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The Walla Walla Enology & Viticulture Center is one of the most amazing operations that I’ve seen. It’s a school for winemakers, teaching students to become wine makers, market wine, teach about wine, and serve wine. It’s tempting to run away to attend this school. Seriously tempting.

I was treated to a delightful run through of the current list of wines in the College Cellars Tasting Room, by Tasting Room Manager, (and the son of my orthodontist, of all people) Tad Ballweber. Tad’s knowledge of the processes of wine making, and the school itself were delightfully in depth, and there wasn’t a question that I posed that he couldn’t answer. Most of the grapes are grown on site, in the vineyard area where students learn to tend and care for the vines. Some grapes are donated from wineries.

The students are assigned to groups, and a varietal/type of wine to make, and each group makes a wine. These wines are then sold to help support the school.

I was impressed by the facilities, and how well they were suited to both teaching about, and making wine.

These are the wines that I tasted through:

“Scholarship Wine” 2016 – a heavy pineapply, cantaloupe mix with a starfruit frame blend of Muscat, Sauv blanc, and riesling.

“RVM” 2016 – A roussanne marsanne viognier blend. It explodes with herbal fruity viognier off the top, to lovely apples, slight pears, green leafy ferns, and unsettling bubblegum.

Chardonnay 2016 – A super-oaked 2×4. Not a fan.

Muscat Onttonell 2016 – 6% residual sugar. Tad calls this the “Michael Phelps” of the winery. The bottle was decorated with multiple awards. This wine is pineapple coffee-cake, succulent leaves, prickly pear, with maraschino cherries, and yellow Flathead cherries. It’s delightfully weighty, but light enough not to give one a post-drink headache.

“15 Temp” Tempranillo – This is a thick, rich expression of the grape, and is essentially wearing a cabernet dress on a tempranillo body. It’s not exactly mis-matched, but it’s flamboyant with black fruit, red plum delights, and decent tannins. It has an unsettling milky edge that makes it’s body flabby. A woman who’s never lifted a finger to do anything, but dresses up occasionally.

More to come.









Walla Walla Washington

Earlier this month, I took a take a trip to Walla Walla Washington to visit family. I was able to, (they insisted on it) take a good amount of the few days I was there to visit multiple wineries.

It’s amazing to me, how much Walla Walla has changed since I was a child. Back then, there were two or three restaurants that weren’t chains, that I can personally remember. Now, there are dozens of restaurants of all varieties

Over the course of two days, I tasted my way through the following wineries:

College Cellars, of the Enology and Viticulture Center

Lagana – run by a graduate of the Enology & Viticulture Center

Lodmell Cellars

Sui Lei Winery

Goose Ridge Cellars




And one or two more that I tasted through, without taking notes. I just wanted to enjoy their wines.

It was a real pleasure to meet so many wonderful people, of all ages, who were so in love with wine. It was a rare pleasure for me, since it’s so rare, out here in Montana, that I get to talk about wine with people who know about it. Like any passion, it has it’s own language.

Over the next few days, I’ll be writing about my experiences with those wineries.

Chateau Baumard’s Savennieres, from the Loire, France, is a delightfully dry white, from chenin blanc, and reads like a chenin that might just be trying to sneak under the radar in a sauv blanc costume.

It’s heady, and funky, at first, herbal and funky, like it wants to throw you off it’s scent, since it’s not from South Africa. (I do love those South African wines.)

This wine is kind of funky on the nose, dusty, like a dirt road, buttery croissants, basil, and green bell peppers. It opens to a more mineral freshness as it airs, but over the palate, its rich and warm with cantaloupe.

I really like how mischievous this wine is. It shows it’s true colors after about half an hour, melon, ripe orange fruit, white stones. The balance on this wine is a blast of honeyed fruit, tapering to a wisp of sage smoke on a summer’s evening.

It should be noted that I prefer to write rather than speak, especially on camera, but every time I do this, it gets easier.

Sparkling Rose’ Time!

Gulch Distillers

Gulch Distillers 2

There’s a hidden gem, tucked away in the side streets of Helena. No, it isn’t an undiscovered gold mine, but it’s close. Gulch Distillers is one of the most fascinating businesses I’ve visited here in Helena.

Starting its life as Triple Divide Spirits in 2012, the distillery was purchased in 2015, and rebranded as the Gulch Distillers in 2016. Distillers Steffen Rasile and Tyrrell Hibbard pursued their dream of distilling in college, and even studied abroad in Edenborough, Scotland.

The former Triple Divide Spirits is the first distillery in Montana history to have been sold as a complete package. At the time of sale, the permits, equipment, location, and building were already in place, and the addition of a still purchased by the two young entrepreneurs, the scene was complete to move forward towards distilling glory.

Listening to Steffen and Tyrrell talk about their mission and spirits was a refreshing experience, in a world that’s so scripted. One of the main missions of Gulch Distillers is to show Montanans that cocktails don’t have to be a fancy affair. Cocktails can be paired with everyday meals, much like wine and even beer.

Looking at the cocktail menu, it became clear to me that it wasn’t just a menu, but a cookbook with recipes. Some recipes included lavender, some included orange peels, and herbs. Most of the herbs are grown on site, so that Steffen and Tyrrell can grow them to their exact specifications.

Gulch Distillers prides itself on being a “Montana Made” company. Most their ingredients are sourced from the state of Montana, which include barley, wheat, the use of local seed vendors, and a sustainable maltster company close to Great Falls, called “Malteurop.” When the spirits are finished, they are bottled on site, by hand. Even the used mash is sent to Montana farmers for their pigs.

The most unique palate experience I had at Gulch Distillers was their Burrone Fernet. Fernet is a traditional herbal digestif of Italy, and is the most aromatic beverage, alcoholic or not, that I have ever experienced. The sensation of smelling the Burrone Fernet is strongly reminiscent of cooking curry, and reminded me of the aromas I smelled on a long-ago visit to India.

The mint used in this spirit is grown locally, mostly by Tyrrell, himself. It smells of cardamom, eucalyptus, thyme, and anise seed. Fernet in the states often made with an extra sweetness, Steffen and Tyrrell’s Fernet is made for mixed drinks and is not sweet.

The spirit at Gulch Distillers that surprised and delighted me was the Triple Divide Vodka. The Triple Divide Vodka is a delicious small batch blend of Montana wheat, and malted barley. Normally, I have a hard time distinguishing vodka from nail polish remover, but I was blown away by Triple Divide Vodka. It carries aromas of white lilies, lavender, apricots, and even candied grapes. Across the palate, it is smooth, and almost rounded. Gulch Distiller’s spirits may be made for blending, but this vodka is so phenomenal, it stands on its own.

Steffen and Tyrrell are working to make cocktails more approachable, and offer a once a month class on a wide variety of cocktail topics.

A few days after this tasting, I attended one of Gulch Distiller’s cocktail classes, titled, “Shake & Stirred and Cola Secret.” A full bar of students learned about many of the different cocktails offered at Gulch Distillers. We learned about why a cocktail is stirred or shaken, and how ingredients are incorporated into the drinks. Towards the end of the class, there was an opportunity for hands on experience, for those brave enough to try making their own cocktail.

My time spent at Gulch Distillers was fascinating. It may be speak-easy small, but run by two of the most enthusiastic young men on the gulch, you can’t go wrong with any of their spirits. This gem on the gulch is worth a stop in, and a sip.

Gulch Distillers 1

Sparkling Rose Continued

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this endeavor I’ve taken looking into sparkling rose. I purchased 3 more, two stateside and one from Greece. In retrospect, I’ve had the Greek sparkling rose before, but I want it with me on set for this next episode of Wine Whatevers.

Gruet Brut Rose: From New Mexico, USA. This sparkler is a beautiful, antique rose clor that is more concentrated in the center, than the bottom of the glass. the bubbles from Gruet Brut Rose are delicate, and centered, flowing quickly to the top, but without a foam layer on top. This wine is very dry, and highly acidic. I remember having this before, with the dinner I hosted before I took the Sommelier Exam. I paired it with Caprese salad on crostini, and it was perfect for cutting the fatty cheese and complemented the acid of the tomatoes. While the Gruet Brut Rose is not something that I’d serve without food, it certainly has it’s place.

Next up: Scharffenberger Brut Rose: From Mendocino County CA, USA. Scharffenberger Brut Rose is the palest rose I have seen to date. It appears to be an almost skin-tone peach, the barest blush on the cheeks of a pale woman. The bubbles are larger, gathering on the surface of the wine, creating a layer of fizz, not unlike soda. The aromas waft up to greet the nose, with peaches and cream, and sliced ripe strawberries under whipped cream. While it isn’t a terribly refined wine, it is intriguingly delightful. This wine is highly acidic, but the aromas are accurate to the flavors, strawberries, unsweetened peaches. I would pair this with pasta, tomato meat sauce, and garlic bread. It is a perfect accompaniment to an Italian dinner. The most frustrating thing is that none of the Champagne stoppers I own fit this bottle’s tiny neck, and thus, it must be shared, or dumped in libations in celebration of good company, should there be any present. In my case, a simple expandable stopper seems to plug it, though i a day or so, if I ignore it, the cork will shoot out scaring the be-geesus out of me.

I’m out of corks, and patience, so I will hold off on the review of the “Akakies” Sparkling Rose from Amyndeon Greece, vintage 2015. It’s deeper cherry, almost candied, than any of the other sparkling rose’s, and if memory serves, fruitier, and more approachable. It is a delightful example of the attitude that Greece it has been known for in the past, of jovial celebration, tradition, and mild revelry.


Rose Season

Tis the Season for Rose! Spring is in the air, the mud from melting snow is almost dried out, and it’s just about planting time. I was looking at our line up at work, thinking, “Wow, rose’ is everywhere.” I’m thoroughly tired of doing PR pieces, but there’s one set of rose’ wine that just does not ever seem to sell. Normally, I’d attribute it to a bad maker, or just the wrong market, but sparkling rose has had a terrible rap.

I’m currently endeavoring to try a few of these, in the hopes that they’re no longer the ultra-sweet, soda like crap I’ve come to know and abhor.

“Mas” Retails 10.99, a cava from Torrelles de Fox, Spain, by Josep Masachs. This cava has surprisingly delicate bubbles, and it behaves like a real sparkling wine, not just one with CO2 pumped into it for effect. The deep salmon color is appealing, with a fresh nectarines and peaches, yellow stone fruit that make it great for an palate. The fruit is balanced beautifully with how dry this cava is across the palate. “Mas” is fresh, stony, dry, with a refreshing pop of acid across the palate in the end, as cava is wont to do. I really appreciate how straight forward this rose is, but with just enough depth to be interesting. This would pair beautifully with a cheese board, nuts, and charcuterie at an event. The beautiful mauve coloring would add a touch of class to any event. Love it!

Domain De La Chanteleuserie’s “Fine Bubbles” imported by Kermit Lynch Retail: 19.99. Originally, I had thought, you can’t go wrong with a Kermit Lynch, but the second I opened the bottle, the bubbles exploded like I had opened soda. The bubbles are exciteable, and not refined. I’m hoping that the wine is better than it first leads into.

I am not disappointed. This wine is interesting, because it’s what anyone might expect of a rose, with watermelon, strawberries, and berry flavors that might appeal to any person who hadn’t had wine before. However, there’s a beautiful little acidic edge to the finish that’s almost tropical. It opens to a splendidly aromatic richness that is still a fishnet of berries, but it’s also ocean fresh.

I enjoyed both of these Sparkling rose’ wines from abroad. I am hoping that our stateside sparklers will be just as impressive.

sparkling rose


“La Caplana”2014

This wine, a lovely white Gavi from the Denominazione di Origine Controllata E Garantita del Comune Di Gavi in Italy, is a delicious white wine that is almost effervescent, and beautifully star bright. It’s nose is creamy, with an almost foresty freshness with moss and evergreen notes. As this wine opens into the glass, it becomes warm pineapple, golden delicious apple flesh, roasted. The mouthfeel is delightfully buttery as well, smooth across the palate with tiny pinpricks of tropical fruit acidity. The Gavi evolves into grassy green freshness, ferns and beautiful white marble on the palate.

I’m not normally a fan of whites, and I seem to have said it a number of times, but this one surprised me. It keeps evolving and changing. Not bad at all!

Wine Education: tv segment