Wine is on my mind this week as I plan for our wine tasting on Friday. This past Monday I had to really work hard. The distributor who brings us our Italian Small Vineyards Estate Wines (Vehrs) had their annual holiday wine tasting. They invite all their customers to one central location to taste wines from as many of their wineries as possible. This year it was atPalisades restaurant in Seattle. I have never eaten at Palisades but it is the favorite restaurant of my Ya-Ya, Linda, and I was really looking forward to trying some of their food.

I always take a ‘second’ to the wine tasting events, even the smaller ones. It is really difficult to cull out the best wines for you all to taste if I don’t have someone to discuss the wines with. This was a really big tasting so both Mark and Leslie went with me. We got there early so we could really take our time. We walked in and were in a large banquet room with manned tables full of wine all around the perimeter and out on the patio. In the center of the room was a buffet of appetizer type foods: sashimi tuna crusted in what I believe was ginger, wasabi, sesame seeds and pepper; a fruit platter; a multitude of wonderful cheeses; bread rolls and gourmet crackers; sliders made of spicy lamb sausage with sweet-hot mustard on really soft buns; bites of beef done in better-than-teriyaki style sauce; and little one-bite dark chocolate cups with a smidge of milk chocolate mousse, a raspberry and a mint leaf on top. Everything was fabulous!! The sauces were all Asian themed and yet each was distinctive enough to be it’s own dish. The presentations were beautiful, the servers were professional and friendly and very on top of things, and the whole experience made me put Palisades up towards the top of my ‘want to try’ Seattle restaurants list. (The list is very long and ever evolving. Never enough time or money!)

Then there were the wines. There were 18 tables, each with two wineries represented, and each winery had at least 6 wines to taste. Holy grape vines!! It was not my first barn dance, albeit it was the largest, so I went in with a plan. I had researched some of the wines in Vehrs’ book and had several specific wineries that I needed to taste. Mark and Leslie followed me to taste those and then they were welcome to taste whatever they wanted.

The rules for which wines we would taste: Anything new that Small Vineyards had, of course (Tom Kelly was kind enough to keep our purses under his table so our hands were free to hold our notepads and pens, wine glasses and plates. This is REALLY hard work!)Other than Small Vineyards they had to be from Washington. (Don’t get me wrong, I love wines from all over, but since we have such small retail space I have to draw lines somewhere.) And they must come from estate wineries. They must also be an excellent value-which does not necessarily mean they are inexpensive, although the best wines for the best price is definitely a good goal. So of course we hit the Washington estate wineries first.

Sidebar: Working with Small Vineyards has taught me most of what I know about wines, as well as helped me build my values where wine and winemakers are concerned. Perhaps estate wineries have more control over quality; maybe they have just a touch more pride since the farmers and winemakers are working side by side on a daily basis… I don’t know for certain that those things are true. When wineries grow and nurture the plants, and make the wine from those plants, and have the complete cycle on one estate, I think that is important. I also think that the stories and connections behind the wines make for a much more interesting and entertaining wine tasting event.

We really liked the Terra Blanca wines (again) and discovered Canyon’s Edge Winery as well. I was tasting Canyon’s Edge when I asked how they kept their prices so low. It is really difficult to find high quality value wines from Washington; most Washington wines are more expensive, which is why most house pours are $8.50 and above. Since we want to keep our house pour at $5-ish we really have to find inexpensive wines to do that with, and it would be much easier to do if I would sell California wines. But I digress. The answer to my pricing inquiry was “because we’re farmers!” That made me smile. Another reason to value estate wineries: they don’t have transportation costs and their better quality wines are a better value. We also enjoyed Apex, Ryan Patrick and Lone Canary wines.

Leslie enjoys the sweeter, desserty wines so she tasted: La Sirena Moscato (California), the Terra Blanca Late Harvest Reisling from Yakima Valley, the Canyon’s Edge Jeremiah’s Chocolate Port, another chocolate port that I can’t remember which winery it was, and Robert Hall’s Vintage Port (both the last two are from California). You’ll have to come in and ask her what her favorite was.

Everyone does the tasting differently. Some people do all the whites first, then go around and do the reds. Some folks spit the wine; others (like me) swallow what is in the mouth but will pour out extra in the glass. There is a wide variety of tasters at the event, from fancy restaurant sommeliers, to grocery store wine department managers, to wine store owners and owners of many different restaurant types. It is really fun to read the nametags and see where everyone is from. We saw our old friend Steve from Water to Wine in Gig Harbor (we love that wine store!) and lots of other familiar faces from around the Kitsap peninsula. It is really fun to learn about the wines, wineries and wine makers and to connect with those who we may want to do tastings with. Stay tuned for what we will be selling next year!