used in this 2016 Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino are selected from the youngest Brunello di Montalcino vineyards, also known as the vineyards in the coolest areas. The result is a bright velvety, well-balanced and medium-bodied wine that is crisp, dry and fruity. A plush ripeness is apparent in the aroma of sweet dark plums, spice and fresh cut wood. I wanted to fall for this wine given my previous experience with Sangiovese. Though it had a firm expression, silky tannins, and a flavorful finish, it wasn’t a wine I would be excited to drink. I felt it may have been better when it was first bottled, or would have been better if it was given more time to open up in a decanter or aerator. The wines in this six bottle flight were opened before the session started but not given much time to sit before being poured.

2011 Diaz Bayo Ribera Del Duero Reserva

We have a Winner!!

This 2011 Diaz Bayo Ribera Del Duero Reserva presented a powerful 100% Tempranillo punch and an equally strong alcohol level at 14%. I loved everything about this Spanish wine and so did the rest of my table. In full agreement it was our favorite of the first six wines of the morning.

With a beautifully aged complexity there was much to appreciate about this 2011 Vintage.

Components on the nose were like a raisin figgy pudding topped with a liquid chocolate sauce. This was a wine to swirl and sniff, and repeat; Heavenly. This ripe Ribera del Duero offered a fleshy sip that sang with an earthy black-fruit flavor, dried prunes and spicy notes that wrapped around your tongue prior to a thick long finish. Available for $19 a bottle this would be a wine that I would stock up on and cellar to enjoy now and over the next five years.

A New World Wine Finale 2015 Chappellet Mountain Cuvée

Wine Blend
37% Merlot
34% Cabernet Sauvignon
11% Malbec
11% Petit Verdot
7% Cabernet Franc

This wine our Instructor Tanya chose as an example of New World Wine with an Old World Label for Marketing purposes. With the Merlot taking a slight lead on this blend on the nose you get Classic pops of cherry, pepper and cocoa. This wine definitely had a story to tell and each grape variety aspired to not be over staged by the others. These Noble Five Red Bordeaux varietals were blended with care and like the end of a play, each grape stepped forward to take their bow before the curtain falls at the finish. I appreciated this wine’s silky balance and how it offered a sensibility toward comfort with its flavor. Strong smokey pepper notes followed an initial introduction of red currants and vanilla, dry yet seamless with layers of structured tannins. A really solid complex blend of Bordeaux varietals. Priced around $30 a bottle this California wine was a nice way to end the Session One tasting.

At the end of the first Session our Boot Camp group made our way to Pondera Winery for a tasting, lunch from Purple Cafe Woodinville, and a presentation by 58 Stars Travel detailing some upcoming Wine Wanderlust Travel Experiences.

As I stated before, I wish I could share all of the information about Decoding Foreign Wine Labels, but after all this was Tanya Morningstar Darling’s class. Tanya has a list of wine education opportunities and upcoming wine study trips on her website, I encourage you to visit to learn more.

During the next couple of weeks I will share information and tastings for the other three sessions of this Woodinville Wine Boot Camp. Until then I hope that you visit the websites of those who helped make this session and lunch a success:

“Wine is not only for drinking, it is sniffing, observing, tasting, or sipping at….talking about.”
Edward VII

All Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog

A Visit to Ayres Vineyard & Winery

Ending Oregon Wine Month with a visit to one of my favorite wine producers-Ayres Vineyard & Winery.

Ayres Vineyard & Winery is located in the Ribbon Ridge Oregon’s Smallest AVA

The term “Boutique Winery” is a classification that’s often used in today’s wine industry. Some would say that the phrase is becoming too cliché, but for wine enthusiasts like myself I continually find I am drawn to these smaller wineries who work hard to give a localized and “artisanal” feel to their wines. A winery is often considered “Boutique” when their annual production is 1000 cases or less, although no one is likely to demand reclassification if the production exceeds that amount by a few hundred or so. Aside from the “Case Classification” a Boutique Winery is also set apart by having a sense of Family, Community, and personal touch when it comes to the winemaking process. When visiting the Willamette Valley, specifically the Newberg area, a visit to Ayres Vineyard & Winery will deliver a sense of Family, Terrior, and a top notch boutique winery experience.

The idea for Ayres Vineyard & Winery began with a single comment heard on a trip in 1997 by a winemaker in France, he simply stated “I make the wines I like to drink”. Owners Brad and Kathleen McLeroy took those words to heart and began to formulate a plan of their own.

A pilgrimage to Oregon begins the journey.

Eighteen years ago Brad and Kathleen along with Kathleen’s parents made the move to Oregon, to begin anew and to start looking for the ideal property to make their winemaking dreams unfold. After arriving in Oregon Brad began working at Domaine Drouhin as a cellar hand, and then worked his way up to Chef de Cave; which is the French term for cellarmaster. During this time in 2000 the McLearys and Kathleen’s parents the McClures, had the opportunity to purchase a 38 acre property near Newberg, Oregon. This location would be the beginning of a homestead for the families, and the start of Ayres Vineyard & Winery.

In 2001 the first vines at Ayres were planted, Pinot Noir clone 667.

After an initial planting of Pinot Noir clone 667 more Pinot Noir clones, 777 and 115 joined the vineyard in 2002 along with some experimental plots that included Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot d’ Auxerrois. Soon to follow, Pommard and Pinot Noir clones 113 were planted to help round out Ayres Vineyards. During my tasting with Winemaker Brad, he told me that they do not use the little known grape. Pinot d’ Auxerrois as these couple dozen vines have actually turned into dessert for his kids who eat the grapes right from the vine during harvest time.

The first harvest at Ayres Vineyard was in 2003, and this also marked the first commercial vintage of Ayres Wine. Three years later, in 2006, Brad made the decision to leave his position at Domaine Drouhin and become the full-time winemaker at Ayres. Now 16 years since the first vintage, Ayres Vineyard & Winery has continued to produce wines that catch the attention of consumers and gained accolades from the critics. After being introduced to Ayres wines last year I too became a fan of this family oriented and sustainable Oregon Winery. I was excited for the opportunity to sit down with Brad and do a tasting of some of his newest releases.

Photo from 2018 of what would become one of my favorite Oregon wines.

Ayres 2018 Pinot Blanc

Are you familiar with the Burgundian Pinot Blanc grape? How about the beauties that are being grown in Oregon? The Pinot Blanc grape is a tough one to always identify correctly in a blind tasting. This versatile grape has the cheeky characteristics of a well produced Chenin Blanc, but also the sleek style of a Chardonnay. There is so much to like about this grape and the wine from Ayres which is made with 100% Pinot Blanc and finished in stainless steel. On the nose you get a beautiful fresh aroma of apples and almonds, like a Charcuterie platter waiting to be enjoyed. A surprising slightly buttery flavor makes you sit up and take notice of this delicious wine, as it introduces flavors that are earthy like a mushroom yet sweet like a marshmallow. At the same time, this wine is crisp and light making it a perfect warm weather wine to sip at the end of the day. Pairing this Pinot Blanc with any white fish or seafood would bring out the layers of flavor already present in the wine.

This is Pinot Blanc is a white wine that I would purchase by the case to enjoy all Summer and into the Fall.

When you see the words Ribbon Ridge on the label you know that you are in for something special. (Photo from 2018)

Ayres 2018 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir

Made from the Pommard Pinot Noir grape, this vintage was picked earlier resulting in lower sugar and a welcoming acidity. Buoyant and bright, this Rosé of Pinot Noir showcases the best of a Rosé with notes of morning dew rose petals and ripe Spring strawberries on the nose. The same crisp flavors can be found on the palate, with the addition of a pleasant smoke and spice combination that is light as air. If you are looking for a unique Rosé to help you pass those summer days, then look no further than this Estate wine from Ayres.

“Perspective is the way we see things when we look at them from a certain distance and it allows us to appreciate their value.” – Rafael E. Pino

2017 Perspective Pinot Noir

This Pinot Noir embraces
all of Ayres’ estate producing clones: 667, 777, 115, 113,
and Pommard, along with fruit from neighboring Lichtenwalter and Armstrong Vineyards. A unique Pinot Noir that in a sip is a snapshot of the Ribbon Ridge AVA.

One of the most versatile Pinot Noirs I tasted while in the Willamette Valley, this 2017 Perspective from Ayres could literally be a wine that pairs well with anything. In those instances where you know you should open a white for your meal but your taste is leaning more toward a red, this is the bottle to open. A beautiful shimmering Ruby color welcomes you as you smell the aromas of bright cherries and marshmallows toasting over a campfire. Brad calls this his “Hand of the field instead of hand of the cooper” wine, and that is so true with the notes of earth and sea salt on the tongue that swirl around in an ocean of cherry and boysenberry flavors. A warmer Pinot Noir with notes of spice but light on the palate with a soft acidic finish. As I sipped this beautiful Pinot, I instantly began to visualize the dishes that I would pair it with and the number of them surprised me. I love when a wine leads you to new discoveries about yourself and how a wine can transform the status quo of food pairings.

Perspective is in the taste of the wine drinker.

2017 Lewis Rogers Lane Pinot Noir

Ayres 2017 Lewis Rogers Lane Pinot Noir

The gang is all here in this Estate Pinot Noir, with each estate clone being represented; 667, 777, 115, 113, and Pommard. Brad says that this is about as even of a blend as you can get from the five clones. On both nose and palate you discover hints of blueberry, vanilla infused with baking spices, wood, and the sweet note of tobacco. A wonderful well balanced Pinot that can be paired with a smoky BBQ dinner or sipped alone by the campfire on a summer evening.

At Ayres Vineyard & Winery the Pioneer Spirit is Alive and Well.

2017 Pioneer Pinot Noir

Winemaker Brad says this Pinot Noir is made “in honor of the journey of the pioneer” and once you have tasted it’s bold and beautiful flavor you will want to join the ‘wagon trail’ and head to Oregon. A Single clone 667, Pinot Noir that is the darkest made by Ayres. Produced from small berries that have a longer skin to juice ratio, this is a masculine Pinot that could stand against any Cabernet Sauvignon with a steak. Deep and full of the aroma and taste of dark blackberry fruit, earth and clove. A second smell introduces vines swaying in the breeze on a warm summer day and the next sip releases another layer of flavors alive with elements of each vine and smoky charcoal. This wine is simply intoxicating in all the right ways.

Any wine can catch your eye, but it takes a special wine to catch your heart.
This is the One!

2017 One Pinot Noir

To better represent the complexity of this Pinot Noir I am taking the Notes right from Ayres’ Website. “This wine represents the single best fermenter of the 2017 vintage. It is 65% clone 777, 25% clone 667, and 20% clone 115. The fermentation was 30% whole cluster, and this Pinot Noir is the only Ayres wine to have whole cluster influence.” Did you get all of that? Only 100 cases of this 2017 One Pinot Noir was produced and at $79 a bottle it is a much higher price point than the other wines in the flight. That being said this wine will catch your heart with its beautiful jewel tone color and wonderful blueberry aromas and flavors. Smooth and balanced with a fantastic Herbs de Provence, vanilla and tobacco finish on the palate. This wine is a true example of a top shelf Oregon Pinot Noir, made with patience and a true appreciation of the Terrior found on Ribbon Ridge. I cannot recommend trying this Pinot Noir more than to say I would gift it at Christmas to those I appreciate most. Stellar is a perfect word to describe this wine.

A Visit to Ayres Vineyard & Winery

I would encourage you to visit the cellar at Ayres for an intimate tasting with winemaker, Brad McLeroy. Ayres is open by appointment only, and tastings are scheduled between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Tastings are $20 per person, which can be applied to the purchase of wine (one tasting per bottle). You can visit their website to book a tasting or call 503.538.7450. Ayres Vineyard & Winery is located at 17971 NE Lewis Rogers Lane, Newberg, OR 97132.

The McLeroy Family

(Photo supplied by Kathleen McLeroy.)

Supporting Boutique Wineries is a passion of mine. With so many challenges facing small wineries, from limited production, to distribution and the struggles with marketing, it is clear that boutique wineries succeed with a strong customer base and word of mouth. So, this is my shout out to Ayres and their exceptional wines. Ayres has an excellent Case Club Membership and their wines are available to order by contacting them on their website at .

All Images © Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.