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Wineman’s Toast: Wine Thief on the prowl in town

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Paul McNeill, owner of The Wine Thief, readies the shop for a Friday afternoon tasting.

Foothills magazine, a glossy bimonthly lifestyle publication, is holding a competition to find the best wines in our region.

Professional judges will taste wines from Chelan, Grant, Douglas and Okanagon counties on June 30. Wine Press Northwest, a premier regional wine magazine, will coordinate the judging.

On Aug. 13, the winners will be honored at a special wine gala. The winning wineries and their wines also will be featured in the August/September edition of Foothills, produced by World Publishing.

Copies of the magazine, in addition to its usual NCW distribution, will be mailed to thousands of wine lovers in the Seattle and Spokane areas.

Go to @FoothillsMag to follow the magazine on Twitter.

— Business World staff

The website wasn’t up yet, and the stock was only half of what it would be, but The Wine Thief, Wenatchee’s newest specialty wine store, opened last month for business. The location is 1604 N. Wenatchee Ave., next to Grocery Outlet.

Owners Paul and Jenni McNeill remodeled a new storefront in a building that also houses Chim Chimney Fireplace, Pool & Spa, which is owned by Paul’s father, Cam McNeill. Paul works at both stores, so you can pick up a bottle of wine while pricing a new spa or a fireplace insert.

McNeill said the shop will carry wines mostly in the $10 to $20 range that usually aren’t found in grocery stores and state liquor stores. He already has several great Washington wines that are usually only found at the wineries, at prices, he said, lower than what the wineries charge.

He also has a nice selection of French and other European wines from famed importer Kermit Lynch for those looking for something more exotic.

The store plans to have weekly wine tastings and occasional entertainment, said Jenni McNeill, Paul’s wife. Tastings will be offered each Friday and Saturday.

A grand opening is set for June 3 and 4.

We’re getting cases of wine in every day so it will be awhile before we’re fully stocked,” she said. If you have a favorite wine, they’re open to suggestions. “We want to tailor the store to what people want.”

Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The store is closed Tuesday and Sunday.

For more information, call the store at 293-6201 or check or look for The Wine Thief Wenatchee on Facebook.

Drink me! Drink me!

I went down to the cellar the other night to choose something red to go with the tortellini in red sauce with sausage.

Instead, the wine chose me.

I was shocked to see a bottle with a broken neck peering out of one of the cases reserved for my oldest wines. The bottle was laying on its side, still dripping, as if the neck had snapped off within the last day or two. Half the wine had poured out, of course, into other wine cases below. But there was still a half bottle of 2004 cabernet sauvignon made from good Milbrandt Vineyards grapes from the Wahluke Slope near Mattawa.

The break was clean with no shatter or glass chips to worry about. I decanted what was left in the bottle just in case. A very smooth wine, slightly oxidized from the exposure to air, but quite delicious.

As Orson Welles would say in those old 1980s Paul Masson commercials: “We shall sell no wine before its time.” In this case, the wine knew its time had come.

Wine, cheese and chatter

I had a couple of friends over last month and opened a couple of bottles of wine from Jones of Washington. The two well-crafted wines — a chardonnay and a cabernet — and a selection of aged cheeses and crackers made for an enjoyable evening of delicious tastes and chatter.

I traveled to Jones’ wine processing plant in Mattawa in April for a story in an upcoming issue of Foothills magazine. Sales manager Allan Williams introduced me to Jones winemaker Victor Palencia and drove me around some of the expansive Jones family vineyards spread between Quincy and Mattawa.

Palencia is himself a fascinating character, and very enthusiastic about his wine. Just 26, he began working in some of the Yakima Valley’s best wineries before he could legally drink the stuff. Now, he makes about a million gallons of wine that is sold to some of Washington’s largest and finest wineries.

That’s where most of the grapes from the Jones family’s 1,600 acres of vineyard goes, Palencia said. But a small portion of the best grapes are reserved for Jones’ own line of wines, something that was evident at my little wine get-together.

The Jones 2009 Estate Chardonnay I sipped with my friends was fermented 50 percent in stainless steel tanks and 50 percent in Hungarian oak puncheons for 30 days before transfer into smaller oak barrels for another two months.

Williams had told me no malolactic fermentation was used in the process. The result was a buttery and full-bodied wine with a hint of oak with sacrificing acid and lots of fruity pear and apple aromas.

The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon we drank was a nice example of a refined young Columbia Valley red, with plenty of cherry, cranberry, plum and clove flavors. Just a hint of oak. I drank a Jones 2008 Syrah later in the week and it was rich with blackberry and plum. Mattawa’s Wahluke Slope region produces some of the best syrah in the world to my way of thinking.

All of these wines were silver medal winners at California wine competitions.

What’s nice is that you can purchase them by the glass at reasonable prices — as well as several other great local wines — at many restaurants in Wenatchee, Leavenworth and Chelan. That’s a great way to sample some of these wines before selecting a bottle.

Not that they’re terribly expensive. Moderately priced wines — $12 to $15 — are now available from Jones of Washington, Saint Laurent, Ryan Patrick and Stemilt Creek. All are excellent, approachable wines perfect for that cheese and crackers event or a simple meal in celebration of spring’s arrival.

Business World writer Rick Steigmeyer lives in Cashmere and has been making and drinking wine for years. With the advent of the Wenatchee Valley’s wine industry, his attentions are largely home grown now.

Reach Rick Steigmeyer at 509-664-7151 or . Read his blog Winemaker's Journal. follow him on Twitter at @steigmeyerww.