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Wineman’s Toast: Three local wineries make top list

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Winemaker Rob Newsom, owner of Boudreaux Vineyards in the Icicle Valley.

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Three NCW wineries made the Seattle Time’s list of the year’s Top 100 Northwest wines.

Number 19 on reviewer Paul Gregutt’s list was Nefarious Cellars’ 2010 Rocky Mother Syrah. Dean and Heather Neff’s sumptuous syrah scored an impressive 95 points. Grapes for the wine were grown on the Nefarious vineyards overlooking Lake Chelan.

At number 26, also with 95 points, was Boudreaux Vineyards’ 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Leavenworth winemaker Rob Newsom’s cabs just get better the longer you keep them in the cellar. If only you can wait. The Reserve Cab also received a recent 91 point score from the international wine magazine, Wine Spectator.

Fielding Hills is a perennial winner on many top wine lists. Mike and Karen Wade’s 2009 Tribute Red was 29th on Gregutt’s list with 94 points.

Gregutt, who also reviews NW wines for Wine Enthusiast magazine, said wines that made the list — from about 2,000 Washington and Oregon wines sampled this year — were undoubtedly the best he’s ever had the pleasure to sip.

He admitted a bias towards more expensive red wines. I would add that the Waitsburg wine writer is also biased for the nearby Walla Walla and lower Yakima Valley wines.

Still, it’s fabulous to see wines from the younger North Central Washington wine producing area make the list. You can bet more will on the list in the future.

There’s an app for that wine

Puzzled over what wine to buy for the Christmas table? Not to worry. Now all you have to do is whip out your smartphone, punch in the name of the wine or scan the UPC and WinePoynt will provide you with information about most wines, including general price information, rating, what foods it goes with and where you can purchase it.

Actually, a lot of the information is sketchy, especially on where to buy it in our area. The only stores listed were the valley’s two Walgreens stores. Local information will grow, the company says, as more people from the area use the app and stores participate.

The most useful part of the app may be what users enter themselves. There’s a place for your own notes about how each wine lived up to expectations and whether you would want to purchase it again.

That body of information along with the large selection of wines already in the system can then be searched by price, food pairings, varietal and wine style.

I downloaded the free version of this app to try it out. The jury is still out about how useful this tool will be, especially in the hands of a tech-challenged person like me, but I like the idea.

There are probably many of these wine apps out there. WinePoynt’s engineers say its version offers the best features of all the others. More information can be found at www.winepoynt.com.

Challenging year for amateur winemaking

This was supposed to be a “normal” year, perhaps even a “vintage” year, for Washington wine grapes compared to the past two unusually cool and wet years.

I hope that turns out to be true for commercial vintners and for wine drinkers who are used to being spoiled by great Washington wines at reasonable prices.

But things turned out far from normal for this amateur winemaker. Whether the results of my winemaking this year will produce a memorable vintage won’t be known for some time. But if so, it won’t be because those wines didn’t take a lot of adjusting.

My problems were largely due to my own lack of experience and knowledge to be sure. But fickle weather did play a part.

Grapes from my own small vineyard in Cashmere were hit by an early frost, along with heavy smoke from surrounding fires, in mid September. My attempts to keep temperatures above freezing — mainly worrying, but actually covering one row of particularly unripe sangiovese with tarps and blankets — wasn’t quite enough.

Temperatures dipped to about 30 degrees three successive mornings. Next year I’ll use fans, sprinklers or build a bonfire if I have to.

The only vines that survived were the pinot gris and chardonnay that didn’t need to. Those grapes were ready to pick.

The cabernet franc, lemberger and especially that heavy-with-grapes row of sangiovese could have definitely used a couple more weeks to sweeten up fully.

As luck would have it, the smoke finally cleared and the weather warmed for the next three weeks. The only increase my grapes got in sugars came from dessication by leaving the grapes on the shriveled vines for another week.

Still, Brix — a measure of natural sugar in the grapes — was in the low 20s. Not terrible. Ideal is about 24 Brix, although Columbia Basin grapes are often picked at 26.

I added less than a pound of sugar to sweeten the seven or eight gallons of crushed grapes to a level that, when fully fermented, will make a 12 percent alcohol wine.

My next batch of grapes I purchased from White Heron Cellars vineyards in Trinidad. I picked 200 pounds of cabernet sauvignon Oct. 13.

I could tell the grapes were sweet, but was surprised when I got a reading of 29 Brix on my hydrometer. Sugars that high will produce too much alcohol and kill the yeast causing a stuck fermentation. If the fermentation is completed, the 15 or 16 percent alcohol makes for a very hot tasting wine.

Back to the calculator, to find out how much water to add to get the potential alcohol down to a more appropriate level. Cameron Fries, White Heron owner and talented Swiss-trained winemaker, said he likes to let the grapes hang as long as possible to express their full flavor. A little watering down won’t be a problem, he assured me.

Adding sugar — called chaptalization — and watering are common practices in winemaking, along with acid and pH adjustment and other tricks of the trade to produce a well balanced wine.

But nothing takes the place — or makes winemaking easier — than getting those perfectly ripened grapes that seem to make great wine themselves. Then again, you don’t learn much when the going is too easy.