Meet my latest guest blogger, Jan Ennis, who is a transplanted Virginian living in the Seattle area.  I went to college with Jan and, in retrospect, he was the only one I knew NOT drinking cheap beer, wine and vodka.  This savvy guy had good taste even then and apparently it has been elevated to quite the art.  Growing up in the South, Jan learned to appreciate cooking without recipes.  Now, he enjoys fusing Old South and Pan Pacific into his own style of cuisine, but only for friends and family. After his first trip to Walla Walla, he truly fell in love with exploring wine and wine country.  Jan collaborates with his friend Rod Shedd from Vermont in his Vine to Wine Concierge Service and both have traveled to wine regions in Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Baja Mexico, Woodinville, WA, Walla Walla and the Eastern Counties of Quebec where wine and cider fuse together for a great tour.  For information and help planning a fabulous wine trip visit Vine to Wine Concierge Service and let Rod help you out.  But for now, enjoy Jan’s entertaining article about his latest “grape experience” in Walla Walla.

jan ennis

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In a tiny corner of Washington State, nestled between the Blue Mountains and the Cascades lies a town the Indians named “water, water”, AKA Walla Walla.  The primary driver for this little town was agriculture for many years with wheat, asparagus and Walla Walla Sweet onions sustaining the residents.  With prices for wheat dropping and costs of farming and distribution rising, the late 70’s and early 80’s saw residents looking at new potential crops and processing operations.

My first trip to Walla Walla was with a close friend in the late 80’s, long before I cared a hoot about wine.  But I fell in love with this little town and decided to try the wines.  L’Ecole No. 41, Woodward Canyon and Leonetti were some of the first wines I tried and I don’t think that you can possibly discuss wine in Washington State without giving huge credit to these three names.  Each of these wines and their winemakers honed their craft in a place “unknown” for its wine growing value.  However, in recent years, winemakers and growers have unleashed the power of the fruit found in the soil of this part of the Columbia basin and now there are almost 200 wineries in Walla Walla alone.

This trip to Walla Walla was, as all of them, to find more wine and to find and try new wines.  On most of our trips we stay at smaller hotels or B&B’s, but this time we decided to stay at the Bryant House and Bryant Barn VRBO.  What an incredible find.  The kitchen was professionally stocked for those of us that seriously cook and with heat well above 100, the pool was a welcome addition to the property.  We fixed a gourmet dinner on Friday night and rested for a big day of wine and dine on Saturday.  Although it did seem insulting to the community, our group decided to imbibe with some old Napa wine to start the weekend.  Our ’95 Stags Leap Cab really hammered our steaks home that evening.

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We visited five wineries on Saturday, July 12.  We usually take in more, but the night was to be special.  We were celebrating two birthdays and attending a wine dinner at The Fat Duck Inn.  Rich and Cynthia Koby have transformed the Fat Duck into a true destination B&B with not only incredible accommodations and out of this world breakfasts, but also with routinely schedule winemaker dinners in their dining room.  The dining room seats 18 and reservations (well in advance) are required since everyone in town knows that Rich is an incredible chef.

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We were treated to one of Rich’s favorite wineries, Rotie Cellars ,and their presenter Madeleine Richards.  The rich Rhone style wines from Rotie were going to grace a meal that none of us were really prepared for.  Guests arrived at 6:00 for a dinner to be served starting at 6:30pm.  Since this was to be a five course dinner, I starved myself (except for wine tasting) to prepare.  I thought about trying to describe each course and each wine, but it would not do it justice without sharing the actual items.  I will try not to embellish too much (unless that course was to die for…OK….I am likely to get long winded).  As for the wine tasting notes…I suggest you find some Rotie, a great restaurant local to you and sample just one of the pleasures of Walla Walla.

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Before we started dinner, Madeleine shared her insight on how closely knit the wine community is in Walla Walla.  So many of the winemakers have worked, apprenticed, been schooled or moved here in search of great soil and great grapes.  They share their knowledge and celebrate each other’s successes.  Tonight she shared some incredible news with all those preparing to dine.  She let us know that L’Ecole No. 41 (one of the first wineries in the area) had just received an incredible award in London.  Decanter World Wine Awards had just picked 2011 Estate Ferguson (their first release from a new vineyard) as the best Bordeaux over £15 in the world.  WOW….take that old French vines!!!!  If you can find (good luck) any of this, it would be a huge opportunity to have the first Euro-killer new world Bordeaux and impress your friends and colleagues…And now the dinner paired with Rotie Cellars wines!

First Course

Chilled Melon Soup, Basil Crème Fraiche served with 2013 Southern White (Viognier, Rousanne and Marsanne)  This pairing was to die for.  A bucket of this cool, sweet and slightly spicy soup would have been just short of how much I would have wanted.

Second Course

Arugula, Pickled Boysenberries with Smoked Salmon and Fresh Herb Dressing served with 2012 Northern White  (100% Marsanne)  My tastebuds were just getting going now with the smoky meat and the slightly mineral taste of this wine.

Third Course

Garlic and Herb Sausage Dumplings with Roasted Carrots and Beets served in a San Marzano Tomato Sauce that made people look left and right to see If they could get away with licking their plate.  This was paired with my favorite of the wines, the 2012 Southern Blend.  (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah)  Madeleine was quick to point out that this is NOT GSM…..but GMS, and much different.  Fabulous.

Fourth Course

Herbes de Provence Roasted Chicken drizzled ever so gently with Cherry Butter Sauce and served with new Potato Gratin  – All were served on a wine barrel stave and paired with the 2012 Northern Blend (Syrah co-fermented with 3% Viognier)  Hang on….we aren’t done yet!

Fifth Course

Slow Braised Beef Cheeks with Rosemary Polenta enhanced with 2012 Homage – The swirling of big meat with BIG WINE…the unique blend of Mourvedre, Cinsault and Grenache had me giddy.

OH YEAH…Dessert

Summer Berry Tart with the crispiest of tartlet bottoms, creamiest of cream topping and every native berry to the Northwest bombarded with citrus flavors from the Raspberry Ice Cream accompaniment.

It is not often that I can say “EVERYONE” in my group enjoyed a meal because I travel with some incredibly picky eaters.  Had we been served any of my favorite shellfish or game meats I might have had mutiny in my group, but I am hoping beyond hope that someday Cynthia or Rich will call me to tell me that there will be a Wild Game Cayuse winemaker dinner.  There is NO WAY I would ever miss that!

I hope that you will someday get to visit one of my favorite wine destinations.  ~ Jan

Jan’s Note:  Like cooking, sweet pairs with sour like yin and yang.  In beverages, Rod and I feel much the same.  After drinking fine wine there are times when you just want a beer, and we have found the perfect way to have exactly what we want.  Our wine collaboration has now extended to a venture we participate in called PicoBrew.  PicoBrew is the world’s first automated beer making appliance.  To paraphrase Paul Shipman (founder of Red Hook Brewery), this appliance will now allow satisfy the entire waterfront of beer tastes and not just the specific tastes made available commercially.  As I complete this article, my recent brewing of “Party Porter” tastes incredibly good.  If you are a beer lover like us, check out Pico Brew. With this incredible piece of technology, you can have any beer you want any time you want.

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4 comments

  1. Jerry Posenau

    Reply

    Very nice article. I am sure Rich and Cynthia found Jan to be quite the “Virginia Gentleman”.

    • Cindy Rynning

      Reply

      Hey, Jerry! Yes, I’m sure they did! It’s nice that Jan’s Virginia style is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest!

    • Cindy Rynning

      Reply

      You’ll have to go on your next trip, Christy!! I need to get there, too!

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