Challenger Ridge 2008 tempranillo

Another WAwineman classic, 1st posted on May 19, 2010:

One thing about the Chinese: they sure know how to go to extremes. Ever heard of a Chinese criminal? Of course not, they execute ‘em all. Then, there’s the 88 year-old Chinese woman who sent herself into a thyroid-induced coma after eating that awfully plain-tasting white cabbage called bok choy. She ate 2-3 pounds of bok choy…that’s about 2-3 large heads of cabbage…every day…for the last several months. You can find her excrement on sale at Loew’s in the 2-by-4 section. A drunk 36 year-old Maryland man eluded police by driving through a farm, nearly hitting a herd of cows. He ran but eventually surrendered and collapsed behind his truck, which then started to drift back toward him. He was pulled to safety, then handcuffed and transported in the bucket of the farmer’s tractor to the patrol car. Mooo-ving on…

Challenger Ridge Vineyard and Cellars has seen a couple ownership changes in the last ten years (June 5 will be the 10th birthday), but continues with a plan to make the winery more of a destination, as described in their release party last year where the owners unleashed live music, bbq, games, and jet boat rides. This summer, there will be a concert series as well as a classic Corvette show. Cars, boats, tunes, and good food…looks like they are indeed becoming a mandatory stop along the North Cascades Highway (Hwy. 20) now that the Diablo Lake tours put on by Seattle City Light have been cancelled for this summer.

What to do with 13 acres of vineyards where the “growing degree days” adds up to a paltry 2050? You plant pinot noir, of course! While I have not heard anything pleasant about the taste of Hwy. 20 pinot (or any Washington State pinot for that matter), I will wait patiently and continue to sample in their Woodinville tasting house and give you the word when it’s time. I liken it to waiting for a Mariners World Series championship.

Challenger Ridge has the capacity to bottle up to 3000 cases/year, but they have to source grapes from the Yakima Valley and Red Mountain AVAs to supply a decent portfolio of wines. Here’s where my beef starts. The “town” of Concrete is not exactly a bustling metropolis. If a winery from a small, off-the-compass town wants to be “known,” then I think it helps that the winery website at least be updated with more than just “events.” After all, it’s a winery, not a B&B. When folks plan for a day trip out to Hwy. 20, whether it’s all the way to Winthrop or just to munch on those killer burgers from Marblemount Drive-Inn or even the fabulous ice cream at Cascadian Farm in Rockport, they look at the internet (or, now, this column) to help plan their trip. “Ooh, there’s several wineries on the way! Let’s see their website. Wonder what kind of wines they have. (click, click, click). Hmm, there’s no DETAILED description of their wines. Let’s try Glacier Peak Winery. Nope. How about Eagle Haven? Nada. Oh, let’s forget it and just go get that ice cream and burger.” Not just one winery, they ALL lost a sale, and a potential wine club member.

And, that leads to tonight’s wine choice. This is another one of those “completely out of the blue” (and somewhat literally) wines that has no information about its origins and makeup. All I get to lead with is “Yakima Valley” for the AVA. Thankfully, as you faithful readers know from my “Tempranillo 2009 update,” the only possible Yakima Valley vineyard to grow and sell Tempranillo grapes is Two Coyote Vineyard. Other possibilities could include extras from other wineries like: Airfield Estates, Vine Heart, Upland Estates or Kennedy Shah. The back label could have been utilized better, much better, but instead is used to promote outdoor activities and give a generic map of the winery’s location, but no address. Label grade: D-minus.

Puget Sound AVA wineries outside of King and Snohomish Counties could really do themselves a big marketing favor by upgrading their labels. I understand the “country feeling” of the simplicity of these Mac-drawn “art” labels, but these do not compete on the same level as the Woodinville wineries and the other AVAs, especially Walla Walla’s (or soon to be renamed Gallo Gallo with some big wineries are up for sale at present).

Make sure to check out their Woodinville tasting house. It’s spacious, on par with Hollywood Hill Vineyards a soccer kick north, and is a stone’s throw across Woodinville-Redmond Road NE from the DeLille Cellars Carriage House. Open Wednesday through Sunday, noon-5pm.

Tonight’s food pairing was leftover ravioli which paired very well with the red sauce and cheese. Something different.

Color: reddish bluish-purple. Nose: this “little early one” has soft aromas of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, heck let’s call it razzleberry. Mouthfeel: flyweight and a little flat. Tail trail: 4 seconds. Flavors: blue blue blue, cherry.

Alcohol: 13%. Yakima Valley AVA. Rated: 87. Value: $13. Paid: $25. Music pairing: “Blue Christmas” by Elvis (and Martina McBride). This is WAwineman…uncorked, uneducated but not uncouth.

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