Wednesday, January 19, 2011

FoodTrek: The Days of Wine and Whiskey in Woodinville

For those who are familiar with the area, it's an understatement to say that the city of Woodinville has just a few wineries and tasting rooms. You can't drive very far on a weekend without seeing great clusters of signs offering wine tastings (there's even a mead place or two!), but did you also know there's a couple of distilleries? The Prime put on her wine n' whiskey goggles recently and took on the very difficult task of sampling some local wine and spirits from Elsom Cellars and the Woodinville Whiskey Company. Oh, the great pains I take, slaving away for this blog!!!!!!

Welcome to Elsom, saddle up to the bar for a taste of Washington - Photo by Wasabi Prime

If you're a Washington State n00b, Woodinville is a city about forty minutes east of Seattle (minus traffic; if traveling east during rush hour, double that and breathe deeply as you sit in the parking lot that is 520). I've mentioned this city several times on the blog, usually regarding other local wineries as there are quite a few. The latest to add to the Wasabi Winelist is Elsom Cellars. It's a family business, crafted with love by Jody and John Elsom, who were on-hand at their recent 2008 release party, where three of their very hearty reds were premiered: 2008 Lewis Vineyard Cab Sauvignon, 2008 Malbec and the 2008 Isabella Columbia Valley Red. I'm not a wine-nerd, I can come up with some official-sounding terms, but at the end of the day, if I like something, I just like it. And I liked that these were wines had a hearty presence -- not to offend any vegetarians, but these were downright meaty! You definitely wanted a big steak with the Cab Sauvignon and I thought the Isabella was almost a little peppery, so I wanted to enjoy that with something comforting and rich, like a lamb burger. Sampling the wines, the best description was that they were definitely Washington wines -- we ain't shy with our flavor and the love of a good red.

Ain't no party like a West Coast wine party and the West Coast wine party don't stop - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I attended the release with my friend and wine aficionado, Ms. Radish. If you know bloggers, we're usually one of the first to show up to anything because in our minds, we're thinking: pictures. Much appreciation to the Elsom crew for letting us wander and take photos before the party hit full swing. They had the lovely Melissa Peterman of Honey Bee Sting cater the event, offering the exact things you'd want to enjoy with wine -- rich, flavorful dried fruits, assortments of cheese and savory nuts. When you try their reds, you really do wish you were on a picnic out in the Tuscan sun, with a basket of all those rustic goodies, along with a heavy-crusted bread you just tear with your hands. Is that even a wine term? A tear-the-food-and-eat-with-your-hands kind of wine? I'll never be a sommelier, but that's what I thought when sampling the food with the wine.

Not just for show, they really do make wine here. For reals. - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Elsom's space is great -- cool marbletop tasting bar, heavy wood furniture and a little sitting area of plush seats, with the backdrop of the winery in all its glory. You see the barrels and equipment, and you get that this is a functional space, which I love. One of the things I like about the smaller wineries like this is that you never forget that they are getting the work done right there. Independent wineries like Elsom are just that -- independent, usually family-run, and it's always powered by a passion for good product. They also have a wine club where membership is free -- a lot of other wineries offer the same, but with a joining cost, so this is especially nice. You get a 10% discount on every bottle, 20% discount on a case or more, you choose amounts ranging from a half to two cases of wine, and you get on the list for additional discounts and events. There's no direct signup on the site, but their contact page should get you in touch if you want to sign up.

My intrepid liver and I kept exploring Woodinville (don't worry, Mom, it was on a separate night), and found my way to the Whiskey After Dark event at the newly-opened Woodinville Whiskey Company.

A little hair of the White Dog, presented by owner Orlin Sorensen - Photo by Wasabi Prime

This event was an opportunity to sample both their Peabody Jones Vodka and Headlong White Dog Whiskey -- both organic, so you can unleash the Kraken, with nature's blessing. I know what you're thinking or shouting to the screen right now: "Vodka, I get -- but white whiskey?!" Woodinville Whiskey Co. recently opened, as in just last year, so these are literally newborn spirits. White Dog is made using a whiskey bourbon mash recipe, so it has all the elements of the corn and grains, distilled through their beautiful copper stills that made me think of saxophones, but it's not yet barrel-aged, which will further develop those distinctive flavor notes of  smoky caramel and vanilla, along with giving it that signature golden hue. That's not to say it's not flavorful -- upon sampling White Dog, it was a bit like having a reposado tequila, with a young, lightly floral flavor, tasting a bit like banana. Have no fear, they have their whiskey aging in white oak barrels, but their White Dog is a unique chance to peer (and taste) into the distilling process and see how whiskey is made.

Knowledge is Power from master distiller David Pickerell - Photos by Wasabi Prime

The Whiskey Jedi Master guiding their spirits along is David Pickerell, whose career as a master distiller spans over a decade. He's graced the delicious halls of Maker's Mark working his Whiskey-Fu skills along with an understanding of chemical science, and now works with Woodinville Whiskey Co., mentoring the development of these new spirits with owners Orlin Sorensen and David Carlile. Over the weekend, David Pickerell was the star attraction of a presentation over the whiskey making process, going into great detail over the differences between whiskey and bourbon, dispelling myths, and the significance of ten seconds in the char of a barrel. You wouldn't think a few seconds of extra flame on a white oak barrel would make a difference, but Pickerell went into great detail over how he specifies 30 second char, not a "number 3" barrel when he's visiting his cooper. And he had a great way of describing the aging process of whiskey in a barrel, comparing it to a steeping tea bag. Since wood is porous, it can take in all the elements of the air and temperature around it, even as it's giving off its water and alcohol, furthering the aging process of the whiskey. I particularly liked the comparision, as it was a nice visual. I always think of barrels as hard and unyielding, but I realize they were living things, still vital with the active spirit within, breathing in and out.

Big Trouble in Little Woodinville - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I think I woke up with a knowledge hangover from the Whiskey After Dark event. So much information, and it was all fascinating, so I can't wait for another bender, hearing about the myth and facts of distilled spirits. Woodinville Whiskey Company will be having more events like this in the spring, so keep an eye out on their website. They've got a beautiful tasting room open to visitors, so definitely head out east for a sip of their vodka and whiskey, and  just to see their stills in person, as they are just beautiful. It's a rare treat to see a small craft distillery in its early stages, releasing young spirits that really "make their bones," as it were, proving that even without the barrel age, the "white" whiskey has complex flavor notes and truly embodies the spirit of promise.
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  1. Thank you so much Denise! Great photos and impressive wine descriptions. I hope you were able to try a little more of the food that came out later on in the eve. Again, sorry I didn't have more time to chat! I hope we can host an event for you some time in the future!

  2. Boy, your photos sure are looking strong. What a fun (and delicious) assignment!


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