wine tasting

Try Before You Buy: 4 Seattle Wine Shops with Tastings

Remember when we were younger and fussy about eating new things? My mom always told me to try something first before deciding if I hated it. As I grew, so did my palate. I stopped rejecting onions and hot sauce simply because I finally gave them a try. Over time these flavors became important, and even desirable for me.

Wine is as varied as food when it comes to what appeals to people. A delicious soave for me will taste astringent to another. So it makes good sense to try many varietals and styles of wine as you learn what appeals to you.

However, wine can be an expensive hobby. We can learn the primary varietal characteristics and hope that a bottle featuring that grape lives up to its promise. While we can’t guarantee every bottle or vintage, we can taste. I believe that wine shops that feature customer tastings are the real heroes of the Novice Wine Drinker. So here are four small bottle shops in Seattle that offer patrons a chance to try a few sips before diving right in to a whole bottle (or case!) purchase.

Wine selections at Bin 41

Wine selections at Bin 41

Bin 41, West Seattle

Located in the West Seattle Junction, Bin 41 is a beautiful, well-stocked wine shop that focuses on client service. The proprietors will walk you through your menu and help find the best-paired wine from their collection. They offer weekly themed tastings on Thursdays for $5, with the fee rolled into whatever bottle purchase you ultimately make. The wine stock is centered on small production, family-operated wineries.

Pro Tip: Love animals? So do the owners, so much so that they routinely donate proceeds from their own wine and special fundraising events to animal rescue organizations.

Tasting room at Portalis

Tasting room at Portalis

 Portalis, Ballard

Near to my heart, this is my neighborhood wine shop. I often walk down and have been seen lugging a half case the 10 blocks home. Portalis stocks an eclectic mix of wines, beers, and other beverages in the shop’s new home at NW 70th Ave and 15th Ave NW.  Seriously good and rare imports here. Portalis has a beatuful private tasting room replete with referenceable wine region maps. With free tastings Wednesdays through Sundays, you can expect to taste a varietal flight, focus on a certain region, or meet a winemaker. Check the shop’s website often to find out what’s up next.

Pro Tip: Jens of Portalis also owns a wine import company, so if you’re looking for something rare or unusual, he’s a good man to know!

Tasting wines from Tranche Vineyards at Vino Verite

Tasting wines from Tranche Vineyards at Vino Verite

Vino Verité, Columbia City

Recently relocated from Capitol Hill to the bustling main street of Columbia City, Vino Verité is Columbia City’s only dedicated wine shop. Here the owners are laser focused on value for their selections: Wines that are both delicious AND at the right price points. Thursday are tasting nights with complimentary pours of about five wines between 5-8 pm. Frequented by a mixture of walk-ins and regulars, the shop has taken hold in the neighborhood over the past year. I left with what promises to be a glorious bottle of Grüner Veltliner — how could I not?

Pro Tip: Every single wine on the shelves has been tasted and verified as DELICIOUS so you won’t buy any duds here. Good wine AND good value!                

Madrona Wine Merchants, Madrona

Back when I lived on Capitol Hill, Madrona Wine Merchants was a wonderful weekend walking destination. Tucked into a small shop on 34th Ave, they always seemed to have something open to taste. The owners really like to showcase the wines they love with the neighborhood and enjoy sharing “true bargains” with their loyal clientele. I have never been disappointed with their weekend tastings and lament the fact I don’t get over to that side of town as frequently anymore.

Pro Tip: These gents focus on wine producers with deep respect for both their craft and the land, whether that’s sustainable farming, biodynamic practices, or organic wine making. For the conscientious wine collector, Madrona Wine Merchants is a great choice.

 All four shops advertise their tasting schedules on their websites and offer email newsletter updates. If you live in Seattle, I encourage you to give your neighborhood shop a swirl and a sip. From out of town? These are great places to learn more about Seattle’s wine culture. Salud!

Amy L. Dickson is a communications professional, freelance writer, and contributor to Rain or Shine Guides. She’s currently training at the NW Wine Academy for her Level 1 sommelier certification. Follow her at @amyldickson75

How to Wine in Woodinville

Acres of vineyards in Woodinville.

Acres of vineyards in Woodinville.

Woodinville is a wonderful little town 30 minutes outside of Seattle. Although Seattle has enough to keep you busy for ages, if you want wine, you have to go to Woodinville. You can visit famous Northwest wineries like Chateau St. Michelle as well as tiny boutique wineries, all which serve up an amazing variety of wines.

As stated elsewhere on this site, we are not wine experts, but this isn't to say we don't love wine — we do. All kinds. No discrimination here. Kristina is known to drink wine others have deemed "bad" with a smile on her face. That being said, if we are going to send you to Woodinville you need to have a basic understanding of wine as well as some advice on the best places to visit, so we brought in our expert, Amy L. Dickson, to give you the lay of the land. Literally.

Q: What are the basic "types" of wine? 

That's a big first question! Most of the wine on the world market is dry wine, regardless of if it's red or white. You'll also find fortified wines, dessert wines, and of course, sparkling wines. I could go into so much more detail...over a glass of wine, of course.

Q: Are there "seasons" for wine? 

I would say the "seasons" for wine are driven by what you're eating in that season. For instance, Beaujolais wine goes incredibly well with turkey and cranberry dishes, so I drink more of it in the fall. Rosé is just delish with springtime salmon dishes and lightly treated vegetables. Cabernet Sauvignon, the powerhouse of the WA harvest, is like a meal in itself and keeps me warm through the winter months.

Q: What exactly are you supposed to do when someone hands you a glass of wine at a winery and looks at you expectantly? 

Say thank you and taste it.

Seriously, what you do with your wine is up to you. Winemakers and tasting room staff know that wine is a subjective experience. Not every wine will appeal to every person. Take the glass and smell it. Note the aromas and bouquets, then give it a little swirl and smell again. Did anything change? Taste it, hold it in your mouth, roll it around a little and see where the primary flavors pop out. Then, if you want to, swallow.

Q: Why the spit buckets? I want to swallow my wine.

Most people do, but some tasters want to taste a large variety of wines in a single day. Aside from exhausting the palate if tasting all day, PNW wines contain a fair amount of alcohol. People spit or dump when they want to enjoy the taste and flavor of a wine without becoming intoxicated. If you encounter a bad wine or one you don't like, it's perfectly acceptable to pour it out.

Q: Dry vs... 

Sweet or semi-dry. This is a measure of the residual sugar left in the wine when it goes into the bottle. A wine is considered “dry” when all of the grape sugar is converted to alcohol during fermentation, while a sweet wine still has some residual sugar. “Semi-dry” or “off dry” wines may appear mildly sweet to the taster.

Q: Is wine organic? Is it vegetarian?

Wine is made from grapes, and like any other fruit or vegetable, it can be grown organically, so winemakers can make organic wine. This is a decision made in the vineyards. Same thing about wine being vegetarian, only this decision is made in the winemaking process. It's not uncommon for winemakers to use fining agents that remove proteins and impurities from the wine. Popular animal-derived fining agents used include blood and bone marrow, casein (milk protein), egg albumen, fish oil, gelatin, and isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes). Yum!

Q: Also, what's the deal with sulfites?

Sulfites are used to keep wine "fresh" so to speak and are added during winemaking. By law, the addition of sulfites is stated on most bottles because there are a very few people with strong sulfite allergies. But don't worry: The amount of sulfites found in dry red wine is a tiny fraction of what you'd find in dried fruit or even french fries.

Q: Why are there different size and shape wine glasses? Which do you use and when?

Wine glasses are designed to help you get the most out of your wine tasting experience. The shape of the glass helps deliver a consistent aroma. So many glasses because, well, there are a lot of different types of wine out there! Seattle wine pro/sommelier/personal hero Madeline Puckette offers a great video resource on her website, Wine Folly. Check it out!

Q. What's the point of smelling the cork and should I ask to do this?

Smelling a cork helps you detect wine cork taint known as Trichloroanisole (TCA). But if this has happened to the bottle, you'll smell it in the wine too (musty, wet dog smell). Skip the cork and start with your wine. If you suspect TCA taint, then inspect the cork, but only if you want to.

Q. How long does wine last once open?

This varies depending on the type of wine and how it's stored. Some fortified wines can be fine for weeks once opened! But if it's a glass bottle of wine, bank on 3-5 days. Put your resealed red wine someplace cool and dark and your resealed white wine in the fridge.

Q. What does it mean when someone says the wine has "nice legs?"

This is a measure of glycerin in the wine, an indicator of alcohol or sugar in your wine. More or heavier "legs" just means your sweet, alcoholic drink might give you a case of the "wine flu" tomorrow. It's not a measure of quality.

Q. When wine tasting, what type of wine do you start and end with and why?

Most wineries pour light to dark. Here in Woodinville you don't often get sparkling wines, so you'll likely encounter light whites and rosé wines first, then move through to light/medium/heavy reds.

Q. What's your favorite Seattle area or Woodinville winery that is good for beginners? 

Walking around the Warehouse District in Woodinville is a great place to start, especially in the fall during harvest and crush. Many of these winemakers will be making their next vintages right there in the backs of the buildings. You can even volunteer to help!

At last count Woodinville sported 108 tasting rooms, so it's tough for me to pick a favorite. They are all my children. Salud!

Tasting at Sparkman Cellars.

Tasting at Sparkman Cellars.

Aging wine in barrels.

Aging wine in barrels.

Adams Bench Winery

Adams Bench Winery

Amy L. Dickson is a communications professional, freelance writer, and contributor to Rain or Shine Guides. She’s currently training at the NW Wine Academy for her Level 1 sommelier certification. Follow her at @amyldickson75

Photos by Amy L. Dickson and Sarah Mathews

Buy The Glass: 5 Great Glasses of White Under $10 at Pike Place Market

Note to readers: We have two fairly low standards for our wine:  it tastes good and gets us a buzz. We realize this is not necessarily the “right” way to view wine so we brought in expert Amy Dickson to give you the lowdown. You might see her popping up on the blog as a guest writer every once in a while! 

White wine is perfect for a sunny, warm day

White wine is perfect for a sunny, warm day

Last week’s weather warmed so significantly and quickly, my palate skipped right over desiring a glass of rosé and straight to white. I decided to nip down to Pike Place Market to see what glass pours could quench my thirst without breaking the bank. I’ll need those extra pennies for true rosé season soon.

Here are my suggestions for five outstanding glasses of white wine at Pike Place Market, all under $10 a pour.

Le Pichet: Patrice Colin Blanc Vendômois, 2014

Coteaux du Vendomois, Loire, France, 12.5%, $7.50 per glass

At Le Pichet, the proprietors expect and encourage you to order a glass of wine with, well, everything. That’s why the daily menu includes 11 white glass pours under the $10 price point, with most hovering around $7.50. With a demi-pichet (a small jug of wine) holding two glasses for a dollar less, it’s easy to explore these food-friendly wines over lunch with a date. 

After a stimulating flight of five delicious whites, I settled on this Chenin Blanc. Tart, lightly aromatic, and with a hint of both spice and minerality on the finish, this wine likes food and can pair with most menu items at Le Pichet. Go wild and order one of everything.

Tip From Behind the Bar: Nearly all wines on the menu are organic, sustainably grown, and are often women-owned wineries. 

The Tasting Room: Naches Heights Vineyard, Pinot Gris, 2014

Naches Heights AVA, Washington, 13.8%, $7 per glass

The Tasting Room, hidden in Post Alley at the Market, specializes in serving some of Washington state’s hard-to-find artisan wines. With a substantial list offering drinkers anything from small taste flights to full bottles, it’s a great place to discover the 13 AVAs of Washington — especially on the patio when the sun is shining.

I worked my way through an appetizing flight of wines, but I had to say, the pinot gris was my favorite. The wine was star bright, clean, and of a strong character.  I’ll be back to enjoy a chilled bottle on that patio as we ease into the summer months. 

Tip From Behind the Bar: Wherever possible, the grapes at Naches Heights Vineyards are grown using organic or biodynamic practices. Grown in a high altitude volcanic soil vineyard, these grapes translate to a wine displaying citrus, honeysuckle, and pear notes. It hits on the front and mid palate, making it easy to drink with food or on its own.

Radiator Whiskey: Domaine Labbe, Vin de Savoie, 2012

Savoie, French Alps, 12%, $9 per glass

Who goes to a whiskey bar to order a glass of white wine? This lady right here. Located in the heart of Pike Place Market, Radiator Whiskey offers an extensive list of potent potables with a focus on brown water and barrel-aged cocktails. Don’t let that stop you oenophiles out there as I promise you can find a delicious glass of white.

Made from 100% Jacquère grapes, Vin de Savoie tends to be a fairly neutral mountain wine. However my glass was palate cleansing, cool, and showed dense minerality. We are talking like “licking wet stones in a rain storm.” This wine cuts through fat and that’s a great glass pour at a place that also serves a smoked half pig head. I am not saying to pair these two together, but if you need a refresher after a meal like that, Vin de Savoie is your friend. It was a good accompaniment to my dish of tater tots topped with gravy and egg.

Tip From Behind the Bar: On warm days they flip the windows open in a unique manner, spilling in sunshine. Wonderful for sipping white wine in warm weather.

Steelhead Diner: Parejas Cellars, Albarino, 2013

Dutchman Vineyards, Yakima, WA, 13%, $9 per glass

“Nothing south of Oregon — Nothing east of Idaho.” With a tagline like this, you know it’s PNW hyperlocal at Steelhead Diner. I was delighted to see eight glasses of white wine at the sub-$10 price point. I explored a chardonnay, a pinot gris, and a riesling before settling on the albarino.

This is a smooth, crisp, and very tart dry white wine. You’ll encounter scents of pear, apricot, and spice. It has a clean, long-lasting finish. This traditional Spanish/Portuguese varietal is doing well in Washington soil and is best friends with shellfish. Maybe give it a whirl with the Naughty Clams or Paella dish?

Tip From Behind the Bar: Steelhead’s menu (and wines) change all the time based on season and availability, so if you want to try this glass pour, scuttle on in.

Chocolate Box: Waitsburg Cellars, ‘Three’ White, 2013

Boushey Vineyards, Yakima, WA,  12%, $26 per bottle ($6.50 per glass)

Half a block off the main market drag is Chocolate Box, a seemingly twee chocolate shop selling truffles, chocolates (edible or sipping varieties), and a ton of wine. Yes, that’s right: WINE. The back end of the shop is part tasting bar / part bodega with one entire wall devoted to Northwest boutique wines. The friendly staff at Chocolate Box will even help you pair your wines to some of the delectable truffles found in the shop.

I put together a unique flight of Washington wines and after sipping through the varietals, I fell in love with the Waitsburg Cellars blend. Composed of 53% Grenache Blanc, 40% Marsanne, and 7% Picpoul, this is a new world wine coming from the Yakima AVA, but in an old world style. Slightly vegetal, this wine tastes of pink grapefruit pith and Meyer lemon. I agree with the winemakers that this wine has the grip and structure of a French blend and I would be interested in setting a bottle down for a year or two to see how it develops.

Then again, I might not be able to wait that long as summer seems to be knocking at our doors already.

Tip From Behind the Bar: They sell only by the taste or the bottle, but you’ll quickly see that a small taste will lead you to the right bottle in no time. 

Do you have a favorite glass of white wine at the Market? Let us know and we’ll be happy to try it as well. Enjoy your spring and Salud!

Special thanks to Marcel at Le Pichet, Wendy at The Tasting Room, Sarah at Radiator Whiskey, Tony at Steelhead Diner, and Christopher at The Chocolate Box for their wealth of knowledge they lent to making this post possible. 

Amy L. Dickson is a communications professional, freelance writer, and contributor to Rain or Shine Guides. She’s currently training at the NW Wine Academy for her Level 1 sommelier certification. Follow her at @amyldickson75